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1. Introduction: “I Believe”

Early Creeds

The word “creed” comes from the Latin verb credo, the first word of the creed, which is translated into English as “I believe.” Essentially, then, a creed is a collection of doctrines or beliefs that a religious order or denomination holds as distinctive.

    Israelite Creedal Expressions

From the very beginning the redeemed of the LORD found it necessary and helpful to clarify their beliefs in the world. After all, when Abraham made sacrifices in the land of Canaan, they would have appeared very much like the sacrifices of the Canaanites, or Babylonians, or other religious groups. So he had to make sure every one knew which God he was worshiping. So in Genesis 12:1-9, we have the report of the beginning of his creedal worship. He made an altar to Yahweh. The first duty was to name the God being worshiped. And then the text says that “he proclaimed the name of Yahweh” at the altar. He publicly declared the nature, the person and the works of this God Yahweh. The clue to what he said is found in Exodus 34 where the exact same expression is used of Yahweh’s activity of proclaiming his name to Moses--a long list of attributes. This list became part of the ritual faith of Israel because it is repeated so frequently in the Bible. As time went on the worshipers would add to the name and to the attributes great works that God had done, such as “Creator of heaven and earth,” or “the one who delivered me from all my enemies.”

The nation of Israel was then instructed by the LORD at various times concerning their use of statements of belief to be used in conjunction with worship. Deuteronomy 26 is perhaps the clearest example of this; in this chapter the Israelites were told what to say when they offered the first fruits to the LORD. Their words expressed their own personal faith and their part in the heritage of the faith.

Many other creedal statements were used at the Temple over the centuries, but perhaps the most important was the famous “Shema” (“Hear”) of Deuteronomy 6:6. It says, “Hear, O Israel. Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.” There are other possible translations, but this one captures the idea well. It was a statement of faith in the sovereignty of Yahweh--He alone is the true and living God. The rest of the passage reports how important such a statement of faith was to the people.

In time expressions from the Law and the Prophets were used in the worship services of the Temple and later the Synagogue. Later prayer books recorded the most frequently used of these. But in the biblical period, the Book of Psalms provided most of the creedal statements and benedictions because it was the prayer book of the Temple.

    Early Christian Creedal Statements

More importantly for our study is a brief survey of fragments of creeds and confessions of faith found in the New Testament, suggesting that the early Christians found it necessary to summarize their distinctive beliefs. The basic pattern of these early statements is concerned with two things: (1) the naming of Jesus, who lived and died and rose again in history, and (2) the ascription of a title or titles to him, marking his divinity. Here are some of the fragments that the early church used:

“Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mk. 8:29; 14:61; 15:2)

“Jesus is the Son of God” (John 1:34; 1 John 4:15; Acts 9:20; Heb. 4:14)

“Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:11)

These confessions in time were enlarged to include the resurrection, as well as the divine nature of Jesus, the Christ, who was with the Father in the beginning and became the mediator between God and people. The most extensive one is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3b-7, the summary of the Gospel, the essence of the Christian faith:

“That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than five hundred brethren at one time … then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” etc.

Other condensed versions of creeds may be found in Romans 1:3-5a, 8:34, and 1 Timothy 3:16. In fact, some of the creeds were preserved in the early hymns of the Church, such as in John 1:1-18, Colossians 1:15-20, and Philippians 2:6-11. 1 Timothy 3:16 will serve as a good example:

“And by a common confession, great is the mystery of godliness;
God was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit,
was seen of angels, proclaimed in the world, taken up to glory.”

These confessions of faith by the early Church served several purposes: (1) they became the center of the teaching of the Church, the essential doctrine; (2) they formed the basis of the Gospel, the proclamation to be made to the world; (3) they provided new converts with the proper things to say at the time of baptism; and (4) they provided worshipers with a nucleus of expressions for their liturgy.

But the important point that comes out of a study of the Old and New Testament about creeds is that they were formed out of necessity. The new community of worshipers of Christ found it necessary to formulate what they believed in common when they were confronted by old religions, false teachings, and established heresies. The early Church was confronted and attacked on every point, but held onto the belief in the person ad work of Jesus the Christ by these fixed formulas.

The Nicene Creed

The creed that is used in services with holy communion today is the Nicene Creed. There are many creeds that could be studied to gain a survey of Christian doctrine, but this one is both fairly complete and still concise. The creed was composed at a Church council at Nicaea in 325 A.D. Nicaea was located just south of Constantinople (today, Istanbul), and a little inland, in what today is Turkey.

It is helpful to understand why this council ever came about in order to appreciate the doctrines it includes. At the risk of oversimplifying it, we can say that a man named Arius, an elder under the Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, began teaching that Jesus was a being who had been created by God before time and then was himself the agent of creation. His teaching made Jesus less than God, and more than man, somewhere between the two, but fully neither. This, in sum, came to be known as Arianism. The teaching spread throughout the world quickly, sparking a lot of controversy. And so the emperor Constantine called a council of some 300 bishops to assemble in Nicaea and settle the matter. This council was significant in that it was the beginning of the functioning of the catholic (=universal) Church. It had never been so visible as an organized entity before. The bishops were considered to be the Church, and since there was a worldwide gathering of the bishops, this represented the assembled Church.

At the council the creed of Arius was promptly and soundly rejected. Bishop Eusebius offered a creed that he had been using, but it was too general--the Arians were willing to adopt it. Then Athanasius, a deacon from Alexandria and a champion of the orthodox view, presented his creed which stressed the oneness of Christ with the Father. The new creed was adopted, and a condemnation was made on anyone not accepting it (now the Church was using power that formerly they had seen in the Roman government used against them). Constantine himself chaired the meeting, interrupting whenever he wished, and directing the choices. But it is probable that he knew very little doctrine, and certainly did not conform very well. Later in his life he seems to have come more to understand and accept the truth.

The Nature Of Belief And Beliefs

    The Church as a Believing Community

It is the central teaching of the Bible that the Church is a community of believers, individuals who have come to faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul asserts, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, so than no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9). This is clearly based on the teaching of Jesus, who in the night explained to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). It is simply not possible to please God without faith.

And this principle of faith has been at the heart of the ancient Israelite community as well, so that by the time the early Church began to formulate the doctrines they could see the unity and the continuity of the faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures. The cardinal passage in the Old Testament is Genesis 15:6 (I say “cardinal” because Paul quotes it twice to establish justification by faith). Genesis 15 says, “Now he [Abram] believed in Yahweh, and He [Yahweh] reckoned it to him for righteousness.” The Hebrew word “believed” is related to our familiar Hebrew word, “Amen.” The verb means “to be reliable, dependable, firm.” In the verbal conjugation that means “believe,” the basic idea is to consider something dependable and therefore count on it, or, act on it. When Abram believed in Yahweh’s word, he left Ur of the Chaldees to become a great nation in the land of Canaan. If he had never left, he would not have been counted a believer, no matter how much he considered to be true in the call from God. And this is the point Hebrews 11 makes of all the greats of the faith: by faith they did what they did. Or, as James puts it, their faith was evidenced by their works.

The principle of faith should not be hard for us to grasp, for almost everything we do requires some faith. When we get up in the morning, we turn of the light switch, believing that it will work. We turn on the water, believing that water will come out of the lines. We start our cars, believing that by the switch of the key it will all work. Our faith in these things is based on two things: the reliability of the things we trust, and our experience that has proven them reliable over and over again. If, however, we have a car that is ready for the junk heap, our faith in it will not be very high. If it has failed us time and time again, we will not have much confidence when we turn the key. The same principle works with people. If you are looking for a person to repair something in the house, you have to hire someone that you trust. If that person says that he has never actually done this kind of work, but has always been fascinated by it, your confidence will drop dramatically. Now in the realm of religion we see the principle of faith is similar, just on a higher level, for the stakes are higher. Our faith will only be as strong as the object of our faith; and we will only feel confident if we have proven him again and again.

Abram believed in Yahweh, and Yahweh credited him with righteousness. That Abram was credited with righteousness for his faith shows that his faith was saving faith. It was a faith that responded to the revelation of the word of God in obedience. And throughout the Bible true faith is similarly described as obedience to divine revelation.

    Belief as Commitment to the Truth

Now, we must understand what we mean by the word believe. There is a major difference between the way we use the word “believe” in general discussions and the way we use it in theological discussions (where “trust” might serve us better). If I accept the trustworthiness of the biblical and historical accounts, I might say that I believe that Jesus lived, taught, and did many wonderful things. But this takes no commitment on my part, and so is not what the Church means by faith that is credited with righteousness. Knowledge may compel te assent of the intellect, but it does not compel the act of the will to trust. So when I say “I believe” when saying the creed, that is not meant to say, “I have sufficient data to support these ideas as valid and viable philosophical tenets.” No, it says much more; it says that these are the truths from God that I have believed in, that I have committed my life to, that I have made the center of my life and the basis of my hope.

We have to think a little more about this kind of faith so we are clear. We cannot dissociate knowledge from faith, for we gave to know the word of God and the claims of Christ found in that revelation in order to believe. We do not scorn knowledge, for that would make faith a subjective experience without solid content; the Church is built on the truth of divine revelation (the word of God), reason (the use of the intellect in studying and knowing the truth), and tradition (the ideas and writings of the greats of the faith who have gone before). But when we use the words “I believe,” we are using the language of faith and not certainty (in the sense of verifiable data). We can have assurance and certainty based on the reliability of the word of God, the witness of the Holy Spirit, the shared experience of the Church in its pilgrim journey, and on supporting evidence and experience. But we do not have the certainty of seeing fully--that will come in the presence of God in glory.

The Content Of Belief

The Reformers had to deal with this question of faith because it was such a critical issue in their day. Justification is indeed by faith and not by works--but what does that faith involve, what does it include? They went to great lengths to show that saving faith including the clear understanding of the doctrines to be believed, the assent to the truthfulness of those doctrines, and then the commitment to them. Thus, saving faith was not a general belief, a hoping against hope; and it was not merely the assent to the truthfulness of the things being taught, for even the fallen angels and Satan believe this way, and tremble (James 2:19). Saving faith is present when the message has been properly apprehended, assented to, and appropriated as the basis of one’s relationship with God. Saving faith then is characterized by a life that is committed to living out the truth of the faith.

So what is the content of the faith? Well, that will be the focus of the survey of these meditations on the creed, for the doctrines that the creed contains express the essence of the Christian faith. This kind of creed is the full explanation of the Christian Gospel. Scripture itself says that we must believe the Gospel to find eternal salvation; and the description of the Gospel is that Christ died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures. But the key in this statement is “according to the Scriptures.” It is not sufficient to believe that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. We have to believe these facts as explained by Scripture. This will require us to determine who Christ is (why did his death redeem), how he is related to the Father and the Spirit, what kind of death it was, why the death was necessary (sin), why he was buried, what the resurrection revealed, as well as what all this does for us when we accept it by faith. In other words, the simple Gospel formula assumes a good number of biblical doctrines--and these were included in the creed because the Gospel cannot be properly understood without them.

But knowing only the creed is inadequate. The creed is meant to be a summation of what Scripture says on the various doctrines. To summary revelation we use a creed; to understand the creed we have to know revelation, the word of God. So in this series of studies we will not simply define doctrines, but we shall look at various key passages that give us a full picture of what these brief expressions say. But we will have to be brief, for there is so much available. We could, after all, use up all our time, and more, on just one of these expressions in the creed. The plan, however, will be to define the doctrine briefly and then look at a passage that with teaches it or clarifies what it means.

Related Topics: Theology

2. God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth

The Doctrine Of God

The Nicene Creed begins:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”

It was natural for the creed to begin with the doctrine of God the Father, for the creed is trinitarian in its arrangement and content--Father, then Son, and then Holy Ghost. And although there are only a few brief ideas stated here about God the Father, those ideas cover a wide range of theological ideas. It is simply impossible for us to do justice to them all in one short meditation on the doctrine; but at least we can affirm the major points. The rest of this series of studies will keep coming back to the nature of God the Father in relation to all the other doctrines.

The Trinity

The first point that we must make about the creed in general is that it affirms the biblical teaching that there is only one God. The mystery of the trinity is that this one God exists in three persons (not three people, or three separate Gods). There is a unity to the Godhead, one essence, but three persons. And this makes the study of the doctrine of God the Father a little complicated, because all three persons of the Godhead are actively involved in every work of God. We normally say that the Father decrees the work, the Son carries it out, and the Spirit enables the work to be done--whether it is creation, salvation, judgment, or any other of the works of God. Moreover, when we survey the attributes of God, all the attributes likewise apply to all three persons of the Godhead. Therefore, faith, prayer, praise, and all other forms of worship and service must include the entire Godhead.

The Bible is filled with this revelation about the triune God. True, in the Old Testament it is only hinted at, but nonetheless, when the full revelation of the New Testament is brought to the discussion, it is easy to see that the foundation of the trinitarian faith was laid down from the beginning. The creed of Deuteronomy 6:4 may be interpreted with this fact in mind: “Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one”; or, “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.” The Scripture affirms through the teachings of the prophets and the apostles that there is one God; and yet the Scripture reveals that God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14). Knowing this we are more keen to note how in the Old Testament there are intimations of the tri-unity of the Godhead (see Isa. 6:8; 9:6; 48:15, 16; Prov. 30:1-4; Mal. 3:1-5, et al). Moreover, as we shall see later in the doctrine of Christ, Jesus claimed that he and the Father were one and the same (John 10:30) and that he was the I Am of the Old Testament (John 8:58). We cannot fully understand the trinity, not with our finite minds, but we must believe it if we accept the revelation of the Bible for the faith. And we cannot separate the three persons of the Godhead as if they were in some way independent beings. There is one God; but this one God revealed in the Bible is very different than the one God Islam and Judaism profess. This one God is fully revealed in the Son by the Spirit.

The Attributes of God

Most theological studies will begin with a list of the attributes or perfections of God, and this is a helpful way to organize the vast amount of material. After all, the whole Bible would have to be taken into consideration if there was not a way to synthesize the material. And after all, this is about the best we can do--describe a little of what God is like based on his revelation in his words and works. One of the more helpful works on this would be A. Pink’s, The Attributes of God; but J. Packer’s Knowing God is very helpful as well.

The attributes or descriptions are divided into two categories: the non-communicated attributes and the communicated ones. In other words, there are attributes that belong to God that he did not share with humans through creation, and there are those he did. We conclude from the Bible that God is sovereign over all things, eternal and infinite, all powerful, all knowing, and present everywhere at once. Only God is like this. But when we try to understand and explain what these mean, we run into limitations. If we say God is infinite--what does that mean? We can only say God is not finite, not limited by time, space, or any other limitation. But that does not get us a full understanding. Or, we can say God is all powerful, that all the power in the universe, in any universe, belongs to him. Trying to imagine or understand that is very difficult. We can look at the acts of God revealed in Scripture and begin to appreciate it. But we are like Moses on Mount Sinai, seeing only the fringe of the hem of the garment as he passes by.

We have an easier time with the communicable attributes, for these we possess in a measure. Some of these are love, mercy, wisdom, righteousness, goodness, compassion and the like. We know though that we have only a finite amount of compassion, or love, compared to the amount that exists with God. So as we study the Bible we can see these key words used and described as they relate to the God who is the sovereign over all things.

The Revelation of the Father

The creed begins its description of this one God with the designation of the first person of the Godhead as the “Father.” The metaphorical language of “father” is the designation God has chosen for revelation, whether we like it or not. But we must be clear about this: it is a figure of speech; it does not mean that God is a male or a man, or that men are more important to God than women; nor does it mean that there was procreation in the Godhead that produced the Son. The term “Father” for God is a powerful description, lofty and elegant. It should not be trivialized to mean “daddy,” no matter how popular that idea may be.

The title “Father” was used in other countries of the ancient Near East as well to describe the high God of the pantheon, the sovereign. In Canaan, for example, the lesser gods of the heavenly court are called the “sons of God.” In the Old Testament, since there is but one God, the “sons of God” are the angels (see Job 1,2). And in contrast to the Canaanite myths, there is no physical intercourse with God. The gods of the pagans were far too human, base and low. The one true and living God creates by decree, not by copulation. So in the Bible we have this description of God as “Father,” some in the Old Testament, and more in the New Testament. But what is the expression designed to communicate about God?

The first meaning of the expression “Father” is creator. When we call God Father, we are saying that he is the sovereign creator of all things. He produces everything, but he also provides for it, and he protects it. Creation, provision, providence. All these ideas are there with the image of “Father.” No other description could capture them all at once. And since God creates and sustains everything by his decree, he is truly “Almighty.” We shall return to this in a moment.

The second meaning of the expression “Father” has to do with Covenant. When we call God our Father, it means that we enjoy a covenant relationship with him. In the world of the Bible “father-son” language is the language of covenant. You might read in a genealogy that a city is the son of an ancestor. It means there was some kind of treaty there. In Israel, king Ahaz was known as the son of Pul (=Tiglathpileser, the king of Assyria); it means he was a political dependent, a vassal. And so in the covenant with Israel God calls the people his son. He warned Pharaoh to let his son go or he would kill Pharaoh’s son (Exod. 4:23). And in the covenant that God made with David (2 Sam. 7:14), the king would be the son and God would be the father in the new relationship. This, when a king came to the throne he would declare his right to rule with the words from the covenant found in Psalm 2:7, “The LORD said to me, You are my son; today I have begotten you.” This was fine until Isaiah turned the language on its head and predicted that the Davidic king would be known as the “father of eternity”--the one who produces and provides for everything in eternity (Isa. 9:6). Of course, that would be fulfilled by Christ who declared that he and the father were one and the same. But it was the resurrection from the dead that authenticated that claim and declared that Jesus was the Son of God (Rom. 1:4).

In the New Covenant that Jesus inaugurated we who have put our faith in Christ Jesus, the son of God, have the right to be called the sons or children of God, and the privilege to call God “our Father,” especially in our prayers. God is not only our sovereign creator, but our redeemer as well, bringing us into covenant with him. To call God Father in our New Covenant praying is to seek the sanctity of his name and the fulfillment of his sovereign will on earth as in heaven, as well as to seek the daily provisions from the Lord of the covenant.

And third, when we call God Father we are also attesting that God is a person, one who we can know and have fellowship with, because the language is that of human relationship and community. This is no impersonal God, no abstract force in the universe. God is personal, and the description indicates that the relationship he has with his people is intimate and relational. This is because the language first applies to the relationship within the Godhead: as the Father God decrees the sovereign will and oversees its outworking; as the Son God carries out the will of the Father; and as the Spirit God empowers the work to be done. The Son submits to do the will of the Father, but they are equally God. We shall return to this in the doctrine of Christ.

Creator

The creed focuses on the doctrine of creation at the beginning, and rightly so. If the biblical teaching on creation is removed or watered down, the faith will not be the same. The doctrine clearly reveals that God is the sovereign over all his creation; remove the doctrine and he is not sovereign, we are not accountable to him, and in fact, there is no basis for ethics and morality. The Bible teaches that God is the primary cause of all things. Out of his will, and by his decree, he brought everything into existence. One may quibble over the means used in all the points, but the fundamental point, the non-negotiable teaching of the Bible is that he is the Maker of everything. And he did this by decree, by his powerful word (Gen. 1; Ps. 33; Isa. 44, 45; John 1; Romans 1; Colossians 1). There is no room for natural development apart from God’s superintendence in the Christian view of origins. At the risk of simplifying this too much, several observations are in order:

1) The Bible affirms that God existed before anything else; and that He is the creator of everything that exists.

2) The Bible affirms that God created everything that exists by decree; he called everything into existence. This does not say anything about intermediate means; it does say that God is the source of everything.

3) The Bible affirms that God created everything after its kind (Gen. 1). This rules out the idea that from one form evolved all the species.

So regardless of the debates of the age of the earth, fossils, natural selection or beneficial mutations, there are some straightforward declarations in the Bible that clearly teach that God is the creator of everything, and that as a result he is the one who has control over the world he created. He is called “Almighty” because he must be almighty to do the things that he has done, notably create and sustain everything! All power belongs to him; he is the sovereign Lord of the universe he has made. (Perhaps this is the real issue! Perhaps people would accept the biblical doctrine of creation more readily if it did not mean that he is the almighty God who will hold them accountable for what they do.) But a god who cannot create, is not a sovereign god; it is a god who does not have to be listened to. However, to acknowledge God as the creator is to accept him as the sovereign Lord, all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever present everywhere. And to accept him as the almighty God is to accept that he is the sovereign Creator.

A Biblical Exposition

There are many passages in the Bible that capture the revelation of this sovereign creator God very well, but a couple of Psalms do it in a very practical way. The first is Psalm 33, a psalm of praise to God. The psalm has the standard parts of the descriptive praise psalm: the call to praise (vv. 1-3), the cause for the praise (vv. 4-19), and the conclusion (vv. 20-22).

In the cause or reason for the praise, we have a carefully planned structure: verses 4 and 5 form the summary statement. Verse 4a says God’s word is right and true, and that will be developed in verses 6-9; verse 4b says God’s works are dependable, and that will be developed in verses 10-12; verse 5a says God is righteous, and that is explained in verses 13-15; and verse 5b speaks of God’s faithful loyal love, and that is elaborated on in verses 16-19.

1. His word is true. In verses 6-9 the psalmist describes how God created everything by his powerful word. He simply spoke, and everything came into existence. Borrowing from Genesis 1:3, he actually says, “he spoke, and it was.” This is the simplest expression of a profound truth. God has such power and such authority that he simply had to give the command and everything came into existence into conformity to his will. Some will say, this is poetry and not to be taken seriously. That is just silly, for the poetry simply reiterates in hymnic form the great teachings of the Bible. The desired result of this teaching, the psalmist says, should be adoration, fear, and praise.

2. His works are dependable. The works described here are the works of a true sovereign heavenly God. He nullifies all the counsels of the nations, but his plans and his will stand firm. Any plan that any nation or people have that does not harmonize with the will or plan of God will ultimately come to frustration. He rules over history, over nations, over the will of man. This too is powerful. We do not understand the choices he makes, the reasons for the way he rules; but the Bible teaches he is sovereign, and he knows what he is doing. Daniel simply praised God for his rule over history (Dan. 2).

3. He loves righteousness. Now, in verses 13-15, the psalmist focuses on how God looks into the hearts of all humans to see if there is righteousness. He must be omniscient and omnipresent and all-wise to do this. But he examines and evaluates the human heart. How can he do this? He made the human heart--if he created all things, then he certainly knows what is going on in what he made. The examination is a form of judgment, for the knowledge of God is both penetrating and evaluative.

