Saturday, July 21, 2018

Part One - Introducing The Doctrine Of Divine Simplicity

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John 4:24 "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Introduction: My childhood fascination with model cars 

Today's post will introduce the reader to an important doctrine of the Christian faith that helps describe and defend the Biblical understanding of God - namely "The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity". The attempt will be made to discuss this subject with minimal technical jargon so as to provide a useful resource for beginning to approach this particular teaching. To aid myself and the reader alike, I will underline certain terms in the first part of this posting that will come in handy as we move forward.  

My Boyhood Fascination With Model Cars

When I was a boy, I came to enjoy the hobby of building model cars. Whenever my parents and I would go to the store, they would allow me to purchase a model kit - along with assorted paints and glue. I can recall sitting up until the "wee-hours" of the morning assembling the kit from the parts. The box included the "parts" for the car. 

The nature or "essence" of such cars were certain materials such as plastic (molded clear and colored parts) along with rubber tires, metal axles and my favorite - the decals. Once I began the project of assembling and painting the model, although I had the parts, paint and glue, one could legitimately say that until completion, the given model car did not yet exist. The assembling of the model represented a certain "potential" for it becoming what was pictured on the box. Once I completed a given model car, I would proudly bring it to my father for him to inspect and approve. The car as assembled, officially "existed" in the sense that all of its parts were fitted together to complete the "form" recognized on the box. 

Model cars, universes, humans and angels are "complex" and thus created things

The opening illustration does serve a purpose besides that of a charming memory. As we build on some of the terms used in the story, we can begin to understand what is meant by "complexity" with respect to what classifies all created things. Model cars represent a feature common to all created objects and beings - including human beings - a feature deemed "complexity" by theologians and philosophers. Words change usage and meaning with time - with terms such as "complex" and its opposite, "simple",  being no different. 

Whenever anything is described by the term "complex", we're not referring to that object or person as "too difficult to be truly known". Instead, the word "complex", as used in describing a given object or being, refers to how it is composed of parts and how such parts relate to the whole of its being. The opposite concept that is the focal point of today's post and the next is the term "simplicity". Simplicity describes how something is "not composed of parts" and whose whole being and attributes have existed from all eternity (more on this later). It will be argued that God alone occupies, in the most purest sense, what is meant when we say He is Divinely simple. By describing first what defines "complex" objects and beings, we are presenting a contrast that will aid us in beginning to understand what we mean when we that God, by essence and existence, is not composed of parts.   

So, back to model cars and such. The model car illustration entails an object that has parts. The "parts" represent the various features that require assembly by an assembler (which, in the case of the above illustration, would involve a model-car builder). Complex entities also involve their essence (that is, "what" makes an object or being what it is") as coming before their existence (that is, "how" an object or being carries forth what it is upon the completion of its creation). 

Model cars, people and universes have, at some point in their past, had potential to become what they were. All created things had a beginning and at some point neither had "essence" nor "existence". The model car did not even have its parts formed at some point in its past. However, a designer and a factory produced the parts - making kits that contained "potential" model-cars. Only when the car was constructed did it go from a "potential" to an "actual car". 

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Our universe, at sometime in the finite past, did not exist. The Old and New Testament scriptures (i.e. Genesis 1:1; Psalm 33:6; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6) tell us that God created all things by the word of His mouth. Moreover, current findings by astronomers have corroborated models of the universe that give strong evidence to the universe having a beginning. The universe was "assembled" from nothing to become "something" - containing all sorts of "parts" (i.e. atoms, forces, planets, galaxies, ourselves). The universe is the biggest example of a "complex" object.

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Then we come to beings such as ourselves. Human beings are "composite" or "complex". Scripture indicates that, at bare minimum, human beings are non-physical minds or souls endowed with freedom of the will and moral intuitions (see Genesis 1:26; 2:7; Numbers 16:22; 27:16). Human beings are immaterial persons dwelling in and interacting with a physical body composed of a brain with trillions of neurons connected to a body of bone, muscles and blood (Genesis 1:26; 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). Further distinctions that show human beings are special above their animal counterparts in how they are made in God's image. The image of God refers to how humans are created with the potential for interaction with God (Genesis 1:26; 9:6; Psalm 8:1-4; Hebrews 11:1,6). 

Human beings fit the category of "complexity" or "composite" as described above. In other words, there was a point when each human being's essence was nothing more than 23 chromosomes from each parent. Once conception took place, the immaterial aspect of personality or soul (i.e. "life") initiated the existence of that person in embryonic form (since they had not ever pre-existed). Those physical and non-physical elements, which represented a "potential but not-yet person", came together in the womb to become an "actual" person in the fullest sense (Psalm 139:7; Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15). The "essence" or "stuff of existence" comes before the final composition or "existence" of the above examples. Such qualities describe such things as "complex" and thus created things.

So, what about the angels? Even angels, which are described as "ministering spirits" (Hebrews 1:14) and "flames of fire" (Psalm 104:4), are "complex", since there was a point that they didn't exist and God's formation of their immaterial "essence" or "whatness" came before they were completed as His servants that do His bidding (Job 38:7; Psalm 104:4; Revelation 19:10).

