‘Mystery’—Its Definition, Use, and Significance in Daniel and the Rest of the Bible

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. . . but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.
— Daniel 2:28 —

. . . the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
— Colossians 2:2–3 —

In Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery, G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd show how “mystery,” as a word and concept play an important role in Daniel 2 and 4 and the rest of the Bible. Indeed, for anyone familiar with the word “mystery” (mysterion) in the New Testament, it is vital to see how this word comes from the context of Daniel. Conversely, for those puzzled by Daniel’s presentation of the last days, they need to see how the New Testament interprets Daniel and applies of Daniel’s mystery to Christ and his Church, as in Colossians 2:2–3.

In what follows, I will offer a definition of mystery, a sampling of its usage, and a summary of its implications. Beale and Gladd offer a comprehensive study of this topic, one that I would highly recommend. Many of my observations rely on this subject rely on their work. But, hopefully, all can see that it is the text of Scripture that is definitive for understanding mystery in Scripture. Continue reading

Seeking the Kingdom of God with the Church of Jesus Christ

three kings figurines

Is the kingdom of God present or future? Is it now or not yet? Could it in any way be both? If so, how? These are important questions for anyone who has read the Bible, and for anyone who is studying the book of Daniel—a book that speaks of God’s kingdom throughout.

In evangelical circles the question of God’s Kingdom has been answered for the last half-century with a view called “inaugurated eschatology.” This view affirms Christ’s present royal position as seated at God’s right hand (Psalm 110), even as he rules the church by way of his Spirit (Matthew 28:20; John 16:7; Ephesians 1:21–23). At the same time, his kingdom has not been yet consummated, and the people who have believed the good news of the kingdom await the day when he will return to establish his rule on the earth.

Among the many names who have advocated this position, few are more important than George Eldon Ladd, the late New Testament professor from Fuller Seminary. During the middle decades of the twentieth century, his books on the kingdom of God engaged Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology alike. And in each, he provided a rich biblical exposition on the subject.

Ladd maintained that the kingdom of God is found in Christ’s reign more than the location of his rule (i.e., his realm).[1] He understood the kingdom as a future reality, but one that had broken into the present. Against a view of the kingdom of God as spiritualized in the individual—a view based on a poor translation of Luke 17:21 (“the kingdom of God is within you,” KJV; rather than “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” ESV)—Ladd centered the presence of Christ’s kingdom in the church, without confusing the church with the kingdom. In this way, Ladd opposed both the replacement theology of Covenant Theology and the radical division of God’s people (Israel vs. Church) in some forms of Dispensationalism.

Today, Ladd’s work remains invaluable for students of eschatology. Indeed, those who are unfamiliar with him or inaugurated eschatology, in general, are missing some of the best exegetical research on the kingdom of God for the last two generations. While certainly fallible—as Ladd’s biography shows—his studies have been a major catalyst in evangelical theology.

In what follows, I will offer a summary of five points from a chapter entitled “The Kingdom and the Church” in his A Theology of the New Testament.[2]. In these five points, he shows how the Kingdom of God does and does not relate to the Church of Jesus Christ. As we consider the kingdom of God throughout the book of Daniel, these basic points of theology can help us from going astray from Christ and God’s plan to unify all things in him (Eph. 1:10). Continue reading

Oppression and Slavery Under God’s Sovereignty: Five (dis)Comforting Truths from Psalm 105

Maybe you have had an experience like this: While walking or driving somewhere, you suddenly realize that the beauty of the scenery around you is littered with complex moral issues. If you visit Mount Vernon or Monticello, you are struck by the beauty of both presidential homes. Yet, in learning the history, you are also confronted with the fact that both plantations depended on slave labor. Likewise, if you celebrate the Civil Rights victories of the 1960s, you must consider that many of the programs implemented to help blacks during that era have done more harm than good.

Something similar occurs in Psalm 105, only the findings there are not based upon fallible interpretations of history. In Psalm 105, we have the inspired and inerrant Word of God. And strikingly in these 45 verses, we find multiple, morally-complex statements. Some of these issues concern oppression (v. 14), others talk of slavery (v. 17), but in every case, God is praised for his sovereign actions in history.

Indeed, for all the beautiful comfort that Psalm 105 brings, for it is a Psalm that speaks of God’s faithfulness in leading his people from Abraham to Moses, it also introduces many complexities in God’s sovereignty over the nations. Yet, instead of impugning God with error or wrong-doing, a rightful understanding of Psalm 105 actually helps us to know who God is, how he works in the world, and how we can better understand our own morally-complicated history. To that end, let’s look at Psalm 105 and its discomforting truths which in time lead to a greater confidence in God.

1. God can and does stop oppression.

While the history of our fallen world knows no period when or where oppression has been absent, it is clear from Scripture that when God intends to prevent oppression and overturn slavery, he can. In Psalm 105, the Psalmist reflects on God’s care for Abraham, when the patriarch and his children had no land to call their own (vv. 12–15). As they sojourned among warring nations (see Genesis 14), Psalm 105:14 says that God “allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, ‘Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!'”  Continue reading

What About Dreams? A Biblical and Pastoral Consideration

illuminated neon sign

Photo by Nadi Lindsay on Pexels.com

In the Bible, we come across a number of places where dreams play a role in advancing the story of God’s people. For instance,

  • In Genesis 20 God protected Abimelech, king of Gerar, from sleeping with Sarah by means of a dream.
  • In Genesis 28 God met Jacob in a dream, revealing to him his presence in the land of Canaan.
  • In Genesis 31 the Angel of God told Jacob to leave Laban and return to Canaan.
  • In Genesis 37 Joseph has multiple dreams that foretell his future rise to power; in Genesis 40 Joseph interprets the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker; and in Genesis 41 he interprets the dreams of Pharaoh.

In reading these dream accounts, the thoughtful reader may ask—Does God still speak through dreams today? Indeed, throughout the Scripture we find God leading his people with dreams. And today, we hear rumbles that Muslims and others are coming to faith in Christ by dreams.

Put this altogether and we might wonder, what should we think of dreams—in the Bible and today? The answer requires nuance, a full look at Scripture, and especially attention to the changes between the old covenant and the new. Yet, when we keep an eye on all those factors, we can give an open-handed answer to this question. Continue reading

25 Exegetical Truths about Justice: A Summary from Psalms 97–101

cloud05Over the last five weeks, I have been outlining an approach to righteousness and justice that stands on an exegetical study of Psalms 97–101. In what follows I will summarize those studies and show the way righteous justice is . . .

  • found in God’s kingdom,
  • communicated by his justification of sinners,
  • mediated from heaven to earth through his royal priests,
  • triumphant over all sin and unrighteousness, and
  • established in his household.

As I have stated many times, the order of God’s righteousness and justice is important. And here is summary of the steps that we find in Psalms 97–101. Continue reading

From Personal Righteousness to Public Justice (pt. 2): Five More Truths from Psalm 101

cloud05Yesterday, I began to walk through Psalm 101, observing the ways that verses 1–4 teach us about personal righteousness. Today, we will return to that psalm in order to see what verses 5–8 tell us about public justice. As I defined it in my sermon on Psalm 101, public justice can be defined as actions that promote the well-being of others, based upon the righteousness of God. 

The two words “promote” and “based upon” are where the action is in this definition. As I explained yesterday, personal righteousness is necessary for justice to endure, thus explaining how I understand the relationship between God’s righteousness and justice. Today, I will explain what it means to promote the well-being of others. As Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (The Mission of the Church) note, there are times when the word justice, and “social justice” especially, are unhelpful. One reason is that acts of charity might be better described in terms of compassion and loving opportunities for service rather than justice and moral responsibilities to correct the world’s problems.

I agree. Yet, when defined appropriately—in terms of impartial processes and not equivalent outcomes—I do believe it is possible to speak of justice in terms of promoting the well-being of others, in the sense that justice protects the vulnerable, assists the needy, and looks for ways to improve opportunities for others to enjoy God’s blessings—especially eternal blessings.

In what follows, I will attempt to show what public justice looks like, as we consider five truths from Psalm 101. But first let me summarize all that we have discovered about God’s justice in Psalms 97–101. Continue reading

From Personal Righteousness to Public Justice (pt. 1): Five Truths from Psalm 101

cloud05On Sunday, with the assistance of one of our elders, I finished a five-part series on justice from Psalms 97–101. So far, I’ve included additional notes on each sermon, minus the one I didn’t preach (Psalm 100). You can find those notes here, here, and here. In what follows, I want to share ten more truths about justice from Psalm 101—five today and five tommorow.

While each Psalm (97–100) has contributed to our understanding of justice, this psalm above all the others gives us instruction for pursuing personal righteousness and public justice. In fact, that is how the psalm breaks down. In verses 1–4, the king pledges himself to personal righteousness. Then in verses 5–8, he pledges himself to spread such righteousness through the land by way of exercising his rule to establish justice.

In these eight verses, we find a wealth of wisdom about seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Let’s consider these in turn and what it means for us to be righteous seekers of justice. Continue reading

The Good News of the Law: A Meditation on 1 Timothy 1:8–11

carolyn-v-bb8WmgqWfeg-unsplashNow we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
— 1 Timothy 1:8–11 —

In a world where the laws continue to be questioned and rewritten, one thing remains: We are a people inextricably committed to rules, laws, and legislation.

There are rule books for leadership, rulebooks for diets, rulebooks for childrearing, and rulebooks for just about anything else you might want to tackle. The trouble is that the “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leader” and the 600+ laws of the Pentateuch aim at different things. The former address the physical man and his ability to learn, grow, and improve as a (fallen) leader. The latter, God’s law, addresses the moral man and his inability to be holy and righteous before God.

This difference is too often missed. And it is often missed by Bible-believing, gospel-believing preachers. Those who “ought to know better” are the ones who preach a message of “ruled living” for 45 minutes (or less) and then tack on a gospel invitation at the end. This confuses the whole matter, even as it explains why the church is so devoid of gospel power.

Conversely, there are other “gospel-centered” preachers so committed to grace (as pardon) that they miss the place of the law in the life of Christian. Such antinomianism (lawlessness) does not rightly understand grace nor express the fruit of the gospel. Rather, it presents a half-truth (God justifies the ungodly) as the whole truth, without understanding how the law and gospel relate.

In the fulness of truth, the gospel is not opposed to the law. The good news of Christ is rooted in the way Christ fulfilled the law on our behalf, died under the law, and now writes the law on our hearts. Thus, if we are going to understanding the gospel, we must see how it relates to the law. And that’s what I want to consider here. Continue reading

Jesus, the Poor, and the Mission of the Church: Three Truths about the Gospel

black cross on top of mountain

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
— John 12:8 —

What does the cross of Christ have to do with the relief of poverty? Does the gospel address the issue of economic justice? When Scripture speaks of Jesus paying our debt is this spiritual in nature, or material too? How did Jesus think about his cross and what his cross was meant to accomplish? These questions and more can be asked when we think about the gospel and its relationship to poverty and justice—a theme that continues to confront us these days.

Thankfully, Scripture gives us clear direction, recording Jesus’s words about his cross and his concern for the poor. In a passage found in all four gospels, we find Mary anointing Jesus’s feet in preparation for his cross and burial. And from this encounter, we learn much about what Jesus thought about poverty. Let’s see three things. Continue reading

From God’s Throne to His Priests by way of His Word: Three More Truths About Justice

cloud05Over the last few weeks, our church has been thinking about justice from the Psalms. In Psalm 97, we saw that God himself is the source and standard of justice. In Psalm 98, we discovered how God “does” justice in justifying the ungodly by providing a legal substitute. And in Psalm 99, we saw how priestly mediators served to bring justice from God’s temple to God’s people, and from Zion to the ends of the earth.

In what follows, I will conclude the message of Psalm 99 in three points of application about justice. Continue reading