4. He extends his loyal love to his people. In the fourth part, verses 16-19, the psalmist deals with a practical issue--warfare. He affirms that a king cannot win a battle by military armaments alone, whether horses or today’s arsenal of weapons. His strength alone cannot save him. Victory comes only if the sovereign God allows it to come. Jesus told Pilate that he, Pilate, would have no power at all unless it was given to him from above. This is the faith; this is the sovereignty of God. The truth is that God extends his faithful covenant love to his people, to deliver them from death (yes, they may die, but the covenant promises demand a future life) and from all danger. The eyes of the Lord are on those who hope in him. Believers in the sovereign love of God know that the world is not out of control, that God has his eye on them, and that nothing will happen to them outside the Lord’s plan.

Another psalm that brings the doctrine of God to the practical level is Psalm 139. It can be divided into four stanzas of 6 verses each. In the first stanza David reflects on the truth of the knowledge of God--that God knows everything about us. It is as if God has gone on a search of our lives--he knows us. He knows every move we make, and he knows the reasons for those moves before we even do them (v. 2). In fact, this knowledge of God is penetrating, because he discerns our daily activities, always evaluating them (v. 4). Specifically, this may be illustrated by our speech: before we can get the word out, God knows it entirely (v. 4). David’s initial reaction to this is that he is uncomfortable with it--it is surpassing, beyond his control. He feels hemmed in all around, not free (vv. 5, 6). And this is the natural reaction at first to the sovereignty of God. One wonders in what sense he or she may be free, if God is God. The first impulse is to escape from that penetrating knowledge--there must be some place where our wills are sovereign, we think, where we are from his sovereign knowledge.

So the second stanza, verses 7-13, raises that issue: where can we go? The theme of this stanza is the omnipresence of God--God is everywhere, and therefore there is no place to which we might flee to get away from his penetrating knowledge. But when David begins to think of some of the places he might go--the dark deep in the sea, sheol, all places of grave danger, then he begins to see God’s knowledge and God’s presence are real comforts--even there God leads him and takes his hand. Nothing can separate him from the powerful presence of God, not darkness, not bruisings, not distance or time. He is there. And he knows all about us.

The third stanza of the psalm explains why this is possible, in terms that Psalm 33 briefly mentioned. He made us (vv. 13-18). God formed both our bodies and our spirits in the womb. Of course David knows that natural reproduction was the means--but it was God who was behind it all. He supervised the details of the birth and the life that would follow while we were yet in the womb. God lovingly prepared for our lives on this earth, making us with the characteristics we have to suit his divine purpose for each one of us. And all the events of our lives were written in his book, meaning, planned out for us (divine omniscience does not need to keep a day book) before there was even one of them. Now David is filled with adoration and praise--here is a God who lovingly planned his life and prepared him for it.

So the conclusion of the psalm is the practical application in his experience. He is surrounded by enemies who hate God and his will. But David takes comfort in the fact that God will protect him, because he is loyal to God, totally rejecting them and their evil ways. But he wants God to continue to examine him to make sure there is no evil way in him. He wants to be loyal to God, so that God’s everlasting plan will work out completely in his life.

In these psalms we have a grand picture of the sovereign God who is the creator of all things, who is sovereign over all things, who knows all things, who is present with all things, who evaluates everyone, and who protects his own by his love and righteousness. Rather than try to explain how this works with our wills, or try to escape from this penetrating presence, all we can do as believers is put our trust in him and his word and seek to do his will, knowing that he is the one true and living God, our Maker and our Father in heaven who loved us and brought us into fellowship with himself through the Son and the Spirit.

Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)

3. The Son of God, Begotten, Not Made

The Doctrine Of The Son

The most important question that anyone has to answer is, “Who is Jesus Christ?” Or, as he put it himself, “Who do you say the Son of Man is?” How you answer that question determines your faith, and your fate.

Almost everyone believes that Jesus lived, that he was a teacher, a famous prophet, even a miracle worker, although they may not accept everything the Bible says about him. Islam believes he was a good prophet, that he died and went to heaven, and that he will come again (as a prophet of Islam); but it does not believe that he is God and that his death was salvific. And liberal teachers in the churches today might claim something similar, that he was a good man, a great teacher, a wonderful example, but not God in the flesh. But the Bible and thereafter the traditions of the church claim much more for him.

So in this section of the study we want to examine the doctrine of the Son of God, or, the second person of the trinity, called in his earthly ministry Jesus the Christ, or the Son of Man, or the Son of God. The early church struggled with the issue until they finally formulated the creed and condemned Arianism. At the heart of the Nicene Creed are these words:

“And [we believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father … .”

In other words, although Jesus was a fully human person, he also was and is fully God. When we speak of the deity of Christ, we cannot water it down to mean that he was supernatural, or a divine being, or most God-like. He was and is God; but he was manifest in the flesh. This is why he alone is able to redeem us. This is why he is to receive our worship and our obedience.

Those who have rejected this teaching in part or in full often claim that the doctrine was formulated after the fact by the early church, and that it was never there in the Bible. But this is simply not so. The teaching is anticipated in elementary form in the Old Testament, imbedded in the Gospels, and fully explicated by the apostles. When we read the great prophecies of Isaiah about the Messiah, we catch a glimpse of what that greatness would be: he would have such an amazing birth (Isa. 7:14) that he would be known as Immanuel, “God with us.” And by his nature and through his works he would be known as the “Mighty God” and the “Everlasting Father” (Isa. 9:6). This one alone would bring everlasting peace and righteousness to the earth, for he would come into the world for that purpose. Isaiah is very precise: the child would be born, but the Son would be given. It would take the incarnation (the subject of a later section in this series) before people could fully comprehend what that meant.

A careful reading of other passages will also show that the prophecies identify the Messiah with or as the LORD. Isaiah 48:15 and 16 identifies him as the LORD, the one who is sent into the world by the Spirit. By itself this passage could be given different interpretations; but as part of the collection of Messianic passages it underscores the theme that the Messiah is not merely a mortal. Malachi 3:1-5 describes the Messiah as the messenger of the covenant who will come to his temple (the house of the LORD), but clarifies that it is Yahweh, the speaker, who will draw near. Proverbs 30:4 equates the Son with God the creator. These, but a few, give us a hint that this one who will be the Messiah will be much more than just a great human.

And the New Testament fully explicates these prophecies as fulfilled in the person of Jesus. There was a birth in Bethlehem, for Messiah was to be born of the family of Judah. He would be known as Jesus. But the Son of God did not begin at Bethlehem. John 1 claims that he was the eternal Word, God himself, who created everything that exists, and that in time he became flesh and dwelt among us. Philippians 2:6 makes it clear that he is God, and that he set aside the use of some of his attributes to take on the form of the human, and die for the sins of the world. Titus 2:13 equates Jesus with God. Romans 9:5 describes him as God, who is blessed forever. And Revelation 5:13 and 14 portray Christ as deity. These are but a few of the New Testament passages that one would consider first in dealing with the topic.

But the creed had to focus on some of the language the Bible uses for Christ, and some of that language has confused people from time to time. How could the Son be said to be begotten if he is eternally God? To study this more closely I have chosen to use a Pauline passage, Romans 1:1-7, which shows that Jesus is the son of David and the Son of God, and that he has authority over us by virtue of his deity. While we will be studying this passage we will consider other related passages as well, and have several more sections on the doctrine of Christ.

Biblical Exposition Of Romans 1:1-7

There are many passages in the Bible that we could use for the basis of this study, but this simple introduction to the Book of Romans states clearly what the message of the New Testament is all about--it is about the person and work of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Jesus Christ is Authoritative (1,2)

The first two verses of the book are simply a salutation or greeting from the apostle Paul to the church in Rome. But the fact that there is a church at all and that it is devoted to the worship and service of Jesus, indicates the deity and the authority of this one person. Accordingly, in the simple salutation we see some references to the doctrine of Christ that is the foundation and focus of the church.

Believers are His Servants

This is the practical starting point for all who worship Jesus as Lord and Savior--they are his servants. Paul’s expression, “a bond-servant of Jesus Christ,” is the equivalent of the Old Testament’s “servant of the LORD [Yahweh],” because to Paul they are one and the same person. This is the highest title that any human could have: Moses, David, Paul--they are all the servants of the LORD. The word for LORD in the Old Testament is the revealed name Yahweh, explained by God to Moses as “I AM.”1 The explanation “I am” is the Hebrew word ‘ehyeh (pronounced eh-yeh); the name Yahweh is actually the third person form of the verb and would translate “He is.” Worshipers declare, “He is!” But God explains that it means “I am.”

Paul is simply identifying Jesus as this Yahweh of the Old Testament, which is why he calls himself his servant.

The term “servant” also needs some clarification. Unlike today, a servant in those days would actually be owned by the master. He, his family, his possessions, all belonged to the master. Likewise, anyone who is the servant of the LORD, or as Paul puts it, a bond slave of Jesus Christ, no longer is his or her own; they have been bought with a price, the blood of Jesus, and are now under his absolute authority. If Jesus were just a good man, a great teacher, no such authority would be expected. But because he is God the Son, we owe him our lives. This is why in the book Paul will say that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is LORD (=Yahweh) and believe in our hearts that God has raised him from the dead, we shall be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

Believers are Called by the LORD

Paul was called to be an apostle; others are called for different works in his kingdom. But the word “called” indicates that this life-long task was not of his (or our) choosing, but God’s. Jesus called all the disciples from their jobs, and they dropped everything and followed him. That is authority. Paul’s calling was dramatic: on the road to Damascus God dramatically changed his whole life. To be called of God means that we have a new purpose in life, a new mission, a new reason for living. And that new life and mission is to worship and serve Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul was therefore separated to the Gospel. He was dedicated by God’s calling to take the good news to other lands. People do not choose ministries and avenues of service; God chooses people and equips them for the task before them.

The Gospel, or good news, that Paul was to declare was promised beforehand in the Old Testament. Once Paul came to faith in Jesus the Messiah, then all the Old Testament made complete sense to him (and he had studied it all his life). Paul’s formulation of the Gospel, that Christ Jesus died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures, was clearly drawn from the Old Testament and explained fully in the person of Jesus, the Messiah. So both Paul’s calling and his message came from God. Thus it is with all believers.

The Authority of Jesus is Based on His Deity (3, 4)

The subject matter of Romans is stated in the words “concerning His Son.” That is what Paul is writing about. He will here say two things about the Son: he was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and he was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection.

The Son of David

Jesus was born into this world as a Davidic king, in line to the throne of David, king of Judah. This is what people usually focus on at the season of Christmas--the birth to Mary in a stable, in Bethlehem, in the tribe of Judah, and of the family of David. It is familiar material for even the most irregular Church-goer.

But the text says that he was the son of David “in the sphere of” the flesh. There was a birth, to be sure, but that was not the whole story; it was only the story of his physical nature. People do not usually say someone was born into a family “in the sphere of the flesh” unless there was another sphere to consider as well. The physical birth did not mark the beginning of the Son of God, only the beginning of his physical life on earth. He entered the race through the line of David so that he would become the promised Davidic king and restore the dominion that was lost because of sin.

The Son of God

Jesus was “declared to be” or perhaps “appointed to be” the “Son of God” by the resurrection from the dead. This was not in the sphere of the flesh, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. What this means is that the resurrection from the dead demonstrated that Jesus was not just another physical descendant of David--he was the divine Son of God who had authority over death and the grave.

(Note how the doctrines are so intricately connected. It is no surprise that unbelievers try to nibble at the issue from the related themes, the resurrection, the virgin birth, the miracles, for if those are taken away, the person of the Son of God is changed).

Hebrews 1 explains how this appointment developed in the exaltation of Jesus (resurrection and ascension = exaltation; we shall study these in later sections). The writer draws upon Psalm 2 and Daniel 7:9-14 to show that Jesus is the heir to the throne of David and that he would come from heaven to claim his throne. The Bible says that the heir would become the king and have the title of Son of God when he ascended the throne (2 Sam. 7:14). So every Davidic king could claim the title “Messiah” (= “anointed one”) or “Son of God” (= heir to the kingdom of God) because of these promises. No doubt that was uppermost in Peter’s mind when he first declared his faith that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God. But Hebrews takes this all to another level because Jesus was not a normal son of David. Jesus was not crowned as a king on earth, but he died and rose again and ascended to heaven where God declared him to be the Son who “this day” (=exaltation) was begotten (from the dead; Rev. 1:5). So his exaltation inaugurated his kingship; but he awaits the second coming to put all things under his authority. This resurrection declared for all time that Jesus was not merely a mortal in the line of David with a claim to a special title; it declared that he was by nature the Son of God.

But what exactly does “Son of God” mean? We know it cannot be literal, for that would mean that the “Father” procreated him by a woman or a goddess (as the pagan religions, which had such human activities among the gods). These ideas are foreign to the true faith of the Bible. There is no heavenly consort; God has no wife; there is no goddess. And Arianism, which claimed that Jesus was the first of God’s creation, cannot be right either, for it denies too much Scripture. To understand what is meant here we have to consider several lines of revelation.

1. The “Father-Son” Language. At least 100 times in the Gospels Jesus called God His Father. Is this just a general reverence to the spark of divinity in all people (for they too can refer to God as Father), or does it actually mean He was procreated in some way, or does it have a totally different meaning?

We have to link this terminology with the claims of Jesus Himself, namely, that He was sent to earth by the Father (John 14:24; John 5:26). Or the claims of those he taught, namely that he is the eternal God who created everything (John 1). And then there is also the hostile witness of his enemies: they sought to kill him because he made himself equal with God (John 5:17). From a human point of view, that is why he died: the charge was blasphemy. Or, study the parable of the vineyard: the owner sent his son to the vineyard, and they killed him (Matt. 21:33-46). Why? Because he was the son. In other words, there would have been no cross without Jesus’ claim to be equal with God the Father and heir of all things. And everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, acknowledges that Jesus was crucified. So the point of Jesus’ use of the “Father-Son” language was meant to teach that he was equal to the Father in nature but subordinated to the Father for the mission.

2. The “Only Begotten Son” Language. The second piece of evidence we must examine is the expression “only-begotten.” It is the Greek word “monogeneis.” This is not simply “begotten,” for that expression can be applied to all believers, those who have been begotten or born again by the Spirit. This is a unique expression for a unique person, the only-begotten Son of God. The expression appears in John 1:14, 4:18, 3:16, and 3:18. It would literally mean the “only generated one.” This is the key expression for the doctrine of “the eternal generation of the Son,” meaning, he always was the only begotten Son. The expression does not refer to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, because he is the Son from eternity past.

Perhaps the language can be better understood if contrasted with synonyms. Take the verbs “make,” “create,” and “beget.” The verb “make” is general; one can make dinner, clothes, a house, or any other product. The “create” can have the same objects, but usually elevates the act to an art: one creates a masterpiece, or a work of art, or a symphony. While these creations bear the imprint of the creator, they do not share his nature. But “beget” is different. You can only beget a child that has the same nature as you have--a son or a daughter. There is nothing else you can beget (unless you were speaking very figuratively). Your son or your daughter will inherit his or her nature from you--genes, personality--all of it. You can use “make” or “create” for producing a child; but when you use “beget” it only means you produce a child that has your nature.

Now follow this carefully. If Jesus is said to be the begotten Son of God (using the figure from human language to make the point), then Jesus has the same nature as the Father. If Jesus has the same nature as God the Father, then Jesus is divine and eternal as well. If he is eternally God, then there was never a time he was literally begotten--which is why we know the language is figurative to describe his nature, and not his beginning. To call Jesus “the only begotten Son” means that he is fully divine and eternal. He is God the Son.

This is why the creed says that Jesus was “begotten, not made.” Why? Because he is of one substance with the Father.

One more point. The word “begotten” has “only” (mono-) prefixed to it. There is only one. This means that Jesus has a unique relationship with the Father--they two along with the Holy Spirit make up the Godhead. You and I, if we are believers, have been born into the family of God--we are said to be begotten of God. But we are not “only-begotten.” That refers to Jesus’ divine nature. We were adopted by grace and given the divine nature by the Spirit so that we may be called the children of God. But Jesus--he is very God of very God. He is the only-begotten Son of God (that is the part of the creed that reads “of very God”), which means that he is God (that is the part that reads “very God”).

3. The “I Am” Language. The third line of evidence concerns the Lord Jesus Christ’s use of “I am.” Although there are times when “I am” in Jesus’ words mean simply “It is I,” or “I am here,” there are a number of occasions where it clearly means that he was identifying himself as the “I Am” of the Bible. In the Old Testament the great “I am” revelation has numerous predications that make amazing claims: I am with you always, I am your healer, I am your rock, I am the first and the last, I am Yahweh and there is no other,” etc. And so too do we find Jesus’ revelation of himself making similar claims: I am the way, the truth, and the life; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the good shepherd; I am the door; I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, etc.”

But there are certain passages that stick out because of their claims of “I am” without predicates. In John 8:58 the Pharisees were disputing over the identity of Jesus, and Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day (perhaps a vision of the sacrificial death of Jesus). They challenged this statement because Jesus was not yet fifty years old. Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” And they wanted to kill him for blasphemy. In that very same chapter, verses 24 and 28, Jesus said, “unless you believe that I am … .” Now, if you compare Isaiah 43:10, 11, you will see that same thing being said by God in the Old Testament. Clearly, Jesus was equating himself with Yahweh, the I Am of the Old Testament. These and other passages shop that Jesus was identifying himself with God. Finally, in John 10:30 Jesus declared “I and the Father are one.”

All these claims and works of Jesus would have fallen flat after his death if he had not risen from the grave. But he did rise from the grave, and ascended into heaven, and will come again to judge the world. That resurrection declared that he was indeed the Son of God, not in a general sense, but in his nature equal with the Father. He is the one who came into the world as Immanuel, God with us, and not merely one born in time.

The Authority of Christ Calls for Devotion (5-7)

What is the effect of this on all who believe in Jesus? There are three listed here: (1) We receive grace and peace through Jesus Christ; (2) we receive a commission to serve him in this life; and (3) we must be set apart to him, sanctified, for he is our Lord and our God.

If Jesus is not the divine, eternal Son of God, of one substance with the Father, then all Christian worship of him is idolatrous. But if he is the true and living Lord, then all worship must be in Christ Jesus, for no one comes to the Father except by the Son

Related Topics: Christology

4. The Son of God, Creator, Redeemer, Light of Life

Introduction

The human dilemma cannot be solved by human efforts; for when we observe the world around us, or the world at any point in history, we find disaster. In the place of grace we find indifference, animosity, and even cruelty; and in the place of truth we find deception and confusion. The Bible describes the spiritual condition of the unbelievers in the world as dead in trespasses and sins, and walking in darkness, that is, ignorant of the truth and living in sin and despair. Darkness in the Bible signifies life in sin away from God; and death is its punishment. If the world is spiritually dead and enveloped in spiritual darkness, it cannot possibly find spiritual life and light -- apart from a work of sovereign grace.

And so the good news of the gospel is that God entered the human race, breathed life into believing human beings by his Spirit, and transferred them into his marvelous light. Thus, they are alive in him, walking in the light, and looking for the glorious appearance of the one who is the light and the life. The Nicene Creed focuses on the nature of the Son in this great incarnation by affirming that he is

“God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven … .”

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel we have these truths clearly stated. There are four parts of the teaching developed here: the nature of the Word, the witness of the Word, the regeneration by the Word, and the revelation from the Word.

I. The Nature of the Word (John 1:1-5)

A. He is the eternal, divine Word.

The first five verses of the chapter describe our Lord Jesus Christ as the source of life and light -- the very antithesis of the spiritual condition of the world.

What strikes you first is the fact that he is called the “Word.” It is the Greek term logos. What is clear from this is that “Word” describes Jesus as the one who completely reveals the Father (see v. 18). He is the full expression of the Godhead, the Alpha and Omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, indicating he is the complete revelation). He is the first word of creation, and the last word of Revelation.

But there is more, much more, here, and we shall only begin to uncover it. Throughout the Old Testament God was described frequently in human terms (we call those expressions anthropomorphisms, from the Greek words for “man” and “form,” meaning God is described in human terms). The writers described God as if he had hands and feet, or ears and eyes; he was said to laugh, ridicule, turn his back, come down for a closer look, and all kinds of all too human descriptions. They were figures of speech to communicate what God is like on our terms so that we could understand. These were the words used to describe God. But in the fulness of the time God sent his Son into the world to reveal God fully, and all those “words” became literally and historically true: God did come down to earth, and as Jesus he did have ears and eyes and hands and feet--he lived out the revelation of God and so is called the “incarnate Word,” the revelation of God in human flesh. In this he not only fulfilled Scripture but became the culmination of all revelation (Heb.1:1,2).

John offers three descriptions of the Word. First, he was in the beginning. Actually, the article “the” is not present in the text; it simply has “in beginning.” So before anything else, before the creation in Genesis even, the Son of God was there. He is beyond time; he is eternal. Second, John says he was with God. The idea of “with” is that the Son had a close and intimate existence with God the Father. Before time began the Father and Son were together as one, a relationship that is unparalleled in existence. And third, John says he was God. This does not mean that the Son was a divine creature, a heavenly creature, a lesser god (among many), a former creation who became a deity--no, it simply declares that he was God, equal with the Father and the Spirit. So the passage opens by declaring that Jesus Christ is both divine and eternal.

B. He is the sovereign creator.

If verses 1 and 2 describe the nature of the Word, verse 3 describes his power. He created everything that exists. This idea is taught in Psalm 33:6-9, Colossians 1:16, and Hebrews 1:2. So the Word reveals the Father, but the initial revelation of the Father is the creation, for the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19).

We have seen that God the Father is the creator; now we learn that was all done by the Son. We cannot sort out all the distinctions here, but in general it should be noted that every work of God involves the entire Godhead, for while there are three persons in the Godhead there is one God. For every work, the Father decrees it, the Son does it, and the Spirit enables it to be done. So the Bible will mention at different times the work of God in different terms. The Son, in this place, is declared to be the active agent of creation. Nothing exists that was not made by him. But it came from the Father’s decree; and it was accomplished through the Spirit’s hovering over the deep and preparing for creation (Gen. 1:2).

Now, as you read Genesis 1 carefully you will notice that the predominant theme is that the means or creation was the spoken word of God. “And God said” occurs ten times (which the teachers of Israel observed paralleled the ten commandments for humans). As God commanded nature and all forms of life, the different parts of creation came into existence or took form. John is telling us that the living Word, Jesus Christ, spoke the creative word in Genesis. In fact, there is also a subtle word play in Genesis that brings out this connection: in Hebrew “let there be” (yehi) is the shortened spelling of the verb “to be” which in the longer spelling is the holy name “Yahweh,” which the LORD interpreted to Moses to mean “I AM.” So John indicates that the Word of God created everything; and in Genesis the I AM was the One who said “Let there be,” and “there was.”