God is not "complex" or composed of parts, but rather, is what is referred to as Divinely simple

As noted earlier, words can change their meanings or add additional senses over time. Whenever we come to God and describing what sets Him apart from all creation, the term "simple" is employed by some theologians and philosophers. By the term "simple", we're not at all saying God is easy to figure out or that we can comprehend Him in all His entirety. Instead, the term "simple", as used millennia ago by Christian thinkers in the ancient church such as Irenaeus of Lyons (180 A.D.) and middle ages (Anselm of Canterbury 1078 A.D. and Thomas Aquinas, 1270's) refers to how God is not composed of parts. Furthermore, in contrast to "complex" created beings and things whose "essence" proceeds their "existence" (that is, the stuff they're made of, including various traits, require composition by a composer to bring them from a state of "potentially being something" to "actually being something" or existence), a simple being like God is eternally complete. All of God's traits and attributes by way of His "existence" (i.e. "how God is God") and His eternal, immaterial nature by manner of His "essence" (i.e. "what God is as God) have eternally and simultaneously continued as one, living, uncreated reality. 

These thoughts, hopefully, direct our minds toward contemplating what kind of God God is and why He is worthy of our worship. For now, we will end today's post and continue on in the next. 

More next time.....

Thursday, July 12, 2018

How One May Outline The Book Of Revelation

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Revelation 1:19 "Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things."

In the last couple of posts, we have introduced readers to the variety of issues surrounding the standard approaches and interpretations of the Book of Revelation. How we interpret the contents of John's Apocalypse will steer how we read it and apply it to our lives. In today's post, we want to consider ways in which we can outline the Book of Revelation. Outlines of the books of the Bible can aid greatly in teaching or preaching situations. Also too, having an outline of a Book like Revelation can help the reader have a "map" as they work their way through its contents
Methods For Outlining For The Book Of Revelation

Whenever you consider the 22 chapters of Revelation, most people will take as their point of departure Revelation 1:19. Revelation 1:19 gives the reader a three-fold outline:

1. "The things which you have seen" Revelation 1-3

2. "The things which are now/are yet to come" Revelation 4-5

3. "The Things yet to come" Revelation 4-22

In some instances, you may see even a two-part outlining approach:

1. "The things which you have seen"  Revelation 1-3

2. "The things which are to come"  Revelation 4-22

Since we had covered various theological approaches to the Book of Revelation in the last post, I will simply ask readers to click on the following link to review in the footnotes of the previous post the terms that follow in the next two paragraphs: If readers would rather skip the next two paragraphs, they may do so and go onto the heading that features a proposed outline of the Book of Revelation. 

Both Classical and Dispensational Premillennialists will typically see the Book of Revelation (particularly chapters 6-20) unfurling in a sequential, step by step fashion. Hence, the relationship between the various seal, trumpet and bowl judgments tend to represent a linear unfolding of future prophetic events. Other Pre-millenialists tend to see the book, especially in Revelation 4-22, unfold in more of a "winding staircase" fashion, meaning that the Apostle John is presenting the same sequence of history over and over again in greater and more intense detail through the respective seal, trumpet and bowl judgments of Revelation 6-19. 

When we consider Amillennial and some Post-millennial interpreters , the staircase model tends to be the preferred outlining approach.  Other types of Post-Millennial interpreters tends to view Revelation 6-19 as a summary of God's overall program for history, with no immediate connection to any one history or event (also called the idealist view of Revelation). These are but samples of the various ways people have attempted to outline and understand the book of Revelation.

A Proposed Outline Of The Book Of Revelation

This author finds the Book of Revelation presenting God's truth as follows:

1. Christ and His Church. 1-3
2. Christ and His Throne. 4-5
3. Christ and Human History. 6-18
4. Christ's Return to Reign. 19-20
5. Christ in Eternity. 21-22

The first five chapters tend to take the reader back and forth between the heavenly upper story of God in eternity (chapters 1, 4&5) and the details of what is happening to the seven churches here on earth (chapters 2&3). This author finds the seven churches to be seven, literal churches situated in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) that also provide some instructive patterns for church-life today.  

With respect to chapters 6-18 of Revelation, this author would favor seeing the sequence of judgments as a repeated retelling of the same seven-year future time-frame called the Tribulation period. Without diving into inordinate detail, Revelation 6-18 could be sub-divided as follows:

A. How Christ will deal with the nations. Chapters 6-11

B. How Christ will deal with Israel. Chapter 12

C. How Christ will defeat the anti-Christ and the rebelling nations. Chapters 13-18

Revelation 19-20 serves to bring to a conclusion the future historic cycle God will unleash on planet earth. Again, readers can appeal to the last post to get a grasp on how various interpreters have viewed Revelation 19-20. This author sees history (this present age) closing with Christ's return, at which point He will return with an already raised and glorified church to restore and purify the nation of Israel (see Daniel 12:1-3;  Romans 11:25-26). These particular events will comprise Jesus' 1,000 year reign upon the earth, concluding in the Great White Throne Judgment, the resurrection of the wicked to judgement and final judgement of Satan into the Lake of Fire (see John 5:24-25; Revelation 20).

