Augustine and the Pelagius Debate: Pre-fall or Post-fall?

augustine

Saint Augustine

In the world of theology, Pelagianism is generally understood to be the teaching (from a man named Pelagius) that mankind has the natural powers to “ascend” into relationship with God. Meaning, man without any help or grace or power from God, can be in friendship with him.

Augustine, a contemporary of Pelagius, refuted this teaching, arguing that man cannot in and of himself come into relationship with God. Rather, God must condescend to man if he is to know God as friend. Augustine taught this condescension as grace. God, in grace, comes down, thereby elevating and enabling mankind to be in relationship with him.

This debate is usually put in the context of post-fall mankind. In other words, mankind after the fall of Adam, cannot naturally come into relationship with God. Pelagius went so far as to teach that after the fall, man is not affected by Adam’s sin, and is born in a state of neutrality. And he can come into relationship with God by mere obedience to the law, or else if he sins, he came gain help from Christ. Of course, Augustine taught that mankind is mortally wounded by the fall. All men are born into original sin, and therefore need a positive righteousness if they are to be any type of friendship with God.

However, what most don’t know, is that the Pelagian debate didn’t just revolve around post-fall man, but also pre-fall man.

Pelagius taught that Adam was created with the natural capacity to be in relationship with God. While this might sound reasonable, Augustine staunchly refuted this. Augustine said that even pre-fall Adam, because he was ontologically (human, physicalseparated from God (divine), had no natural power to be in friendship with God. Rather, Adam needed an infusion of God’s own life to be his child. He needed God to condescend and give him grace.

For instance, Augustine says,

…the Pelagians have been bold enough to aver, that grace is the nature in which we were created, so as to possess a rational mind, by which we are enabled to understand — formed as we are in the image of God, so as to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth (On Grace of Free Will, 25)

Augustine refutes this position, saying,

The first man had not that grace by which he should never will to be evil; but assuredly he had that in which if he willed to abide he would never be evil, and without which, moreover, he could not by free will be good, but which, nevertheless, by free will he could forsake. God, therefore, did not will even him to be without His grace, which He left in his free will; because free will is sufficient for evil, but is too little for good, unless it is aided by Omnipotent Good… (On Rebuke and Grace, 31)

So even pre-fall Adam, though created good, did not possess the divine qualities to be in relationship with God or to obey God perfectly, without grace.

Now, the reason for this, according to Augustine, is that though Adam was created innocent, he was still merely human. And mankind is by nature not divine, and he cannot possess divine qualities, unless God graciously imparts it. For this reason, Augustine taught that God created Adam with supernatural grace, in order that he might partake not only in human life, but in the divine life. God condescended, to make man not only a creation, but a divine son, sharing in his own nature.

Theologian Frank Sheed explains Augustines view, saying that Adam was given “supernatural endowment” at the point of his creation. He explains that,

…by this supernatural endowment we are raised from being merely creatures of God to being sons of God . For the power to see God as He is is a power which by nature belongs to God alone. Thus by the supernatural life we are being given a share, a created share certainly, in God’s own life. Merely as created spirits we are in the likeness of God; but this natural likeness is as nothing to the supernatural likeness whereby, enabled to do what belongs to the nature of God, we are raised to such a likeness of His nature as joins children to their father…

There was no first moment, however short, in which Adam existed simply as the perfect natural man. From the first moment of his creation until his fall Adam had two lives in him, the natural life and the supernatural life. (Theology and Sanity, p 165)

So then, Adam was created as man, but also, he was created with this supernatural life; this grace of God, which enables him to be brought into God’s own life. Indeed, as Sheed says, mankind was created to share and exist in two types of life: one natural (physical, bodily), and one supernatural (divine, eternal).

Involved in this debate is the thought that humans, even in a state of innocence, cannot live as God lives — eternally, without temptation or sin, etc. The Second Synod of Orange, in response to Pelagius, says,

No one is saved without God’s mercy. Human nature, even had it remained in the integrity in which it was created, could by no means have saved itself without the assistance of its creator (19th Canon)

To some this is surprising. But what this is merely asserting, is that mankind cannot preserve itself, even in innocence; nor can it share in God’s friendship without God’s divine life. Frank Sheed has an interesting aside, in which he examines that the creation, without the preservation of God’s life, would necessarily breakdown, or change.

Sheed says,

…the INFINITE BEING having all perfections is utterly changeless. Nothing else is. Every created being, however glorious, contains a certain negative element, lacks something, from the fact that it is made of nothing.

So St. Augustine writes (De Natura Boni): All the things that God has made are mutable because made of nothing.

And the Council of Florence tells us that creatures are good, of course, because they are made by the Supreme Good, but mutable because they are made of nothing.

…With MATTER we have of course ceaseless accidental change and the ever-present threat, only too often realized, of substantial change, of being so changed that it ceases to be what it was and becomes something else. So much is this so, that change is almost matter’s definition

…For the changelessness of GOD there is ETERNITY; for the continuous changefulness of MATTER there is TIME. Time is the duration of that which changes, as eternity is the duration of that which does not change… Space and time express its finitude. (p 124-125, 126)

He gets into some metaphysics here; but generally, what Sheed is saying, is that humanity, because it shares in matter (though mankind is by definition matter and spirit), changes, and is subject to finitude. Matter is just that way.

And so at the point of creation, God must have condescended, and given Adam a share in his infinite, divine life. Why? Ontologically, Adam could not in and of himself live forever, nor even look upon the face of God.

We can see a bit of this behind Paul’s explanation of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:

For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:39-44)

Natural bodies must be changed, sharing in God’s glory. And so Adam, at the point of his creation, was created with a body/soul which shared in God’s own life; because God condescended and gave him a share in his own life (2 Pet 1:4), making him a son rather than a mere creation. 

And, this is why glorification is necessary for the Christian: if we are to live in the face of God, we must “be changed”, as Paul says. Our fallen bodies (not just our souls) must be glorified.

Thus, Pelagianism reaches even to the pre-fall state, because we need God’s great condescension even then!

What’s so important about the resurrection?

ascension

What was the significance of Jesus’ resurrection?

To answer this question, we can’t simply look to the fact of the resurrection. We must also look to the cross. We must also look to the ascension. We must also look to Christ’s enthronement at the Father’s right hand. The reason is because all throughout the NT, when the resurrection is mentioned, it is never mentioned alone; it almost always connected to God the Father raising Jesus, and seating him at his right hand. And so, biblically, when we talk about the resurrection, we aren’t just talking about the resurrection. We are looking at the cross, the ascension and enthronement.

For instance, in 1 Peter 1:21, Peter says that God the Father “raised Him (Jesus) from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God”. So, God the Father raised Jesus and gave him glory (referring to him being seated at his right hand).

Paul says in Ephesians that God the Father brought about our salvation when he “raised [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:20). Paul also says in Philippians 2:8-9, that Jesus, “being found in human form,… humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name”. Paul also brings in this theme in Romans 8:34, saying, “it is Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us”. So Jesus humbled himself to death; but he was raised by his Father, and given glory at his right hand because of that death.

OK, so this is the resurrection put in context; but what does all this mean?

Frank Sheed, in his Theology and Sanity, expounds on the importance of this theme:

Realize that the Resurrection was not simply a convenient way for Our Lord to return to His Apostles and give them final instructions, nor His Ascension simply a convenient way of letting them know definitely and beyond question or peradventure that He had left this world. Resurrection and Ascension belong organically to the Sacrifice He offered for us. The Sacrifice, insofar as it is the offering to God of a victim slain, was complete upon Calvary. But in the total conception of sacrifice, it is not sufficient— as Cain found long before— that a victim be offered to God; it is essential that the offering be accepted by God: and given that the nature of man requires that sacrifice be an action externally visible, it belongs to the perfection of sacrifice that God’s acceptance should be as externally visible as humanity’s offering. It is in this sense that Resurrection and Ascension belong organically to the Sacrifice. By the miracle of the Resurrection, God at once shows His acceptance of the Priest as a true priest of a true sacrifice and perfects the Victim offered to Him, so that whereas it was offered mortal and corruptible it has gained immortality and incorruptibility. By the Ascension God accepts the offered Victim by actually taking it to Himself. Humanity, offered to God in Christ the Victim, is now forever at the right hand of the Father. (p 249)

OK, so there is a lot that Sheed says here.

First, Sheed says that when God the Father raised Jesus, what it means firstly is that he accepted Christ’s sacrifice as sufficient for atonement. Whereas Cain’s offering to God was not accepted, Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of fallen humanity was accepted. And so God raised Jesus, and in so doing, he showed to all humanity, in an “external” fashion, visible to the eyes, that Jesus’ sacrifice for us was “sufficient”, acceptable to God; that this was the sacrifice to atone. In other words, God stated “out loud” that this offering was enough for our sin.

But also, in raising Jesus’ human nature, God was not only accepting the sacrifice — He was also accepting humanity itself back into the Godhead. Put differentlyas Jesus offered humanity to God in the cross, God accepted and raised humanity back to himself in glory. He was once again glorifying and immortalizing the humanity that had fallen from the divine life it once experienced in Eden. And so Jesus’ sacrifice is accepted; but accepted, and then brought back to glory — and in being glorified, Christ is raising all of humanity from its fallen state. As Sheed says, “humanity, offered to God in Christ the Victim, is now forever at the right hand of the Father”. Principally, humanity, with its sins expiated, may be brought back into the life of the Trinity through Jesus.

This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”.

Because Christ was glorified, humanity in Christ may be glorified. The resurrection, in other words, changes the fallen state of humanity.

The resurrection means that atonement has been accepted, and that glory is to come!

Eschatology as the Church Suffering with Christ

passion scene

Hans Urs von Balthasar has an interesting aside in his Theo-Drama IV: The Action, in which he suggests that eschatology and history, rather than centering around an “apocalypse-focused” theology (i.e. dispensational / rapture theology), should be centered, even structured around the church-as-suffering-with-Christ.

Balthasar suggests that the history of the church, and the church’s eschatological consummation, should be seen and structured in light of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. And what he means is that just as Christ’s life became more and more violent and ended in the cross and resurrection, so the church’s history, as Christ’s body, should be seen that way as well: growing in intensity, in violence, and consummating in a final persecution which ends in resurrection glory.

In other words, as Jesus goes, so goes the church, his body. Because Christ suffered, so the church must expect to suffer. The church’s destiny within history, is to die and rise with Christ. And this church-Christ connection is how Balthasar prefers to structure history. It is a progression of the church toward her ultimate end: death and resurrection with Christ. To him, this is what the final stage of history looks like!

What is interesting here, is that NT theology does seem to find a historical continuum of the church-as-suffering-with-Christ. Jesus himself says that suffering is a “norm” for the church. He also defines discipleship as being crucified with Christ: “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says that suffering “with Christ” is a condition for final salvation (Rom 8:17). Paul even says that he rejoices in his sufferings, as they fill “up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). It would seem that persecution and martyrdom is an anticipated and even necessary experience for the church. Why? The church is the body of Jesus, growing into him through death and resurrection. In other words, the church suffers in and with Christ, as his body. This is her historic destiny.

More than that though, the NT also points to a final suffering, a final “dying-with-Christ”, if you will, where the church suffers in a more complete and eschatological sense. In Thessalonians, for instance, we find Paul teaching that persecution, although normal and expected (“mystery of godlessness… at work now“, 2 Thess 2:7), will grow to a climax at the appearance of a final “lawless one” (2:8, antichrist) whom Jesus himself will destroy. Revelation, of course, envisions a final persecution which will only end with the appearance of Jesus and glorification (Rev 19-20).

What Balthasar suggests is that the church, as the body of Jesus, is meant to experience Jesus’ sufferings. This is the destiny of the church: to be conformed into Christ. This experience of the church, this dying-with-Christ, is expressed in history, culminating in a final death and resurrection, after which she will be completed in glory. This is Balthasar’s eschatological center: the church as suffering with Christ.

Here is how Balthasar explains it:

A question may be asked at this point: Do the various periods in Jesus’ life shed light on the Church’s history and hence, indirectly, on world history? … [T]he destinies of Peter and Paul—according to John 21, Acts, 2 Corinthians, Galatians and 2 Timothy—are fashioned closely enough after their Lord’s. Should this sequence be applied to the Church’s history as a whole?…

[I believe we can draw a] parallel between Jesus’ progress toward his “hour” and the Church’s progress toward the eschatological tribulation. For, as we have shown, the Church comes from the Cross and is always heading toward it. It is in the power of the Holy Spirit, who is sent to her on the basis of Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, that she is equipped for discipleship, enabled to drink the Lord’s cup (Mk 10:39). Hence, in Paul, the baffling simultaneity of transfiguration and Passion: “For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4:11)… [And] indeed, it seems to be Paul’s view that the glory of the Lord actually shines forth in the disciple’s sharing of Christ’s sufferings: “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor 12:10). “For we are weak in him [Christ], but in dealing with you we shall live with him by the power of God” (2 Cor 13:4)…

So we cannot avoid the question: Does world history give indications that [Christ’s passion has]… a universal effect? That is, does not world history show a theological structure, a christological structure, and can it not be demonstrated even to the nonbeliever? In such a case, world history and the Church’s history would be more interrelated than is commonly assumed; not merely in the sense of an external intertwining of Church and State (since Constantine), including modern absolutism with its ideal of “throne and altar”, but in a way that is more in accord with the gospel? (Theo-Drama: The Action, Part IV, A)

I believe that Balthasar truly has something here. The church as the body of Christ, suffers as Christ in history. And this history centers around that suffering, in which we shall die with Christ, and finally be raised (in the actual eschatological sense of the world!) with him.

The Incarnation and the Physical

incarnation 1

One of the most central doctrines of the Christian faith is the doctrine of the incarnation. The claim that God the Son not only came into our world, but united himself with our world. The claim that God not only revealed himself to us, as he had already done in the OT, but that God became one of us. That God became truly human. That he came here physically. That he was born of a woman (Gal 4:4), that he lived and breathed, that he worked, that he walked and talked, that he ate and drank, that he slept, that God was truly human in every sense of the word.

The incarnation tells us that God not only came into our physical universe, but put on the physical. That he put on flesh. 

But what is so important about this fact? What is so important about God becoming truly man, being physical and material? Certainly the realness of Jesus’ humanity was important to the cross. Jesus had to literally (not spiritually) die and rise for our salvation. Had he not truly died, then we would not be saved. And had he not truly risen, we would have no hope.

But is the significance of the incarnation limited only to salvation? I would answer “no”. In fact, I would say that the incarnation speaks volumes about who God is and what he cares about. Let me explain.

I think that incarnation says something very important about God’s attitude toward the physical; toward the material. Namely, that God loves his material creation; that he thinks it “is good”; that his interest in our universe isn’t simply to get us out, or to remove us from the world. God doesn’t want to “rapture” us out of the world, in other words.

Actually, what the incarnation explains is that God wants to come into this world, not to get us out of it, but to transform it into a dwelling place for himself and for his creation. The reality of the incarnation tells us that God and the physical aren’t enemies, and that the great goal of God is that he would dwell on the earth, with his people.

In other words, the very reality that Jesus is the God-man, tells us that God has created the physical universe as a home for both him and man. He created the cosmos, that “the dwelling place of God…[would be] with man” (Rev 21:3). And so the incarnation tells us that the physical is inherently “good”, and that God doesn’t desire to remove us from it, but to enhance and beautify it! It tells us that God doesn’t want to do away with our physical bodies, but he wants to glorify them.

In short, God loves material, and we should too! That, is the beauty of the incarnation; the beauty of the God-man.

Theologian Robert Barron has much to add to this thought. He sees the incarnation as the central tenet of Christianity. Barron says this about the incarnation:

The incarnation tells central truths about God and us. If God became human without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the creature that he became, God must not be a competitor with his creation… God… enters into our creation, [and] the world is thereby enhanced and elevated. The God capable of the incarnation is not a competitive supreme being but rather, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, the sheer act of being itself, that which grounds and sustains all of creation, the way a singer sustains a song.

And the incarnation tells us the most important truth about ourselves: we are destined for divinization. The church fathers never tired of repeating this phrase as a sort of summary of Christian belief: Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Dues (God became human so that humans might become God). God condescended to enter into flesh that our flesh might partake of the divine life, that we might participate in the love that holds the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in communion. And this is why Christianity is the greatest humanism that has ever appeared, indeed that could ever appear.

God became a man, that his entire creation might be redeemed. This is the truth of the incarnation: that God cares about his creation, and means to bring us into the “divine life”.

Horatius Bonar on the Purpose of God In Creation

horatius bonar

Reformed theology has always posited that God’s purpose in creating the universe was not out of necessity. What I mean is that God never had to create the universe. There wasn’t something missing within him that necessitated a creation. Paul affirms this in Acts 17:4, that “God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything“. Within his own being then, God is completely free and independent.

So then, the question that has plagued many: why then did God create the universe? Horatius Bonar answers this question rightly I believe. He explains God’s purpose as revelatory, or expressive. Namely, that God created all things for the display of his own glory. God, in an overflow of his triune being, desired to create a world in which he could express the fullness of his attributes.

Bonar explains this concept further. He says,

God’s purpose…is self-manifestation, or self-revelation. It is to bear testimony to His own character. Creation in every form, animate or inanimate, is God’s witness; the utterance of His mind and heart. His design is not merely to make known that He is, but what he is; to exhibit Himself the I AM, the Being of beings, in whom all being is wrapped up, and from whom all forms of being spring; to unbosom and reveal Himself fully and perfectly; not partially and in glimpses, but completely and abidingly; by bringing forth into view and making visible all that is glorious, as well as all that is gracious, in the infinite and invisible Godhead. God does not create a world simply because he can do so, and wishes to put forth his power, but because he desires to bring out to view those riches of his own being and character which had otherwise been hidden. Again, God did not create this earth of ours a fair and happy world at first simply because he loved to see a fair world inhabited by happy creatures, but because, in that beauty and blessedness, his own character was most fully revealed, and his own glory most brightly reflected.

… This earth… is [God’s special place of self-manifestation]. It is here that this process is going on just now, and it is here that preparations are making for larger and brighter scenes of self-manifestation than eye hath yet seen or ear hath heard… The work is still advancing; the plan is not yet consummated; but the rudiments of it lie all before us; the stones of the fabric lie scattered around; and prophecy unfolds to us much regarding the coming consummation, and presents to us in no faint colors the picture of the glorious reality which from the beginning God has had in view, and which shall, before long, be given to the gaze of the universe, as God’s own perfect representation of himself.

… The purpose of self-manifestation develops itself chiefly in connexion with two great events, the first and second advents of Christ. Round these two points all other events cluster. From these two foci all light is radiating, and round them all events revolve. It is only by keeping our eye on these that we can understand the mighty scheme, and enter into the mind of God respecting it, giving to each event its proper place, order, connexion, and value.

Wow. I love this quote. God’s purpose is self-manifestation. It is the demonstration of his glory, or his attributes. Bonar goes on in this third chapter from Prophetical Landmarks to focus on the two advents, and how all of God’s attributes are demonstrated through Jesus’ death/resurrection and second coming. I agree with him, and think Paul does too. God’s purpose is for “the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6), which is “set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9b-10).

How does the New Testament gospel “fit” with the story of the Old Testament?

jesus old pic

In his book, The King Jesus GospelScot McKnight says that “one reason why so many Christians today don’t know the Old Testament is because their ‘gospel’ doesn’t even need it!”.

This is, in many ways, very true. Of course on the one hand, one should be able to present the message of the gospel to an unbeliever without delving into a long study of the Old Testament scriptures; on the other hand, there should be a natural flow from the Old Testament to the New. And one thing that is wrong is when we find no natural connection between our gospel presentation to the narrative of the Old Testament.

Paul himself tells us the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures”. According to what scriptures? Well, the New Testament wasn’t completed yet, so we must assume that Christ died, was buried, and was raised according to the Old Testament scriptures! Scot McKnight says that the gospel then “is the Story of Jesus that fulfills, completes, and resolves Israel’s Story…God’s inscripturated and storied promises [found in the Old Testament] become a loud trumpet-like ‘Yes!’ in Jesus…”.

What McKnight is trying to explain is that when Jesus showed up, it was not out of the blue. He didn’t simply come out of nowhere to pay for the sins of mankind, and then fly up to heaven. Jesus came in the middle of a story that started in Genesis 3, and one that continued through Israel’s history, and climaxed in Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion.

McKnight says that the story of Jesus, the gospel, brings the “story of Israel to its telos point, to its fulfillment, to its completion, or to its resolution”.  In fact, McKnight will go so far as to say that the gospel message itself is the resolution of the story of Israel in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (and I think it goes further; that it is the story of Adam, Israel, and indeed all of humanity resolved in Jesus) — some clarification is needed.

God’s intention in creating mankind was that they be fruitful and multiply, and be God’s ikons. We were created to reflect and glorify God (1 Cor 10:31). However, Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, consequently falling into a miserable state of sin and death. Humanity has found itself marred from that point on, under a curse, and born under the bondage of sin (Rom 6). From this point, God chose Abraham, and consequently Israel, as a nation that would bless the nations and bring God’s reign back on this earth (Gen 12-18). However, this chosen nation, the nation that was meant to bless the Gentiles, fell as well by choosing to worship other gods.

As a result, at the end of the Old Testament, we are left with a fallen humanity, and God’s chosen nation Israel just as lost. This is the context in which Jesus comes. And Jesus came for the purpose of restoring Adam’s fallen posterity, and to restore Israel to her original mission. This is why Paul says in Romans 15:8 that Jesus “became a servant of the circumcised (Israel) on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises to the fathers, so that the Gentiles may glorify God”. He also said in Galatians 4:5 that Jesus came to redeem those “under the law (Israel), so that we (Gentiles) might receive adoption as sons”. Paul explicitly says that part of why Jesus came and died was to restore Israel from her fallen state, so that he might fulfill her purpose in blessing the Gentiles! Jesus’ mission was to fulfill Israel, and thereby bless the world! In this way, Jesus became the true Israel. Also, Paul calls Jesus the second Adam, saying that “through one man’s disobedience (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through another man’s obedience (Christ) the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). In this way, Jesus became a new Adam, the head of a new humanity.

And so when Jesus came to the earth, we find him in the midst of a broken humanity, and a lost nation Israel. And when he died on the cross, he bore the sins of Adam’s broken and sinful humanity on his back, that all peoples might be justified and saved by faith (Rom 3-5, Heb 2); and he bore the curse of the Law that in Him there might be a new spiritual Israel composed of both Jew and Gentile (Gal 3-4). Jesus did all this to become the last Adam and the true Israel, so that “the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:14), and that he might “free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death…and make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:15, 17), and that God the Father might sum up all things in Him (Eph 1:10). God accomplishes all of his cosmic purposes through Jesus. And the Old Testament finds its fulfillment through him. It’s all about Jesus!

What’s Significant About the Resurrection?

Here’s a short but helpful explanation by Ben Witherington on the significance of Christ’s resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15.

“God’s ‘Yes’ to life is louder than death’s ‘No.” – Ben Witherington

“17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. 19 If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)

Jesus, the Greater Solomon

king-solomon-thessaloniki-macedonia-greece-europe_i-G-40-4052-5IILF00Z

The Bible is a profound book. In the Old Testament, we find God establishing multi-layered covenants through which he will bless the nations in and through Christ. In the New Testament, we find all these covenants coming to a head and being fully established in the life, death, resurrection, and final (future) reign of Christ.

I am always astonished at the (seemingly) prophetic stories found in the Old Testament that have almost direct reference to Christ (gives a lot credence to inerrency, no?).

I’ve been reading about God’s covenant given to David in 1-2 Samuel, and now into 1 Kings. God made a covenant with David (2 Samuel 7) in which he promised that through David’s family dynasty, God would establish a kingdom that would bless the world. This is ultimately a reiteration of what God promised to Abraham (Genesis 12), that he would give Abraham a people, a land, and make them a blessing to the nations. The only difference between the two is that God hones his promise to David, saying that his promise to Abraham will be realized through David’s dynasty. In other words, God will use a king from David’s lineage to establish his kingdom first promised to Abraham, and through that kingdom, blessings will flow to the nations (ultimately culminating in Christ as King over the nations).

And we begin to see glimpses of this promise come to their fulfillment (in part) through David’s son Solomon. 1 Kings 1-4 paint Solomon as taking his father’s place in the Davidic line. By chapter 4, we find Solomon rising to even greater power than his father before him. And some amazing verses are found in 4:20-34 that clearly paint God’s covenantal faithfulness to Abraham and David:

20 Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea; they were eating, drinking, and rejoicing. 21 Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines and as far as the border of Egypt. They offered tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life…24 he had dominion over everything west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza and over all the kings west of the Euphrates. He had peace on all his surrounding borders (HCSB)

Astonishing verses. Judah and Israel, Abraham’s descendants, were as numerous as the sand by the sea, they were dwelling securely in the land, and the nations were being blessed through Solomon. These are explicit (they couldn’t be more explicit if you ask me) references to Genesis 12:1-3 and 15. God promised to Abraham that his descendants would be numerous, would dwell securely in the land, and would bless the nations. The author of Kings was clearly reminiscing on the Abrahamic promises, and making sure to communicate that they were coming to their fulfillment through the Davidic dynasty (as God had already promised in 2 Samuel 7). And if we missed it, he reiterates it once more at the end of chapter 4, but gives a different light to his understand of the Davidic role in the Abrahamic promise:

29 God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East,greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than anyone—wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, sons of Mahol. His reputation extended to all the surrounding nations. (HCSB)

Incredible! He reiterates what he said before, but (metaphorically) encapsulates the Abrahamic promises in Solomon. Instead of the people being numerous, it is Solomon’s wisdom that is numerous. And the blessing given to the nations is found in Solomon’s great reign as the Davidic king. What is meant to be conveyed here is that in the Davidic king will the Abrahamic promises be realized. This really could be the end of the story: Solomon as the blessed Davidic king, and through him blessings flow to the nations!…but unfortunately Solomon forfeited his right to this title by his gross sin (1 Kings 11), and the kingdom of Israel became divided, and ultimately captured by pagan nations (1 Kings 12). However, we got a glimpse, even if just for a moment, of what God promised through Abraham and David–that through David’s dynasty will come a king, and in and through him will the nations be blessed. This of course is realized in Christ.

And, we can be assured that one day, Christ will rest on David’s throne as the true and final Davidic king, and finally and fully establish the kingdom God had promised, in which his numerous people will rest secure in their land, and bless the nations.

We find this in Isaiah 2, an incredible parallel to 1 Kings 4:

The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established
at the top of the mountains
and will be raised above the hills.
All nations will stream to it,
and many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us about His ways
so that we may walk in His paths.”
For instruction will go out of Zion
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will settle disputes among the nations
and provide arbitration for many peoples.
They will turn their swords into plows
and their spears into pruning knives.
Nations will not take up the sword against other nations,
and they will never again train for war. (HCSB)

One day, our Davidic King Jesus will return, and his kingdom will be fully established (it has already been initiated, but not yet here in its fulness), and final peace will come to earth and among the nations.

Maranatha, King Jesus!

What is the central focus of the Book of Revelation?

revelation image

When we think of this book called the Revelation of Jesus Christ, what most likely comes to mind is end times schemes, anti-christ persecution, strange visions and ethereal prophecies. And while these topics are contained in Revelation, what is the center of this great and mysterious biblical book? What is the primarily focus and hope of Revelation?

Horatius Bonar, a 19th century pastor and writer says that Jesus himself is the center and focus of the entire book. He says, “the ‘Lamb as it had been slain’ (Rev 5:6) [is] the theme”.

Bonar continues to say:

“It is the Lamb who stands in the midst of the elders (Rev 5:6), and before whom they fall. ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ is the theme of the celestial song. It is the Lamb who opens the seals (6:1). It is before the Lamb that the great multitude stand clothed in white (7:14). It is by the blood of the Lamb that the victory is won (12:11). The book of life belongs to the Lamb slain (13:8). It was the Lamb that stood on the glorious Mount Zion (14:1). It is the Lamb that the redeemed multitude are seen following (14:4); and that multitude is the first-fruits unto God and unto the Lamb (14:4). It is the song of the Lamb that is sung in heaven (15:3). It is the Lamb that wars and overcomes (17:14). It is to the marriage-super of the Lamb that we are called (19:7, 9). The church is the Lamb’s wife (21:9). On the foundations of the heavenly city are written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:14). Of this city the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple (21:23). Of that city the Lamb is the light (21:23). The book of the life of the Lamb, and the throne of the Lamb (21:27; 22:1, 3), sum up this wondrous list of honours and dignities belonging to the Lord Jesus as the crucified Son of God.

lamb of god

…The Lamb is one of [Jesus’] special and eternal titles, and the name by which He is best known in heaven. As such, we obey and honour and worship Him, never being allowed to lose sight of the cross amid all the glories of the kingdom” (from The Everlasting Righteousness).

Indeed, the ending of Revelation sums the theme of this book (and the entire Bible) up well:

“He (Jesus) who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 20:22)

Why Understanding Eschatology is Important, Part 2

eschatology

I wrote a blog recently on the importance and relevance of eschatology; that was meant to precede and be a foundation for this blog. You can read that at this link here. I purposefully put the picture above, because when people usually think of eschatology, what comes to mind are fanciful visions contained in Revelation, and many wonder about the practical relevance of this topic.

In this second part, I want to address the differing stances on eschatology, weigh out the truths in each one, and give a few reasons for the view I believe (and why I believe it’s more than practical and relevant today).

As I said in the first post, eschatology is by its very nature, a gospel issue. It is the final outworking of our salvation in Christ. If you have been rescued and redeemed by the blood of Jesus, Paul says that we await our final redemption when our bodies, and the world, will be glorified, without sin and death (Rom 8:30, 1 Cor 15). Eschatology is an out branching of what Christ has already accomplished on the cross. Every eschatological position centers around the concept of this principle.

There are three main eschatological positions–premillennialism, a-millennialism, and post-millennialism. As you may guess, each position centers around the word: Millennium. This word, when translated, means one-thousand. And the word itself comes from a key text found in Revelation 20:1-10. This text describes the return of Christ. It describes Christ returning, binding Satan, resurrecting his saints with him, and reigning as King for one-thousand years over the earth. This is the hope of any Christian, no matter how you interpret this text. We long not only that we would be redeemed from our sin, but that the reign of God would be restored over the earth. We want God to be king. And Jesus secured an eternal kingdom by his death on the cross.

God first established his reign over the earth through his chosen leader, Adam (Gen 1:26-31). But, instead of obeying God and furthering God’s reign, he disobeyed and sinned against God (Gen 3:1-15). Because of this, Adam and all humanity plummeted into sin, and became enslaved to sin and Satan. Instead of being under the reign of God, all humanity fell into the dominion of Satan (2 Cor 4:4, Eph 2:1-3)

God then began to establish a new kingdom through the nation of Israel as the means by which He would reign over the earth once again (Gen 12-17); but because of their sin, their kingdom, like Adam, was trampled by pagan nations and left desolate (Lk 13:35). The Prophets, however, looked to a time when someone else would come and restore the kingdom that both Adam and Israel lost (Ezek 36, Jer 31-32, Is 2).

This is Jesus, who came to restore the reign of God over the earth, and to regain an eternal kingdom that would thwart and crush Satan’s (Gen 3:15, Rom 16:20).

The question of the three eschatological positions brings up the question: when and how will Jesus finally and fully establish this kingdom, and what will it look like?

Again, they all center around this millennium, or the thousand year reign of Christ, found in Revelation 20. Let’s look at a brief summary of how each position sees this text, and sees how and when Jesus will return to accomplish this kingdom.

1) Premillenialism

The first position is called pre-millennialism, and simply means, before (pre) the thousand year reign. This position says that Christ will return in history before the kingdom is established. He will return into history, and establish this kingdom on this earth for 1,000 years. During this thousand year reign, Christ will bind any and all activity of Satan, and will reign over the nations as the final Adam and King of Israel. After this 1,000 year reign is finished, Satan will be unbound to attempt one final attack against God and his reign, and be destroyed. Christ will then remove sin and death from the earth, and enter into the eternal state with his saints.

Involved in this position is the thought that the kingdom must be established on this present earth, and not in the eternal state. Also involved in this mindset is the thought that the kingdom, while having spiritual ramifications, also has earthly and national purposes. Christ will reign over a redeemed Israel (Ezek 36), and will restore what Adam lost through his disobedience (1 Cor 15).

2) Amillennialism

The amillennial position means, no (“a” means no in latin) millennium. This term is less than helpful. The proponents of this position believe in a kingdom, but believe that the kingdom is spiritual in nature rather than material as in the premillennial position. They interpret Revelation 20 less literally, and understand Christ’s return and this “binding” of Satan in light of what Christ accomplished on the cross. Because Christ dealt with sin and death on the cross, Satan is bound in his ability to condemn people, because they can now be securely saved in Jesus. Satan’s activity has been hindered.

In amillennialism, the thought is that Christ’s purpose was not to restore Israel’s earthly kingdom, but rather to set up a new and superior spiritual kingdom. And all those who believe in Jesus have already entered into the kingdom of Christ (Col 1:18). So, in a way, we are in the kingdom now. Yet the kingdom will be fully consummated when Jesus returns and enters into the eternal state.

Unlike premillennialism, amillennialism denies an earthly reign in this present world, and instead sees the kingdom as heavenly and spiritual, being consummated when we are in heaven with Jesus.

3) Postmillennialism

This position is much like premillennialism in that it expects an earthly kingdom in this present age, in which the saints are victorious with Jesus. There is however, a large difference. Jesus returns after he, through the activity of the church, establishes a world-wide time of peace and prosperity.

This position believes that, since the church is the body of Christ, and an extension of his very person, Christ will establish his kingdom through the evangelistic efforts of the church (Mt 13). Christ himself illustrates the church like leaven spreading through a loaf of bread in Matthew 13–so, through the activity of the Christ’s body, the entire world will slowly be Christianized and experience a thousand-year period of peace and prosperity. After this time is accomplished, then Christ will return and usher in the new heavens and new earth.

What do I believe?

I am a premillennialist. I appreciate the other positions, but I believe that the premillennial position presents a holistic view of the purpose and nature of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God has both spiritual and earthly ramifications. There are great truths found in each of these position. I can appreciate the amillennial stress toward the spiritual realm of the kingdom. Texts like Colossians 1:18 do tell us that we experience the reign of Christ even now. But amillennialism falls short in looking at the earthly, and even political realm of the kingdom of God. Also, I can appreciate the positive view of postmillennialism that envisions the church’s efforts as victorious and meaningful. And certainly, when we share the gospel, we should rest assured that God is not unable to accomplish what he promised he will. However, in the ultimate scheme of history, I see the Bible presenting a grim and hard future for the church before Christ returns.

With that said, what are some of the main reasons I am premillennial? While I could write a multitude of reasons why I am premillennial, I will give a brief five reasons.

(1) The first reason is because the passage in Revelation 20 says plainly that when Christ comes back, he will reign for a thousand years on this earth with his saints, and only after this thousand years, he will establish the new heavens and earth. The new heavens and new earth, while being the final culmination of and finish to all of God’s purposes, does not seem to constitute the kingdom in Revelation 20. The kingdom seems to be rooted in Christ’s victorious reign over this present earth.

(2) A second reason that I am premillennial is because of the Prophetic books. When read literally, I believe it is hard to take any other position. There are clear prophetic texts that point to a time when Christ will reign on this present earth: Isaiah 24-25 speaks of a time when Jesus returns and sets up a kingdom in Israel, and after this kingdom, he destroys sin and death. Zechariah 13-14 talks about a time when Jesus is reigning over the nations, and that if the nations refuse to worship him, he will curse them. This clearly implies that there are unbelievers present during this reign. What this tells me is that the eternal state is not identical to Christ’s kingdom!

(3) This brings us to the third conclusion, that the amillennial position and postmillennial position must reinterpret very clear prophetic texts that speak about an earthly, political kingdom. The amillennial position reinterprets these texts to mean spiritual truths about the church. However, if we are to take scripture seriously, I can’t do that. I do want to affirm that we can and do experience the reign of Christ now as believers. But Christ’s reign will not be full until he fulfills clear biblical prophecy. Also, there are clear texts that negate postmillennialism. While I do agree that the church is the body of Christ, I don’t think the world will get better until Jesus himself comes back.

(4) A fourth theological proof for premillenialism is the prophetic promises of the restoration of Israel’s kingdom. The prophets look forward to a time when a Messiah King will reinstitute and reestablish the present kingdom that Israel lost. In the prophets’ minds, the kingdom of God is not merely a heavenly etherial one, but a restored, redeemed and fulfilled version of what Israel experienced in the Promise Land. Ezekiel 36 talks about the restoration of Israel to their land during a time when God would save them and give them a new heart, that they might experience the kingdom as they never could have. Romans 11 talks about the return of Jesus centering around the salvation and reconstitution of the capitol of Israel. Zechariah 12 talks the return of Christ being centered around the punishment, salvation, and restoration of Israel as well.

The Bible seems to communicate that God is still not done with the nation and capitol of Israel, and that although Israel may have failed to establish God’s kingdom, Jesus will restore them and establish the kingdom for them and through them. This means that part of the nature and goal of the kingdom of God is for the Messiah to reign over the earth in and through the present earthly Jerusalem, through a restored and redeemed national Israel.

(5) A fifth reason I believe in premillenialism is because Jesus is the last Adam (1 Cor 15). What this means is that Jesus not only came to save Israel, but also to redeem all humanity and clean up the mess that Adam created. This means that Jesus must return on this present earth to clean up and restore humanity to its original purpose. Where Adam failed to have dominion and rule as God’s King, Jesus will succeed. He will reign for a thousand years on this sin-stained earth, cleaning up and restoring what Adam lost through his sin. And during this time, the prophets say that men will live for hundreds of years (Is 65:20), that there will be world-wide peace among the nations (Is 2:1-4), and that even animals will have peace and prosperity (Is 11:6). This will be an unprecedented time, not during the eternal state, in which the world will experience universal peace. Jesus needs to come to the same arena that Adam destroyed in order to accomplish this.

In my view then, the millennium is a special time period when Jesus will reign as the final King over the earth, and only after this will we enter into eternity. It is a time when all the lose ends of Adam, Israel, prophecy, and the like will be tied together. And God will be glorified through Jesus’ reign.

I hope that this post helps clarify what each position is, and why I believe premillenialism is correct. As I said in my last post, I hope that whichever position you take, you make it central to the gospel. I believe premillennialism ultimately because I see Jesus being glorified and fulfilling his actions on the cross through it.

Which position do you believe?