C. He is the life and the light.

Now John turns to Jesus’ mission. One of the major themes in the book is that Jesus is the life: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”; “I came that they might have life”; “I am the resurrection and the life” (see, for example, John 5:26, 6:57, 10:10, 14:6). Not only did the Son of God create life, he holds it together by his powerful word (Heb. 1:2), and he is able to give it again if we should die (John 11). He is life, in the fullest sense of the term. There is no life without him.

This life, Jesus Christ, is the light of all humankind. Recall that the light was the first thing created in Genesis--“Let there be light.” Its purpose was to dispel the darkness that covered the earth. And so light became a symbol of God, his nature, his reign over the earth. Those who remained in darkness, meaning sin, oppression, war, and gloom, Isaiah predicted, would see a great light (Isa. 9:2) in the region of Galilee of the nations. Jesus came preaching in Galilee, announcing, “I am the light of the world.” Light represents life and understanding, or the truth. He came to reveal the Father, and by so doing guide people in the way of righteousness.

But even though the Word is life and light, that light, that truth, was not “apprehended” by people who are in darkness. The term conveys to us that those who are in sin and unbelief neither understand nor receive the truth, They cannot, for light and darkness are mutually exclusive. Darkness cannot apprehend the light, meaning, sinners cannot receive Jesus and remain in sin. Light invades and destroys darkness; when Jesus enters a life, that life is transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. But darkness itself cannot apprehend the truth. T. S. Eliot in “Ash Wednesday” writes:

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent

If the unheard, unspoken

Word is unspoken, unheard;

Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,

The Word without a word, the Word within

The world and for the world;

And the light shone in darkness and

Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled

About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done to thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word

Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence

Not on the sea or on the islands, not

On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,

For those who walk in darkness

Both in the day time and in the night time

The right time and the right place are not here

No place of grace for those who avoid the face

No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and

deny the voice.

So the Word is the light that shines in darkness; but the darkness does not apprehend it--not without the grace of God.

II. The Witness to the Word (John 1:6-8)

The discussion now turns to the witness of John the Baptist. Verse 6 introduces him: “There was a man sent from God.” Even the witness to the light was sent from God, so thorough was the preparation for the revelation of the incarnation.

Then, in verses 7 and 8 he describes his mission: he came as a witness (the word is martyr) to the light. The witness points to Christ, and Christ reveals the Father. So how do people get to God? --through Jesus Christ. And where do they find Jesus Christ? --witnesses point to him. The darkness, that is, the unbelieving world, needs someone to guide them to the light. Today, all Christians are to be witnesses. But as the prophets would say, woe to the witnesses who do not point people to the light.

John the Baptist, verse 8 clarifies, was not the light. This is repeated in verses 19-33 where he himself disclaimed, saying, “I am not the Messiah.” What was he then? A voice. He was a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare a way for the Lord, as the prophets had foretold (Isa. 40). All too often today many witnesses blur the distinction, and make themselves lights to be followed, make themselves the center of their ministry or their church. Witnesses, whether ministers or not, have to say clearly, “I am not the light!” “I am a witness to the light.” I am a voice. “He is the one you should follow.”

III. The Regeneration by the Word (John 1:9-13)

A. The true light illumines everyone (9).

John was not the light. There was a true light coming into the world, and that was Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. When the text says that the true light illumines everyone, it does not mean that everyone will be converted and enter heaven’s kingdom. That is clear from the Bible as a whole, and from Jesus’ preaching as well (“repent, or you shall perish”). What is meant here is clarified by the work that the Holy Spirit does today, continuing what Jesus began (according to Acts): he convicts the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8). The Holy Spirit works in the earth with this ministry so that everyone receives some degree of light, some knowledge and some conviction; how they respond to the light they receive will determine whether or not God sends them more light (see the story of Cornelius in Acts). Well, this is what Jesus did when he walked on earth--he revealed the will of the Father and called people to repentance--and it is what he continues to do today through the Holy Spirit.

B. The world knew him not (10,11).

The sad report of verse 10 is that the world did not know him (compare Isaiah 1:3). When Jesus came into the world, that world was so blinded by sin that it did not recognize who he truly was. It still does not, even though most people know something about Jesus.

John is using the word “world” in a couple of ways. First, it is a place: Jesus came into the world, a place that was made by him. Second, it refers to the present evil system and members of Satan’s domain--“the world (people) knew him not.” Verse 11 makes the point again; and John 12:37 explains that they simply did not believe in him, so they could never truly know him.

C. Those who receive him are regenerated (12,13).

Those who respond to the light by faith, that is, those who believe in Jesus Christ, are given the authority to become the children of God. This is a different word than that which is used to describe God’s own Son. We enter the family of God by faith in Jesus; and when we do God imparts to us light and life, that is, spiritual understanding and eternal life. If we try to gain all the understanding before entering the kingdom by faith, we will never enter. We have to respond to the amount of light given to us with faith before we receive more.

John explains that becoming a child of God is not a natural process (v. 13). This is a spiritual birth (read John 3 about Nicodemus). It is not a physical birth (“not of blood”), nor is it even by human decision (“not of the will of the flesh”), nor of a father (“not of the will of man”). It is a spiritual birth, a new birth, what the Bible calls regeneration. And while many professing Christians prefer not to talk about being “born again” or about the “new birth,” (as if it was some strange expression from the fundamentalist circles) Jesus did, and he said that was the only way anyone was ever going to get into heaven.

Regeneration is the divinely mysterious act by which the Word enters the human spirit, raises that person from spiritual death (alienation from God) and spiritual darkness (ignorance of God), and gives that person spiritual life (union with God forever) and spiritual understanding (illumination by the Spirit through the written word). It is a work of God; but from our perspective it happens when we by faith accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There is no salvation, no eternal life, no acceptance with God, without this spiritual transformation.

Regeneration is not a process throughout life: there is a point in our life when we pass from death to life, from darkness to light, from being separated from God to being accepted by God. It will take the rest of our lives to work it out in every area of our lives, and to learn more and more, but regeneration itself refers to when we are born into the family of God--it is our salvation.

IV. The Revelation from the Word (John 1:14-18)

A. The Word became flesh (14a).

So the first part of his coming into the world was to bring light to all. The second part of the mission of Jesus was to reveal the Father; and this is done simultaneously with illumination and regeneration in many cases. But in general it happened at the incarnation.

Here, then, is the basic passage for the doctrine of incarnation (carn, “flesh,” into flesh). The text says that the Word took to himself flesh and “tabernacled” among us--pitched his tent. The background, of course, is the Israelite experience in the wilderness with their tabernacle or tent of meeting. Once Israel put up the tent, the glory of the LORD entered it and dwelt among them, concealed from their view by the tenting. That brilliant, luminous cloud that had represented God’s presence through the wilderness now was dwelling in the holy of holies. John is saying that the flesh of Jesus is like that tent, both enabling the glorious Lord to dwell among his people and concealing his glory from their view. Jesus, then, is the same LORD of glory in the Old Testament who dwelt among people; but now that dwelling is more fully expressed in the incarnation.

B. The glory was revealed (14b).

John says that they saw his glory. I think that in the fullest sense this is referring to the transfiguration (Matt. 17) where John and the two other disciples saw the glory transform the appearance of Jesus (see also Rev. 1). But it also means that they witnessed the unique splendor of the life and work of Jesus in their midst. They saw the miracles, heard the teachings, witnessed the death, and celebrated the resurrection appearances. The glory they saw was the glory of the only begotten of the Father, and the resurrection declared that once and for all.

The glory that John describes was “full of grace and truth.” We see so little grace or truth today--it is a struggle to maintain either, or both. Some folks you meet may be very gracious, but at the cost of the truth; others may hold fast to the truth, but exhibit not an ounce of grace or compassion. Jesus not only had a perfect balance of grace and truth, but a full measure of each. He was unique in this, but then he is unique--he is the living Word, the glorious God who provides life and light to us. And the only way the human dilemma could ever be resolved was for God himself to come into this world and tabernacle among people for the expressed purpose of bringing life and light to the world.

C. The eternal word brought grace and truth to us (15-18).

John prefaces his remarks to remind us that Jesus is the pre-existing Word. He was younger than John the Baptist, but preceded him as well. In the proper time God brought grace and truth to mankind in the person of his Son, Jesus the Messiah, the Lord of glory. Apart from the ministry of the Son of God in this world, there is no salvation, no hope, no light or life. But because Jesus is the Lord of glory, he has redeemed us, and we worship him.

Related Topics: Christology, Creation

5. And Was Made Man

The Doctrine Of The Incarnation

The doctrine of the incarnation is central to the Christian faith because it is central to the eternal plan of God. Without this doctrine, Jesus is just another human being; without this doctrine there is no salvation for us in him; and without this doctrine it is wrong for people to worship him. Today, many people, including theologians and church leaders unfortunately, would be just as happy to say that Jesus was just a prophet, or a great teacher, as Islam and Judaism would allow; but the Bible says more than that, much more--and not simply in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament prophecies about the person and work of the Messiah.

It is a fundamental teaching of the historic Christian faith that God came into this world in mortal flesh to redeem us. The word “incarnation” means “in flesh.” And John declares this truth very early: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1 and 14). This is how the prophecy of Isaiah about “Immanuel,” God with us,” came about (Isa. 7:14). Paul writes, “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law” (Gal. 4:4). There was a birth in Bethlehem, but that birth was anything but natural. It was the birth of Jesus, a Jewish man from Galilee; but it was in that birth that God the Son entered the human race. The one born to the virgin Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit; he would be fully human, but he would also be divine--this is his twofold nature. Thus, Isaiah was very precise as it turns out when he wrote that a child would be born, but a Son would be given (Isa. 9:6).

About a thousand years ago Anselm expounded on this doctrine in his classic work, Why God Became Man (Cur Deos Homo). He eloquently discussed what the Bible clearly teaches about the person of Jesus Christ. It was God’s plan for the human race to triumph over sin, death, and the grave; but there was no human qualified or able to do this, for all are sinful and need salvation themselves. And so God himself would have to enter the human race , become one with his creation, in order to bring about the victory. He would be fully human, living out every aspect of mortality through to the suffering of a horrible death; but he would also remain divine, fully able to conquer sin, the temptor, death and the grave--and fully qualified to do it because he alone was free from sin. The entire process of the incarnation is a mystery to us, as are most of God’s works (once we acknowledge God exists, however, then anything is possible with him, whether we understand it or not). Anselm observed that God had formed a man (Adam) without a father and a mother; and that he had formed a woman (Eve) without a father or a mother nor by natural reproduction through a mother, but from as man; and so he could form Jesus, without the natural reproduction of parents, but using a woman. And by entering the human race this way, the Son had to lay aside the use of some of his divine attributes for a while (this is the doctrine of the kenosis, which we will consider below).

The angel announced to Mary and Joseph that the holy child who would be born of Mary would be conceived by the Holy Spirit (see Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 2:26-38). The child would not have a human father to pass on his nature; and neither would the child draw his human nature from the mother who would give birth to him. This was a special creation by the Holy Spirit so that the child Jesus would not be born with a sin nature. The doctrine of the virgin birth is necessary because as God in the flesh Jesus had to be sinless in order to save those who were sinners. The Church of Rome argues that Jesus did draw his nature from Mary, and so it has taught that Mary also had to be sinless (the doctrine of the immaculate conception). But the Scripture nowhere teaches that Mary was sinless in order to give birth to the Savior.

That issue aside, we must focus on the clear teaching of the Bible that Jesus was born of a virgin through the work of the Holy Spirit so that he was fully human and fully divine and completely sinless.

It is very important that Christians be clear on this teaching. Jesus Christ was not just another man--although he certainly was a man. He was not just another prophet--although he certainly was a prophet. Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. When God the Son entered into the human race, his creation, he did so to redeem it. When he arose from the dead and ascended into heaven, he was returning to his eternal home in glory. But something had changed through the incarnation, forever! There is now a “God-man” in heaven preparing for our arrival. Because Jesus is there as a glorified man as well as the glorious eternal divine Son, the way is open for all of us humans to enter in and share his glorious estate.

If Jesus is not God (note I am saying “God,” not “a god” or “a divine person” or “a supernatural person”), then it is wrong for us to worship him. That would be idolatry. But we do worship him because he is God. When he was here on earth he revealed by his words and his mighty works that he was indeed God with us. And his enemies certainly understood this, for they put him to death under the charge of blasphemy (if he had never claimed to be God they would not have had a case against him). And then his resurrection from the dead proved him to be the Son of God (Rom. 1:1-7).

Today there are a lot of theologians and ministers who argue that the deity of Jesus was a later idea made up by the early Christians to compete with the Roman idea of a divine emperor. They contend that primitive Christianity did not have the doctrine, but the early church needed a God to compete with Rome and with Judaism, and so they developed the ideas about Jesus. But the facts of the life and especially the death and resurrection of Jesus make it clear that this was no later idea inserted into the creeds of the faith or the Bible itself--the whole Gospel assount is a single theme--how the divine Son of God came into the world to redeem us. And besides, the early Christians were already worshiping him as God. Moreover, the doctrine of the incarnation was why the Christian faith had been such a stumbling block to so many people in the first century--and continues to be so today. But Paul holds firm to the essentials of the faith:

“The mystery of godliness is great:

he appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached on in the world,
was taken up into glory” (1Tim. 2:16).

And the apostle John in the beginning of the Book of Revelation sees a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory, and hears him declare, “I am the first and the last, the living one. I was dead; but I am alive for ever more. And I hold the keys of death and hades” (Rev. 1:17b, 18). This is the language that was used in the prophets, especially Isaiah, for the true LORD God. Jesus is that LORD God. But he declares there that he came into the world and died, but is now alive for ever more. That is the description of the incarnation; that is the Son of God having come down and being made man, but now in glory again.

We must also note that the doctrine of the incarnation is bound up with the doctrine of the trinity, or more precisely, the tri-unity of the Godhead. And this is the greater mystery of the faith. The Nicene Creed is arranged according to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; but it does not attempt to articulate the meaning. God is one essence, but exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (not three people, but three persons of one essence). All three persons are at once and fully God. All persons of the Godhead are fully active in any and every work of God--the Father decrees, the Son fulfills, and the Spirit empowers. But the Son is also fully human now, because divinity and humanity were joined in him. The two natures of Jesus are designated the hypostatic union by theologians; but this is not something we can fully understand as humans.

To speak of the incarnation, then, is to speak of the nature of Jesus Christ the Son of God as human as well as divine. But to speak of the incarnation also opens the discussion to God’s plan of redemption for a race that is hopelessly lost in sin.

A Biblical Exposition Of Philippians 2:1-11

In Philippians 2 we have the doctrinal record of what the incarnation meant to our Lord. But Paul does not discuss the doctrine for the sake of doctrine alone--his chapter is concerned with how Christians serve one another, in humility, as our Lord came to serve us and to redeem us. And this is the way it should be--all doctrine is meant to inform us of the faith and to direct us in our Christlike devotion and service.

Paul first makes it clear that the greatest cause of sin is pride, and the greatest Christian virtue is humility. Through pride Satan sinned and plunged himself and a third of the angels with him into darkness. Through pride Adam and Eve sinned and plunged the human race and its world into sin. Human pride has always been at the root of sins, the cause of dissension, disagreement and wars, and the reason for the lack of understanding, forgiveness and service. Because of pride the human race was lost and cannot save itself--ever.

But through an act of humility, the greatest act of humility, God redeemed us and restored us as his new creation. Thereupon, to be a Christian is to be like Christ, even though there are some aspects of that we resist. And so Paul, in teaching the church about humility, tells it to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, who left his glory and became a human in order to redeem us and to form us into one body. Without a Christ-like humility, we will not maintain any semblance of the body that Christ established.

I. Humility is the means of achieving unity (1-4).

Philippians is best known by students of the Bible as the source of the doctrine of the kenosis (the word is derived from the verb in the passage that says that Jesus “emptied” himself and became a human). Theologians spend their time trying to determine exactly what that meant (and well they should try to determine this); but all too often folks miss the point that Paul is trying to get across, the point that he illustrates with the doctrine of the kenosis, namely, an appeal for unity based on a Christ-like humility.

A. The appeal is based on four Christian virtues (2:1).

Four conditional clauses are in verse 1 (Paul is not raising doubts about these, but assumes they exist when he says “if there be . . .”). First is exhortation in Christ. The word “exhortation” means counsel, rebuke, comfort (the same basic word for the Comforter, the Holy Spirit as paraclete). Paul is saying that if we received the work of the Spirit that exhorts us--which we did--then unity should follow.

Second, Paul says “if there be any consolation of love” (that is, love that encourages). Since we share in God’s love, that love should unite us. No one earned a share of God’s love, so there is no room for pride.

Third is the fellowship of the Spirit. If the same Spirit indwells us then there ought to be fellowship among us.

Fourth is compassion. This word refers to that feeling of tender compassion that a mother has for the child, brother for brother, or the like relationship. If there is any such compassion, there will be unity.

The point of verse 1 is that we do have all these things in Christ because we are the recipients of grace. And if we have these, they will inevitably lead to unity. As we had to humble ourselves to receive the grace of God, we must humble ourselves to achieve spiritual unity.

B. The appeal is for Christian unity (2:2-4).

The appeal is recorded in verse 2; it has four parts to it that correspond to the four virtues of verse 1. Paul first appeals for us to be of the same mind. This is not a unity of the flesh (as verse 5 will clarify). This corresponds to the first clause of verse 1, or being in Christ--if we are all in Christ, then we should all be of one mind.

The other ideas are still a part of this grand theme of unity. The second idea is to have the same love (this corresponds to “if there is consolation of love”); the third is to be of one accord (literally of one spirit), and the fourth is to be of one purpose (the one purpose should correspond to the tender mercies and compassions in Christ).

Then, in verses 3 and 4 Paul explains how to achieve this unity. On the negative side, he says that we should do nothing for selfish ambition (this is difficult for our “me” generation). If we do something only to serve ourselves, then it is of the flesh--and Jesus would say we have had all the reward we shall get. But selfish ambition will also destroy unity.

On the positive side Paul says that we are to count each other better than ourselves. As we look around us, do we think that we are better than all of these people? (Do not confuse talents here with qualities--obviously some people are better at certain things than others--but this is asking the question of value to God). Do we think that we are more valuable to God than others around us? That is pride; it will destroy unity and harmony. Pride fixes its eyes on the flaws and imperfections of others and overlooks the same in oneself. Humility says that we are recipients of grace, and God resists the proud. Humility is self-abasing and generous; pride is self-centered and arrogant.

II. The humility of our Lord is our pattern (2:5-11).

Now Paul brings in the incarnation. He does not leave us with all these instructions; he provides us with a pattern, a model for Godly humility--Jesus Christ the Lord. The passage is rather detailed, and would take some time to study (there are books written on these verses). But two predominant points emerge.

A. Humility is charactarized by self-sacrificing love (2:5-8).

“Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus.” We say, “I have a mind to do such or so.” So here Paul uses that kind of language to tell us that our attitude and our purpose in life should be the same as Christ’s. Even though he was of the same essence as God, he did not think that being equal with God was something to grasp or cling to, but he emptied himself.

The construction of verses 6 and 7 is a little complicated, but two key verbs clarify it. The first verb is “he emptied himself” (the Greek verb is kenoo [pronounced ken-AH-oh]). To understand this verb we have to look at the two clauses that come before it. The first clause is “exisiting in the form of God.” The word “form” here refers to the inner essence. Jesus was and is of the same essence as the Father--he is divine. The second clause is “he did not consider being equal with God something to cling to.” When Jesus “emptied himself” he relinquished his rights, or the free use of his divine rights--he set aside his self-willed use of the attributes of deity. He did not cease being deity; but he surrendered his right to manifest his power and his glory for the purpose of the incarnation. We have to be careful when we explain how he emptied himself. He was, and always is, divine. But he set aside the use of some of his attributes for the purpose of his earthly ministry.

Not so with human pride. Pride clings to its rights, to its power, and is unwilling to give them up. If someone achieved such power as Jesus had, pride would probably flaunt it rather than surrender it to the service of others.

Paul then explains what it meant for Jesus to empty himself in this way: “taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of man.” Note the contrast: he was the “form” of God (inner essence), and now would be the form of a servant; he was equal with God, but now he would have the “likeness” of a man (and the word here refers to the outer form). He was similar to a human, especially in outer form, but he was not exactly human--he did not share the human essence, whish is sinful. How did this come about? When he emptied himself for the incarnation?

The second key word in the section is “he humbled himself” (v. 8). This picks up where the last clause left off: being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself. It was one thing to leave glory and take the form of a human--that is emptying. But it is another thing altogether to suffer and die on the cross--that is humbling. Humbling is submissive obedience at great personal cost. In Christ we find the greatest act of obedience, and the most humbling act. Rather than fighting off death and resisting it, he willingly submitted to it, so that others might be saved. Here is the greatest heroic act the world has ever seen.

B. Humility is reward by exaltation (2:9-11).

Having shown the great humility of our LORD in the service of the divine will, Paul now describes the reward for it. God exalts the humble--and God the Father exalted Christ above everything else. Note the structure of the passage: “God exalted him” is antithetically parallel to “he humbled himself.” And the statement “God gave him a name” is in contrast to “he emptied himself.” So two verbs here reverse the two verbs given earlier. That name will ultimately bring all creation to its knees before the Lord Jesus Christ, to acknowledge his deity. The beginning of this exaltation is recorded in Hebrews 1 (and we shall look at that at a later point in the creed).

The lesson of the passage is clear enough: unity in the church comes when the recipients of grace pattern their lives after Christ and respond to one another with the humility of a servant. The doctrine in the passage explains in greater detail what it meant for the Son of God to enter into this world as a human and to die for us. When we simply say “and became man” in the creed, we need to think what that must have meant for the eternal LORD God, the Son, our Savior. But because he became man, we have been redeemed, and he shall be highly exalted. We shall focus more on this in the next lesson on the creed.

Related Topics: Incarnation

6. The Death, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah

The Gospel

The “Gospel” is a term that is used for a number of things in Christianity; it means “good news” essentially. The word is used for one or more of the four books of the Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are the four “gospels.” But the word is also used very precisely for the central doctrines of the Christian faith concerning Jesus, namely his death, burial and resurrection.

Paul clearly states that the Gospel that he preached is that Jesus died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures. Paul says:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he as raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

Paul then goes on to declare that Jesus made many appearances that proved that he did rise from the dead. And so the creed says:

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures.

The point is that the Christian Gospel is not simply the facts of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, but those facts understood in accordance with what the Scriptures say. In other words, the death of Jesus has to be understood in accordance with what Scripture teaches about it--who this Jesus was who died, why his death was so important, what kind of death it was, and what it accomplished. Likewise, the burial and the resurrection have to be understood in the way that Scripture teaches--what exactly it teaches about his resurrection, why it was important, what it proved, and how it relates to his exaltation to glory.

