Category Archives: Odd in the Truth

I Was a Christian, Now I’m an Atheist – Say What?

If you are like me and you find enjoyment listening to debates between Christian and atheist scholars, then you no doubt have heard on multiple occasions something like the following:

 

“Yes, Mr. Moderator, I was a Christian until the age of 24. And then I slowly came to the conclusion that faith was not reasonable, the Bible was full of contradictions, the God of the Old Testament committed genocide, and the problem of evil was bigger than God. So the only intellectually honest thing for me to do was to reject my faith and become an atheist.”

 

Upon hearing such proclamations, the obvious question is if it’s actually possible for an atheist to have once been a Christian.

 

Here is the Problem:
Salvation is more than a work of man. It is not just our belief in Jesus, our intellectual assent to the propositions of the Bible, and certainly not just our feelings. Salvation is, at a fundamental level, a supernatural act. An act of grace by God, on our behalf, that literally changes our heart (whether this happens before belief or right after is not the issue here).

 

For example, in Ezekiel 36:26 we see that God changes the heart of “stone” to a heart of “flesh”. And we see in John 3 Jesus teach on the necessity of the born again heart (regeneration). Both of these examples, and there are many more, reveal to us that salvation is more than just a work of man. We can’t “born” our hearts again; we can’t change our hearts from “stone” to “flesh”. A work of God is necessary.

 

Therefore, for one to claim that they were a Christian is to acknowledge that they were a recipient of a supernatural work of God in their heart. It is to acknowledge that they had a heart transformed from “stone” to “flesh”; that their heart was born again.

 

This can be clearly understood as follows:

  • Salvation involves a work of God.
  • I was saved.
  • Therefore, I was the recipient of a work of God – a new heart.

 

Now, if they later decide that they aren’t a Christian, but an atheist, they are left with a serious philosophical problem. How do they account for their regenerated heart?

 

Since God doesn’t exist for them any longer, they certainly can’t claim that God regenerated their heart; replaced their heart of stone with one of flesh.

 

The only tenable solution they have is to explain away their Christianity as merely an experience, a feeling, decision, or a cultural relic from which they finally escaped. But this is not Biblical Christianity.

 

Foundationally, Biblical Christianity isn’t an experience, a feeling, a decision or a cultural relic. As we said, it is a supernatural work of God on one’s heart. So whatever the atheist may have been, it certainly wasn’t a Christian in any Biblical sense.

 

Finally, if God does not exist, Biblical Christianity does not exist. It is an illusion, a scam.

It is absurd, then, to ever claim to have been a Christian while now denying the very existence of the Being needed for Biblical Christianity to exist in the first place.

 

The Gospel in the Old Testament

Old Testament Law and Old Testament Gospel

 

Introduction – Why This Lesson:

In Joshua 1, God says repeatedly that Joshua’s success is dependent on his obedience.

  • If Joshua obeyed, spoke, and meditated on the law, he would succeed in securing the promise land.
  • These verses make it appear that Joshua’s relationship with God was based on Joshua’s works.
    • And of course, so does much of the Pentateuch.

 

Some Scriptural examples:

  • Deuteronomy 10:12–13 (ESV) — 12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?
  • Deuteronomy 30:8–10 (ESV) — 8 And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9 The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

 

But we can’t help but wonder where the Gospel of grace is in this relationship.

  • In Joshua 1:9 the text tells us – “…for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
    • What is God’s presence supposed to mean in the context of all this law?
    • Skeptically, God’s presence could be construed as bad news for Joshua.

 

But on the other hand, God’s presence could just as likely point us to the Gospel of grace in the OT.

  • But why might we see an OT Gospel of grace in God’s presence?
  • What is the OT Gospel anyway?
  • And how do we square the Law with this OT Gospel?

 

Misconceptions:

Not knowing the basics on these issues gives way to some serious misconceptions about the OT.

  • Michael Horton puts the misconceptions like this:

“Many of us were raised not knowing what to do with that first half of our Bible. The idea was, Israel in the Old Testament was under the law and Christians in the New Testament are under grace. This means that the Old Testament equals works-righteousness and the New Testament equals the gospel of grace” – Michael Horton.

  • This view couldn’t be more wrong.

 

And these misconceptions are understandable.

  • The OT seems to suggest that God’s law can be kept.
  • “The general assumption of the OT is that the law can be kept, although occasionally another note is struck (see 24:19, Ps. 143:2)” – Marten Woudstra.

 

Leading to Bad Teaching:

But what’s worse is that our misconceptions lead to terrible teaching.

  • The idea of “works-righteousness” begins to crowd out the “gospel of grace”.
  • It is simply easier to understand and to teach law rather than grace.
  • And doing so mistakenly puts humanity in a position where they think they can mediate their relationship to God through their behavior.
    • Do works = Be righteous
    • Religion formula 101

 

Sally Lloyd-Jones frames this problem in context of teaching our children:

“When we drill a [OT] Bible story down into a moral lesson, we make it about us. But the Bible isn’t mainly about us, and what we are supposed to be doing—it’s about God, and what he has done. Children don’t need to be told to try harder, believe more, or do it better. That just leaves them in despair. The moral code always leaves us in despair. We can never live up to it” – Sally Lloyd-Jones.

  • This results in the development of an overly pious, moralistic, and legalistic relationship with God and His word.
  • Not the more desired and accurate Guilt-Grace-Gratitude progression.

 

Michael Horton is even more adamant about this flaw in teaching.

“David really lived in history. And the usefulness of that life, measured by the fact that the Bible records great segments of it, is not determined by how many instructive lessons we can learn from character studies, for there were greater men and women of character, no doubt, who never made it into the Bible. David’s inclusion into the canon of Holy Scripture is defined by the place he had in redemptive history—not only as a precursor of Christ, the Son of David, but as someone to whom the gospel promise came, in spite of all his failures and unfaithfulness” – Michael Horton.

 

Review Summary:

So to answer the questions we have raised and put aside our OT misconceptions, we need to dive a little deeper into a number of issues.

  • We need to know what the OT Law is.
  • We need to know what the OT Gospel is.
  • And we need to know how they relate to each other.

 

We need to be aware of some obvious basics as we go forward.

  • Yes, God commands, demands and expects obedience, as we saw with Joshua.
  • And yes, obedience led to blessings – disobedience led to curses
  • But…obedience to God’s law did not save Joshua, Moses, or anyone else.
    • Salvation was not a blessing arising out of an act of obedience to the Law
  • Galatians 3:21b (ESV) — 21b For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.
  • “Since we are unable to achieve righteousness by adhering strictly to the law, the role of the law is not to justify…” – Millard Erickson.
  • Yes, salvation via an OT Gospel of Grace is present in the OT.
    • A Gospel involving Faith–Grace–Done work of God–etc.

 

 

1) THE LAW OF THE OT

 

What is the OT Law of God?

  • Before we can get into the role, use and purpose of the law and deal with our misconceptions, we need to get an idea of what the OT law is.

 

Three Kinds of Law:

Typically, the OT law is seen in three categories.

  • Ceremonial Law
  • Civil Law
  • Moral Law

 

Ceremonial Law:

These laws governed Israel’s religious life.

  • “There are the special feasts and fasts, together with the elaborate sacrificial system and temple worship” – Michael Horton.
  • These laws were given as part of the Mosaic covenant on Sinai – a renewal of God’s covenant with Abraham – Calvin and Sailhamer.
    • Sinai is often called a different “administration” of the covenant of grace.

 

Importantly, these laws are no longer in effect post-Jesus:

“As we can see, especially from the book of Hebrews, all of these types and shadows are fulfilled in Christ. They all pointed to Him. He was the temple, so why go on with temple worship? He was the sacrifice, so how could we offend God by thinking there was still a need for a better or fuller sacrifice for sins? Therefore, the ceremonial laws vanish with the coming of the one they were designed to foreshadow” – Michael Horton.

 

Civil Law:

Because Israel was a theocracy, civil laws were issued by Yahweh to regulate how Israel was to operate as a society and nation.

  • This law included things related to the death penalty, economic statutes, etc.
  • “Just as Israel’s ceremonial laws prefigured Christ as the great prophet and priest, so her civil laws prefigured Christ as the great king” – Michael Horton.
  • And like the ceremonial law, “so too we ought not to seek to return to the Jewish theocracy when we have the fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom in His spiritual reign through the proclamation of the gospel” – Michael Horton.
  • These laws were also given on Sinai and were part of the covenant renewal – a new administration of the covenant of grace.

