Archive for the ‘Bible Commentary’ Category

Denying Christ in a Facebook Status: The New Testament’s Two Meanings of Denial

March 20, 2013 Leave a comment


facebook logoHey, everyone! How many friends of mine love Jesus? If you REALLY love Jesus, share this on your Facebook page! As Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33).

We’ve all seen Facebook statuses like the above, and how many of us have felt a little awkward after reading a status like that? You know the status is illogical, but you also don’t want to risk denying Jesus because, after all, that statement really is in the Bible! If you’re like me, you usually ignore these things, and sometimes you actually hide the people who post such statuses from your News Feed because you don’t like feeling as if your salvation is being questioned. (Of course, we all know that people who post such statuses aren’t questioning others’ salvation and are just publicly professing their faith in Jesus, which in and of itself is a good thing to do.)

But like I said, the quote from Matthew 10:32-33 in such Facebook statuses really is from Matthew 10:32-33. So there is a serious question that this quote from Jesus raises: Does denying Jesus make a person lose his or her salvation? Complicating matters is Paul’s reference to this verse:

The saying is trustworthy, for:

     If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
     if we endure, we will also reign with him;
     if we deny him, he also will deny us;
     if we are faithless, he remains faithful–

for he cannot deny himself. (2 Tim. 2:11-13)

So if we, Christians, deny Jesus, he also will deny us, but if we are faithless, he remains faithful? Am I the only one who’s confused by this pairing? In order for Paul to make sense in these verses, there must be degrees of denial and faithlessness. As William D. Mounce explains, “Arneisthai, ‘to deny,’ has a range of meanings from a refussal to do something, to a temporary denial such as Peter’s, to full-blown apostasy” (517). Furthermore, “most see line 4 as a promise of assurance to believers who have failed to endure (line 2) but not to the point of apostasy (line 3)” (518).

As Mounce notes, Peter’s denial of Christ is illustrative of the failure to endure that is short of apostasy. After Jesus’ arrest,

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:15-18)

As Annas, the high priest’s father-in-law, was interrogating Jesus,

Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. (John 18:25-27)

As Ceslas Spicq notes, Peter’s denial of Jesus the night before the crucifixion “seems to fulfill perfectly the prediction recorded in Matt 10:32-33” (203). Why then does Jesus not deny Peter before God the Father? Why does Jesus instead reinstate Peter (John 21:15-19)? “Peter denied Jesus with his lips, but in his heart he remained constantly faithful to his Lord and Master” (ibid.). Thus, there are two kinds of denial. There is denial that can be forgiven, and there is denial that cannot be forgiven. Forgivable denial is a temporary, verbal denial that contradicts abiding inner faith; unforgivable denial, by contrast, “officially renounces Jesus” (ibid.)

The reference [in Matt. 10:32-33] is to a disciple who publicly professes that he knows Jesus as Savior and God, adheres to his teaching, and submits to his Master’s will. If this “Christian” later says no to this Amen, that is, if he officially renounces Jesus, declaring before other people that he is freeing himself from his dependence on the Lord, then the Lord in turn will abandon him and will not exercise his role as advocate and paraclete on his behalf (1 John 2:1). (ibid., 202-203)

So to return to the original question that Matthew 10:32-33 poses: Does denying Jesus make a person lose his or her salvation? No. A Christian who denies Jesus temporarily in word but not in heart has an experience not unlike that which Paul describes in Rom. 7:18, 22-23. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. … For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” A person who denies Christ and goes to hell, however, does not lose his or her salvation because he or she never possessed salvation. As we read in Hebrews 10:35-39,

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

     “Yet a little while,
          and the coming one will come and will not delay;
     but my righteous one shall live by faith,
          and if he shrinks back,
     my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

According to the writer of Hebrews, then, true believers have faith and preserve their souls. Humanly speaking, a true believer may apostatize, may shrink back, but divinely speaking, God preserves true believers’ faith and enables them to endure to the end. As Thomas Schreiner explains,

The admonitions [such as in Heb. 10:35-39] are the means God uses to keep believers on the path of faith. Believers are even more assured of their salvation as they heed the warnings, because their response to the warnings demonstrates that they truly belong to God. And the argument of this book is that the elect and those in the new covenant always heed the warnings. God loses none of those who belong to them. (113)

Jesus’ parable of the sower demonstrates this well (Mark 4:14-20). There are three varieties of unbelievers: those who never believe, those who seem to believe but fall away quickly, and those who seem to believe but fall away eventually. There is but one course of action for the believer, however: all true believers believe and never finally fall away, even though they may, at times, like Peter, verbally deny Jesus.

