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Articles posts of '2018' 'January'

The Armor of God: Being Strong Against Satan

“Why are you called a Christian?” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 32). We are because we bear the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 11:26; 1 Pet. 4:16). Not only does this name mark us out positively as followers of Jesus Christ, but also it marks us out negatively—as targets for Satan’s flaming arrows. Do you realize you are at war, Christian? Wake up! Your enemy is at the gate! Arise; prepare for battle! Your manual for battle is found in Ephesians 6 and Paul’s description of “the armor of God.” It’s this manual on spiritual warfare that we’ll become familiar with in the coming articles. Let’s focus now on verse 10 and the necessity of being strong against Satan.

Our Calling

“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” What kind of verbs are “be strong” here in verse 10 and later in the text: “put on” (v. 11), “take up” (v. 13), and “stand” (vv. 11, 13, 14)? These are imperatives. That means that they call us to do something. You are called to “be strong” and “fight against sin and the devil in this life” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 32).

This idea that we are called to be strong in warfare against sin and Satan is illustrated wonderfully from church history. From the early records we have, they had a practice in which the person being baptized or the parents who brought their children for baptism not only pronounced their faith—“I believe in God the Father Almighty . . . I believe in Jesus Christ . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit”—but they would also renounce the devil. They were asked, “Do you renounce the devil and his works,” to which they were to reply, “I renounce.” In 1561 Zürich’s main pastor, Heinrich Bullinger, prepared to die by writing his last will and testament in the form of what came to be known as the Second Helvetic Confession. In it he said by baptism we have become “soldiers enlisted for the holy warfare of Christ, that all our life long we should fight against the world, Satan, and our own flesh” (art. 20.4).

This call is impressed upon us in the post-baptismal prayer where we pray the baptized will “manfully fight against and overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion.”

Our Courage

To “be strong” takes spiritual courage in the face of a formidable foe. You are called to stand opposite on the field of battle against Satan. He is the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2)—a vast army of fallen, selfish, and wicked demons. He is like a “roaring lion” (1 Pet. 5:8)—strong, powerful, and fierce. He is “a great red dragon” (Rev. 12:3) whose desire is to devour you, his enemy. And although he disguises himself as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), you know before whom you stand. Do not be deceived or lulled to sleep.

Be strong, O church! Have the courage of Abraham and his 318 trained men, who sought and fought four great kings to rescue Lot (Gen. 14). Have the courage of Joshua, who took up arms against the armies of the nations. Have the courage of David, who, though being young and ill equipped, stood against Goliath in the name of the Lord and defeated him. Have courage against your knowing “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

Our Confidence

How dare we stand up to Satan and his minions? How dare we stand up to one who deceived sinless Eve and Adam? How dare we stand up to the one who has deceived the nations and led them astray for generations? John Calvin said of this passage, “There is always much to enfeeble us, and we are ill fitted to resist.” Yet we resist not in our own names or strength. Our confidence is in the name of the Lord and in the strength of his might.

First, we are to be confident in the Lord Jesus Christ. How can we not be confident, courageous, and willing to heed the Spirit’s call to courage when we follow our victorious captain into battle?

It is this Lord who greets us in grace and peace (1:2).

It is this Lord in whom we were chosen from the foundation of the earth (1:4).

It is this Lord through whom we were adopted into God the Father’s heavenly family (1:5).

It is this Lord in whom we have been blessed (1:6).

It is this Lord who has redeemed us through his own blood (1:7).

Shall I continue? Are you confident yet?

It is in this Lord that we have an eternal inheritance (1:11).

It is with this Lord that we have been made alive (2:5).

It is with this Lord that we have been raised to sit in heavenly places (2:6).

It is in this Lord that we have been recreated for good works (2:10).

It is by this Lord’s blood’s that we who were once afar off have been brought near (2:13).

It is this Lord who is our peace (2:14).

It is this Lord who has abolished the law of commandments against us (2:15).

It is this Lord who has reconciled us to God (2:16).

It is through this Lord that we have access to God (2:18).