 

A further word about the ceremonial and civil laws:

  • Calvin called the ceremonial and civil laws, “supplements to aid in observing the moral law” – John Sailhamer.
  • These were not originally part of God’s law but were added at Sinai.

 

Why were they added?

  • Both Paul and Jesus give us insight into this question.
  • Galatians 3:19 (ESV) — 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.
  • “…the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners” – 1 Timothy 1:9.
    • because of transgressions” of the “lawless and disobedient
  • “Jesus also said that the law (of divorce) was given ‘because of the hardness’ of Israel’s heart” – John Sailhamer.
    • because of your hardness of heart” – Matthew 19:8
  • Both of these reasons are exemplified by Israel’s making of the golden calf at Sinai.

 

Why have they been abrogated?

As already alluded to, in the new covenant of grace mediated through Jesus, the old administration of the covenant of grace “passed away, [therefore] so did the law that had become a part of it (cf. Heb 7: 12: “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well”) – John Sailhamer.

 

And “In the New Testament, we not only do not find explicit calls to obey various ceremonial or civil laws of the Old Testament, we find it expressly forbidden, as a return to shadows after the reality has come. However, the New Testament does reiterate the moral laws of the Old Testament, giving them fuller explanation and a particular New Testament application” – Michael Horton.

  • So what of the “moral laws of the OT”?
  • The moral law is the third type of law and is still in effect post-Jesus.

 

What is an important implication of this abrogation?

  • In the OT, an adulterer could be stoned.
  • In the OT, an old man collected fire wood on the Sabbath and was put to death.
  • In the OT, God’s people were to not eat certain foods.
  • In the OT, God’s people were not to wear clothes made of different materials.
  • So why don’t Christians stone adulterers or refrain from eating certain foods, etc.?

 

Tim Keller puts the answer as follows:

“One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question— ‘Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?’ If you are asked, ‘Why do you say that?’ you could respond, ‘If I believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others’” – Tim Keller.

 

Moral Law:

Formalized in the 10 Commandments, this law was “given to regulate personal [moral] conduct for covenant members” – John Sailhamer.

  • This law has always been in existence.
  • Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Joshua all lived under the moral law of God.
  • “Every person—even the most perverted or confused person—has the law written on his or her conscience” – Michael Horton.

 

J. Budzisewski says our knowledge of this law resides specifically in our “deep conscience”:

Now, deep conscience “is the interior witness to the foundational principles of moral law“. In it resides “the knowledge of basic goods, of formal norms, and of everyday moral rules.” It is not a feeling but an innate knowledge of morality. In fact, it was “designed as a witness to moral truth” by God. Therefore, it “cannot be erased, cannot be mistaken, and is the same in every human being.” And knowledge of moral truth obligates us with duties to self, neighbor and God.

 

The apostle Paul puts it like this:

  • Romans 1:19–21 & 32 (ESV) — 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

 

BTW – This means the 10 Commandments weren’t given because of “a lack of data” – Horton.

 

Both Jesus and the OT sum up the moral law in this way:

  • “Individuals are to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves” – Michael Horton.

 

 

2) OT LAW AND ITS USES

 

Now having a basic understanding of what OT law was, we need to look at its purpose or use.

 

Three Uses of the Law:

What was the purpose of all this law?

  • Generally, three uses of the law have been identified.
  • They have gone by a variety of terms.
  • Here I have tweaked these terms a bit for simplicities sake.
    • Civil Use
    • Condemning Use
    • Conforming Use

 

Civil Use:

The “first use of the law is that of a deterrent in the civil sphere” – Michael Horton.

  • How were citizens of Israel to conduct themselves as citizens?
  • How were they to handle the inheritance of assets, etc.?
  • God’s civil law answered these questions for the people of Israel.
  • And importantly, this law is “part of God’s common grace and is not a means of special grace” – John Sailhamer.
  • In other words, this use of the law is relevant to the believer and unbeliever alike.
  • A nation’s laws are for the good of her people, believer and non-believer alike – Romans 13:1-7.

 

Condemning Use:

Paul explains this use of the law as follows:

  • Galatians 3:24 (ESV) — 24 So then, the law was our guardian [or tutor] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
  • “The function of the law is to bring men and women under conviction of sin and of their inability to meet the demands of the law” – John Sailhamer.
  • “Just when we think we are not quite as bad as the guy down the street living with so-and-so, the law puts us on trial and compares us—not to other fallen men and women, but to God. This is meant to drive us to despair so that we seek our shelter from God’s wrath…” – Michael Horton.
  • This use of the law is also relevant to both believer and unbeliever alike.
    • The law condemns all because, simply put, we can’t keep it.

 

Scripture is clear on this point – all are unrighteous.

  • Psalm 143:2 (ESV) — 2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
  • Jeremiah 17:9 (NTL) — 9 The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.
  • Romans 3:23 (ESV) — 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
  • John 2:24–25 (ESV) — 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

 

It must be said, that the law is not the problem.

  • Romans 7:12 (ESV) — 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
  • The law is “holy and righteous and good”.

 

The problem is that the sinful heart “employs the law for its own purposes” – Alistair Begg.

  • Paul puts it like this –
  • Romans 7:9 (ESV) — 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.
  • Romans 7:11 (ESV) — 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

 

The sinful heart corrupts the law in at least two ways.

  • (1) It purposely disobeys it and relishes the rebellion.
  • (2) It creates a religion of works and works righteousness.

 

But, when the condemning use of the law comes into contact with a “circumcised heart” – a heart given eyes to see and ears to hear – it has the following result.

  • Psalm 32:3–5 (ESV) — 3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

 

So, where the law solicits religion or rebellion from the sinful heart, it solicits confession and repentance from the circumcised heart.

  • If grasped with a “circumcised heart”, this use of the law will lead one to “acknowledge” and “confess” and thus into the Gospel of Grace.
  • Romans 7:24 (ESV) — 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
    • The words of a “circumcised heart” to be sure.

 

Conforming Use:

This use of the law has effect only for believers.

  • The law is meant to conform believers to the will and character of God.
  • It answers the question, what is God’s will for my life as a believer.

 

CAUTION:

“Christians cannot conform perfectly to this law, and they ought never to approach the law as though they could even come close to its moral excellence. Rather, believers ought to approach the law as the perfect standard God requires as the expression of His moral character and live, not in order to meet God’s requirements (for that is achieved only in Christ), but in order simply to obey God’s requirements. In the former approach, one sets out to earn God’s favor by attaining His own righteousness; in the latter, one sets out to obey a gracious heavenly Father simply because He has already accepted him or her as righteous and holy” – Michael Horton.

 

This is the relationship King David had to God’s law; he speaks of this use of the law as follows:

  • Psalm 19:7–11 (ESV) — 7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
  • “Revive” here means “to return”, “bring back”, or “restore”, the very thing this use of the law is to do for the believer.

 

Only the Gospel of Grace can bring us into this relationship with the law.

  • And as David’s words make clear, this relationship did exist in the OT.
  • As we have said, the Gospel of Grace was in the OT and we are headed there.

 

Blessings and Curses of the Law:

In the OT, and especially in Deuteronomy, much is made of the blessings of obedience and curses of disobedience to the law.

  • Joshua, having replaced Moses and being tapped by God to take the promise land, would have been well aware of the blessings and curses.
  • And in Joshua 1:6-9 the blessings and curses were no doubt part of the equation.

 

Curses:

All of Israel was subject to the curses of disobedience – even those who were saved.

  • The bulk of the disobedience curses are outlined in Deuteronomy 27:9ff and Deuteronomy 28:15-68.
  • Deuteronomy 28:15 (ESV) — 15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.

 

Blessings:

Likewise, all of Israel could find blessings in obedience as the covenant people of God – even those who were not saved.

  • The bulk of the obedience blessings are outlined in Deuteronomy 28:1-14.
  • Deuteronomy 28:1–2 (ESV) — 1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.

 

But – and this is a very big but – there was never a time in the OT where a blessing of obedience is salvation.

  • We have already seen why this is.
  • The main blessing was always nation, people and land – not salvation.
  • But it must be repeated to emphasize that the OT does not contain a message of works righteousness.
  • Salvation is by the Gospel of Grace – which we will get into soon.