But a vital caveat is needed. Who are you to know if your denial is temporary or final? Who are you to know if your denial is the kind that can be forgiven, or the kind that cannot be forgiven because it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31-32)? Don’t risk denying Jesus with your mouth: you may, in fact, be denying him in your heart. Don’t presume upon the Lord’s mercies.

I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God … for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. (2 Tim. 1:6-9)

If you trust Jesus for salvation, keep trusting him, and serve him boldly! Not posting a Facebook status about Jesus won’t make you lose your salvation (nothing will), but if you deny Jesus consistently in your words and actions, you probably were never saved to begin with, and you need to trust him now to be saved.

Works Cited

Mounce, William D. Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary 46. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2000.

Schreiner, Thomas. Run to Win the Prize: Perseverance in the New Testament. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Spicq, Ceslas. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, vol. 1, trans. and ed. James D. Ernest. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 1994.


Baptism in the Early Church

February 13, 2013 Leave a comment

In my online class about the history of the Christian church to 1500, I had to write a blog that chased a “rabbit trail” related to the history of the earliest church. The topic I chose to pursue was baptism in the early church. What is the function of baptism? Who may be baptized? Based on Acts 2:37-41 and other New Testament texts, I concluded that in the early church, baptism was for professing believers who exercised repentance and faith. It was thus the “initiation rite” into the Church. I’ve posted that “Rabbit Trail” below (with minor corrections and clarifications) in the hopes that it would edify us as believers.

Baptism was the integral initiation rite of the early Christian church. The Apostles baptized new converts, who subsequently baptized succeeding generations of Christian converts, on the basis of Jesus’ command, recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, to the Eleven: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The Greek word translated “baptizing” means “dipping or immersing,” i.e., in water (Thayer and Smith, “Greek Lexicon entry for Baptizo“). After their own special baptism in the Holy Spirit by tongues of fire (Acts 2:3-4), the disciples began water-baptizing all new converts to Christianity.

The Apostles baptized the first converts almost immediately after they had been baptized by the Holy Spirit through fire. After Peter’s sermon following that event, the audience members

were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41)

Thus, the apostles initiated these three thousand converts into the Christian faith by baptizing them. However, this passage raises two questions:

  1. What is the function of baptism?
  2. Who may be baptized?

This passage raises the first question, “What is the function of baptism?”, because of the ambiguous phrase in verse 38: “be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins.” Is Peter teaching that baptism results in forgiveness of sins? Noted Bible expositor John MacArthur in a sermon on the text in question remarked concerning this phrase, “The Word of God does not teach baptismal salvation. It does not teach that you’re to be baptized to be saved. It’s simply indicated here that they were to be baptized in response to what had happened in their life as a public confession of their new union with Christ.” He continued, “For the Jews who had openly rejected the Lord, [Peter commanded] not only repentance but baptism, that they might identify publicly with Christ. And he knew the biggest stumbling block to their discipleship was the fear of persecution, and so he makes that the standard because he wants them to get over the one hurdle that will really keep him from coming to Christ.”

Since Peter is not teaching that baptism results in forgiveness of sins, what is the function of baptism? Other passages in the New Testament reveal what function the initiation rite of baptism served in the early church. Peter later gave a clear meaning of baptism in 1 Peter 3:21, in which he said, “Baptism … now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Water baptism, “a removal of dirt from the body,” does not save, does not forgive sins; rather, God forgives a person’s sins when they “appeal to God for a good conscience,” in repentance and faith in “the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Water baptism, then, symbolizes this spiritual reality of forgiven sins. As Paul wrote in Colossians 2:11-12, “In him [Jesus] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 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 from the dead.” Regeneration, God’s gift of resurrection life to a sinner whereby he or she exercises saving faith in and repentance toward Jesus Christ, is the spiritual baptism (John 3:5, alluding to Ezekiel 36:25-27) of which subsequent physical baptism is a symbol.

