Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Most Ancient Bible Prophecy of the 2nd coming

Jude 1:14 It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, 15to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”

Bible prophecy's fascination lies in how much it points us to Jesus Christ and the purposes of God pertaining to our future.  Equally intriguing is to discover how long God has been speaking on this subject. 

Meet the man who saw our day and time - Enoch
We first encounter Enoch in Genesis 5:22-24 - "Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of MethuSelah, and he had other sons and daughters. 23So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him."  Genesis 5 is concerned with demonstrating the unbroken chain of God's bloodline of redemption that stretched from Adam to Noah.  Comprising ten generations in all, Genesis 5 represents 1656 years of time.

It is in Genesis 5 that we see the pre-flood patriarchs living for hundreds of years.  Comparitvely speaking, Enoch's age is young.  Yet he has the distinction of being the first man in the Bible to be known as "the man who walked with God".  After this first mention of Enoch in the Bible, other than the times we see him in geneaological listings, we do not hear another word about Enoch until the book of Jude - over 2500 years later!

Enoch predicted not one, but two major prophetic events
I remember preaching a sermon one time and I asked the children who the oldest man was in the Bible?  They all said "Methusaleh" (with one even saying: "He was 969 years old")!  Methusaleh of course was Enoch's son.  Now what is incredible about Mehtusaleh is not so much his long age as the meaning of his name.  In the original Hebrew, Methusaleh is a name composed of several Hebrew words which put together gives us this meaning: "the year for which it was sent".  What could the "it" be referring to? When Enoch named his son, many scholars believe he was making reference to the flood of Noah.  In fact, when you harmonize all of the birth's and deaths of the men in Genesis 5, Methusaleh's death occurs the same year of the flood!

The second event that Enoch saw is Christ's second coming.  Consider what He saw:
1. He saw the Lord in a literal, bodily return
2. The "coming with his thousands of ones" is in reference to the angelic hosts (Matthew 16:27 and Mark 8:38) and the saints who are resurrected during the event of His return. (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
3. The Final Judgment of the wicked who did not trust in the Lord by grace through faith alone. (please compare to Revelation 20)

In Enoch's prophecy we see cornerstone truths that run through the hundreds of biblical prophecies, namely: The Literal bodily return of the Lord, Resurrection of the righteous and Final Judgment (with resurrection) of the unbelieving dead. 

How certainty of Christ's return is just as sure as the flood of Noah
So why would Jude make a seemingly obscure reference to an ancient prophet living before the flood?  Because in scripture we see the judgment of Noah being likened to the second coming.  Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:5-7 - "For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." Certainty is the emphasis of prophetic scripture pertaining to God's completion of His plan for the ages.  This ancient prophet saw in crystal-clear clarity two events that certainly mark out the flow and course of history - the flood and the second coming. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Prophecy's Eternal Kingdom

Revelation 19: 6 "Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns."

Where Prophecy takes you
Our Lord Reigns!  They are powerful words in our English language that function as an unbroken chain around the central purpose of the Bible.  God's reign shows in action the purpose of scripture: God's glory.  As we have been touring Prophecy's Big Picture, we have looked at the Enormous Kingdom of Babylon, the empire kingdoms of history and the Evil Kingdom that has yet to rise prior to Christ's return.  Bible Prophecy's plotline and purpose is drawn to this endpoint - The Eternal Kingdom. 

How much the Eternal Kingdom factors into Bible Prophecy
The idea of God's Kingdom occurs around 400 times in the Bible.  In the Old Testament the Kingdom of God is stated in general terms to refer to the endpoint of all history wherein God will bring to completion His purposes.  When you arrive at the New Testament, the Kingdom of God concept becomes sharpened in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  224 prophecies point to the Second coming of Jesus Christ.  Without exception, all of the prophetic scriptures find their focal point in the Eternal Kingdom, whose focus finds itself in the Person of the glorified Christ. 

How Big is the focus on Christ's return as the Eternal King
Consider these statistics of prophecy in the Bible as it relates to Christ and His Eternal Kingdom (some of these I've gathered from sermons I've heard over the years):
1. 1/5 of scripture is about Bible Prophecy
2. 1/3 of those scriptures pertain to Christ's return
3. There are over 600 general prophecies about all sorts of subjects, 400 or so speak about the Kingdom in general and 224 point to Christ's return in particular
4. Of the 46 Old testament Prophets - 10 speak of Christ's 1st coming and 36 speak of His 2nd coming
5. Over 1500 Old Testament passages and 1 out of 25 passages refer to Christ's soon return
6. Christ Himself refers to His second coming some 21 times, with 50 places telling us to be ready for His return

Doesn't matter how bad things get, Christ is in control
Philippians 3:20-21 tells us: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21who 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."  Here we see the two-fold reminder for the Christian of who I am and whose I am.  Who am I as a Christian?  I am a citizen of the celestial city being built by Christ. (John 14:1-3).  Jesus says in John 14 to "not let my heart be troubled, if I believe in God, I believe in Christ, for He is going to prepare a place for me".  Now what about "whose I am".  I know that Christ has in His authority "all power on Heaven and earth".  (Matthew 28:18)  I know that by Him, and through Him and to Him all things consist. (Colossians 1:16-18).  Prophecy injects into the bloodstream of my faithlife the hope and confidence that He is in control.  That life has purpose.  That He is that purpose. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Prophecy's Most Evil Kingdom is not the Greatest Kingdom

2 Thessalonians 2:8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;

The problem I have with typical treatments of Bible Prophecy
By God's grace I have been studying scripture for over 20 years.  As a Pastor I have heard many sermons, read books and have sat through classes on Bible Prophecy.  In more examples than I care to recall, I have come away knowing more about the prophetic figure of the Anti-Christ than the true focus of prophecy Jesus Christ.  The true goal of prophecy is to bring about hope in Christ. (Titus 2:13).  Though today's blog is describing the great Evil Kingdom that will oppose Christ at His return, I believe that we can still take this teaching and end up focused on Christ while acquiring hope.

What is the Evil Empire?
Back in the 1980's Ronald Regan referred to the USSR (present day Russia) as the "Evil Empire".  In the earlier part of this century some of you may recall Goerge H.W. Bush referring to the terrorist regiems in the Middle East as the "Axis of Evil".  As true as those statements were, none will compare to the final kingdom that could very well be now but will most certainly arise prior to Christ's return. 

The Evil Empire's future Leader
In Matthew 24:24 we're told that in the last days "false Christs" will arise.  The Apostle John writes in 1 John 2:18 of an actual figure called "the Anti-Christ" arising in the last days, with the "spirit of Anti-Christ" running its course through our current day and age.  In the passage above, we see the work and outright evil of this diabolical figure called "the son of perdition". (2 Thessalonians 2:3).  Daniel 9:23-27 refers to this man as the one who will set up an abomination that causes desolation in a rebuilt temple in Jersualem. 

The Evil Empire's Scope and Beastly Nature
By the time you read Revelation 13, as well as Revelation 17-19, you see the full-scale work of this Evil Kingdom.  As we saw a couple of days ago, under the description of "Babylon the Great", the scope of this Evil Kingdom will control the Political, Religious and Financial infrastructure of Earth's inhabitants.  In Revelation 13, we see the comparison to Ancient Rome, highlighting the aggressive and beastly nature of this final Evil Kingdom.  Daniel 8-11 gives us a detailed summary of how the seeds of this Evil Kingdom have been sown through earth's history by men and the Enemy of our souls. 

