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What’s Christmas REALLY all About?

Why God Became Man

Jesus titles of picture

By Dr. Lehman Strauss

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ

The word incarnation does not occur in the Bible. It is derived from the Latin in and caro (flesh), meaning clothed in flesh, the act of assuming flesh. Its only use in theology is in reference to that gracious, voluntary act of the Son of God in which He assumed a human body. In Christian doctrine the Incarnation, briefly stated, is that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became a man. It is one of the greatest events to occur in the history of the universe. It is without parallel.

The Apostle Paul wrote, ”And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh . . . “ (I Timothy 3:16). Confessedly, by common consent the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is outside the range of human natural comprehension and apprehension. It can be made known only by Divine revelation in the Holy Scriptures, and to those only who are illumined by the Holy Spirit. It is a truth of the greatest magnitude that God in the Person of His Son should identify Himself completely with the human race. And yet He did, for reasons He set forth clearly in His Word.

Before we examine those reasons, it would be well at the outset to distinguish between the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth of our Lord, two truths sometimes confused by students of Scripture. The Incarnation of the Son of God is the fact of God becoming Man; the Virgin Birth is the method by which God the Son became Man.

These two truths, while distinct and different, are closely related to each other and stand in support of each other. If Jesus Christ was not virgin born, then He was not God in the flesh and was therefore only a man possessing the same sinful nature that every fallen child of Adam possesses. The fact of the Incarnation lies in the ever-existing One putting aside His eternal glory to become a man. The method of the Incarnation is the manner by which He chose to come, namely, the miraculous conception in the womb of a virgin.

A noteworthy passage pertinent to the Divine purpose in the Incarnation is recorded in the Gospel according to John– ”And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory. the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth’‘ (John 1 :14).

Cerinthus, a representative of the system which arose in the early church under the name of Docetism, claimed that our Lord had only an apparent human body. But the statement, ”the Word became flesh,” indicates that He had a real body.

John 1:14 cannot be fully appreciated apart from verse one: ”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh.” He who was one with the Father from all eternity became Man, taking upon Him a human body. He ”was with God” (vs. 1); He ”became flesh (vs. 14). He “was with God”’ (vs. 1); He ”dwelt among us” (vs. 14). From the infinite position of eternal Godhood to the finite limitations of manhood! Unthinkable but true!

Paul gives another significant passage on the Incarnation in his Galatian Epistle: ”But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4, 5). In these verses Paul establishes the fact of the Incarnation– “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.”

God sending His Son presupposes that God had a Son. Christ was the Son in His eternal relationship with the Father, not because He was born of Mary. Since a son shares the nature of his father, so our Lord shares the Godhead coequally with His Father. Yes, “God sent forth His Son,” from His throne on high, from His position of heavenly glory. God did not send one forth who, in His birth, became His Son, but He sent One who, through all eternity, was His Son. Centuries before Christ was born, the Prophet Isaiah wrote of Him, ”For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . ” (Isaiah 9:6). The Son was given in eternity past before we knew Him. His human birth was merely the method of coming to us.

Again, Paul records the following noteworthy statement in the Epistle to the Philippians: ”Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

Before His Incarnation Jesus Christ was ‘in the form of God” (vs. 6). From the beginning He had the nature of God, He existed (or subsisted) as God, and that essential Deity which He once was could never cease to be. If He seems Divine, it is only because He is Divine. He is God.

He ”thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (vs. 6). The eternal Son did not consider it a thing to be seized unlawfully to be equal with the Father. Equality with God was not something He retained by force or by farce. He possessed it in eternity past and no power could take it from Him. But in the Incarnation He laid aside, not His possession of Deity, but His position in and expression of the heavenly glory.

One of the purposes of the Philippian epistle was to check the rising tide of dissension and strife growing out of Christians thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think. Being a general letter, it exposes no false doctrines but does enunciate our Lord Jesus Christ as the believer’s pattern in humiliation, self-denial, and loving service for others. This is evident in the seven downward steps of the Saviour’s renunciation of Himself.

(1) ”He made Himself of no reputation.” God emptied Himself! He did not lose His Deity when He became Man, for God is immutable and therefore cannot cease to be God. He always was God the Son; He continued to be God the Son in His earthly sojourn as Man; He is God the Son in heaven today as He will remain throughout eternity. He is ”Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

(2) ”He took upon Him the form of a servant.” His was a voluntary act of amazing grace, the almighty Sovereign stooping to become earth’s lowly Servant. Instead of expressing Himself as one deserving to be served, He revealed Himself as one desiring to serve others. He did not boast His eternal glory and right to be ministered to, but instead evinced His humility and desire to minister. ”The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

(3) “He was made in the likeness of men.” This phrase expresses the full reality of His humanity. He participated in the same flesh and blood as man (Hebrews 2:14). Although He entered into a new state of being, His becoming Man did not exclude His possession of Deity, for He was and is today a Person who is both God and Man, Divine and human, perfect in His Deity and perfect in His humanity.

(4) ”And being found in fashion as a man.” When He came into the world, Christ associated with His contemporaries and did not hold Himself aloof. Thus He manifested to all that He was a real Man. One obvious distinction marked our Lord’s humanity; His perfection and sinlessness. As a Man He was made under the law, yet He never violated the law. As a Man He was tempted in all three points in which we are tempted (I John 2:16), yet His temptation was apart from any thought, word, or act of sin.

(5) “He humbled Himself.” The world has never witnessed a more genuine act of self-humbling. So completely did our Lord humble Himself that He surrendered His will to the will of His Father in heaven. His desire was to do the will of the Father, therefore He could testify, “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:29). It was humiliation for the eternal Son of God to become flesh in a stable, and then to dwell in a humble home in subjection to a human parent. God was ”sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin” (Romans 8:30). Only eternity will reveal the depth of meaning for Him and for us found in those words, “He humbled Himself.”

(6) “He became obedient unto death.” Remarkable indeed! Here the God-man dies. Did He die as God, or did He die as Man? He died as the God-Man. The first Adam’s obedience would have been unto life, but because he disobeyed unto death, the last Adam must now obey unto death in order that He might deliver the first Adam’s posterity ”out of death into life” (John 5:24R.V.). ”For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). To subject Himself to the cruel death of a criminal on the cross was a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation for men, and to such a death our Lord voluntarily submitted. Implicit obedience!

(7) ” . . . even the death of the cross.” Our Lord died as no other person died or ever will die. Other men had died on crosses, but this Man, the eternal Son of God, voluntarily and willingly died the kind of death meted out to criminals, even the death upon a cross. His own countrymen considered crucifixion the worst kind of disgrace. In their law it was written, “For he that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:23; cf. Galatians 3:13). Not only did our Lord die, but He died bearing the burden of the worst of criminals and the guiltiest of sinners. Down He came from heaven’s glory to earth’s sin and shame through His Incarnation.

The purposes underlying this phenomenal occurrence can be summed up in seven points.

(1) HE CAME TO REVEAL GOD TO MAN

The Incarnation of the Son of God unites earth to heaven. God’s greatest revelation of Himself to man is in Jesus Christ. Revelation is the disclosure of truth previously unknown. Before the coming of the Son of God to earth many varied forms of revelation existed. Belief in the existence of God is innate. Since man is a rational, moral being, his very nature provides him with intuitive knowledge. As the mind of a child begins to unfold, it instinctively and intuitively recognizes a Being above and beyond the world that he experiences.

Man is so constituted that he recognizes the fact and the power of God by the things that are made. Many of the ancient philosophers marveled at the starry heavens above them and the moral law about them. We live in a world of order and harmony conducive to our happiness and well being, and we, too, recognize a revelation of God in nature.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19, 20). Men may hinder or suppress the truth by their unrighteous living, but there is that which may be known of God which ”is manifest in them.” The existence and power of God are discernible to us all by the things we observe in the external world. Those only who have abnormal, distorted, or biased minds can possibly deny God’s existence.

Job realized that the nature of God in its different characteristics and qualities was not all revealed to man, yet he knew, as all men know, that the omnipotence and unchangeableness of God are exhibited in creation (Job 6:10; 23:12). The savage and the scientist can know two things about God; He is a Being and He is supreme. These are the two things God has been pleased to reveal about Himself.

Do not plead innocence for the man who does not possess a copy of God’s Word. All men have a Bible bound with the covers of the day and the night whose print is the stars and the planets. What is knowable about God has been displayed openly, and any man who suppresses the truth does it “without excuse.” Nature reveals the supernatural, and creation reveals the Creator. Read Psalm 19:1-6 and you will see that the heavens are personified to proclaim the glory of their Creator. Day and night pass on their testimonies giving clear evidence of the existence of the One who made them.

There are other evidences of primeval revelations of God to man, such as to Adam (Genesis 3:8) and to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 26:3-5). The writer to the Hebrews quotes the Son speaking to the Father, in which reference is made to an early primitive and temporary revelation through a book which God allowed to pass out of existence (Hebrews 10:5-7). Doubtless there were other books which likewise have passed out of existence, as the Book of Enoch of which Jude made mention (Jude 14).

We know, further, that God often revealed Himself in dreams as when He spoke to Jacob (Genesis 28), to the patriarch Joseph (Genesis 37), to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2-4), to Joseph (Matthew 1:20), and to others. Through Moses and the prophets God revealed Himself (Exodus 3:4 and chapter 20). Over thirty-five authors, writing over a period of fifteen hundred years, wrote consistently and coherently, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of one historically accurate plan of salvation. The Bible in its entirety is a progressive revelation of God.

But of all the amazing revelations of almighty God, none was set forth more clearly and fully than God’s final revelation of Himself in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since God is an infinite Being, no man could understand Him fully save the Son who is One in equality with the Father. Jesus said, ”. . . neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27). Here, then, is one reason for the Incarnation—to reveal God to man. The fact of God’s existence may be seen through test tubes and laboratory experiments, detected through microscope and telescope, and stated in the discussions of the seminar. But the glorious attributes of a loving God manifested in behalf of sinners can be found in no place or person apart from Jesus Christ.

Philip said to the Lord Jesus, ‘‘Lord, shew us the Father . . . ” and our Lord answered, ”. . . He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father . . . “ (John 14:8, 9). When the Word became flesh He brought to man an adequate revelation of God. Whatever the ancient seers and saints knew about God before Jesus came, we have a more adequate revelation. Since God remains an abstraction until we see Him in terms of personality, so the Son became Incarnate that we might see and know God. ‘‘No man hath seen God at anytime; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him’‘ (John 1:1,8,9).

The dictionary definition of the word ”light” means nothing to a blind man, but one glimpse of a glowworm would be worth more for the understanding of light than all the definitions in the world. One glimpse of Jesus Christ will bring God closer to the human mind and heart than all the theological definitions of Him. No man could perceive the grace of God until the almighty Sovereign of the universe stooped to the level of His own creatures, suffering cruel treatment and dying the death of shame for them. No man understood fully the patience and longsuffering of the Father until Jesus Christ who, when He was reviled, reviled not again, and when He suffered, threatened not (I Peter 2:23). No man can comprehend just how perfect and holy God is until He comes face to face with the sinless Son of God. God has revealed Himself anew to the intelligence of man through the Incarnation.