Once the thousand-year reign of Christ concludes, Revelation 21-22 takes the reader into the future eternal state. These two final chapters of Revelation (and the Bible) describe the glorious "New Heavens and New Earth" spoken 
of in 2 Peter 3:13, wherein Peter writes: 

"But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells."

Closing thoughts:

These last few posts have dedicated time to introducing readers to the various interpretive questions surrounding how we read the Book of Revelation. The value of considering the interpretive issues is in knowing the right questions to ask. If we ask the appropriate questions, we will then arrive at the appropriate conclusions. Thankfully, the Christian has the Holy Spirit to aid them in wading through the many options. The differing viewpoints represent the need of every generation of God's people to expound and explain the contents of this book to the next generation. The point of offering an outline in today's post was to provide a map by which we may navigate through the Book of Revelation. Although Revelation can at times present challenges, it comes with the promise of blessing to those who take the time to read it, hear it and live it (see Revelation 1:1-3). 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Four Reasons To Study The Book Of Revelation

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Revelation 1:1-3 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.


In today's post we want to suggest four reasons why it is valuable to study the Book of Revelation. The Apostle John introduces his series of visions with a formal introduction in Revelation 1:1-8. It is in that introduction that we discover four reasons for studying the Book of Revelation and Bible prophecy in general. Notice if you will the first reason....

1. Re-emphasizes Jesus Christ. Revelation 1:1, 4-6

In Revelation 1, we find nearly 40 titles ascribed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation is all about Jesus! A brief review of a few verses in this opening section will underscore this point.

A. Revelation 1:1 ”Jesus”, as touching the manhood and ”Christ”, as touching His office as Israel’s Messiah, the chosen One”. The latter part of Revelation 1 highlights Christ in His majestic deity.

B. Revelation 1:5 “faithful witness”, points us to His Real Deity. He speaks what He sees. As a Truly Divine Person, only the Son could directly behold the Person of the Father, which no mere creature (angel or human) as ever beheld. We can cross reference John 1:18, which notes: “No one has seen God, save the only begotten”. Revelation 1:5 also mentions additional titles of Jesus. We find Him described as “The Firstborn”, meaning: Raised, triumphed over death. The third title of Jesus in Revelation 1:5 is: “Ruler of Kings”, which points to His Royal ascension. Fourthly, we discover that Jesus “loves us”, by way of His rich self-sacrifice. In 1 John 4:19 we are reminded: "we love Him because He first loved us". Lastly in Revelation 1:5, we read of how Christ “Released Us”.

C. In Revelation 1:6 we find out that Christ came and “made us to be a kingdom”. This speaks of the believer's rich inheritance in Christ, a fond theme found elsewhere in the New Testament (see Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:1-6; 1 Peter 2:9-10).

This re-emphasis of Jesus Christ explains why John broke into doxology at the end of Revelation 1:6, wherein he writes: 

"to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen." 

So, studying the Book of Revelation inclines us to re-emphasize Jesus Christ, but now notice the second reason....

2. Revives godly living. Revelation 1:2-3

Whenever my wife and I courted, I made many trips to go see her. At the beginning of our relationship, I found my interest in my own cleanliness heightened. Whenever we read the Book of Revelation, its tone and contents incline us to desire godly living. A quick review of Revelation 1:1-3 will bear out this point.

A. In Revelation 1:2, John's use of the word "testified" urges us to give ourselves to the book. 

B. In Revelation 1:3a, we find further exhortations leading us to give ourselves to obey the book.

C. Lastly, in Revelation 1:3b, we discover the urgency to give ourselves to expect the Christ of the book.

The Apostle John, the author of Revelation, combines the need for godly living with the truths of Christ's second coming elsewhere in his writings. For instance, we read in 1 John 3:2-3 -

"Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."

So, studying Revelation and Bible prophecy re-emphasizes Jesus Christ and revives godly living. Notice the third reason for taking the time to study this Book of the Bible...

3. Re-energizes evangelism. Revelation 1:7

Every year when my children are getting ready to finish school, I notice and increase in their energy. Why? Because they know that year is almost done. Biblical prophecy or eschatology serves emphasis not only to believers, but unbelievers. Some observations from Revelation 1:7 and other New Testament verses will demonstrate this truth.

A. The Mission almost complete. 

John writes in Revelation 1:7 - “Behold, He is coming…”. Jesus notes in Matthew 24:14 

"This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come."

B. The Message is urgent. 

We read again in Revelation 1:7 - “Every eye will see Him….”. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night."

C. Make your choice, now! 

John's closing phrase in verse seven communicates the definiteness of the second coming of Christ and thus the need to make a choice for Him: “So it is to be. Amen”. 

The urgency of sharing Christ with the unconverted is dependent upon our keeping in mind the brevity of time. In other words: time is short! We've seen then that the following reasons for studying Bible prophecy in general and Revelation in particular are as follows: re-emphasizes Jesus Christ; revives godly living and re-energizes evangelism. Now lets consider one last reason....