 

Paul taught us this:

  • Galatians 3:10–11 (ESV) — 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

 

Summary of Law:

So it should be clear that the law of God was operating in two contexts.

  • Although all of Israel was chosen by God – Deuteronomy 7:6 (ESV) — 6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
  • Not all of Israel was the elect – the remnant – the saved.
  • And whereas the unbeliever of Israel had one relationship to God’s law.
  • The believer had another relationship to God’s law.
  • There were many similarities, but there were some drastic differences.
  • The law could not conform an unbeliever to the will and character of God.
  • And the law could not condemn a person who was righteous by faith.
  • And though obedience would bring the blessings of nation, people and land, it would never result in salvation.

 

And this finally leads back to the questions we had earlier.

  • What saved the elect of Israel?
  • What was the Gospel of the OT?
  • Why did the writer of Joshua want to make the connection between Joshua’s obedience and the presence of God? 

 

Galatians 3:7–9 (ESV) — 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

 

 

3) THE GOPSPEL OF THE OT

 

Thus far we have seen that Joshua 1:6-9 clearly suggests that Joshua’s success depends on his relationship with the law of God.

  • Because of the nature of his relationship to the law, we proceeded to learn a few things about God’s law.
  • We saw three kinds of law – ceremonial, civil and moral.

 

Interestingly, we saw that the ceremonial and civil laws were added by God at Sinai because of what Paul calls the Israelite’s transgressions.

  • “The laws are a sign of Israel’s failure. The laws in the Pentateuch are a graphic picture of Israel’s failure to obey God” – John Sailhamer.

 

We saw three uses of the law – civil, condemning and conforming.

  • Importantly, the conforming use is in effect only for the elect.
  • Only the elect/saved can be conformed to the character of God.
    • Millard Erickson puts it as follows, the law was “the standard God set for those people who would adhere to” the covenant of Grace.
    • It condemned those not adhering to this Covenant.

 

We also examined the concept of blessings from obedience and curses from disobedience of God’s law.

  • All the Israelites had this blessings/curses relationship with God’s law.
  • The saved and the unsaved alike.
  • But, the chief blessing of obedience related only to people, nation and land.
  • Never is a blessing of obedience salvation in the individual spiritual sense.

 

So understanding the law, we can now turn to salvation in the OT.

  • We can finally answer the question how were OT people saved.
  • What is the Gospel in the OT?
  • And what is the importance of the presence of God that the author of Joshua wanted us to take notice of to this Gospel?

 

Some Preliminaries:

Like the concept of “life after death” and resurrection, the concept of spiritual salvation gradually shows up in the OT.

  • “Although the OT begins to point [to spiritual salvation], the majority of references to salvation speak of Yahweh granting deliverance from real enemies and out of real catastrophies” – TWOT.
  • So as you read through the OT, just as you won’t find much talk of either “life after death” or resurrection, you won’t find much talk of “being saved”.
  • However, spiritual salvation is always under the surface because of God’s covenant of grace with Abraham.
  • So, “the acts of salvation in the OT build toward the final act of salvation which will include all people under its possible blessing (Isa. 52:10)” – TWOT.

 

Scriptural Examples of Spiritual Salvation:

Allusions to spiritual salvation:

  • Psalm 24:5 (ESV) — 5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
  • Psalm 51:14 (ESV) — 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
  • Isaiah 46:13 (ESV) — 13 I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.”
  • Isaiah 62:11 (ESV) — 11 Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”
  • Ezekiel 37:23 (ESV) — 23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

 

Now we can look at the Gospel of the OT as contained in:

  • (1) Covenant of Grace
  • (2) Faith
  • (3) God’s Presence as His Done Work, Future Promises and the object of saving Faith.

 

(1) Covenant of Grace:

The Covenant of Grace “is that arrangement whereby God planned to save man from the just consequences of his sin; namely, immorality, misery, death, and damnation” – Calvin Knox.

  • “The covenant of grace is the progressive historical account of the administration of the Gospel in the history of redemption” – R. Scott Clark.

 

Adam and Eve:

“The first Gospel promise in Genesis 3:15 announces the covenant of grace, i.e. redemption of the elect by the Mediator” – R. Scott Clark.

  • Genesis 3:15 (ESV) — 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

“God manifested his grace here in two ways. First, he would make Adam and Eve enemies of Satan and therefore friends of God. Second, through the promised Redeemer God would break the power of Satan over men. When Christ died on Calvary’s cross, Satan’s power was broken. Wherever the gospel of the crucified One is preached with the blessing of the Spirit, Satan is powerless to enslave” – Calvin Knox.

 

This expression of the Covenant of Grace in Jesus is immediately followed by a present reality for Adam and Eve.

  • Genesis 3:21 (ESV) — 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
  • God apparently killed an animal (a sacrifice) and used its skin to symbolically “cover” their sin.

 

Noah:

In spite of man’s depravity and evil heart, God changed/modified/relented in the Adamic curse on the land (many scholars argue).

  • Genesis 8:21–22 (ESV) — 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

 

Abraham:

“The Abrahamic covenant is a renewal of the…covenant/promise made to Adam (Genesis 3:15; 17). In the history of redemption, the covenant of grace was renewed in Abraham such that he is the father of all who believe (Romans 4:11; John 8:56)” – R. Scott Clark.

  • Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV) — 1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

 

Other OT Mentions:

Throughout Israel’s history, God revealed more and more about how he would ultimately fulfill His covenant.

  • Hosea 2:19–20 (ESV) — 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.
  • Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV) — 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
  • Ezekiel 36:26–27 (ESV) — 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

 

Summary of Covenant of Grace:

“In the covenant of grace God promised eternal life to those who put their trust in the promised redeemer. At different times and within distinct contexts, the covenant of grace was administered in a variety of ways. God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai was one way in which the covenant of grace was administered. The new covenant that Christ initiated by his death and resurrection is another distinct administration of the one covenant of grace. The Sinai covenant and the new covenant are thus the same covenant with different administrations” – John Sailhamer.

 

(2) Faith in the OT:

(1) Faith Connected to Righteousness of God

  • Just as in the NT, salvation in the OT involves the righteousness of God.
  • And as in the NT, in the OT this happens “through faith”.
  • Genesis 15:4–6 (ESV) — 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
  • Habakkuk 2:4 (ESV) — 4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

 

And looking at the OT spiritual salvation texts we just cited one sees clearly the connection made between spiritual salvation and righteousness.

  • Psalm 24:5 puts it so clearly when it speaks of a “righteousness from the God of salvation”.
  • This is the same idea when Ezekiel says that God “will cleanse them” from their sin – Ezekiel 37:23.
  • And this is why David speaks of being delivered from “bloodguiltiness” and praising God’s “righteousness” in Psalm 24:5.

 

Paul puts this relationship of faith and righteousness as follows:

  • Philippians 3:9 (ESV) — 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) — 21 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) Faith Connected to Law Fulfillment

  • Faith’s relationship to righteousness also carries with it another NT parallel.
  • In the NT, believers are seen by the Father as having perfectly met the requirements of the law.
    • Because of our union with Christ, we participate fully in the benefits of Christ’s perfect obedience.
  • His works are seen as our works.
  • This perfect obedience of Christ is the basis for the imputation of God’s righteousness to us.

 

Interestingly, the same is said of Abraham.

  • Genesis 26:3–5 (ESV) — 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.

 

Now, it must be noted that the law as referenced by Moses in verse 5 did not exist yet.

  • So Moses has done either one of two things:
    • (1) He has committed an anachronistic error.
    • (2) He is teaching us something about the nature of the righteousness that is by faith.
    • The answer is of course, the second.
    • Moses is showing us the relationship between faith and law fulfillment.
    • “Abraham could not have ‘kept the Sinai law’ in a literal sense, as it had not been given until the time of Moses (cf. Ex 15: 25b). Abraham lived a life of faith, and God counted that to him as his ‘keeping the law’ (cf. Gen 15: 6)” – John Sailhamer.

 

Now we can move on to the significance of the presence of God to the OT Gospel.

 

(3) Presence of God – Done Work, Future Promises and the Object of Saving Faith:

We saw in our handling of Joshua 1:6-9 that God’s presence provides the foundation and context for Joshua’s conquest historically of the promise land.

  • We saw via the connection to Deuteronomy that the author of Joshua wants us to make God’s presence of utmost importance to Joshua’s success.
  • Being strong and courageous; knowing, talking about, meditating on and obeying God’s law; and not being afraid or dismayed are all possible because of the presence of Yahweh.