To summarize the answer to the first question that Acts 2:37-41 poses, early Christians viewed baptism as a symbol of the convert’s new life in Jesus Christ. Water baptism was not a saving rite but a rite of initiation into the Christian community in which the convert publicly acknowledged his or her faith in Jesus Christ and committed to following him and fellowshipping with fellow Christians (see also 1 Timothy  6:12).

The second question Acts 2:37-41 raises is “Who may be baptized?” Peter said, “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” If baptism was the rite of initiation for new converts, was Peter allowing here the baptism of converts’ children? Arguing against paedobaptism, Stephen J. Wellum writes,

Often Baptists [and other credobaptists] are charged with not appreciating the place of their children in the covenant community. Not only does this charge miss the mark in fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the new covenant community, but it also runs the danger of what is truly imperative–to call all people, including our children, to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that the promise of the new covenant age becomes ours, for the promise is not only for us, but for our children and “for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). (pp. 169-170 in Believer’s Baptism, ed. Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright, B&H Academic, 2007)

“Everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” in Acts 2:39 thus qualifies not only “all who are far off” but also “you” and “your children.”

Matt Waymeyer in his book, A Biblical Critique of Infant Baptismagrees with Wellum’s exegesis of Acts 2:39:

In Acts 2:39, Peter identifies three groups of individuals who are the recipients of this promise: (a) “you,” (b) “your children,” and (c) “all who are far off.” But Peter doesn’t stop there. Instead, he qualifies all three groups with the clause, “as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” In other words, to how many of you has God promised the Holy Spirit? As many as the Lord shall call to Himself. To how many of your children has God promised the Holy Spirit? As many as the Lord shall call to Himself. To how many of those who are far off has God promised the Holy Spirit? As many as the Lord shall call to Himself. God has promised to give the Holy Spirit to those whom He effectually calls and draws to Himself in salvation.

To summarize the answer to the second question, “Who may be baptized?” The earlier-used texts of Colossians 2:11-12 and 1 Peter 3:21, which imply that baptism is for new converts to Christianity who consciously repent, which means to turn away from sin to Christ Jesus in faith, find explicit support in Acts 2:39. Although Acts 2:39 may seem to imply that baptism for infants is acceptable (“for your children,” some of whom may have been infants), in reality, baptism is for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself,” whether adults, children, or people at the far reaches of the globe.

The earliest Church, then, used baptism as a rite of initiation for prospective converts. For a prospective convert to convert to Christianity, the apostles commanded them to evidence their claimed repentance and faith by being willing to receive baptism, to be immersed in water. Nevertheless, this rite was not a saving rite but a rite that symbolized the convert’s prior experience of regeneration. As such, the rite of baptism was reserved for converts who articulated prior faith and repentance. Despite apparent ambiguity in Acts 2:39, baptism was for non-infant converts only, whether adults, children, or foreigners: in short, baptism was for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

The Light of the World Gives Light

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Last spring I had the joy of comparing and contrasting John 5 and 9 for my Introduction to the New Testament online class at the University of Alabama, and tomorrow night I’ll have the much greater pleasure to present Jesus as “the light of the world” to the youth who come for our weekly Bible study at Calvary Baptist Church at 6 P.M. What jumps out at me most in this chapter of John’s Gospel is how Jesus is “the light of the world” at the beginning of the chapter, and at the end of the chapter he reveals himself to be the Son of Man who opens and shuts spiritual eyes.

The Saving Light of the World

Jesus has been at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (John 7:1-8:59). Jesus has spoken to crowds (7:1-36), Pharisees have tried to arrest him (7:37-52), and Jesus has declared his unique Sonship to God as opposed to his opponent’s true sonship to Satan (8:12-59). Upon Jesus’ inflammatory words at the end of John 8, the crowd listening to him picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus flees.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (9:1-7)

Jesus comes across a blind man and answers his disciples’ question in a rather surprising way. The disciples want to apportion blame for the man’s blindness. Like Job’s three “friends,” Jesus’ twelve disciples believe that physical maladies are a direct result of particular sin, of “either this man or his parents.” They understand that sin brought disease and death into the world, but they do not understand that a physical ailment is not necessarily a direct result of a person’s particular sin. Jesus, however, understands perfectly. This man has been blind from birth “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The disciples see a product of condemning sin; Jesus sees raw material for a God-glorifying miracle.