4. Re-awakens us to His 2nd coming. Revelation 1:8 

I’m amazed at how early Christmas shopping begins. People are ready! One will see or here the following: "Christmas in June" or "Door-buster sales!" The alertness of people to these sorts of events is amazing, considering that their efforts are six-months before Christmas. We need to exercise a much greater anticipation when it comes to Christ's return. John writes in Revelation 1:8

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” 

The Apostle Paul urges us in
Philippians 3:20-21 -

"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself."

Closing thoughts:

As one final thought, I often think of how I need to remind myself in a given week to pray for the return of Jesus. The short little one-word prayer in 1 Corinthians 16:22, "maranatha", literally means: "come Lord". As we give of ourselves to studying Bible prophecy in general and the Book of Revelation in particular, let us recall the four reasons we discovered in today's post as to why we ought to pursue such a project:

1. Re-emphasizes Jesus Christ
2. Revives us for godly living
3. Re-energizes evangelism
4. Re-awakens us to His second coming

Monday, June 25, 2018

Surveying Various Interpretations Of The Book Of Revelation

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Revelation 1:19 "Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things."

Review: Directing our thoughts toward interpreting the Book of Revelation

Like the last post, we are concerned with better understanding how to approach our interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Readers may review that last post by clicking here: 

In that last post, we proposed that four standpoints must be addressed when approaching the Book of Revelation:

A. First, looking at Revelation from a literary point of view. That is, what sort of literature is Revelation (we discovered at least three: epistle, apocalyptic and prophetic).

B. Second, looking at Revelation from a historical perspective. That is, the setting, the background and dating of the book. We also attempted to discern how much of Revelation is speaking of events current in the first century versus events that are yet-to-come.

C. Thirdly, we noted the doctrinal perspective. How have Christians of the past 2,000 years interpreted the Book of Revelation? What sort of theological perspectives exist in understanding how all of the various details of John's Apocalypse fit together? 

D. Then finally, we mentioned the importance of outlining the Book of Revelation. 

We considered the first two of these standpoints in the last post. In that post we, noted the following literary features of Revelation:  

A. Revelation is composed of Epistles (Revelation 1-3)

B. Revelation is also composed of symbols and sweeping visions the portray how God will defeat the evil powers of this world (called "apocalyptic literature, Revelation 4:22). 

C. Revelation contains prophetic elements that serve to predict what is to come as well as to encourage believers in the present moment (Revelation 4-22).  

Furthermore, we also covered the second standpoint that must be addressed when interpreting Revelation - namely the historical standpoint.  How much of Revelation is about the future, the past and the present?  Four responses were examined, which I will list only by name: 

A. Preterist = the view that Revelation is primarily about the events of the 1st century.

B. Idealist = the view that Revelation depicts, in general, the ongoing battle and eventual defeat of evil by God.

C. Historicist = the view that Revelation (particularly chapters 2 & 3), lays out various historical epochs of the last two thousand years of church history.

D. Futurist = Most of Revelation is predicting the future and serves as a warning to sinners and a comfort to believers.

In today's posting, we will explore some standard theological approaches to the Book of Revelation. Hopefully, in the next post, we will consider a proposed outline of the Book of Revelation.   

The Book of Revelation from a doctrinal standpoint

The doctrinal standpoint is mainly focused on one chapter in Revelation: Revelation 20. The phrase "1,000 years" is mentioned six times in Revelation 20. This particular chapter has led to much discussion and debate among students of scripture over the history of the church. Thankfully, in the history of the church, there have emerged only four main responses given to these big questions. These four positions are respectively called: 

A. Historical Premillennialism.
B. Dispensational Premillennialism C. Amillennialism.
D. Post-millennialism. 

To avoid making today's post into a book-length document, I have included information and diagrams in the end notes for those who may want to know more information.1

The above four main positions will vary in how much they view prophecy as either literal (Dispensational Pre-millennial and somewhat Classical premillennial) or more symbolic (Amillennial and Post-millennial). Again, the reader is invited to consider the end notes section of today's blog to get more detail on these four major viewpoints of Revelation 20. 

Five things that Revelation 20 is focused upon and its connection to the whole book

For one thing, Revelation 20 focuses upon five key events: 

1. The coming of Christ.
2. The reign of Jesus Christ.
3. The resurrection/reign of the saints.
4. The judgment of the wicked.
5. The judgment of Satan.  

Almost all interpreters affirm that Revelation 20 represents the final chapter of history before the Eternal State of Revelation 21-22.  

Eight Questions That Explain How The Differing Views Over Revelation 20 Occur

Where the differences among believers begins to arise entail the following:

1. Is the reign of Christ occurring now, in the future, or both now and the future?

2. Are the resurrections in Revelation 20 literal and thus future; more so spiritual and now; or somewhat spiritual and future?

3. Is Christ and His saints to reign mainly in Heaven now; to reign on the earth in the future; or a little bit of both?

4. Is the 1,000 year period (Millennium) in Revelation 20 a symbolic number or literal number referring to Christ's future establishment of His kingdom upon earth for 1,000 years?

5. Is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ depicted in Revelation 20 a Heavenly Reign now, a future earthly reign or a little bit of both?