(2) HE CAME TO REVEAL MAN TO HIMSELF

Through His Incarnation Jesus Christ reveals man to himself. He shows us what we are and what we may become. As we study the purposes of God in Christ, the fact impresses us that man is grossly ignorant of his real self, and that the mission of the Son’s coming included a plan that would enable man to see and know himself as God sees and knows him. We are not the least bit impressed with man’s vain philosophical views of himself, but rather with the accurate historical account of man as it is recorded in the Bible.

The primary fact that man needs to know about himself is his origin. Men are divided in their theories concerning this. We are not strangers to the evolutionary idea which attempts to explain man’s place in the earth. In 1871 Darwin published his book, The Descent of Man, but he said very little that had not been said before. The idea of evolution might be here to stay, but not because Darwin said so. Evolution was taught by Roman and Greek philosophers and even by ancient Egyptians. But the evolutionary idea that man must swallow his pride and be content with the fact that he has oozed from the slime along with the snails is contrary to the revelation in Scripture.

The Bible teaches clearly that the human race had its origin by the immediate creation of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and that man is the grand consummation of all creation. We are forced to accept this view as against the theory of evolution because of the immeasurable gulf which separates man, even in his barest savage condition, from the nearest order of creation below him. Moreover, history corroborates Scripture in that man was destined to rule over all other animal life. God took special care in the creation of man, for “God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (Genesis 1:27). Actually it was not the body of man that was created, for the body was merely ”formed” of those elements necessary for man’s body and which were created long before man (Genesis 1:1). What was new in man’s creation was a form of life which only God and man possess (Genesis 2:7). Created in the image and likeness of God, man differs from every other form of animal. Man, in his lowest estate, seeks an object of worship and has been known to bow before gods that he cannot see, but animals never!

However, man did not retain God’s image and likeness. When God placed our first parents in Eden He set before them one simple restriction, namely, not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for, said God, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Genesis 3 is a record of the fall of man. He disobeyed God and immediately the life-cord was severed. Adam died both physically and spiritually. Physical death began to do its work, and the grave for Adam was but a matter of time. Then, too, his spirit was separated from God, so that he was dead spiritually while alive physically.

Now all men, from Adam down, are born into this world spiritually dead in sin, possessing a sin-nature capable of every trespass against God (Ephesians 2:1). The sin-nature of Adam and the guilt of his sin were imputed to the whole human race, so that Adam’s corrupted nature is of necessity a part of all his posterity. The highest self in man is altogether unprofitable to God. All men are not equally corrupt in word and deed, but all are equally dead, and unless the function of death is brought to a halt, it will destroy not only the body but also the soul in hell. Because of the solidarity of the human race, sin and death have passed upon all men (Romans 5:12). When Adam defaced the Divine image and lost the Divine likeness, he begat sons ”in his own likeness, after his image” (Genesis 5:3). Yes, “by man came death” and ”in Adam all die” (I Corinthians 15:21, 22).

While all of this is clearly stated in the Bible, man still thinks of himself more highly than he ought to think. There were many who had no Scriptures at all in Christ’s day, and they needed this revelation. In order that man should see himself, not in the light of his own goodness, but beside the perfect standard of God’s holy Son, the Son of God became Incarnate. Our Lord said, ”If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin” (John 15:22).

Responsibility increases with knowledge, and so Christ’s coming showed man how far short he came of God’s standard of a righteous man. The Lord Jesus said, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin . . . “ (John 15:24). Our Lord did not mean by this statement that man would have been without sin if He had not come. There had been sin all along, as God’s dealings with the human race through its four thousand years of earlier history prove. But the coming of Christ to the earth revealed the heart of man in cruel hatred for Divine holiness. The Son of God Incarnate was sinless in every respect, yet man, Jew and Gentile alike, crucified Him. Alongside Christ’s perfect life and works, man can see the sin and guilt of his own heart.

When man sinned against the Son of God, he sinned against the clearest possible light, “the Light of the world” (John 8:12). He came unto His own and His own received Him not (John 1:11), and then Gentiles joined hands with ”His own” to put Him to death. How sinful is the heart of man? Look at that spectacle on Calvary’s hill and you will see human hearts and hands at their worst.

Time has not improved human nature. Today men still trample under food the precious blood of Christ, and if our blessed Lord were to appear in person today as He did nineteen centuries ago, the world would crucify him again. The world, having seen the light, has turned from the light, for “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Romans 1:18 to 3:20 enunciates the most searching and conclusive arraignment of the human race found anywhere, and the birth and death of Jesus Christ attest to the truth of this awful indictment.

(3) He Came to Redeem Man

The Apostle Paul states clearly the purpose of the Incarnation in the following words– ”But when the fulness of the was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Galatians 4:4, 5). The Old Testament contains the accurate record of some four thousand years of sin, human failure, and consequent Divine judgment. The one bright hope was the coming of the promised Seed, the Redeemer (Genesis 3:15). With each succeeding revelation from God, the promise grew clearer and the hope brighter. The prophets spoke of the Messiah who would come to deliver the people from their sins. Perhaps the classic prophecy is Isaiah 53. Since the people needed a deliverer from the guilt and penalty of sin, the intent of the Incarnation was to provide that Deliverer. Moreover, all of history and prophecy moved toward that goal even as all subsequent movements have proceeded from it.

Jesus Christ is man’s Redeemer, his Saviour. This truth is implied in His name. Said the angel, “Thou shalt call his name JESUS (meaning Saviour), for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). At His birth the angel testified again, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Even the Lord Jesus Himself voiced emphatically the purpose of His Incarnation when He said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

The awful state of the world of mankind necessitated the coming of the Redeemer since there could be no hope of deliverance apart from Him. The character of God, which is righteousness, absolute and uncompromising, demands that every sin be dealt with. While God is merciful, gracious, and slow to anger, forgiving iniquities and transgressions, ”that will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7)., While God is love, God is also holy and righteous, so holy that He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and [canst] not look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13). His righteousness demands that every sin must be dealt with impartially. In order to be true to Himself, God had to deal with the problem of sin. In order to deal justly and, at the same time, mercifully, someone had to suffer the death penalty for the sin of the world.

In the Person of Jesus Christ God solved the problem of the eternal well-being of the sinner. He sent His Son to die as the sinner’s perfect Substitute, and thereby redeemed the sinner. Man was lost to God and heaven, and God’s purpose in redemption could be realized only through the Incarnate Son of God, for the Son of God Incarnate is the connecting link bringing together God and sinful man. The sinner’s relation to Jesus Christ is vital. Christ became a man “that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9). The Word, who is the eternal Son of God, became flesh and was obliged to be made in the likeness of man in order to redeem him.

Christ defined the purpose of His Incarnation and earthly ministry when He said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). There is no implication in these words that there is a sinful class of men who need repentance and another righteous class who do not. Nor is there a suggestion that there are “righteous ones,” for in Romans 3:10 it is said, “There is none righteous, no, not one.”

Consider the conditions under which Christ stated this purpose. Scribes and Pharisees were upbraiding Him because He had gone into the house of Levi to eat with publicans and sinners (Mark 2:14-16). His critics exalted themselves above sinners, priding themselves in an unpossessed righteousness which thereby excluded them from any realization or acknowledgement of their own sin.

In Levi’s house, however, there were those who recognized their sinful state. It was for this reason that the Lord Jesus went to that group, namely, to bring salvation to them. Physicians go into sick rooms, not because of the pleasantness of disease and suffering, but because of a desire to relieve and cure the sick. So sinners are the special objects of the Saviour’s love and power. He came into the world to save sinners.

Although all men are unrighteous, those scribes and Pharisees called themselves ”righteous,” for they were possessed of self-righteousness that is as “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, as they went about seeking to establish their own righteousness, they failed to see the purpose of His coming. Hence they never heeded the Saviour’s call to salvation. Their kind seldom do!

Had there been righteousness in the human heart, there would have been no need for the Incarnation of the Son of God. And only in the self-righteous heart of the religious, moral man, satisfied with himself, do we find the careless indifference to the Gospel of redemption. When a man assumes a righteousness all his own, he is outside the reach of the Great Physician. The man who excludes his own need of Christ misses the purpose of the Saviour’s coming and will not be saved. Each of us must say with the Apostle Paul, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (I Timothy 1:15).

(4) HE CAME TO RESTRAIN SATAN

The purpose of the Incarnation is further revealed in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Three verses, linked together, assert that the coming of Jesus Christ was to destroy the devil. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man . . . Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same [flesh and blood]; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:9, 14,15).

In these three verses in Hebrews, we are reminded that the subject of death is dealt with in each of them, and the fact of the Incarnation is substantiated in the clause, “who was made a little lower than the angels.” Furthermore, the purpose of the Incarnation appears in the words, “that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” From this verse, as well as verse 14, it is evident that the eternal Son became flesh in order to die.

Christ’s crucifixion by wicked hands was “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Our Lord Jesus Christ testified, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus Christ willed to die, not a sudden and unexpected death but a lingering, anticipated death that He would taste every day of His earthly sojourn. He became man to suffer death.

But why should it be so? We considered the purpose of the Incarnation relative to the sin question. Referring to the matter of death, the Word affirms that the Son of God became incarnate that “through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Of all the works of Satan, among the worst is that of destroying life. Our Lord testified, “He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). Satan is the spoiler of humanity, his malignant purpose being to bring both physical and spiritual death to mankind.

God placed our first parents in the Garden of Eden and surrounded them with every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. Two of these trees are mentioned; ”the tree of life . . . and the tree of knowledge of good and evil” Genesis 2:9). Eating the fruit of the latter tree would bring sin and death, for, said God, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Satan knew this, therefore we are not surprised when we read that it was of the fruit of this very tree of death that he enticed Eve to eat. He chose the tree of death because he is a murderer. He knew that the death sentence was already pronounced upon all who would eat of it. He delighted in the fall of Adam and Eve, for he knew that physical and spiritual death had struck.

But thanks be to God for the Incarnation of His Son. By the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, through His death and resurrection, He wrested from Satan the power of death. Death no more holds its lethal grip upon the believer. Although death has held sinners in bondage ever since the severing of the life-cord between God and man, the appearing of the Lord Jesus has broken its grip. “According to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began . . . the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (II Timothy 1:9-10).

Before sin was indulged in and death struck, the inclusive salvation plan provided death’s abolition. Since the death and resurrection of our Lord dealt comprehensively with sin, it of necessity affected death. The coming of the Saviour rendered death harmless, and the “sting” of it is gone (I Corinthians 15:55). Oh, the blessedness of an accomplished redemption! How wonderful to know Him who said, “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:18). Death once held man in the vise of hopeless doom, but now Satan is defeated.

The shadow of the cross hung over the manger in Bethlehem, assuring the world that the Seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). As Adam yielded himself to Satan, Satan held him in death; but by His dying, Christ entered into our death and wrested from Satan that power which he held over us. At Calvary Satan was brought to naught, and now “death is swallowed up in victory. . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:54, 57). “The prince of this world is judged” (John 16:1 1). The Seed of the woman traversed the realms of death but was not captured by the enemy. Instead, He conquered the enemy. Thank God the Saviour came.