The Evil Empire will be destroyed by Christ's Eternal Empire
As we look at Daniel and Revelation, we can note the demise of the Evil Empire by the Eternal Empire of Jesus Christ.  According to Daniel 2:34-35 and 2:44-45, we see the Enduring King coming to conquer the Evil Empire of the Anti-Christ.  Then when we turn to Daniel 7:22-28 and Revelation 19, we see this Enduring King reigning for an endless duration.  The Anti-Christ and his co-hort, the False Prophet, will be cast into the Lake of Fire.  The armies of the world gather against Christ will be wiped out, and the birds of the air will feed on their flesh. (Matthew 24:28) 

The final scene of prophecy's big picture envisions this Enduring King, with an endless reign, having endless victory in Daniel 12:1-13 and Revelation 21-22.   As Revelation 11:15 summarizes it so well: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Prophecy's Empire Kingdoms

Daniel 2:21 “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding."

Yesterday we began to peer through the Book of Daniel to understand Prophecy's Big Picture.  We looked at the entity referred to in scripture as "Babylon the Great", or what we are calling in this blog series: "The Enormous Empire".  Babylon the Great in its historical and prophetic versions represents the united effort of humanity to set up a system hostile to God's prophetic Kingdom.

Today we want to consider what took place after the fall of the Babylonian empire in Daniel's time.  We will discover that Daniel predicted the rise and fall of 3 major world empires that would take us into the days of Christ's birth.  We will begin with Belshazzar of Babylon in Daniel 5 and trace history to discover how accurately the Bible predicted Prophecy's Big Picture.

1. Babylon - The empire who gave us the Magi
The Babylonian Empire of Daniel's day began under Naboplassor in 626 b.c.  By the time we come to Daniel 5, it is in the eve of its existence.  According to the 1st century historian Josephus, Darius the Mede had over a period of months used his army to divert the flow of the Euphrates river to flow around, rather than through the mighty city of Babylon.  In Daniel's vision of the Colossal statue of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar's empire was the head of gold. 

Though valuable, gold as a metal is soft.  Daniel predicted that the might Baylonians would fall, albiet peaceably, to the combined efforts of Darius and Cyrus the Persian.  In 538 b.c, that is exactly what took place.  From the Babylonians, Daniel's influence infused into the pagan priests the idea of the coming Messiah.  It is from that group that we would have the Magi, the Kings of the East, who came to worship at Jesus' feet in Matthew 2.

2. The Medo-Persian Empire - the ones who invented crucifixion
In Daniel 2 we continue with the vision of the statue.  From the head of gold we see the statue having arms and a chest made of silver.  (Daniel 2:32)  Daniel 7-8 reveals the identity of this part of the statue as being the Medo-Persian Kingdom.  From 538b.c into 333 b.c the Persian Empire stretched from modern day Iraq into the realms of Israel.  The two arms represented the stronger Persian element and the weaker Medes.  By 350 b.c or so the Persians would devise the most diabolical torture of crucifixion, which by the days of Rome had been perfected.  God was raising up these historic empires to Sovereignly fulfill His overall plan.

3. The Greeks defeat the Persians and spread the Greek Language
Daniel 2 and chapters 8-11 record in striking detail the rise and fall of the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great in 333 b.c.  According to Greek and Jewish Historians, Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and in 333 b.c began his spread of Greek language and culture (called by historians Hellenization).  By 275 b.c this effort was well underway and the Jews in Alexandria Egypt translated the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek Septuagint.  This paved the way for the language of the New Testament, inspired by God following the ascension of Christ in 33 A.D.  Daniel 8-11 tells of the split of the Greek Empire into four sub-kingdoms under the reigns of Alexander's four generals. 

4. The Romans defeat the Greek's and are in power by Jesus' day
Greece had weakened into a divided empire, which gave rise to the Romans.  Under the leadership of Caesar Augustus, Rome was very much a world power by Jesus' day.  Throughout the Medditerranean world the Romans had divised a road way system called "The Roman Road" (via Romana), winding its way for some 50,000 miles.  This was the perfect way of spreading the Gospel in the days of the Apostles.

In Daniel's vision of the statue in Daniel 2, the legs of Iron is Rome.  At the end of the vision were toes composed of iron and clay.  Though Rome would collapse as a result of internal division and corruption, a kingdom like it will once again be revived in the last days.  The Rome-like nature of the world's final empire will be mankind's final attempt to rebel against Christ. 

5. God used these empires of history in Christ's 1st coming, and He will show Himself supreme in Christ's second coming.
Prophecy's Big pictures demonstrates that what these empires meant for evil, God used to accomplish his Greatest good. He used the Magi of Babylon to worship the infant Christ.  He used the Persian's crucifixion to bring about the death of Christ.  He used the Greek Language to reveal the acomplishment of Christ in the New Testament.  Then He used Rome to be the tool to provide the circumstances in which the Lord of glory would be crucified, buried and risen. 

Though the Book of Daniel and Revelation 13 do depict the reviving of a final evil empire that can be likened unto Rome, its purpose will be to show the vain attempts of Satan and sinful humanity to usurp Jesus Christ.  As Revelation 11:15 reminds us: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bible Prophecy's Big Picture

Isaiah 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure';

The Hubble Space Telescope's attempt at a big picture
In 2003 to 2004 the Hubble Space Telescope turned its view upon a certain section of the sky near the constellation Orion.  Its goal was to continuously focus on a patch of sky that was smaller than the eye of a needle viewed at arms length.  Termed "the Hubble Ultra deep Field", Astronomers were hoping to peer into the earliest moments of the Universe's origin.  The result was astounding!  Literally thousands of galaxies and star systems populated a minute patch of sky that many thought might be empty.  In attempting to explain the big picture of the universe, astronomy only discovered just how small we really are.

Considering the Book of Daniel as a telescope for prophecy's big picture
Around 600 years before Jesus Christ had come to earth, a young teenage Jew by the name of Daniel, along with the Jewish nation, was taken away captive into the land of Babylonia (modern day Iraq).  Other prophets who had been ministering in Israel had warned the people that if they did not turn to the Lord in repentance, they would be taken away by the Babylonians for 70 years. (Jeremiah 25:11)  Daniel was only 15 years old when this occured, and for the whole 70 year period Daniel received a series of visions and interpretations concerning his current day and the age to come.

The Book of Daniel functions a lot like a big telescope.  It details both history and prophect, giving us the big picture of God's Divine plotline for our planet.  When read in concert with the Book of Revelation, we get the complete Big Picture of Bible Prophecy.

What is the Big Picture of Bible Prophecy?
As you study the book of Daniel, its contents can be divided into two main parts: Chapters 1-6 are mainly historical, with a little bit of prophecy; and chapters 7-12 are mainly prophetic, with a little bit of history.  As we turn the telescope of Daniel to the heavens of God's prophetic plan for time and eternity, we begin with the Bible's sweeping account of an Enormous Empire: Babylon the Great.