It is upon this Lord’s foundation that we as the household of God are built (2:20).

It is this Lord whose unsearchable riches have been preached to us (3:8).

Our confidence is in Christ, beloved. Can you see why? This is why Paul elsewhere says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

Second, we are to be confident in the strength of the Lord’s might. What is this strength? It is the power and might of God in raising Christ. Listen to Paul’s prayers in Ephesians. Paul prays that we would know “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” (1:19). What power is that? The power “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (1:20). How high is that? “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (1:21). That power, you see, is toward us who believe! Notice also Paul’s prayer that we might be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” and that we “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love in Christ (3:16, 18, 19). And how can that power cause us to be confident? “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (3:20).

Beloved, there is a spiritual war raging in this world. Engage your calling! Be courageous and confident in the strength of the Lord and his might.

 

Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
is the pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church in Carlsbad/Oceanside, CA.

Clarifying “The Log of Hyper-Calvinism” - Rev. Michael J. Schout

I’m writing this article out of a desire to clarify my position and intention in an article called “The Log of Hyper-Calvinism” in the March-April 2017 edition of The Outlook.

To start, it was never my purpose to address the issue of the extent of the atonement. As I affirmed then and do now, I wholeheartedly agree with the doctrines of grace, and specifically the doctrine of limited atonement, as summarized in the Canons of Dort. To quote: “For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father” (Second Head, Article 8). When Christ died on the cross, he didn’t just make it possible for men to be saved. He actually saved every elect person whom the Father chose before the foundation of the world (John 6:37).

My intent, rather, was to address the presentation of the gospel. Or to use a theological distinction, my aim was not the hidden will of God but the revealed. What has God revealed to us about his disposition toward sinners? Can we sincerely offer Jesus to the whole world? Can we make the claim that “Christ died for sinners,” that “Christ died for the world,” that “Christ’s death is sufficient for you,” and that “Christ offers himself to you”?

I believe we can. Again, the Canons are so helpful. “Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel” (Second Head, Article 5).

The Scriptures teach that God our Savior “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). And that “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

I believe that God can desire something that he has not ordained. In other words, his revealed desire to save all men in no way conflicts with his hidden decree to save only the elect.

To requote Dr. Michael Horton in “Reformed Theology vs. Hyper-Calvinism,” “Here once again we are faced with a mystery—and the two guardrails that keep us from careening off the cliff of speculation. God loves the world and calls everyone in the world to Christ outwardly through the Gospel, and yet God loves the elect with a saving purpose and calls them by His Spirit inwardly through the same Gospel (John 6:63–64; 10:3–5, 11, 14–18, 25–30; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:28–30; 2 Tim. 1:9).”

The result of God’s saving disposition, revealed in his Word, should be an enthusiastic commitment to declare, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

In my previous article, I made the following statement: “Christ died for your sins; believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved!” My intention was not to suggest that Jesus died head for head for every person, but rather that he offers himself to every person and promises to save anyone who exercises saving faith in him. I affirm wholeheartedly the doctrine of limited atonement as well as the free offer of the gospel to all.

God has hidden from our limited minds who the full number of the elect are; yet he has clearly revealed his heart in commanding us to call all sinners to repentance and faith. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:20–21).

May Reformed preaching and evangelism never lead a sinner to conclude (on account of our presentation) that the good news is not for him. Rather, may he always know that Jesus came to save sinners of every stripe, and salvation is for any and all who call upon the name of the Lord!

 

Rev. Michael J. Schout
is the pastor of Grace URC in Alto, MI. He welcomes your feedback at mikeschout@gmail.com.

A Spiritual Check-up for the URCNA (After Twenty-one Years)

It was 1990, and the synod of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) opened all offices to women. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many conservatives who had battled liberalizing trends for more than twenty years. One church after another in North America seceded from the CRC. The future of denominational relationships was unclear, but many thought they needed to leave their former denominational home. With sorrow, tears, and regrets the exodus began.