Jesus reminds his disciples that their mission, his mission, is one of restoration, not retribution. While Jesus is on earth, the disciples must join him “in working the works of him who sent me,” i.e., God the Father. And this unique work that Jesus does while he is on earth is to heal people physically in order to reveal their deeper need for spiritual healing. It is this unique work that Jesus does in giving this blind man sight for the first time in his life. Jesus does not judge the man and condemn him to continued blindness (which itself is a merciful sentence even for the man’s sinful nature irregardless of particular sins); rather, Jesus restores the man. He gives him sight!

The Blind Pharisees

The healed man’s neighbors and people who knew about his previous condition were blind to his healing. They were confused and did not know whether this man was the same man they had seen before (vv. 8-12). To settle the matter, they bring the man to the Pharisees for questioning. As in John 5, the Pharisees are upset that Jesus healed a man on a Sabbath, and they want to catch Jesus in a sin. In questioning the healed man, the Pharisees become confused within their ranks. They resort to asking the man’s opinion of Jesus, but the man affirms that Jesus is “a prophet”–certainly an answer the Pharisees weren’t wanting (vv. 13-17)!

In desperation, the Pharisees call in the man’s parents for questioning; perhaps the crowd was right that this man hadn’t been healed at all. But the parents are so scared of the Pharisees that they tell them to go back and ask their son again (vv. 18-23).

The Pharisees at this point are desperate and exasperated. They question the healed man for a second time, but they are blind to the simple sight of the healed man: Jesus healed him, and God wouldn’t have allowed a charlatan to do so (vv. 24-34)!

The Judging Son of Man

What the healed man’s parents feared for themselves happens to their son: the Pharisees “cast him out” of the synagogue (v. 34).

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (vv. 35-41)

The blind man, for all his boldness before the Pharisees, had spoken better than he knew. He still didn’t see his deeper spiritual need. And this is why Jesus comes to him a second time. Jesus invites the blind man who can now see him to see him for who he really is: the Son of Man.

Yes, as the Son of Man, Jesus came to save (John 10), but he also came to judge. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind,” Jesus says to the healed man who now trusts Jesus for spiritual healing even as he had trusted Jesus for physical healing. But lo and behold, some Pharisees overhear and are paranoid: are they those with “sight” but who are really blind? Jesus’ answer is a resounding “Yes!” Physical sight ultimately means nothing if one does not have spiritual sight. To use an argument in line with Jesus’ teaching, it is better to enter heaven blind than to enter hell eyes wide open. Indeed, it is the spiritually blind who see their blindness and ask Jesus to heal them of it that Jesus heals. It is those who think they see and consequently spurn the salvation in Jesus Christ alone who will be judged eternally on the Last Day.

This is what strikes me so much about John 9. Jesus is the light of the world. He gives us sight despite our blindness, life despite our death, faith despite our unbelief. It is as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Praise God for the free salvation he has given us despite our sin! Praise God for the free sight he has given us despite our blindness! Praise God for the adoption he has given us despite our previous status as children of the devil and slaves of sin! Praise God! Praise God!

Who Is Job’s Accuser?

September 11, 2012 3 comments

I began reading Tremper Longman III’s commentary on Job yesterday, and I am enjoying it very much. He writes an engaging commentary, and I have profited already from his not only scholarly but also, and more importantly, Christian treatment of Job. However, there is something that Longman has proposed in his commentary that I find perhaps overly cautious and consequently inaccurate. In his introduction to Job, Longman indicates that although”many translations give the impression that ‘the accuser’ is Satan, known as ‘the devil’ in the NT, it is best to understand,” Job’s accuser not as Satan but “as a member of God’s assembly,” i.e., a non-fallen angel (52). I have agreed with the vast majority of what Longman has written thus far in what I have read of his commentary, but on this point I must respectfully differ with him. Based on biblical evidence, Job’s accuser is none other than the devil himself.