 

So how does the presence of God relate to the Gospel of the OT?

  • A question we asked in our Joshua 1:6-9 lesson.
  • The answer is that the presence of God, as we are about to define it, is the object of saving faith.
  • And because it is the object, not the faith, that does the saving; God as the object of faith is foundational to both the Gospel of the OT and the NT.

 

What is the presence of God?

  • Very simply, it is the self-revelation of God in history.
    • Certainly, not just this – His covenant faithfulness, holiness, eternity, etc and so much more.
  • It therefore includes His word spoken into and His active involvement in history.
  • In the beginning, God acted and created (in history) and made Himself known to Adam and Eve with His words, “And God said…
  • The God we love and trust is the God whom has revealed Himself to us – His revelation of Himself in history.
    • Or what we can infer about Him from the things He has revealed.

 

A couple more examples of presence of God as Revelation:

  • Exodus 20:2 (ESV) — 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
    • God then goes on to present the 10 commandments.
  • He created; He brought them out; He has the authority to command.
  • Ezekiel 36:27 (ESV) — 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
  • John 1:14 (ESV) — 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

Two Aspects of Our Faith in God as He Has Revealed Himself to Us:

It is God as He has revealed Himself that is the object of our saving faith.

  • And in this respect, faith is “cumulative” or “progressive”.
  • As God reveals more, faith will trust the “more”.

 

And in the OT, as in the NT, faith in God has two aspects.

  • (1) Faith in the Done Work of God in history.
    • Faith is to trust that God has done what He has said He has done and then submit to the implications of this.
  • (2) Faith in the Future Work of God in history – His Promises.
    • Faith is to trust that God will do what He has said He will do and then submit to the implications of this.

 

John gets at (1), the Done Work of God in history when he says:

  • John 3:16 (ESV) — 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

 

The writer of Hebrews speaks of (2), the Future Work of God when he says:

  • Hebrews 11: 1–2 (ESV) — 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction [evidence] of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation [the approval/attestation of God].
    • Commendation means, in contrast to John 2:24, that Christ did entrust Himself to them.
  • The things hoped for are the promises of God.
  • Two examples:
    • For Abraham an example would be the offspring
    • For us an example would be resurrection

 

This is not blind faith – it is grounded in the Done Work of God.

  • If God created everything and brought Abraham out of Ur – a “done work” of God – then Abraham has every rational reason to trust that God will do in the future what He has promised.
  • This is why Abraham can have assurance of his “offspring”.

 

Likewise, if Joshua trusted that God brought them out of Egypt, then he also has every rational reason to trust in God’s future promises.

  • Specifically, he can have every reason to trust that God will deliver the promise land.
  • In the same way, given the Done Work of God through Christ’s incarnation, death, burial and resurrection, we have every reason to trust in our own resurrection.

 

All of these are the “assurance of things hoped for” – the Future Promises of God – grounded in the Done Work of God.

  • Offspring
  • Promise Land
  • Resurrection

 

Quick Summary:

So the Gospel of the OT should be taking shape now within:

  • (1) Covenant of Grace
  • (2) Faith and Righteousness
  • (3) Presence of God – Done Work and Future Promises
  • BTW – there are obviously more aspects to the Gospel of the OT.

 

Our response should be Faith and Trust which involves submitting to all the implications of the God’s Done Work and Future Promises.

  • Our response should not be religious – works righteousness!

 

A Final Question:

What about the necessity of Jesus in Salvation?

  • How are the faithful of the OT “connected” to Christ, whom they did not know?

 

The simple answer is that the OT Gospel looked forward to the Done Work of the Messiah.

  • We know this to be true because the NT tells us.
  • Hebrews 11:13 (ESV) — 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
  • This means that OT faith in both the Done Work and Future Promises of God is ultimately faith in Christ.

 

Paul also addresses this concept we he talks about the forbearance of God in dealing with the sin of the OT believer.

  • Romans 3:25 (ESV) — 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
  • God’s forbearance is “a ‘truce with the sinner’, awaiting the final revelation and redemption in Christ (Acts 17:30)” – NBD.
  • “In the Old Testament, God gave his people a forbearance until Christ could come and pay their sin-debt for them. In this way they could avoid the punishment for their sins, even though Christ had not yet died for them” – Greg Johnson.
    • What does this say about OT sacrifice?

 

Final Summary of OT Gospel:

“The believing Jew, therefore, whether he understood what he was doing or not, was committing himself to the God of the promises, the God who had faithfully formed the nation of Israel and brought her out of Egypt and into the land, and the God who had revealed all along that sin could be atoned for by means of blood sacrifice…The person who committed himself in faith to that God, and all that He had revealed about His saving and keeping power, was saved” – John Feinberg.

The Virgin Birth “Delivers” a Theophany

Matthew 1:20–23 (ESV) — 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

 

Introduction:

“The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time” – Nicholas Kristof (New York Times).

  • “Kristof argues, ‘because most Biblical scholars regard the evidence for the Virgin Birth … as so shaky that it pretty much has to be a leap of faith.’” – Albert Mohler.
  • This sentiment is but one of many that is directed at American evangelicals.

 

Translation:

  • Christians believe in things that are clearly not true – the Virgin Birth.
  • This belief is blind; it is not grounded in reality; there is no rational reason for it; it is “mystical”.

 

Secular culture’s attacks on the Virgin Birth can be more sophisticated than the above name-calling.

  • They leverage (1) basic reproductive science, and (2) engage the relevant Biblical texts.

 

Reproductive Science:

(1) Virgin births are impossible.

  • A male baby contains both an X and Y-chromosome.
  • Only a man can provide the Y-chromosome.
  • Therefore, a male’s sperm must fertilize a female’s egg to supply the Y-chromosome.

 

The Biblical Texts:

But the critics just don’t cast dispersions from afar.

  • They engage the text to challenge the orthodox understanding of the Virgin Birth.
  • They generally take (3) approaches – there are certainly more.

 

(1) The Virgin Birth story is only in two of the four Gospels.

  • And even more striking, Paul never mentions it in any of his letters.
  • They conclude that Matthew and Luke made it up for Christological reasons.

 

(2) Isaiah 7 is not a prophecy about a coming Jewish Messiah.

  • It is a prophecy directed to King Ahaz to be fulfilled in his lifetime.
  • When it uses the phrase “God with Us”, it is suggesting that victory over Judah’s enemies will come because of the presence of God.

 

(3) The “ground zero” verse – Isaiah 7:14 – doesn’t contain the Hebrew word for “virgin”.

  • If Isaiah meant “virgin” he would have used the Hebrew word “betulah”.
  • But he didn’t; he used the word “almah”.

 

So what are we to make of these objections to Jesus’ Virgin Birth?

 

We need to address them in a couple of ways.

  • First, we will answer the objections head on.
  • Second, we will explore the theological significance of the Virgin Birth.

 

 

1) ANSWERS TO OBJECTIONS

 

First Objection:

The first objection was the physical impossibility of the Virgin Birth.

  • We agree that a Y-chromosome had to be provided somehow.

 

Millard Erickson puts it as follows:

“Jesus was not produced after the genetic pattern of Mary alone, for in that case he would in effect have been a clone of her and would necessarily have been female. Rather, a male component was contributed. In other words, a sperm was united with the ovum provided by Mary, but it was specially created for the occasion instead of being supplied by an existent male human.”

  • The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit took care of this – though we don’t know how.
  • So we appeal to the supernatural.

 

This objection, then, is grounded in the presuppositions that accompany a materialist worldview.

  • Nothing outside the physical exists on this worldview.
  • There is no supernatural being, no spiritual realm, and nothing that transcends our existence.
  • The physical world is “without incursions from outside by souls or spirits, divine or human” – Oxford Companion to Philosophy.

 

In other words, it is not really an objection but a philosophical assumption.

  • An assumption that says it is the only home for science – scientism.

 

BTW – One wonders why humans “became scientific”.

  • C.S. Lewis observed, “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver”.
    • The men he refers to were the likes of Galileo, Isaac Newton, Pasteur, Kepler, etc.

 

The materialist, ironically, rejects the lawgiver but keeps His law – needs His law – to even do science.

  • And then says it is foolish to suppose the lawgiver can “manipulate” the laws to His good pleasure and purpose.
    • More on “miracle” as a violation of the laws of nature later.
    • Not a good definition?