In 1996, after efforts in the intervening years to explore new denominational relationships, the United Reformed Churches held their first synod. With relief, optimism, and a sense of continuing the confessional heritage of their prior denomination, work began on establishing a new church home for many congregations. Those first years were spent seeking an identity and navigating some doctrinal issues (e.g., missions, evolution, federal vision, ecumenical relations). Then came a time of settling into a rather steady existence (for more history, see http://www.urcna.org/1651/custom/23844).

It has now been twenty-one years since the URCNA was founded. For some, like myself, the movement goes back well over thirty years. Where do we stand as a federation (or denomination; I will not argue this point)? How do we stand? Where are we going, if anywhere? What is our future? More importantly, how is our spiritual health? Thirty years ago and more the momentum to secession gained as many spoke of and identified the spiritual sickness of our former church affiliation. Laxity and looseness in doctrine and practice characterized so much of the denomination’s life. Ultimately the secession was a move for the health and future viability of the churches. So it is proper in my mind to stop and assess our current health, to take our spiritual temperature, to check the barometer of the atmosphere in the URCNA.

Throughout the Scripture there are warnings about and against being deceived about one’s spiritual condition. One example (of many) would be 1 Corinthians 6:9–11: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

I am sure you are familiar with these passages. However, there is also the danger of a church (or we might say, a denomination) being deceived. We see an example in Revelation 3:17 of Laodicea “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

I am not asserting that the URCNA is like Laodicea in all respects. I am saying that for far too many, in my experience over the years, there is a blindness about our spiritual condition and the spiritual dangers that are in our midst. I write out of a love for the URCNA and from a desire that we be a vital and vibrant body going into the twenty-first century, that we be used of the Lord for the gathering in of his elect, the furthering of his kingdom, and the glory of our Savior. I value, respect, and love those things in our heritage and tradition that make us unique in the Reformed and Presbyterian world. But I see and hear too many who are (apparently) woefully ignorant of the dangers on our horizon.

Let me begin with our history. Many in the conservative movement of thirty years ago (Concerned Members, Association of Christian Reformed Laymen, the Christian Reformed Alliance) rightly identified the issues that led to our separation. Those issues were numerous as chronicled over the 1970s and 1980s. Issues such as women in office, theistic evolution, the authority of Scripture, and tolerance of homosexuality rose to the top in prominence. It was correctly maintained that all the issues were because of an underlying, root issue—that is, that decisions about these matters were no longer being decided with Scripture as the ultimate and final authority. That was true and sad. And so the separation occurred, and soon the URCNA was begun. Yet here is where a lot of the troubles began, in my opinion.

We conservatives mistakenly identified the symptoms as the problem. We failed to recognize that they were but symptoms. They were not the problem itself. What was the real problem? Huge spiritual declension and decay had been going on for many years of which the issues were but the symptoms. Hence when the URCNA was founded we thought the cure had been found—a new denominational home. We no longer faced and fought with the issues that plagued the churches for so many years. “Hooray, all is now well.” But it was not! Why? Because the disease had been misdiagnosed and hence the cure was incorrect. It did not heal and cure the real problem, which was declension and decay of the spiritual life of our people.

Please do not misunderstand me. I believe that our people are some of the finest Christian people I ever have or will have the pleasure of knowing. I will chronicle some of the reasons why I believe that in this series. But that does not dismiss the fact that we mistakenly thought the issues were the problem rather than merely the symptoms.

The problem of spiritual declension and decay are still with us, and the signs are evident for any with eyes to see. That is what I want to deal with in this series. I do so with the goal of wounding with an eye to healing, exposing with an eye to edifying. I pray you will be open to examining our collective condition in the light of God’s Word. Jesus spoke to the church in Revelation, and he speaks to us today when he says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him . . . He who has an ear, let him hear” (Rev. 3:20–22).

 

Rev. Paul T. Murphy
is the missionary pastor of Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship (URCNA) in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. He has been an elder and pastor for more than thirty years.

 

He’s Coming Again

To talk about the return of Christ is to invite a torrent of questions—you know them: questions about the millennium, the timing of Christ’s return, and the nature of the kingdom he will bring. These questions about Christ’s return can be helpful, and we will wrestle carefully with several of them in this and subsequent articles.

