Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Letter to the Raptured Church, Part II

It is implied in Christ's message to their church, that the faithful Philadelphians were taking some kind of flak from the so-called Synogogue of Satan. That, along with the reference to the Key of David, puts a markedly Jewish spin on this message. That does not make much sense to me historically, in relation to city of Philadelphia, but it must be significant nonetheless. It is ironic that those of that persuasion (call them Judaizers, if you wish) were the ones in fact, who will find themselves ostracized by the one who has the Davidic key.

Admittedly, this is an apparent stretch, but this could be referring to a revival of Jewish resistance to the spread of Christianity occurring near the time of the Rapture. We are seeing something akin to that in our own day in the continuing efforts being made in Israel to quell proselytizing among the Jewish population, particularly by Messianic Jews. If so, it will prove to be merely a last ditch effort that will be overwhelmed by the turn of events at the Rapture and God's subsequent redemptive turn toward Israel. I think that could reasonably be described in the terms of the message: "I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you."

Despite that, and whatever other trials they had to get through, the Philadelphians kept Jesus' word of perseverance. The thought conveyed is waiting patiently under command, like the person asked to stay behind for a straggler when the youth group heads out to an event. That Jesus' command to endure (as recorded elsewhere) has eschatological implications cannot be denied--the reference in this letter in conjunction with the promise of escape (rapture) can only underscore the end-times emphasis. The letter to the church in Philadelphia is in particular a message to the end-times Church, though its message would have been inspirational to any church at any time being stretched by the need to endure under pressure.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Letter to the Raptured Church, Part I

In the message Jesus sent to the church in Philadelphia, we see one of only two purely positive messages of those he sent to the seven churches. Although the deeds of the Philadelphians are known by him, no correction ensues and no threat follows, only a hopeful promise. Taken together, I think the commendations and rebukes in the Letters to the Churches demonstrate that works do make a difference in how Christ reacts to those who are known by his name. We can infer, thereby, that grace is not something that ignores evidence that reveals that a heart has faith in name only (see James 2:14-26).

For those whose faith is true, Jesus promises to use his key authority to their benefit. He gives a two-fold metric to understand his judgment in the matter: 1) the faithful guard (in the sense that they observe or live by) his word, and 2) the faithful do not deny (disavow or repudiate) his name. In the case of the Philadelphians, both are done in spite of the lack of great ability (dunamis). For the non-charismatic that would probably be taken another way, but for those of us who are charismatic, we could see this as referring to a relative lack of miraculous, spiritual power. Perhaps that is encouraging news to those living in an age where our affirmation for fabulous signs and wonders is far outstripped by their actual occurrence.

The open door cannot refer to opportunities for gospel work (as so many commentators aver), for that would be a far too pedestrian use of Jesus' keys--particularly since the benefactors experience a lack of power and opposition in this world. The open door, therefore, must refer to something in regard to which Christ has unique authority (since none can close what he opens by it). Since these letters have been filled with so many warnings about the things of Christ being closed off to some, context would demand (it seems to me), to see this in regard to all that Christ has been promising by his authority in the midst of these letters. What others written to are shut out from, the Philadelphians are allowed in to.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Keys of Death, Hades and David

The Keys of Death and Hades
He placed His right hand on me, saying, Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades."   Revelation 1:17b-18
We use the word key in various ways. It can signify the crucial piece to understanding something or solving a problem. It can merely signify the importance of a thing. It can serve as a figure of affection; for instance, "the key to my heart." It can reference authority, or it can simply be a key, a device that opens a lock.

When it is said that a person holds the key to something the meaning is relatively straight forward. They have the means and therefore the power to unlock what is locked, they have authority over it. To say that Jesus has the keys to death and Hades is to say that he has the ability to open the door to death and Hades and the power to release those who were locked in behind it. Jesus has authority to release people from death and Hades.

Death is the common fate of all the living. When anything living crosses that threshold, whatever animated its life is lost to its physicality. If that life isn't reinstated quickly it never can be, it's locked up behind death's door. For humans, that impelling, animating something is called a soul, an incorporeal, spiritual essence which carries not only the life force, but the personhood of the human.

Before Christ's ascension, humans souls were locked in Hades (Sheol in Hebrew) upon death. The body turned to dust and the soul was locked in Sheol. There is some thought that Sheol really just meant the grave, but I think Jesus' teaching concerning the rich man and Lazarus completely undermines such thoughts. Jesus envisioned Sheol as a place where dead people were kept self-aware, conscious. Whereas it may have been "restful" for the faithful, Jesus revealed that it was anything but for the unfaithful.

