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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Seriously? 70 A.D.??

Last Sunday, I mentioned a couple of typical objections that people have to the view that Matt 24:15-28 was fulfilled in 70AD.  (If you haven’t heard the first few messages in Matthew 24, you can find them here.)  The first objection is that v21 describes this time as “great tribulation,” which would seem to coincide with “the great tribulation” mentioned in Revelation 7:14, assumed to be the period just prior to the second coming of Christ.  If Matt 24:15-28 describes the great tribulation, how can we say that it was fulfilled in some sense in 70AD?  The second objection comes from the same verse, where the magnitude of this great tribulation is described using the clauses, “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”  Certainly the trouble of 70AD, terrible as it was, could not be worse than that of the great tribulation described in Revelation.  How then can we say that this was fulfilled thousands of years before the last days?
Before addressing these objections, let’s be reminded why one might believe that this passage was fulfilled in 70AD in the first place.  The first and most important reason is that in v34, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you that this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”  If we take this statement at face value – which I believe we must – then vv15-28 had to have been fulfilled in some sense during the lifetimes of the apostles’ generation.  Second, the events surrounding the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 70AD appear to fit this passage very well.  Third, the parallel passage in Luke 21:20-24 sounds far more like the events of 70AD than the events expected in the last days.
As for the first objection, we must keep in mind that we can’t regard the word “tribulation” or the phrase “great tribulation” as if this is the trademarked name of the period just before the second coming so that we believe these words always refer to the last days.  John describes his presence on the Isle of Patmos in the first century as “tribulation” in Rev 1:9. The church of Smyrna is recognized as enduring “tribulation” in Rev 2:9-10.  Tribulation is normal for the Christian life (2 Tim 3:12; Acts 14:22; Rom 5:3, 8:35-36; John 16:33).  Jesus, in Matthew 24:21, has simply added the adjective “great,” which has the effect of amplifying the description of a particular period as one of extreme trouble. 
But the phrase “great tribulation” is used in Revelation 7:14 to refer to the end times – doesn’t that make it likely that Jesus’ use of this phrase in Matt 24:21 refers to the same time period?  No.  Even if you do treat the phrase like a trademarked title for the last days, that the same noun and adjective are used elsewhere does not make it likely that the words have the same referent.  But I am not even willing to concede that Revelation 7:14 refers strictly to the last days.  The notion that Rev 7:14 has to refer only to the last days is an assumption that rests upon a mountain of other dispensational assumptions.  (If you don’t know what dispensationalism is, come to our Wednesday night bible study beginning September 9, when we will begin a survey of biblical eschatology.)  There is nothing in the text of Revelation that necessitates this, and a number of things that suggest otherwise.  My view is that to read Matt 24:21 this way we must read dispensational theology into the text.  “Great tribulation” simply means “extreme trouble” and is not the official biblical name for a specific period of time right before Christ returns.  In other words, when we read “great tribulation” in Matt 24:17 or Rev 7:14 we ought not see “Great Tribulation.”
The second objection, at first blush, looks pretty convincing.  The text tells of a time of tribulation “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”  What is there to argue with? 
Remember that we are talking about judgment that has been pronounced upon the Jews for the rejection of the Messiah Jesus.  The context is undeniable.  Because this text deals with judgment, we should expect it to use the same kind of language that other biblical judgment texts use.  We noted in the first message on Matt 24 that apocalyptic texts frequently use hyperbolic language, language that describes an event using universal and radical terms.  When we consider other judgment texts in the Bible and the hyperbolic language employed, we should recognize that Jesus is simply using this same device.
Exo 11:6 – There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again.
Exo 10:14 – The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again.
Joel 2:2 – a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.
Compare also these two texts.  Although they are not judgment texts, they do make a helpful point about biblical hyperbole.
2Kings 18:5 – [Hezekiah] trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.
2Kings 23:25 – Before [Josiah] there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.
Think about this.  2Kings 18:5 says that there would be no king after Hezekiah who would be as devoted to the Lord as he was.  Yet regarding Josiah, who came after Hezekiah, 2 Kings 23:25 informs us that no one was like him in terms of his devotion to the Lord.  They can’t both be the greatest, can they?  No, clearly the text is using hyperbole in both cases to indicate complete devotion to the Lord on the part of both men.
In my opinion, the most persuasive example of hyperbole is Ezekiel 5:9: And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again.  This text is a prediction regarding the imminent Babylonian captivity, which was fulfilled long before Jesus spoke the words recorded in Matt 24, long before 70AD, and long before the second coming of Christ, yet the Word describes it in ultimate terms.  How can this be?  The only explanation is that Ezekiel uses hyperbolic language similar to so many other passages of Scripture.
In light of the use of hyperbolic language elsewhere in the Word, and because of the striking similarity between the phraseology of these texts and Matthew 24:21, it is more than reasonable to assume that Jesus is using hyperbole to describe a time of extreme suffering, without expecting his disciples to understand Him literally.  We need to remember to consider how the disciples would have heard these things.  Their familiarity with the Semitic use of language and the use of hyperbole in specific biblical texts would have made it unlikely that they would interpret Jesus’ words with wooden literalness. 
This is an important lesson to take with us as we study Matt 24:29-35 this Sunday.  Hyperbole will once again figure prominently and our sensitivity to this kind of figurative language will prevent us from making unwarranted assumptions regarding the timing of the events predicted there.
Perhaps this article has not been persuasive to you.  As I’ve said from the beginning of this sermon series, that is fine.  We’re not dealing with essential doctrine and so there is room for disagreement.  My hope is merely that we’ll all become a bit less dogmatic, understanding that there are other plausible views on this and other eschatological passages.  If you’re interested in learning more about eschatology, consider attending our Wednesday night Bible study beginning September 9.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wednesday Night Eschatology Study!

I’ve been challenged thus far by our study in Matthew 24 to keep my eyes open for deception and to persevere throughout the persecution of this present age.  I’m so thankful for expository preaching – if it were not for our conviction that the Word should be taught expositionally, I most likely would never have taken the time to consider in depth the doctrine of the last things.
Our current sermon series is not going to necessitate a look at a number of key questions regarding eschatology.  Some of these questions include:
What will be the timing of the Lord’s return relative to the tribulation of the last days?  Will He return at the beginning, middle, or end of this tribulation?
Will the tribulation of the last days consist of a literal seven-year period or an indeterminate period of time?
What should we believe about the Anti-Christ?  Will this be a literal person, a religious group, a secular government, or something else?
What should we believe about the 1,000-year period prophesied in Revelation 20?
Though we are dealing with quite a bit in Matthew 24, there are quite a few eschatological questions we are leaving unasked and unanswered.  Given the interest that many believers have on this issue as well as the general lack of awareness regarding the different sides of each question, we are going to do a broad survey of biblical eschatology during our Wednesday night adult bible study, beginning September 9.  We will take a look at the main eschatological passages in the Old and New Testaments.  We will cover each of the main views regarding the Millennium, the timing of the rapture, and the nature of the Anti-Christ, focusing on both the strengths and weaknesses of each position. And we will discover the things we can know for sure about the end as well as the things we should hold loosely.
Please understand that this will not be a forum for debate.  The elders remain committed to keeping this 2nd tier doctrine on the 2nd tier.  For that reason, I will not be taking a hard position on any of the issues.  This is mainly because I don’t have a strong position on many of the issues, but also because it is important that we not allow differences on a 2nd tier doctrine to create division among us.  Nonetheless, it should prove to be a challenging, enlightening, and encouraging look at the events surrounding the second coming of the Lord Jesus. 
Hope to see you on the 9th!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Inconsistency of the Worldview of Personal Autonomy, Part 3

This is the third article in a series exposing the inconsistencies of the worldview of personal autonomy. To read the first two articles, click here and here.  In this post, I’d like to show how the Christian worldview is the only truly compassionate worldview.
What makes the Christian worldview compassionate is the very thing that causes the world to regard it as hostile and intolerant.  The Christian worldview holds that the creation is fallen and man is totally depraved.  Genesis 3 records Adam’s rebellion against God in the garden of Eden.  We learn from Romans 5 that Adam’s sin didn’t just affect Adam, but rather through him sin entered the world, through sin death entered the world, and death spread to all men because all sinned. 
That man is fallen doesn’t just mean that he does sinful things.  Certainly that is part of it, but it goes deeper than that.  He is totally depraved.  This does not mean that he is as bad as he can possibly be, but that he is fallen in every part of this being.  His body is fallen and not only desires sinful things, but also is susceptible to disease.  His affections, motives, ambitions, emotions, and even his mind are all fallen. 
That his mind is fallen means that he thinks wrongly about himself, God, and the world around him.  Romans 1:21-22 points out sin’s effect on the mind: For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…  Ephesians 4:18 speaks also of the mental condition of the sinful human race: They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  This wrong, unnatural thinking leads man to embrace unnatural affections and actions, sins that harm him and those around him (Rom 1:24-27).
