Last Things (pt. 1)

What does the Bible say about the end of the world?

There are almost as many questions today about the end of the world as there are about the beginning of the world. Some think that the world will never end. Others think that pollution and global warming will end the earth. There are even some who think that aliens are coming to destroy our planet. Amidst these speculations we must ask, “What does the Bible say about the end of the world?”

The Bible teaches us quite a bit about the end of this present world. It does so in order to have an ethical effect on our lives. That is to say, the study of last things (eschatology) will impact the way we live.

2 Peter 3:10-14: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless…

The fact that the Lord is coming back should motivate us to obey Him, and to live our lives with a proper perspective.

Individual Eschatology

The study of last things (eschatology) can be divided into two categories; individual eschatology, and cosmic eschatology. Individual eschatology deals with the future of the individual, and answers questions like “where will I go when I die?”

The following issues are the primary concern of individual eschatology:

Death – Physical death is not the end of a human being. After the death of the physical body the soul will continue to exist.

Luke 16:22: Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom

Application: Death is to be expected by all peoples, believer and unbeliever. Unless we are alive when Jesus comes back we are all going to die. It is important that we understand how fragile we are, especially when compared to God.

Intermediate StateBetween death and the final resurrection there will be an intermediate state for both believers and unbelievers. In this intermediate state believers will experience the presence of God, and unbelievers will experience the absence of God.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8: Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

Application: Christians do not need to fear death! We can be confident that when our physical bodies die our souls will be escorted immediately into the presence of Jesus.

ResurrectionAfter Jesus comes back a second time Christians will receive a new glorified body that will be suited for glorifying God throughout all of eternity.

Philippians 3:20-21: For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

Application: We can eagerly look forward to the time when Jesus will come and transform these sin-marred bodies into a body that conforms with His own glory. At that time there will no longer be sickness or death.

Judgment God will finally and completely judge all men.

Jude 14-15: 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, to execute judgment upon all…

Application: All have sinned and thus all deserved to be punished in God’s final judgment. However, because Jesus redeemed those who trusted in Him by becoming a sacrifice for them they can face this final judgment with confidence.

Final StateAll who accepted Jesus will spend the rest of eternity in the presence of God where all joy will be made complete. All who rejected Jesus will spend the rest of eternity in hell where the wrath of God will be fully unleashed.

Application: The joy of heaven and the misery of hell should motivate us to press forward into God’s kingdom, and see as many people accept Jesus as possible.

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Honor Your Father and Mother – Exodus 20:12

Introduction:

We have all had problems with our parents at one time or another. But Scripture is clear that children have a moral responsibility to honor their parents. In fact, Scripture teaches that it is a heinous sin for a child to dishonor their parents (Gen 9:20-27; Rom 1:30; 2 Tim 3:2).

I. We must honor our parents by…

a. obeying them (Ephesians 6:1)

b. respecting them – obeying with the right attitude (1 Peter 2:18)

c. protecting their “name” – i.e. their good reputation (Genesis 9:20-27; Proverbs 22:1)

II. We must honor our parents because…

a. God commands it (Ex 20:12)

b. God has placed them over us (Romans 13:1)

c. Children owe their parents a huge debt (Luke 15:11ff)

d. Children need their parent’s wisdom (Exodus 20:12b; Ephesians 6:1)

e. One day your parents will need your help (Matthew 15:3-9)

f. If you cannot submit to your parents then you will not be able to submit to God (Matthew 6:32b-33)

Conclusion:

By honoring your parents you are honoring your Heavenly Father. In fact, you cannot honor your Heavenly Father unless you honor your earthly parents.

Book Review: Keeping the 10 Commandments

packer-10-comm.jpgThe last few months have been a taxing time for me.  With a pregnant wife (who has been very sick), a sixteen month old daughter, and a full seminary schedule life has been moving at a quick pace.  As I am sure you have experienced, it is in times like this that we are usually careless-even negligent-with our devotional lives.  Additionally, as a minister it is a very real temptation to feed the soul of others while neglecting your own.  With these traps and temptations in mind I made it a point to spend some time reading something of a devotional nature. 