Because these questions are difficult to answer, they tend to lead to disagreement. Given our respective temperaments, conflict tempts us either to avoid the issue or attack our opponents. The net result is that the most significant event of human history can lose for us its crowning place in the Bible’s story of redemption. To say it differently, if Christ’s return is unimportant to us, or if we equate Christ’s return with our theory of the millennium, for example, we are not properly reading the climactic chapter of God’s story.

Recently one of our children finished a book only to discover that the last few chapters were missing. That’s a tragedy! But it would be equally tragic if, in the place of the last few chapters, someone had inserted a highly condensed summary of the ending followed by pages of technical literary analysis and point/counterpoint discussion of the story’s resolution. That’s sometimes how Christians reflect on the return of Christ. “What’s your view of the millennium?” isn’t a terrible question. But it is a terrible replacement for the wonder and awe we should experience when we reflect on how God will resolve this present age.

The return of Jesus as a historical event—the final historical event of this present age—cannot be understood apart from the rest of the history of this age. To put it briefly, this present age is a time of redemption.

The Context of Christ’s Return

That the present state of things is not all right does not need to be argued; we experience this fact in myriad ways. What is more challenging is to articulate why everything is wrong. If we could retell the story of the world from the beginning until now we would quickly realize that the two connected concepts of sin and God’s presence are at the heart of that story. Only when we grasp the relationship between these two realities can we understand Christ’s return.

Everything about the first two chapters of the Bible conveys that God was intimately present in the sinless world. God’s Spirit moved over the canvas of the universe, forming and filling the budding world with goodness (Gen. 1:2) So close was God to the world that his word produced substance and his breath brought life (Gen. 2:7). God made humans sufficiently like him so that they could uniquely enjoy his presence and experience his blessing (Gen. 1:26–28). When God spoke to Adam, his voice sounded friendly; everything he said was good and well-received. The end of the Bible’s story hints at what the beginning was like: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). History began with the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and naked Adam and Eve, completely at peace with each other.

Notably, when the first humans sinned against God they lost the pleasure of his presence. Now, when “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden, in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8) Adam and Eve did not run to him. They ran from him. They “trembling fled from His presence” having made themselves “wholly miserable.”1 Having rejected God’s friendship, they turned their own way (cf. Isa. 53:6). Ever since then humanity’s most basic problem has been alienation from God. But in that dark moment God began to demonstrate a divine attribute that man had not yet known: mercy. God’s love toward his people never depended on their love for him but on his untainted goodness. And so, even when Adam and Eve began to despise God, he kept loving them. He pursued them in love, calling out to Adam (Gen. 3:9) the way a father cries out for his children who have become lost in a forest. When he found them he demonstrated the guilt of their sin so they would be able to appreciate the promises he was about to make. At the devil’s instigation they had traded their innocence for pain. Satan had driven the wedge of sin between God and his people. God would not overlook this evil. Instead, he would raise up an heir of Adam and Eve to destroy the devil and his works (1 John 3:8). God meant this promise to bolster Adam and Eve—and their believing descendants—to retain hope in a sad new world. Life would become hard (Gen. 3:16–19); God would seem less accessible (Gen. 3:22–24). But he would never be beyond man’s believing grasp (Acts 17:27).

Since the first sin people have yearned for God’s presence even when this yearning has become obscured by distractions. And since that first promise God has continued a work of restoration that he will complete on the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).

The rest of the Bible provides glimpses into what the restored presence of God will be like. God continued to retain a remnant of people who would “call on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26) keeping alive hope that God had not altogether forsaken his world. God later chose Abraham to be the father of a special people who would show “all the families of the earth” the blessedness of knowing God (Gen. 12:3). God promised his people: “I will set my tabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people” (Lev. 26:11–12). The physical tabernacle, and the later temples, were physical testimonies of God’s promise to be among his people.