 

Second Objection:

The second objection was that the Virgin Birth was only in two Gospels and not in Paul.

 

First, we can say “so what?”

  • NT Scholar Scot McKnight puts this sentiment plainly, “I’ve never understood why the absence of this idea in Paul means Paul didn’t believe it”.
  • “Even if the Virgin Birth was taught by only one biblical passage, that would be sufficient to obligate all Christians to the belief” – Albert Mohler.

 

The next thing we can say is “not so fast”.

  • It appears that there are indirect references to the Virgin Birth in the other two Gospels and Paul.
  • M. James Sawyer puts it as follows:
  • “If we take the time to look more closely we find the virgin birth, lurking beneath the surface in Mark, John and Paul.”

 

Some Examples:

Mark 6:3 (ESV) — 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and [Joseph] and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

  • This is a “very non-Jewish way” to refer to a man in Jewish culture – M. James Sawyer.
  • It is certainly possible that Mark was highlighting the Virgin Birth of Jesus.

 

John 1:13 (ESV) — 13 who were born [gennao], not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

  • Interestingly, some translations phrase verse 13 – “nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (NIV).
  • James Sawyer tells us, “according to normal Greek usage the [NIV] is more accurate, because the term used by John is andros, i.e. male or husband as opposed to anthropos, i.e man(kind), humanity.
  • If so, this could very well be an allusion to the Virgin Birth.

 

Galatians 4 – gennao vs. ginomai

  • Galatians 4:4 (ESV) — 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born [ginomai] of woman, born [ginomai] under the law,
  • Galatians 4:21–23 (ESV) — 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born [gennao] according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born [gennao] through promise.

 

These texts deal with Jesus’, believer’s and Jew’s relationship to the law.

  • James Sawyer points out that Paul deliberately, and on numerous occasions, avoids using gennao when speaking of Jesus’ origins – the normal Greek word for human birth.
    • It literally means “become the parent of”; “to give birth to”
  • Instead, Paul opts for ginomai.
    • As evident in Galatians 4 – Jesus’ was ginomai and Isaac and Ishmael were gennao.

 

Why is this significant?

  • There are a number of uses of ginomai in the BDAG lexicon.
  • One use can mean “to come into being through the process or birth or natural reproduction”
  • Which on its face doesn’t exclude a Virgin Birth.
    • See John 1:13 we just discussed.

 

But the other uses can be seen as alluding to the uniqueness of Jesus’ Virgin Birth.

  • “to come into existence”
  • “come into being as an event or phenomenon”
  • “to experience a change in nature and so indicate entry into a new condition”
  • “to make a change of location in space”
  • “to come into a certain state or possess certain characteristics”

 

And interestingly, Paul uses this word 141 times in 130 verses.

  • Galatians 4:4 is the only time translators use “born”.

 

“This would appear to be a conscious effort on the part of the Apostle to clearly distinguish the method of Jesus’ origin/birth from that of all other humans born since Adam’s ‘coming into existence’” – James Sawyer.

 

Third Objection:

Isaiah 7:10–14 (ESV) — 10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

 

The third objection was that Isaiah 7 is about Ahaz and not a coming Jewish Messiah.

  • Our answer to this is, “Yes, it is about Ahaz”.
  • Even the ESV Study Bible says, “Christian interpretation of this passage requires doing justice to the meaning of Isaiah’s words” with respect to Ahaz.

 

But, here is the thing.

  • OT prophecies often have a double fulfillment.
  • In the case of Isaiah 7 this means that there is “both an immediate fulfillment in Isaiah’s day and a long-term fulfillment in the birth of the Messiah” – ESV Study Bible.

 

How do we know OT prophecies can work like this?

  • Because the NT writers tell us they do over an over.

 

Isaac, the Jews and Jesus:

  • Genesis 12:6–7 (ESV) — 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
  • Galatians 3:16 (ESV) — 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

 

David and Jesus:

  • Psalm 16:9–10 (ESV) — 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
    • David is expressing a hope in something more than Sheol and the dust.
  • Acts 2:31–32 (ESV) — 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
  • Acts 13:36–37 (ESV) — 36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.

 

Co-Regent/? and Jesus:

  • Psalm 110:1 (ESV) — 1 The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
  • Acts 2:33–35 (ESV) — 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’

 

Fourth Objection:

The fourth objection was that Isaiah’s prophecy doesn’t even use the Hebrew word for virgin.

  • This is where the critic’s lack of appreciation for nuance and complexity demonstrates that they are “becoming less intellectual”.

 

It is true that the “almah” used by Isaiah most commonly means “young woman”.

  • And that “the more precise word for virgin is betulah” – Michael Heiser.

 

So why do we argue that it does mean “virgin”?

  • Or put another way, why does Matthew use the Greek word “parthenos” in his translation?
    • The precise word in Greek for “virgin”.
  • It is not because we are becoming more “mystical”!
  • We will hit on 4 reasons.

 

(1) Hebrew scholar Michael Heiser says “betulah provides more contextual clues as to sexual inactivity, but does that mean almah never means virgin?”

  • He says “almah” is used 6 other times in the OT.
  • And in all but one, the context gives no clues as to its exact meaning.
  • But in Song of Solomon 6:8 we do have clues and they point to a meaning of “virgin”.
  • Song of Solomon 6:8 (ESV) — 8 There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins [almah/pl: alamot] without number.

 

Heiser points out the following:

  • “Queens” are royal wives – this relationship entailed a sexual relationship.
  • “Concubines” were “sexual partner[s] who held certain privileges, but not the level of a wife”.
  • And the “almah” in this context was “a candidate to become either a concubine or a wife” – they were not yet in a sexual relationship.

 

He says that the “ancient cultural context shows us that every attempt was made to have a supply of virgins for the king”.

  • In Song of Solomon 6:8 this context is played out – the “almah” are that group of virgins.
  • So according to Hebrew scholar Michael Heiser, “It simply is not correct to assert that almah would never have been understood as virgin.”
  • In SOS 6:8, it is referring to a group of young woman set apart as virgins.

 

(2) The second reason to understand Isaiah’s “almah” as “virgin” is simply this:

“In an ancient patriarchal culture, a woman of marriageable age was a female who had at least reached her teen years. Children in such a culture were under close supervision and restraint…Matthew grew up in this culture…so it should be no surprise at all that he saw no incongruity in considering almah to mean virgin” – Michael Heiser.

  • In other words, a young woman not married in ancient Israel was normally a virgin.

 

(3) The third reason is as good as any of the others.

  • About 200 years before Christ, a community of Greek speaking Jews translated the Old Testament into Greek.
  • This translation is known as the Septuagint or LXX.
  • When these Jews translated Isaiah 7:14 into Greek, they used the Greek word “parthenos”.
  • This means they understood Isaiah’s “almah” to mean specifically a “virgin” and not just a “young woman”.

 

(4) It was the truth.

 

 

2) THEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF VIRGIN BIRTH

 

So is the Virgin Birth necessary?

  • Or put another way, isn’t the Incarnation really the important thing?

 

This is my favorite apologetic for the Virgin Birth of the Messiah.

  • In the context of God’s redemptive history, it is yet another piece, of the hundreds of pieces, of a 1500-year-old Gospel puzzle that fits perfectly.
  • And in this context it stands on its own as yet another act of God in history.
  • It is not just “a theory explaining the incarnation” – M. James Sawyer.

 

Virgin Birth and Christ’s Identity:

It sets apart Jesus, chosen before creation, to be the Son of God and Messiah.

  • He was not chosen and set apart by the Father later, as some claim.
  • His baptism in the Jordan was not where Jesus was invested with a special divine connection.
  • “The virginal conception means Jesus was not simply a holy man…” – Scot McKnight.
  • The Virgin Birth shows He came into this world as God.

 

Virgin Birth and Grace:

“The virgin birth signals a move from God to man not man to God. Human powers and abilities are not in play. The fact that Mary was a virgin disqualifies her from active participation even in the conception of Jesus. The incarnation is not a cooperative effort between God and man. It is in no sense a product of human activity” – M. James Sawyer.

  • God chose the who, the when, and the where.
  • Mary could only believe and receive.
  • The same thing we must do.

 

Virgin Birth and New-Creation:

“In a very real sense the virgin birth is related to God’s creative activity of Genesis. By means of his creative act the creator himself has stepped into his creation and is re-creating fallen humanity” – M. James Sawyer.