(5) HE CAME TO RESCUE THE WHOLE CREATION

The Incarnation of the eternal Son is part of the divine plan. That plan comprehends a goal, and God assures the accomplishment of it. Though the salvation of man was God’s chief concern, His plan was never limited to the world of mankind. It is written of the eternal Son, who was with God and who is God, that “all things were made by Him” (John 1:3). Paul writes, ”For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth” (Colossians 1:28). Man was higher than all other created beings in the earth, and other creatures were subject to him. However, after the fall this condition changed. Now if man is to have dominion over the beasts, he must first capture them at the risk of his own life, and then imprison them until they are tamed. All of this resulted from the fall.

But the question is, Will God restore again to man the dominion which he lost through the fall? The prophet said, ”The wolf also shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cocatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9). Indeed, it appears that the prophet here is looking beyond to a time of rescue and restoration of the earth and all of its creatures.

The cruelty of beasts was not the order before sin entered. Such discord among God’s creatures has sprung from the sinfulness of man and is a necessary part of the curse. To remove this curse and rescue God’s creation is one of the purposes of the Incarnation. When Christ comes back to reign and “the government shall be upon His shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6), then the sons of God will be manifested and will share with Him in a restored creation. If it were not so, then all of animated nature would remain spoiled by Satan. But God has said, “In that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground” (Hosea 2:18). Yes, God will “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him” (Ephesians 1:10). At that day our blessed Lord will “reconcile all things unto Himself’ (Colossians 1:20).

Many Christians fail to see that this redemptive work, wrought through the Incarnation of the Son of God, is wider than the salvation of human beings and that it affects the whole creation. The Apostle Paul writes, “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:19-23). Here we are told that the deliverance of the whole creation will be revealed at the manifestation of the sons of God.

All creation lies in hope (expectancy) of a rescue from present corruption and of deliverance to that place God gave it in the beginning. Nature is now under the curse of sin, groaning and travailing in pain. It is not what it was at first. Nor is it now what it will be when the incarnate Son returns to “put all things in subjection under His feet” (see Hebrews 2:5-9). Before Adam sinned, no savage beasts, no desert wastes, no thorns and thistles existed; but when he fell, all creation fell with him. Now that the Son of God has come and purchased redemption by His death at Calvary, the whole creation must be rescued from the curse, and restored to its original state.

(6) HE CAME TO RESTORE ISRAEL

Any reader of the Old Testament cannot escape the clear teaching that the Messiah was promised to Israel. Of this the prophets spoke and wrote. The Jew had great advantages. “Unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). Theirs was “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Romans 9:4). None can deny that from the call of Abraham (Genesis 12:1) to the Babylonian captivity under Nebuchadnezzar (606 B.C.), authority in the earth and divine representation was vested in the Jew. It is common information that since the overthrow of Jerusalem and the transfer of dominion in the earth to the Gentiles, Israel, as a nation, has not held authority in the earth.

When Jesus Christ, the Word, “was made flesh,” “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11, 14). ”His citizens hated Him, and sent a message after Him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). In blind unbelief the children of Abraham, refusing to recognize or receive Him, drove Him from their midst and crucified Him. After His resurrection and ascension He revealed to the apostles this mystery. No longer did Israel have priority on the truth, but the message was to be spread abroad to every creature and, during the present dispensation of grace, God would visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name (Acts 15:14).

When Christ came the first time He traversed Palestine proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He opened the door into the kingdom, but only the regenerated could enter. Were the people ready to receive the kingdom, the King would establish it. However, the offer of the kingdom met with an ever-increasing opposition, and our Lord withdrew the offer for that time. He said to the Jews, ”Therefore say I unto you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 21:43). There was no mistaking what the Lord Jesus meant, for the chief priests and Pharisees “perceived that He spake of them” (vs. 45).

Israel is still set aside, but only temporarily. The Apostle Paul writes, ”I say then, Hath God cast away His people? God forbid . . . God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew . . . For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:1,2,25).

Anti-Semitism, raging throughout the world today, might lead one to question the future restoration of the Jew. Yet we know that both national restoration and national regeneration for the Jew are a definite part of the plan of God. Israel is not beyond recovery; she is not irretrievably lost. By her fall the whole world was blessed with the message of salvation. A national tragedy resulted in an international triumph. ”And so all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 10:26). The Jew lives in a dark present with a bright future before him. When our Lord said in Matthew 21:43, that “the kingdom shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof,” He was not referring to any Gentile nation but to regenerated Israel.

God gave Palestine to the Jews unconditionally as a possession and a dwelling place (Genesis 12: 1-3). He wants them there. That the Jews would be scattered is plainly taught in the Word of God, but coupled with such teaching are the assertions that they will also be regathered. Study Hosea 3:4,5 and see plainly the scattering and the gathering with the period between. (See also Ezekiel 36: 19,24). The Word became flesh and tabernacled among them once (John 1:14). That same holy One, the incarnate Christ, will come again to tabernacle with Israel. Study, for example, such passages as Isaiah 12:1-6Joel 2:26, 27Zephaniah 3:14-17Zechariah 8:3-8. Already modern inventions have revolutionized Palestine and its surrounding territory. This fact, coupled with the thought of the vast area granted by God to Abraham (Genesis 15: 18), will assure any interested person that there is ample room in the Holy Land to hold all Jews.

While the Jews continue to return to the Land, all signs point to the return of the incarnate Son, the One who is both human and Divine, and the One in whom God’s purposes for Israel are to be fulfilled. According to prophecy, the incarnate One, Immanuel, the virgin’s Son, is to occupy David’s throne. ”For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6, 7). Let us rejoice to see that day approaching.

(7) HE CAME TO REIGN

When the Incarnation had been announced, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:1,2). They were wise men indeed, for they were followers of the truth of God. When the Old Testament prophets wrote of Messiah’s offices, they included that of King. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation: lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). David wrote of Christ and His kingdom when he recorded the words of God, “Yet have I set My king upon My holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6). Our Lord is not only Prophet, and Priest, but also Potentate.

In studying the purposes of the Incarnation we are forced to the scriptural observation that the eternal Son became Man in order that He might be King of the earth. Paul wrote that “God hath highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2:9). We dare not limit the exaltation of Christ as some try to do. We acquiesce with those who teach that the steps in Christ’s exaltation were His resurrection, ascension, and His sitting at the right hand of God. But such teaching does not go far enough. Study carefully Philippians 2:5-11, and you will see that the steps in our Lord’s humiliation were temporary steps leading to a permanent exaltation, culminating with the bowing of every knee and the confessing of every tongue in heaven and in earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The incarnate Son is to appear in His resurrection body and is to sit on the throne of His glory. Jesus Himself spoke of the day “when the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him; then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory” (Matthew 25:31). John writes, ”Every eye shall see Him” (Revelation 1:7). The prophetic utterance spoken by God to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 concerning David’s seed having an everlasting throne and kingdom, has a double fulfillment. Primarily it referred to Solomon’s temple. Ultimately and finally it speaks of Christ’s earthly reign as Zechariah 6:12 shows. The day must come when all things will be subjected unto Him (I Corinthians 15:28).

The Psalmist spoke of His throne as an enduring throne (Psalm 89:4, 29, 36). God promises that this earthly throne and kingdom are to continue forever, and that the One to occupy it shall be David’s seed, his rightful Son (I Chronicles 17:11). The genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 will support the relationship of Jesus Christ to David. During our Lord’s earthly ministry, those who sought His help called Him “the son of David” (see Matthew 9:27Mark 10:47Luke 18:38).

Christ’s kingdom is literal, therefore it cannot be realized apart from the Incarnation. Such a kingdom men have been trying to establish for centuries, but nations are farther from realizing it today than ever before. A perfect kingdom demands a perfect King. At the end of the conflict of the ages, Jesus Christ, the God-Man will return to earth to establish His righteous kingdom which will never be destroyed. His kingdom of glory, and His throne in the midst, was God’s first promise through the mouth of the angel Gabriel to Mary, and it links together the Incarnation and reign of the Son of God, ”And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

When the King comes, then will His perfect will be done in earth as it is in heaven. This is a blessed truth not without history or hope. The day will surely come when all men will see the revelation of the glory of holiness and joy in the earth. But His reign awaits His return to carry away His Bride, the Church. Everything has been deferred until He gathers her unto Himself. It may be at any moment that the last soul will be added to the Church, and then He will come.

This meditation in no wise exhausts the divine purposes of the Incarnation. Others have written at greater length and, doubtless, we could do likewise. But one thing more must be said. The supreme purpose in the eternal Son’s coming into the world was to glorify the Father. In His great intercessory prayer, Jesus said, “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (John 17:4). God had been glorified in creation, in the remarkable deliverances of His people, and in the exercise of His power over His enemies, but at no time had He been glorified like this. God could never have been glorified if the Son would have failed in His earthly mission in the smallest degree. But the Lord Jesus could say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” Nothing was left undone, and in everything He did, the Son had the Father’s glory in view. He glorified the Father; His earthly mission was complete.

And now to all of us who have been redeemed by His precious blood, the Apostle Paul writes: “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:20).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Lehman Strauss taught Old Testament history for eight years at Philadelphia Bible Institute, and served as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church, Bristol, Pennsylvania, from 1939 to 1957. He was pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church (Highland Park, Michigan) until the end of 1963 when he resigned to devote full time to an itinerant Bible conference and evangelistic ministry both in the States and abroad. Dr. Strauss was residing in Florida and writing his 19th book at age 86 when the Lord called him home in June 1997. His written materials are used by permission…article originally appeared @ https://bible.org/article/why-god-became-man

 

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Dr. J.I. Packer: What Are The Essential Ingredients of The Gospel?

Dr. J.I. Packer: What Is The Gospel Message? 

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4 Essential Ingredients of the Gospel

In a word, the evangelistic message is the gospel of Christ and Him crucified, the message of man’s sin and God’s grace, of human guilt and divine forgiveness, of new birth and new life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a message made up of four essential ingredients.

1. The gospel is a message about God. It tells us who He is, what His character is, what His standards are, and what He requires of us, His creatures. It tells us that we owe our very existence to Him; that for good or ill, we are always in His hands and under His eye; and that He made us to worship and serve Him, to show forth His praise and to live for His glory. These truths are the foundation of theistic religion; and until they are grasped, the rest of the gospel message will seem neither cogent nor relevant. It is here with the assertion of man’s complete and constant dependence on his Creator that the Christian story starts.

We can learn again from Paul at this point. When preaching to Jews, as at Pisidian Antioch, he did not need to mention the fact that men were God’s creatures. He could take this knowledge for granted, for his hearers had the Old Testament faith behind them. He could begin at once to declare Christ to them as the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes. But when preaching to Gentiles, who knew nothing of the Old Testament, Paul had to go further back and start from the beginning. And the beginning from which Paul started in such cases was the doctrine of God’s Creatorship and man’s creaturehood. So, when the Athenians asked him to explain what his talk of Jesus and the resurrection was all about, he spoke to them first of God the Creator and what He made man for. “God…made the world…seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made…all nations…that they should seek the Lord” (Act 17:24-27). This was not, as some have supposed, a piece of philosophical apologetic of a kind that Paul afterwards renounced, but the first and basic lesson in theistic faith. The gospel starts by teaching us that we, as creatures, are absolutely dependent on God, and that He, as Creator, has an absolute claim on us. Only when we have learned this can we see what sin is, and only when we see what sin is can we understand the good news of salvation from sin. We must know what it means to call God Creator before we can grasp what it means to speak of Him as Redeemer. Nothing can be achieved by talking about sin and salvation where this preliminary lesson has not in some measure been learned.