This would mean that we must first be clear on who Jesus is. If he is not God manifest in the flesh, if he is not the divine Son of God, then his death would be at best a martydom, a great act of love and devotion--but it would not have saved anyone, it would not have made atonement.

This would also mean that we would have to be clear on why he suffered and died. Scripture teaches that it was for our sins that he died (he did not deserve to die), the just for the unjust. His death was a vicarious substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world. And Scripture also teaches that his death was an atonement. In other words, it was not just a physical death. For the divine Son to die was the equivalent of the human race suffering the second death, eternal separation from God. Christ, the eternal one, was separated from the Father spiritually on our behalf when he died on the cross.

This would also mean that there was a complete death, and so he was buried. He did not swoon, or faint, or go into a coma to be revived. He died, and was buried. It was a real death.

And if it was a real death, this would also mean that it was a real resurrection, one who was dead actually coming back to life. The resurrection proved that his death was an atoning sacrifice, that it accomplished what it was accomplish, and that it authenticated all of Christ’s claims.

It would take much longer to explain all the details about the Gospel that are contained in the Scripture. This is the task of the churches in their teaching and preaching ministry in the word of God. And we have our entire lifetime to focus on these truths and discover all that God has done for us. But perhaps it would be most helpful in this brief survey to look at the cardinal Old Testament prophecy about the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah, Isaiah 52:15--53:12. The song is written in the past tense, as if it had alrready happened; but that is normal for the prophets who saw the visions and described what they had seen (called “seers”). We know from the contents of this song that its ultimate meaning is in Jesus the Messiah, for Jesus claimed to be the servant who came into the world to give his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28), and the apostles knew that this song was a vivid picture of the suffering of the Lord Jesus on the cross and so quoted from it in their epistles (see 1 Peter 2:21-25).

A Biblical Exposition

Isaiah 52:15--53:12 is the fourth of the so-called Servant Songs in the book, and the most powerful of them all. The prophet Isaiah does not always identify the servant in the oracles; at times it seems it could be referring to the righteous remnant in Israel, at times to the prophet, at times to other servants that God might use. But in this passage, a song about the suffering servant, the meaning clearly breaks free from any Old Testament application and finds fulfillment in the Messiah, the Christ--Jesus. Much of the song talks about how the innocent suffer for the sins of others, but when it comes to speaking about the LORD placing the sins of others on this one’s back so that he could justify them, the passage can have no other fulfillment but in the saving death of Jesus, the Christ.2 And so this song is about the ideal suffering servant, the one whose suffering goes beyond anything that mere mortals could accomplish in their suffering.

Down through history the sufferer has been the astonishment and stumblingblock of humanity. Ancient barbarians simply removed them from society. More civilized people have dealt more kindly; but sufferers still pose a problem for philosophers and medical doctors, and a test for the faith of religious people. People have a hard time seeing any profit in suffering; rather, it is considered a tragedy, an inconvenience that hinders progress, a fate to be avoided.

But for the Christian the point of suffering should be clearer. In summary, we may say that the Scriptures teach that it is the will of God that believers suffer--not all the time, not all the same, and some very little. That is not to say that God enjoys it, or that people should seek it. But the Bible says that it is inevitable. Jesus said that if the world hated him, it would hate us as well. Paul said all who live Godly lives in this world will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3), and that it was given to us to believe and to suffer (Phil. 1:29). And Peter explains that Christ’s death, revealed so fully in Isaiah, is both our justification and our sample to follow so that we might know how to suffer (1 Pet. 2:19-23). Moreover, our Lord himself learned obedience through the things that he suffered (Heb. 5:8)--and if that is true of the sinless Son of God, how much more is it true of us? All of these teachings simply say that suffering is inevitable in this life, especially if we seek to live a righteous life of spiritual service.

The sample for us to follow in our suffering--if it comes--is the suffering of Jesus Christ our Lord. It is displayed graphically in the prophecy of Isaiah, written centuries before the actual death of Jesus. Isaiah displays the ideal sufferer, but never names him. That identification had to await the fulness of time, when Jesus claimed, and the disciples could see, that Jesus was fulfilling Isaiahs oracles.

The song is divided into five sections or stanzas of three verses each. The first line of each stanza gives a summary of that section. And, the entire first stanza is a summary or an overview of all that the song will say.

I. “My Servant Shall Prosper”
The suffering leads to glory (52:13-15).

A. My servant shall be exalted (52:13).

The grand theme of the entire song is summed up in the first three verses: the servant who endured such suffering will eventually be exalted on high to the amazement of all the world. He will be highly exalted--and the means of this exaltation is that he will “deal wisely” or “wisely prosper.” The verb describes prudent and practical wisdom that finds success doing the will of God. He will live wisely before God and therefore prosper. Jeremiah 23:5 associates this verb with Messiah’s receiving the kingdom.

Since the song will describe his death, the exaltation here assumes a resurrection. This passage does not explain that precisely, but other passages do. There could be no exaltation of one who stayed dead.

B. The exaltation will contrast with the humiliation (14, 15).

The theme of the humiliation is now developed: earlier, many were aghast or astonished at him because his form was so marred (literally ruined, spoiled). His appearance was so changed by affliction that kings were astonished that such a one should be exalted over them (v. 15). He will startle3_ftn2 these kings, for they will see what they never thought could have happened.

The point to be made here is that the suffering servant will ultimately prosper with God because he dealt wisely--he did the will of God. He has insight, and so his suffering is practical. He endures the suffering because he knows it is leading somewhere--to glory. Pain in God’s service will lead to glory (2 Cor. 4); and the pain in the sacrifice of Christ Jesus will lead to the greatest glory, his glory for ever, for he will reign as king of kings and Lord of Lords--to the amazement of all.

II. “Who has believed?”
The suffering is offensive (53:1-3).

A. The report meets with disbelief (1).

If we may paraphrase this verse, we would say, “No one ever imagined this!” For ages, the prophet predicts, people would not believe the word that such a suffering servant could be at the heart of God’s redemptive plan and would eventually be exalted on high. Isaiah uses a series of questions to make this point: the penitent would reflect on this, and eventually realize it--who would have imagined?

B. The suffering is observed (2, 3).

The response to his sufferings is so true to life: they are at first thought to make him insignificant, and then they are considered to be offensive. First, he was considered insignificant. Who would have thought that a carpenter’s son from Nazareth would figure in the eternal plan of God this way? He was just a tender plant out of parched ground, nothing great and glorious. Certainly not kingly. He did not appeal to them in any kingly way so that they might rally to him.

But then the more they observed them his sufferings became offensive: he was despised (v. 3). His life was filled with grief and sorrows, so that people turned away their faces. In short, they did not “esteem” him--they did not think much of him, especially in this condition, so they wrote him off, as it were.

These words point out a habit we all share, the habit of letting the sight of suffering blind us to the meaning. We don’t like to look on anyone who is suffering or even disabled. We forget that such conditions have a purpose and a future and a God. We make snap judgments about sufferers and their value to life in general or to God. The point is that suffering is a part of God’s plan to remind us of the human predicament we share, to bring us out of ourselves in sympathy and patience, and to eventually fit us for glory. It was certainly so in the case of Christ, more so than imagineable.

III. “Surely our griefs”
The suffering is vicarious (53:4-6).

A. The servant’s suffering is punishment (4).

The earliest and most common moral judgment that people make about pain is that which is implied in its name--it is penal. People think that those who suffer do so because God is angry with them and punishing them. That is exactly what Job’s three friends argued relentlessly. Here, the people say in the words of the Isaiah the prophet, ‘we saw the suffering servant and thought that God was striking him severely.

But now they knew they were partially wrong. The hand of God was indeed against the sufferer, but the sin was not his, but theirs. It was penal--but he did not deserve it.

B. The punishment of the servant was vicarious and redemptive (5, 6).

As we read these two verses, we must note the contrast between the “he” expressions and the “our” expressions. In the first set we see that he endured the suffering, we had the sins that deserved the suffering, and so his sufferings were vicarious--for others.

The second set shows that the sufferings were also redemptive: “our peace” and “we are healed.” The pain was the consequence of our sin; and the peace that is ours was the consequence of his suffering. Thus, the suffering was not only vicarious, but now redemptive.

This truth is confessed by Israel in verse 6. The verse begins and ends with the word “all.” So the substitutionary suffering of this servant touches all who have sinned; it benefits all who acknowledge his suffering with these correct words: “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

In every family, in every nation, innocent people often suffer for the guilty. So vicarious suffering is not unique to the Messiah. It is part of human life. Vicarious suffering is not a curse; it is part of the service we have to God and to mankind. People like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah went into the captivity with the sinners and the idolaters--they did not deserve to go. But they were able to use it as an opportunity to proclaim God’s word. Even on a lesser note we know that parents who suffer for their children when they are sick or in need understand the impulse of vicarious suffering. People in a country suffer because of the mistakes of leaders or previous generations. We may suffer because we deserve it; but we may also suffer because of others, or out of love for others in service to other people. That is noble and magnificent: greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15). But it is limited--it cannot save another person.

So then, as great as vicarious suffering can be, it is not redemptive when we do it. What is pictured here is that the suffering of our Lord Jesus also removed sin. When Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he became the sin-bearer for us. No other suffering could have done this. It took the suffering of God incarnate, the holy one who knew no sin, to remove the sins.

IV. “Oppressed he humbled himself”
The suffering was accepted (53:7-9).

A. The suffering servant was silent (7).

What is remarkable is that this suffering servant accepted his affliction in silence. This is almost unheard of. In the Old Testament, especially in the Book of Psalms, the sufferers either confess their sins that brought on the sufferings, or cry out that they are suffering and do not deserve it. They either confess of complain. But not the Messiah: he did not confess sin, for he had none; and he did not even cry out in complaint, for his death was vicarious. How could he remain silent? He knew the truth; he dealt wisely. If anything will enable a person to accept suffering silently it is this--the knowledge that the suffering is a service to God and will help others who are suffering.

B. The suffering servant was innocent (4).

The prophet affirms that this sufferer has done no wrong; there was no guile in him. Yet he was taken to judgment by tyrannical powers. It was a judicial murder. And when they considered that he was lawfully put to death, they gave him a convict’s grave. On this note the stanza ends: he was an innocent man, the only innocent man ever to walk on earth; but he silently submitted to oppression, an oppression that brought him a criminal’s death. From all outward appearances an innocent man’s life ended fruitlessly. But nothing could be further from the truth.

V. “It pleased the LORD”
The suffering was efficacious (10-12).

It appeared to many that the death of this servant was an awful tragedy. Surely here passed into oblivion the fairest life that ever lived. People might see it and say that God forsakes his own--even in his own sufferings that thought crossed the Messiah’s mind. But Isaiah will now declare that the suffering was efficacious--it accomplished God’s will.

A. The suffering was God’s will (10).

“It pleased the LORD to bruise him.” This does not mean that God really enjoyed it! It means that God willed it, and that is satisfied God’s will. This is the one truth that can render any pain tolerable--God willed it. So, anyone that God calls to suffer for him must make it his or her purpose to please God with it. Therein is success with God.

B. The suffering was our justification (10b, 11).

This suffering was powerful to effect its intended results (i.e., it was efficacious)--it justified sinners. God made his innocent sufferer a guilt offering (Lev. 5) for many, so that by the knowledge of him people might be justified. Those who know him, those who come to personal faith in him and acknowledge their sin and his salvation, are justified. Paul explains that the Father made the Son to be sin for us, that we might become righteous in his sight (2 Cor. 5). We, the guilty sinners, have been declared righteous because of his vicarious sufferings.

By the way, the word “many” used throughout this passage is the word that Jesus used in the upper room to apply Isaiah 53 to his death: “This is my blood of the New Covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28).

C. The suffering will lead to the servant’s exaltation (10b-12).

With this note the passage comes full circle. Isaiah says that because he bore the sins of many, that is, because he made “intercession” for sinners in his self-sacrificing love, God appointed him to honor and glory. The rest of the Bible explains that his exaltation involves his resurrection from thje dead, his ascension to heaven, and his coming in glory. We shall return to this when we focus on the belief in the resurrection.

Using military figures, Isaiah says that he will divide the spoil, that is, celebrate victory. But there is a hint here to of his coming to conquer evil (see Ps. 110).

So in his suffering the servant was closest to his glory; he may have been despised and rejected by people, but he was pleasing to God, and that assured his exaltation in glory.

Conclusion

Isaiah, then, presents a picture of the ideal sufferer. He does not identify him, but his language parallels so many other prophecies about the coming Messiah that we know it had a future fulfillment in his mind. And then when the Son of God came into the world and fulfilled this passage to the letter (so far), we know that it was a prophecy of Jesus the Messiah. By his suffering we have peace with God; by them we have been justified because our sins have been paid for. Or, to put it another way, apart from his vicarious sufferings there is no remision of sins for sinners, no hope of justification with God. That is why the Church worships and serves Jesus Christ the savior. Worthy is the Lamb!

But there is a practical side to this passage too apart from its great prophetic message. We who believe in Christ are called to follow him, and that usually involves suffering in one way or another. When Peter quoted this chapter in his epistle, he explained that it also left us a sample of how we should suffer. If God calls us to suffer in some way for him, then we need to understand that it is service to God, it is part of the pilgrimage to glory, and that we must use it to glorify him and help others. Knowing that it is part of the will of God and will lead to greater glory, we will be better able to endure it and use it properly.


2 At the risk of stating what many already know, the Greek word christos is a translation of the Hebrew word mashiakh, or Messiah (as we Anglicize it). Both words then mean “the anointed one.”

3 The verb is sometimes translated “sprinkle.” It is a verb that is used in Israel’s cultic ritual for splashing blood at the side of the altar. It therefore has been interpreted both as sprinkle and as startle (the suddenness of the splashing). But the verb never is used with objects like this, where kings would be sprinkled. And the context is stressing the sudden and surprizing revelation that no one expected.

Related Topics: Resurrection

7. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah

The Doctrine

In the last study we focused on how the Hebrew Scriptures prophesied the death and the exaltation of the Messiah. Isaiah’s oracle focused mostly on the suffering servant Messiah, but did not specifically teach the doctrine of the bodily resurrection, not as Psalm 16 and Daniel 12 so clearly describe such. But for Isaiah to speak of the exaltation of the Messiah after a suffering and death certainly assumes some kind of restoration to life, and that restoration is clearly explained in many other passages of the Bible.

The Gospel narratives record the resurrection appearances of Jesus after his death and burial; and the apostles taught very plainly this truth of the Christ-event: that Jesus who suffered and died for our sins actually rose from the dead, physically and not just spiritually, and appeared to the disciples and to larger groups of people in his resurrected body. That body was similar, but different. And the resurrection itself authenticated everything that Jesus had claimed about himself, and about his death, namely, that he was the Son of God who came into the world to die and also to conquer sin, death, and the grave, and bring immortality and eternal life to all who believe in him.

It should come as no surprise that this doctrine has been attacked more than most in the Christian faith--just the idea that Jesus came back from the dead is a stumbling block to many. Modern theologians have tried to argue that the early Church simply made up the doctrine to give people hope and comfort, and then made it the foundation of their living faith. Others suggest that Jesus may not have been dead, but in a coma, and the cold tomb may have revived him. But the Scripture makes it clear, that he was actually dead, and buried (under guard), and that he rose from the dead; and the apostles rightly based the Christian faith on his death and resurrection. Without the resurrection, Jesus died a martyr, a good man, a sample to his followers, but not as a Savior, and not as the incarnate God. With the resurrection we have the guarnatee that his death was more than this, and that we will be saved, resurrected, and exalted to glory with him. Only Jesus could say, “I was dead, and am alive for ever more; and I have the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1). In the resurrected Christ, then, we have the answer to all of the problems and difficulties that this life can afford--Christ has overcome them, because death has lost its sting. Therefore, we worship and serve him, the risen Savior and divine Lord.

The Pauline Teaching

Perhaps the clearest presentation of the doctrine of the resurrection is found in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul defends and explains it to the church at Corinth. There were those teaching that there is no resurrection of the dead. But Paul begins the chapter by reminding them of the Gospel, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures (15:3,4). Elsewhere Paul had preached strongly from the Old Testament (Ps. 16) that Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead (see Acts 13:13-48; and 23:1-11). He then proceeded to remind them of all the appearances that Jesus made to people after his resurrection, so that there were abundant witnesses to the fact. The Lord also appeared to him, Paul, as well (v. 5).

Paul’s grand theme is announced in verse 20: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

First, this statement is the answer to the issues raised in verses 6-19--that is why it begins with “but.” Paul had gone down the list to state what the case might be if there were no resurrection of the dead--those who had died were gone forever, Christ would still be dead, their preaching would be useless, people would still be in their sins and without hope, and they who proclaimed it would be false witnesses. This is what it would mean if Christ did not rise from the dead. But Paul declares, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” He was seen by scores of witnesses; it was a proven fact. And now the declaration of verse 20 affirms that those who died in the faith are not lost forever, Christ is alive forever, the preaching of the Gospel was true and life-giving, and that believers were indeed forgiven for their sins and had the assurance of eternal life.

Second, Paul says that the resurrection of Christ is a first fruit. He is here alluding to the Israelite festival of giving the first fruit of the harvest to the LORD (Lev. 23:9-14). When the spring crops began to grow, the devout Israelite would watch the fields for the first shoots of wheat. They would be given to the LORD as a token thank offering, and viewed by the worshiper as a pledge that a great harvest of wheat was to follow--this was the first. Paul clearly is using the agricultural festival as an illustration of the resurrection, for he talks about planting the body in the ground when it dies, and in season a glorious new body rises from the ground; Jesus was the first to rise, and his resurrection is the harbinger that a whole harvest of people being raised will follow in God’s plan.

But for Paul this is more than an illustration, it is a divinely foretold illustration, what we call a “type.” Biblical typology is a form of prophecy; it uses people, places and things as divinely intended revelations of the greater truths to come, the fulfillments. But one does not know the item is a type until the fulfillment comes; then looking back, we can see what God had in mind all along (manna, the sacrifices, the tabernacle, etc). Paul already knew that the Passover was a type of Christ’s death, for he declared “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). Then, in Leviticus 23:11, after the instructions about Passover, the text says the first fruit is to be presented (waved) before the LORD on the morning after the Sabbath after the Passover (verses 4-8)--that is Sunday morning. The Church rightly saw the first fruit being fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection from the dead on the first day of the week, the morning after the Saturday after the Passover. And if it is the first--then there is a great harvest to follow, at the end of the age (1 Thess. 4:16).

Third, Paul says that he is the first fruit of those who sleep. This is a figure for death--falling asleep. It is the way believers refer to death as a temporary aspect of their journey to God. Jesus himself used the expression to describe the death of Lazarus (John 11), and when his disciples did not get the point, he explained that Lazarus was dead. In Acts 7:54-60 Stephen was put to death at the hands of an angry mob. But the chapter ends calmly by saying “he fell asleep.” His death was cruel and violent, but it was a falling asleep in the Lord because the Lord has conquered death.

The verb “to sleep” in Greek is koimao (pronounced koi-mah-o); in the language a word can be changed with certain suffixes, and there is a suffix that is used that makes a noun of place; it is the suffix -terion. The word koimeterion is a “sleeping place”; we use it for our word “cemetary.” Those who believe in Jesus do not fear death, for it is a falling asleep in Jesus until the resurrection morning when he appears and the dead in Christ rise and with all who remain alive are transferred into the glorious estate of his presence.

The Comfort Of The Resurrection

Luke 24 records one of the post-resurrection appearances of our Lord to two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It is Sunday afternoon, the very day that Jesus rose from the dead. The account is wonderful because it clearly teaches that the resurrection of Jesus enables us to see past all discouragement and disillusionment that this life can present. (There is a full sermon on Luke 24 in the archives of this web site).

The two disciples going home represent for us the embodiment of disillusionment and near depression that all the discouragements in this life can cause. They were soon to learn that the inspiration of the risen Christ restores the proper perspective on the circumstances of life.

The first scene (verses 13-24) sets the stage--disillusionment brings spiritual depression. The two were walking along pondering the events of the crucifixion, and Jesus came along side them asking them what was wrong. They were taken back that he would not know. But their report to him reveals that they had almost given up. “We had hoped” that he was the Messiah, but he is dead. “Some women” told us this fantastic story that he was alive; some of the men checked it out, “ but him they did not find.” They were now without hope; it was time to go home.

The second scene of the story records Jesus rebuke (verses 25-27)--the word of God will correct their thinking. Jesus rebuked them for being slow to believe in “all” the prophets had said about the Christ. “Was it not necessary” for the Christ to die before entering his glory? Of course it was. Then he proceeded to open the Scriptures to them and teach them “all” that was written about this truth. Their problem, which was not theirs alone but ours too, was that they read the word selectively--about kings and victory and salvation and driving out the enemies. Not about suffering for sins and death.

In the process of his teaching several clear truths came out: (1) the Messiah had to suffer and die first to pay for sins, and then could enter his glory; (2) the Messiah stands sovereignly apart from time and space, not limited to this world, or the grave, or our time; if he existed before Bethlehem and came into this world from the Father, he can easily exist after the grave and return to the Father; (3) the Messiah is the sovereign Lord who controls life and death--no one rushed Jesus to the cross as they had thought; it was the fulfillment of the eternal plan of God.

No wonder they later said, “Did not our hearts burn within us . . . while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

The third scene (verses 28-32) records the dramatic revelation of the risen Christ to the men in the breaking of the bread--faith in the word brings knowledge of the Word. In their home Jesus took the bread and broke it and blessed it. Then the text says “and they knew him.” And then he was gone. Jesus chose that moment, that familiar act, to open their eyes so that they could see it was he. This suggests that there was some difference in his appearance; but it also is clear that he had withheld their vision of him til this moment. They instantly recognized in the act of breaking the bread the symbolism of the vicarious suffering of the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world--this is how Jesus had instituted the New Covenant in the Upper Room. The men now knew why he died, and they knew that he conquered death, because he was alive--he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The fourth scene (verses 33-35) is the report of their rushing back to Jerusalem to tell others--knowledge of the resurrected Christ brings zeal. All was well now, all was different now, for he was alive. The resurrection was the answer to their discouragement and depression, to all of life’s sorrows. He had overcome the greatest enemy, death.

The Holy Spirit carries on the ministry of Jesus to us today. Through the clear exposition of the Word of God, the Spirit illumines our hearts as to the plan of God, and especially as to its victorious outcome in spite of the sorrows and sadness of life. And then, having had a clear teaching on his word, when we come to the Lord’s table for communion, the reality of his presence is solidified in the spiritual experience of the breaking of the bread. This act of Jesus became the symbol for the Church down through history of the meaning and purpose of his death, a meaning and purpose that the resurrection affirmed and confirmed. Nothing in this life can separate us from the love of God we have in Christ; because he lives, we shall live also, even though we may die here on earth.