  • In other words, the Virgin Birth is the breaking in of the “life in the age to come”.
  • It is part of the inauguration of the “Kingdom of God” where all things will be “put right”.
  • “This doctrine speaks to new creation coming into existence in the here and now as a foretaste of what is to come” – Scot McKnight.
  • In a strong parallel to creation out of nothing, “it is a new creative act” that takes place out of the virgin womb – M. James Sawyer.

 

Virgin Birth and Resurrection:

Because of its connection to creation, it is deeply linked to Resurrection.

  • Both the Virgin Birth and Resurrection:
    • Esteem and value creation – the physical.
  • Point to Jesus as the one who will “put right” a fallen and cursed creation.
    • Virgin Birth – God entered “Adam”
    • Resurrection – God defeated “Adam’s Curse”
  • And each share in creation language – the “promised seed” and “first fruits”.

 

Virgin Birth and Union with Christ:

It demonstrates the “radical identification with the crown of his creation” – M. James Sawyer.

  • God, in Christ, humbled Himself and condescended to become part of His creation in a physical way by being born fully human – 100% God and 100% Human.
  • In so doing, He left the glory He shared in the fellowship of the Trinity – John 17.
  • And He did so that He might provide a way for us to be in Union with Him and thus participate with Him in the fellowship of the Trinity – John 17.

 

Conclusion:

Given all we have seen about the Virgin Birth, we come back to the question raised earlier.

  • Is the Virgin Birth a necessary part of the Gospel?
  • My answer is, “absolutely”.

“Why mention so specifically that Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate” if the bit about “born of the virgin Mary” is a historical make-believe? The Gospels and the early church believed it was important not just that Jesus was born of a virgin, but that it was a virgin birth that really happened in time and history” – Kevin DeYoung.

 

Some Nuggets:

Christ as the “Divine Warrior” or as the “Angel of the Lord” could not do what “Christ as Jesus” could do.

  • Why?
  • As the “Divine Warrior” and “Angel of the Lord” Christ was not fully human.
  • But the Virgin Birth is unambiguous – the third person of the Trinity has become fully human.
  • In this sense, the Virgin Birth “delivers” the most important “theophany” of all – Jesus.
  • Christ as Jesus could be our representative, sympathetic and sinless priest – Hebrews 4:15 (Douglas Wilson).

 

Was the Virgin Birth a miracle?

  • Some scholars – N.T. Wright and Antony Le Donne – want to stop using the word miracle.
  • “Miracle” conjures up the idea of a God who shows up only to tweak with the laws of nature and then disappears for a while.
  • His concern with creation is expressed only when He “performs a miracle”.
  • N.T. Wright suggests this is anachronistic and Platonic.
  • Instead, we should refer to God’s/Jesus’ acts in history as “putting right” creation, or the “breaking in” of new creation.
  • This conveys God’s actions in redemptive history in more accurate language.
  • He is always working to “put right” His creation, redeem His “remnant”, and return them from “exile”.
    • The “Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done” kinds of things.

 

Relationship of Virgin Birth to Incarnation:

“It may be admitted, of course, that the Virgin Birth is not flatly identical with the Incarnation, just as the empty tomb is not flatly identical with the Resurrection. The one might be affirmed without the other. Yet the connection is so close, and indeed indispensable, that were the Virgin Birth or the empty tomb denied, it is likely that either the Incarnation or Resurrection would be called in question, or they would be affirmed in a form very different from that which they have in Scripture and historic teaching” – Christianity Today Editorial 1959.

 

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer vs. the Trinity – Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

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Since the Wheaton College controversy, much has been written by philosophers and Bible scholars on the question, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” My take…the philosophers are bringing the most clarity to the question. Bible scholars seem more eager to defend than discuss.

 

The Real Issue – Reference:

Philosopher Bill Vallicella argues that the answer to the question depends on one’s theory of reference.

 

Theory of reference refers to the “relation that obtains between certain sorts of representational tokens (e.g., names, mental states, pictures) and objects” (plato.stanford.edu).

 

For our purposes, “God” is the “representational token” and the Creator God of the Bible is the object. In other words, what is it about the word “God” that enables it as a “representational token” to successfully refer to the Creator God revealed in the Bible?

 

Taking into account theory of reference, the question can be put differently. Do Muslims successfully reference the one true God of the Bible in their worship?

 

There are at least two theories of reference, and both shed light on this question.

 
Descriptivist Theory:

A successful reference is made because the speaker of the word has in mind a particular “descriptive content” (Bill Vallicella).

 

In other words, successful reference occurs when the “representational token” is understood in terms of its content. Just using the word “God” does not guarantee that the object (God) has been successfully referenced. The “descriptive content” also has to be correct.

 
Causal Theory:

A successful reference is made because the speaker has in mind the object of the “initial tagging” of the word/phrase (Bill Vallicella).

 

In other words, “God of Abraham”, e.g., is a fixed name – “representational token” – established in the OT by the Bible writers to refer to the transcendent Creator who covenanted with Abraham. A successful reference is made whenever this word/phrase is used because it is linked “in a causal chain stretching back to the dubbing of that object with that name” (plato.stanford.edu).

 

Under the causal theory, it doesn’t matter if the content varies wildly (Bill Vallicella). The word as used in its “initial tagging” is the thing. Descriptive content is irrelevant.

 

These two theories are why the answer to our specific question about successful reference of Muslim worship depends on one’s theory of reference (Bill Vallicella). If causal, the answer is, “yes”. If descriptive, the answer is, “no”.

 
What about the Trinity and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer?

Pointing out that the Christian God is triune – as theologians and evangelical leaders have been doing – doesn’t do the work they think it does. The reason has to do with the causal theory of reference.

 

Consider Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. This is a movie about Abraham Lincoln: the 16th president of the U.S.; husband of Mary Todd Lincoln; vampire hunter.

 

Very few will have a problem accepting a causal theory of reference with the words, “Abraham Lincoln”. In fact, the reason the movie title works is because of the causal theory of reference. We easily accept that the 16th president of the U.S. is being referenced. However, the movie just happens to be wrong about Lincoln’s hobby – same Lincoln, just incorrect belief (vampire hunter).

 

The same can be said of a Muslim’s reference to God. Everybody knows they are referencing the God of the Bible – the God of Abraham (a number of the Koran’s Surah’s make that point). However, they just happen to be wrong about some aspects of God’s nature – same God, just incorrect beliefs (they reject most orthodox Christology).

 

The Bible’s Theory of Reference:

Back to our “yes” and “no” answer. There is one more thing to consider; one more thing that might break the log jam created by competing theories of reference.

 

Since the Bible is the originator, via revelation, of all its “representational tokens” for God, wouldn’t it make sense to see how it weighs in on the reference issue?

 

In other words, what is the Bible’s theory of reference with the word “God” – Descriptivist or Causal? Surely the Bible should have the right to weigh in on the reference question.

 
It’s obvious that the Bible contains Causal Reference:

  • Exodus 3:15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

 

The above is just one example of an “original tagging” causal reference used by several Surah’s in the Koran to make a successful reference to the God of the Bible.

 

But, the Bible also contains Descriptive References to God. The Descriptive References are where problems of successful reference by Muslims begin to surface.

 

NT Descriptive References (descriptive content is the thing):

  • 1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
  • Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him [Christ] from the dead.
  • 1 Peter 1:21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him [Christ] from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

 

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is also the God who reconciled the believer through Christ and raised Christ from the dead. The NT writers go out of their way to establish and seal this connection. “Descriptive content” matters to the Bible’s reference to God.

 

Where does this leave us?

On a Causal theory, Muslims successfully reference the God of Abraham in their worship. But the Bible rejects a “Causal theory alone” approach to the word “God”. It is deeply steeped in a Descriptive theory of reference. So, using the Bible’s own comprehensive standards of reference (causal and descriptive), Muslims fail to successfully refer to the God of the Bible in their worship. Why? They reject the Christology contained in the NT’s Descriptive references of God. Descriptive content matters.

 

Romans 8:38-39 – Unseen Realm – Part 1

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Last week we opened up with Paul’s question:

  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (vs. 35).

 

We noted that with this question Paul was reframing his Romans 8 discussion around God’s love.