1. Enormous Empire - Babylon the Great 
When Ancient Babylon Began - The Tower of Babel
The setting of Daniel begins during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  Babylon's history is perhaps the longest of all of the empires recorded in scripture. In Genesis 9-11 we see the origins of this ancient Kingdom in the rise of the tower of Babel.  Once God had dispersed the languages, the mighty tower had remained for centuries.  Other empires would come and go, but that mighty tower stood as testament to mankind's rebellion against God.  The ancient historian Strabo tells of the Tower of Babel still standing in his day - being a quarter of a mile at its base and over 600 feet high. 

When Babylon arose again - The days of Daniel
Naboplassar in 626 b.c had conquered the Assyrians and began what historians call the Neo-Babylonian Empire.  His son, Nebuchadnezzar (whom we meet in Daniel), came on the scene and began to reign around or before 605 b.c.   Historians such as Herodotus and Josephus record King Nebuchadnezzar attempting to rebuild the ancient tower and the mighty city of Babylonia from ruins.  By Daniel's time this project was well underway.  Nebuchadnezzar had constructed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world - the Hanging Gardens of Babylon - as a gift to his wife.  For 43 years Nebuachadnezzar reigned.  Once he died, the throne of Babylon passed through several of his relatives. 

Babylon of History would end in the days of Daniel
By the time the seventy years were almost complete, Babylon of history was in the eve of its existence.  A grandson of Nebuchadnezzar by the name of Belshazzar was taking care of Babylonia as second in command while his father, Nabodinus (not mentioned in scripture), the 1st in command, was off fighting various wars.  In Daniel 5 we see the aged Daniel, now in his mid-eighties, warning Belshazzar of the end of he and his father's kingdom.  It would be on that night that King Darius the Mede would come in and take over and defeat the Babylonians.  Though gone from the pages of history, the pages of prophecy detail how Babylon will once again rear its ugly head.

Babylon the Great is predicted in Revelation
Revelation 17-19 records for us the prophetic theater in which the kingdoms of this world will be united together into a system Revelation calls "Babylon the Great". (Revelation 17:5)  Babylon the Great, like its prior historical ancestors of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon and the Tower of Babel, will operate as a center of humanity in three ways.

In Revelation 17:1-13 we see Babylon the Great as Religious center.  Much like the Tower of Babel and Nebuchadnezzar's demand of worship in Daniel 3, Babylon the Great will demand all of earth's inhabitants to bow at its feet.  Then secondly, Babylon the Great will be a political center in Revelation 17:14-18:8.  Then finally, Babylon the Great will be an economic center in Revelation 18:9-24. 

Babylon, the Great Empire, will be defeated by the Lord Jesus Christ
Much like the Tower of Babel and the Neo-Babylonian empire of Daniel's day, the outcome will be brought to an end by Divine intervention.  Christ will return to judge humanity and put a permanent end to Babylon the Great, demonstrating His power in Revelation 19:1-21. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why prophecy and prayer go together

Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ

Hope is present conviction rooted in the certainty of who God is and what He is going to do.  According to Titus 2:13, the second coming of Jesus Christ constitutes the "Blessed Hope" of the Christian faith.  Today we want to see why prophecy and prayer go together.

Prayer proceeds by hope, prophecy supplies it
As you look at the statement made here in Philippians, the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul was writing to a church located at a cultural center of the Roman empire.  Much like a "county seat" in an American context - Phillipi was a place where issues such as Roman Citizenship played a huge role.  To be a Roman citizen meant privileges that very few people in the first century had the opportunity to enjoy.  For these people to whom Paul wrote - the fundamental question was: from whence do you derive your hope? The Christian must fight the temptation of placing too much hope in this world, which is why Paul directs their attention, and ours, to the return of Jesus Christ. 

Now in just a few verses we read an incredible statement on the need of prayer.  Philippians 4:6-7 tells us: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understand will guard your hearts and minds in Christ."  Grammar and context connects Philippians 4:6-7 back to Philippians 3:20-21.  In order to "be anxious for nothing" in prayer, I need to keep my heart focused upon the blessed hope of Christ's return.  The hope needed in prayer is supplied by the hope of His return.

The Bible puts prophecy and prayer together
As we already witnessed, Philippians 3:20-21 and Philippians 4:6-7 are connected to one another.  Prophecy's effectiveness can only be seen as we apply its message to our current situation through prayer.  When we pray in accordance to Philippians 4:6-7 we are promised "peace that surpasses all understanding" and "guarding of the heart and mind in Christ".  What prophecy does is lift me above the immediate horizon of my circumstances to see Christ who is Lord over my circumstances.  To know that the end of all time is not in the whims of chance, but rather in the will of God, gives great hope concerning personal situations.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why you need to pray for Jerusalem

Psalm 122:8 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you."

For the past couple of days we have been drawing the connection that the Bible makes between prayer and prophecy.  Today we want to consider another prophetic truth that intersects with prayer - God's promise to never forsake Israel. 

God's promise to not forsake Israel
When the Psalmist here is telling us to pray for Jerusalem, He is echoing the promises of God pertaining to the nation of Israel as He originally spoke to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.  Over the history of His dealings with her, even though she had forsook Him many times, God's word has always stood firm concerning her.  In fact Romans 11:25-26 plainly states: "For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.”

Why the promise to Israel is relevant to the Christian
To know that God never breaks His promises is one of the most fundamental cornerstones in prayer, since by God's promises we proceed to pray and live for Christ.  Israel is the objective demonstration of just how faithful God is to His word. 

How one man demonstrated the importance of Jerusalem in his prayer life
In Daniel 6 we read of Daniel being thrown into a lion's den as a result of refusing to compromise His worship of the Lord in the face of a king's decree of death.  The Bible tells us that when the decree was issued that all subjects worship Darius the King - Daniel refused.  Instead when he found out the contents of the decree, the Bible says in Daniel 6:10 - "Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously."

How Praying towards Jerusalem kept Daniel focused in the hard times
Daniel never stopped believing God's promise to restore His people.  Though not having been in Jerusalem for nearly 70 years, Daniel, praying in Babylon hundreds of miles away, had prayed this way for the entirety of his captivity in that land.  The center of Daniel's universe was the God of Scripture, whose affection was set upon God's people in Jerusalem. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).  When King Solomon had dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem 400 years before Daniel's day, the prayer was that it and the city would be the focal point in the prayer-lives of God's people. (1 Kings 8:30)  No doubt Daniel had scriptures like these rolling through his heart as he prayed.  His prayer life centered around the promises of God to His people.  Within his book we see prayer and prophecy intertwined like a strong rope of faith.  

Practical ways and benefits of praying for Jerusalem
When I make it a point to pray for Jerusalem, I try to do it in the midst of my morning routine.  Even if something that I'm doing is not remotely connected to Jerusalem, I try to pray anyway for their welfare and restoration.  Why?  Because it reminds me that the horizon of my hope lies not in how well life here on earth is going but rather in God's unbreakable promises.  Everytime I have breathed a short prayer for Jerusalem, I always find myself being able to see my hope in Christ being made clearer.  Praying for a people who by and large does not even acknowledge Jesus as Messiah also instills in me the need to share Him with others. Then as a final thought, praying for Jerusalem opens the way for blessing, since through it I am aligning my heart with God's heart.    

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Pray for Christ's Return?

