More Than Could Be Asked or Imagined: Four Surprising Ways Christ and His Church Fulfilled the Promises to Israel

ben-white-197668When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:4–6 —

In Ephesians 3, Paul explains how the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church was a mystery hidden to the Old Testament people of God. In the strongest fashion he explains how Christ’s cross created “one new man” (2:15), tearing down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. The result in Ephesians 3:6 is that Gentiles are “fellow heirs” (sugklēronomos) , “fellow members of the body”(sussōma), and “fellow sharers (summetoxa) of the promise in Christ Jesus”.

In these three desciptions, Paul uses the strongest terms to explain that the status of Jews and Gentiles is equal in Christ. No longer are the people of Israel advantaged over the Gentiles, as it was under the Sinai Covenant. Now in Christ Jews and Gentiles share equal statues. As Paul teaches, both are condemned for their sin and thus both redeemed by God’s free gift of grace—not by law-keeping. This makes all participants in Christ’s new covenant equals, brothers and sisters, co-heirs with their Lord.

Still, to get a handle on this newness in Christ, it is equally important to understand how the apostolic teaching was new—new to the first century believers and new to anyone today entering the church today. On that newness, Clinton Arnold gives a succinct outline of the ways in which the plan of God was previously unknown but now revealed through the gospel.

Under four points, he identifies (1) the means, (2) the Mosaic law, (3) the manner, and (4) the magnitude as constituting something different and greater than could be seen by the Old Testament saints. Here’s what Arnold writes (Ephesians, 190), Continue reading

Paul, Timothy (Keller), and the Making of Good Arguments

grant-lemons-82179In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul engages the skeptic about questions concerning resurrection of the body. In verse 35 he writes, “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?'”

To this he turns to nature to make his argument. Instead of simply rejecting the error of “the fool” (v. 36), he argues for the plausibility of the resurrection from a commonly held belief—that plants rise from the ‘dead’ when the seed is planted in the ground.

Here’s how he argues. First, Paul uses the farmer’s field to explain the resurrection in terms of seed and plant (vv. 36–38). Then he points to the various kinds of flesh on earth and the various kinds of glory in the heavens (vv. 39–41). In order to begin taking steps to show how the dust of earth might be raised up and transformed into glory (see vv. 42–49), he appeals to nature to explain their plausibility. In these two analogies, therefore, Paul moves from shared belief in nature, to greater truth revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Materially, Paul’s words makes a strong argument for how the resurrection will happen. But formally, Paul’s approach to the skeptics is a vital lesson in how to communicate truth to a doubting world. In this approach to skeptics, we can learn much. Continue reading

“But Now”—Learning to Live in the Newness of Christ

photo-1416958672086-951aa7064010 2It has often been observed that the “last days” are not just some future event of tribulation and doom but are instead the days of Christ’s church, inaugurated by his resurrection. Thus, as Acts 2:17 and Hebrews 1:2 teach us, the last days have begun with the finished work of Christ and will culminate when he comes again to consummate what his resurrection began.

Such an observation stands behind the notion of an inaugurated eschatology, the belief that the kingdom of God is already and not yet. Indeed, coming out of the debates with George Eldon Ladd in the mid-twentieth century, evangelical theology has found a large consensus on this fact—the kingdom is not only present and it is not only future; rather the kingdom of God has been inaugurated but awaits its culmination.

Certainly, this view of the kingdom is different than the way the Old Testament Prophets foresaw the coming kingdom. To them the coming of the messiah meant the restoration of Israel’s kingdom, the outpouring of the Spirit, and a new age marked by resurrection and life. What we find in the New Testament, however, is that this new age would come in the midst of the old, and that the last days of the old age would coincide with the era of the church, whereby the people of God would bear witness to Christ’s future return.

Biblical evidence for this two-phased kingdom is found in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of the kingdom as already (Matthew 12:28) and not yet (Matthew 24:35). It is also found in the arrival of the Holy Spirit which has made born again believers new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), but without restoring the whole cosmos yet—what Isaiah 65 describes as a new heavens and new earth. Likewise, the resurrection of Christ—the first-fruits of the new creation—indicates a redemptive-historical shift from the old age to the new. And its this resurrection shift that is picked up by certain language in the New Testament.