Why does man misunderstand the world around him?  Why does man not see himself rightly?  Why is man so easily confused about his identity and purpose?  His mind has been affected by sin.  When we understand what sin has done to man’s faculty of thought, it should not surprise us to find that people experience gender confusion.  It should not surprise us that people believe the only way to freedom is through slavery to substances, or that paranoia would lead a person to commit mass murder.  It should not surprise us that man would deny the existence of God while living in a world that bears obvious evidence of design.  Natural man is unable to think rightly about himself, God, and the world.
Now, how is this view more compassionate than some other worldview, particularly the worldview of personal autonomy?  First, it provides genuine understanding of our fundamental problem.  It is honest with us about what is wrong.  Most people struggling with trials and suffering just want to understand the real issue.  The person experiencing gender confusion wants more than anything to understand himself.  The worldview of personal autonomy offers nothing but deception on this issue.  It points to other people as our main problem – we are being denied what we want.  The cruelty of this deception becomes clear when we see that what this errant worldview advocates to solve the problem can never lead to true freedom.  Which leads to the second way in which the Christian worldview is more compassionate…
The Christian worldview offers a solution to man’s fundamental problem.  It proclaims the good news that there is a Savior who redeems fallen men.  He died for the sins of men and was raised from the dead, earning the right to free men from their bondage to sin (Rom 6:3-7).  All those who repent and trust in Him are made new creations (2 Cor 5:17).  Because of this gracious Savior, an untold multitude can not only say that they have been freed from the penalty of their sin, but that they were formerly sexually immoral, idolators, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers (1 Cor 6:9).  Those who embrace Jesus Christ embrace true freedom.
Conversely, the worldview of personal autonomy, by pointing us to the wrong problem, denies us the hope of help with our real problem.  It ensures our continued slavery to darkness and eventual eternal death.  When viewed rightly, such worldviews, while considered compassionate by the fallen world, are unimaginably cruel.  They guarantee suffering, not relief.
This is why those who embrace the worldview of personal autonomy do not find freedom.  For example, one long-term study found that among individuals who undergo sex-reassignment surgery, most experience increasing mental difficulties, and their suicide rate is twenty times the rate of non-transgender society.[1]  The worldview of personal autonomy cannot explain this.  The Christian worldview can.
The only compassionate worldview is the Christian worldview – it alone offers salvation from sin and clarity over confusion.  We should never apologize for this worldview or the truth, freedom, and hope it offers.  Rather, we should lovingly and compassionately champion it.

[1]Paul McHugh, “Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution.” The Wall Street Journal. June 12, 2014.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thoughts on the Gay Marriage Ruling

Many conservative Christians are reeling from the gay marriage ruling handed down by the Supreme Court last Friday.  I hesitate to write anything substantive on the subject as there are others far better equipped to address the issue than I am.  (For a couple of examples, consider Albert Mohler and Russell Moore.)  However, as your pastor, I figured you might find it helpful to know what I am thinking.  What follows is not a well-organized treatise, but simply a list of things that are on my mind regarding the future.
1. It seems clear that the Constitution is now incidental to the governing of our nation.  As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his dissent, the Constitution had nothing to do with this ruling.  The political, social, and moral leanings of a majority on the Supreme Court are the real law of the land now. 
While this is lamentable, it should not be ultimately demoralizing because the Constitution is not what gives Christians hope.  We have a better document, a timeless, unchanging, inspired, and inerrant one – the Bible.  No elected or non-elected public figures can ever overrule its judgments or silence its truth. 
2. Related to the above, there will almost certainly be a collision in the future between the freedoms of religion/speech and gay marriage.  We are already seeing that socially, if not legally, any speech against gay marriage or for traditional marriage is hardly tolerated.  Numerous newspapers have announced that they will no longer publish letters to the editor written from a conservative perspective on this issue.  It will become more and more common for the biblical position on marriage to be labeled “hate speech.”  Now that gay marriage has been legalized, this label will have more traction.  It seems likely to me that eventually such speech will be outlawed and gay marriage will have trumped free speech.
Likewise with the freedom of religion.  It could be said that a collision took place here already, even before gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court.  The concept of religious liberty did not protect an Oregon baker who declined to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding, nor a Washington florist who declined to decorate such a wedding.  Emboldened by Friday’s decision, we can expect homosexuals to seek out conservative churches to rent for their weddings so that when denied they can file a lawsuit.  It’s simply a matter of time.  Gay marriage has already trumped the freedom of religion and will continue to do so.