6. Is Satan's judgment occurring now, future or a little bit now and ultimately in the future?

7. Will Christ come back to set up a kingdom on earth for a 1,000 years; or is He reigning in Heaven now and waiting to come back to usher in Eternity; or is Eternity to be ushered in by the church's preaching of the Gospel, with Christ coming back to usher in eternity?

8. Are Bible Prophecies to be interpreted as being literally fulfilled, symbolically fulfilled or a little bit of both?

How one answers those eight questions does impact how one interprets Bible prophecy.  It must be remembered that the answers given do not carry the weight of importance as one's view on the Trinity, Christ's Deity, Salvation or view of the Bible as God's Word.  However, prophecy and one's view of it, can affect how one views God's final goal for our world and the carrying forth of the Great Commission. 

In the next post, we will look at some ways one can outline the book of Revelation. 


1. Four key viewpoints on Revelation 20.

A. Historic Pre-millennialism. (Christ returns before 1,000 year literal kingdom) This first view is the oldest view of all four viewpoints. Historic Premillennialists believe that the 1,000 year reign of Christ will be literal, will be on earth, will be future and will last for 1,000 years. Below we can see a summary pictorial illustration:

Present Age------------Christ's-----1,000 year reign---Final-Eternity---->

                                   Return                               Judgment

                                Righteous raised               Wicked raised

                                  Satan Bound                    Satan Judged

B. Dispensational Pre-millennialism. (Christ returns before 1,000 year literal kingdom) This second view tends to divide God's dealing with history into periods called "dispensations". Though similar to Historic Pre-millennialism in how it views the term "1,000 years", Dispensational pre-mills tend to distinguish Israel from the church and place more emphasis on Christ's gathering of the church (the rapture) as being separated by a seven year tribulation period before His Return. Again we lillustrate:

Present Age----Rapture 7yr Trib Christ's-1,000 year reign-Final-Et-->

                                                  Return Judgment

                                                  Saints Jewish saints Wicked raised

                                                  raised raised

                                                  Satan Bound             Satan judged

C. Amillennialism. (There is no 1,000 year millennium, thus the term "a-millennialism". Right now is the millennial age and the Kingdom is all spiritual) This third view views the millennium as a symbolic number that describes Christ's reign from His ascension in the Book of Acts until when He comes back to usher in Eternity. The first resurrection speaks of people being saved or converted now, with the final resurrection referring to the raising of both the righteous and the wicked. Below we see a summary:

Christ Began reign--Present age/"millennium"--Christ returns-eternity

when he ascended unknown length of time       Resurrection

                                                                           of saints &


D. Post-Millennialism. (Similar to A-millennialism in how it views the number 1,000, except it believes there is a golden age yet to come of indeterminate length that will conclude with Christ's return, hence "post" or "at the end") This fourth view believes that Christ went into heaven to begin His reign and will not return until the Gospel has been fully preached and most of the world (not all) has been Christianized and converted by the power of the Gospel.  Post-millennialism is a very optimistic viewpoint and takes seriously the Great Commission. Its summary is as follows:

Christ began-----Church right now----------------Christ returns-eternity

Ascended           preaching Gospel, turns into   raises righteous

                           Millennium as world becomes  & wicked

                           Christianized, Christ then will   Satan

                           turn at the end of this                Condemned

                           "Millennium" hence


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Survey Of How To Interpret The Book Of Revelation

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Revelation 1:19 "Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things."

Introduction: Some Opening Thoughts On Interpreting Scripture In General

When we begin to study any of the 66 books of the Bible, a four-step process is suggested:

1. Observation, seeing what the text          says.
2. Interpretation, explaining what the 
    text means.
3. Application, living out the text's 
4. Correlation, evaluating my 
    observation, interpretation and 
    application by whether I've captured 
    the intent of the Biblical author.

This four-step process encompasses a discipline of Biblical studies called: "hermeneutics". Hermeneutics concerns itself with the science and art of interpreting any text in general, and the Biblical text in particular. 

The Bible is both a Divine and human book. This author affirms the Bible's Divine inerrancy (i.e., "without error" or "totally true" as originally revealed by God) and infallibility (i.e., "incapable of leading astray") (see Proverbs 30:4-5; John 10:35; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The human aspect of the Biblical text has to do with the various writing styles employed by the 40 or so Biblical authors. Whenever we interpret the Bible, we are aiming to bridge four gaps":  geographical, literary, historical and cultural. 

Solving the interpretive challenges posed by the ancient world of scripture is possible by consulting  websites such as Such websites offer the Bible student access to Bible study tools like Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias and commentaries that equip the Bible student to close the gaps. As a final introductory thought, the Spirit of God makes clear or "illumines" the believer's understanding to grasp all the things freely given by God to them (again, 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; 1 John 2:20,27). 

With those thoughts in mind on Bible interpretation in general, we now come to the Book of Revelation in particular. 

What must be considered when interpreting the Book of Revelation?

We can answer this first question in four specific parts: Literary, Historical, Doctrinal and Outline.  