Beginning with Paul’s speech to in Athens (Acts 17), there are two words that mark the change brought about by Christ’s resurrection. These words are nuni de, “but now.” As Fleming Rutledge observes in her provocative book on Christ’s crucifixion (and resurrection), “this radical newness, this transformation, is epitomized by the very frequent appearance in Paul’s letters and the epistles of Peter of the phrase “but now” (nuni de)” (The Crucifixion60).

Her observation reflects the apocalyptic nature of the New Testament, that the future has invaded the present (to borrow Ladd’s language), the kingdom of heaven has come to earth, and the resurrection of Jesus has marked a new stage in redemptive history. Indeed, the kingdom is not consummated yet, but neither is it absent. And importantly, the presence of the kingdom and the resurrection power of Christ is witnessed through the apocalyptic phrasing “but now.” Continue reading

Temple-Building and Divine Warfare: Two Important Themes to Understand Ephesians 2:11–22

ihor-malytskyi-226011In his illuminating book Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, Jeffrey J. Niehaus argues convincingly that a regular and repeating pattern of salvation occurs in the ancient Near East (ANE).  This pattern follow this basic order:

A god works through a man (a royal or prophetic figure, often styled a shepherd) to wage war against the god’s enemies and thereby advance his kingdom. The royal or prophetic protagonist is in a covenant with the god, as are the god’s people. The god establishes a temple among his people, either before or after the warfare, because he wants to dwell among them.  This can mean the founding (or choice) of a city, as well as a temple location. The ultimate purpose is to bring into the god’s kingdom those who are not part of it.[1]

Developing this basic schema, Niehaus demonstrates how the Old Testament and New Testament follow this eschatological temple-building motif.[2]  Or better, so-called gods used God’s own pattern to establish their false temples, which in time God would recover and employ to defeat all competitors who have sought to build their temples in opposition to his. Indeed, as many biblical scholars have observed (see below), this pattern temple-building and divine warfare fills the Scriptures and helps us to understand its message.

Therefore, in what follows, I will trace temple-building and divine warfare to make sense of Ephesians 2:11–22. This glorious passage is a key New Testament example of temple-building. In it, God is seen restoring all creation through his Son’s cross, which then creates a new people (the church), but that people as God’s Spirit-filled temple become a visible witness of his victory over his enemies. Continue reading

Lordship from the Start: A Meditation on Saving Grace

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Updated: I’ve included a few quotes from Charles Ryrie and Robert Wilkin to demonstrate my concerns with their truncated understanding of faith.

Although it has been some time since John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus launched a biblical salvo into the Free Grace Movement, every now and again I come across people who believe in Non-Lordship Salvation. I have Charles Ryrie’s book So Great Salvation book on my shelf—a book that argues against Lordship Salvation—because a friend who denied Lordship salvation gave it to me as a free gift.

But the trouble with Ryrie’s position is the way in which Scripture itself speaks of faith. In one place he writes, “it seems that many believers do not settle the matter of personal, subjective lordship of Christ over the years of their lives until after they have been born again” (68). Aside from the convoluted grammar of that sentence, he essentially suggests a faithless faith, a belief that may never bear the fruit of faithfulness. As Robert Wilkin, the executive director of the Grace Evangelical Society, puts it, “Christians can fail to endure, fall away, and prove to have been wicked,” and thus “salvation is based on faith in Christnot faithful service for Christ(Four Views of the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, 29, emphasis his).

If this sounds like amazing grace to you, it doesn’t ring true with all Scripture says. Because in the Bible, faith is qualified by terms like obeying the truth, following Christ, feeding on Christ, honoring the Son, and keeping God’s commands. For instance, in both Romans 1:5 and 16:26, Paul speaks of securing the “obedience of faith” in the gospel. What does that mean? In short, it means that saving faith is more being convinced or giving creedal affirmation of the gospel, which is Ryrie’s stated definition of faith (So Great Salvation, 144).

By contrast, a new covenant understanding of the question describes faith as the life and breath of a man or woman made alive by the Spirit. Thus, from the beginning, faith in Jesus Christ has eyes to see who Christ is (2 Corinthians 4:5), a desire to turn from all other idolatrous lords (Acts 3:19; 26:20), and a willingness to submit oneself to him. This is what a full examination of Scripture indicates and what  Luke 7 demonstrates. Continue reading

Looking Forward to Jesus, and Not Some Date on the Calendar (Guest Post by Ben Purves)

rem-its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-and-i-feel-fine-irs-2Since the world did not end last Saturday (September 23), David Meade has designated a new date (October 15). But since Jesus said, “No man knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36), I am convinced that this prediction is equally absurd. Absurd, and yet a snare to be addressed.

Just two weeks ago, we had to ask a man to leave our church property because he was spreading this propaganda. And for the next month and, really, until Christ does return—at an hour that we cannot predict—we will again be forced to contend with the errant predictions of self-appointed prophets.

To help give a biblical answer to the question about Christ’s return, our pastor of student ministries Ben Purves wrote a helpful blog outlining our biblical convictions about the future, the return of Christ, and the Christian hope. Unlike the recent doomsday predictions, these reflections (shared below) are steeped in the Bible and edifying for saints awaiting the day when Christ will return and establish his kingdom on the earth.

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Is Christ returning today or tomorrow?

Many people are talking about it thanks to yet another group announcing their conjectures based on mathematical gymnastics and astronomical mysticism. As of now, the deadline for Christ’s return has been announced as scheduled for sometime between now and sundown on Saturday, September 23 in Israel. If not by then, it is expected by the end of the day at the international dateline.

So, as with Harold Camping’s failed prediction that Christ would return on May 21, 2011 and hundreds of other predictions throughout church history, this kind of doomsday forecasting has been a staple of religious belief, even though it is explicitly forbidden by Jesus: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).  In fact, when it comes to discerning the signs, we need to look to what Scripture says and not what signs might be appearing in the cosmos.

For starters, we know that all of creation is experiencing birth pains and anticipating the return of our Lord (Rom 8:22). We also know that we have been in the last days since the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-18). Yet when we see news stories of hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, like clockwork, religious leaders from the mainline to the fringe invite their followers to join them in hysteria. Continue reading

Straight Talk about the Church: A Biblical Meditation on Church Membership

natalia-y-340640For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people.
And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
— Acts 11:26 —

For the last year I have spent a lot of time thinking about the church. Consequently, when I read books like Acts I am primed to observe ecclesial nuances (read: churchy stuff). That happened today in reading Acts 11:26, where in one verse four different words are used to speak of different (or the same) groups of people. It’s worth noting the language, because it may reveal a thing or two about how we conceive of the church.

In Acts 11 we discover the effects of the gospel spreading into places like Antioch. As verses 19–22 tell, a report of Gentiles coming to faith reached Jerusalem (v. 22). Pre-Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), the church in Jerusalem is still young in their understanding of how the Gentiles might experience salvation. So, verse 22 says, they sent Barnabas to Antioch, where he observes the grace of God in their midst (v. 23).

Upon seeing this newborn church, he goes and collects Saul from Tarsus, and returns to Antioch. This is where our verse picks up: “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” In that one verse, set in the context of a newly formed church in Antioch, we find four words related to the people of Antioch and their relationship to the gospel. These words are (1) church, (2) people, or many people, (3) disciples, and (4) Christians.

Let’s consider each and what they say to us about the church. Continue reading

I Believe in Free(d) Will: Humanity In Its Fourfold State

simeon-muller-3505Whenever the question ‘Do you believe in free will?’ comes up, I want to stop the conversation and step back about thirty yards. Too often that question is presented as if there are only two answers:

  1. Yes, I believe in free will (and therefore, righteously and obviously affirm the moral responsibility of humanity).
  2. No, I don’t believe in free will (and therefore deny the moral responsibility of humanity and foolishly make humanity to be a set of fated robots).

The trouble with this subject is the binary nature of the question. What if instead of asking, “Do you believe in free will? Yes or no?” We ask, what does the Bible say about humanity and our freedom? Though any answer that follows is still to be tainted by our own philosophical (and geo-political) prejudices, it might just get us a bit closer to a good set of questions and a more biblical answer.

But if we take time to consider this subject biblically, what kind of questions should we ask? And if Scripture doesn’t give us a philosphical treatise on the matter, what kind of passages can we find? The answer is that Scripture is filled with passages that address the inner psychology of the soul; the Bible regularly describes the mind, will, emotions, and heart—not to mention the image of God. And, in fact, it does so with regard to four different states of existence. Continue reading

Starting with Adam: Seeing How the Priesthood Begins in Genesis 1–2

gateEarlier this year, The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology published my article on typology. In it I argued for a “covenantal topography,” i.e., a semi-predictable pattern which all biblical types follow as they develop through the covenant history of the Bible. In that article, I focused on the priesthood as an example of how types develop from creation through the patriarchs, the law, and prophets. Ultimately, they culminate in Jesus Christ and by extension apply to those in Christ. At least, that’s the argument I made.

If you are interested in typology and how the Bible fits together, this article (“From Beelines to Plotlines: Typology That Follows the Covenantal Topography of Scripture“) may be worth considering (or critiquing, or I hope considering and improving). For today, I share the first phase of the priesthood, to show how priestly themes begin in Genesis with the creation of Adam as the first royal priest. Continue reading

The Garden of Eden: A Biblical-Theological Framework

gardenGod’s people dwelling in God’s place under God’s rule: This tripartite division, outlined by Graeme Goldsworthy in his book According to Plan, well articulates the relationship of Adam and Eve to God in the Garden. Yet, often when Christians read the creation account in Genesis 1–2 they miss the royal and priestly themes in those two chapters. In fact, in teaching this section of Scripture, I have often had veteran saints question the validity of calling Adam a royal priest and the garden of Eden a royal sanctuary.

So, in what follows, I hope to provide a brief summary of the biblical evidence for seeing the first image-bearers (imago Dei) as royal priests commissioned by God to have priestly dominion over the earth—a commission later restored in type to Israel (see Exodus 19:5–6), fulfilled in Christ (see, e.g., Hebrews 5), and shared with all those who are in Christ (see 1 Peter 2:5, 9–10). In these sections, we will focus on the temple and by extension to the purpose and work of mankind in that original garden-sanctuary. (Much of this research stems from my dissertation, which considered in depth the details of the priesthood in Scripture).

Gardens in the Bible

The Garden in Eden

Easily missed by a casual reading of Genesis 2, the “Garden of Eden” (2:15; 3:23, 24; cf. Ezek 36:35; Joel 2:3) is actually the “Garden in Eden” (2:8; cf. 2:10)—meaning that the Garden is a subsection of the land of Eden itself. Confirming this, John Walton writes, “Technically speaking, Genesis 2:10 indicates that the garden should be understood as adjoining Eden because the water flows from Eden and waters the garden.”[1]  Further support for this view, that the garden is in Eden, is the fact that the man was created outside the Garden (2:7) and then brought to work the garden (2:8).

The Garden of God

Genesis 2 is the account of the Garden of God (cf. Isa 51:3; Ezek 28:13; 31:9), and the man Adam who is placed in the Garden as a servant of the Lord. Describing the literary framework of Genesis 2:8ff, Peter Gentry states, “Genesis 2:8–17 portrays the first man as a kind of priest in the garden sanctuary. In terms of literary structure, 2:8a describes the creation of the garden and 2:8b the placing of the man there. In what follows, 2:9–15 elaborates on 2:8a [the place] and 2:16–17 elaborates on 2:8b [the priest].”[2] Thus, in light of Moses later writing, we should see this Garden as a sacred sanctuary, the place where God walked in the presence of his people (cf. Leviticus 26:12). Continue reading