  • Our security in the Gospel, our future assurance of glorification, etc.
  • All of these are seen as an unassailable expression of God’s love through Christ to us.
  • He is their source.

 

We then saw how throughout his letters Paul associated God’s love with…

  • Action towards us.
  • As such, we characterized God’s love for us as His accomplishing power.

 

This love – this accomplishing power – was impervious to defeat by all comers…whether they be:

  • Impersonal Forces
  • Personal Forces

 

Neither one can sever our connection to God’s love – His accomplishing power.

  • Last week we dealt specifically with the impersonal forces or circumstances that seek to do so.

 

And if Paul’s listed ended with these, Paul’s audience would be troubled.

  • They might say that’s all well and good Paul.
  • But these forces aren’t personal.
  • What about the personal forces?

 

Only the personal forces possess a will that is actively seeking to destroy Christ’s:

  • Kingdom
  • Church
  • Saints

 

What about those forces?

 

This leads us into the stranger dimension of Paul’s list.

  • A dimension that first-world moderns usually gloss right over.
  • The personal forces of the unseen realm.

 

 

Personal Forces of The Unseen Realm:

Romans 8:38–39 (ESV) — 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Paul includes in his list the following personal forces.

  • nor angels nor rulers” – “nor powers

 

These, too, are unable to sever us from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

  • They too are casualties of God’s accomplishing power!

 

But who are they?

 

To get at the significance of who they are…

  • We need to unpack them a bit.

 

Question.

  • If you asked anyone in church today…
  • Why the world is all jacked up…
  • What would they say?

 

Likely, the answer would contain things like:

  • The Fall
  • Adam
  • Sin/Rebellion
  • Satan

 

If you asked an ancient Jew, why the world is all jacked up…

  • What would they say?

 

They would certainly acknowledge the role of Genesis 3.

  • But they would go well beyond it.

 

Michael Heiser sets up the “well beyond”.

“After Eden, God still intended to dwell with humanity. But there would be opposition. Divine beings in service to Yahweh could defect. Enemies of Yahweh and his rule, from the human to the divine to something in between, lurked over the horizon. Heaven and earth were destined to be reunited, but it would be a titanic struggle” – Michael Heiser.

 

There are two specific events in Genesis that demonstrate Heiser’s observation.

  • (1) The “sons of god” and Nephilim of Genesis 6.
    • About which Peter and Jude talk.
  • (2) The Tower of Babel incident found in Genesis 11 and Deuteronomy 32.
    • About which Paul talks.

 

In an effort to understand Paul’s personal force list…

  • We are going to deal with the second.
  • This represents what Michael Heiser calls the Deuteronomy 32 worldview.
  • We can unpack this worldview by looking at a few OT texts.

 

 

Deuteronomy 32 Worldview (Michael Heiser):

Genesis 11:5–9 (ESV) — 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

 

Here we see God’s response to the peoples’ effort to build the Tower and make a name for themselves.

  • The tower was their attempt to reestablish what was lost at Eden.
  • Access to the divine.
  • We all know the story.

 

It is interesting that God’s response in Genesis 11 parallels that of Genesis 1’s creation.

  • let us make man in our imageANDlet us go down and there confuse their language
  • So God created man in his own imageANDSo the LORD dispersed them

 

This is interesting because of the identity of the “us”.

  • The “us” is God’s divine council.
  • So, in both instances, God lays out a plan to His divine council.
  • And then God alone provides the action for the plan.

 

To flesh this out more, there is one more Babel text – often overlooked.

  • Deuteronomy 32:8–9 (ESV) — 8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. 9 But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.

 

Here we get more details.

  • The scattering of the people was “according to the number of the sons of God”.

 

The scattering played out like this – according to the text.

  • YHWH would soon set apart a portion of the people for himself – “his allotted heritage”.
  • His people, Jacob” = Israel.

 

And, as for the rest of the folks:

  • They were divvied up “according to the number of the sons of God”.
  • In other words, each of the “sons of God” had his allotment – his inheritance – of the remaining folks.

 

So this text shows us how:

“Yahweh’s dispersal of the nations at Babel resulted in his disinheriting those nations as his people” – Michael Heiser.

 

So what does all this mean?

  • Two things.

 

(1) God’s later call to Abraham in Gen. 12 was how he established His allotment – His inheritance.

  • This was done at the exclusion of the other nations.
  • This exclusion is part of Paul’s “God gave them up” language of Rom. 1:18-26.

 

But this was also an act of grace.

  • God called Abraham out of the East – the place of exile.
  • He called him out of the disinherited and excluded.
  • Importantly, God didn’t make a new Adam.

 

(2) “The rest of the nations were placed under the authority of Yahweh’s divine council” – Michael Heiser.

  • These are the plural “us” of the “let us go down”.
  • The “sons of God”.

 

Moses speaks of this event here:

  • Deuteronomy 4:19–20 (ESV) — 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.

 

Here Moses gives a warning that operates on top of the Deuteronomy 32 worldview.

  • God’s inheritance (Israel) is tempted to follow after the “host of heaven”…
  • The “sons of God” of the other nations.

 

In effect, they want to reject their inheritance with Yahweh and choose to be heirs of the “host of heaven”.

  • AKA –“the sun and the moon and the stars”.
  • Insane!

 

Moses reminds them:

  • God delivered you from this very thing – Egypt and her gods.
  • He did so that you might be His “own inheritance”.
  • So get a grip!

 

 

Rabbit Trail – Naaman and Dirt

  • 2 Kings 5:17 (ESV) — 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.

 

Naaman had finally submitted to the cure Elisha offered him in the sorry waters of the Jordan.

  • The result was his healing and a change in his believing loyalty – he switched it to YHWH.

 

So why would Naaman request “two mule loads of earth” from Israel to take back Damascus?

  • You guessed it!
  • Has to do with Deut. 32 worldview and Moses’ warning in Deut. 4.
  • Syrian dirt is (currently) under the inheritance of Rimmon.

 

 

All of this sets up the next scene in our Unseen Realm drama.

  • We know that the disinherited nations become the enemy and foil of Israel.
  • The modern reader easily notices this fact.

 

But what about the “sons of god” of those rebellious nations – what becomes of them?

 

The Psalmist gives us a glimpse:

  • Psalm 82:1–8 (ESV) — 1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

 

Here the Psalmist gives us a shocking glimpse into the unseen realm.

  • Some of the “gods” (“sons of Most High”) – the elohim over the other nations – have rebelled.
  • They, like Satan (himself an elohim), have aligned themselves against God and His purposes.
  • Their end is to die like men and lose their inheritance – “O God…you shall inherit the nations!” (vs. 8).

 

Michael Heiser puts it like this:

  • “Yahweh [is] judging other elohim, sons of the Most High, for their corruption in administering the nations” – Michael Heiser.

 

Next week we will flesh out exactly how this informs Paul’s:

  • nor angels nor rulers” – “nor powers

 

Heiser gives us a glimpse:

“From the fateful decision at Babel onward, the story of the Old Testament is about Israel versus the disinherited nations, and Yahweh versus the corrupt, rebel elohim of those nations. The division of the nations and their allotment under other elohim is behind the scenes in all sorts of places in biblical history” – Michael Heiser.

 

Romans 8:38-39 – Unseen Realm – Part 2

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Last week we did some foundation work.

  • We introduced the Deuteronomy 32 worldview.

 

This was necessary to give us the background behind Paul’s list in verses 38 and 39.

  • Specifically the personal forces that seek to separate us from God’s love in Christ.
  • nor angels nor rulers…nor powers”.

 

Today we continue our exploration of these personal forces.

  • Romans 8:38–39 (ESV) — 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

Cosmic Geography and Angels, Rulers and Powers :

How do Paul’s angels, rulers and powers…

  • Connect to last week’s exploration of the Deuteronomy 32 worldview?

 

So the Deuteronomy 32 worldview…

  • Is a worldview pertaining to something called Cosmic Geography.

 

As we saw last week…

  • This is the idea that some members of God’s divine council…
  • Which the OT refers to interchangeably as elohim, sons of god, host of heaven, sun, moon, or stars
  • Were made ruler over certain parts of the known world.

 

But God kept for Himself, as “his own inheritance”, the descendants of Abraham.

  • Thus, the reason why He marked out the Promised Land from the other nations.
  • It was to be the geography of his inheritance.