First of all, we must consider the Book of Revelation from a literary standpoint. The Book of Revelation is not just one uniform type of literature, but includes a variety of literary forms or genres. Revelation 1-3 features seven letters to seven different churches in a first century form of a letter we call an "epistle".1 However, there is a second type of literature that we see in Revelation that is termed "Apocalyptic" (or revelatory). Other books of the Bible such as Daniel and Ezekiel feature "apocalyptic" characteristics.2

In as much as Revelation contains elements of apocalyptic style, some distinguishing features of Revelation (and the other Biblical Books containing similar material), is the fact that it is directly revealed by the Lord. What this means then is that Revelation is predictive in nature. As a side-note, the parts of it that depict "things-yet-to-come" are tied to what Jesus achieved in His first coming. Sometimes, scholars like to use the phrase: "already/not-yet" to capture this trait of experiencing a foretaste in this present-age of what will take place in the age-to-come. The Book of Revelation expresses this feature to the fullest extent.3 

As stated already, the chief tone of John's Apocalyptic visions is that if predictive prophecy (especially in Revelation 4-22). John MacArthur in his commentary notes that noting Revelation's predictive character (also called "futurism") "takes the book's meaning as God gave it."  Prophetic books typically have three main features: warning, comfort and prediction.  The Book of Revelation without a doubt is a prophecy of the first order.

As a mixture of different types of literature, most would term Revelation 1-3 to be Epistles and Revelation 4-22 to be a combination of Apocalyptic and Prophecy. 

The Book of Revelation historical standpoint: it is either primarily historical, about the future or a little bit of both

With the literary standpoint considered, we now move to the second standpoint one must consider when approaching the Book of Revelation, namely the historical standpoint of the Book. This standpoint is important, since we can evaluate our own interpretation of Revelation by comparing how Christians of the past have approached it. Keeping in view how other Christians and Biblical scholarship have explored Revelation keeps us accountable. One question to ask ourselves is: how much of Revelation is speaking entirely of the future and how much of Revelation is speaking of history?  

According to most authors today, there are four approaches to the book of Revelation, all of which are defined by how much or how little they view Revelation as a work of history or work of prophecy.  It must be noted that in all four of these approaches, Christ's literal, bodily return is believed and cherished as the ultimate event looked forward to by Revelation. The following four schools of thought represent how various people have historically  approached the Book of Revelation. 

1. Preterist view of Revelation: "The Book of Revelation is prophecy that was fulfilled primarily in the first century".4 Conservative Bible teachers such as R.C Sproul espouse a moderate version of this position.5  The word "preterist" comes from a Latin word meaning "past" and is held by a strong minority of scholars. Those who espouse the "preterist" view claim Revelation was written before 70 A.D. Although this school of interpretation can aid greatly in understanding the background of some of Revelation's symbols, the idea of Revelation as hardly referring to the future is hardly convincing, at least to this author's mind. 

2. Idealist view of Revelation: The idealist or what is sometimes termed "spiritual" view of Revelation sees the book "as representing the ongoing conflict of good and evil, with no immediate historical connection to any social or political events."6 Although this viewpoint has initial promise in understanding the life-practical point of Revelation, it tends to breakdown when wrestling with some of the finer-grained details of the Book.

3. Historicist view of Revelation: The Book of Revelation is prophecy about church history from the time of John to the end of the world."7 A prime example of this approach would take the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 and view them as successive representations of seven stages of church history. This particular school of thought can aid somewhat in applying the first three chapters of John's Apocalypse. This author tends to find some merit in this viewpoint (although great caution needs exercised when tying details of Revelation 2-3 to particular historical eras).

4. Futurist view of Revelation: This approach is the most familiar to many readers and mainly embraced by this author. Futurist interpreters view Revelation as being almost entirely about the future. Numerous Bible teachers like Dr. John MacArthur and past Bible teachers and preachers such as Dr. W.A Criswell, Dr. C.I Scofield, Dr. Dwight J. Pentecost and Dr. John Walvoord were futurists in their approach to Revelation. 

These four historical approaches are also approaches we find to one degree or another throughout the history of the church among Bible believing teachers.  As far as this author knows, all four approaches exist in Southern Baptist life. So, whenever we approach the Book of Revelation, we must consider the literary and historical standpoints that provide insight into how we will work our way through its contents. In the next post, we will consider the two remaining standpoints: namely, the doctrinal standpoint and a suggested outline of the book. 

Closing thoughts:

Today's post attempted to introduce readers to what is typically considered when approaching the book of Revelation. How one interprets the Book will determine how it is applied to daily life. May this post prove helpful to those desiring to begin their study in the Book of Revelation. 

End Notes____________________

1. There are 21 examples of epistles in our New Testament which contain at least four features: A salutation or introductory greeting, a doctrinal section, a practical section and a closing section. Epistles are usually (but not always) personal and are as a general rule to be interpreted as literally as possible unless otherwise indicated. Revelation 1-3 and the last few verses of Revelation 22 have the tell-tale signs of the style we call "Epistle". 

2. Steve Gregg. Revelation Four View: A parallel commentary. Nelson. 1997. Pages 10-12. Steve Gregg in His Book: "Revelation Four Views - A Parallel Commentary", writes this about the genre or literary type called "apocalyptic".