2. The gospel is a message about sin. It tells us how we have fallen short of God’s standard, how we have become guilty, filthy, and helpless in sin, and now stand under the wrath of God. It tells us that the reason why we sin continually is that we are sinners by nature, and that nothing we do or try to do for ourselves can put us right or bring us back into God’s favor. It shows us ourselves as God sees us and teaches us to think of ourselves as God thinks of us. Thus, it leads us to self-despair. And this also is a necessary step. Not until we have learned our need to get right with God and our inability to do so by any effort of our own can we come to know the Christ Who saves from sin.

There is a pitfall here. Everybody’s life includes things that cause dissatisfaction and shame. Everyone has a bad conscience about some things in his past, matters in which he has fallen short of the standard that he set for himself or that was expected of him by others. The danger is that in our evangelism we should content ourselves with evoking thoughts of these things and making people feel uncomfortable about them, and then depicting Christ as the One who saves us from these elements of ourselves, without even raising the question of our relationship with God. But this is just the question that has to be raised when we speak about sin. For the very idea of sin in the Bible is of an offence against God that disrupts a man’s relationship with God. Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the Law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all. For sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept. Though sin is committed by man, and many sins are against society, sin cannot be defined in terms of either man or society. We never know what sin really is until we have learned to think of it in terms of God and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of His total demand on our lives.

What we have to grasp, then, is that the bad conscience of the natural man is not at all the same thing as conviction of sin. It does not, therefore, follow that a man is convicted of sin when he is distressed about his weaknesses and the wrong things he has done. It is not conviction of sin just to feel miserable about yourself, your failures, and your inadequacy to meet life’s demands. Nor would it be saving faith if a man in that condition called on the Lord Jesus Christ just to soothe him, and cheer him up, and make him feel confident again. Nor should we be preaching the gospel (though we might imagine we were) if all that we did was to present Christ in terms of a man’s felt wants: “Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Do you want peace of mind? Do you feel that you have failed? Are you fed up with yourself? Do you want a friend? Then come to Christ; He will meet your every need”—as if the Lord Jesus Christ were to be thought of as a fairy godmother or a super-psychiatrist…To be convicted of sin means not just to feel that one is an all-round flop, but to realize that one has offended God, and flouted His authority, and defied Him, and gone against Him, and put oneself in the wrong with Him. To preach Christ means to set Him forth as the One Who through His cross sets men right with God again…

It is indeed true that the real Christ, the Christ of the Bible, Who [reveals] Himself to us as a Savior from sin and an Advocate with God, does in fact give peace, and joy, and moral strength, and the privilege of His own friendship to those who trust Him. But the Christ who is depicted and desired merely to make the lot of life’s casualties easier by supplying them with aids and comforts is not the real Christ, but a misrepresented and misconceived Christ—in effect, an imaginary Christ. And if we taught people to look to an imaginary Christ, we should have no grounds for expecting that they would find a real salvation. We must be on our guard, therefore, against equating a natural bad conscience and sense of wretchedness with spiritual conviction of sin and so omitting in our evangelism to impress upon sinners the basic truth about their condition—namely, that their sin has alienated them from God and exposed them to His condemnation, and hostility, and wrath, so that their first need is for a restored relationship with Him…

3. The gospel is a message about Christ—Christ, the Son of God incarnate; Christ, the Lamb of God, dying for sin; Christ, the risen Lord; Christ, the perfect Savior.

Two points need to be made about the declaring of this part of the message: (i) We must not present the Person of Christ apart from His saving work. It is sometimes said that it is the presentation of Christ’s Person, rather than of doctrines about Him, that draws sinners to His feet. It is true that it is the living Christ Who saves and that a theory of the atonement, however orthodox, is no substitute. When this remark is made, however, what is usually being suggested is that doctrinal instruction is dispensable in evangelistic preaching, and that all the evangelist need do is paint a vivid word-picture of the man of Galilee who went about doing good, and then assure his hearers that this Jesus is still alive to help them in their troubles. But such a message could hardly be called the gospel. It would, in reality, be a mere conundrum, serving only to mystify…the truth is that you cannot make sense of the historic figure of Jesus until you know about the Incarnation—that this Jesus was in fact God the Son, made man to save sinners according to His Father’s eternal purpose. Nor can you make sense of His life until you know about the atonement—that He lived as man so that He might die as man for men, and that His passion, His judicial murder was really His saving action of bearing away the world’s sins. Nor can you tell on what terms to approach Him now until you know about the resurrection, ascension, and heavenly session—that Jesus has been raised, and enthroned, and made King, and lives to save to the uttermost all who acknowledge His Lordship. These doctrines, to mention no others, are essential to the gospel…In fact, without these doctrines you would have no gospel to preach at all.

(ii) But there is a second and complementary point: we must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His Person. Evangelistic preachers and personal workers have sometimes been known to make this mistake. In their concern to focus attention on the atoning death of Christ as the sole sufficient ground on which sinners may be accepted with God, they have expounded the summons to saving faith in these terms: “Believe that Christ died for your sins.” The effect of this exposition is to represent the saving work of Christ in the past, dissociated from His Person in the present, as the whole object of our trust. But it is not biblical thus to isolate the work from the Worker. Nowhere in the New Testament is the call to believe expressed in such terms. What the New Testament calls for is faith in (en) or into (eis) or upon (epi) Christ Himself—the placing of our trust in the living Savior Who died for sins. The object of saving faith is thus not, strictly speaking, the atonement, but the Lord Jesus Christ, Who made atonement. We must not, in presenting the gospel, isolate the cross and its benefits from the Christ Whose cross it was. For the persons to whom the benefits of Christ’s death belong are just those who trust His Person and believe, not upon His saving death simply, but upon Him, the living Savior. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” said Paul (Act 16:31). “Come unto me…and I will give you rest,” said our Lord (Mat 11:28).

This being so, one thing becomes clear straight away: namely, that the question about the extent of the atonement, which is being much agitated in some quarters, has no bearing on the content of the evangelistic message at this particular point. I do not propose to discuss this question now; I have done that elsewhere. I am not at present asking you whether you think it is true to say that Christ died in order to save every single human being, past, present, and future, or not. Nor am I at present inviting you to make up your mind on this question, if you have not done so already. All I want to say here is that even if you think the above assertion is true, your presentation of Christ in evangelism ought not to differ from that of the man who thinks it false.

What I mean is this: it is obvious that if a preacher thought that the statement, “Christ died for every one of you,” made to any congregation, would be unverifiable and probably not true, he would take care not to make it in his gospel preaching. You do not find such statements in the sermons of, for instance, George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon. But now, my point is that, even if a man thinks that this statement would be true if he made it, it is not a thing that he ever needs to say or ever has reason to say when preaching the gospel. For preaching the gospel, as we have just seen, means [calling] sinners to come to Jesus Christ, the living Savior, Who, by virtue of His atoning death, is able to forgive and save all those who put their trust in Him. What has to be said about the cross when preaching the gospel is simply that Christ’s death is the ground on which Christ’s forgiveness is given. And this is all that has to be said. The question of the designed extent of the atonement does not come into the story at all…The fact is that the New Testament never calls on any man to repent on the ground that Christ died specifically and particularly for him.

The gospel is not, “Believe that Christ died for everybody’s sins, and therefore for yours,” any more than it is, “Believe that Christ died only for certain people’s sins, and so perhaps not for yours”…We have no business to ask them to put faith in any view of the extent of the atonement. Our job is to point them to the living Christ, and summon them to trust in Him…This brings us to the final ingredient in the gospel message.

4. The gospel is a summons to faith and repentance. All who hear the gospel are summoned by God to repent and believe. “God…commandeth all men every where to repent,” Paul told the Athenians (Act 17:30). When asked by His hearers what they should do in order to “work the works of God,” our Lord replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Joh 6:29). And in 1 John 3:23 we read: “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ…”

Repentance and faith are rendered matters of duty by God’s direct command, and hence impenitence and unbelief are singled out in the New Testament as most grievous sins. With these universal commands, as we indicated above, go universal promises of salvation to all who obey them. “Through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Act 10:43). “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Joh 3:16). These words are promises to which God will stand as long as time shall last.

It needs to be said that faith is not a mere optimistic feeling, any more than repentance is a mere regretful or remorseful feeling. Faith and repentance are both acts, and acts of the whole man…faith is essentially the casting and resting of oneself and one’s confidence on the promises of mercy which Christ has given to sinners, and on the Christ Who gave those promises. Equally, repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as King in self’s place…Two further points need to be made also:

(i) The demand is for faith as well as repentance. It is not enough to resolve to turn from sin, give up evil habits, and try to put Christ’s teaching into practice by being religious and doing all possible good to others. Aspiration, and resolution, and morality, and religiosity,[15] are no substitutes for faith…If there is to be faith, however, there must be a foundation of knowledge: a man must know of Christ, and of His cross, and of His promises before saving faith becomes a possibility for him. In our presentation of the gospel, therefore, we need to stress these things, in order to lead sinners to abandon all confidence in themselves and to trust wholly in Christ and the power of His redeeming blood to give them acceptance with God. For nothing less than this is faith.

(ii) The demand is for repentance as well as faith…If there is to be repentance, however, there must, again, be a foundation of knowledge…More than once, Christ deliberately called attention to the radical break with the past that repentance involves. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me…whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Mat 16:24-25). “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also (i.e., put them all decisively second in his esteem), he cannot be my disciple…whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luk 14:26, 33). The repentance that Christ requires of His people consists in a settled refusal to set any limit to the claims that He may make on their lives…He had no interest in gathering vast crowds of professed adherents who would melt away as soon as they found out what following Him actually demanded of them. In our own presentation of Christ’s gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness. In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything; or else our evangelizing becomes a sort of confidence trick. And where there is no clear knowledge, and hence no realistic recognition of the real claims that Christ makes, there can be no repentance, and therefore no salvation.

Such is the evangelistic message that we are sent to make known.

Excerpt From Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God  by J. I. Packer.

 

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10 Benefits of Giving Thanks by Charles F. Stanley

“Give Thanks in Everything”

Why this tough but life-giving command can change your entire outlook.

Reading the Bible isn’t always easy.

If you’ve ever thought those words but were embarrassed to speak them, you’re not alone. Sure, there’s plenty within Scripture that we comprehend without much difficulty. But at times we come across a passage that baffles us—or worse, makes us feel angry or annoyed. Sometimes it’s because we simply don’t understand what the Lord is saying through the text. But often the reason for our discomfort is that we don’t like what we’re reading. It’s easier to ignore those verses and move on to more appealing topics than to hash it out with God and do what He says. Reading the Bible is hard because, in the end, it challenges us to change.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 is one of those verses that can really get under your skin: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” But what about those difficult and painful situations? Being grateful for suffering seems to make no sense.

If I were writing Scripture, I would say, “In most things give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It’s easy to be grateful for the good things in life—a newborn baby, a raise, a new house, or encouraging news from the doctor. But what if you lose your job, discover your child is on drugs, or are told by the doctor that you have only have six months to live? How can God expect you to be grateful then?