But we must keep the proper balance in our spiritual lives--unless we hear from God through his word, clearly, faithfully, the pressures of life will control our hearts and minds, and the holy communion will become an empty ritual to be got through. But if our hearts are open, and the exposition of the word is clear so that the “burning heart” is the frequent experience of being in the word, then all the spiritual aspects of the faith and the worship will remind us powerfully that he is alive, and that our faith alone offers true hope to a world that has no hope and no expectation other than conflict, suffering and death. Christians need to be in a church where the word of God is clearly and faithfully expounded (and not in shallow little talks), where the Holy Spirit is actively at work in changing peoples lives (and not just spectacular experiences), and where the worship focuses powerfully on the risen Christ (and not just some ritual acts done routinely). All of this together will build up the faith and confidence of the believer to live for Christ in this world. Then they can proclaim, “He is alive,” “Was not our heart burning within us when he opened the Scriptures to us,” and “He was known to us in the breaking of the bread.”

Related Topics: Resurrection

8. The Ascension of the Lord

The Doctrine

Few things in life are more exhilarating and fulfilling than the crowning celebration of some great achievement. What makes it so, of course, is the struggle to get there; without the agony and the pain the triumph would not be as sweet. And while these moments seem to be the culmination, they are in reality transitions, for they open the way to new beginnings. With the celebration of victory comes the commencement of a new role to play--if the success is to have any lasting value.

Think of the great crowning moments down through history. I have just read about Charlemagne. After years of struggle he established his empire. Through war, legislature, education, and various other dealings, he was able to rescue the world from barbarism, violence and ignorance, and to begin to develop the dream of civilization. But on Christmas Day, 800, he was crowned supreme ruler over what is known as the Holy Roman Empire. He was able to give his empire the prestige, sanctity, and stability of Imperial and papal Rome. An incredible coronation! An amazing recognition! What a moment that must have been! It was a coronation that would have results for the next thousand years. But then, that is the point. With this coronation he began a new phase of his life-- extending, and sustaining the empire.

But as great as that may have been, it does not begin to compare with the greatest crowning triumph of all--the Ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of the Father in Heaven. When we consider the doctrine of the Ascension, we must not only think of it as the culmination of his earthly ministry, the crowning victory, but we must also think of it as the beginning of a new phase of his ministry.

The doctrine is not covered very well in many theology books or commentaries; all too often it seems to have been tucked away as an afterthought. Of course, if some theologians deny the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, they are not likely going to do very much with the ascension.

But even those who believe in the resurrection give little more than a nod to the Ascension and what it means. When I was studying in Cambridge in England it was an Ascension Day service that made an impression on me, perhaps because it was, well, unexpected. My professor cancelled classes for the services; and the services culminated in the choirs of St Johns College ascending to the roof top of the chapel tower to sing anthems to the exalted Christ that echoed across the skies over the city. But when I returned to the States and tried to attend an Ascension Day service in our church, I was surprised to learn that the church had completely forgotten about it. (And this was a liturgical church that was to observe these things.) They had to scurry about to put something together--for the five or six of us there.

The Ascension cannot be forgotten. It must not be ignored. For without the Ascension, the death and resurrection of Jesus would carry far less value, if any, in the plan of redemption. It is this glorious Ascension that is the culmination of the atoning work of Christ, the guarantee of his promises, the proof of his claims, and the beginning of his dominion.

The Nicene Creed affirms that Christ Jesus “ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and he shall come again with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” In other words, the Creed affirms what the Bible clearly teaches, that after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, after he appeared to various people and groups, he departed from his disciples from the top of the Mount of Olives. That is, he simply ascended from the earth in the clouds and entered into the heavenly court to be exalted. The ascension teaches that there is in heaven today a “God-man,” Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine. And because he ascended into heaven, those who are alive at his second coming will be caught up to be with the Lord in the air, along with those raised from the dead. And that coming of the Lord will be in the same manner as his departure, for he will descend in the clouds with saints and angels, to judge the world. The doctrine teaches that neither time nor space interferes with our Lord’s movements; he was able to travel between earth and heaven (whether a distance or a dimension we cannot say) by his own power.

The biblical teaching on the ascension, found in several passages in the New Testament (some of which draw upon the Old Testament prophecies), presents not only the fact of the exaltation, but the several purposes for it. These must be considered in any study of the doctrine; and this survey will look at several passages, beginning with Ephesians 1. At the risk of oversimplifying a profound doctrine, I have tried to make my points on the meaning of the Ascension as clear and easy to understand as possible. They are:

I. The Son of God went home.

II. The Son of God presented His work to His Father.

III. The Son of God sat down.

IV. The Son of God sent the Spirit to continue His work.

V. The Son of God will come back.

I have deliberately tried to make these point sound very human, very anthropomorphic, because of the amazing point of the Ascension--Jesus, as resurrected and glorified human, is in heaven. If in the incarnation deity entered into the human race, in the ascension humanity (joined with deity in one person) entered into the realm of God. The implications of this for you and me are staggering.

The Implications Of The Doctrine

I. At his ascension Jesus returned home to glory to continue to prepare a place for us.

A. The Meaning

This is the basic meaning of the Ascension--he returned to heaven, to the angels, to the glory he had before the foundation of the world (John 17). He ascended up into heaven, in his resurrected bodily form. He went from the human place on earth to the Father’s place in heaven. It was not a journey into outer space; rather, he ascended and was removed from space and time into the immediate sphere of God's holy presence.

He had descended into time and space when he came into the world to save sinners. What a condescension the incarnation was. This world, with all its sin and corruption, was not and is not suitable for the Son of God. But he chose to enter for our redemption. He made it abundantly clear that he was from above, whereas we are from below. His rightful place was in glory! And so he prayed that his Father would glorify him with the glory that he had before the foundation of the world. And so when his earthly task was done that prayer was answered when he returned to his heavenly home. Imagine how the angels welcomed him!

But Jesus also knew that this world was not the place for us either. Jesus taught that in his Father's house were many “rooms”, and that he was going to prepare a place for us, that where he was, there we might be also (John 14). What a marvel that is. I think the statement refers more to spiritual preparation for us than simply constructing places: it refers to all that Christ did in completing the process of our atonement so that we could be there. Thus, the main point is that he actually wants us there with him in his heavenly home. His mission here was not merely to rescue us from judgment; it was to bring us home with him, so that we might be with him evermore. How amazing is the love of our Lord!

So Jesus completed his mission to redeem his fallen creation by bringing glorified humanity into heaven at his ascension--in his own person. This is but the foretaste of things to come, for we will follow him there. In fact Ephesians says that we are already seated in the heavenlies, because we are in him. Our future is certain. All creation is his; but his new creation is precious to him. He will not relinquish it.

B. The Significance

The significance of this aspect of the Ascension as explained by Scripture is that heaven is our home and not this world. The entire ministry of our Lord has been and continues to be to fit us for glory. So the lesson should be clear: We must live above the world and not like the world (world meaning the present world system that has no place for the Lord). The Scripture again and again tells us not to love the world, neither the things that are in the world, for it is passing away; we are not to lay up treasures here on earth where there is corruption, but in heaven; and we are not to be conformed to this world. I think these warnings go beyond material things to attitudes. We get so caught up in worldly living--the petty competitions, the little power plays, the desire for worldly fame, and the sometimes dishonest and selfish ways of gaining such. But the Word of God reminds us that our faith in Christ is the means of victory over the world. So we must not get so attached to this world, or this world's way of thinking, that we become worldly.

Rather, we must measure everything by heavenly standards, by spiritual, eternal things (2 Cor. 4). We do not belong here. Our rightful place is with Jesus in glory. The more that we grow spiritually, the more that we become like Jesus Christ, the more we will realize that we do not belong here, and that our stay here is an earthly ministry in our eternal life. This proper perspective will influence all our choices.

So Jesus would have us realize that we are to ascend with him over the present evil world. And when we say in a worship service, “Lift up your hearts,” we mean that for that little moment we transport ourselves in the spirit on the Lord's day into the heavenlies--and that is a picture of when we in fact will be lifted out of this world and into his presence. We do this by faith now; but someday in the future we shall go to our heavenly home.

Thus Paul, in writing to the Ephesians (chapter 1), lists as one very practical issue from his Ascension our INHERITANCE. How foolish to clamor for what is temporal and temporary, when we have an inheritance in heaven.

II. In his ascension Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary to complete his atoning work.

A. The Meaning

The second significant truth about the Ascension concerns Christ's atoning work, so clearly expounded in the Book of Hebrews. There are two aspects of this. First, Jesus offered himself as the perfect sacrifice. Using the imagery of the earthly temple, that shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, the very presence of God the Father, the writer explains how Jesus our high priest took the sacrifice--himself--into the presence of God, thus completing the transaction. So in heaven now, as we may perceive it, ever before the gaze of the heavenly Father is that sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world.

Moreover, in the imagery of Leviticus, Jesus presented himself as a wave offering before the Father, the firstfruit of the dead, guaranteeing that a great harvest of resurrected saints would follow--he was the first (Lev. 23 and 1 Cor. 15). So Jesus opened heaven's gate, and entered as our eternal high priest, having made once and for all complete atonement in his blood. It is done. And so in Christ we have access into the presence of God.

Second, Jesus is also our living high priest who ever lives to intercede for us. Jesus interceded for us with his blood, and now continues to intercede for us as our advocate. In his incarnation he revealed the Father to us, so that we might see God in Christ; but in his ascension he reveals us to the Father, and God sees Christ in our place, so to speak (all we can do is try to describe a heavenly reality and divine omniscience in the limitations of earthly language).

As perfected, glorified human nature, and as the incarnate Son of God, Jesus has become the perfect mediator, the perfect high priest, the substitute for humans in the heavenly courts. As our high priest, Jesus presents our work, our prayers, our worship in an acceptable way to the Father. All that we do down here passes through our mediator to the Father and is thereby perfected. Without the presence of Christ in heaven, and the indwelling Spirit on earth, the worship and prayer and praise of the Church would be utterly inadequate. The high priest as our representative takes into the presence of God all that we do and offers it there for us. And God is satisfied. And when we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One, who can declare that our sins have been paid for, once and for all.

B. The Significance

This point speaks of the heart of the faith we have through Christ Jesus. Because of the finished work of Christ as our sacrifice, and because of the continual ministry of our Lord as high priest, we have CONFIDENCE. Our consciences have been cleansed from dead works, our sins have been placed on the scapegoat, we have been justified by his blood, and we are righteous before God. Therefore we may come boldly before the throne of grace.

So Paul makes it clear that if we believe in Jesus we are "in him." We have died to sin in his death, and we have been raised to a new life in his resurrection. If we are in Christ, we must not let sin reign in our mortal bodies, but must live to righteousness. But if we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. Thus we have a high priest who is our mediator; and the glorious news is that there is abundant forgiveness for sins.

III. In his ascension Jesus sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on High

A. The Meaning

The Book of Hebrews (chapter 1) says that when Jesus made purification for sins he sat down. To be seated at the right hand of God the Father was the place of honor, power, and authority. In other words, the ascension meant Christ’s coronation; and his second coming will mean the beginning of his reign in actual fact. Paul in Ephesians 1 says that his exaltation was above all power and dominion and every title that can be given in this life and the life to come. Indeed, at his ascension Jesus declared, “All power is given unto me.” By this exaltation Jesus shares the universal rule of the cosmos with the Father. He especially directs all the affairs of his advancing Kingdom. But beyond that, he guides the events on earth according to his purposes. Hebrews 1 says that the whole world is being borne along by his powerful command, his spoken word.

But this is not yet the fullness of his authority. We do not yet see all things under subjection. Psalm 110 says, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool’.” Jesus now awaits the fullness of the Kingdom; but soon the Father will say, “Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance” (Ps. 2). Then, Hebrews 1 says, when he (the Father) again brings his firstborn into the world, then his (the Son’s) exaltation will be seen by all, and every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is LORD (Phil. 2). Then the exaltation will be complete; then will be delivered unto him, as Daniel foretells, kingdom, power, glory, and dominion, for he alone is worthy (Dan. 7).

B. The Significance

Because the Lord Jesus Christ has been seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High, he has the auhtority and the power and the dominion of heaven, and he has given to his people AUTHORITY to advance his kingdom. At his ascension Jesus gave his commission: We are his witnesses to the ends of the earth, both by what we say and what we do. We who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior have been given the authority to extend his kingdom throughout the world. We are ambassadors of the King.

In Ephesians Paul affirms that in Christ we have already been seated in the Heavenlies. It is as if the judgment is past and the transition completed--we are already there (this is a positional truth). And this is the guarantee that we shall reign with Christ. But in our earthly service we know that our position is safe; our victory secured. And we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. Therefore, we may go forth with confidence and boldness, proclaiming the Good News.

IV. At His ascension Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the world.

A. The Meaning

Jesus said, if I do not go away, the Comforter cannot come. And when he left, he told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit was sent to give them power. So the point here is ENABLEMENT.

The Holy Spirit was sent into the world to continue the work of Jesus; this was an integral part of the promises of the New Covenant (Jer. 31; Ezek. 36). The Spirit came bearing the name and the characteristics of Jesus to the disciples, to guide and lead them into the mind and way of Christ, so that they might do the will of God in the way that Jesus did. Therefore, the Spirit convicts of sin, regenerates, sanctifies, illumines, and empowers. In short, the Holy Spirit applies the work of Jesus to people (see John 16).

In continuing the work of Jesus the Holy Spirit employs people to carry out the various ministries. Thus, critical to the Spirit's work is the bestowal of gifts upon His loyal subjects. Psalm 68 tells how the LORD ascended Mt. Zion to his resting place. “You have ascended on high, you have received gifts.” Paul, in Ephesians 4, interprets this passage to say that Christ, the conquering king, has ascended on High, leading a host of captives--death, sin, evil, the grave. But as a magnanimous victor he divides the booty among his followers--he gave gifts to us. To some he gave this authority; to others that place of power; to others different responsibilities. Other treasures to different people. To each person different gifts and responsibilities, so that each can help him expand and govern his kingdom.

The spiritual gifts are a direct result of the Ascension, because the ascension resulted in the sending of the Spirit. The Church must have these gifts to do the work of Christ; and it must have all of them, the routine as well as the spectacular. In the body, not every part can be an eye; there must be the leg, and the foot, and the ear. But all one body. So to in the Church, the mystical “body” of Christ. Christ's program cannot thrive without the power of the Spirit enabling the people of God to participate in his kingdom, all of the members using their gifts in the process.

B. The Significance

The lesson here is simple: We must live by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just before Jesus ascended to heaven he announced that his followers would receive power, so that they might be his witnesses (Acts 1). The ENABLEMENT comes from the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit. Paul in Ephesians says that that power is like his own mighty strength. It is so important to emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit today--but in line with the purpose of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is not power for power’s sake. The focus must go beyond the Spirit to the exalted Christ. He must have the pre-eminence (Col. 1:18). And the work of the Spirit is often not seen, but gradually changing lives and bringing them into conformity with the living Christ.

To live by the power of the Holy Spirit we must be rightly related to the Spirit. That is what it means to be “spiritual.” To do this we must yield ourselves to him (make that total commitment), be obedient to his Word (make every effort to live by the Word), and be controlled by the Spirit (make spiritual perception the means by which we live out our lives). And the promise is that God's Spirit will bear fruit in our lives--the fruit of the Spirit. Then he will use us mightily in our Lord's kingdom, in whatever capacity he has given to us.

V. By his ascension Jesus demonstrated how he will come again

A. The Meaning

Acts 1:11 records the words of the angels that this same Jesus whom they saw go up into heaven will so come in like manner as they have seen him go up (Zech. 14). It will be an actual return of Christ into space and time; but, of course, it will be more glorious. He will come in the clouds of glory; and we who remain will ascend, along with those who are raised from the dead, all changed, to be with the Lord.

Why is He coming back? Scripture offers several reasons: (1) He will raise the dead, some to honor, and some to dishonor. Just as his resurrection was part of his ascension, so shall be that of the dead in Christ. He will not abandon their bodies to this world. The work of redemption is not complete yet. (2) He will come to receive the homage. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is the Lord God of the universe (Phil. 2). They shall look on him whom they have pierced (Zech. 12). Kings will shut their mouths (Isa. 52, 53). (3) He will come to judge, putting down all evil and all enemies. All judgment is given over to the Son of Man (John 5). (4) He will renovate his creation, establish universal peace and righteousness, remove the curse, and fulfill all his promises (Isa. 11). When he completes his restorative work and demonstrates what God had intended, then he will deliver the kingdom up to the Father, and he will resume his place in the triune Godhead, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15).

But the ascension prepares for the second coming in glory. It will be in answer to the prayers of the ages: “Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!” Or, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as in heaven.” He will not abandon this world to chaos.

B. The Significance

And here is our HOPE. The point here is that we must live in the expectation of his coming in glory. How differently we would live, how differently we would serve, if we lived with this hope as a daily reality. For, the apostle says, those who have this hope, purify themselves.

Conclusion

So in his ascension, Jesus went home; and that is our home. He finished the redemptive work; and we have confidence in his blood. He sat down in the place of authority; and we have been commissioned to represent him. He sent the Spirit; and we have been enabled to do his work. And he will come again; and we look in hope for that glorious time.

The Ascension declares for all time that Jesus is the eternal Son of God and perfected and glorified man. The event was not an after-thought or an adjustment by God. It was part of the eternal plan of God that was established before creation. God determined to create human beings, enable them to triumph over evil, and to exalt them to glory. This is the glory of Christianity, that in Christ Jesus we have access into the heavenlies, now by faith, but in the future in reality. What a glorious faith! Because he ascended, so shall we; we shall stand in the presence of God, complete and perfect.

Related Topics: Christology

Preface to Sound Doctrine

This study of biblical doctrines is the second part of a project designed for training Christians to be able to minister in their churches and communities. The project is called “The Exodus Project” because it is based on the teaching of the Bible first found in Exodus 19 and then restated in 1 Peter 2 that the redeemed of the LORD are to be a kingdom of priests. Accordingly, Deuteronomy 33:10 teaches that the ministry of the priests included:

Teaching the Word of God,

Making intercessory prayer (“burn incense”), and

Enabling people to find access to God through the sacrifice.

Part One, which will be posted on this web site in the spring, is a series of lessons designed to help people be able to teach the Bible. It will include the full introduction to this project and how it can be used in the churches.

Part Three, which will appear later in the spring, will focus on intercessory prayer and the related spiritual services that derive from it.

Part Two, presented here, is a survey of biblical doctrine. Israel’s priests were to make the sacrifices so that others could find access to the living God. This required that they understand what the sacrifices were all about, and how everything worked in God’s program to bring people into communion with Himself. In other words, those intrusted with this service had to know God, understand His attributes and works, be able to explain forgiveness and salvation, instruct others in the rituals of the congregation, and be able to articulate the covenant promises and the hope of glory. Being a worship leader, then, goes way beyond singing a song in front of the congregation--it requires that people be articulate in the doctrines of the faith. Sadly, what is missing in the church today is the articulate Christian, the one who knows the faith and can explain it clearly. And, even more sadly, that quality is disappearing in the clergy as well.

It is, of course, impossible to study all the doctrines included in the Bible, or even a creed like the Nicene Creed in a short period of time. Each doctrine deserves the full attention of a separate course of studies; in that way the doctrine could be fully defined and all the supporting evidence from Scripture and the subsequent writings on the doctrine could be taken into account. Nevertheless, in a survey such as this we will be able to gain a full picture of the beliefs of the historic Christian faith in one sweep. The survey should then inspire individual Christians to read further on the doctrines, or on a particular doctrine.

The doctrines of the church have come under attack again in this generation. Whereas in the past they have simply been denied, now they are being reinterpreted to mean something very different. This survey is not designed to be a defense of the faith, for that would have to include all the false teachings that have arisen over the centuries. But in surveying the historic faith one will be better equipped to discern these subtle challenges that if embraced will change the church completely.

There are a number of ways that this material could be surveyed. I have chosen to focus more on certain passages of the Bible that are basic texts for the doctrines. After the first part on the meaning of faith, each section will give a brief statement of the doctrine and its meaning, and then use a Bible study to elucidate it. In other words, this will be a series of Bible studies on doctrinal themes. But the point of each section will be that the believer who is going to function as a part of this kingdom of priests--which should be every believer--should understand the doctrine involved.

In passing we shall consider what the Nicene Creed left out, or why it said things the way that it did. This will lead to additional studies in other creeds for those who are interested.

Related Topics: Theology, Apologetics

The Judgments - (Past, Present, and Future)

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Introduction

A great deal of confusion exists with respect to the subject of God’s judgments and particularly regarding the final judgment. It is the purpose of this study to cover all the major judgments (past, present, and future) that we find in Scripture to help resolve this confusion. For instance, many do not understand that instead of one final judgment, the Bible teaches that there are a series of five to seven future judgments (depending on how they are categorized) that differ in respect to time, purpose, subjects, and circumstances. Understanding these various judgments will give insight into God’s program, but the goal here is not just information. God wants Christians to understand the truth of the judgments to both comfort and motivate them to godly living. He wants those who have not trusted in Christ to understand the judgments that this might motivate them to trust in Christ as their personal Savior because He bore the judgment for their sin in their place. The Christian will not face the final judgment because Christ was judged for us, but all believers will face a judgment called the Judgment Seat of Christ, the nature of which will be covered in the material to follow. (See Appendix A for an explanation of how to become a Christian.)

Sin always has its consequences and the Doctrine of the Judgments calls our attention to both the reality and nature of the consequences of sin. The details of this will be developed in a summarized fashion in the material that follows.

Though one’s primary focus might be on the future judgments, this study will also cover the judgments of the past and the present because they are related and form a part of the total picture revealed in Scripture.

The Past Judgments

The Judgment of Satan and the Fallen Angels

Key Scriptures (Matt. 25:41; Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-19; Rev. 12:3-4)

This is God’s judgment to cast Satan down from his position in heaven as the anointed cherub with all those angels who followed him to this earth and its atmosphere as the primary abode of their operations (cf. Eph. 2:2 “the ruler of the kingdom of the air,” NIV [“air” is the Greek, aer, the atmospheric heavens]). Evidently, immediately after Satan’s fall, God sentenced Satan and his angels condemning them to the Lake of Fire (Matt. 24:41). Though anticipated as certain and viewed as accomplished, this sentence against Satan and his evil host will not be carried out until after the millennial reign of Christ (cf. John 12:31 with Rev. 20:10). The basis of Satan’s judgment and final disposal is the finished work of Christ on the cross first anticipated in the protevangelium of Gen. 3:15. Then in anticipation of His death on the cross, the Lord spoke of Satan’s judgment and doom in John 12:31; 16:11, and Luke 10:18-19. Compare also Romans 16:20; Ephesians 1:20-21; Colossians 2:14-15; Hebrews 2:14-17.

The Edenic Judgments of Genesis 3

After the fall of Adam and Eve, and as a judgment for mankind’s disobedience regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17), certain curses or judgments were placed upon Satan (the promise of his final doom), upon Adam and Eve, and upon the earth. Adam and Eve died spiritually and began to die physically. Physical death became a certainty for their future because they took of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, as the Scripture says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The judgment of Genesis 3 included the loss of the perfect Edenic conditions and in its place, the curse of the earth with its often extreme weather conditions, disease, thorns, and the warfare with Satan and his hosts (cf. Rom. 8:18-22; Eph. 6:10-12; 1 Pet. 5:8).

The Judicial Judgment—All Are Under Sin

Galatians 3:22 But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God;

Romans 5:12-15 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.

All of mankind without distinction are under the curse of sin and judged as sinful and separated from God apart from the saving grace of God in Christ. All fall short of the glory of God—the immoral, moral, and religious (Rom. 1:18-3:9, 23). The only exception is the person of Jesus Christ who, through the virgin birth, escaped the sin problem that is normally passed down from generation to generation.

The Judgment to Moral Degeneration

According to Romans 1:18-32, when men turn away from the knowledge of God revealed so vividly in creation, God, as an expression of His holy wrath, turns men over to their own devices and foolish imaginations. This always results in moral devolution and degeneration. Paul teaches us that the varied forms of the awful sinfulness of man have their beginnings in the rejection of the revelation of God in creation. Ungodliness is always the source of unrighteousness; ungodliness (turning away from God) leads to idolatry (man worshipping the products of his own mind and hands), and idolatry leads to unchained sensuality.

As they refused to follow the light, they were brought to folly in their thoughts—“became vain in their [corrupt] reasonings, and their foolish [senseless] heart was darkened.” The intellectual revolt against what they knew to be right was attended by a darkening of the whole understanding. The refusal to accept the truth destroys the power to discriminate between truth and error.1

But this happens as a judgment from God against man’s arrogant independence. This condition is the expression of God’s wrath (vs. 18) and twice we have the statement that this moral breakdown occurs because God “gave them over” (vss. 24 and 25). Compare also Ephesians 4:17-19:

This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

The Judgment of Christ for the Sin of the World

This takes on two aspects:

(1) Christ’s judgment for sin, dying in the place of the sinner, bearing his sin and judgment on the cross as the sinner’s substitute.

Isaiah 53:4-6 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

2 Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

1 Peter 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

Romans 3:24-26 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Sin requires a penalty, the penalty of death as God’s holy judgment on sin. Jesus Christ, the sinless and perfect Son of God, the only one who could qualify as our substitute, died to satisfy the demands of God’s absolute holiness. Sin calls for judgment and the cross of Jesus Christ became that place of judgment. It was there Christ paid the penalty for the sin of the world (1 John 2:2).

(2) Christ’s Judgment Unto Sin’s Reign; the Judgment of the Believer’s Sin Nature

Not only did Christ die for our sin as the Lamb of God (John 1:29), but He died to break the reign of sin in the lives of those who put their trust in Him as their Savior. This means that, through coidentification with Christ in His death on the cross, the believer’s sin nature was also judged, crucified, with Christ in His death so that its power has been broken or neutralized. Though the death of Christ does not obliterate the presence of the sin nature and though it is still a powerful enemy (Rom. 7:15-24), the believer’s union with Christ in His death provides for divine forgiveness for the fact of the sin nature and for victory over its reigning power.

Romans 6:4-11 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

See also Colossians 2:10-13; Galatians 2:20; and Romans 8:1-2.

The Present Judgments

The Self-Judgment of the Believer

An interesting and important passage to this study is Acts 24:15-16 because in this passage Paul implicitly made reference to two judgments which are closely related. The text reads:

Acts 24:15-16 having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.

The resurrection of the just mentioned in verse 15 will be followed by the Judgment Seat of Christ or the Bema, the place and time when believers will be examined for rewards or their loss (see discussion below). Knowing and having the hope of the resurrection and all that this means to the Christian, the Apostle spoke of his commitment to maintain a clear conscience, one cleared by confession and the forsaking of all known sin (1 John 1:9; Prov. 28:13). He wanted to walk blamelessly, to keep short accounts with God, and to stay in close communion with the Lord lest he should become disqualified for rewards at the Bema (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15 with 9:24-27).

Though believers are saved and justified by faith in Christ as the crucified Saviour, the Scriptures assume that Christians will battle with sin and will not always be victorious. So it is necessary for believers to judge their own sins in the light of Scripture.2

This is a serious matter with consequences both for time and eternity since the failure to do so leads not only to the loss of rewards, but the judgment of God’s discipline of His believing children as a loving Father and as the Vine Dresser who must prune the vine for production (Heb. 12:4-11; John 15:1-7). A very interesting, enlightening, and important passage to this subject is 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 for in this passage we have a reference to both the self-judgment of the believer and the discipline judgment of God on believers.

1 Corinthians 11:27-32 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.

Some of the Christians at Corinth were being externally religious. They were assembling themselves with other believers and partaking of the Lord’s supper, but they were out of fellowship with the Lord and were controlled by the sinful nature, the flesh, rather than by the Holy Spirit. This is why earlier the Apostle called them “fleshly” (the Greek sarkikos, “adapted to, controlled by the flesh”) (3:3). Unfortunately, this condition had continued because some of these believers had failed to examine their hearts and judge their sin by honest confession followed by a commitment to deal with it in the power of the Spirit (11:28, 31). As a result, a number of things occurred: (1) they were making a mockery of the significance and meaning of the Lord’s supper (11:27); (2) they were experiencing personal discipline by the Lord which existed in three conditions, evidently progressively so (11:30, 32); and though not mentioned here, (3) they were producing wood, hay, and stubble—they were losing rewards (1 Cor. 3:14-15).

As to the immediate consequences, some were weak (feeble, a loss of energy), some were sick (probably chronic disease), and some were asleep (physical death, sin unto death) (11:30). But these were not the only consequences of failing to judge sin in their lives. There were also divisions and factions and the focus on personalities rather than the Savior. They were showing favoritism and hurting other believers rather than showing love and concern as it should be among believers in Christ. In other words, when we fail to honestly judge sin in our lives it spills over in one area after another. As the loving Father that He is, God must break out the board of discipline in His loving commitment to bring us back to Himself.

So Christians need to examine their hearts and actions for sin according to the Scripture and then judge the sin they find as sin and confess it to the Lord. Our tendency is to rationalize and excuse our sins, but God says we are to judge them as sin to God. Confession of sin restores us to fellowship and to the Spirit’s control. With the Spirit back in control and the believer in fellowship (in the state of abiding in the Vine) he or she can then produce fruit for which they will receive rewards at the Bema.

The Discipline Judgments of God

As seen in the above section dealing with self-judgment, the New Testament clearly teaches us that one of the ministries of our heavenly Father is the ministry of loving discipline. God’s discipline is patterned after the principles of Proverbs 13:24 which read: “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Discipline is an evidence of love. So we read in Hebrews:

Hebrews 12:4-11 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

From this passage in Hebrews and others like 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, God disciplines His children for the following reasons:

(1) To bring a wayward child who refuses to judge himself back into fellowship (1 Cor. 11:31-32; Ps. 32:3-5).

(2) It is part of the training process by which God’s children are brought into the experience of God’s holiness (Heb. 12:10).

(3) It is an expression and a proof of God’s love (Heb. 12:6, 8).

(4) It is designed to produce obedience and to protect them against untimely physical death (Heb. 12:9; Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 11:30).

(5) It yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11).

Human Judgment of Others

Generally speaking, the principle is stated in Matthew 7:1-5.

Matthew 7:1-5 Do not judge lest you be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

We are not to judge others in the sense of condemning them or passing judgment on the opinions of others on doubtful matters as discussed in Romans 14.

Romans 14:1-5 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.

However, Scripture does call us to show what we might call critical discernment on certain matters. For instance, Matthew 7 which tells us not to judge, is immediately followed with the command, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt. 7:6).

How do we know who falls into the category of swine, those incapable of appreciating the truth, if we do not make certain judgments? Furthermore, we are called upon to make judgments in the sense of evaluations when it comes to selecting elders and deacons, or in dealing with those who have fallen into sin (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:9-16; Gal. 6:1-5; 2 Thess. 3:6-15).

The Future Judgments

The Judgment of the Bema (The Judgment Seat of Christ)

The next prophetic event in God’s timetable will be the rapture or the catching up of the body of Christ, the church, as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. A number of things occur at this time. There is the glorification of living believers in glorified bodies, the resurrection of those believers who have died in the Lord also in glorified bodies, and the translation of both to meet the Lord in the air. This will be followed by their examination before the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is not the final judgment mentioned in Revelation 20:11-15 which is limited to only the unbelieving world. Rather, the Judgment Seat of Christ is for the body of Christ, the church. A similar judgment will occur for resurrected Old Testament and Tribulation saints, but probably not until after the Tribulation (cf. Dan. 12:1-3 with Rev. 20:4).

The Judgment Seat of Christ is not a place and time when the Lord will mete out punishment for sins committed by the child of God. Rather, it is a place where rewards will be given or lost depending on how one has used his or her life for the Lord. Both Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:9 speak of the “judgment seat.” This is a translation of one Greek word, the word bema. While bema is used in the Gospels and in Acts of the raised platform where a Roman magistrate or ruler sat to make decisions and pass sentence (Matt. 27:19; John 19:13), its use in the epistles by Paul, because of his many allusions to the Greek athletic contests, is more in keeping with its original use among the Greeks.

This word was taken from Isthmian games where the contestants would compete for the prize under the careful scrutiny of judges who would make sure that every rule of the contest was obeyed (cf. 2 Tim. 2:5). The victor of a given event, who had participated according to the rules, was led by the judge to the platform called the Bema. There the laurel wreath was placed on his head as a symbol of victory (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-25).

In all of these passages, “Paul was picturing the believer as a competitor in a spiritual contest. As the victorious Grecian athlete appeared before the Bema to receive his perishable award, so the Christian will appear before Christ’s Bema to receive his imperishable award. The judge at the Bema bestowed rewards to the victors. He did not whip the losers.3 We might add, neither did he sentence them to hard labor.

In other words, it was a reward seat and portrayed a time of rewards or loss of rewards following examination. It was not a time of punishment where believers are judged for their sins. Such would be inconsistent with the finished work of Christ on the cross because He totally paid the penalty for our sins.

Though believers are under no condemnation in respect to their sins, having been justified by faith (John 3:18; 5:24; Rom. 8:1, 13-17), they are subject to judgment at the Judgment seat of Christ in relation to their works. At the Judgment Seat of Christ believers’ works will be evaluated to demonstrate whether they are good or bad, and rewards will be conferred (2 Cor. 5:10; cf. Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:9-14; 9:24-27). The goal of the Christian in his life is to be pleasing to God whether in time or eternity. The Judgment Seat of Christ is not related to salvation but to the bestowal of rewards, and every Christian is assured that he will receive some reward (1 Cor. 4:5; cf. Eph. 6:8; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 22:12).4

See Appendix B for more on the Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ.

The Judgments of the Tribulation

While the Bema is going on in heaven (with the church in the Lord’s presence) a series of terrible judgments will begin to unfold on the earth for a period of seven years to be culminated by the return and manifestation of Christ to earth as the Great White Horse Rider of Revelation 19.

The main point to see here is that this entire period is the expression of God’s wrath in increasing degrees of judgment to be poured out on the world. The world seeks to find answers to its problems through the one world movement of the last days and apart from the true God as He has revealed Himself in Christ. So, much as we see in Romans 1:18f, God turns the world over to the consequences of its choices. The result is the one world system of the Beast as described in Revelation. It will begin with an apparent time of prosperity and peace created by this one world government under the deceptions of the man of lawlessness. But even this will be God’s judgment and the expression of His wrath. While people are saying peace and safety, then sudden destruction will come as birth pains upon a woman in travail. The judgments of this time will grow in intensity and conclude with an awesome display of God’s wrath against a Christ-rejecting world.

See Appendix C for an overview of the Tribulation.

The Judgment and Reward of
Resurrected Old Testament and Tribulation Saints

While many would place the resurrection and reward of Old Testament saints with that of the church at the rapture, a number of factors favor this at the conclusion of the tribulation at the same time as the resurrection and reward of tribulation saints mentioned in Revelation 20:4.

(1) Daniel, who wrote concerning the termination of God’s program for Israel in chapter 9, places the resurrection of the righteous in Israel as occurring after “a time of distress such as never occurred …” Clearly this is the Tribulation, Daniel’s Seventieth Week, or “the time of Jacob’s Distress” mentioned by Jeremiah (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 9:27).

(2) Resurrection is viewed in Scripture as an event that terminates one program and initiates another, and one would not expect Israel’s resurrection could come until God had finished the seventy years decreed for His people, the Jews, according to Daniel 9:24-27. Since the events mentioned in Daniel 9:26 (the cutting off of Messiah and the destruction of city and sanctuary) had to occur after the 69 weeks of years had run their course but before the seventieth week begins, there has to be a space of time, the parenthesis of the church age, between the conclusion of the sixty-ninth week and the beginning of the seventieth.

(3) The resurrection (rapture) and Bema of the church concludes this parenthesis, the church age, but Old Testament saints (the righteous dead) are not resurrected and rewarded until after the seventieth week when God concludes His program with Israel as far as the seventy weeks of Daniel are concerned.

The order of God’s resurrection program which includes the judgment of rewards would seem to be:

(1) the resurrection of Christ as the beginning of the resurrection program (1 Cor. 15:23); (2) the resurrection of the church age saints at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:16); (3) the resurrection of tribulation period saints (Rev. 20:3-5), together with (4) the resurrection of Old Testament saints (Dan. 12:2; Isa. 26:19).5

The Judgment of Living Israel

    The Time of This Judgment

The Scripture teaches that before Messiah can begin to reign, there must be a judgment to determine who will enter into Messiah’s kingdom since “they are not all Israel (spiritually regenerated believers who put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Messiah) who are Israel (physical descendants only)” (Rom. 9:6). The rebels of unbelief must be removed so that only believing Israel will enter into the kingdom (cf. Ezek. 20:34-38; Matt. 25:1-30).

Part of this removal occurs through the Tribulation judgments themselves (Rev. 6-19; Zech. 13:8-9). But those who are not killed by these judgments will be gathered, judged, and the rebels removed with only believers going into the millennial kingdom.

Matthew 24-25 set the chronology and thus the time. The order is:

  • The Tribulation judgments (Matt. 24:4-26).
  • The visible return of Jesus Christ (Matt. 24:27-30).
  • The regathering of those Israelites who were left after the tribulation judgments, both believing and unbelieving Jews (Matt. 24:31; Ezek. 20:34-35a).
  • The judgment of the Nation of Israel (Matt. 25:1-30; Ezek. 20:35b-38).
    The Place of This Judgment

At the end of the Tribulation, the Lord Jesus will return personally to earth (Zech. 14:4), but Ezekiel 20:34-35 shows God brings Israel out from the nations where she has been scattered throughout the times of the Gentiles (gathers her to the last person, Ezek. 39:28). But Israel is first gathered at the borders, outside the land of Israel, called in Ezekiel 20:35 “the wilderness of the peoples,” for judgment, face to face, one by one as sheep pass under the shepherd’s rod.

    The Basis of This Judgment

Revelation 7:14 shows us that salvation in the Tribulation (as in the church age) is through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. This is further confirmed by the message of the book of Romans where the Apostle shows Israel’s problem to be one of seeking to establish her own righteousness by keeping the Law rather than accept God’s righteousness by faith in Christ (Rom. 9-11). Matthew 25:1-30 shows that God will judge living Israel to separate the saved from the unsaved. In this passage and in Malachi 3:2-3, 5, and Ezekiel 20:37-38, the individual’s works will be brought into judgment, but not because they are saved by their works, but because their works demonstrate they are rebels who have failed to trust in Jesus.

The Judgment of Living Gentiles

Just as He judged the Jews still alive at the end of the Tribulation when Christ personally returns to earth, so He will also judge those Gentiles who remain (Matt. 25:31-46).

At the judgment of the Gentiles Christ will separate the sheep, representing the saved, from the goats, representing the lost (Matt. 24:31-46). Though salvation is by grace and through faith, the saved who come out of the Great Tribulation will be identified by their works in befriending their Jewish brothers. In the universal anti-Semitism of the Great Tribulation one who befriends Jews will by this evidence manifest his salvation.6

The Final Judgment of Satan and the Fallen Angels

Throughout the centuries as anticipated in the enmity mentioned in Genesis 3:15, there has been constant warfare between the holy angels who minister to God’s people and Satan and his unholy angels, the demonic spirits. Nevertheless, as mentioned earlier concerning the judgment of Satan, God has manifested His power by defeating Satan and his hordes. While, for God’s own purposes, Satan has been allowed to continue his nefarious schemes, Scripture speaks of three sure events regarding the activity of Satan and his demonic forces: his binding during the millennium, his short release, and his final incarceration in the Lake of Fire. Then all opposing powers against the Lord will be dealt with in judgment (Rev. 20:1-3, 7-10; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; 1 Cor. 15:24-26).

The Judgment of the Great White Throne

Revelation 20:11-15 And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

This vision of the Great White Throne describes the last and final judgment of history. It is an awesome and solemn scene and one which should cause everyone to stop and think about the eternal implications of this future event. For the non-Christian, the one who has never trusted in the person and work of Jesus Christ, it should cause him to want to search out the truth regarding Jesus Christ, to embrace Him in faith as the Savior from his sin and eternal doom. For the Christian, the future reality of this event should cause deep concern because of the many (including some of our friends and relatives) who will face this throne of judgment because they never received the Savior by faith.

All who have scoffed at God, denied His being, rebelled at His rule, or rejected His sovereignty—and in the process, also rejected His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ—must at this time stand before this throne to be condemned to eternal judgment. May the reality of this judgment cause us to carefully reflect on the serious consequences of this passage on a Christ-rejecting world.

    The Time of This Judgment

Revelation 20:5 and 11-15 show this takes place after the conclusion of the millennium following the doom of Satan and the destruction of heaven and earth, but before the eternal state of the new heavens and earth of Revelation 21:1.

    The Place of This Judgment

Heaven and earth are seen fleeing from the face of Him who sits on this throne (20:11). In other words, they are destroyed, dissolved (2 Pet. 3:7, 10-12). The point is the Great White Throne Judgment does not occur on earth or in heaven as we know it, but somewhere beyond, perhaps in extreme outer space. This indication is also clear that it does occur in the new heavens and earth which are not created until after this event (cf. 20:11 with 21:1).

In other words, God has removed Satan and his demons, the False Prophet and the Beast, and is about to judge the rest of the unbelieving dead. So, it is only fitting that He also judge the old earth and heavens that has been the arena of Satan’s activity and man’s sin and rebellion. This evidently takes place after the resurrection of the unbelieving dead from the grave and Hades. They are resurrected, gathered before the throne and actually behold the dissolution of heaven and earth as a foreboding preparation for their judgment. All their hopes and dreams had been placed in an earth and system that was passing away (1 John 2:17), and now they see it dissolve before their very eyes.

“And no place was found for them,” i.e., for heaven and earth. In the eternal state there will be no place for that which reminds men of the rebellions of Satan and man with all its wickedness and sorrow (Rev. 22:3; 21:4; Isa. 65:17).

    The Character of This Judgment

It is called “great” because of the awesome intensity and the degree of its importance. Here each unbeliever’s eternal destiny is declared and determined with ample proof and reason. It is great because it is the final judgment and puts an end to all judgment for all time. It is great because all the unbelievers of all time, from Cain to the final revolt at the end of the Millennium, will be here assembled to face the bar of God’s holy justice.

It is called “white” because it will be the supreme and undimmed display of the perfect righteousness and justice of God to all mankind. Throughout history God has revealed Himself in creation (Rom. 1:18-21), a revelation man has ignored. Through the Scriptures and the remnant of His people, He has taught man that he must have God’s righteousness, that God is of purer eyes than to approve evil or to accept or look upon wickedness (Hab. 1:13), that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), and that the penalty of sin is eternal death, separation from God (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:2). Now these facts will become evident to each individual and proven without question.

It is called a “throne” because here the Lord Jesus Christ will sit in absolute majesty and sovereign authority to consign a Christ-rejecting world to the eternal Lake of Fire. In Revelation 4:2 John beheld a throne set in heaven from which the Tribulation judgments proceeded. The word throne is used more than 30 times in Revelation, but this throne, the great white one, is to be distinguished from all others as the most significant one of all.

    The Participants of This Judgment

The judge is the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:22-23, 27). All judgment has been placed into His hands as the perfect Son of man, Son of God, the one qualified to judge by virtue of his sinless humanity and defeat of Satan and sin through the cross (Rev. 5:1-14).

Those judged are “the dead, great and small,” those who had no part in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:5-6). Specifically, this is the dead of the second resurrection, the resurrection of the unjust, the resurrection unto the second death mentioned in Revelation 20:5-6, 12-14, and John 5:29b. “The dead, great and small” emphasizes that no one is exempt. All who have died without faith in Jesus Christ—regardless of their status in human history, religiously, politically, economically, or morally—must stand before this throne of judgment.

    The Source of Their Resurrection

Revelation 20:13a shows they come from:

(1) “The sea,” a reference to all those who died at sea and were not buried in the earth.

(2) “Death,” a reference to all those who were buried in graves in the ground, cremated, or destroyed in any other way on earth.

(3) “Hades,” a reference to the place of torments, the compartment which contains the souls of all unbelievers (Luke 16:23). The sea and death (i.e., the ground) contain the bodies and Hades contains the souls. At this resurrection the soul and body are reunited and the person is brought before the throne.

    The Basis of This Judgment

The basis of the judgment is what is found in the two sets of books—the books which are opened, and the other book, the Book of Life (Rev. 20:12b, 13b, 15a). Note that the text says “and the books (plural) were opened, and another book (singular) was opened, which is the Book of Life.” We have two sets, the books and the book which is mentioned again in verse 15a.

The Books: The identity of the books is not specifically revealed and we can only speculate from a comparison of other passages of Scripture and from the nature of these verses. I believe we have two books here.

(1) The first book opened will probably be the Scripture, the Word of God, which contains the revelation of God’s holy character, the moral law, the declaration of man’s sinfulness, and God’s plan of salvation through faith in Christ. This book also reveals that even when men do not have the written Word, they have the law of God written in their hearts (Rom. 2:14-16), and the revelation of God-consciousness in creation so that they are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-21; 2:12). Undoubtedly, then, the Scripture will be used to demonstrate the clearness of the plan of God and that man is without excuse. John 12:48 is very pertinent here:

He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.