Longman’s Argument

Longman rightly notes that what the ESV translates as “Satan” (Job 1:6 and following) is, in Hebrew, “hassatan,” literally “the adversary.” However, the presence of this identifier of Job’s accuser as the adversary does not preclude “the idea it is a proper name,” as Longman argues (82). His literal translation of hassatan as “the accuser,” while technically correct, does not rule out the possibility that Job’s accuser is none other than Satan, the devil, himself.

Longman further creates a false dichotomy when he argues, “There is also a theological issue in that it would be strange in the extreme to imagine the devil as a member of the heavenly court and God as having a conversation with his enemy in heaven, not to speak of the problem of the devil convincing God to harm Job,” which God indicates Job’s accuser has done in Job 2:3 (82, 87).

Biblical Evidence Against Longman’s Arguments

The key passage that definitively identifies Satan, the devil, in particular as “the accuser” in general is Revelation 12:1-12, which reads:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 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. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

Despite the difficulties in interpreting Revelation, three truths relevant to identifying Job’s accuser are clear from this passage:

  1. Satan is “the accuser” of God’s people (v. 10).
  2. Before his permanent expulsion from heaven, Satan “accuses them day and night before our God” (v. 10).
  3. Satan’s final expulsion from heaven occurs sometime after Jesus’ ascension to heaven.

Together these three truths undermine Longman’s insistence that Satan cannot possibly be Job’s accuser because it is “strange in the extreme to imagine the devil as a member of the heavenly court.” Yes, at the time of Job Satan is a fallen angel and not strictly “a member of the heavenly court,” but since the events of Job occur before Christ’s ascension, the earliest possible time at which Satan was permanently expelled from heaven, it is not impossible that Satan is Job’s accuser. When Job was alive, Satan still had access to the heavenly court although he was not a member of it!

Furthermore, “the problem of the devil convincing God to harm Job” is not a problem. In 1 Thessalonians 2:4, Paul acknowledges that God “tests our hearts.” Although God “tempts no one,” it is certainly within his rights to test his followers (James 1:13). Indeed, David in Psalm 17:3 addresses God: “You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.” In another event concerning David, there is an interesting and otherwise unexplained relationship among God, Satan, and a human:

Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Sam. 24:1)

Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. (1 Chr. 21:1.

Which account is right? Both. God did not tempt David to sin. He allowed Satan to tempt David to sin by taking a census of Israel. Joseph provides a helpful perspective for understanding the relationship between God and Satan concerning sin: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it [evil] for good” (Gen. 50:20). What Satan, through Joseph’s brothers, meant for evil, God meant for good. He saved his people from extinction at the hands of a seven-year famine. What Satan meant, in inciting David to sin, God meant for good. God’s anger was justly against the Israelites for their sin (for which sins the Bible does not tell us), and God allowed David’s sin so that his people would seek him and build the temple under the leadership of David’s son, King Solomon (1 Chr. 21:17-19). There is no problem in “the devil convincing God to harm Job.” Inferring from the above evidence, this undoubtedly happened on numerous occasions.

Biblical Evidence That Satan Was Job’s Accuser

Just as Revelation 12:1-12 (especially v. 10) serves as evidence against Longman’s argument, it also serves as evidence that Satan was, in fact, Job’s accuser in Job 1-2. In Revelation 12:10, John identifies Satan as “the accuser of our brothers … day and night before our God,” which means that Satan accuses God’s people to God. In Job 1-2, Satan accuses Job, one of God’s people, to God.

Job is certainly one of God’s people. The author takes pains to present Job as one of God’s people. Job is “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1). Longman rightly notes that this language presents Job as a righteous wise man in Proverbial terms (79). Furthermore, Job served as the priest of his family, much like Noah (1:5; see Gen. 8:20). In addition to hinting that Job lived probably sometime before Abraham, this paints Job in the light of later Jewish priests who interceded to God on behalf of others. Indeed, at the end of the book, Job prays over burnt offerings on behalf of his three friends, against whom God’s anger burns for not speaking of him rightly (Job 42:7-9). Since the Bible presents Job as a follower of God, and Satan accuses God’s followers to God, Satan is Job’s accuser.