I faced this dilemma some time ago when I hurt my shoulder and experienced excruciating pain. I read this verse and told the Lord, “I know You said this, but it’s not reasonable when I’m hurting so badly. I just don’t feel thankful.” But then I noticed that it didn’t say, In everything give thanks when you feel like it. This command has nothing to do with feelings. It’s a choice to do what God says. Whenever He gives us a command in the Bible, it’s for our benefit.

Gratitude impacts every area of our lives.

By giving us the command to always give thanks, God is not rubbing salt in a wound or calling us to set aside reason. He knows that being thankful in all circumstances has a powerful impact on every area of our Christian life. Here are ten lessons I’ve learned:

1. Gratitude keeps us continually aware that the Lord is close by.Even though gratefulness doesn’t come naturally in difficult circumstances, a decision to thank God for walking with us through life makes us more sensitive to His comforting presence.

2. It motivates us to look for His purpose in our circumstance. Knowing that the Lord allows hurt and trouble for His good purposes takes the edge off the pain. Even if we don’t understand why we’re going through suffering, we can thank God because we know that in His time, He’ll work it all for good. In the meantime, we can rest in the knowledge that He’s using every hardship to transform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-29).

3. Thanksgiving helps bring our will into submission to God.When the situation we’re experiencing is the last thing we’d ever want, thanking the Lord is a giant step toward being able to follow Christ’s example and say, “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Gratitude helps us acknowledge that God’s will is best, even if it’s hard; in that way, we are able to release our hold on what we want. Although the circumstances may remain the same, submission changes our heart.

4. It reminds us of our continual dependence upon the Lord. Pride, adequacy, and independence evaporate whenever we’re trapped in a situation that leaves us helpless and hopeless. If there’s no way out, thanking God for His control over all things reminds us that He alone is our strength.

5. Thankfulness is an essential ingredient for joy.There’s no way to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16) without giving thanks in everything (v. 18). That’s why ungrateful people are so grumpy. Joy is an inner sense of contentment, which flows from a deep assurance that all God’s purposes are good and He’s in complete control of every situation. With that kind of supernatural joy, it’s easy to be thankful.

6. A grateful attitude strengthens our witness to unbelievers.The world is filled with people who are angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed with the difficulties of life. But a believer with a grateful attitude is like a light shining in a dark place. The people around you will want to know why you don’t grumble and complain the way everyone else does. Then you can tell them about your amazing Savior.

7. Thanking God focuses our attention on Him rather than our circumstances. The key to a grateful heart begins with understanding the Lord’s character because knowing His awesome attributes motivates trust and gratitude. He knows exactly what you’re going through, loves you unconditionally, and understands you perfectly. When you thank Him in tough times, He gets bigger, and the circumstances become smaller.

8. Gratitude gives us eternal perspective. The apostle Paul is an amazing example of a man who suffered extreme hardship yet remained thankful. That’s because he was able to see life from God’s perspective. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, he says our present suffering is “momentary light affliction.” If you’re going through a really hard time, those words may sound ridiculous. Maybe you’ve been dealing with pain your entire life, or a difficult trial has dragged on for decades. It hardly seems momentary or light.

But Paul is comparing our situations here on earth with what’s awaiting us in eternity. For him, a 40-year stretch of pain and hardship was no match for the “eternal weight of glory” awaiting him (2 Cor. 4:17). What an amazing thought—your present pain has the potential to produce incomparable glory for you in heaven. Now that’s a big reason to thank God!

9. When we’re wearied by our circumstances, thanksgiving energizes us. Most of us can handle short trials, but if they continue for a long period of time, the emotional and physical strain is exhausting. Should ongoing illness, unresolved relational problems, or continued financial pressures become more than we can bear, it’s time to start thanking God because He has promised to give strength to the weary (Isaiah 40:29). He’ll release His supernatural energy within us so we can patiently endure the trial and come out victorious on the other side.

10. Gratitude transforms anxiety into peace, which passes all understanding (Phil. 4:6-7). I learned this principle through a very difficult experience. When I was feeling anxious about the situation, I discovered that complaining, getting angry, and arguing with God didn’t change my circumstances. Finally, in desperation, I began thanking Him. Only then did I receive His incomprehensible peace. My situation didn’t change for quite a while, but God’s peace guarded my heart all the way through that trying time.

What will you choose?

The choice isn’t always easy. Most of the time, we’d rather get out of difficulties than thank God through them. But have you ever considered that He may actually want you to stay in a painful situation for a time? I know this may not sound like something a loving God would ever do, but remember, His goal is to do what is best for you, not what’s comfortable, convenient, and enjoyable.

The Lord’s purposes for your life extend beyond your days on earth. He’s working for your eternal good. Begin thanking God today, in whatever circumstance you find yourself. After all, what’s the alternative—bitterness, resentment, and grumbling? God made you for something far better: eternal, sustaining joy. The transformation starts with two simple, small words offered from the heart: thank You.

Say them over and over. And then say them again. Your joy will be radiant—a light shining in a dark and desperate world.

 

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3 Reasons I Love The Book of Colossians

CHRIST OUR CORE

Colossae-Map

By Dr. David P. Craig

As I begin a new chapter of ministry in my life as a Senior Pastor at Valley Baptist Church in San Rafael, CA., it didn’t take long for me to make the book of Colossians my choice for my first exposition of Sermons. There are 3 primary reasons I chose to preach from the book of Colossians:

(1) An Upward Focus on the Sovereign Majesty and Saving Work of Jesus Christ – Perhaps of all the books of the Bible Colossians is arguably the most dense in its Christology. The Person and work of Christ as the Sovereign Redeemer for mankind is proclaimed loud and clear from the start to finish in this epistle.  Throughout the entire letter the apostle Paul redirects Christian’s distracted focus back to Jesus. He shows how focusing on Jesus builds a strong defense and forms a strategic offense against enemies both inside and outside the church. As clearly as any book of the Bible, Colossians rivets our attention on Christ and who He is and what He has done for us. Christ’s Person and work are the very motivation and power we need to live by faith, walk in obedience, and glorify God. As Scotty Smith has said, “The only cure for self-occupation is a preoccupation with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

(2) An Inward Focus That Helps Equip Us to Avoid The Dangers of False Teachings – The Colossian Church was being undermined by two types of heresies that had infiltrated the doctrinal beliefs of the Church: There was a combination of Jewish legalism (works salvation) and Eastern philosophy (gnosticism) that threatened the peace and unity of the Church. Today we have all kinds of heresies and false teachings that many long time conservative evangelical churches have succumbed too and have abandoned the faith that has been “delivered unto the saints.” We need to get back to the core teachings of Christ as reflected in the gospel – salvation by grace alone through Christ alone via faith and repentance.

(3) An Outward Missional Focus on How To Live For Christ Everywhere We Are – Paul shows us how Christ is at the center of all of our relationships (at home, work, and in the community with outsiders).

Bottom line – Colossians is all about Jesus – upward in worship, inward in equipping, and outward on mission. When we find our security and significance in Him we find that He’s really all we need and we want others to have what He’s given us – a personal relationship with Him through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2014 in Bible Study Helps, David P. Craig

 

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Do All the Commands of the Bible Apply To Christians Today?

Do All the Commands of the Bible Apply Today?

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By Robert L. Plummer

“Why do you insist that homosexual behavior is wrong when the Bible also commands people not to wear clothes woven from two different kinds of materials (Lev. 19:19)? You just pick and choose your morality from the Bible.” Such accusations against Christians are not uncommon today. How can we, in fact, determine what biblical commands are timeless in application? Do we have a biblical basis for obeying some commands in Scripture while neglecting others?

Covenant Bound Commands

In looking at this important question, we first need to distinguish between commands linked to the old covenant that have been superseded in Christ and commands that are still to be lived out on a daily basis by God’s people. Though a bit of an oversimplification, it can be helpful to think of God’s commands in the Old Testament as divided into civil (social), ceremonial (religious), and moral (ethical) categories. Those laws that relate to the civil and ceremonial (for example, food laws, sacrifices, circumcision, cities of refuge, etc.) find their fulfillment in Christ and no longer apply. The idea that Christians are not expected to obey the Old Testament’s civil and ceremonial commands is found throughout the New Testament. For example in Mark 7, we read: Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this, Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'” After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean”). He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” (Mark 7:14-23, my emphasis).

Similarly, in Acts, we read: The apostles and elders met to consider [the question of whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised to be saved]. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:6-11 – note – As a missionary accommodation [so as not to offend Jews], the early Christians did forgo some permitted foods {Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 8-10}).

Not only the civil and ceremonial laws but also the timeless moral demands of God find their fulfillment in Christ. Yet, these moral commands continue to find their expression through the Spirit-empowered lives of Christ’s body, the church (Romans 3:31).

Some speculate as to the reasons for some of the more unusual commands in the Old Testament. Why does touching someone’s dead body make one unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11-13)? Why was eating catfish forbidden (Leviticus 11:9-10)? Sometimes pseudoscientific reasons are offered, such as in books that encourage people to eat like the ancient Israelites (E.G., Jordan Rubin, The Maker’s Diet: The 40 Day Health Experience That Will Change Your Life Forever [Lake Mary, FL: Siloam, 2004]).

Elsewhere, pastors or commentators wax eloquent on the symbolic meaning of various commands. Admittedly, there are some symbol-laden divine instructions; yeast, for example, seems to have repeated negative connotations in the Bible (Exodus 12:8-20; 23:18; Lev. 10:12; Luke 12:1; 1 Cor. 5:6-8; Gal. 5:9 [Yeast can refer to pride, hypocrisy, false teaching, etc. But note how it symbolizes a positive pervasive influence in Luke 13:21]). Moving beyond the few explicit indications, however, the suggested symbolic for Old Testament regulations quickly becomes quite fanciful. Whatever the reason for the various commands (frankly, some of which are puzzling), it is clear that one of their main functions was to keep God’s people as a separate, distinct group, untainted by the pagan cultures around them (Exodus19:6; Ezra 9:1; 10:11). Also, some of the biblical commands imply that the surrounding nations engaged in the exact practices God forbade, apparently with pagan religious connotations (Lev. 19:26-28). God preserved the Jews as his chosen people, through whom he revealed his saving plan and finally brought the Savior at the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4).

Many supposed inconsistencies of Christian morality (for example, the charge that Christians pick and choose their morality from the Bible) are explained by understanding the provisional and preparatory nature of the civil and ceremonial laws of the old covenant period. The parallel is not exact, but imagine how foolish it would be for someone to raise the accusation, “Millions of people in every state of the Union are flaunting the Constitution! You don’t really believe or obey your Constitution, which states in the Eighteenth Amendment:

The manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited (The Eighteenth Amendment was ratified January 16, 1919). To which we would reply, “Yes, that amendment once was the law of the land, but it was superseded by the Twenty-first Amendment, which begins ‘The eighteenth article of the amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.'” (The Twenty First Amendment was ratified December 5, 1933)

The Bible is not a policy book, with each page giving equally timeless instruction. Yes, “Every word of God is flawless” (Proverbs 30:5). Nevertheless, the Bible is more like a multi-volume narrative, in which the later chapters clarify the ultimate meaning and sometimes the temporary, accommodating nature of earlier regulations and events (e.g., Matthew 19:8). Old Testament commands that are repeated in the New Testament (for example, moral commands, such as the prohibition of homosexuality [Lev. 18:22; 1 Cor. 6:9]) or not explicitly repeated (as are the civil and ceremonial laws [Mark 7:19; Heb. 10:1-10]) have abiding significance in the expression of God’s Spirit-led people.