Revelation 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

The Certainty of Christ's return
In this next to the last verse of the Bible we see Jesus make the promise of "Yes, I am coming quickly", with the prayer following it: "Amen, come, Lord Jesus".  Now why is this so significant?  Because the second coming of Jesus Christ is the most predicted event in the Bible.  224 specific prophecies are related to His Second coming or "Second Advent".  Whenever we see God putting predictions in His word, that means one thing - it is a sure thing.   Jesus Himself, speaking from the standpoint of His humanity, says these words in Matthew 24:34 - “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."

Why pray for something that is already planned by God the Father?
So why pray for an event that has been set by God the Father on His calendar?  When we pray for Christ to return quickly, it stirs up within us the grace-affected desire to see Him.  2 Timothy 4:8 says these words - "in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." 

How praying for Christ's return stirs our commitment to have desire
As Christians we run the risk of becoming too tied to this present world.  Focusing on the soon return of Jesus Christ enables us to live right now in light of eternity.  Commitment to Christ needs Desire for Christ.  Commitment without desire burns out and cannot endure under the testings of this age.  When we pray for His soon return, it infuses into our hearts the desire for Him, as well as the desire to live a holy life for Him. 

1 John 2:2-3 states - "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. 3And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Prophecy's Role in Prayer

Luke 18:1&8 (1) Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart. (8)  8“I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

Jesus desire to find His people praying at His return
In this little section Jesus presents a parable on prevailing prayer.  He tells the story of a poor and oppressed woman who had appealed to an unjust judge for resolution of a situation.  Everyday she went to him, making an appeal for him to take care of the problem that was vexing her life.  Jesus tells us that this Judge cared neither for her nor her plight, however he chose to intervene in order to get her out of his hair - so to speak.  Jesus' point was that if an unjust Judge would answer the pleas of a woman He doesn't know, how much more will not the Father - who is Just and fair, hear the pleas of His people whom he loves.  Jesus then closes the section with the statement of His desire to find such prevailing prayer among His people at His return.

Why we must see the connection between prophecy and prayer
Jesus here is making an important connection for us between prayer and His second coming.  When we explore the scriptures, we discover the premium scripture places upon both.  For instance, 1/5 of the 31,000 verses of the Bible deal with prophecy or Divine statements about the future.  Of those more than 800 prophecies, 1/3 of those focus upon the most important theme in prophecy - Christ's return. 

On the prayer side of things we find over 600 recorded prayers in the Word of God.  Prayer is such a huge theme in the Bible.  In Genesis 4:26 we see prayer first mentioned, with Revelation 21:20 being the last prayer of the Bible.  In that final prayer of the Bible, we find the combinations of prophecy and prayer in these words: "He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus."

Prayer needs hope, and prophecy gives us the Hope
The Holy Ghost speaks these words through Paul in Titus 2:13 - "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus".  Prayer by its very nature is wrestling to know God, hear God and invite God to be front and center in our thoughts and situations.  If anything, prayer needs hope - for often we find ourselves praying for people or situations where hope is in short supply.  It seems that scripture intentionally connects prayer and prophecy together to infuse our prayer lives with the Hope - Christ.  With prayer being possible because of Christ's first coming, and prophecy focusing us upon His second coming, it is clear why both need to be together. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Contending for the heritage of biblical authority

Jude 1:3b - "I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints"

How scripture's unique authority as the inerrant Word of God been contended for by the historic church? To see a specific example, we will quickly journey through the Baptist movement in general, and Southern Baptists in particular, to discover how God's people have contended for the "faith once and for delivered to the saints" in the realm of biblical authority. 

The heritage of the Baptist Movement and its view on Biblical Authority
From the early centuries of the Christian church, various groups with similar beliefs to Baptists existed.  All of them espoused belief in the sole authority of scripture in determining how  Christians drew conclusions from experience, reason and others sources of authority.  How did earlier "Baptists" come to express this principle of "sola scriptura" (scripture alone) and how does Southern Baptist life connect into the historic Christian view of Scripture's authority?

1. The 1689 London Baptist Confession on the authority of the Bible - It alone is sufficient
Although historic doctrinal statements are secondary sources of authority, it is important to see how doctrines have developed and are consistent in the history of God's people.  In this early Baptist Confession of faith, we see this statement on the scriptures: "The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation."  

2. The 1723 Philadelphia Baptist Confession on the authority of the Bible - It alone is sufficient
When the Baptists came to America, most of them arrived to our shores with a familiarity of the 1689 confession.  At Philadelphia in 1742, Baptists articulated what they believed and formulated what was termed:  "The Philadelphia Baptist Confession". In it's article on the scriptures, they retained the identical wording of the 1689 confession.

3. The 1833 New Hampshire Confession - an important link to Southern Baptists
By 1833 Baptists in America existed in several different groupings.  In the New England area the Baptist Churches felt it necessary to state their doctrinal beliefs in the "New Hampshire Confession of Faith".  This document would be the forerunner to the "Baptist Faith and Message of 1925" (a Southern Baptist Doctrinal Statement).  The New Hampshire Confession still advocated the principle of sola scriptura: (The Bible is) "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried."  The New Hampshire confession also advocated in writing that had been held by historic Baptist groups - namely the belief in biblical inerrancy.

4. The 1925 Baptist Faith and Message
When the Southern Baptists formed in 1845, they did not have a unified doctrinal statement.  Southern Baptists have typically treated their statements of faith as "summaries" of what they believe.  In 1925 the Southern Baptist Convention adopted what was termed "The Baptist Faith and message 1925".  Its statement on scripture still advocated the Reformation principle of sola scriptura.  Southern Baptists continued the emphasis of stating the Bible's character of inerrancy as the reason why it alone was the believer's authority.  You can see this by going to the Southern Baptist Website ( and comparing the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message.

5. The 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message
By 1963 the Southern Baptists felt the need to issue an updated version of the Baptist Faith and message.  By retaining much of the same wording on the article of biblical authority, they added the following statement: "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ."  As the Denomination went through battles over Biblical inerrancy in the 70's, 80's and 90's, many leaders and pastors felt that a more emphatic statement needed to be made.  In 2000 the convention adopted the current Baptist Faith and Message, changing the wording on the article of scripture in the last part to: "All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation." This change identified Christ as the "central focus" of the Bible's message, while re-emphasizing the historic belief in inerrancy as the chief characteristic behind the Bible's authority.

In Summary - Southern Baptists have never stopped believing in Sola Scriptura nor valuing biblical inerrancy
This quick summary serves to demonstrate where Southern Baptist have stood in light of the historic Christian church's belief on the absolute authority of the Bible.  I would also add that in order to continue in that tradition, we must never abandon the belief in the Bible's inerrancy - since inerrancy is the main trait demonstrating the Bible to be Divinely inspired.  As long as Christians continue to prize the Bible as uniquely sufficient in all matters of eternity and life, they will continue to "contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Christian's Thermostat - Sola Scriptura

Titus 2:15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

What is the Christian's authority for eternity and daily decision making?  In the passage above, the Apostle Paul is urging a young Pastor by the name of Titus to exhort and reprove with "all authority".  The "authority" in question cannot be in reference to the pastor nor the office he occupies.  There is only one authority that covers every area of life in the church and life - namely the scriptures.  

When confusion arose over the Christian's main authority  
In the period where the Roman Catholicism had developed its heirarchy of Priests, Bishops and Popes, the underlying assumption was that they were the final authority on matters of Eternity and life in the church.  Called "The Majesterium" (Latin for "those who teach) by Roman Catholic theology, the idea was that no one could interpret the Bible for themselves, and that the Majesterium were the only ones qualified to hear "God's voice as He spoke through both the Bible and Church tradition".  In short, the Catholic church of the Middle Ages had adopted a "dual-source" theory for understanding matters of life and eternity through both Scripture and Church Tradition. 

The Movement that got back to the authority of the Bible
On October 31, 1517 a monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses or reasons of protest to a church door in Wittenburg Germany that opposed what He deemed abuses done by the Roman Catholic Church.  Over time, this movement, called "The Protestant Reformation", spread through Europe and used the little Latin phrase "sola scriptura" or "The Bible Alone" to capture the priority of the Bible as the supreme authority for the believer. 

What Sola Scriptura does not mean
When people hear that I advocate the Bible as the final authority on matters of faith, practice, life and eternity, they may think that I only read the Bible and ignore other books or ignore the historic teaching of the church.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  When Martin Luther was advocating "Sola Scriptura" (Bible Alone), he was not ignoring the historic teaching of the Christian church nor ignoring other resources such as reason or experience.  If anything, He was returning back to the original teaching of Christ and the Apostles.  He was stating that the Bible alone is the only type of authority that can bind the human conscience.  Without excluding other types of authority, sola scriptura asserts the Bible to be the final authority by which all others are measured.     

What Sola Scriptura does mean
This important principle explains the Bible's relationship to secondary but still important sources of authority that Christians use everyday.  Two terms have been used to unfold the meaning of this principle.  The Bible is first described as the "Norming Norm", meaning "The measurer of all other measurements".  Then the Bible is secondly described as the "First Norm among all other Norms" meaning "The Chief Measurement among all other measurements". 

In other words, the Bible is the standard against which other authorities like reason or experience or Church doctrinal statements are determinedAlso too, the Bible is to be understood as never being separated from those other sources of authority.  I clearly need to use my God-given reasoning abilities to aid in my study of scripture while hearing the Spirit of God speak through their words.  Likewise I need experience to see how well I am applying the scriptures.  With that said, the Bible is still the main authority which judges the conclusions of reason and events of experience.

Illustrating sola scripture - The Bible is a thermostat, other authorities are just thermometers
If we may use the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat, the thermometer functions like other sources of authority (reason, experience, tradition, science, etc).  They tell me information about various aspects about truth and life and and are vital in the process of making daily decisions.  A thermostat on the other hand is a regulator, it changes the climate of things and can influence me to stick around or go another direction.  That's how the Bible functions - it alone can convert the human heart (1 Peter 1:23) and provide binding authority that influences how I ultimately act and live. (Psalm 119:105)  It doesn't merely tell me about aspects of truth - it is God's truth. 

Being that a thermostat works in conjunction with a thermometer, both are needed - however it is clear which one is the determining authority on all matters in the room - the thermostat.  May we come to appreciate the Bible as the Christian's Thermostat through this important concept of sola scriptura (scripture alone)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jesus Christ 1,2,3 - His Three Offices

Hebrews 7:26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens;

In this final part of our short blog series: "Jesus Christ 1,2,3", we have taken a quick tour of the person and work of Christ.  We have used the simple outline of Jesus Christ being One person, having two natures occupying three offices.  Today's blog will deal with the three offices in which Jesus Christ is occupying.

As Prophet - He reveals God to His people
Hebrews 1:1-3 tells us that Jesus Christ is the exact radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being.  As Prophet He reveals God to His people.  By virtue of His glorified humanity He can communicate who God is by the Holy Spirit through the scriptures.  By virtue of His Deity, He is the exact picture of who God is and is pointed to by the Holy Spirit through the scriptures.

As Priest - He represents the people before His Heavenly Father
As we saw in the opening verse of today's blog, He is the believer's representative.  As our High Priest, He is able to mediate between God and man due to the fact He is both God and man. (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:1-2) 

As King, He rules over His people and reigns supreme
By being exalted above the Heavens, Jesus Christ as the Eternal Son reigns over His church and in an inaugurated way, over this world. (Ephesians 2).  Once He returns, His Kingdom will manifest as an earthly one for 1,000 years.  Then once He hands over all things to His Father, he will ever reign as King over His people. (Revelation 21-22)

How Christ's three-fold offices relate to the Christian life
In this blog site the aim is to provide growing Christian resources for the Christian life that is practical, doctrinal and supernatural.  These three traits are the most fundamental way of describing the Christian walk.  The Christian life cannot be defined apart from Jesus Christ.  When I consider Christ as my King, practically I am to submit myself to Him, doctrinally I acknowledge His claims on my life and supernaturally His Kingdom is a reality operating in my heart and one that is yet to come.  

When I consider Christ as my prophet, practically I turn to the scriptures to understand what He has to say, supernaturally I can hear Him through the scriptures and doctrinally build my understanding of Him upon the word of God.  Then with Christ being as the believer's High Priest, I practically serve with other saints as a kingdom of priests, representing Christ; supernaturally I seek God through His ministry and  doctrinally I know that Christ is the only mediator between God and man. (1 Timothy 2:5)  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jesus Christ 1,2,3 - Human and Divine

1 Timothy 3:16a "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh...."

Yesterday we began considering who Jesus Christ is by considering Him as "One Person".  We used a simple little phrase to aid us in summarizing who Jesus Christ is: One person, having two natures occupying three offices.  Today we want to focus on that second part: namely that Jesus Christ as One Person has "two natures".

What is a nature?
Nature in this discussion refers to how a being expresses its existence.  So for instance my dog Rica, has the "nature" of a little dog.  She wags her tail a mile a minute, yaps and can dig holes the size of teacups.  Her "nature" is how she expresses her existence.  I have a "human nature" - I get tired, hungry and can be only in one place at one time.  All creatures express their existence in one way - through a "creaturely nature".  The Triune God expresses Himself in an infinite, unlimited way or "Divine Nature".    By "Divine Nature", we mean that God can be more than one place at one time and that He has no beginning nor end. 

Jesus Christ has two ways of expression or "two natures"
As the opening passage of today's blog states: "God was manifest in the flesh".  This language of scripture expresses a truth upon which the Christian church of every age has understood Jesus Christ - that He is God and man.  We can even see this in the two chief names by which we identify God the Son in human flesh: "Jesus" and "Christ".

As Christ He is Divine
As Christ we recognize that God the Son was selected, and voluntarily entered from all eternity to do the will of The Father.  Christ was sent by the Father to be the One who would fully reveal His glory (John 17:4; Psalm 2) and who would come to work redemption (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2).  As Christ He is the Messiah of Jewish Prophecy - The Divine Savior who would also rule and reign over His people. (2 Samuel 7:13-16; Psalm 2; 45; 89; 110; Revelation 15:12).  Christ Himself spoke of His Divine identity. (John 8:58). 

As God, Christ can be everywhere present (John 3:13); He knows all things, including the fulness and depths of the Divine Hidden nature of God - since He Himself shares fully in the Divine Nature with the Father and Holy Spirit. (John 1:1-18)  He is all-powerful. (Matthew 28:18).  By His resurrection He demonstrated that He is the Living God. (1 Corinthians 15)

As Jesus He became human and still is human
As God the Son, Christ has existed from all eternity as it pertains to His divine nature.  However when He entered from eternity into time, He took upon Himself a second way of expressing His Person, a second nature - a human nature.  He was both predicted and born of a virgin, in Bethlehem over 2012 years ago. (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2-4; Matthew 1:21; Luke 2)  By being named Jesus, He became the human Savior, limiting himself to human weakness without sin. (Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:21-24)  As a man he could get hungry, be tempted and get tired.  As a man He went to the cross and died.  His human nature subjected him to living a life of submission to the will of God the Father. 

When He resurrected from the dead, He retained a physical, albeit glorified human body. (John 20).  When He ascended, He still retains His humanity and is situated at the right hand of God the Father as man who is still God. 

Practical considerations for Jesus Christ's two natures
1. When we think of the cross and resurrection
When I speak about Jesus Christ, I need to ask whether I'm referring to Him as it pertains to His Deity, or as it pertains to His humanity.  As it touches His humanity, I can say He died on the cross, was buried in a borrowed tomb and was raised on the third day. As it touches His Deity, His work of redemption was of infinite value. 

2. When we think of prayer
As man He intercedes and represents me as my elder brother. (Hebrews 2)  As God He is able to answer prayer and excercise Sovereignty in answering my prayers. 

3. When we think of the second coming
As the New Adam He is the man from heaven whom I am looking for to return to take back the title deed of earth that Satan had stolen from the original man Adam. (Romans 5:11-21; Revelation 5)  As Eternal God, He will return to set up the Kingdom which His Father promised Him from all eternity, and of which He will put every enemy under His feet and give all things over to Him. (1 Corinthians 15; 2 Peter 3; Revelation 20-22)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jesus Christ - 1,2,3 - He is One Person

Matthew 16:13  Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

The person of Jesus Christ is the most fascinating character of history and eternity.  I would like to take today's blog and the next couple of blogs to do a sweeping overview of who exactly Jesus Christ is.  I will use a simple device in aiding our remembrance of the essential doctrinal truths of this incredible person Jesus Christ:

He is One Person...having two natures...occupying three offices.  Today we will focus on the first, namely what is it about Jesus Christ that makes Him "One" Person.

He is One Person in Co-unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit
As Jesus was praying in His high priestly prayer in John 17:5, He makes this statement:  “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was." Christ here reveals the Eternal Pre-existent glory and non-ending life He has had with the God the Father from all eternity.  The Apostle Paul writes these words in 1 Corinthians 8:6 - "yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him." 

Why the Person of Christ leads to the understanding of the Trinity
The authority of  the scriptures and understanding of the historic Christian Church has been that first there is One God and second, the Deity of Jesus Christ.  Both truths are taught in scripture and theologians have come to understand that Christ, being one person, is in Co-unity with the Father.  Additionally, Christ is also in Co-union with the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 28:19-20 reveals Christ's command to: "go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name (not names) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."  This special co-union between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is known as the Trinity, or the God-head (the Eternal center of undivided life shared by and dwelling in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit).     

He is One Person with a distinct identity
As "Person",  Christ is defined by who He is in the Three-fold Co-Union with the Father and Holy Spirit.   God the Son has His own distinct identity.  The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, has this to say: "The eternal Triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being."

Christ as the second member of the Trinity has these distinct qualities that are rooted within His identity as God the Son:

He reveals the Father.   Hebrews 1:3a "He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature....".  To one of His disciples Jesus says these words in John 14:9 "He who has seen Me has seen the Father".

He regulates creation.   Hebrews 1:3b "and upholds all things by the word of His power."  Colossians 1:16 explains - "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."

He rules over His church  The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul says this in Colossians 1:18 "And he (Christ) is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy."  We read similar statements in Ephesians 5:23 - "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body."

So Christ is One Person.  Tomorrow we will consider what is meant when we say Jesus Christ has two natures. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Book of no errors

Psalm 12:7 The words of the LORD are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.

The past several blogs have dealt with the identity and extent of the inspired books that make up the 66 books of the Bible.  Like a measuring stick that determines truth, the entire collection of inspired books are we we call "The Canon of Scripture" (the word canon literally means "measuring stick").  But now what makes the 66 books as individual books, as well as a collection, authoritative and binding upon the conscience of every Christian?  The nature of biblical authority resides in the concept referred to as "biblical inerrancy". 

What do we mean when we say that the Bible is inerrant?
In addition to the verse above, other passages speak to the fact that the scriptures are without error. (Psalm 119:96; Proverbs 30:5; 2 Peter 1:21).  Inerrancy simply means that the Bible, in all of its over 31,000 words and 1189 chapters is completely accurate about every matter and doctrine, whether it be scientific, historical, spiritual or literary.  The Bible was written by 40 human authors who were specifically graced by God to produce writings without error.

Two important elements of biblical inerrancy
Material Inerrancy
With that said, we must understand two important aspects of inerrancy.  The first is what we call "material inerrancy".  When the Prophets and Apostles composed the original manuscripts (also called autographs) of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek Manuscripts, the very wording or "material" of the original manuscripts were without error.  After those original manuscripts were composed, they were copied, and then copied again. 

Over the centuries, we have collected over 800 copies of the Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts and over 5500 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.  As handcopied manuscripts, spelling differences and switching around of word order were inevitable. These small differences, called "textual variants" (or textual differences) have no effect on essential doctrines nor the facts of scripture.  

Thankfully the nature of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages can still communicate the same message and content if the ordering of words are slightly different from one manuscript to the next.  We have well over 90% certainty of the wording of the original text of the Old Testament and 99% certainty of the exact wording of the original Greek New Testament text, by far the greatest quality of any ancient document.  

Formal Inerrancy
With the original manuscripts no longer around, how can we know that the copies and translations today are by authority the inerrant word of God?  This is where the second concept, called "formal" inerrancy becomes useful.  "Formal" authority refers to the doctrines, teachings and facts communicated by the copies and translations made from the original manuscripts. 

The doctrines and teachings of the scriptures have not been lost through the centuries of copying of the manuscripts of the Bible.  When Jesus and the Apostles quoted the Old Testament, they were doing so from a Greek Translation called the Septuagint.  Their attitude toward the translations and manuscripts of their day demonstrates what we are discussing here.  Because the original manuscripts were in the "material" of their original wording inerrant, biblical doctrines and details have been faithfully communicated through the remarkable preservation of the manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments.  This is why we can say that the Bibles we have today are by virtue of their authority the inerrant Word of God.  

The Practical Value of biblical inerrancy 
Reading, studying, teaching and preaching God's word demands an accurate text.  What would happen if we discovered errors in matters of doctrinal, historical or scientific truth?  It would undermine the Christian faith and the confidence we have in living out the Christian faith.  Christian faith derives from scripture and though it. (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23)   

It is the Holy Spirit who guides and illluminates the text. (1 John 2:20,27).  If I don't have the inerrant word of God, then I won't have an accurate picture and understanding of Christ.  Inerrancy is without a doubt still relevant and highly practical, since it describes the nature of the source of biblical Christianity - The Bible. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why there are only four gospels

Galatians 1:9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

So-Called Modern Discoveries of "Lost Gospels"
For the past 50 years, and most recently in the past ten years, we have been hearing news reports about the discovery of "Lost Gospels" allegedly written by Jesus' Apostles.  Titles such as "The Gospel of Thomas" and most recently "The Gospel of Judas" have been touted as lost works that should had been included in the New Testament.

The time period following the completion of the New Testament books saw an onslaught of forged writings produced under the assumed names of the Apostles.  Is it true that we have works that should had been included in the New Testament canon?  Or was it immediately recognized by Christians in the early church that the so-called "gospels" that we are hearing about today were nothing more than heretical forgeries? 

History's testimony
In the first 300 years of the church a movement arose that threatened to undermine the truth of God's Word.  That movement, called "Gnosticism" (nos-ti-sism) taught that salvation was not by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but rather through a special, mystical knowledge (a gnosis) that was attained through denial of the physical world.  Furthermore, these Gnostics emphasized communication with the angelic realm, denied the sufficiency and authority of scripture and denied that Jesus Christ physcially died on the cross. 

An early Christian leader by the name of Irenaeus of Lyons, wrote a book called "Against Heresies", wherein he describes the teachings of the Gnostics and their writings.  The fact that we have many of these "so-called" gospels in existence today enables us to examine the nature of their teachings. 

A quick survey of these "so-called" gospels
Below is a quick survey of the teachings and contents of a few of the Gnostic gospels.  Having read these works, I can tell you that they are not even in the same ball-park of authority or quality as our beloved four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)  As will be shown, they do not match with the information we find in the four biblical Gospels:

1. Gospel of Thomas - Written almost a century after the Apostles' deaths, Thomas teaches that salvation is through a mystical encounter with Jesus, rather than through faith and trust in His shed blood.  It is composed of 114 loose sayings supposedly made by Him.  There is not one mention of His crucifixion or His Lordship, teachings that are central to the four Gospels and the New Testament.

2. The Gospel of Peter - This work was written 100 years after the death of the Apostle Peter.  Not only was it not written by the Apostle Peter, but the work also suggests that Jesus did not Himself die on the cross, but rather made it appear that He did, and had Judas do it in his place!  The Gnostics denied Jesus' physical body, and thus no need for a cross.  Clearly this goes against the central teachings of the New Testament. 

We could mention other so-called gospels, however their teachings and short-comings clearly demonstrate why they were immediately rejected as scripture.  Irenaeus' work "Against Heresies" spells out in detail the work and beliefs of these Gnostics.  What makes this resource valuable is that Irenaeus was alive when all of this stuff was being written. 

So why only four Gospels, and no more?
By reading the Book of Acts and the early testimonies of Christian leaders following the days of the Apostles, we have a unified testimony of the composition and purpose behind the four Gospels.  Matthew was the first Gospel written to communicate to Jews living in Israel that Jesus Christ was their long awaited Messiah and Savior.  As you read in Acts 1-8, the church was predominately Jewish and centered in Jerusalem.

As Christianity spread, God called Saul to become Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.  From Acts 9-28 we see the Gospel mission becoming more and more focused on the Gentiles.  Paul had a close friend named Luke, who was both a medical doctor and historian.  History tells us that Luke took down the sermons of Paul and consulted eye-witness testimony of Jesus life in the composition of His Gospel (which he states in his opening in Luke 1:1-4). 

When Luke completed his Gospel, the Holy Spirit led the Apostle Peter to preach a series of messages about Jesus' life  from the Gospel of Matthew and the newly inspired Gospel of Luke.  Mark, his trusted friend, wrote them down under Divine inspiration and the Gospel of Mark was used to verify the details of Luke in comparison to Matthew. 

But now what about the emphasis upon the Deity and humanity of Christ?  The Apostle John, the same author who wrote Revelation and 1,2,3 John, wrote His Gospel in 95 A.D to supplement the material of the first three Gospels.  In John's Gospel we see details of Jesus' ministry in and around Jerusalem, as well as proofs of His deity and affirmations of His humanity. 

When taken together, these four Gospels provide a composite and complete picture of Jesus Christ.  Nothing more could be said or needed to be said.  Out of all the books of the Bible, the Four Gospels have one the strongest cases for being included in the list of inspired books.  All we can say is that when compared to the Gnostic Gospels, we discover that the Gnostic gospels are not really gospels at all, but false gospels.   

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why there are truly no "lost books of the Bible"

Matthew 5:18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

I remember when I first became a Christian I had a relative who had also gotten converted at about the same time as myself.  One day my family and I went to his home for a visit, and I noticed a curiously titled book in his collection called "The Lost Books of the Bible".  As I began to thumb through that volume, I ran into "The Book of Adam and Eve" and the "Book of Abraham" and other books supposedly written by famous biblical characters.

Not One Inspired Book of the Bible has ever been lost
Some people today are saying that there are other books other than the 66 books that should had made it into our Bibles.  Has all the books that God the Holy Spirit inspired made it into the Bible?  Are there "lost books" of the Bible?  It will be the contention of this blog that due to the nature of these "so-called" lost books, the dates of their composition and their corrupt theology, that we can confidently say that not one inspired book of the Bible has ever been lost. 

What are these "so-called" Lost Books of the Bible
We saw yesterday that in the time period between the Old and New Testaments, the Jewish people began to write non-inspired devotional and historical works that collectively are called "The Apocrypha".  As one digs more into what the Jewish people were thinking during that time, many curious questions were being asked.  Many folks speculated about details not spoken of in the Bible.  Thus between 200 B.C to almost 200 A.D the Jews composed a collection of Books under the assumed names of Biblical people.  

In the scholarly community the "Lost Books" of the Bible are known by the weird name "Pseudo-pigrapha" (soo-da-pi-grafa), meaning "false-writings".  Much like the Apocrypha, this collection of writings were immedately rejected as non-inspired.  The number of these books number in the dozens, and below some of their names are mentioned for reference:
1. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (supposed writings by Jacob's Twelve Sons)
2. The Books of Adam, Eve and Noah (Alleged records written by Adam, Eve and Noah)
3. The Book of Enoch (A long book recording the supposed revelations of the pre-flood prophet Enoch)
4. The Book of Abraham (you guessed it, supposedly written by Abraham)

These books were in a sense, the fiction of their day
Though this may be a poor analogy, it serves to illustrate how the Jewish people may had regarded these works.   People were speculating about things in the Bible that they did not understand.  What these Pseudo-pigrapha did was to fill in a curiosity gap and an entertainment gap.  But even more-so, the people of God had not heard a fresh revelation for 400 years.  Thus they began to write these books in an attempt to deal with the pain of God's silence.  Unfortunately, by assuming the names of Biblical characters, the Pseudo-pigrapha were written under false pretense. 

Though popular in their day, these books were never regarded as inspired by God
By the days of Jesus, the Jews would had been well aware of the existence of these books (much like today's New York Times Best Sellers or popular Christian Authors).  However the doctrines being communicated by these books was even more radical than that of the Apocrypha.  The extreme figurative language and at times non-sensical nature of these books made it easy to see their counterfeit nature. Furthermore, these books as a collection taught for instance that angels were not just merely created beings, but in some cases could do similar things to God.  Also too, claiming to be written by biblical characters, when it was clear in many cases that they were not, demonstrates a lack of regard for the scriptures.