Again, it is important to note that Satan accuses God’s people to God. And since God rules from heaven, these accusations must take place in heaven, in God’s presence. As noted above, the book of Job does not present Satan as one of “the sons of God”; rather, the book of Job distinguishes Satan from the sons of God. And it is as this adversary, as one who seeks to defame God’s people in a desperate attempt to defame their God, who accuses God’s people to him.

Job’s Accuser and Our Accuser

Why does it matter if Satan is Job’s accuser? What does it matter if a fallen angel or a non-fallen angel accuses God’s people to God? The identity of Job’s accuser matters not only because truth matters but also because Job’s accuser is our accuser. This is the import of Revelation 12:10. Job’s accuser is our accuser.

But this is our hope: one day, before Satan inflicts his “great wrath” on the earth, “a loud voice in heaven” will proclaim the glorious news that Satan has been conquered “by the blood of the Lamb” and by “the word of” his people’s “testimony”! Already the Christian is spiritually free from the Satan’s control because of Christ’s triumph over him at the cross, but one day all Christians’ war against Satan and his demonic hordes will finally cease because Christ himself will throw Satan “into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

In addition to the comfort of knowing that Satan will be finally cast out and punished forever, but we Christians have comfort now. Our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus “is at the right hand of God” even now, “interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34). Even though Satan may accuse us (perhaps rightly so, unlike in Job’s case![1]), Jesus is already at God’s right hand ready to intercede on our behalf (Heb. 7:25; 9:24).

May we strive as God’s children not to give Satan a reason to accuse us to our Father, and may we take to heart not only that when we sin we have an Advocate for us but also that if we confess sin to God he will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

[1] Although Job, like everyone, is born a sinner and sins by choice, God insists that Satan “incited me to destroy him without reason” (Job 2:3). It is not that Job is utterly without sin; rather, Satan had attacked Job’s motives for following God, which were above reproach. To put it another way, had Satan brought a specific unrepentant sin before God, God could have afflicted Job for that reason. As it was, Satan attacked Job’s motives in serving God, which God knew to be without sin (see Job 1:22; 2:9). Therefore God is able to say that Satan sought to destroy Job “without reason.”

Hotter than the Sun

July 13, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s my last day at the beach this year, so why am I blogging and not out on the beach? As always, I sunburn BAD at the beach. I was fine until yesterday, when the sun decided all of a sudden to shine just bright enough to get past my SPF 45 broad-spectrum sunscreen. My back is redder than the sweet and sour chicken I ate on my date with Abi last night, so I’m inside the condo this afternoon while the sun is at its hottest.

I’ve gone from reading Isaiah to reading Deuteronomy, so the hotness of the beach sun and its blistering effect on my skin makes me wonder at something that came up repeatedly in Deuteronomy 4-11: How hot and intimidating must God’s fire have been to the Israelites when they received the law at Mt. Sinai, or Horeb as it’s referred to in Deuteronomy?

In these chapters of Deuteronomy Moses recaps the events at Mt. Sinai and reiterates the ten commandments and the command to fear, love, and serve the Lord. He addresses these commands to a second generation of Israelites who had wandered in the wilderness, those who had been under the age of twenty when the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land because of the negative report of ten of the twelve spies (see Num. 13-14).

Although this is a new generation of Israelites, Moses insists that they were present at the giving of the law at Sinai (Deut. 4:9-11). Some of these undoubtedly were present, as children, but many had not been. Nevertheless, Moses says that they were there, in effect, because upon the giving of the law the Israelites as a people pledged, “we will hear and do” all that God commands them through Moses (Deut. 5:27). Because this new generation of Israelites are God’s people, they are just as obligated to obey God’s law as though they had been present at its giving, even if they had not been born yet.

And as Moses reiterates the law to these Israelites, he emphasizes the consuming fire of God. Indeed, “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God,” Moses tells the people (Deut. 4:24). And because “God is a consuming fire,” Mt. Sinai “burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and doom” when God gave the law to Moses (v. 11). Because the Lord spoke “out of the midst of the fire,” the Israelites are to

  • watch themselves “very carefully” (v. 15),
  • “beware” of making idols (vv. 16-19), and
  • “take care” to not “forget the covenant” that God has made with them (v. 23).