Prescriptive Versus Descriptive

If we reflect on what biblical texts are applicable today. It is also important to consider whether a text is prescriptive or descriptive. That is, does a text prescribe (command) a certain action, or does it describe that behavior? This question can be complex, as some behaviors are described in praiseworthy ways so that they essentially have a secondary prescriptive function. Luke, for example repeatedly reports Jesus’ praying (e.g. Luke 3:21; 5:15-16; 6:12; 9:18-22; 29; 10:17-21; 11:1 22:39-46; 23:34, 46). Such descriptive passages complement more explicit exhortations to pray in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 11:2-13; 18:1-8; 22:40, 46). So, a good general rule is that a behavior reported in the text may be considered prescriptive only when there is subsequent explicit teaching to support it.

Another situation where we must consider the prescriptive nature of texts is Christian baptism in the New Testament. Some Christians claim that baptism must be performed immediately upon a convert’s initial profession of faith. In support, they cite a number of narrative texts in the New Testament, which describe baptism as coming immediately or very soon after a person believes (e.g., Acts 2:41; 8:12, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 18:8). However, nowhere in the New Testament do we find an explicit prescription such as this “Baptize persons immediately after they believe.” It is clear that all believers are to be baptized (Matt. 28:19; Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 1:13-16), but the exact timing of that baptism in relation to conversion is not explicitly stated.

In further thinking about the timing of baptism, we should note that many early conversions reported in Acts came within families or groups that were steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures. Yes, the early church was quick to obey Jesus’ command for disciples to be baptized, but the background and setting of these early believers differs considerably from those of most converts today. Also, the evidence of conversion that accompanied the apostolic preaching in Acts was often dramatic and/or miraculous. Since we lack an explicit command on the timing of baptism, wisdom must be applied in discerning the reality of our converts’ faith. Thus we conclude: immediate baptism could be advisable or further times of instruction and observation may be necessary.

Culture, Time, and Biblical Commands 

In relation to culture and time, the moral commands of Scripture can be divided into two categories.

(1) Commands that transfer from culture to culture with little or no alteration.

(2) Commands that embody timeless principles that find varying expressions in different cultures.

Many commands in Scripture are immediately applicable in other cultures with little or no alteration. For example, in Leviticus 19:11 we read, “Do not steal.” While cultures may have varying understandings of private property and the public commons, all humans are equally bound by this clear supra cultural command. It is wrong to pilfer the private property of others.

Other commands of Scripture, while immediately applicable across various futures, have implications depending on the culture in which they find expression. For example, in Ephesians 5:18, we read, “Do not get drunk on wine.” This command applies in a timeless way across all cultures. It is always wrong to get drunk with wine at any time in any culture. In more detailed application, however, the student of Scripture also should ask what other substances a culture may offer that have a similar effect to wine (for example, being drunk with vodka, getting high on marijuana, etc.). In seeking such implications within new cultures, the initial command, while immediately understandable, is given broader application. One way to develop applications is to distill the principle of the original command–for example, “Do not take a foreign substance into your body to the degree that you lose control of your normal bodily functions or moral inhibitions.” Then, one can go on to discuss what substances in different cultures would present this danger and thus should be forbidden from human intake to the degree that they cause the deleterious effect (Stein uses Ephesians 5:18 to illustrate implications [Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules {Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994}], 39).

The close similarity between drunkenness from beer, vodka, or wine is relatively transparent to most readers. But what about a command with more cultural veneer? In 1 Corinthians 11:5, for example, Paul writes, “And every woman who prays or prophecies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is just as though her head were shaved.” Should women today, then, always cover their heads when they pray in public? Again, it is important to ask the purpose behind Paul’s original command. Was it specifically the physical placing of a piece of cloth on a women’s head that concerned him? Was it not, rather, the woman’s submission to her husband that this head covering expressed in the culture to which Paul wrote (See 1 Cor. 11:1-16 and confer Benjamin L. Merkle, “Paul’s Argument from Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14: An Apparent Inconsistency Answered,” JETS 49, no. 3 [2006]: 527-48). If so, we can ask, “Does a woman covering her head in our culture express submission to her husband?” Transparently, it does not. What behaviors, then, communicate a woman’s submission to her husband? Two examples from the Southeastern United States are a woman’s wearing of a wedding ring on her left finger and the taking of her husband’s last name (without hyphenation). While a woman keeping her maiden name may not express an unbiblical independence in some cultures (China, for example), within the circles where I grew up, a woman keeping her last name after marriage was an implicit rejection of biblically defined gender roles.

Finally, we should note that there are some nonmoral commands that are not applicable outside of their original setting. These are commands the author intended to be fulfilled only once by the intended recipient(s) and did not see as paradigmatic in any way. The list of such commands is very small. One example would be 2 Timothy 4:13, where Paul asks Timothy, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.” Such a command was obeyed by Timothy, we presume, and has no further application in any other culture or time.

Below is a list of guidelines to help determine in what way a biblical command may find varying expressions in other settings.

(1) Rephrase the biblical command in more abstract, theological terms. Is the injunction a culturally specific application of an underlying theological principle? Or are the command and cultural application inseparable?

(2) Would a modern-day literal application of the command accomplish the intended objective of the biblical author’s original statement (assuming you can determine the objective of the biblical author’s command)?

(3) Are there details in the text that would cause one to conclude that the instructions are only for a specific place or time?

(4) Are there details in the text that would cause one to conclude that the instructions have a supra cultural (that is, the command applies unchanged in different cultures)?

(5) Do your conclusions about the debated passage cohere with the author’s other statements and the broader canonical context?

(6) Is there a salvation historical shift (old covenant to the new covenant) that would explain an apparent contradiction with other biblical instructions?

(7) Beware of a deceitful human heart that would use hermeneutical principles to rationalize disobedience to Scripture. Interpretive principles, like a sharp knife, can be used for both good and ill.

*The article above was adapted from Question 19 “Do All The Commands of the Bible Apply Today?” in the excellent book by  Robert L. Plummer. 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids: MI, Kregel Publications, 2010.

 

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E-Book Review of Jonathan Morrow’s “Is the Bible Sexist, Racist, Homophobic, and Genocidal?”

God’s Perspective vs. Man’s Perspective

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Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig

The default mode of the human heart is to replace our central focus on God and replace this void with idols at the center of our lives. The prolific author and Theologian D.A. Carson has stated it this way, “Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry.” I believe that to ask the question, “Is the Bible Sexist, Racist, Homophobic, and Genocidal?” – is at its core a misunderstanding of what’s at the center of our worship – God or self? Are we going to maintain a God-centered focus or capitulate to cultural relativism with ourselves at the center? In this important e-single from a chapter in Morrow’s larger book entitled “Questioning the Bible” Morrow tackles this question with theological precision, biblical erudition, and logical acumen.

Morrow opens this essay by dealing with the question: “Does the Bible endorse slavery?” He then answers this question by carefully developing five biblical responses: (1) Christianity did not invent slavery. (2) He shows how the ancient Near Eastern cultural context was very different from the modern postcolonial context. (3) Christianity tolerated slavery and was instrumental in its abolishment. (4) Jesus was not silent on slavery; he simply understood what the root issues were–and they all reside in the human heart. (5) The Christian worldview best accounts for human rights and dignity.

The second question addressed by Morrow is “Does the Bible approve of genocide?” In five points  Morrow sets the record straight in understanding the biblical stance on genocide: (1) Things are not the way they ought to be – Israel as described in the Old Testament is not God’s ideal society. (2) The divinely given command to Israel of herem (Yahweh War) concerning the Canaanites was unique, geographically and temporally limited, and not to be repeated. (3) Genocide and ethnic cleansing are inaccurate terms for the conquest of Canaan. (4) We must allow for the possibility of rhetorical generalization in ancient Near Eastern “war language.” (5) The Canaanite incident should be read against the backdrop of God’s promise of blessing for all the nations.

The third question tackled by Morrow is perhaps the most culturally sensitive one at the moment: “Is the Bible homophobic?” He answers this question with five biblical points: (1) The Bible includes homosexual behavior among a long list of sinful behaviors outside of God’s design for human sexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 18; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Hebrews 13:4; Genesis 1:26-27; 2:18-24; 19:4-9; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27 are passages discussed in great detail). (2) The Bible does not teach that God created people to be gay – Jesus affirmed that God’s intention was the complementary sexes of male and female committing to a permanent one-flesh union (cf. Genesis 1:27; 2:24 with Matthew 19:3-6). (3) While the Bible does not teach people are born gay, it does teach that all people are born sinful (Romans 3:23; 5:12-21). A helpful distinction is quoted by Mark Mittleberg on this point: “We must correct the idea that because desire seems natural it must be from God and is therefore okay. As fallen humans we all have many desires that seem natural to us but that are not from God.” (4) The Bible teaches that change is possible for all those who struggle with sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). (5) Lastly, the Bible teaches that holiness, not heterosexuality, is the goal of the spiritual life. Morrow writes, “All of us are broken; we just express brokenness in different ways. As we repent and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we pursue holiness. The goal is being conformed to the image of Christ (cf. Romans 8:29). Unfortunately, when these goals get talked about in the context of homosexual sin, some well-meaning Christians have indicated that the goal is for this person to live a heterosexual lifestyle. This may or may not happen. But we need to be clear that whatever our struggle, holiness is the goal.”

The fourth and final question addressed by Morrow is related to setting the record straight biblically on “Is the Bible sexist?” (1) Morrow states, “God’s creational ideal is that women are made in the image of God and therefore possess the same dignity, honor, and value as men (Genesis 1:27; 2:24; Ex. 20:12). (2) Polygamy was tolerated and regulated in order to offer some measure of protection for women in an ancient Near Eastern context. However, this was never God’s plan. Morrow writes, “We hear echoes of God’s ideal when he warns that Israel’s king should not ‘acquire many wives fro himself, lest his heart turn away.’ (Deuteronomy 17:17).” (3) The realities of women in the Greco-Roman world were harsh. (4) The apostle Paul had a high view of women, and the teachings of Christianity began to elevate their status (cf. Paul’s high view and co-laboring with women in Rom. 16:1-16; Phil. 4:2-3; 1 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:15; Acts 16:14-15, 40; Galatians 3:28 and 1 Tim. 6). (5) Jesus appearance on the scene is indeed very good news for women – Morrow elaborates, “With the harsh Greco-Roman backdrop in mind, we can see how radical Jesus’ view of women really was. First, he healed several women of diseases (Matthew 9:18-26), interacted with women of different races (John 4:9), and extended forgiveness to women who had committed sexual sin (Luke 7:36-50). Jewish rabbis of the day would not teach women, but Jesus had many women followers and disciples (cf. Mark 15:41) and he taught them (Luke 10:39). Women supported his ministry financially (Luke 8:1-3), and he used women as positive examples in his teaching (Luke 18:1-8). Jesus’ women followers were the last to leave at his crucifixion and the first at his empty tomb.”