It makes perfect sense, then, that when God sent his Son—the Word become flesh, God born of a woman (Gal. 4:4)—to break the curse and open up a new and living way to God, that he “dwelt among us”; literally “he fixed his tabernacle” among us (John 1:14). God was again among men, preaching good news, healing up broken hearts, announcing liberty to captives, giving sight to the blind, and liberating the oppressed (Luke 4:18).

But God was not yet ready to restore all things. Christ died like a sinner (2 Cor. 5:21), was raised in an imperishable body, and “was taken up” from his disciples into heaven (Acts 1:11) to continue working redemption until the time was right. In exchange for his physical presence, Christ left the Holy Spirit as a guarantee (2 Cor. 5:5) that when our present tabernacles, our bodies, are destroyed we will “have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will keep his promise (2 Cor. 1:22) to again live with us in unrestricted freedom. The Spirit guarantees that God’s people will not miss out on their inheritance; not a legacy of possessions but a bequest of belonging, God’s prized possession is bought back from a foreign land by the blood of Christ (Eph. 1:14).

In the light of the whole history of redemption Peter preaches the return of Christ. “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19–21).

“Christ,” says John Calvin, “hath already restored all things by his death; but the effect doth not yet fully appear.”2 The barriers between God and man have not yet been completely removed. But when Christ returns he will restore full fellowship between God and his people. Toward that end Christ works from heaven, even now, restoring spiritual fellowship and preparing a dwelling place for the restored family of God (John 14:1–4).

Set within this story, it should be plain that the return of the King is not a postscript to the story of this age; it is the main event toward which this entire age leans. Neither is it a theory to debate. It is a reality that should steel our hope in God’s reconciling work.

Within this overarching framework of God’s work of restoration, several notable characteristics of Christ’s return emerge.

The Characteristics of Christ’s Return

A Literal Event

Any attempt to allegorize Jesus’ promise to return to his people conflicts with the clear words of Scripture. The Gospel writer Luke, writing as a historian who had “perfect understanding of all things from the very first” (Luke 1:3), pictures the apostles “gazing up into heaven” (Acts 1:11) after Jesus had just been “taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (v. 9). The two heavenly messengers told them, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (v. 11). As physically as Christ had been with the disciples, and was with them no more, so would he return again.

At the opening of both his Gospel and his first epistle John insists that Jesus, during his incarnation, was literally, physically with his people so that he was seen with eyes, looked upon (1 John 1:1, 2, 3), and beheld (John 1:14). John likewise expected a literal, physical return of Jesus; “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him” (Rev. 1:7).

In Scripture Christ’s return is not a metaphor for a revival of spirituality or the advance of Jesus’ kingdom principles; a shouting, trumpeting Christ, riding the clouds (1 Thess. 4:16) is an unsuitable metaphor for a mere symbolic return. The hope of the gospel is not a restored sense of closeness with God but the actual “presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming” (1 Thess. 3:19). Faith desires to lay hold not merely of Jesus’ ideals but of Jesus himself. The only satisfying and comforting vision of the end is to “always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). Only Christ’s literal second coming is salvation (Heb. 9:28).

A Certain Event

Because of its central place in God’s plan of restoration it is no wonder that Christ’s return is an event resolutely and repeatedly promised by God. Three times in the Bible’s final chapter Jesus promises, “I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20). Jesus bolstered the faith of his troubled disciples with this promise: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). Not surprisingly, as the darkness of the shadow of death deepened, Jesus increasingly vowed to return after his departure (cf. Matt. 24:30; 25:19, 31; 26:64).

But even before Jesus’ first advent, God had promised to come back to his people. The New Testament reiterates a theme promoted by the prophets (e.g., Isa. 13:6; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10): The Day of the Lord will be a calamitous event for the nations particularly because the God whom they assumed to be afar off—never to return—will come near to avenge his people and his name (cf. Ps. 10, esp. vv. 11–12).