(2) The second book will be the book of works or deeds. Verses 13 and 14 state that the unbelieving dead will be judged according to their deeds (works). Undoubtedly then, one book is the book of works which contains a record of every person’s deeds as a witness of the true nature of their spiritual condition.

“Deeds” is the Greek word, ergon, which refers to anything that is done, “a deed, action, or work.” It is used of good deeds (Matt. 26:10; Mark 14:6; Rom. 2:7), of evil deeds (Col. 1:21; 2 John 11), of dead works (Heb. 6:1; 9:14), of unfruitful deeds (Eph. 5:11), of ungodly deeds (Jude 15), of deeds of darkness (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:11), and of works of the Law (Rom. 2:15).

The principle here is that Jesus Christ died for their sins no matter how evil that He might forgive them and give them a righteousness from God that they may have a perfect standing before God. As Paul declares in Romans 5:1-2:

Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

But when men reject the knowledge of God and His plan of salvation, they in essence determine to stand on their own merit, or in their own righteousness. So, the book of works will contain a record of all the unbeliever’s deeds, good and bad, to demonstrate the truth of Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall (continually miss the mark) short of the glory (perfect holiness) of God.” All fall short of God’s perfect righteousness and have therefore no basis upon which to stand accepted (justified) before a holy and just God. This judgment proves them sinners and in need of the righteousness which God freely gives through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Book of Life: This book contains the names of all believers, of all who have put their faith in Christ and God’s plan of salvation or righteousness through the substitutionary death of Christ. Or, to put it another way, it is a record of those who have not rejected God’s plan of salvation and have responded to Christ in faith; for these their faith is reckoned for righteousness and their sins have not been imputed to them (Rom. 4:4-6, 22).

At the Great White Throne Judgment the Book of Life is produced to show that the participant’s name was not found written in the Book of Life because of their rejection of Jesus Christ. They, therefore, have no righteousness and cannot be accepted before God, but must be cast into the eternal Lake of Fire. The Book of Life contains the names of believers, those justified by faith and who have a righteousness from God imputed to their account. These and only these are accepted by God and will spend eternity with Him (cf. Rom. 10:1-4; Phil. 3:9).

    The Judgment or Punishment

Revelation 20:14 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

“Death” refers to the body now resurrected while “Hades” refers to the soul, the immaterial part of man. Both body and soul are eternally separated from God in the eternal Lake of Fire, a very real, literal, and eternal place according the Scripture.

It is so important to note the emphasis here. The real issue is whether one’s name is in the Book of Life, not one’s deeds. The deeds of the unbeliever are only examined to show that the person, no matter how much good they have done, falls short of God’s holy demands. Paul shows us in Romans that all categories of people—the good, the bad, and the ugly—are really in the same boat and on their way to eternal separation from God. Obviously, most see that the immoral person deserves the wrath of God, as the Apostle describes in Romans 1:18-32. But he also shows us that the same applies to the good person and moral person as well as the religious person (Rom. 2:1-3:23). Nobody bats 1000 no matter how good they may appear to men. In the face of the awesome holiness of God, they are sinners and cannot stand in the presence of God on their own merit.

The awesome fact is that salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. The loss of salvation, and ultimately the one sin that separates a person from God and confines him to the eternal Lake of Fire, is because of failure to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and a perfect righteous standing before God.

John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him. (NIV)

Regarding the coming of the Spirit and His ministry in the world after the resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand, Christ made the following promise:

John 16:8-11 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (Emphasis mine.)

Since the Savior has died for the sin of the world (1 John 2:2), the ultimate issue is the sin of unbelief or rejection of Christ.

Conclusion

Friend, have you put your trust in the person of Christ as the God-man Savior who died for your sin? If you have not, may I encourage you to read Appendix A, investigate the claims of Christ, and receive Him as your Savior by faith.

Appendix A:
An Explanation of the Gospel

Introduction

As the Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, Jesus said, “I have come that they (all mankind) may have life, and have it abundantly,” a life with meaning and purpose. The Bible teaches us that God loves all people and wants to bring them into a harmonious relationship with Himself. But man is separated from God by the problem of Sin. God has resolved that problem through the person of Jesus Christ. The following is a short presentation of the good news of how God has provided that men might know Him and experience eternal life.

God’s Plan of Salvation

While 1 John 5:11 and 12 are written to Christians to give them assurance of their salvation based on the testimony of God’s Word, this passage also highlights the key issue in God’s plan of salvation as it is centered in the person of Jesus Christ.

  • God’s Declaration to Man: “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (verse 11).
  • The Important Issue: “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (verse 12).

This passage teaches: (a) that God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son, Jesus Christ, and (b) that the way to possess eternal life is to possess God’s Son.

Two important questions must be asked and answered:

  • Why is possession of God’s Son necessary to have eternal life?
  • How can a person possess or have the Son of God?

The Problem of Man’s Separation From God

According to Romans 5:8, God demonstrated His love for us through the death of His Son. Why did Christ have to die for us? Because Scripture declares all men to be sinful. We are all sinners. “To sin” means to miss the mark. The Bible declares, “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory (the perfect holiness) of God.” In other words, our sin separates us from God who is perfect holiness (righteousness and justice) and who must therefore judge sinful man (Rom. 3:23; Hab. 1:13; Isa. 59:2).

The Problem of the Futility of Man’s Works

Scripture also teaches us that no amount of human goodness or human works or human morality or religious activity can gain acceptance with God or get anyone into heaven. The moral man, the religious man, and the immoral and non-religious are all in the same boat—they all fall short of the glory of God (God’s perfect righteousness). After discussing the immoral man, the moral man, and the religious man in Romans 1:18-3:8, the Apostle Paul declares “that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin,” that “there is none righteous, not even one,” and “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:9-10, 23).

Added to this are the declarations of the following verses of Scripture:

Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.

Titus 3:5-7: He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Romans 4:1-5: What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.

No amount of human goodness is as good as God. God is perfect righteousness. Because of this, He cannot have fellowship with anyone who does not have perfect righteousness (Hab. 1:13a). In order to be accepted by God, we must be as good as God is. Before God, we all stand naked, helpless, and hopeless in ourselves. No amount of good living will get us to heaven or give us eternal life. What then is the solution?

God’s Solution for Man’s Problem

God is not only perfect holiness (whose holy character we can never attain to on our own or by our works of righteousness) but He is also perfect love and full of grace and mercy. Because of His love, grace and mercy He has not left us without hope and a solution.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

This is the good news of the Bible, the message of the gospel. It’s the message of the gift of God’s own Son who became man (the God-man), lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sin, and was raised from the grave proving both the fact He is God’s Son and the value of His death for us as our substitute (Rom. 1:4; 4:25).

2 Corinthians 5:21: He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

1 Peter 3:18: For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.

The All-Important Question

How then do we receive God’s Son that we may have the eternal life God has promised us? What becomes the issue for us today?

John 1:12: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, {even} to those who believe in His name.

John 3:16-18: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Because of what Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross, the Bible states that “He that has the Son has life” and we can receive the Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior by personal faith, by trusting in the person of Christ and His death for our sins.

This means we must each come to God the same way—as a sinner who recognizes his sinfulness, repudiates any form of human works for salvation, and relies totally on Christ alone by faith alone for our salvation.

If you would like to receive and trust Christ as your personal Savior, you may want to express your faith in Christ by the following prayer:

Dear God, I know I’m a sinner and that nothing I do can gain heaven or eternal life. I believe Jesus Christ died for me and rose from the grave. Right now I receive Him as my personal Savior by trusting in Him alone as my only way to heaven. Thank you for giving me eternal life through faith in your Son.

If you prayed this prayer and truly trusted in the person of Jesus Christ and His death for your sin, then you have been born anew into the family of God. You are now one of God’s children by faith in the Savior.

As a child of God, you are, however, a babe in Christ and you need to grow and be spiritually nourished and built up in the things of Christ. As with all Christians, you need fellowship with other believers in a Bible teaching church, personal time daily in God’s Word and regularly with other believers in a Bible teaching setting during the week.

Appendix B:
The Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ

The Doctrine of Rewards

One of the prominent doctrines of the New Testament is the Doctrine of Rewards and the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is a doctrine often ignored or, when taught, it is misrepresented because of the term “judgment” that is used in translating the Greek text. Commenting on this Samuel Hoyt writes:

Within the church today there exists considerable confusion and debate regarding the exact nature of the examination at the judgment seat of Christ. The expression “the judgment seat of Christ” in the English Bible has tended to cause some to draw the wrong conclusion about the nature and purpose of this evaluation. A common misconception which arises from this English translation is that God will mete out a just retribution for sins in the believer’s life, and some measure of retributive punishment for sins will result.7

As it will be shown below, though it is tremendously serious with eternal ramifications, the judgment seat of Christ is not a place and time when the Lord will mete out punishment for sins committed by the child of God. Rather, it is a place where rewards will be given or lost depending on how one has used his or her life for the Lord.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, the Apostle Paul drew courage and was motivated by the fact of rewards at the return of the Lord for the church which he mentions in every chapter in this epistle and becomes the primary subject of 2 Thessalonians. The Lord’s return and what this means not only to the world but to us individually is a very prominent subject of the New Testament.

It is significant that among the final words of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, we find these words of the Lord:

Rev. 22:12 Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.

While salvation is a gift, there are rewards given for faithfulness in the Christian life and loss of rewards for unfaithfulness. Rewards become one of the great motives of the Christian’s life or should. But we need to understand the nature of these rewards to understand the nature of the motivation. Some people are troubled by the doctrine of rewards because this seems to suggest “merit” instead of “grace,” and because, it is pointed out, we should only serve the Lord out of love and for God’s glory.

Of course we should serve the Lord out of love and for God’s glory, and understanding the nature of rewards will help us do that. But the fact still remains that the Bible promises us rewards. God gives us salvation. It is a gift through faith, but He rewards us for good works. God graciously supplies the means by which we may serve Him. Indeed, He works in us both to will and to do as we volitionally appropriate His grace (Phil. 2:12-13), but the decision to serve, and the diligence employed in doing so, are our responsibility and our contribution and God sees this as rewardable. Compare the following passages:

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

Colossians 1:29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

Key Verses on Rewards: Rom. 14:10-11; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:9-10; 1 John 2:28; Rev. 3:11-12.

The Meaning of the Judgment (Bema) Seat

Both Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:9 speak of the “judgment seat.” This a translation of one Greek word, the word bema. While bema is used in the gospels and Acts of the raised platform where a Roman magistrate or ruler sat to make decisions and pass sentence (Matt. 27:19; John 19:13), its use in the epistles by Paul, because of his many allusions to the Greek athletic contests, is more in keeping with its original use among the Greeks.

This word was taken from Isthmian games where the contestants would compete for the prize under the careful scrutiny of judges who would make sure that every rule of the contest was obeyed (cf. 2 Tim. 2:5). The victor of a given event who participated according to the rules was led by the judge to the platform called the Bema. There the laurel wreath was placed on his head as a symbol of victory (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-25).

In all of these passages, “Paul was picturing the believer as a competitor in a spiritual contest. As the victorious Grecian athlete appeared before the Bema to receive his perishable award, so the Christian will appear before Christ’s Bema to receive his imperishable award. The judge at the Bema bestowed rewards to the victors. He did not whip the losers.8 We might add, neither did he sentence them to hard labor.

In other words, it is a reward seat and portrays a time of rewards or loss of rewards following examination, but it is not a time of punishment where believers are judged for their sins. Such would be inconsistent with the finished work of Christ on the Cross because He totally paid the penalty for our sins. Chafer and Walvoord have an excellent word on this view:

With reference to sin, Scripture teaches that the child of God under grace shall not come into judgment (John 3:18; 5:24; 6:37; Rom. 5:1; 8:1; 1 Cor. 11:32); in his standing before God, and on the ground that the penalty for all sin—past, present, and future (Col. 2:13)—has been borne by Christ as the perfect Substitute, the believer is not only placed beyond condemnation, but being in Christ is accepted in the perfection of Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:6; Col. 2:10; Heb. 10:14) and loved of God as Christ is loved (John 17:23).9

Again, Chafer writes concerning the Bema, “It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the judgment is unrelated to the problem of sin, that it is more for the bestowing of rewards than the rejection of failure.”10

The Time of the Bema

This event will occur immediately following the rapture or resurrection of the church after it is caught up to be with the Lord in the air as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Arguments in support of this view:

(1) In Luke 14:12-14, reward is associated with the resurrection and the rapture is when the church is resurrected.

(2) In Revelation 19:8, when the Lord returns with His bride at the end of the tribulation, she is seen already rewarded. Her reward is described as fine linen, the righteous acts of the saints—undoubtedly the result of rewards.

(3) In 2 Timothy 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 4:5, rewards are associated with “that day” and with the Lord’s coming. Again, for the church this means the event of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

So the order of events will be (a) the rapture which includes our glorification or resurrection bodies, (b) exaltation into the heavens with the Lord, (c) examination before the Bema, and (d) compensation or rewards.

The Place of the Bema

It will occur somewhere in the heavenlies in the presence of the Lord. This is evident from 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and Revelation 4:2 and 19:8.

The Participants at the Bema

(1) All the passages dealing with the Bema or rewards are addressed to believers or pertain to believers of the church (Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:12f; 2 Cor. 5:9f; 1 John 2:28; 1 Thess. 2:19-20; 1 Tim. 6:18-19; Tit. 2:12-14 [note the emphasis on good works]).

The resurrection program and the thus the reward of Old Testament saints occurs after the tribulation, after church age saints are already seen in heaven and rewarded and returning with the Lord to judge the earth (cf. Rev. 19:8 with Dan. 12:1-2; Matt. 24).

(2) All believers, regardless of their spiritual state, will be raptured and will stand before the Bema to give an account of their lives and will either receive rewards or lose rewards. Some believe in a partial rapture theory which says that only those in fellowship with the Lord will be raptured as a form of punishment for their sin. As mentioned above, this is not only contrary to the finished work of Christ who once and for all paid the penalty for our sins, but it is contrary to the teaching of 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11.

9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.

The context suggests that Paul has in mind the return of Christ for the church—the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The rapture is the means of our deliverance from the wrath he discusses in chapter 5:1-3. Further, the words “awake or asleep” of verse 10 refer to a spiritual or moral condition, not whether one is alive or dead when Christ returns as in 4:13-14. This is clear from both the context of 5:4-8 and by the fact he changed the words he used for sleep. He used the Greek katheudo in 5:10 rather than koimao, the word he used metaphorically in 4:13-14 of physical death. Though katheudo was used of physical sleep and even death, it was also commonly used of spiritual apathy or carnal indifference to spiritual matters, and this is clearly the context of chapter 5. The point, then, is this: Because of the perfect and finished nature of Christ’s death (note the words “who died for us” of verse 10), whether we are spiritually alert or not, we will live together with Him through the rapture to face the examination of the Bema.

The Examiner or Judge at the Bema

This is none other than the Lord Jesus who is even now examining our lives and will bring to light the true nature of our walk and works when we stand before Him at the Bema (Rev. 1-2; 1 Cor. 4:5f; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 John 2:28). In Romans 14:10 the Apostle called this examining time the Bema of God while in 2 Corinthians 5:10 he called it the Bema of Christ. The Point: Jesus who is God is our examiner and rewarder.

The Purpose and Basis of the Bema

The purpose and the basis is the most critical issue of all and brings us face to face with the practical aspects of the Bema. Some crucial questions are: Why are we brought before the Bema? Is it only for rewards or their loss? Will any punishment be meted out? Will there be great sorrow? What’s the basis on which the Bema is conducted? Is it sin, good works, or just what?

    The Problem

Within the church, there exists a good deal of confusion and disagreement concerning the exact nature of the Bema. The use of the term “judgment seat” in most translations, ignorance of the historical and cultural background concerning the Bema, and foggy theology regarding the finished work of Christ have all contributed to several common misconceptions which, in one way or another, see God as giving out just retribution to believers for sin, or at least for our unconfessed sin.

    Three Views of the Bema

For a summary of three major views, let me quote Samuel L. Hoyt from Bibliotheca Sacra.

Some Bible teachers view the judgment seat as a place of intense sorrow, a place of terror, and a place where Christ display all the believer’s sins (or at least those unconfessed) before the entire resurrected and raptured church. Some go even further by stating that Christians must experience some sort of suffering for their sins at the time of this examination.

At the other end of the spectrum another group, which holds to the same eschatological chronology, views this event as an awards ceremony. Awards are handed out to every Christian. The result of this judgment will be that each Christian will be grateful for the reward which he receives, and he will have little or no shame.

Other Bible teachers espouse a mediating position. They maintain the seriousness of the examination and yet emphasize the commendation aspect of the judgment seat. They emphasize the importance and necessity of faithful living today but reject any thought of forensic punishment at the Bema. Emphasis is placed on the fact that each Christian must give an account of his life before the omniscient and holy Christ. All that was done through the energy of the flesh will be regarded as worthless for reward, while all that was done in the power of the Holy Spirit will be graciously rewarded. Those who hold this view believe that the Christian will stand glorified before Christ without his old sin nature. He will, likewise, be without guilt because he has been declared righteous. There will be no need for forensic punishment, for Christ has forever borne all of God’s wrath toward the believer’s sins.11

This last view I believe to be the one that is in accord with Scripture. Reasons for this will be set forth and developed as we study the nature, purpose, and basis for the Bema. But for now, lest we draw some wrong conclusions, we need to be ever mindful that God’s Word clearly teaches there are specific and very serious consequences, both temporal and eternal, for sin or disobedience. Though we will not be judged in the sense of punished for sin at the Bema since the Lord has born that for us, we must never take sin lightly because there are many consequences.

    The Present Consequences of Sin or Disobedience

While the following is not exhaustive, it demonstrates that sin in the life of a believer is not a small issue.

(1) Loss of Fellowship With the Lord. Known sin in one’s life causes a loss of intimate fellowship with the Lord with the consequent loss of His joy and peace (Ps. 32:3-4).

(2) Divine Discipline From the Lord Here in Time. We should not think of discipline as punishment. Discipline from God is the gracious work of a Father to train and develop His children. Sometimes this comes in the form of various kinds of testing, trials, failure, and predicaments which He uses to correct us, to train us, and, if we have been going our own stubborn way, to increase our misery. The goal, however, is always to bring us back to Him (Heb. 12:5-11). If the believer remains unrepentant, this can lead to the sin unto death as with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), and some of the believers at Corinth who were failing to confess their sin and get right with the Lord (1 Cor. 11:28f; cf. also 1 John 5:16-17).

(3) Loss of Power and Production. When we fail to deal with our sinful ways through honest confession, we grieve the Spirit’s person and quench His power in our lives. This means that rather than operating by faith in God’s provision, we end up operating in the energy of the flesh. We turn to our personal bag of tricks by which we seek to handle life (Gal. 3:1-5; 5:5-15; Jer. 2:12-13). This results in the works of the flesh and their awful and fruitless consequences (Gal. 5:19-21, 26). Without the abiding life, the life of faith and obedience to the Savior, we can do nothing (John 15:1-7).

(4) Loss of Opportunities. When we are in charge of our lives rather than the Lord, we become insensitive to people and opportunities of ministry—we lack vision. Carnal believers have no vision other than their own personal agendas and selfish goals (cf. Jn. 4:34f).

(5) Loss of Desire and Motivation for Service. Carnal believers are occupied and controlled by their own self-centered desires (Gal. 5:16f). Perhaps this is a good place to discuss the concept of selfishness and rewards for some see an appeal to rewards as selfish and therefore carnal.

Zane Hodges has some good thoughts on this concept:

Scripture does not teach us to be uninterested in our own happiness or well-being. The very desire to escape eternal damnation is a legitimate and urgent self-interest. The instinct to preserve our lives is the same. Nor are pleasure and enjoyment illegitimate experiences.

When God put Adam and Eve in the garden, He furnished them with “every tree … that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). They could enjoy themselves freely provided they abstained from eating from the one forbidden tree. Similarly, Paul tells rich people that “God … gives us richly all things to enjoy.” (1 Tim. 6:17, italics added).

Selfishness ought not to be defined simply as the pursuit of our own self-interest. Instead, it should be defined as the pursuit of our self-interest in our own way, rather than in God’s way. Since “love” is a preeminent virtue in Christianity, true selfishness often involves a pursuit of self-interest that violates the law of love.12

Self-interest in God’s way is legitimate. Self-centeredness or selfishness is preoccupation with self at the expense of others and God’s will in one’s life. When Adam and Eve chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they acted in self-centered independence which was idolatry and sin. When they enjoyed each other and the fruit trees and blessings of the garden, they acted in their self-interest but they did so in dependence on and in obedience to the Lord.

(6) Broken Relationships and Disharmony. Carnality causes broken relationships and pain to those around us—our families, friends, associates, and co-workers in the body of Christ (Gal. 5:15; Heb. 12:15b).

(7) Loss of Physical Health and Vitality. Of course all sickness, weakness, or suffering is not a product of sin, but it can be and often is (1 Cor. 11:29-30; 1 John 5:16-17; Prov. 17:22; 14:30).

(8) Loss of Rewards at the Bema.

1 Cor. 3:13-15: “each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.”

    The Purpose of the Bema

It is not punitive. It is not to judge believers for sin of any kind, confessed or unconfessed. “Scripture teaches that for the believer God’s justice has already been fully and forever satisfied at the Cross in relation to the believer’s sins. If God were to punish the believer judicially for his sins for which Christ has already rendered payment, He would be requiring two payments for sin and would therefore be unjust. Such a concept (punishment for sin) erroneously disparages the all-sufficiency of Christ’s death on the cross.”13 Christ paid the penalty for the believer’s pre- and post-conversion sins. The believer will forfeit rewards which he could have received, but he will not be punished in the judicial sense of “paying” for his sins.

Scripture teaches that all sins, both confessed and unconfessed, have been forgiven and taken care of by the work of Christ on the Cross so the Christian will never face those sins again at the judgment.

The following verses demonstrate the basic principle of the complete and finished nature of Christ’s work:

Hebrews 10:14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Romans 5:19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Colossians 2:10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;

These verses state the complete results or conclusion:

Hebrews 8:12 For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.

Hebrews 10:17-18 And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. 18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Isaiah 44:22 I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud, And your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.

Psalm 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Micah 7:19 He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, Thou wilt cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea.

Isaiah 38:17 Lo, for my own welfare I had great bitterness; It is Thou who hast kept my soul from the pit of nothingness, For Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.