Morrow patiently, wisely, and practically articulates that appearances and sound bites on these difficult issues are often messy and moral change is painfully slow in a fallen world. The reality is that Jesus came to liberate us from all of our idolatries and bondages to sin. We find our satisfaction in Jesus at the center of all of life. Many of the issues we struggle with as sinners in a fallen world are blind spots that can only be identified and remedied through the lenses of God’s revelation as revealed in the Scriptures. The good news in this little book is that Jesus has come and fulfilled Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Morrow reminds us that in all of our personal and corporate sin against a Holy, Just, and Loving God He has “thankfully…not left us to die in our brokenness and rebellion; he has redemptively pursued us with the everlasting love of a heavenly father.”

 

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Is There Any Biblical Evidence for the Rapture?

Biblical Evidences for a Pretribulational Rapture

imagesby Mike Vlach
President of Theological Studies.org www.theologicalstudies.org

Introductory matters concerning the Rapture

Interest in the Rapture: A 1994 survey by U.S. News and World Report found that 61 percent of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth, and 44 percent believe in the rapture of the church. (Jeffery L. Sheler, “The Christmas Covenant,” U.S. News and World Report, December 19, 1994, pp. 62, 64)

Where do we get the term “Rapture”? The term “rapture” is not found in the Bible, so where does the word come from? The term “rapture” comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word translated “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Charles Ryrie explains, “The Greek word from which we take the term ‘rapture’ appears in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, translated ‘caught up.’ The Latin translation of this verse used the word rapturo. The Greek word it translates is harpazo, which means to snatch or take away. Elsewhere it is used to describe how the Spirit caught up Philip near Gaza and brought him to Caesarea (Acts 8:39) and to describe Paul’s experience of being caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4). Thus there can be no doubt that the word is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to indicate the actual removal of people from earth to heaven.” (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 462)

Passages referring to the Rapture There are three primary texts which refer to the Rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 and John 14:1-3.

Components of the Rapture 

The return of Christ “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout. . .” (1 Thess. 4:16). “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself” (John 14:3)

A resurrection of dead church saints “The dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). “The dead will be raised imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:52).

A translation of living believers “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up” (1 Thess. 4:17).

A glorious reunion “We. . . shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). “I will come. . . that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

A giving of glorified bodies “We shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:52-53). “We eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Speed of Rapture “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52).

The timing of the Rapture in relation to the Tribulation period

The debate “In the nineteenth century, teaching concerning the Rapture of the church began to be widely disseminated. This raised such questions as whether the second coming of Christ involves several stages, the relation of those stages to the Tribulation period, and the distinctiveness of the church from Israel in God’s program. In the twentieth century one of the most debated questions in eschatology concerns the time of the Rapture.” (Ryrie, p. 478)

The various views Amillennialists and Postmillennialists regard the coming of Christ as a single event to be followed by a general resurrection and judgment. Within Premillennialism, though, five main views have been promoted concerning the timing of the Rapture:

Pretribulationism teaches that the Rapture of the church will occur before the seven-year Tribulation period begins. Supporters of this view include John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Dwight Pentecost, Alva J. McClain, John Feinberg, and Paul Feinberg.

Midtribulationsim teaches that the Rapture of the church will occur at the midpoint of the seven years of Tribulation; that is, after three and one half years have elapsed. Supporters of this view include Oliver Buswell and Gleason Archer.

The Pre-wrath rapture view teaches that all Christians will be taken in the Rapture approximately three-fourths of the way through the Tribulation period. Supporters of this view include Marvin Rosenthal and Robert Van Kampen.

Posttribulationism teaches that the Rapture and Second Coming are facets of a single event which will occur at the end of the Tribulation period. Thus, the church will be on earth during the seven years Tribulation period. Supporters of this view include George Ladd, Robert Gundry and Douglas Moo.

The Partial rapture view teaches that only the “spiritual” Christians who are watching and waiting for the Lord’s return will be taken in the Rapture. Then during the seven years of Tribulation other Church Age saints who were not prepared for the initial Rapture will be raptured at various intervals. This view originated with Robert Govett in 1835 and was also taught by J. A. Seiss and G.H. Lang.

Why is this issue of the timing of the Rapture important?

The study of the Rapture is important because we want to know the whole counsel of God.

The Christian’s expectation The Rapture issue is important because it deals with the nature of the Christian’s hope and expectation. Are Christians to expect Christ’s return at any moment? Or, are we expecting to go through a time of worldwide tribulation?

A Biblical defense of Pretribulationism

Of these five views why is Pretribulationism to be preferred? The following are biblical evidences for a Pretribulational Rapture:

The pillars of Pretribulationism 

The foundation of Pretribulationism has four elements:

(1) Consistent literal interpretation: The literal method of interpretation attempts to explain the original sense of the writer according to the normal usages of words and language. The literal method interprets all of the Bible in a normal and plain way, all the time understanding that the Bible, at times, uses symbols, figures of speech and types.

(2) Distinction between Israel and the Church: The more one recognizes the biblical distinction between Israel and the church, the clearer one will be able to see God’s distinct plan for each group. According to Thomas Ice, “If Israel and the church are not distinguished, then there is no basis for seeing a future for Israel or for the church as a new and unique people of God. If Israel and the church are merged into a single program, then the Old Testament promises for Israel will never be fulfilled and are usually seen by replacement theologians as spiritually fulfilled by the church. The merging of Israel’s destiny into the church not only makes into one what the Scriptures understand as two, but it also removes a need for future restoration of God’s original elect people in order to fulfill literally His promise that they will one day be the head and not the tail (Deuteronomy 28:13).

The more that believers see a distinct plan for Israel and a distinct plan for the church, the more they realize that when the New Testament speaks to the church it is describing a separate destiny and hope for her. The church becomes more distinct in the plan of God. Israel’s future includes the seven-year tribulation, and then shortly before Christ’s return to Jerusalem she will be converted to Jesus as her Messiah. . . . On the other hand, the distinct hope for the church is Christ’s any-moment return.

Thus, a distinction between Israel and the church, as taught in the Bible, provides a basis of support for the pretribulational rapture. Those who merge the two programs cannot logically support the biblical arguments for pretribulationism.” (Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, The Truth About The Rapture, pp. 25-26)

(3) Futurism: Pretribulationism takes a futuristic interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27 and the book of Revelation. Daniel 9:24-27 gives the seven-year chronological framework of the Tribulation while Revelation 6-18 details the judgments that make up this period. Futurism sees prophecy as being fulfilled in the future, namely with the Tribulation period, the Second Coming of Christ to earth, and the Millennial Kingdom. Futurism is opposed to preterism, which sees prophecy as already being fulfilled in the past, predominately in A.D. 70. Futurism is also opposed to historicism which sees prophecy being fulfilled in the current Church Age.

(4) Premillennialism: At the end of the seven year Tribulation period, Jesus Christ will return to earth in power and glory to set up an earthly Kingdom from Jerusalem that will last for a literal one thousand years (see Rev. 20:1-6).

Proper methodology for addressing the rapture issue 

What is the proper method for addressing this issue of the timing of the Rapture?

Examine the Rapture and Second Coming passages:

Go first to the portions of Scripture that speak directly about the Rapture and the return of the Lord to earth.

Study John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 for the Rapture.

Examine Zechariah 14:1-21; Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-27; and Revelation 19 for the Second Coming to earth.

Examine implications of conclusions Proper methodology does not stop with an examination of the primary texts addressing an issue. As John Feinberg says, “While one should begin with passages that speak directly about the doctrine under consideration, one must also pay attention to the implications of the doctrine. This is especially important if, as in the case of the rapture, the passages about the rapture and return of the Lord do not determine the question of the rapture’s timing in relation to the time of the Tribulation. . . . Implications and relations of doctrines to one another are crucial. If one’s position on a given theological issue is correct, it will fit with other known theological and biblical truths rather than contradict them. (John S. Feinberg, “Arguing for the Rapture: Who Must Prove What and How” in, When the Trumpet Sounds, Thomas Ice and Timothy eds. p. 191)

Putting it all together “The key point to remember is that proper theological methodology dare not allow us to ignore either the rapture and parousia passages or the doctrines that have implications for one’s views on the rapture and second advent. Although study should begin with passages that speak directly to the topic at hand, both are equally important. It is surely no victory to uphold one’s views on the timing of the rapture at the expense of denying what God’s Word says, for example, about the relation of the church to God’s judgmental wrath.” (John Feinberg, p. 192)

Biblical evidence for Pretribulationism 

The Bible does not explicitly tells us the timing of the Rapture. Thus, no one verse tells us that the Rapture will be pretribulational (or midtribulational or posttribulational for that matter). Does this mean that the doctrine of pretribulationism is unbiblical? Not necessarily. Many important biblical doctrines are not given to us directly in one verse. Some doctrines are based on a harmonization of multiple passages. For example, no one verse explains the doctrine of the Trinity or that Jesus Christ is the God-man. Yet a harmonization of passages shows these doctrines to be biblical. Likewise a harmonization of biblical texts shows the pretribulational rapture view to be biblical. The following are the biblical evidences:

God has promised the Church deliverance from divine wrath (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9; Rev. 3:10) God made a special promise to the church that it will be delivered from the future, tribulational wrath of God. It is best to take this deliverance as a physical removal (Rapture)from this time of divine wrath.

1 Thess. 1:9-10 The Thessalonians were wait[ing] for His Son from heaven. . . that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come. Why does this wrath refer to the Tribulation? First, the context of 1 and 2 Thessalonians deals with the Day of the Lord and the judgment of God that precedes the coming of Christ. Second, the text states that it is a future wrath (“wrath to come”). Third, it is a wrath one can be rescued from by the return of Christ. Thus, The wrath referred to then is the wrath of the Tribulation period and not God’s eternal wrath in general.

1 Thess. 5:9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Why does this wrath refer to the Tribulation? The immediate context is the wrath of the Day of the Lord (5:1-8). Plus, this must be the same wrath as 1 Thess. 1:10.

The whole seven year Tribulation period is a time of God’s divine wrath so the protection promised must be for the whole seven years. Some have tried to say that divine wrath does not characterize the whole seven year Tribulation period. They say that the early judgments (the seals) of the tribulation are the wrath of man and Satan. The following points, however, show that the whole Tribulation period is a time of divine wrath.

Jesus is the One who directly opens all the Tribulation judgments including the seal judgments which begin the Tribulation period. In Revelation 4 and 5 Jesus is the One found worthy to open the seals which He begins to open in 6:1. The opening of the seals by Christ indicates that the seal judgments are divine wrath.

The seal judgments which open the Tribulation are consistent with divine wrath “The judgments of these four seals include the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts, frequently used in Scripture as the expressions of divine wrath. Indeed, they are all included and named when God calls His ‘four severe judgments upon Jerusalem: sword, famine, wild beasts and plague’ (Ezek. 14:21).” (Gerald B. Stanton, “A Review of the Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, Bibliotecha Sacra, vol. 148 #589, January 1991) Plus, plagues such as pestilence and wild beasts can hardly be caused by man.