While these things are bothersome, we ought not consider the acts of speaking the truth and honoring biblical principles as rights afforded us by the United States government.  They are not first and foremost rights, but rather commands from God.  Whether the government allows it or forbids it, I must speak the truth (Eph 4:15-16, 25; Acts 5:27-32).  Whether a federal document endorses it or criminalizes it, I must pursue righteousness and abstain from every form of evil (1 Tim 6:11-12; 2 Tim 2:22; 1 Thess 5:22).  My responsibility is to obey God and trust Him with the consequences.
3. It will now be all but impossible for our children to receive an even remotely balanced education on moral issues in the public school system.  In curriculums from kindergarten through high school, the concept of traditional marriage will go the way of creationism.  Previously, education on homosexual culture at the kindergarten level was something we only expected to hear about in California.  I suspect it will be nationwide very soon.
This means that it has never been more important for Christian parents to be intentional about bringing their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  We need to train our children not simply what the Bible says, but why the Bible is our authority and how we can know that it is trustworthy.  Most Christians today could not defend the Scriptures against a skeptic.  This needs to change if for no other reason than we need to be able to train our children in these things. 
Additionally, we must teach them not only that gay marriage is wrong, but why.  Beyond all the scientific and sociological arguments, the greatest apologetic against homosexual marriage is that it defames the gospel.  Marriage has been created by God to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church (Eph 5:22-33).  Homosexual marriage takes an immoral act – one that is consistently and without exception portrayed as an abomination to God in the Scriptures – and superimposes it over this God-ordained picture of the gospel.  Rather than covering sin with the gospel, it covers the gospel with sin.  Which leads to #4…
4. This season will present us with innumerable opportunities to share the gospel.  It is not uncommon for those who support gay marriage to be flabbergasted as to why anyone would oppose it.  When someone asks, “what is so wrong?  Why does it matter to you what other people do?”, we should proceed as if they have just said, “Please share the gospel with me.” 
Many Christians in response to this question will say something like, “The Bible says that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”  This is true, but it wastes an opportunity.  Why does the Bible teach that marriage is between a man and a woman?  As I mentioned in #3 above, it's all about the gospel.  In explaining that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church, we must tell in what sense Christ gave Himself up for the church (Eph 5:25-27) –  He died for her sins.  We must also explain in what sense the church submits to Christ – she repents, trusts, and follows Him in all things.  Traditional marriage pictures that; gay marriage profanes it by superimposing an abomination over it.
We must also keep in mind that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing that provides hope for any sinner, whether homosexual or heterosexual.  It is a cruelty to withhold the gospel from anyone.  Though we are vilified as haters, we must hold fast the conviction that our message, the gospel, is the only loving one in existence.  All others further entrap the sinner in his sin.
5. Christians desperately need to be able to counter biblical arguments for gay marriage.  I’m not saying there are actual biblical arguments for gay marriage, but there are professing Christians attempting to use the bible to make a case for gay marriage.  Of course, they can only do this by twisting the Scriptures.  We need to understand what these arguments are and why they are not valid.  To date, the best resource I know of to equip a Christian to do this is the free e-book, God and the Gay Christian?  Don’t just read it.  Learn it.
6. Historically, good things happen when pressure is placed upon the church.  I’m thinking of two things primarily.  First, the gospel explodes.  The 2nd century church father Tertullian wrote, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  Amazingly, the more unpopular and dangerous it is to be a Christian, the faster the church grows.  Times of persecution have always been times of rapid spread of the gospel.  In fact, it could be argued that were it not for persecution of the church in the first three centuries AD, Christianity would not be a global religion today.
Second, the church is purified.  Pressure serves to separate the sheep from the goats.  Those who are not truly redeemed do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit to empower them to persevere, so they fall away.  We should not be surprised when many who claim to be Christians today succumb to societal pressure on the issue of marriage.  It is already happening.  These people will loosen their hold on the Scriptures to accommodate the culture and when they do that they necessarily give up the gospel.  We will likely see many churches going the way of the mainline denominations.  They will become increasingly irrelevant in terms of a gospel witness, and in the event of true persecution, they will disappear altogether.  That is, nominal Christianity eventually will be a thing of the past.
This means that we will likely see revival.  This is a good thing.
I can’t say that I was happy about the ruling last Friday, but I’m not at all disheartened.  I believe that God is moving history, not merely watching it.  He is accomplishing His plans, not merely reacting to the plans of men.  Whatever the future holds, it is a future ordained by the God who gave His Son to secure eternal blessedness for me and all other sinners who follow Him.  For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (2 Tim 1:12).