If they commit idolatry, however, they consequently “provoke him [God] to anger” and “will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed” (vv. 25, 26). God will scatter them to other nations, where they will be forced to serve idols in “tribulation” (vv. 27-29). But God is merciful; when they “return to the LORD [their] God and obey his voice,” God “will not leave [them] or destroy [them] or forget the covenant” because he “is a merciful God” (vv. 30, 31). And the Israelites know God’s mercy: “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?” Moses asks (v. 33). “Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” (v. 34).

But recall that this mercifulness is to any generation who repents of its wickedness: wicked, unrepentant generations are burned by the fire of God’s judgment. As Moses reiterates his statement from Deuteronomy 4:24 in Deuteronomy 6:15: since “the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God,” sin causes God’s anger to “be kindled” like a fire that will “destroy [sinning Israelites] from off the face of the earth.” Idolatry, particularly, causes God’s destructive, fiery anger to “be kindled” (Deut. 7:4). One specific consequence of Israelite idolatry would be that “the anger of the LORD will be kindled against [them], and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you” (11:17).

So the question for each generation of Israelites is this: will they love the Lord their God, serve him, and obey him; or will they forsake the Lord their God and follow idols? Will God be “a consuming fire” to their enemies, “destroy[ing] them and subdu[ing] them” (Deut. 9:3), or will God be “a consuming fire, a jealous God” toward them (4:24)?

But what does all this have to do with us Christians? The Israel of the Old Testament and the Church of the New Testament are not exactly the same. However, there are some striking correlations between the two. God’s people in the Old Testament were not all God’s people (e.g., Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6). Similarly, everyone who is a church member is not necessarily a member of the Church (e.g., Matt. 7:21-23; 18:15-17). This is how the author of Hebrews applies these warnings from Deuteronomy throughout his book. He quotes Deuteronomy 4:24 in Hebrews 12:29 as he warns his readers: “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. … for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:25, 29). The author of Hebrews elsewhere puts it this way:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. … For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? … And to whom did he [God] swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. …

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Heb. 3:12, 16, 18; 4:1, 11)

This is the author of Hebrews’s Holy Spirit-inspired argument: just as the first generation of Israelites failed to enter the promised land because of their disobedient unbelief, so also Christians must persevere in the faith because true faith is persevering faith, without which one will not enter God’s eternal rest. This is the stark picture the author of Hebrews paints later in his book:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay. And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (10:23-31)

Here the author of Hebrews quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 and 36 to determine that even people who claim Christ, if they sin deliberately (that is, habitually and as a pattern of life; cf. 1 John 3:4-10), prove that they are not saved, and consequently incur the fire of God’s judgment. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 13:5 are applicable here: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Every person who claims Christ as Savior and Lord must ask themselves if he really is their Lord, or if they are really serving the devil.

Is God’s consuming fire going to consume your enemies (those unsaved people who persecute or afflict you) at the Day of Judgment, or will God’s consuming fire consume you because you are not truly trusting Jesus Christ for salvation from sin? My prayer is Paul’s: “I hope you will find out that we [both you and I!] have not failed the test” (2 Cor. 13:6).

Isaiah’s Bookends of Judgment

July 12, 2012 1 comment

Isaiah is the longest prophetic book of the Bible and has as many chapters as there are books in the Bible. John’s words concerning Jesus’ works in John 21:25 are applicable to this book of the Bible: “the world itself could not contain the books that could be written” about the book of Isaiah. So since there’s no way I could write everything I’ve seen in Isaiah after reading it this time, I’ll focus on how judgment bookends the beginning and end of Isaiah and thus highlights God’s grace that also pervades the book. (God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment helped me better piece together how judgment and grace interrelate not only in Isaiah but in the whole Bible also.)

The First Bookend of Judgment

Consider how Isaiah begins. God indicts Israel:

“The ox knows its owner,
_____and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
_____my people do not understand.” (1:3)

Through Isaiah God describes his people as “a whore,” although they once were “full of justice”; his once righteous people have become “murderers” (1:21).