 

The Bible captures these events in 3 texts:

  • Genesis 11:7–9 (ESV) — 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
  • Deuteronomy 32:8–9 (ESV) — 8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind [dispersed them], he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. 9 But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
  • Deuteronomy 4:19–20 (ESV) — 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.

 

And then at some point in history there was an elohim rebellion:

  • Psalm 82:1–8 (ESV) — 1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

 

As a result of this rebellion…

  • God prophesied through the Psalmist that he would bring judgment upon them.
  • And, importantly, that He would take for Himself as an inheritance “all the nations!

 

Importantly, this meant that until such judgment comes…

  • There exist a number of elohim battling against God…
  • There is a coming judgment…
  • And there is a plan for God to inherit all the nations.

 

Michael Heiser puts it this way:

“From the fateful decision at Babel onward, the story of the Old Testament is about Israel versus the disinherited nations, and Yahweh versus the corrupt, rebel elohim of those nations” – Michael Heiser.

 

The point:

  • This is the worldview that Paul inhabited.

 

So the connection between Paul and the Cosmic Geography of a Deut. 32 worldview…

  • Is quite simple.

 

When he spoke of angel, rulers, and powers (obviously not in all contexts)…

  • Paul was using NT language for the elohim, sons of god, host of heaven, sun, moon, or stars.

 

In other words, Paul was talking about the rebel elohim under judgment.

  • And he was doing so in the context of the Deuteronomy 32 worldview and its Cosmic Geography.

 

A quick look at a variety of scholars will make this point about our text:

  • Paul often, “uses [this language] to denote powers or authorities of the spirit world…those of an evil nature” – Moo.
  • “The pairing of ἀρχαί [rulers] with ἄγγελοι [angels] seals the issue since Paul never uses the latter term of governmental authorities but always of spiritual beings” – Tom Schreiner.
  • Paul is teaching that, “not even the most malevolent of metaphysical powers, can unfasten them from the divine love that is known and experienced in the Lord Jesus Christ” – Michael Bird.
  • Paul is “referring to the spiritual forces ruling the nations and bringing opposition against God’s people” – Craig Keener
  • “That preternatural [beyond what is normal] beings are in view need not be questioned” – John Murray.
  • We are dealing with “…powers which exercise their influence throughout the entire cosmos” – EDNT.
  • “These terms have something in common— they were used in both the New Testament and other Greek literature for geographical domain rulership [Cosmic Geography]. This is the divine dominion concept of Deuteronomy 32: 8-9 [Deuteronomy 32 worldview]” – Michael Heiser.

 

So I think we now see the connection.

  • But we need to tease out the implications of Paul’s teaching for us.
  • They are especially important to our understanding the Gospel itself!

 

To help us with this…

  • We need to fill out Paul’s thinking on these personal forces.

 

All of these compliment today’s text.

  • They all deal with the personal forces that seek to separate us from God’s love.
  • And the Cosmic Geography/Deuteronomy 32 worldview stuff helps us make sense of all of them.

 

 

Personal Forces Survey:

(1) Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) — 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

 

This is a well known text – at least semantically.

  • By now, however, I hope we can appreciate this text for the depth of its content.

 

Paul says that we – saints/those in Christ – wrestle against:

  • rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

 

This idea of “wrestle against” is that we are involved in a struggle likened to…

  • Hand-to-hand combat.
  • This is WW1 trench warfare.

 

The context of this warfare is “this present darkness”.

  • What is this?

 

This includes the Cosmic Geography and the Deuteronomy 32 worldview ideas.

  • This is the rebel elohim.
  • And a nod to the fact that God has not yet fully inherited their nations and judged them.

 

And this warfare is clearly what Paul is referring to in our text today.

  • The rebel elohim are trying to sever us from the love of God in Christ.

 

This is why it is so important for us to realize that God’s love for us…

  • The accomplishing power we spoke of last week…
  • Is an all-powerful and unrelenting power that accomplishes God’s decrees without fail.

 

 

(2) 1 Corinthians 2:6–8 (ESV) — 6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

 

Paul reveals a tantalizing truth about the rebel elohim.

  • He talks of their pending judgment – something he knows about from the OT.
  • He says the “rulers of this age” are doomed to pass away.

 

And then he gives us insight into the Gospel itself.

 

So we know that God would judge the rebel elohim…

  • And make all the nations His inheritance.

 

But, what Paul tells us here gives us a clue about how that these things would begin.

  • He says that “rulers of this age” had no foreknowledge of the work of Christ on the cross.
  • A work “decreed” by God “before the ages”.

 

He says if the did…

  • they would not have crucified the Lord”

 

Why not?

  • Apparently, Christ’s work on the cross…
  • Was directly related to judgment and inheritance.
  • The cross was a mechanism for securing this outcome.

 

 

(3) 1 Corinthians 15:24–25 (ESV) — 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

 

This passage picks up on our “why not?” from above.

  • Paul confirms again that the “rule and every authority and power” will be destroyed at “the end”.

 

He also tells us some intriguing things.

  • He describes the rebel elohim as Christ’s “enemies”.

 

So Paul pits Christ against the rebel elohim.

  • We are not alone in our hand-to-hand combat.

 

Paul then tells us that between the now and not yet…

  • Christ is “destroying every rule and every authority and power”.
  • He is at war with the rebel elohim.
  • He is putting them “under his feet”.

 

Finally, Paul gives us this tidbit:

  • the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father”.

 

So apparently another mechanism by which God secures the nations for Himself…

  • Is what Paul calls “the end”.

 

When this “the end” comes…

  • God the Father will have his full inheritance – “the kingdom” (all the nations).

 

Michael Heiser puts it like this:

  • “The coming of the incarnate Yahweh was the beginning of reclaiming those nations as well” – Michael Heiser.
  • Although Heiser adds, they “were not going to surrender their domains without a fight”.

 

BTW – Is it any wonder why the following scene played out in the Unseen Realm.

  • Satan and the other rebel elohim may not have known about the Gospel.
  • But they knew something was up with Jesus and tried to take Him out early.
  • Revelation 12:4 (ESV) — 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.

 

 

(4) 1 Corinthians 6:3 (ESV) — 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!

First let me add to this text some related texts from Paul and Jesus.

  • 2 Timothy 2:12 (ESV) — 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;
  • Luke 19:17 (ESV) — 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’

 

So here we get an answer to a tantalizing question.

  • Why are the rebel elohim after us?

 

The first answer is obvious.

  • They are at war with Christ and we are in Christ.

 

A second answer is more intriguing.

  • Paul says, “we are to judge angels”.
  • Paul says, “we will also reign with” Christ.

 

And Jesus, in speaking of the “economics” of the Kingdom of God says:

  • The faithful, in various proportions, “shall have authority over…cities”.

 

So apparently, the rebel elohim now know that it is the image bearer in Christ…

  • That will participate with Christ in divine rule.
  • In a sense, we replace the rebel elohim and they don’t like it!

 

 

Huge Gospel Implications:

All this from Paul should reshape how we think of the Gospel.

  • It should reshape how we think about the significance of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, exaltation and intercession.

 

The Gospel is not only about us.

  • We certainly are its beneficiaries.
  • We certainly partake in its blessings.

 

But we are, in some ways, just the tip of the iceberg.

  • The Gospel is how God initiates his assault on the rebel elohim.
  • The Gospel is how God initiates His reclamation of the nations for Himself.

 

And he uses Christ and his work on the cross to do this.

 

To appreciate this, we need only look at a few more texts.

  • Colossians 2:14–15 (ESV) — 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
  • Ephesians 1:10 (ESV) — 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
  • Ephesians 3:9–11 (ESV) — 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,
  • Hebrews 2:14 (ESV) — 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
  • Hebrews 2:8 (ESV) — 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

 

Having been buried, resurrected and exalted…

  • Jesus is now set up “over the hostile powers” – Craig Keener.

 

Now everything is subjected to Christ.

  • And through Christ everything is being and will be put right – including Cosmic Geography.

 

The cosmic rulers are “disarmed and put to shame by the cross” – Heiser.

  • This is the Gospel!

 

Isaiah sums up the final defeat of the rebel elohim well:

  • Isaiah 24:21–23 (ESV) — 21 On that day the Lord will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth. 22 They will be gathered together as prisoners in a pit; they will be shut up in a prison, and after many days they will be punished. 23 Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.

 

And concerning God’s inheritance of the nations:

  • Isaiah 66:20–22 (ESV) — 20 And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord. 22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain.