Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Resurrection Sunday Meditation - The Biggest & Best News!

1 Corinthians 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (NASB)

Yesterday we outlined the entirety of 1 Corinthians 15 to prepare our hearts for today.  We noted the theme of 1 Corinthians 15 to be: "The Living Gospel - The Biggest and Best News!"  Paul had just finished demonstrating how central the truth of Christ's resurrection is to Biblical Christianity in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.  Paul puts down the shield of defense and takes up the sword of scripture and proclaims - "But now Christ has been raised from the dead...".  What follows is a demonstration of why Christ's resurrection from the dead makes the Gospel the Biggest and Best News. 

To see the beauty and scope of 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, we will offer a fresh translation of the text from the Greek to behold the glory of the Resurrected Christ.  Endnotes will be included in the translation for the reader who desires to dig deeper into the implications of Paul's words.  After the the translation, we will then consider in outline form why Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead is the biggest and best news.

A fresh translation of 1 Corinthians 15:20-28
1 Corinthians 15:20 But now behold! Christ has risen from the dead, as the first fruits (i.e first one to do so) from those who have otherwise remained dead! 21 It is a known fact that through a man came death, and through a man comes the resurrection from the dead. 22 To be more specific - all who are in association with Adam1 die2, consequently then, all who are in association with Christ3 will live. 23 You see, each occurs in a specific order: Christ the first fruits, then secondly, those who will be with Christ at His Personal Return4 24 then thirdly, The End5, that is, whenever He hands over the kingdom to God the Father following the time after every ruler and every authority and every power is abolished. 25 To clarify, it is necessary for Him to reign until He has placed all enemies under His feet. 26 The one called ‘Death’ is of course the last enemy to be abolished. 27 For He placed all things under His feet of authority.  When He states: ‘all things have already be placed under His authority’, He is excluded from the category ‘all things’, since He is the One under whom all things have been placed. 28 But whenever the condition of all things is fulfilled in relationship to the Son’s reign, then the Son Himself will voluntarily submit all things to Him so that God may be all supreme in all things.”

With a fresh translation of 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, we can now consider why the resurrection of Jesus Christ is first of all the Biggest News, followed by why His resurrection is also the Best News.
Christ's resurrection is the Biggest News because it covers every major doctrine and section in the Bible
1 Corinthians 15:20-28 is such an important section of 1 Corinthians 15 because of the scope of material that it covers. In the above translation I underlined five words that are significant in this text, since all of them put together provide a basic outline of the entire Bible!  The reader is encouraged to look at the endnotes I mentioned earlier to see the further implications of the five terms.  We can take those five words above and summarize them accordingly:

a. "Adam" = refers to creation
b. "die"      = refers to the curse
c. "Christ" = the focal point of scripture, and the One who raised from the dead
d. "Personal Return" = translated in other translations as "coming".  This speaks of Christ's Personal, Visible, Physical return at the end of this age
e. "The End" = This refers to the conclusion of all things when Christ hands over everything He has submitted under His reign to God the Father. 

So with those five terms: creation, curse, Christ, coming and conclusion, we can see why Christ's resurrection is such big news in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.  Christ's resurrection demonstrates that creation will be redeemed, the curse has been reversed for believers in Christ and that Christ is central to understanding history and eternity.  Furthermore, Christ's resurrection also demonstrates what Christ will accomplish in His second coming as well as how He will bring all things to their appropriate conclusion.

Why Christ's Resurrection is also the Best News
The more you read and study 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, the more amazed you become at the range of ground touched by the resurrection.  But let's not forget that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is as much personal as it is profound.  1 Corinthians 15:20-28 serves to demonstrate the personal importance of Christ's resurrection to the Gospel asserted in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand. (2) by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. (3) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (4) and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (NASB)  

Did you catch how many times the personal pronouns (you, our) were mentioned in the text?  Paul emphasizes the personal pronouns ten times in a span of four verses to communicate how the Gospel is the Best News around.  Personally it gains you access to God, to Jesus, to His forgiveness, to all His rich graces and to the hope of an eternal home.  Not only that, but since the pronouns in the original Greek are plural, that means you and I who believe on the resurrected Jesus get to enjoy all of His saving benefits together!   

Truly the Resurrection of Jesus Christ makes the Gospel both the Biggest News and the Best News.  "Big" because of all the doctrines and events that it has either affected or will ever affect.  "Best" because you who by grace through faith believe on Him are personally and eternally saved from wrath, saved unto Him and saved to live forever with Him.  That's the Biggest and Best News you will ever hear!
1. Creation: We see the historical Adam mentioned in 15:21-22. God created man originally perfect. Adam was not a myth, but a real person.  As we read later on in 1 Corinthians 15:45a "So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.”

2. Curse: This second word summarizes what Paul says when he mentions in 15:22 how all born into Adam "die". We know from Genesis 3 that after Adam and his wife had eaten the forbidden fruit, God consigned both they and their descendants to a curse. Whenever we consider these first two ideas: creation & curse, we begin to see God's aim in redeeming and restoring that which was lost as a result of sin and death. Romans 8:20-21 notes - "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope (21) that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." 

3. Christ: So the question is: "will creation ever be redeemed and will the curse ever be reversed?" As you read on down through 1 Corinthians 15:23ff, you get the answer to that question in one Person - Christ. Christ's resurrection from the dead demonstrated two vital truths: He has reversed the curse upon all who by grace through faith believe on Him and that the created order will be redeemed. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 presents creation and the curse - the problem, and 15:23 present the solution - Christ. For the remainder of 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, we will see how Christ will accomplish the Father's purposes. Remember, everything that Paul is writing hinges on the reality of Christ's resurrection - its that big! So we have seen creation, curse and Christ. 

4. Coming: 1 Corinthians 15:23b states in the NASB "after that those who are Christ's at His coming". In the above translation I rendered this word "Personal Return" to underscore the nature of Christ's second coming. The Personal Return of Jesus Christ is captured by the Greek word "parousia" that speaks of a King returning to his home city or country after having won a battle or a war. The inhabitants come out to meet the King and to reconnect with their Ruler, and he with them. 

5. Conclusion: 1 Corinthians 15:24 starts out with the simple but profound phrase: "then comes the end..." Christ's resurrection from the dead not only demonstrated the accomplishment of His first coming - redemption, but it also guarantees what He will accomplish when He come again - Rulership. As you go down through the remainder of 1 Corinthians 15:25-28, Paul details what he means by verse 24, as well as showing the relationship between "the coming" and "the end".  We would advocate that there is an implied space of time between "His coming" in verse 23 and "the end" in verse 24.  Furthermore, I personally see the implied "space" being explicitly 1,000 years as detailed in another scripture - Revelation 20.  In 1 Corinthians 15:25 I included the term "to clarify", since verses 25-28 are a clarification of verse 24.  Paul is proposing an actual ordering of major events outlined in Biblical prophecy or eschatology:

Christ's                  Christ's 2nd coming      He must reign   End
Resurrection-------Resurrection of saints--Millennium of--- of
(first fruits)            (those with Christ)         Rev 20 seems    all
                                                                        to fit here         things
                                                                        of the wicked
                                                                        will occur at
                                                                        the end of the
                                                                        Millennium or
                                                                        1,000 year reign
                                                                        of Christ.

With that basic order, harmonized with other prophetic texts, we gain a sweeping understanding of history and prophecy.  Following the end, Christ will have handed all things up to the Father, which will then take us into eternity. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Pre-Resurrection Sunday Meditation - 1 Corinthians 15

1 Corinthians 15:20 "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."

Today we turn our attention to the greatest Biblical text on the resurrection outside of the Four Gospels - 1 Corinthians 15.  Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church was designed to be corrective, since the church had given herself over to division. (1 Corinthians 1:10)  1 Corinthians 15 shines above the skyline of this Corinthian epistle like a bright star piercing a storm ladened sky.  For today's blog I want to offer a brief outline of this great chapter for the reader's faithwalk.  May you be encouraged in your faith as you study the truths contained within this grandest of chapters:

1 Cor 15 - The Living Gospel: The Biggest and Best News! 
I.   The Elements of the Living Gospel                   15:1-11
      A. Effects of Salvation                                      15:1-2
      B. Event of Salvation                                        15:3-9
      C. Experience of Salvation                               15:10-11
Comment: Paul functions as a teacher, spelling out the most important features of the Living Gospel.
II.   The Living Christ of the Living Gospel              15:12-19
      A. Proof the the Living Christ's Identity              15:12-14
      B. Preaching centers on the Living Christ          15:15-16
      C. Personal faith connects to the Living Christ  15:17-19
Comment: Paul then switches hats, from being a teacher to that of a lawyer, showing the logic of the Living Gospel
III. The Doctrine of the Living Gospel                       15:20-28
      A. Character of God                                           15:20
      B. Curse conquered by the cross                       15:21-23
      C. Coming of Christ                                            15:24-28
Comment: By inspiration of the Holy Ghost Paul continues, switching tone yet again to that of a great theologian & prophet, showing the height and breadth of the Living Gospel in every major area of Bible truth.
IV. The Power of the Living Gospel                          15:29-49
      A. Power to Endure Suffering                             15:29-32
      B. Power to excell in Godliness                          15:33-34
      C. Power to overcome unbelief                           15:35-49
Comment: Having focused on the head, now Paul appeals to the heart as an evangelist, driving home the point of the power of the Living Gospel.
V. The Encouragements of the Living Gospel          15:50-58
     A. Rich inheritance                                               15:50-53
     B. Ridding of sin and death                                  15:54-57
     C. Rigors of ministry are worth it                          15:58
Comment: In this final section, having functioned in the roles of teacher, lawyer, theologian, prophet and evangelist, Paul concludes this wonderous chapter as a pastor, compelling the conscience and imagination of his readers to see the encouragements of the living Gospel. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Meditation #3 - A Slow Look at the Cross

Mark 14:12 "And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”  (ESV)

For the past two days we have been preparing for Good Friday by noting how the Gospel of Mark and Isaiah work together to present to us the sufferings of Jesus Christ - the Servant of the Lord.  We noted in yesterday's blog how Mark uses the word "immediately" in over 40 places to hasten the pace of his book.  When Jesus came to this world, He had a mission to accomplish and much ministry to do.  With the idea of "activity", Mark also omits his commonly used word "immediately" from the two sections that demand a slower pace: namely Jesus' last public sermon (The Olivet Discourse) and His preparations for the day and night before His crucifixion. 1

The need to s.l.o.w down and take a long hard look at what Jesus accomplished in His first coming and what He will accomplish in His second coming
It is in the first half of Mark 14 (and more particularly Mark 14:12-28) that we find Jesus celebrating His final meal with His disciples.  It is on this particular occassion that Jesus transforms the Passover celebration commemorating the Old Testament Exodus into focusing on what would be His once for all provision for salvation.  Scripture encourages the believer to use the event of the Lord's Supper to s.l.o.w. down and take a slow and long look at the cross. (1 Corinthians 11:23-34; Hebrews 12:1-3)  Consider the following thoughts from Mark 14:22-28 by way of the acrostic s.l.o.w....

Spend time with Jesus.  Mark 14:12-17
Three times in this section do we find reference to the disciples needing to "prepare" for the meal they would have with the Master. (Mark 14:12,15,16)  The emphasis here is the need to spend time with Jesus.  In fact we read in Mark 14:17 - "When it was evening He came with the twelve."  So if we are going to take a slow look at the cross, we must aim to spend time with Jesus.  But notice the second purpose for the Lord's supper here in Mark....

Look at the Scriptures.  Mark 14:18-21
Jesus communicates to His disciples that He is going to be betrayed, and that "the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him." (Mark 14:21)  The thing I love about the Lord's supper is how it slows us down enough to hear God's Word and read God's Word about Jesus.2  And so in seeing the celebration the Lord's supper here in Mark, we learn to slowly look at the cross by spending time with Jesus and looking closer at the scriptures.  Now notice a third truth...

Ongoing Nourshment from Jesus.  Mark 14:22-25
Why is it that Jesus chose to use the Passover meal to communicate what He was going to accomplish on the cross?  Simply put - Christ is the source of nourishment in the Christian's spiritual walk. (John 6:53-58)  The symbols of bread and fruit of the vine are signs that point us to the presence of Jesus among His people as they come together. (Hebrews 2:11-14)  The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reminds us that the Lord's Supper is "a symbolic act of obedience." 3 The food and drink of the Lord's table are physical means of nourishment, staples for physical existence.  They point and signify the fact that the Master is ever with His church, to the end of the age, feeding and nourishing the saints of God through the word. (Matthew 28:18; John 21)   

Slowing down to spend time with Jesus, looking at His word and enjoying ongoing nourishment from Him is what we need reminded of, however there is one last truth we learn from this text...

Worship in celebration of Jesus.  Mark 14:25-28
Mark 14:26 states - "And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." When we celebrate the Lord's Supper, as prescribed for us here in Mark, we should not end on a low note.4  In the Passover Meal that night, Jesus and His disciples would had closed singing what the Jews came to call the "Great Hallel", the section of Psalms 113-118 and 136.  Read those Psalms, and you understand that the tone is not of sadness and defeat, but of victory and expectation.  The word "Hallel" in the Hebrew means "praise" and is in our word "Hallelujah" which means "praise the Lord." 

I hope these last few blogs have enabled you to get more focused on what Jesus accomplished on Good Friday.  Remember, take time to take a s.l.o.w look at the cross. 

Spend time with Jesus
Look at the scriptures
Ongoing nourishment from Jesus
Worship in celebration of Jesus

End Notes______________
1. The Olivet Discourse in Mark 13 is the final sermon Jesus delivered on the slopes of the Mount of Olives which lies East of the city of Jerusalem. The subject of that message was the events and times leading up to Jesus' second coming. Without a doubt God's people need to slow down and base their prayers and hopes in this life on the soon return of the Great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:13; 1 John 3:1-3)

2. We slow down enough to not merely read the word, but to reflect on it. (Joshua 1:8) My question is: "what scripture is Jesus referring to here that speaks about His betrayal?" Comparing passages such as Psalm 55 and 109 yields to the reader a set of pictures and predictions about the betrayal of our Lord at the hands of Judas. 

3. Jesus was in the midst of His disciples. Contrary to what some may teach, the bread and fruit of the vine do not turn into the body and blood of Jesus, nor do they contain His spiritual presence. Rather Jesus is in His people as mediated by the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. (John 16:14; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13) As these disciples came together to eat this first meal, Jesus was with them in a personal way. 

4. To merely treat the Lord's Supper like a solemn memorial service only is to stop short of its ultimate aim. Yes, time was needed for these disciples to digest what their Master was to undergo in a few short hours. Undoubtedly, we need time to take a slow look at the cross. However, Good Friday points beyond itself to Resurrection Sunday. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Good Friday Meditation #2 - Acting and Abiding in Jesus

Mark 1:1-3 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

Yesterday we did a Good Friday meditation on how Isaiah predicts the Suffering Servant, and how Mark's Gospel identified the Suffering Servant to be Jesus Christ.  In today's blog I want us to further consider Mark's message in preparation for Good Friday. 

The message and outline of Mark's Gospel
The key verse to Mark's Gospel is found in Mark 10:45 - "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  As we noted yesterday, Mark purposefully relied upon Isaiah's prophecies in his overall portral of Jesus' life, death, burial and resurrection.  In the opening of today's blog you may had noticed that Mark attributes John the Baptist's ministry to predictions made by Isaiah - thus further demonstrating how much Mark saw the person of Jesus Christ as being the very fulfillment and explanation of Old Testament expectation.  Below is a brief outline of the book:

           Mark's Gospel: Jesus the Divine Son of God came to 
                   serve and give His life a ransom for many
Preparation for Jesus' public ministry.  Mark 1:1-13
           John the Baptist's preaching about Jesus.  Mark 1:1-8
           Jesus Baptism and temptation.                   Mark 1:9-13

Public Ministry of Jesus.                       Mark 1:14-10:52
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle # 1 Mark 1:14-3:12
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #2  Mark 3:13-4:41
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #3  Mark 5:1-43
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #4   Mark 6:1-56
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #5  Mark 7:1-8:26
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #6  Mark 8:27-9:13
           Jesus' preaching and miracles - Cycle #7  Mark 9:14-10:52

Preparation for Jesus' presentation as King.         Mark 11:1-10
Presentation and Rejection of Jesus as King.       Mark 11:11-13:37

Preparation for Jesus' crucifixion and death.         Mark 14:1-42
          Anointing of Jesus for burial                        Mark 14:1-11
          Jesus final meal with the disciples.              Mark 14:12-42
Jesus' crucifixion, death and burial.                   Mark 14:43-15:47       

Preparation by women to travel to Jesus' tomb   Mark 16:1-3
Women find empty tomb, Jesus is alive!             Mark 16:4-20

A curious feature of Mark that may clue us in on a two-fold truth on what it means to follow Jesus - Activity and Abiding
As you study Mark's Gospel, the one word that is repeated on over 40 occasions is the term "immediately".1  In every chapter except chapters 13 and the first half of chapter 14, you will find this word.  The word "immediately" was inserted to keep the reader's attention and to move the account of Jesus' life at a fast and rapid pace.  Yet when we come to those particular sections that deal with Jesus' last sermon and His preparations for His death and Gethsemane, the word "immediately" is absent.  Why? I want to suggest that in the midst of all the activity of Jesus' mission, there needed to be an opportunity to also "slow down", "take a breather" and "abide".  

Fleshing out some thoughts on "acting" and "abiding" in Jesus as depicted in Mark's Gospel
In our 21st century life, we all know what it means to be active.  In fact, activity is a vital part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  In those sections of Mark's Gospel where we see the word "immediately", the activities being encouraged include:

1. Immediate Obedience to Jesus.  Mark 1:3, 10,12,18,20, 21; 2:12
2. Urgency to fulfill the mission of salvation.  Mark 4:5,15,16,17,29 and 14:72.

In many ways, urgency and activity should mark our Christianity.  However what I find to be less obvious are the periods of rest and reflection that are needed in our Christian walk.  As I read and study Mark's fast pace Gospel, I find his lack of the word "immediately" to be intentional.  The last thing we want to do is to rush through the heart and purpose for why Jesus came.  Let the reader note: where we find no mention of the word "immediate" in Mark's Gospel is a clue to our need to "abide":

1. Abide in the truth of Christ's second coming.  Mark 13:1-37
2. Abide in developing a deeper love for Jesus. Mark 14:1-11
3. Abide in the significance of Jesus' once for all sacrifice. Mark 14:12-31
4. Abide in cultivating a willingness to do the Father's will, like Jesus did.  Mark 14:32-42

It is in these particular passages of Mark that we do not find the word "immediately" - and rightly so, since without those times of abiding, we can miss out on what the Lord is communicating to us through His word. 

As we prepare out hearts for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, may we be sure to not only be active for our Lord, but moreso to take the time to abide in our Lord. 

End Notes___________________
1. Being that Mark's audience was composed of practically minded Roman people, not much time is spent in details surrounding Jewish life and history like Matthew and Luke. Furthermore, since the Roman mind was more prone to short, sweet and to the point types of thinking, Mark's Gospel is the shortest and most quickly moving of the four Gospels. Then finally, early church history tells us that Mark recorded by Divine inspiration the Apostle Peter's preaching about Jesus, resulting in the Gospel of Mark.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Good Friday Meditation #1: Predictions of the Suffering Servant

Isaiah 49:5 "And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him—for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength." (ESV)

Mark 10:45 "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (ESV)

In preparation for Good Friday, I thought it would benefit us greatly to consider what the scripture has to say about Jesus Christ in His sufferings and death.  The two books of Isaiah and Mark unfold the particular way in which Jesus Christ came as the suffering and victorious Servant of the Lord. Why study the prophecies of Isaiah and the Gospel of Mark to understand the meaning of Jesus' sufferings? Because Isaiah predicted the mission of Jesus' sufferings, while Mark detailed the fulfillment of Isaiah's predictions.  May today's blog encourage you to consider more closely Jesus Christ and the significance of this time of year as we look forward to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

Isaiah's four predictions of Jesus the suffering servant and the fulfillments of those predictions in Mark's Gospel
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, there are four sections called "servant songs".  The reason for this name is because of the frequent occurance of the name "servant" and because the sections in question are structured in the form of prophetic, poetic songs.  Isaiah lived over 700 years before Jesus Christ, and yet his predictions of the person and work of Jesus Christ in his death, burial and resurrection stand out as the most striking and detailed prophecies of those truths.  I will first list the servant songs, their verse references and brief commentary, so as to give you the reader the wonder that is the predictions of the Suffering Servant Jesus Christ.  As each Servant song is listed, the appropriate section in Mark's Gospel will be included to reveal how Jesus came as the predicted Suffering Servant to die and raise from the dead.   

1. The Ministry of the Predicted Servant Isaiah 42:1-13; Mk 1-10 
Isaiah 42:1 reads - "Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations." (NASB)  This first Servant Song focuses upon what will be the ministry of the predicted Servant.  Remarkably, in Mark's Gospel, we see John the Baptist heralding the coming of Jesus in Mark 1:1-13, followed by Jesus' public ministry in Mark 1:14-10:52.  It is in that first major section of Mark that we see the main verse of Mark's Gospel, Mark 10:45, where Jesus states Himself as the Son of Man who "came to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." 

2. The Majesty of the Rejected Servant.  Isaiah 49:1-7; Mark 11-13
Isaiah 49:7 states - "Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, "Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You."  This second of Isaiah's Servant Songs sees the predicted Servant commissioned by Jehovah to be a light to the nations (49:1-6).  Sadly, this Servant will be seen by His people and kings alike, only to be rejected (49:7)  In Mark's Gospel, we see a second major section depicting Jesus Christ riding into Jerusalem to present Himself as Israel's King. (Mark 11:1-13:37)  In keeping with the sequence of Isaiah's Prophecies, Jesus would be rejected by His people, despite being God in human flesh, the very light sent by God the Father. 

3. The Murder of the Suffering Servant. Isaiah 50:1-11; 52:13-53:12; Mark 14-15
We now see the third (Isaiah 50:1-11) and Fourth (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) songs of Isaiah detailing the remarkable predictions of the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  In Mark 14-15 we see the fulfillment of these predictions.  Scripture tells us that the crucifixion of our Lord was ultimately planned by God the Father and the Son in eternity, as evidence by the Son of God coming to fulfill the Gospel or Good News. (Mark 1:1; Acts 2:23-24)  Second, scripture also tells us that Jesus Himself went willingly, as evidenced by His choice to do the will of His Father in Gethesemane. (Mark 14:32-42) Then finally, on the human side of the crucifixion, Jesus' death had been premeditated by the Jewish leaders, Pilate and other enemies. (Mark 3:6, 4:5,15, 16-17, 6:25,27; 14:43, 45; 15:1) 

4. Massive Victory of the Risen Servant.  Isaiah 53:10-12; Mark 16
In the fourth servant song of Isaiah, we see a prediction of Christ's resurrection.  Consider Isaiah 53:11 "As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities."  How can the Servant "see and be satisfied" after having underwent so much suffering and agony?  Mark 16:6 tells us - "And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him." 

May the Lord richly bless you dear reader as you fix your eyes on Jesus. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

P2 - Who and what is Anti-Christ?

1 John 4:1-3 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

Yesterday we aimed to identify the what, when, and who of the Anti-Christ throughout the scriptures. We first proposed four ways in which scripture identifies "Anti-Christ", and then unfolded the first one: Anti-Christ will be the Ultimate Rebel against Jesus Christ.

Today we will continue our study, focusing attention on the remaining three meanings of "anti-Christ" in scripture:

-Anti-Christ refers to the historic rebellion against Jesus Christ
-Anti-Christ is any form of personal rebellion against Jesus Christ
-Anti-Christ is spiritual rebellion against Jesus Christ

Anti-Christ refers to the historic rebellion against Jesus Christ
The Holy Spirit says in 1 John 2:18 "Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many anti- christs have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour."  John helps us to see that when speaking of "Anti-Christ", we not only need to understand that Anti-Christ is a person yet to come, but that "Anti-Christ" is also describing the general historic rebellion against Christ.1  Certainly those who oppose Christ throughout history could be easily included in this second category.  John writes elsewhere on this point in 2 John 1:7 "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist." (ESV) John includes "many decievers" among the "defectors" who have "went out" from them.  The history of redemption is littered with examples of those who have opposed Jesus Christ:2 

Common to all the various historical "anti-Christs" is the perisistent attempt to destroy Christ and His people - whether by political, financial or religious maneuvering.  John is concerned for his flock, and for us reading his words.  We need to be aware of the historical meaning of anti-Christ, but we also need to be aware of a third category...

Anti-Christ is any form of personal rebellion against Jesus Christ
Having seen anti-Christ as referring to an ultimate rebel and the historic rebellion against Jesus Christ, John identifies a third meaning: personal rebellion in the form of unbelief about Jesus Christ.  As we have noted before, the term anti-Christ refers to a specific rebellion or attack against the person and work of Jesus Christ.  We see for example in 2 John 7 about those who denied Jesus Christ as having come in the flesh as being "anti-Christs and deceivers".  In 1 John 4:2-3 we see similar personal unbelief about the full humanity of Jesus Christ.  So to act like anti-Christ in a personal way deals first of all in denying Christ's full-humanity.  We also note secondly that to act personally like anti-Christ means to deny Christ's full Deity.  1 John 2:22 speaks of those who denied Jesus being the Christ, which by that point in John's way was tantamount to denying the full Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Additionally, to deny Jesus as Christ was to deny His mission as the Saving Messiah. 

In understanding the doctrine of anti-Christ to be personal as well as historical and future, we can see why John is so burdened to write these words of warning.  We as Christians need to pay heed, since we are living in an age predicted by scripture to be full of deoctrines of demons and a great falling away. (1 Timothy 4:15 & 2 Timothy 4:1-5)

But lets consider one final meaning of this term "anti-Christ in scripture, namely...

Anti-Christ is spiritual rebellion against Jesus Christ
John writes in 1 John 4:1-3 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God 3and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God". (ESV) Anti-Christ can refer to a future ultimate rebel, a personal expression of unbelief or historical examples of rebellion against Jesus Christ.  However in this final category, the spiritual nature of anti-Christ is that it is a spirit or spiritual principle that runs through hostility against Christ in every age, including today.  We ultimately know for instance that Satan is the chief spirit who is energizing anti-Christ, whether personally, historically or what will be an ultimate ruler. 

All forms of anti-Christian doctrine, movements and persons are influenced by the forces of darkness that conspire against Christ and His people. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:11-18)  This is why John urges his readers to "test the spirits".  If anyone or any movement claims to be Christian, and yet deny Christ's full deity or humanity, then they are not Christian by anti-Christian.  The spirit of anti-Christ speaks of the spiritual climate of our unbelieving culture, which we know is growing increasingly hostile to the Gospel.  

The great and blessed hope - both now and in the future
In this short series on the subject of "anti-Christ", we have considered four meanings of this term in scripture:

1. Anti-Christ will be the Ultimate Rebel against Jesus Christ
2. Anti-Christ refers to the historic rebellion against Jesus Christ
3. Anti-Christ is any form of personal rebellion against Jesus Christ
4. Anti-Christ is spiritual rebellion against Jesus Christ

We know that the great and blessed hope we have in defeating anti-Christ on all accounts is through the True and Living Christ.  We know that it is He who will slay the ultimate rebel, the Anti-Christ, the "son of perdition" by means of the breath of His mouth at His second coming. (2 Thesslonians 2:8)  Second, it is the promise of Jesus Himself that guarantees that despite what "anti-Christ" teachers may appear in history or on the local level, the truth of God's word is able to defeat error. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)  Thirdly, only the Lord Jesus Christ in conjunction with the Holy Spirit can defeat the personal rebellion of unbelief against Christ and His gospel. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)  Then finally, we know that despite the influence of the forces of darkness and the spirit of anti-Christ operating in this world, greater is the Holy Spirit and Christ in us than that evil spirit who is operating in this world. (1 John 4:4-5). 

1. In the immediate context of John's writing he is referring to those "professing" believer's and teachers who walked away from the faith. I put the term "professing" in quotation marks, since the people of whom John wrote about were not true Christians to begin with - but rather make-believers.  

2. The chief mark of any of these distinctions of "anti-Christ" in the scripture is that they in some fashion specifically oppose Christ or anything having to do with Him.  Consider the following examples from history:

a. We could classify Cain as the first type or example of anti-Christ, since he rebelled against the idea of God-ordained salvation grounded in the death of an innocent sacrifice. His outcome was the killing of righteous Abel, his brother.

b. Nimrod, the builder of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 10, pictures Anti-Christ in that he constructed ancient Babylon and attempted to be the first world ruler who opposed God.

c. Moses had to contend with the likes of Korah, who challenged his God given authority as God's prophet in Numbers 16. Moses of course is a type or pattern of the Ultimate Prophet Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:1-4), hence it follows that Korah represents anti-Christian rebellion and teaching. (compare Jude 11)

d. In Moses' time another deceiver arose to deceive the people through rebellion, sorcery and political intrigue - Balaam, the Pagan prophet in Numbers 22-24. We know Balaam is an example of the historic rebellion against Jesus Christ due to the fact that false teachers espousing the ways of Balaam in Revelation 2:14.

e. Who can forget the greatest traitor of all-time, Judas Iscariot. The Bible says in John 13:27 that Satan himself entered into Judas to betray the Lord Jesus Christ. Historically speaking Judas represents the very things John was warning his readers about.

f. Certainly in our past and most recent history, many examples of anti-Christ could be cited. In the early church for example, many of the Roman emporers such as Nero were viewed as "Anti-Christ". In the Middle ages (800 A.D-1500 A.D), various popes and false religious leaders were regarded as Anti-Christ. In the Reformation of the 1500's, Reformers like martin Luther regarded the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church system as Anti-Christ. During WW2, men like Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler were all thought to be Anti-Christ.

Monday, March 25, 2013

P1 - Who and what is Anti-Christ?

1 John 2:18 "Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour." (ESV)

Personal and Universal Spiritual Warfare
When you read the wider context of 1 John 2:14-29, you discover that John is speaking on the overall subject of spiritual warfare.  In 1 John 2:14-17 he deals first of all with spiritual warfare as personally experienced by individual Christians:

Christian spiritual warfare's adversary is satan.  1 John 2:14
Christian spiritual warfare's arena is the world.   1 John 2:15
Christian spiritual warfare's actual target = the flesh.  1 John 2:16
Christian spiritual warfare's active weapon = scripture. 1 John 2:17

With spiritual warfare unfolded on the small scale level, John then turns to the much grander view of spiritual warfare as experienced by the people of God at large in 1 John 2:18-29.  We know John is still concerned about the spiritual vulnerability of his readers as seen in 1 John 2:26 - "I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you." So the question is: who or what is leading this spiritual and doctrinal assault against Christians at large? In 1 John 2:18 we receive our answer - "Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour." In like manner John writes further in 1 John 2:22 - "Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son." 

A word of caution and encouragement
Two ditches must be avoided when studying the subject of Anti-Christ.  The one ditch to avoid is over-speculation.  Often I have heard well-meaning prophecy teachers spend inordinate amounts of time trying to identify the anti-Christ.  Now without a doubt, there is a duty to identify the influence of anti-Christ(ian) systems and individuals operating in our day and time.  The Apostle John in 1 John 2:26 makes a point to expose the general trend he saw of people following false teachers and movements.  However we know we are imabalanced whenever we talk more about anti-Christ than Jesus Christ.  Well-meaning interpreters of the Book of Revelation who fall into this ditch make the Book of Revelation to be more about identifying anti-Christ than focusing on the book's chief character - Jesus Christ.

The second ditch to avoid is apathy.  John is alerting his readers and us to the necessity of awareness about the prevailing spirit of anti-Christ.  We know we have fallen into the ditch of apathy whenever we find ourselves tolerating error for the sake of securing some level of acceptability in our culture or among our friends.  In scripture we find commands that urge the reader to carefully understand the details of prophetic scripture - including the warnings about anti-Christ. (Daniel 9:23, 12:8; Matthew 24:4,33; 1 Peter 3:15; Revelation 2:7,11,17, 29, 3:6,13,22)  

It is on this subject of the Anti-Christ that we turn our attention in today's blog. Our aim is to identify the what, when, and who of the Anti-Christ throughout the scripturesWe will first propose four ways in which scripture identifies "Anti-Christ", and then unfold each of them one at a time:

1. Anti-Christ will be the Ultimate Rebel to Jesus Christ
2. Anti-Christ refers to the historic rebellion against Jesus Christ
3. Anti-Christ is any form of personal rebellion against Jesus Christ
4. Anti-Christ is spiritual rebellion against Jesus Christ

As important and as vast as this subject is, we will only cover the first point today, namely: Anti-Christ will be the Ultimate Rebel to Jesus Christ

Anti-Christ will be the Ultimate Rebel to Jesus Christ
What John writes about the Ultimate Rebel - The Anti-Christ
This is perhaps what most people think of when mention is made of the Anti-Christ.  I have purposely worded this first heading as "Anti-Christ will be" because there is something about Anti-Christ that is yet to come.  1 John 2:18a states - "Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming...".   The way John phrases the term "anti-Christ" in the Greek suggests that his readers would had recognized one particular individual.1  The question is: "From whom did they hear that the anti-Christ is yet to come?"  John of course is referring back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)".  Even though Jesus does not uses the specific title "anti-Christ", the idea and identity of the person is unmistakable.  Jesus is referring to the prophecies of Daniel 9:27, 11:31 and 12:11 that all speak of a particular diabolical individual who will in function and rebellion be the Ultimate Rebel spoken of here in 1 John 2:18a. 

No other writer in the Bible speaks as much on the subject of Anti-Christ as the Apostle John.  As he speaks about anti-Christ the ultimate rebel against Jesus Christ - we must of course ask: when will this person emerge? John answers this in his other book: The Revelation, in Revelation 13.  Without going into too much detail, we see John explaining the following about this ultimate rebel against Jesus Christ:

1. Satanically energized. Revelation 13:1-4
2. Seeks to blaspheme God, His name, His people.  Rev 13:6-10
3. Schemes with a secondary figure, the second beast for false prophet in deceiving the world.  Revelation 13:11-14
4. Strategy is to rule the world spiritually, politically, economically. Revelation 13:15-18 

Other scriptures that speak about this ultimate rebel - the anti-Christ
In the course of events of the Book of Revelation, we would understand the Anti-Christ's movements to occur in the final seven years of this current age of history that is called "The Great Tribulation" (Matthew 24:21); "Time of Jacob's Trouble" (Jeremiah 30) and "the day of wrath, trouble, destruction, dark clouds, trumpet and battle cry and distress" (Zephaniah 1:15-17) among other names.  Daniel 9:23-27 sets the time of the event of Anti-Christ's tyranny - the final seven year tribulation period, whereas 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 gives us the nature and depths of evil of which this chief opposer of Jesus Christ will exercise. 

More Tomorrow...

End Notes_______________

1. The Greek pre-fix "anti" in the word "anti-Christ" can have one of two basic meanings.  First, it refers to that which opposes something or that is the opposite of something.  Hence if I should get bit by a snake, I would request "anti-venom", which would act against the venom of the snake circulating in my body.  A second meaning of this Greek prefix is in reference to replacing something or "being instead of".  Hence in freezinng cold temperatures I would want to have "anti-freeze" running through my automobile "instead of water".  Now certainly, anti-freeze "opposes freezing", however it does so as an agent that takes the place of water.  In the New Testament, "anti-Christ" will be an ultimate rebel, is currently the historical, personal or spiritual hositility that not only opposes, but attempts to replace Jesus Christ as supreme Lord, Savior and Treasure. 


Sunday, March 24, 2013

P3 - F.O.C.U.S on Christ's return

James 5:7-8 "Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand."

In yesterday's blog we reviewed the five benefits of focusing on Christ's return. We used the acrostic F.O.C.U.S to see why you and I should be focusing on the second coming of Jesus Christ:

1. Fights against worldliness. James 5:1-6
2. Operates endurance. James 5:7-8
3. Calms the saints. James 5:9-11
4. Undergirds the prayer-life James 5:12-18
5. Strengthens evangelism James 5:19-20

We looked specifically at how focusing on Christ's return operates the ability to endure in the Christian faith.  Furthermore, we also looked at how Christ's return calms the saint by providing a horizon by which to deal better with one another.  The hope of Christ's soon return breathes life into the faith of the believer like a set of bellows blowing fresh air into hot coals.  In today's blog we will conclude this blog series on why it is we are to f.o.c.u.s on Christ's return by noting the final two benefits of doing so, because it....

Undergirds the prayer-life James 5:12-18
James has specific points in this fifth chapter that alert us to when he is moving forward to his next thought.  In 5:1 he begins by saying "come now" to the professing unbelievers in his flock who are wealthy and worldly.  As you move into his second section of 5:7-8 we see him begin that second section with the word "therefore", alerting the reader that he is shifting gears to another topic - patience and endurance.  In James 5:9-11 we see him firing out a series of commands, heightening his emphasis to calm those who are undergoing difficult times.  All of these sections have as their anchoring point the perspective of how we can benefit from focusing on the second coming of Jesus Christ.

In James 5:12-18 we see the fourth section of this chapter start out with another transitional phrase: "But above all".  James is moving the reader forward to consider yet another subject - namely prayer.  All types of prayer are discussed: oaths (5:12), praise (5:13), healing prayers (5:14), confession (5:15-16) and intercessory prayer (5:17-18).  Prayer in the Christian life is oxygen to the lungs of faith.  Without oxygen to our physical lungs - we suffocate.  Prayerless Christianity is like a weight lifter on a ventilator - capable of doing much but powerless to do anything.  Prayer by its very nature is a pouring out of the soul to God, waiting on Him to fill the vessel of the heart.  How is it that we maintain our course in prayer? 

In centuries past the sailors of the high seas used the horizon line of the stars to guide them over dark waterways.  In the seasons of prayer: whether praise, healing, confession, intercession or commitment - we need a reference point to ensure we won't grow weary.  May I suggest that James is casting his conversation on prayer in 5:12-18 in light of the remarks he makes on Christ's return in 5:7-8. 

Jesus gives similar instruction on the nature of praying without ceasing in Luke 18:1-8.1  As Jesus closes out his instruction, He makes this comment in Luke 18:8 -  "I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  Clearly Jesus is linking the urgency of prayer to the impending arrival of His second coming to our planet. 

James appears to be connecting his section of prayer to Christ's second coming in much the similar way.  The able commentator Herbert Lockyer in his book "All the prayers of the Bible" lists almost ten prayers in the Book of Revelation.2  If prayer and Bible prophecy are to go hand in hand, then why not use eschatology (study of last things, prophecy) to undergird your prayer life?  

So by focusing on Christ's second coming, we can fight of worldliness, operate in endurance, calm our hearts, undergird the prayer life and fifthly...

Strengthens Evangelism.  James 5:19-20
James 5:19-20 states in the ESV - "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."  The effectiveness of evangelism over the course of time has been strengthened when hitched to the doctrine of Christ's second coming.  James concludes his masterful epistle with an appeal of repentance to backsliders and lost people.  Again, all of what James writes is cast in light of the second coming that he states in James 5:7-8. 

Just as in the other portions of his writing, James mimics his half-brother in the flesh and Divine Savior - the Lord Jesus Christ.  When Jesus gave His final instructions for the Great commission in Matthew 28:18-20 - we find Christ's own second coming driving forth the mission.  

Jesus asserts His Absolute Sovereignty over all things, communicating His right to rule in verse 18.  In verse 19 Jesus Christ is with his church through the ministry of the Holy Spirit as the church depends upon Him in this church age.  It is in verse 20 that Jesus sets the limit of the mission- the End of the Age.  Evangelism's greatest text is connnected the events surrounding Christ's second coming.  Without Christ's return, we have no basis to urge men and women to repent and escape from the wrath to come. (Romans 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:10) 

More could be said, but I think you see now the five practical and beneficial reasons for f.o.c.u.sing on Christ's return as spelled out here in James 5:

1. Fights against worldliness. James 5:1-6
2. Operates endurance. James 5:7-8
3. Calms the saints. James 5:9-11
4. Undergirds the prayer-life James 5:12-18
5. Strengthens evangelism James 5:19-20

End Notes________________
1. He tells a parable of a widow in need of justice. She appeals her case to an unjust judge who grants her the request so as to get her out of his proverbial hair. Jesus uses the parable to drive home the point that God the Just judge will hear the cries of His elect saints who pray and seek Him both day and night. (Luke 18:7) 

2. Herbert Lockyer."All the Prayers of the Bible". Zondervan.   The passages in Revelation which Lockyer lists as prayers are the following: Revelation 5:8,9; 6:10; 7:9-12; 8:3; 11:15-19; 15:3-4; 19:1-10; 22:17,20