These verses show we cannot come into judgment. Why? Because Christ has born our judgment by being made a curse in our place:

Romans 5:1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

John 3:18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

Then why do we have to confess sin in this life? And why does God judge believers for unconfessed sin as with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and some of the believers in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:28f? Because this is a completely different matter.

(1) Unconfessed sin relates to fellowship in this life, not one’s relationship or standing with God. Unconfessed sin stands as a barrier to fellowship with the Lord and His control over one’s life. As Amos 3:3 says, “can two walk together unless they be agreed?” Obviously the answer is no. Confession means we agree with God concerning our sin and want to get back under God’s control. “Daily forgiveness of those who are within the family of God is distinguished from judicial and positional forgiveness which was applied forensically to all of a person’s sins the moment he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.”14 We need to distinguish between fellowship forgiveness and legal or forensic forgiveness that justifies us and gives us a standing before God through Christ.

Key Scriptures: Heb. 12:5f and 1 Cor. 11:28-32. These passages:

  • Explain the nature of God’s judgment of believers in this life. It is discipline designed to train and bring believers back to a walk with God.
  • They teach us the basic cause of discipline is failure to examine and confess known sins because that hinders our fellowship with God.
  • “Condemned along with the world” in 1 Corinthians 11:32 most likely refers to the judgment of Rom. 1:24f, moral degeneration and the gradual breakdown in the moral fiber of men when they turn away from God. The same thing happens in the life of believers, but God brings discipline to stop the process.

(2) God does not judge us for our sin in the sense of making us pay the penalty for that sin.

Scripture teaches that Christ’s death was all-sufficient, completely satisfying God’s wrath toward sin in the believer. The question of sin in regard to God’s justice has been forever satisfied in the mind of God by the all-sufficient sacrifice of His Son. The penalty for the believer’s sins has been fully paid for by Christ, the believer’s substitute. The Christian has been in court, condemned, sentenced, and executed in his substitute, Jesus Christ. God cannot exact payment for sins twice since payment has been fully and forever paid. The believer is seen by the Father as clothed in the righteousness of Christ. God can therefore find no cause for accusing the Christian judicially any more than He can find cause for accusing Jesus Christ. Therefore, at the judgment seat of Christ forensic punishment will not be meted out for the believer’s sins.15

Rather, God disciplines us as a father disciplines his sons to bring us back into fellowship that we might be conformed to His Son. It is a family matter.

    The Positive Aspects of the Bema

(1) To evaluate the quality of every believer’s work whether it is good or bad, i.e., acceptable and thus worthy of rewards, or unacceptable, to be rejected and unworthy of rewards. Actually an evaluation is going on every day by the Lord (cf. Rev. 2-3).

(2) To destroy and remove unacceptable production portrayed in the symbols of wood, hay, and stubble. All sinful deeds, thoughts, and motives, as well as all good deeds done in the energy of the flesh will be consumed like wood, hay, and stubble before a fire because they are unworthy of reward. Why? This will be answered as we consider the basis on which rewards are given or lost.

(3) To reward the believer for all the good he or she has done as portrayed by the symbols of gold, silver, and precious stones, that which is valuable and can stand the test of fire without being consumed.

Scriptures:

1 Cor. 3:13-15 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.

“Evident” is phaneros which means “known, plain, visible, revealed as to it nature.” “The day” refers to a day well known and refers to the day of the Bema after the rapture of the church. “Declare it” is deloo which means “to make evident, clear.” “Be revealed” is apokalupto and means “to unveil.” “Test” is dokimazo and means “to test for the sake of approval.” “The quality” is hopoios, a correlative and qualitative pronoun meaning “of what sort or kind.”

1 Cor. 4:5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.

“Bring to light” is photizo, “to bring to light, make visible.” “Disclose” is phaneroo, “to manifest, reveal.” The issue should be extremely clear from these two verses: The Lord will evaluate the quality and nature of every person’s work. Compare also:

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Revelation 22:12 Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.

    The Negative Aspects of the Bema

There are a number of passages that refer to the negative aspects of the Bema which need to be mentioned and explained. In these passages we read such things as “give account of himself,” “suffer loss,” “shrink away from Him in shame,” and “recompense for his deeds … whether good or bad.”

Will believers experience shame, grief, remorse at the Bema? If so, how do we reconcile this with passages like Revelation 7:17, “God shall wipe away every tear from their eye,” and Revelation 21:4, “and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away,” or with Isaiah 65:17, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind”?

The negative effects involve the following:

(1) The loss suffered in 1 Corinthians 3:15 refers to the loss of rewards, not salvation as the verse goes on to make clear. Please note that the clause “he shall suffer loss” would be better rendered “it (the reward) shall be forfeited.”

(2) The disqualification mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:27 means disqualified from rewards, not loss of salvation. This is clear from the context and the analogy to the Greek athletic games.

(3) The “recompense” (NASB) or the “receive back” (KJV) of 2 Corinthians 5:10 refers to the dispensing of rewards or their loss. The verb used is komizo and means “to carry off safe,” “to carry off as booty.” In the middle voice as here, it meant “to bear for oneself,”16 or “to receive back what is one’s own.”17 Compare Matthew 25:27 and Ephesians 6:8.

(4) That dispensing of rewards is in view is also evident from the Greek words in 2 Corinthians 5:10 translated “good” (agathos—valuable like good fruit) and “bad” (phaulos—unacceptable like rotten or spoiled fruit). The idea is not good in the sense of righteousness versus bad in the sense of evil or sinfulness. For those ideas Paul would have most likely used kalos, “good,” and kakos, “evil.” For good works, those valuable like good fruit, we will receive back rewards, but for bad works, those rotten and worthless, we will receive no rewards or the loss of rewards.

This is no more a punishment than when a student turns in a worthless assignment and receives an F or a D. His poor work results in a just grade or recompense. This is what his work deserves. There used to be a sign in the registrar’s office at Dallas Seminary which read, “Salvation is by grace … Graduation is by works.”

(5) 1 John 2:28. This verse undoubtedly refers to the Bema and shows there will be both boldness as a result of abiding, and shame before the Lord as a result of failing to abide.

“And now little children.” John is writing to believers. This is his term of endearment for his readers as born again people.

“Abide in Him.” “Abide” is a synonym for fellowship which is the subject of the book (1:3-7). It means to remain in Him from the standpoint of drawing on His life as the source of ours and then to obey Him out of that relationship of dependence. This is the basis of rewards or the cause of their loss, the abiding, Christ-dependent life.

“So that” points us to the purpose, the return of the Savior and what it will mean.

“When He appears.” The “when” points to the imminency of the return of the Lord. It is literally “if He appears.” The conditional clause does not question the reality of Christ’s coming, only the time of it and thereby points to its imminency. “Appears” refers to the rapture which leads quickly into the Bema.

“We may have confidence.” “Confidence” is parrhesia and means “courage, boldness to speak.” Point: Though none of us are perfect or ever will be, still, faithfulness to abide and obey the Lord will give confidence of rewards.

“And not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming (presence).” Please note several things here. (a) The verb is what we call in Greek an aorist subjunctive, and with the basic meaning of this verb, the grammar points to a future act, but not a continuous state. This in no way suggests a permanent condition. (b) The voice of the verb is passive. The subject receives the action, that is, he is made to feel shame. But how? (c) There are two views:

(1) The believer who fails to abide is made to feel shame by the Lord, i.e., the Lord puts him to shame. This would be somewhat punitive and does not fit the concept of the Bema nor the promises of the Lord that we will not come into judgment.

(2) The believer who fails to abide experiences shame by the revelatory nature of Christ’s presence at the Bema. This is caused by the realization of what his own failure and sin has cost him in terms of the loss of rewards and loss of glory to the Lord. But this will only be momentary or short-lived at best in view of passages like Revelation 7:17; 21:4 and Isaiah 65:17.

Hoyt has a good summary of what this passage is talking about and involves:

The Bible suggests that there will be shame at the judgment seat of Christ to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the measure of unfaithfulness of each individual believer. Therefore it should be each believer’s impelling desire to be well-pleasing to the Lord in all things. Although Christians apparently will reflect on this earthly life with some regret, they will also realize what is ahead for them in the heavenly life. This latter realization will be the source of boundless joy. English strikes a proper balance on this subject.

“Joy will indeed be the predominant emotion of life with the Lord; but I suspect that, when our works are made manifest at the tribunal, some grief will be mixed with the joy, and we shall know shame as we suffer loss. But we shall rejoice also as we realize that the rewards given will be another example of the grace of our Lord; for at best we are unprofitable servants” (E. Schuyler English, “The Church At the Tribunal,” in Prophetic Truth Unfolding Today, ed. Charles Lee Feingberg [Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1968], p. 29)

The elements of remorse, regret, and shame cannot be avoided in an examination of the judgment seat of Christ. But this sorrow must be somewhat relative because even for the finest of Christians there will be some things worthy of unceasing remorse in the light of God’s unapproachable holiness. This would mean that the finest of Christians could be sorrowful throughout eternity. However, this is not the picture that the New Testament gives of heaven. The overwhelming emotion is joyfulness and gratefulness. Although there is undeniably some measure of remorse or regret, this is not the overriding emotion to be experienced throughout the eternal state.

The emotional condition of the redeemed is that of complete and unending happiness. Emotion proceeds from the realization of facts in personal experience. Hope will at last become reality for all those who are delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:18-25). Elimination of the curse, pain and death will also remove sorrow, tears and crying (Rev. 21:4).

The judgment seat of Christ might be compared to a commencement ceremony. At graduation there is some measure of disappointment and remorse that one did not do better and work harder. However, at such an event the overwhelming emotion is joy, not remorse. The graduates do not leave the auditorium weeping because they did not earn better grades. Rather, they are thankful that they have been graduated, and they are grateful for what they did achieve. To overdo the sorrow aspect of the judgment seat of Christ is to make heaven hell. To underdo the sorrow aspect is to make faithfulness inconsequential.18

The Nature of the Rewards

What are they and how are they described in Scripture? They are described in terms of generalities. What we know about rewards is given in terms that are more general than specific. These are:

(1) The Promise of Crowns. This seems to be used as a symbol of victory, authority, and responsibility.

(2) The Promise of Heavenly Treasure (Matt. 6:20; 1 Pet. 1:4). Stresses their eternal value and security.

(3) The Promise of Accolades or Commendations. This is seen in those passages where a reward is administered in the form of something like “well done thou good and faithful servant …” (cf. Matt. 25:21; Lk. 19:17; 1 Cor. 4:5b).

(4) The Promises to Overcomers. These could refer to special blessing of rewards to those believers who overcomer special trials and tests rather than a general promise to all believers. See Rev. 2:7; 2:11, 17, 26.

(5) The Promise of Special Responsibilities and Authority of the Lord’s Possessions (cf. Matt. 19:28; 24:45-47; 25:21, 23; Lk. 19:17-19; 22:29-30; Rev. 2:26).

    Analogies to Consider

(1) A Thanksgiving Dinner. At a Thanksgiving dinner, each person eats a different amount, but each is satisfied. After our glorification, there will be no sinful nature to produce envy, or jealousy, or resentment, or feelings of dissatisfaction. We will each be enthralled with God and our glorified state.

(2) A Bat Boy at the World Series. Any young man who loves baseball would probably be thrilled to be a bat boy in the World Series, but he would not be jealous or resentful because he was not one of the stars of the game. He would just be delighted to be there and do what he was doing.

(3) A Graduate at Commencement. All the graduates are there and excited about graduating, yet at the time of rewards, some sorrow might be experienced, but it is quickly overcome by the joy of the event.

(4) Our Spiritual Gifts. Our rewards may be likened to our spiritual gifts. Our rewards seem to primarily be a matter of responsibility and maybe opportunities, but they will not be like badges or medals we wear as in the military. Remember that all of our crowns will be cast at the feet of Christ, for only He is worthy (Rev. 4:10-11). Also, Matthew 25:21, 23 and Luke 19:17-19 show us our rewards consist of authority over either many things or many cities. They may include galaxies of the universe. All believers will live in the millennium and in eternity with the Lord. Some will reign with Him, but, because of loss of rewards, evidently some will not.

(5) In Scripture, the church is viewed as the heavenly kingdom and a universal priesthood. This may indicate something of our authority. We may rule over galaxies, celestial bodies, the heavens, and definitely over angels, and the world (cf. 1 Cor. 6:2-3; 4:8).

(6) Israel is the earthly kingdom and will undoubtedly have authority over portions and sections of the millennial kingdom and the eternal kingdom as emphasized in Matt. 25:21; Lk. 19:17-19; and Dan. 7:18, 22, 27.

The Crowns of the New Testament

    The Words Used for Crowns

(1) Stephanos. This was the victor’s crown, the wreath given to the victorious athlete before the judge at the Bema. It is the word used of the crowns promised to believers for faithfulness in the Christian life.

(2) Diadem. This was the royal crown, the crown of a king. It is used of the seven diadems of the Beast in Revelation 12:3 and 13:1. But, to stress that Christ is King of Kings, this word is also used of the many diadems the Lord will wear at His return (Rev. 19:12).

The Principle. The Lord Jesus is the victor, and our victory is really His victory which is appropriated by faith. Crowns are given as rewards for faithfulness to appropriate God’s grace and Christ’s victory in the Christian life. They remind us of our responsibility to abide in the vine.

    The Crowns and Their Significance

(1) The Crown of Thorns (Matt. 27:29; Mk. 15:17; Jn. 19:2, 5). Speaks of Christ’s work on the cross and stands for His victory over sin, Satan, and death.

(2) The Incorruptible Crown (1 Cor. 9:25). Two things: (a) This describes all the crowns. It contrasts our crowns with the temporal and temporary treasure of this life. (b) It is also a special crown given for faithfulness in running the race and exercising self-control in order to serve the Lord and finish the race.

(3) The Crown of Exultation or Rejoicing (1 Thess. 2:19; Phil. 4:1). This crown is a reward given for witnessing, follow-up, and ministry to others. In one sense, the Thessalonians will be Paul’s crown, and the effect at the Bema and throughout eternity will be rejoicing or exultation over their presence in heaven.

But what did Paul mean by this? In view of his use of “crown” (stephanos, the victor’s wreath) in other places, and the fact believers will cast their crowns before the Lord (Rev. 4:10), Paul may also have in mind a personal crown or reward that he will receive because of their presence at the return of the Lord. Though, in this passage the Apostle does not say he would receive a crown, this is suggested, if not here certainly in other passages. Though some of them were not living as they should, looking ahead and seeing them in glory brought joy and would bring great rejoicing.

(4) The Crown of Life (Jam. 1:12; Rev. 2:10). This crown is given for enduring testings (trials) and temptation. The crown is not eternal life which is a gift through faith alone in Christ alone (Jn. 4:10; Rom. 3:24; 5:15-17; 6:23; Eph. 2:8), but a reward for enduring trials and overcoming temptation.

(5) The Crown of Righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8). This crown is a reward given for faithfulness to use our gifts and opportunities in the service of the Lord and for loving His appearing. Note that these two things go together. To love His appearing is to live in the light of it.

(6) The Crown of Glory (1 Pet. 5:4). This crown is a reward promised to Elders for faithfulness in the discharge of their responsibilities in shepherding the people.

(7) The Casting of Crowns (Rev. 4:10, 11). Because Christ alone is worthy and because we can only be fruitful when we abide in Him allowing His life to fills ours, we will all cast our crowns before Him in recognition that all we have done is by His grace.

(8) The Many Crowns or Diadems (Rev. 19:12). The crowns of royalty which stand for Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lord who alone has the right to rule and judge the world.

Appendix C:
An Overview of the Tribulation

Definition of the Tribulation

Biblically, the word “tribulation” comes from the Greek word thlipsis which means “affliction, distress.” In the Bible it is used (1) in general of any kind of testing or affliction or distress which people experience throughout life, and especially of the church and her problems in this world (John 16:33; Rom. 2:9; 5:3; 8:35; 12:12; 1 Thess. 1:6; Rev. 1:9; 2:9, 10). But (2) Scripture also uses it of a very special and future time of tribulation that is to come upon the whole earth (Matt. 24:9, 21, 29; Mark 13:19, 24; Rev. 2:22; 7:14). As a result, Bible students have spoken of a time called “the Tribulation” as that specific future time of trouble as a judgment from God that will come upon the entire world. It will become unprecedented in its affliction as suggested by the description, “the Great Tribulation” (Matt. 24:21), and it will be culminated by the personal return of Jesus Christ to earth (Matt. 24:29-31).

The Source of the Tribulation

Some today refuse to distinguish between the general tribulations of this age that the church will endure, and the unique, universal, and unprecedented Tribulation that will come. They insist that the tribulation is not the judgment of God, but comes from man and Satan bringing persecution to all. They often see any future tribulation as merely the Devil’s wrath poured out against Christians.

Still others today see only the very tail end of the events of Revelation to be the outpouring of the judgment of God and assert that the rest of the events constitute only the wrath or wickedness of man. But the point of Scripture is that even this is a part of God’s judgment upon a world that has sought its answers apart from the true God. The Tribulation will witness Satan’s wrath and the persecutions of his man, the Beast (Rev. 12:12-17; 13:7). But Scripture shows that even this is a manifestation of God’s wrathful judgment that He will cause to rain on the earth. The clear emphasis of Scripture is that the events of Revelation 6-19 constitute a time of God’s special judgment poured out upon the earth. It is from God—a time of divine wrath.

Key Scriptures: Isaiah 24:1; Joel 1:15; Zeph. 1:18; Revelation 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:7, 10, 19; 15:4, 7; 16:1, 7, 19; 19:1-2.

The Participants of the Tribulation

Since the church is gone, caught up to be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:13-18), the Tribulation begins with only unbelievers. It is particularly a time of judgment on “those who dwell upon the earth” which seems to be a technical term in Revelation meaning “earth dweller,” a reference to those who have no interest in the things of God (cf. Rev. 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:8 and Isa. 24:17). Soon, however, 144,000 will come to Christ from the nation of Israel and will evidently become the evangelists of the world who lead people to Christ from every tongue, tribe, and nation (Rev. 7:1-9).

    The Nature and Character of the Tribulation

(1) Though the Tribulation begins as a time of peace, it soon becomes a time of unprecedented trouble—Joel 2:2; Matt. 24:21. Everything about this time will be unprecedented (Zeph. 1:15).

(2) It is a time of God’s wrath or indignation and the vindication of God’s holiness—Zeph. 1:15, 18; Rev. 6:17; I Thess. 1:10; Rev. 14:7, 10; 19:2). God’s wrath against man’s sin and rebellion will be withheld no longer.

(3) It is a day of utter darkness, gloom, and extreme cloudiness (Joel 2:2; Zeph. 1:15).

(4) It is a day of destruction and global catastrophes (Joel 1:15; 2:3; 1 Thess. 5:3; Rev. 6-19).

(5) It is a day of extreme lawlessness, sin, and demonic activity (Rev. 9:20-21; 2 Thess. 2:12).

(6) It is a day of extreme deception and delusion (2 Thess. 2:9-12; Rev. 9:1f; 13:2-3, 11f; Dan. 8:24f). This is caused by (1) the removal of the church and (2) increase in demonic activity.

(7) It is a time of death (Rev. 6; 9:15, 18; 11:13). Large portions of the populations of the earth will be wiped out suddenly, both human and animal.

(8) It is a time of utter negative volition and rebellion (2 Thess. 2:10f; Rev. 6:14f; 9:20; 11:10, 18).

(9) It is a time of internationalism: religiously (Rev. 17); politically (Rev. 13; 17); economically (Rev. 18); militarily (Joel 3:2, 9-14; Rev. 17).

(10) It is a time of extreme anti-Semitism (Rev. 12; Matthew 24:9, 13f).

(11) It is a time of unprecedented apostasy and blasphemy against God (Rev. 11:1f; 13:1f; 2 Thess. 2:3f).

(12) It is a time of martyrdom of believers (Rev. 6:9; 7:14f).

(13) It is a time of global and universal war, human and angelic (Rev. 6:2-4; 16:14; 19:14f; Joel 3:2, 9f; Rev. 12:7).

(14) It is a time of unprecedented evangelism (Rev. 7:9; Matt. 24:14).

The Names of the Tribulation

Terms used of this period. Some of these suggest the judgmental character of this period.

(1) Jacob’s Trouble or distress (Jer. 30:7).

(2) Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Daniel 9:24-27).

(3) A time of trouble or distress (Daniel 12:1).

(4) The Great Day, the one of their wrath (Rev. 6:17).

(5) The hour of testing which shall try the whole earth (Rev. 3:10).

(6) The indignation (Isa. 26:26).

(7) The Great Tribulation (Matt 24:21).

(8) The Day of the Lord (Joel 1:15; 2:1; 1 Thess. 5:2).

In Scripture, the Day of the Lord is often associated with this time of great judgment which God will pour out on earth against Israel and the nations, but it is also associated with the time of millennial blessings which follow when the Lord will rule on earth. Compare Isaiah 13:6-22 = judgment; but 14:1-3 the result which is peace, Israel regathered and in blessing (Joel 1:15f 2:1f, 12-18f; 3:1f).

The Length of the Tribulation

Daniel 9:24-27 shows us that the Tribulation, Daniel’s Seventieth week, is seven years. This is further verified by the time periods of Revelation which divide the tribulation into two periods of three and one-half years (Rev. 11:2-3; 13:5; 12;6; Dan. 7:25; Rev. 12; 14).


1 James M. Stifler, The Epistle To The Romans, Moody Press, Chicago, 1960, p. 31.

2 Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology, Vol. II, Abridged Edition, John F. Walvoord, Editor, Donald K. Campbell, Roy B. Zuck, Consulting Editors, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1988, p. 501.

3 Samuel Hoyt, “The Judgment Seat of Christ in Theological Perspective,” Part 1, Bibliotheca Sacra, January-March, 1980, electronic media.

4 Chafer, p. 502.

5 Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, Dunham Publishing Co., Findlay, OH, 1958, p. 411.

6 Chafer, p. 503.

7 Hoyt, electronia media.

8 Hoyt, electronic media.

9 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Major Bible Themes: 52 Vital Doctrines of the Scripture Simplified and Explained, rev. John F. Walvoord, editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1974, p. 282.

10 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. IV: Ecclesiology-Eschatology, Dallas Seminary Press, Dallas, TX, 1948, p. 406.

11 Hoyt, electronic media.

12 Zane Hodges, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn, 1991, p. 7.

13 Hoyt, electronic media.

14 Hoyt, p. 38.

15 Hoyt, p. 38.

16 G. Abott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1937, p. 252.

17 Fritz Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1980, p. 468.

18 Samuel Hoyt, “The Judgment Seat of Christ in Theological Perspective,” Part 2, Bibliotheca Sacra, electronic media.

Related Topics: Dispensational / Covenantal Theology, Eschatology (Things to Come)

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