As early as the sixth seal, unbelievers declare that God’s wrath “has come” (Rev. 6:16-17). Unbelievers recognize that all six seals that have happened so far are the direct wrath of God. Robert L. Thomas says “The verb elthen (‘has come’) is aorist indicative, referring to a previous arrival of the wrath, not something that is about to take place. Men see the arrival of this day at least as early as the cosmic upheavals that characterize the sixth seal (6:12-14), but upon reflection they probably recognize it was already in effect with the death of one-fourth of the population (6:7-8), the worldwide famine (6:5-6), and the global warfare (6:3-4). The rapid sequence of all these events could not escape public notice, but the light of their true explanation does not dawn upon human consciousness until the severe phenomena of the sixth seal arrive.” (Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 457-58)

Revelation 3:10 Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth. Here is a promise to the Church of preservation outside of the time of Tribulation. Thus, believers are not only promised deliverance from divine wrath but from the time period (“hour”) of divine wrath. This rules out the possibility of the Church being on earth during the Tribulation. As Ryrie says, “It is impossible to conceive of being in the location where something is happening and being exempt from the time of the happening.”

Differences between Rapture passages and Second Coming passages indicate that the two are different events happening at different times.

The central passages dealing with the Rapture are John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

The central passages dealing with the Second Coming to earth are Zechariah 14:1- 21; Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-27 and Revelation 19. A careful examination of these texts will show that there is enough reason to conclude that the Rapture and the Second Coming to earth are not the same event:

(1) The Second Coming is preceded by signs but the Rapture is presented as imminent with no signs preceding it. “In passages that deal with the Second Advent there are signs or events that lead up to and signal the return of Jesus Christ (e.g., Matt. 24:4-28; Rev. 19:11-21). In each of these passages of Scripture there is the careful and extensive itemizing of details that should alert believers in that day that the Second Advent is about to occur. . . . On the other hand, there is no mention of any signs or events that precede the Rapture of the church in any of the Rapture passages. The point seems to be that the believer prior to this event is to look, not for some sign, but the Lord from heaven. If the Rapture was a part of the complex of events that make up the Second Advent, and not distinct from it, then we would expect that there would be a mention of signs or events in at least one passage.” (See Paul D. Feinberg, “The Case For The Pretribulation Rapture Position,” in Gleason Archer, Paul Feinberg, Douglas Moo, The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post Tribulational? p. 80)

(2) The Rapture is presented as a coming in blessing while the Second Coming is a coming for judgment. “In the clear Rapture passages, the Lord’s coming is presented as a coming in blessing for the saints. Nothing is said about His coming for judgment. On the other hand, passages about the second advent speak of the Lord’s coming in judgment upon His enemies (Rev. 19:11ff; Joel 3:12-16; Zech. 14:3-5).” (John Feinberg, p. 198). “In each of the Rapture passages there is no mention of trial before the event. Rather, there is the bare promise of Christ’s return for His own.” (Paul Feinberg, p. 81)

(3) Second Coming passages are in the context of the setting up of the Kingdom while the Rapture passages make no mention of the Kingdom. “Second advent passages are invariably followed by talk of setting up the kingdom after the Lord’s return (e.g., Matt. 24:31; 25:31ff; Zech. 14; Joel 3; Rev. 19-20). So, the second advent is preparatory to the establishment of the millennial kingdom. On the other hand, clear rapture passages give no hint that after the rapture the Lord establishes the kingdom.” (John Feinberg, p. 198)

(4) Glorified bodies at the Rapture: “It is very clear from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51ff that at the rapture those gathered to the Lord will be glorified. On the other hand, second advent passages say nothing about anyone (living or dead) receiving a glorified body.” (John Feinberg, p. 198) “Nowhere in the texts that deal with the Second Advent is there the teaching about the translation of living saints.” (Paul Feinberg, p. 82)

(5) No mention of meeting in the air in Second Coming passages: Nowhere in the Second Coming passages is a meeting in the air mentioned.

(6) Differences in timing of resurrections “There seems to be an inconsistency between the time of the resurrection at the Rapture and at the Second Coming. In the central Rapture passage dealing with this issue, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the time of the resurrection of dead saints in clearly stated to be during the descent of Christ of to the earth. Those raptured, living and dead saints, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Contrast that information with what is found in Revelation 19-20. There, the order seems to be: the descent of Christ, the slaying of His enemies, the casting of the Beast and the False Prophet into the lake of fire, the binding of Satan, and then the resurrection of the saints. It seems as though the resurrection of the dead will be during the descent at the Rapture, but after the descent at the Second Coming.” (Paul Feinberg, p. 84)

(7) Differences in destiny at time of comings: “There seems to be an inconsistency between the destination of those who are raptured in the Rapture and the destination of those who participate in the Second Coming. In the posttribulation understanding of the events that surround the Second Coming, the church will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and will immediately accompany Him on His continued descent to the earth. Compare that with John 14:3. In the Rapture the Lord is going to come and take those raptured to be with Him. The clear implication is that the raptured saints will be taken to heaven, not earth. If this is so, then the destination of those caught up in the Rapture will be heaven. According to the Second Coming passages, however, the saints involved are headed for the earth.” (Paul Feinberg, p. 84)

(8) The role of the angels in the comings: At the Second Coming, the angels are the ones who will gather the elect (Matt. 24:31). At the Rapture Jesus is the direct agent of the gathering (1 Thess. 4:16).

(9) The “mystery” nature of the Rapture: “Paul speaks of the Rapture as a ‘mystery’ (1 Cor. 15:51-54), that is, a truth not revealed until it was disclosed by the apostles (Col. 1:26). Thus the Rapture is said to be a newly revealed mystery, making it a separate event. The Second Coming on the other hand, was predicted in the Old Testament (Dan. 12:1-3; Zech. 12:10; 14:4). (Thomas Ice in “The Biblical Basis for the Pretribulational Rapture,” in Basic Theology Applied, p. 269) 

(10) No mention of the Church in Revelation 4-18: Revelation 4-18 gives the most detailed account of the seven year Tribulation period. If the Church were to be in the Tribulation period, surely one would expect at least one reference to the Church in this time period. The Church, however, which is referred to nineteen times in the first three chapters of Revelation, is suddenly silent and never referred to in chapters 4-18. “It is remarkable and totally unexpected that John would shift from detailed instructions for the Church to absolute silence about the Church for the subsequent 15 chapters if, in fact, the Church continued into the tribulation.” (Richard L. Mayhue, Snatched Before the Storm, p. 8)

(11) Pretribulationism best explains the presence of nonglorified saints who will enter the Millennial Kingdom. The Bible indicates that living unbelievers will be removed from the earth and judged at the end of the Tribulation. Yet the Bible also teaches that children will be born during the Millennium and that people will be capable of sin (Isa. 65:20 and Rev. 20:7-10). How can this be? The pretribulational view allows for people to be saved after the Rapture and during the Tribulation who will then enter the Millennial Kingdom in nonglorified bodies. As John Feinberg says, “According to pretribulationism, after the rapture the Tribulation begins. The gospel is preached throughout the Tribulation and there are some who believe. Though many who believe are killed (e.g., Revelation 13:7, 15), not all believers are killed during the Tribulation. Those who live through the Tribulation go into the kingdom in natural bodies. In addition, some people accept the Lord when he returns at the end of the Tribulation (e.g., Zech. 12:10). Many of these people do not die at that point, and there is no evidence that they are given a glorified body when they receive Christ. These people are also available to go into the kingdom in natural bodies. For a pretrib position, there are seven years to get people saved prior to the kingdom, and some of those can go into the kingdom in natural bodies. . . . The position that is really in trouble with respect to this issue is the posttribulation rapture view. If everyone who goes at the rapture is glorified, and if the rapture occurs at the end of the Tribulation, who is left to enter the kingdom in natural bodies? All believers will have been raptured and glorified by that time.” (Italics mine) (John Feinberg, p. 201)

The nature and purpose of the Tribulation excludes the Church from being part of it. 

(12) Nature of Tribulation centers on Israel: According to Daniel 9:24-27, the “seventy weeks” prophecy including the final “one week” (seven years) is for Israel (“your people”). Jeremiah 30:7 refers to the Tribulation period as a time of “Jacob’s distress.” “While the church will experience tribulation in general during the present age (John 16:33), she is never mentioned as participating in Israel’s time of trouble, which includes the great tribulation, the day of the Lord, and the wrath of God.” (Ice and Demy, The Truth About The Rapture, p. 36)

Purpose #1: Preparation of Israel “The Bible teaches that the Tribulation is a time of preparation for Israel’s restoration and conversion (Deuteronomy 4:29, 30; Jeremiah 30:3-11; Zechariah 12:10).” (Ice and Demy, p. 36)

Purpose #2: Judgment for an unbelieving world Revelation 3:10 refers to the Tribulation period as “the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.” The second major purpose of the Tribulation, then, is to test the unbelieving world. “Those who dwell upon the earth” refers to those who are unbelievers on earth during the period described in Revelation 4-19. (Thomas Edgar, “An Exegesis of Rapture Passages,” in Issues in Dispensationalism, p. 216)

(13) The nature of the Church: If the nature of the Tribulation is Jewish and the purpose of the Tribulation is to bring Israel to belief and to judge the unbelieving world, what purpose does the church have in relation to this period? As shown already, the church is promised deliverance from this time of wrath (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9; Rev. 3:10).

(14) The expectation of the Church is the imminent coming of Christ not the Tribulation period. “Passages such as 1 Corinthians 1:7; Titus 2:13 and Philippians 3:20 are applicable at this point. The believer is pictured as eagerly waiting and earnestly expecting the Savior. Watching for signs is entirely foreign to these passages. It never occurs. Not even once. Furthermore, not only is the believer to look for the any-moment return of the Lord, but he is to direct his life in the light of it (cf. Rom. 13:11-14; James 5:7-8; 1 John 3:1-3). If, on the other hand, there are specific prophesied signs, in reality we would not be looking for the Savior at any moment but instead should be watching for the revelation of the man of sin, the Great Tribulation, etc. There would be at least a seven-year preparation period.” (Earl D. Radmacher, “The Imminent Return of the Lord,” in Issues in Dispensationalism, pp. 264-65). “It is incongruous then that the Scriptures would be silent on such a traumatic change for the Church. If posttribulationism were true, one would expect the epistles to teach the fact of the Church in the tribulation, the purpose of the Church in the tribulation, and the conduct of the Church in the tribulation.” (Mayhue, p. 9)

(15) The Thessalonian’s expectation: That Paul had taught a Pretribulational Rapture can be inferred from 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3. In this passage, Paul notes that the Thessalonians had been “shaken” and “disturbed” because they had been led to think that they were presently in the Day of the Lord (i.e. the Tribulation period). The fact that they were disturbed is significant. If Paul had taught a posttribulational rapture, the Thessalonians would have had no reason to be disturbed since they would be expecting signs and persecution before the coming of the Lord. Thus, they could joyously look to the soon coming of the Lord after the Tribulation. However, the fact that the Thessalonians were shook up indicates that they did not expect to be in the Day of the Lord. A fair inference is that, in line with Paul’s previous teaching, the Thessalonians expected to be raptured prior to the Day of the Lord.

Concluding thoughts The purpose of this work has been to present a positive, biblical case for the pretribulational rapture position. The judgmental and Jewish nature of the Tribulation seems to exclude the Church who is promised deliverance from this time of wrath. The differences between Rapture and Second Coming passages, though not convincing to all, seem weighty enough to make it very possible that the two are different events happening at different times. If this be the case, this view harmonizes well with the fact that the Church is nowhere to be found in the very detailed Tribulation section of Revelation 4-19. This view also harmonizes well with the fact that there must be a time period allowed for people to be saved and then enter the Millennial Kingdom in nonglorified bodies.

 

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