Everyone loves a bribe
_____and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
_____and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

Therefore the Lord declares,
_____the LORD of hosts,
_____the Mighty One of Israel:
“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies
_____and avenge myself on my foes.
I will turn my and against you
_____and will smelt away your dross as with lye
_____and remove all your alloy.” (1:23-25)

God begins this oracle to his people by announcing judgment. Of course, with judgment, there is also the promise of salvation:

“And I will restore your judges as at the first,
_____and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
_____the faithful city.” (1:26).

As God had said earlier:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
_____they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
_____they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
_____you shall eat the good of the land,
but if you refuse and rebel,
_____you shall be eaten by the sword,
_____for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (1:18-20)

Though God judges his people, his is gracious to them and offers them salvation. Judgment is the consequence of disobedience and rebellion, of refusing God’s salvation and lordship. This is where the people of Israel were in their history. They had rebelled consistently against God, and God allows them to be conquered by foreigners (1:7-8). But just as rebellion brings promised judgment (1:20, 24-25), repentance brings promised salvation (1:18-19, 26). The judgment announced at Isaiah’s beginning is the first bookend to this book.

Pervasive Grace

Grace pervades the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 4:2-6 features God’s promise that in his Day of judgment, his righteous Branch shall reign, which means that God will dwell among his people. In Isaiah 6, God commissions Isaiah to be his prophet to Judah, although Isaiah is “a man of unclean lips” who “dwell[s] in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (v. 5). Isaiah 7:14 is a promise of redemption not only for Isaiah’s contemporary Judah (Isaiah 8) but to the whole world, as well (9:1-7), in the person of Jesus Christ.

In Isaiah 40, God comforts future exiles. In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, God announces the coming of a Servant, Jesus Christ, who will bear the griefs of God’s people, be crushed for their iniquities, and bring us peace by being chastised on the cross by God Most High. In Isaiah 54-56, God calls the barren to sing, (54:1-3), promises to protect the afflicted (54:11-17), calls all people to come to him for salvation (55:1-3), and promises to bless eunuchs with “a name better than sons and daughters” (56:4-5). God’s grace thus pervades Isaiah even as do promises of judgment, which bookend the prophecy and set the context for his grace.

The Second Bookend of Judgment

Like the first chapter of Isaiah, the last chapter of Isaiah is itself begun and ended with promises of judgment, and thus Isaiah as a whole begins and ends with proclamations of judgment. Isaiah 66:1-6 pronounces judgment on God’s proud enemies, specifically the legalistic (v. 3) and those who think they are serving him by persecuting his people (v. 5). But there is grace for the humble (v. 2). Those who love God’s people will find refuge in the New Jerusalem (vv. 10-14).

And this grace is followed by a renewed pronouncement of judgment. Indeed, God saves the humble lovers of his people because he judges their oppressors (vv. 15-17). God again renews his promise to save people from all the world over (vv. 18-23), but Isaiah ends with a grim depiction of eternal judgment:

And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (v. 24)

The Gospel and Isaiah: Grace or Judgment

To many Christians, this last verse of Isaiah brings to mind the Lord’s quotation of this verse (Mark 9:48). And the clear picture not only of Isaiah but fully clear by the gospel is that there are two eternal options for any person: either grace or judgment. Jesus makes clear that the way to enter into God’s grace is by faith and repentance (Mark 1:15). Apart from faith in Jesus Christ, the only end result is eternal punishment (Romans 6:23). Paul puts it well in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 when he writes,

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Paul is quoting Isaiah 49:8, which in its larger context reveals that God is bringing salvation to his imprisoned and oppressed people (Isa. 49:9-12). This eternal salvation will result in the singing and exultation of the new heavens and new earth (v. 13). God does not forget his people; he will save them, but this means judgment for their enemies (who are ultimately God’s enemies):

Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
_____or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?
For thus says the LORD:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
_____and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
_____and I will save your children.
I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
_____and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
_____that I am the LORD your Savior,
_____and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (vv. 24-26)

It would be well for us to remember that throughout Isaiah, from beginning to end, judgment bookends grace. Grace is given in the context of judgment. Jesus bore our judgment, and those who trust in him receive grace. Those who don’t trust in him remain under judgment and will experience it for eternity. Oh, trust Christ for salvation! Trust that he has endured the judgment you deserve, and experience the eternal life found in trusting him for salvation!

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