Wrestling with God, Finding Grace (Genesis 32)

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Genesis 32 has always been a chapter dear to me. In it, Jacob comes face to face with his past. Since the start of his life, Jacob’s life was full of deceit and lies. He was the type of person that made his way in life by taking from others; he was a characteristic trickster. He was also the type that would divert responsibility to others. While his older brother Esau was out hunting, providing for his family, Jacob was home. In fact, Genesis 25:27 describes him as a “quiet man, dwelling in tents”. Suffice to say, you would not find Jacob out hunting for food, but rather spending time in the kitchen with his mother. He was a bit of a coward.

Jacob’s irresponsibility and trickery climaxed in his swindling of the birth right that belonged rightly to Esau. In fact, he did this by dressing up like his brother, and tricking his father into blessing him (Gen 27). Because of this, Esau was enraged and threatened to kill his brother (Gen 27:41), and Jacob was sent away by his mother into hiding. Jacob’s lying and scheming had made him an exile. And in fact, Jacob never returned home for fear of his brother. And as a result, that part of his life became a burden that he simply couldn’t shake. It was a sin that he had always tried to run from.

And when we arrive at Genesis 32, we find that Esau, his brother, had found where his brother Jacob was living; and, Esau desired to confront him (Gen 32:6). This reasonably made Jacob fear for his life (Gen 32:8); that all his past sins had come back to condemn him. How was Jacob going to rid himself of his past? How could he appease his angry brother?

Interestingly enough, Jacob tries to buy off his brother by giving him gifts (Gen 32:13-21). Jacob did this, thinking that just maybe, Esau would “accept [him]” (Gen 32:20). Jacob was trying to atone for his own sins against Esau by way of bribery! He was trying to satisfy Esau’s anger by providing gifts. He was trying to purchase his own redemption.

After having sent the gifts, Jacob waited anxiously for his brother’s response all night long, alone (Gen 32:24a). How much his conscience must’ve tormented him! One could picture him as wrestling with his own conscience throughout the night.

But this wasn’t the only thing he wrestled with…

As he waited in agony, Jacob was interrupted when a person began to wrestle with him. Ironically, as Jacob wrestled with his own sin, this man began to wrestle with him. Hopefully you can see the symbolism here; as Jacob was trying to subdue his own sinful past, this man was subduing him. In fact, the struggle was so real, and so hard, Jacob’s hip was immediately dislocated as result (Gen 32:24-26).

I think at this point, Jacob figured out that this man wasn’t merely human, but divine. He didn’t have normal strength, but a supernatural strength. This was God forcing Jacob into submission to his divine will (Gen 32:30). God himself tackled Jacob in order to communicate something very important: as Jacob tried to wiggle himself out of his past, God was willing to redeem him from his past. While Jacob was trying to appease his own conscience, God was willing to cleanse his conscience. And it took the pain of a dislocated hip to realize this.

Jacob came to apprehend this, and rather than simply giving in, he asked for a blessing from his divine opponent. God was pleased to do this. And it’s interesting that God not only blessed Jacob, but he renamed him. God made him into a new person. He gave him a new identity. I think that this detail cannot be overlooked. Right in the middle of a personal struggle to rid himself of his sinful past, the God of the universe struggled with Jacob to redeem and make him a new creation.

And I think we learn from this episode that Jacob had to learn to stop trying to escape, lie, or atone for his past sins and submit to justifying grace. Jacob needed to submit to the subduing grace of God for sinners.

Amazingly, the next day, Jacob felt a new courage to approach his past (Gen 33:3). And, rather than receiving condemnation from Esau (what he justly deserved), Jacob received a warm embrace (Gen 33:4). This was confirmation for Jacob that God himself had forgiven him of his sin. He says to Esau, “I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me“. Jacob knew that he was accepted by God!

Is this not the same grace that God has for us all? Is it not a grace that wrestles us into a faith that trusts in God’s forgiving provision alone? It is! God wrestles with us every day to rest in the justifying love given to sinners in Christ; a justifying love that we, like Jacob, can neither buy nor work toward. It is a merit that comes through Christ’s own righteousness, and certainly, not our own.

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

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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 is the Purpose of the Mosaic Law Today?

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There is much debate on this question. Many Reformed thinkers see that the Law has 3 main purposes: to reveal sin, to be a positive guide for the believer, and for civil use. Other theologians, mainly in the Lutheran camp, would see the Law more primarily as a means toward revealing sin and pointing us to Christ. Still others see no real application for the Law. Dispensationalists see that the Law in its fullness has been fulfilled in Christ, and that we are now driven by the Law of Christ (Gal 6:1-6), meaning we are to strive toward being like Jesus. He is the ultimate embodiment of the Law, and so we look to a person rather than a list of rules.

While I can see a lot of truth in the Dispensationalist camp, and really tend to shrink at the Reformed understanding (mainly because Reformed thinkers would generally agree that the Mosaic Law is still in effect in its moral codes today), I still see some truth in the Reformed understanding of the Law as being a positive guide. My reason for this is because there are many moral expectations in the Mosaic Law that were set in place before it was instituted. For instance, “do not murder”; the expectation that man should not take a life of another is explicit in Cain’s guilt (Gen 4), and is specifically prohibited for Noah (Gen 9:6). So, although I would say that the Mosaic Law was fulfilled in Christ, moral expectations still abide.

And besides this, I can also appreciate that God’s moral character is eternal, and he does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8). And so we can read the Mosaic Law, for instance in Leviticus, learn about God’s unchanging character, and live that out. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10 that we are to learn from Israel’s example, and not fall into the same sin they did. This implies that we can learn moral lessons in the Old Testament, and (if we are filled with God’s Spirit) live them out. Otherwise, what did God mean when he told Israel that the heart of the New Covenant is divine enablement to live out the Law by his writing “it on their hearts” (Jer 31:33)?

However, I would tend to disagree with the Reformed view that these moral expectations are a continuation of the Mosaic Law. What else can Christ mean in Matthew 5:17 when he says that he came to fulfill the law? Which law? He explicitly says, the “Law [and] the Prophets” (5:17). So when Christ said, it is finished, he was not merely pointing to his final payment for sins, but to his active fulfillment of God’s righteousness. So I would agree with the Dispensationalist by saying that we are not bound (in an official sense) to obey the Mosaic Law.

Finally though, I heartily agree with Lutherans (and all theologians who affirm human depravity) that, without regeneration and divine enablement, the effort to live out God’s moral character by one’s own power will only fail. In fact, as Paul says in Galatians 3:10, that all who “rely (as a means toward righteousness) on the works of the law are under a curse”. Meaning, if you think that apart from justification and the regenerating work of the Spirit, that you can work yourself into the kingdom of God, you will find yourself even more condemned (Mark 10:17-21). In fact, Paul says that the Law is a prison to those who would try to be saved by it (Gal 3:22). And in this way, the Law reveals the wickedness of those who think they can abide by it, and who believe they don’t need Christ. And so, even Gentiles, who would desire to be a good and moral person (see Rom 2:15), will find that they can’t abide by their moral principles forever, and will find themselves in need of saving.

I love Luther’s remarks about this purpose of the Law from his Commentary on Galatians. He says, “Now, when a man is humbled by the law, and brought to the knowledge of himself, then followeth true repentance…and he seeth himself to be so great a sinner that he can find no means how he may be delivered from his sin by his own strength, endeavor and works…Here then cometh in good time the healthful word of the Gospel, and saith: ‘Son, thy sins are forgiven thee’ (Matt 9:2). Believe in Christ Jesus crucified for thy sins, [and] if thou feel thy sins and the burden thereof, look not upon them in thyself, but remember that they are translated and laid upon christ, whose stripes have made thee whole (Isa 53:5)”.

And I think that by looking to Christ, and finding this wholeness in him, only then can the law be used positively by the work of the Spirit in us.

 

 

Why Understanding Eschatology is Important, Part 2

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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?

Why Understanding Eschatology is Important

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Whenever I talk to people about theology, there seems to be two reactions to the subject of eschatology (end times), more specifically about when and how Jesus will return. The first reaction is one of indifference; these people see no practical relevance to eschatology. A common response I hear is: “how does eschatology really inform how I live now?” While I disagree with such indifference, I can nontheless understand the thought behind the statement. They want to focus on the now of the Christian life, which is important. While I want to focus on the now, we must also have a mind for the not yet, to which the Bible seems to give a lot of attention.

The other reaction I commonly get is from those who fixate and glorify eschatology. They love to series’ like Left Behind et al. They fixate (and some become obsessed) on the reality of the antichrist, who he might be, the mark of the beast, the timing of the rapture (at least if you hold to a pre-tribulational rapture), and things like this . And while I can appreciate being specific and detailed in one’s view of eschatology, being fixated on one thing will leave you spiritual unbalanced. Christians need to be holistic in their approach to theology, and while this includes eschatology, this does not mean we only study eschatology.

With that said, I think that the first group is who I talk to most. And this is what prompted me to write this two-part post, because eschatology is important (obviously, it doesn’t have central importance, as I said earlier).

This first post will be concerned with the relevance of eschatology, while the second will cover the different eschatological positions, the one I hold, and why I hold it.

With that said, why is the study of theology important? What is the relevance of this topic in theology?

(1) First, eschatology is important because of the weight of biblical writing that is given to this subject:

Much of the Bible is eschatological (or, concerned with future and end-time events). Most of the New Testament epistles address it to some degree, and even Jesus himself gave much of his teaching to it (Mk 13, Mt 24, Lk 19). As a Christian, I want to be biblical; because of this, I must give myself to the study of eschatology. It is simply not enough to be what some call a panmillennialist, thinking that eventually it will all “pan out”. The reason is because the Bible gives us details about what will happen in history in the future. Shouldn’t we do well to pay attention to the Bible’s focus on eschatology? Shouldn’t we study the Bible for what it says? Of course. And if the Bible covers eschatology, we should study it.

(2) Second, our eschatology affects the way we live right now:

You may disagree with this. You may think that eschatology only informs our future–logically, this is simply untrue; and scripturally, this is absolutely untrue. If I told you that a package was going to arrive at your door step at 5pm today, and that you needed to be there to receive it, does this information not inform how you should live now? This information means that you need to plan (presently) as to how to get to your house by 5pm. If you have something planned at 5pm, you would need to cancel it. If you were away and didn’t have transportation, you’d need to get a ride. What happens in the future affects the way we live presently.

What does the Bible say about how the future affects our present, though?

Paul tells the Thessalonians in 1 Thesselonians 5 that,

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Apparently, for Paul, the future coming of Jesus Christ should cause us to be aware, and act as children of light. Paul tells the Thessalonians that Jesus’ coming will be a frightening surprise for the ungodly, but for those who are awake, being holy as God is holy, the day will be one of hope and salvation. And, as Paul says, we are to encourage one another and build one another up in hope of Christ’s coming. Eschatology is intensely practical for Paul, is it not?

in 1 John 3, the beloved disciple says that,

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Wow. Intensely practical. John simply says that Jesus will return one day–and, when he does return, he will transform us into his own image. John then says that those who have this hope purify themselves, and ready themselves for the Lord’s appearance. He then spends the rest of chapter 3 talking about sin, and that those who sin don’t understand why Christ came, and why he will come again.

Again, I want to stress that those who believe that eschatology has no present affect on our lives must deal with these types of passages. And there are several others that I could examine (Titus 2:11-15, Mark 13:32-37, Rom 11:11-36).

(3) Lastly, when eschatology is done rightly, it is fixated on Jesus and the cross:

All eschatology, whatever position it may be, is fixated on Jesus’ past, present, and future work on the cross. The gospel is not just an event that happened 2,000 years ago–it is an explosive act that happened in the past, is at work in all believers now, and will be completed when Jesus returns. The gospel, by its very nature, is eschatological.

Paul says in Romans 8:30 that, “those whom [God] predestined he also called,and those whom called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified“. While the gospel is a seed that is blossoming and producing fruit in our lives now, it will flower when Christ comes back and glorifies his people. So, when we study eschatology, we are truly studying the final fruit of Christ’s work on the cross.

I want to be gospel-centered, and so I must give myself to the study of eschatology, right? This means that eschatology is relevant, biblical, and concerned with the gospel.

I hope this helps you get a small grasp of the importance of eschatology. In my second post, I will overview the 3 common eschatological positions, and argue for the position I take, and why.

Why Israel?

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Why Israel?

Why would God, whose intention was to save a people from all nations to himself, conceive in his mind to establish, redeem, and work with the nation of Israel? What was in his mind, when most of the Old Testament is a story about a single nation? Why create this nation, when his purpose is ultimately to sum up all things in Christ (Eph 1:7)?

In other words, what was and is the purpose of the nation of Israel?

While we could cover a multitude of reasons, Paul provides one comprehensive answer in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

In short, Paul says that Israel is in a way, a historical sermon for all believers–and really for all of mankind–to be gleaned and learned from. Their example serves as a sober warning and amazing illustration for all men.

A Survey of Israel’s History

To get a grasp of what Paul means here, it is helpful to look at Israel’s history as a nation:

Israel was an elect nation, chosen by God’s sovereign grace and love (Deut 7:6-10), and promised a land in which the nation could dwell in God’s midst (Gen 12-18). Israel was miraculously redeemed from bondage on the merit of the blood of a spotless lamb (Exodus 11-14), they were led by God’s presence to the land promised them (Numbers 9), and provided for in the wilderness (Exod 16-17, Numbers 11). As God’s redeemed people, he enabled them to be holy as he was holy and to dwell in his presence in the land by providing his Law; and when they transgressed, God provided sin sacrifices to temporarily cover their guilt (Exod 24, Lev). Israel was given a King to mediate for the people and guide them into obedience to God (1 Sam 16-17).

But, in light of all that Israel was given, they broke God’s Law, and were spurned and removed from their place of blessing in the land (Jer 3-4). Being transgressors of God’s Law, they were removed from their land and scattered among the nations, forced to live as exiles and aliens (Hosea 3:4).

And yet, although Israel was stubborn and disobedient to God’s calling, they were promised a Messiah who would fulfill the Law for them, and be the ultimate King, Messiah, and Lamb who could truly wash away their sins and cause them to dwell in the land and in God’s presence without fear of punishment (Is 52-53, Jer 31:31-40, Ezek 36:22-37:28). And through this King, Israel is promised one day to be saved, brought into their land, and placed under the rule of Messiah who will bring peace the the nations (Is 2:2-4, Zech 14, Rom 11).

The Lord has really and truly covenanted himself to this nation. He elected them, loved them unconditionally, and redeemed them to himself. Yet Israel, in her sin, broke God’s holy Law, and brought condemnation onto herself. And although Israel deserves no more grace than they have already been given, God promises to have grace on this nation yet again.

Israel is a Mirror for Our Own Lives

It’s because of this long and drawn out history that Israel is a parable for all mankind. Israel’s story is one of grace and covenantal faithfulness on God’s part, and yet sin and rebellion on Israel’s part. And it’s because of this that Israel’s story is our story.

In his wisdom, God put a small meta-narrative in the middle of human history for all to witness–the story of Israel.

Of Israel’s history, Horatius Bonar gives this insight:

“The history of Israel, in every age, preaches to us the gospel of the grace of God. It is throughout, the story of man’s sin and Gods deep and untiring love. It shows us how manifold, how endless are man’s ways of sinning; and it shows us how still more manifold and endless are God’s ways of forgiving, and loving, and blessing” (Prophetical Landmarks)

Is this not entirely true? God’s tireless love for a rebellious nation is a mirror and illustration of God’s tireless love for me! As a Christian, I am aware that God has elected, redeemed, cared for and enabled me, and promises to lead me to a land where I can dwell in his presence without fear, and yet every single day I sin against this gracious and loving God.

When I see Israel’s failures, I see my own. This is why Paul can say in Romans 3:19:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Paul says that those who are under the Law are held accountable to the Law. Paul was of course speaking of Israel–God had given this nation the Mosaic Law, and held them accountable to it. And yet, Paul also says that the Law is able to stop every mouth, and hold the whole world accountable (even though not every mouth is held accountable to the Law). What could Paul means by this?

What he means to say is that when we see Israel break God’s Law, and spiral into sin and decay, it makes us realize our own moral inability and sin. To witness Israel’s failure is to see our own failure. And so through Israel’s history, God has not only stopped Israel’s mouth, but everyone’s mouth.

So back to the original question–why does God build and bless this nation, Israel?

God wants to tell the story of every man. He wants to tell the story of his relentless love, of sin and failure, and of grace and redemption. Israel does not, nor will they ever exist for their own purpose. Israel has always and will always exist for the nations. Their story is our story. And our story is theirs.

It is the story of God’s great and lavishing love for helpless sinners in need of salvation.