Why there are no "Lost Books of the Bible", just more books of men
As Jesus said in the verse above, not one word of God will ever pass away.  Not only did God the Holy Spirit work with the 40 human authors of scripture to produce each and every Bible book, He also guaranteed that not one would be lost.  If we were to unearth an alleged book today written by The Apostle Paul, Peter or the Prophet Isaiah, we could say with utmost confidence that the book would be non-inspired.  Why?  Because God had fixed the number of books He chose to inspire, as well as the  time periods in which they were written (Hebrews 1:1-2)  God has even guaranteed His people that with the sending of the Holy Spirit, they would have the guidance they need to discern what is the truth of God versus the words of men. (John 16:13)  Psalm 119:89 tells us plainly: "Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What are Apocrypha and why they are not scripture?

What are the Apocrypha?
When Malachi penned his book under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, 400 years passed until God would once again speak a word to men like Matthew to pen inspired scripture.  In between Malachi and Matthew history saw the rise and fall of four major world empires: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.  During that period, the Jews wrote 14 non-inspired books of history and devotional reflection that are referred to today as "The Apocrypha".  The word "Apocrypha" means "that which is hidden" or "concealed".  You have perhaps heard about them or have seen them in a Catholic Bible.  For reference sake, the Apocrypha are as follows:
1. 1st Esdras
2. 2nd Esdras 
3. Tobit (a fictional account of a Jewish man by the name of Tobit)
4. Judith (an alledged addition to the Book of Daniel)
5. Bel and the Dragon (an alleged addition to the Book of Daniel)
6. The Song of the Three Holy Children (an alleged addtion to the Book of Daniel)
7. Additions to Esther (supposed extra verses for the biblical book of Esther)
8. Susanna
9. 1 Macabbees (historical record of the Jewish opposition to Rome)
10. 2 Macabbees (reflections on Jewish opposition to Rome)
11. Prayer of Mannasseh (supposed prayer of repentance prayed by the biblical King Mannasseh)
12. Wisdom of Solomon (also called Sirach)
13. Book of Baruch (an alledged addition to Jeremiah)
14. Ecclesiasticus (a Jewish Philsophical work trying to prove the Jewish faith from reason)

Just as you would walk into a book store and find many non-inspired books reflecting on the contents of scripture or giving a history of the church, the Apocrypha functioned in much the same way for the Jewish people.  Though written by the Jewish people, these 14 books were never accepted as equal or inspired to the Old Testament Books stretching from Genesis to Malachi.  As one reviews the history of these 14 books, it is evident as to why they cannot be deemed as inspired scripture like the 66 books of the Bible.

How did the Apocrypha end up in some Bibles?
The world's first Bible translation included the Apocrypha due to their popular use
As the Jewish people came to speak the Greek language, the time came for the need of a Greek translation of the Old Testament.  The project of translating the Hebrew Bible into Greek occured from 275 b.c up until almost the time when Jesus came on the scene.   The Hebrew Bible continued to be copied and interpreted by the Jewish Rabbi's (Teachers) and Scribes (guys who hand-copy manuscripts), however the vast majority of the Jewish world came to use the Septuagint.  The Apocrypha, though not being recognized as inspired scripture, were included in the Greek Old Testament due to their wide use by the Jews.  This version of the Old Testament was used by the Early Church, since most of it spoke Greek.  Think of our English Bibles that have study notes, maps and Topical indexes.  Though not inspired, they have been found to be of wide use among God's people.

The Apocrypha were never acknowledged by the Jews and Early Church as inspired scripture
Jewish Historians such as Josephus in his work "Antiquities of the Jews" and the Greek speaking Jew "Philo" both refer to the Old Testament in their writings.  Josephus in particular writes about how the Old Testament books were recognized, accepted and in full use before the close of the Old Testament.  In his work, there are listed the documents of the Old Testament that are found in our English Bibles. Interestingly Josephus does not mention the apocrypha, reflecting the widely held Jewish view of the non-inspired nature of the Apocrypha. 

The early church also had this same general opinion.  Documents such as the Muritorian Canon (composed over 100 years after the death of the Apostles) and the work "The History of the Church" by the church father "Eusebius" (written in the 300's A.D) mention the books of the Old and New Testament as being inspired.  Yet the Apocrypha are not included in those lists.  The reason why the church came to this conclusion is mainly because we never see the Apocrypha quoted as scripture by the Apostles in the New Testament. 

The Roman Catholic Church's continued use and gradual elevation of the Apocrypha
By the 400's A.D the church in the Western Roman Empire was speaking more Latin and less Greek.  A man by the name of Jerome translated the Old and New Testament into the Latin Version known as the Vulgate.  It would be this Bible that would be used by the Roman Catholic Church for the next 1,000 years.  Though Jerome in his writings never acknowledged the Apocrypha as inspired, they were included in his version due to their wide use.  The Catholic Church would gradually come to value the Apocrypha more and more over the centuries as it saw the need to justify some of its beliefs not taught in the inspired books of the Bible.

The Roman Catholic Church deems the Apocrypha as equal to scripture in the 1500's
By the days of the sixteenth century (1500's), the Roman Catholic Church was in need of reform, both theologically and morally.  In partial response to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church needed a way of supporting its doctrines that it knew were not in the Bible.  Since they already had been using the Apocrypha, the church convened a meeting, The Council of Trent, in the 1500's.  It was at that council that the Roman Catholic church declared the Apocrypha to be "equal" to scripture, a "second canon". 

For over 1500 years the testimony of the early church and the Jews was that the Apocrypha, though useful in some sense, were not inspired.  Yet The Roman Catholic Church ignored that testimony. To this day, in Roman Catholic Bibles, you will find the Apocrypha being referred to as "The Deutro-canonical" books, which simply mean that they are regarded as scripture (by the Roman Catholic Church).

Why the Apocrypha are not included in many Modern Non-Catholic English Bibles
In the 1500's the Church in England broke away from the Catholic Church, under the leading of King Henry VIII.  The Church of England, known as the Anglican Church, retained the Apocrypha in the various English translations, including the King James Bible.  In all editions of the King James Bible, the Apocrypha were inserted in between Malachi and Matthew until the 1700's.  By influence of the Reformation, Christian leaders, especially in America, recognized the original position of the early Christians and Jews, and from the 1800's onward, no edition of the King James Bible included the Apocrypha.  

In 1881 English Scholars did the English translation known as the "Authorized Standard Version".  This version, as well as most English versions produced today (other than Catholic Bibles and the New Revised Standard Version), do not include the Apocrypha. 

Practical Considerations
So how is the Bible believing Christian to regard the Apocrypha?  Some of the books, such as 1 Macabbees,, are valuable historical records of what the Jews were dealing with between the Old and New Testaments.  1 Macabees 9:27 reminds us that there was no word from God in the times following Malachi, thus showing how the Apocryphal writers themselves viewed what they were doing - namely non-inspired work.  Other Apocryphal books, such as Tobit, teach salvation by works, and provide no value.   The Apocrypha as a collection are uneven in their usefulness, and must be cautiously approached or avoided all together.  

To know what is authoritative for living the Christian life is crucially important for growing in Christ.  1 Peter 2:1-2 reminds us to crave the pure milk of the word, so that we may grow in our faith.  Knowing which books are inspired is important, since only by the written Word of God can anyone be converted to saving faith and grow in Christ.  My prayer is that you, dear reader, have found today's blog helpful in understanding the value of knowing God's word, the 66 inspired books.