God has promised to return to save his people and judge his enemies. But he tells no man the day or the hour (Matt. 24:36). Some assume, by God’s delay in keeping his promise to return, that the Lord is “slack concerning his promise” (2 Pet. 3:9). They forget that God always keeps his promises, though they are a long time coming. They forget that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v. 8). “As nothing outlasts God, so nothing slips away from Him into a past.”3 God is astonishingly patient. He is content to allow more time for the church to fulfill the Great Commission and for the unreached to repent.4

A Calculated Event

While it is not for us to “know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7), Scripture does speak of signs of Christ’s coming. These signs have always been evident during the last days, the time between Christ’s two appearances. But they will culminate in unmistakable tokens of Christ’s return immediately prior to the great day. In this way the signs of the end affirm that “the coming of our Lord is approaching” and encourage us to “be ready at any time to receive him.”5

First, before Christ returns “the gospel must first be preached to all the nations” (Mark 13:10; cf. Matt. 24:14) to the extent that the good news becomes “a sign that calls for decision.”6 Immediately before his departure Jesus charged the church to bring his story to the world (Matt. 28:18–20; Mark 16:15–16; Luke 14:46–49; Acts 1:8) so that salvation might come to “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Second, through worldwide evan-gelization the fullness of Israel will be saved. While God began his work of grace primarily among the Jewish people, “they have not all obeyed the gospel” (Rom. 10:16). With a heart overflowing with love toward his fellow Jews (Rom. 10:1), Paul uses Isaiah to express his disappointment over Israel’s general unwillingness to believe in Jesus: They are “a disobedient and contrary people” (v. 21). Still, insists Paul, “God has not cast away His people whom he foreknew” (11:2). Before Christ’s return God will “turn away ungodliness” from his first people, “and so all Israel will be saved” (v. 26). Despite differing interpretations, it seems that Paul firmly hoped for a large-scale conversion of the Jewish people before the return of Christ.7

Third, near the end of this age, God’s restraint of the devil will relax, resulting in the great apostasy and tribulation. John saw that, at the end of this age, “Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations,” making war against God’s people (Rev. 20:7–8). Not only Jesus (Matt. 24:9–12, 21–24; Mark 13:9–22) but also Paul (2 Thess. 2:3; 2 Tim. 3:1–5) and John (Rev. 6:9; 7:13–14) expected God’s people, especially near the end, to enter the kingdom of God through great tribulation (Acts 14:22).

Fourth, before the true Christ returns from heaven, the spirit of antichrist, who has always been in the world (1 John 2:18; 4:3), will be manifested in a single person. During the unprecedented tribulation (Mark 13:19), “False christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (v. 22). A single “man of sin . . . the son of perdition” will be “revealed” as an imposter; him “the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thess. 3:3, 8).

A Relevant Event

Christ’s return is relevant exactly because it will be powerful and glorious (Mark 13:24–27). “Power” and “glory” are biblical shorthand for what makes God so unlike his creation; the terms contrast the weakness (Rom. 6:19) and vanity (see Ecclesiastes) of human life. At Christ’s coming believers will trade dishonor and weakness for glory and power (1 Cor. 15:43). A reunion with the God of glory and power (Rev. 19:1) is good news for inherently insufficient people.

Because of Christ’s promise to return we can face the disappointments of life with sure hope that God is fixing the mess we made; he has not given up on his people. We can wait for him (1 Thess. 1:10) patiently, trusting that he is neither impulsive nor sluggish. “Therefore, we expect that great day with a most ardent desire, to the end that we may fully enjoy the promises of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”8

 

1. Belgic Confession, art. 17. 

2. John Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, ed. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 1:153.

3. C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Glasgow: Fontana Books, 1958), 114.

4. Says Calvin, “And this is the reason why Christ doth not appear by and by, because the warfare of the Church is not yet full.” Commentary, 1:153.

5. William Hendriksen, The Bible on the Life Hereafter (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), 113.

6. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), 698. 

7. For a brief elaboration on this thesis, see Cornel Venema, Christ and the Future: The Bible’s Teaching about the Last Things (Carlisle, PA.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), 59–65.

8. Belgic Confession, art. 37.

 

Rev. William Boekestein
happily serves Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI. He has written several books, including Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation (with Joel Beeke).

 


Current Issue: November/December 2018
Volume 68 Issue 6

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