As I was looking for something to read I came across Keeping the Ten Commandments by J.I. Packer.  The material in this book was previously published as a part of Packer’s Growing in Christ.  Now it has been reformatted and published under its own title.  The format of the book is quite simple, and the subject matter is self-evident.  Each chapter is just a few pages long, and covers a particular subject with an emphasis on application and self-examination.  With the exception of a few introductory and concluding chapters, each chapter is based on one of the Ten Commandments.  As I mentioned above the book emphasizes application and self-examination.  Which means that the book tells you what you should be doing, and then convicts you for not doing it!  This is a very useful combination.   

Throughout the book Packer leads his readers through the Ten Commandments exposing their meaning, and the implications of that meaning on us today in the 21st century.  To this end the book is helpful not only in applying Scripture, but also in showing Christians that the Old Testament is still relevant and applicable.  As Packer points out,

“Some read the Old Testament as so much primitive groping and guesswork, which the New Testament sweeps away. But ‘God… spoke by the prophets’ (Hebrews 1:1), of whom Moses what the greatest (see Dt. 34:10-12); and his Commandments, given through Moses, set a moral and spiritual standard for living that is not superseded but carries God’s authority forever.” (pg. 25)

  Packer is “spot-on.”  Unfortunately too many Christians do not mine the depths of the riches of the Old Testament.  This is either because they do not know how to, or because they view the Old Testament as a bunch of Sunday School lessons and sermon illustrations.  This short little devotional book on the Ten Commandments makes it clear that the Old Testament is much more, and the Church today would benefit greatly by looking to the Old Testament as “a moral and spiritual standard for living that is not superseded.”  Packer makes it clear “that the Old Testament moral teaching is not inferior to that of the New Testament….” (pg. 25) For Jesus “came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it; that is, to be, and help others to be, all that God in the Commandments had required.  What Jesus destroyed was inadequate expositions of the law, not the law itself.” (pg. 26) Now that I have made my case for why we should study the Old Testament, let me give you an idea of what you will read if you choose to study the Old Testament using Keeping the Ten Commandments as a guide.  First of all, Packer out the foundation for the Commandments:

When God gave Israel the Commandments on Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17), He introduced them by introducing himself. “God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of slavery. You shall…'” (verse 1ff). What God is and has done determines what his people must be and do. So study of the Decalogue should start by seeing what it tells us about God. (pg. 41)

With God as his starting point Packer then moves through all Ten of the Commandments. 

I am not going to go through all ten of the commandments (for that you will have to buy the book).  But, here are a few quotes from Packer on the tenth commandment that “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife’ or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

  •  In the tenth commandment, “you shall not covet,” God’s searchlight moves from actions to attitudes, from motions to motives, from forbidden deeds to forbidden desire (pg. 101)
  •  Put positively, “you shall not covet… anything that is your neighbor’s” is a call to contentment with one’s lot. (pg. 102)
  • The discontented man, whose inner itch makes him self-absorbed, sees other people as tools to use in order to feed his greed, but the contented man is as free as other are not to concentrate on treating his neighbor rightly. (pg. 102-103)
  • Knowing the love of Christ is the one and only source from which true contentment ever flows (pg. 103)

As I mentioned, I came into this book desperately needing for my soul to be fed.  Packer, with his pen, did just that. 

Title: Keeping the 10 Commandments
Author: J.I. Packer
Reading level: 3 out of 10 – Only a few difficult words or concepts; accessible to all
Pages: 127
Citation: N/A
Publisher: Crossway
Year: 2007
Price: $9.99 Trade Paperback
ISBN
: 9781581349832

Looking at Some Cross-References to Romans 9:6-13


But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

With regard to cross-references, a close look at several Pauline passages help to determine Paul’s normal use of the phrase “children of God.”  In addition to Romans 9:8 refers to the children of God five times in his writings.  In Romans 8 Paul speaks of the children of God three times (8:16, 17, 21); each time referring to believers.  In Ephesians 5:1-2 Paul writes, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”  This reference to the children of God, just as the references in Romans 8, refers to believers-in particular how they should act.  Finally, in Philippians 2:14-15 Paul writes, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”  In this passage Paul uses the phrase “children of God” again to refer to believers.  Thus, Paul’s normal usage of the phrase “children of God” refers to believers. 

Since Paul’s normal usage of the phrase “children of God” refers to believers, and there is nothing in the context of 9:8 to contradict this normal meaning, it can be assumed that Paul is using the phrase children of God to refer to believers in 9:8.  This is significant because it provides insight into Paul’s use of the Old Testament in this passage.  Here Paul refers to God’s choice to use Isaac instead of Ishmael as proof that “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.”  Paul then further explains his point in 9:8 when he says, “That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but children of the promise are regarded as descendants.”  If Paul is referring to believers when he uses the phrase “children of God” then Piper is right when he says, “Whether Paul sees the election of Isaac (9:7b) as the election of an individual to salvation or as the election of his posterity for a historical task, the principle of unconditional election is immediately applied by Paul to the present concern….”[1]


[1]Piper, The Justification of God: an Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23, 68.

The Context of Romans 9:6-13

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Contextually, it is pivotal to understand Paul’s line of reasoning as he leads up to 9:6-13, and his argument as it progresses in chapters 9-11. In the first three chapters of Romans Paul introduces the theme of the Jew’s advantage with respect to the Gospel. In 1:16 Paul describes the Gospel as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Similarly in 2:9-10 Paul says that “there will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Additionally, in 3:2 Paul says that the advantage possessed by the Jews was “great in every respect” because “they were entrusted with the oracles of God.”

As Paul continues to progress toward chapter 9 he articulates that through the Gospel individuals can be justified by faith, and have peace with God through Jesus Christ (5:1). Paul concludes this section in 8:38-39 when Paul confidently asserts “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As one moves through the progression of Paul’s argument, the obvious question is why did so many of the Jews rejected Christ? The Jews are the ones “to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh” (9:4-5). Yet Paul makes it clear that many of the Jews had rejected Christ (9:1-3). This was particularly problematic since the Jews were supposed to have a great advantage with respect to the Gospel, and because Paul just stated in 8:39 that nothing can “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Thus, as we approach 9:6-13 a problem has emerged that Paul is forced to deal with. Specifically, Paul must explain Israel’s rejection of Christ (9:1-5) in light of the doctrines previously presented, and God’s covenant dealings with Israel.

This is not the first time in the epistle that this problem has surfaced. In 3:3 Paul alludes to this very problem when he asks, “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” This question is significant to the discussion of 9:6-13 because it deals with the same problem. In 3:3 Paul is dealing with the unbelief of individuals, and whether or not this unbelief nullified the faithfulness of God. In 3:4 Paul emphatically answers the question raised when he says, “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged.’” This statement is remarkably similar to the statement that Paul makes in 9:6a. There Paul states, “It is not as though the word of God has failed.” The similarity of these two passages indicates that Paul is dealing with the same problem in both passages. Specifically, Paul is defending the faithfulness of God in light of the unbelief of Israel. Paul explains this defense in 9:11 when he says that God chose Jacob over Esau “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand.” Thus, God’s choosing, or electing, of Jacob over Esau is the reason why God’s faithfulness cannot be impugned and his word has not failed even though Israel has rejected Christ. If this election determines the role of individuals and nations in history then it does not deal with the problem that has been raised. However, if this election determines the eternal destiny of individuals then the logic of Paul’s argument remains in tact.

In addition to establishing the specific problem that Paul is dealing with in 9:6-13, it is also important to track the progression of Paul’s argument as it is found in chapters 9-11. A close look at these chapters reveals that as Paul continues to deal with the problem of Israel’s unbelief his focus is on individual soteriological issues. The most obvious example of Paul’s focus on individual soteriology issues is found in 10:9-10. There Paul writes, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” In this passage Paul is clearly articulating the process of individual salvation. This is significant to 9:6-13 because it occurs in the same context as 9:6-13.

In chapter 11 Paul continues to reference the subject of individual soteriology. In 11:5-6 he speaks of “a remnant chosen by grace.” Here we find another reference to God’s election (ἐκλογὴν), and this reference is clearly soteriological. Paul is pointing out that God has not “rejected His people” (11:1), but rather has graciously chosen a remnant of believers. Paul supports this point with the example of the “seven thousand men who [did] not [bow] the knee to Baal” during the time of Elijah. This argument, and subsequent Old Testament example, is extremely similar to the content of 9:6-13. In both cases Paul’s point is that God has not been unfaithful to the Jews because He has always chosen a remnant who will believe based on His “gracious choice.”

Paul culminates his argument from chapters 9-11 in 11:26-27 when he says, “And so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.’” Paul’s statement that God will save “all Israel” confirms that his focus throughout chapters 9-11 is individual, and soteriological. Paul’s argument in chapters 9-11 is a cohesive unit. Paul begins this unit in 9:1-5 where addresses Israel’s rejection of Christ despite their great advantage with respect to the Gospel. Subsequently, in 9:6a Paul makes it clear that God’s faithfulness is not in question because of Israel’s unbelief. In fact, this unbelief was consistent with God’s prior dealings with Israel; for God has always chosen who will believe based upon His own choice. Additionally, God’s faithfulness cannot be questioned because, as we see in 11:26-27, He is ultimately going to save all of Israel.

Any interpretation of Romans 9:6-13 must take into account the context of Paul’s argument in all of chapters 9-11. In fact, a close examination of 9:6-13 will reveal that Paul’s argument in these verses mirrors his argument in all of chapters 9-11. Paul is defending God’s faithfulness in light of the problem of Israel’s unbelief, and his focus is on individual soteriological issues. In 9:6a Paul declares that “it is not as though the word of God has failed.” Paul then defends this statement in 9:6b-13. A pivotal piece of this defense is found in 9:11 where Paul says that God chose Jacob over Esau “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.” Paul’s point is that Israel’s unbelief does not bring into question God’s faithfulness because God has always chosen who will believe based upon His own choice. Therefore, the contextual data strongly supports the view of Romans 9:6-13 that God’s election mentioned in 9:11 determines the eternal destiny of individuals.

The Historical Background of Romans 9:6-13


But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Last week I presented three views of the election refered to in this passage, and concluded that God’s election to be determinative of the eternal destiny of individuals.  If this view is to be accepted then it must be able to stand up to the exegetical data.  This post, and several others in the future, will look at several areas of exegesis and the pertinent data that comes from these areas of exegesis.  The exegetical data presented will not be exhaustive, however it will be sufficient enough to conclude what kind of election Paul is referring to in Romans 9:11.

Understanding the historical background of the book of Romans is an important step in developing one’s interpretation of 9:6-13.  In this case it is particularly helpful because it reveals why Paul wrote what he wrote. In Romans 1:7 he identifies the recipients of his epistle as “all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints.”  However, the question that arises with respect to the church in Rome is what was the make up of the church?  Specifically, was the Roman church predominately Jewish or Gentile?  Based on several pieces of evidence it seems as though the church in Rome was initially made up of mostly Jews.  Mounce estimates “that by the first century B.C. there were some fifty thousand Jews in Rome grouped in several synagogues.”[1]  We also know that a large number of these Jews had converted to Christianity because in A.D. 49 Claudius “expelled from Rome Jews who were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus.”[2]  Presumably Chrestus is a misspelling of the Greek Christos, and is referring to Christ.  This is confirmed in Acts 18:2 where Aquila and Priscilla’s expulsion from Rome is recorded.  From this it can be assumed that the church in Rome began as a predominately Jewish church, but later became a predominately Gentile Church as a result of Claudius’ expulsion. 

After Claudius’ reign, and Nero’s ascension, the Jewish population slowly returned to the city and to the church.  Despite this return, it must be assumed that Paul wrote the book of Romans to a church of predominately Gentile Christians.  This assumption is confirmed by the internal evidence found in the book of Romans.  In 1:5-6 Paul writes, “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are called of Jesus Christ.”  In 1:13 Paul expresses his desire to “obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.”  In 11:13 Paul says that he is “speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles….”   

            If, as it has been assumed, Paul wrote the book of Romans to a predominately Gentile church then Paul also wrote chapters 9-11 to a predominately Gentile church. The question is why did Paul write this section, which is about Israel, to a Gentile audience?  Paul seems to be dealing with questions that could have arisen after the Gentile believers read chapters 1-8.  Paul concludes chapter 8 by saying that nothing is “able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  After reading this the Gentile believers may have wondered how this could be true in light of the many Jews who had been cut off from Christ.  Paul responded to this objection in 9:6 when he said that “the word of God has not failed.”  Paul then defended this response in 9:6b-13 by reminding His readers that God has always chosen His people sovereignly apart from their own works.  And because chapter 8 focuses on individual salvation and the objection that is said to have been raised was that the Jews had been cut off from salvation it logically follows that Paul’s response would have been focused on the issue of individual salvation.


[1]Robert H. Mounce, vol. 27, Romans, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1995), 24.

[2]Life of Claudius 25.2