*In both Revelation and other apocalyptic writings, angels commonly appear as tour guides and interpreters.

* Like most apocalyptic types of literature, Revelation was written during intense times of persecution

* We see the use of vivid symbols and imagery (monsters, dragons, symbolic numbers, names) in depicting the conflict between good and evil.

* In apocalyptic literature like Revelation, certain numbers carry with them certain meanings

3. William Klein, Craig Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Word Publishing. Page 371

Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard have pointed out one other additional feature of apocalyptic literature which we also see in Revelation:

"Apocalyptic types of literature include a description of events surrounding the end of world history, often said to have come from God by means of angelic or otherworldy intermediaries".

4. Dr. Timothy Paul Jones.  Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy. 2011  Page 263

5. Dr. R.C Sproul.  The Last Days According to Jesus.  Baker Academic.  1998

6. Stanley N. Gundry, Series Editor; C. Marvin Pate, General Editor. "Four Views on the Book of Revelation.  Zondervan.  1998. Page 23. 

7. Dr. Timothy Paul Jones. Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy. 2011 Page 263

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Lesson I Learned From An Older Preacher: Timing Is Everything

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Proverbs 25:11 "As golden apples in settings of silver is a word spoken in the right circumstances".  


When I was beginning God's call on my life to pastor, an older preacher gave me the following gem of wisdom:

"God's truth is not only true, but timely".  

Whenever we turn to the book of Job, we see the need for this principle in the various speeches delivered by Job's so-called "friends". Whenever you consider the speech of one of these "friends", Elihu (Job 31-37), there are some great truths for sure. The problem with Elihu's speech was the timing. Truth delivered at the wrong time has the same net effect as error delivered at the right time. I have not always exercised due-diligence in avoiding the first of these traps and have labored to avoid the latter. The latter error is intentional, whereas ill-timed delivery of the truth is negligence.

Both ill-timed truth and right-timed error hinder, rather than help the hearer. We can glean some great truths from Elihu's speech. However, the best thing we can gather is the importance of delivering God's truth in a timely fashion - whether in conversation or in preaching a sermon.

Whenever we include "timeliness" in the communication of God's truth, the message will become "timeless". Put another way, the hearer will apply it not only to their lives, but perhaps share it with others.  Too often, Christians don't speak when they need to. More often, and tragically so, Christians don't take the time to pause before speaking. Timeliness works to correct both excesses by providing two guard-rails: knowing when to speak and knowing when to listen. As Proverbs 25:11 states: "As golden apples in settings of silver is a word spoken in the right circumstances".  

Acts 13 gives us a New Testament instance of the aforementioned principles. By the time one arrives at Acts 13, the focus of Acts is shifting from Peter and the Apostles to Paul and Barnabas. God's mission was going to focus more and more on the Gentiles (i.e. people groups in the nations of the world). Paul's magnificent sermon in Acts 13:15-41 is an example of God's truth delivered in a timely fashion.  This sermon, in many ways, was fitting for launching the Gentile mission. As one reads the sermon, Paul, the preacher, builds a bridge that connects the New Testament mission of proclaiming Christ to the nations to what was anticipated in the Old Testament revelation. 

If Paul would had remained silent in this instance, he not only would had ignored what was clearly the leading of the Spirit, but the Gentile mission might had been jeopardized. God once again was teaching the art of "timeliness". For preachers, keeping in mind the principle of timeliness will make all the difference in how effectively you deliver God's word. For everyone reading this post, as you go throughout your day, ask God to teach you when to listen and when to speak. Timing is everything.  

Monday, June 11, 2018

Four Identifying Marks Of God's Love In The Christian Life

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1 John 4:7 "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God."

Introduction: The story of the little creek that turned into a mighty river

I can recall, as a little boy, a little creek running through the middle of our property. In the dry summertime, that little creek would get so low as to become barely a trickle. I would often find big rocks and sticks to create dams so as to observe how high the water would get. The water would momentarily dam up. But then, no sooner had the water formed a dam as to then suddenly break through the makeshift obstructions. 

Over the course of the year, the bottom of that little creek would become littered with big rocks and fallen logs. When spring came, the heavy rains of April would turn that little creek into a mighty river. As the water swelled its banks, all of the obstructions and debris would wash downstream. That mighty channel was unstoppable. In its wake, the creek bed was left clean for the little creek to run its course.

Christians are dry river beds in need of God, the mighty stream

Whenever we turn to the writings of the Apostle John in the New Testament, the theme of "God's love" runs through "the banks" his words. One of John's fondest expressions is: "love one another", deriving from Jesus' final instructions to his disciples involving the same command (see John 13:34; 15:12,17; 1 John 2:7; 3:11,23; 2 John 1:5). 

Whenever we turn to John's 1st letter, and particularly 1 John 4, we observe the mighty river of God's unfailing love. God's love isn't just a stream - it's a mighty ocean in the banks of 1 John 4. As Christians, we fail to remember that without the Lord, we are dry river beds. In another of John's writings, the Gospel of John, he quotes Jesus stating in John 7:37-39 -

"Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."

Jesus promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit in His name. This promise of the Holy Spirit came to pass in Acts 2. Now that the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of all true Christians, we come to understand that He sheds the love of God abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:1-5). Literally, God by the Person and work of the Spirit operates as that mighty river. The Holy Spirit brings through the child of God the mighty torrents of the Father's mighty power and Jesus Christ's incomparable Person. The Spirit is, after all, the Ambassador of the Trinity.

Like the little creek mentioned earlier, we as Christians often have the clutter of life filling our hearts. We are in need of God. God, in the totality of the active love shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is comparable to the living, mighty river of love. Whenever God's love get's involved, He can clear away whatever is obstructing our growth and passion for Him. Love isn't just an emotion. Instead, love is a conscious decision to give of oneself for the betterment of another. The three persons of the Godhead have done this for all eternity. Whatever love humans express is an echo of such love that makes up our identity as bearing the image of God. Whenever a person converts to Christ by faith, their marred image is made anew into His own, meaning that God's love can flow unhindered (compare Colossians 3:10).

Identifying Marks of God's love

So how can you and I tell when God's love is flowing in our lives and in the lives of others? In using the acrostic l.o.v.e, we can discover from 1 John 4:7-21 the following four traits of God's love:

Lives through the cross. 1 John 4:9,10,19

1 John 4:9-10 states -

"By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

God's love was manifested through the cross. Paul, in Romans 5:8, uses the language of "demonstration" to prove what God did in showing His love. We know that God's love, in the sending of His Son, was effective. Christ's finished work "propitiated" or "satisfied" the wrath of God. What Jesus Christ as God in human flesh accomplished in six hours on the cross would require the book of Acts and 21 New Testament Epistles to unfold its meaning. The application of Christ's finished work at saving faith works itself through every person trust in Him by faith.

The incredible love of God flows unceasingly and unhindered from the cross. Though the cross is barren, and though our risen and glorified Savior is at the Father's right hand, yet, God's love lives through and around the cross. A Christian who is operating in God's love will have the cross in their hearts and Jesus' name on their lips. But notice another trait of God's love here in 1 John 4:7-21...

Overcomes anything. 1 John 4:7,12,17,18,20,21

1 John 4:7 states -

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." 

In this section of 1 John we see God's love overcoming the following:

a. Disunity (1 John 4:7,12). The command to love one another with God's love is the only thing that can diffuse disunity, bitterness and hurt that we so often see in churches today. My love is limited. His love is unlimited. My love will make conditions. God's love has no strings attached. My love can wane and waver. God's love does not wane and cannot waver.

b. Fear (1 John 4:17,18). 1 John 4:18 tells us that "perfect love cast out all fear". Whenever you see that phrase "perfect love", of what sort of love is John speaking? It certainly isn't human love, since sinless perfection is not attainable in this life. Only God's love is without flaw and without limitation. Every phobia and psychological disorder is traceable to fear or anger. Whenever Adam and Eve hid in the garden, they hid because they were fearful. Only God's love can destroy fear.

c. Anger (1 John 4:20-21). Of the 10,000 times we sin mentioned in the Bible, bitterness or anger against another person is mentioned some 2,000 times. God warns us about the dangers of anger and bitterness more than any other sin. This is why we need His love.

So far, we've observed the traits of God's love as: lives through the cross and overcomes anything. Notice with me a third quality...

Validated by the Spirit. 1 John 4:13

1 John 4:13 makes this observation -

"By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit." 

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Triune Godhead - meaning that:

a. He possesses all of the properties of deity along with the Father and Son
b. He is a Person, possessing intellect, emotions and a shared will with the Father and the Son 
c. He comes to abide within every Christian at salvation (John 14:17,23; 16:8-16; 1 Corinthians 2:12, 3:16, 6:17-18, 8:16-17).

The Holy Spirit in the Christian bears witness of who that Christian is and who it is that owns them (namely Jesus). Included in this witness of the Spirit is the reality of God's love(Romans 5:1-5). The Holy Spirit's ministry on the inside takes "God's love" from the realm of an idea to that of practical living on the outside. Let's consider one more trait of God's love flowing in the life of the Christian....

Expressed in sound doctrine 1 John 4:14-19

As we close out today's blog, we note that God's love is evidence by life through the cross, overcoming all things and validated by the witness of the Spirit. In terms of expressing such truth, sound doctrine - and our attitude toward it, will often tell whether or not we have God's love. If we love God, we will also love His truth. In 1 John 4:14-19 we see the following sound doctrines:

a. Person of Christ (truly God and truly man) 4:14-19.

b. Work of Christ (you cannot separate His Person from His work) 4:14-19.

c. Righteousness of Christ (relying on His act and accomplishment in both His perfect life and substitutionary death) 4:18.

d. God's unchanging love 4:19.

We cannot love God and love others rightly if our doctrine is not right. Attention to the truth of God is crucial is we are going to express and experience of the love of God. These then are the marks of God's love in the believer's life:

Living through and around the cross
Overcoming anything
Validation by the Spirit
Expressed in sound doctrine