Once in either condition, there was no way out. Death and confinement thereafter in Hades was a one way trip. Jesus, however, overturned the order of all that had gone before and did what no one had done before or since. He entered into death and Hades, and then, of his own accord, he came back. His authority and power over death and Hades was thus neither theoretical nor derivative--it was demonstrative. He went there and came back with captives in tow, that is why he is said to have the keys of death and Hades.

There are not literal keys in Jesus hand, of course, as if he required a tool to open that figurative door. His power is intrinsic to who he is. The keys are merely a figurative way to put the concept into graphical terms. Jesus, the Son of God, has power over life and death, what was irreversible to everyone else is reversible to him. The most impenetrable, intractable wall humanity faces, death and Hades, Jesus had the power to walk right through, and most importantly for us, he has the power to bring others with him.

The Key of David

The phrase, "the key of David," elicits similar thoughts as did the phrase, "the keys of death and Hades." In both phrases, the word key relies upon the same basic symbolism which refers to the possession of authority. Whereas the first expression has an inherent Jewishness to it, the second is markedly Greek (Gentile). Regardless, what is in focus is an eschatological, teleological authority--the possessor of the keys has authority to affect and effect the end of things.

David, God's choice to rule over Israel, conquered and then established Jerusalem as the capital of all of Israel shortly after he had consolidated his power over all twelve tribes. Thereafter, the city was often referred to as "the City of God" or the equivalent. Why not? The God-appointed king was there and the only tabernacle of God on earth (the Temple) would be. So, to have the Key of David meant having authority over Jerusalem, and by extension, to have authority over God's kingdom (see Isaiah 22:20-22).

The symbolic connection to 
the New Jerusalem is obvious. The Messianic heir to David (Jesus) is the one in authority over the New Jerusalem. He has the power to let folk in or to keep them out (see Matthew 16:18-19 for an interesting connection and extension). If entry into eternity with God is something one desires, one will have to come to Jesus and get his approval in order to enter. Thankfully, to be coming to him is all that it takes to get it!

Though there is nothing particularly Jewish about Philadelphia, it was in 
the message to that church that this Jewish nomenclature was used. In the Kingdom of God, neither Jewishness nor Gentileness matter a whit, despite the fact that there is distinctive historical tracks for Israel's redemption and for that of the Gentiles. I don't think much can be read into that, for the new Jerusalem is of infinitely greater import than the original, and it is to that the symbol actually points.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ham v. Nye

Just watched the debate. Found it very enjoyable, even if it wasn't very substantial. Bill Nye did very well, and handled himself respectably. Ken Ham did very well, and was more accurate in his responses (yes, I suppose I'm prejudiced). The format was about as good as it can be for these kind of things, but there wasn't much time for detail.

You can watch it here (although you may want to be doing some mindless chore while you watch because of the length).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Enabled to Respond

There is no one who does good.
God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there is anyone who understands,
Who seeks after God.
Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one.                                  Psalm 53:1b-3 NASB

Such is a biblical description of the depravity of mankind. How can a being so described ever be reconciled to God? Obviously, some kind of gracious intervention by God would be required, but what kind and to what degree?

Suffice it to say, the depraved person is enabled to respond to God with faith as God speaks to him or her. A rewiring of the person is not required at that point, just an interaction with God. When the Spirit of God interacts with a depraved person, that person is, in effect, freed from their natural state of depravity (i.e., their inability to know good and to know God) and given a window of opportunity to respond to God with faith.

This is the most natural reading of the biblical testimony of how mankind has been since the Fall. Whether we look at Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, or the Apostles, the pattern is the same--God spoke to them and they were able to respond. None of them is reported to have been regenerated in order for this to happen, no great re-fabrication of their humanity was ever mentioned; therefore, the implication is that it was not necessary. Only the logical necessity within an extra-biblical theological system (Calvinism) even remotely suggests such a thing, not the text of scripture.

What the scriptures do teach indirectly by example, and directly through the words of Christ is that depraved human beings have no way or means (or desire) to find God by their own self-initiated effort. Even if they could make such efforts unassisted, those efforts could never be effective, for God is not obligated to appear at the summons of a sinner. God is not like a set of misplaced car keys which are found if searched for thoroughly "whether they want to be or not." If he did not make himself findable, available, we would never encounter him.

The truth is, if he didn't draw and woo us by his Spirit, we would never look. And yet, our depravity is not of such a nature that it cannot be overcome by God showing up. His tap on our shoulder is sufficient to give us the power and reason to turn to him, without the necessity of reworking our inner being just in order to do so. The scriptures do not relate the latter occurring anecdotally nor describe such theologically. Embracing such a thought can only muddy the waters and make confusing what isn't.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Leapfrogging Into the Great Commission

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation."   Mark 16:15 NASB

I like the way the Great Commission is stated in Mark, particularly as it is rendered in the KJV, namely, "...preach the gospel to every creature." In commanding the reader to do so, the text is not telling him or her to preach to every snail, lizard and iguana Dr. Doolittle-like, but to proclaim the gospel's life giving message to every single human being. That is a daunting task, even today, with the means of communicating that message so much more broadly than ever before.

It can be hard to wrap our heads around such a humungous task. It's so over-the-top, so all-encompassing, so out of reach, that it can become irrelevant. The temptation, I think, is to chalk it up to being just a theory that we never really anticipate becoming reality. Can you honestly say that the Great Commission smacks of reality and is thereby relevant to you?

If not, let me offer what may be a new way of looking at this mission to you. According to a modern statistical theory, any human being on the planet is separated from any other human being by a mere six degrees of separation. In other words, every person is networked to every other person by a maximum of six interpersonal links of association. According to this model, I know someone (1) who knows someone (2) who knows someone (3) who knows someone (4) who knows someone (5) who knows that one in consideration but who is unknown to me (6).

So how can we reach every creature with the Gospel? How were you reached? Doubtless, you became acquainted in some fashion with someone who knew Jesus. In making that connection, you were in a position to hear about Christ. I submit to you, then, that evangelism is, or should be thought of as, the process by which someone becomes connected to someone who knows Jesus.

In such a framework, the Great Commission becomes a task whereby the church lessens the degrees of separation that exist between one who does not know of Christ and one who does know Jesus. Our mission under such a regimen is to leapfrog the degrees of separation by sending people who do know Jesus into masses of people who do not know Jesus, until the degrees of separation between those of one class and those of the other reduce to one. Ultimately, that would give "every creature" an opportunity to hear about Jesus, and bring the Great Commission from the realm of fleetingly impossible into the realm of the probable.

The key to the Great Commission is to simply send people in the know into as many culturally distinctive groups who do not know as is possible and let them get to know people in that group and to share the gospel with them. If we do this at a great enough rate, ultimately, every single person alive will know someone who knows Jesus. Finishing the Great Commission is only a hare's breath away at that point. Tell me, are you sufficiently engaged in going and sending to make this happen in our age?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Is Freewill?

Freewill is a description of volitional power which God, alone, has perfectly. He does as he pleases without disability or mitigation. He can do a thing or not do it.

When God created the heavens and earth and all that lives therein, he made a freewill choice to have that creation reflect himself, and in particular for man to resemble himself. To that end, he gave mankind a physical body made of the stuff that everything else was made of, including everything else living, and infused it with a spiritual animus that made mankind uniquely, specially in his image. Whatever a soul is (and I'm certain we really don't know what that is), it is something that came into being when the breath (spirit) of God was infused into the corpus of man.

It is that ethereal thing, the soul, which expresses itself through a physical being made for it, which makes a healthy human being a reflector of God's freewill and an expresser of it in its own accord. While an individual is in a body, that individual is beholden to that body for its expression of its soulish being. If a brain is damaged, malformed, underdeveloped, diseased or afflicted, the soulish power of freewill will be affected in its expression. God has created man as a discrete singularity made of body, soul and spirit, so that as the body goes, so goes the expression of soulish personhood.

A soul without a properly functioning brain will not express in the physical world the freewill it otherwise has the innate ability to. Without a body a soul is not a complete human, which is reflected, I think, in the crying out under the altar of those martyred souls in Revelation (and the fact that we get new bodies for eternity). When a person is intact and healthy, the existence of his or her soul, is what gives that person the capacity to express freewill. There are limits, of course, the most obvious being the physical laws of the universe, and what is more important in my opinion, the law of Spirit.

The Law of the Spirit determines the ability of the soul to express itself in harmony with God. After the Fall of Adam and Eve, spiritual death, or separation between man and the Spirit of God, was imposed upon mankind. Whatever sort of resting place the soul had been made to be for the breath of God, its connection to the breath of God was broken at that time and so freewill in mankind was incapable of willing in harmony with God. After Jesus rose from the dead and made the Spirit available to those who follow him, the born again have by that rebirth a renewed ability to will freely in harmony with God (though the not perfectly so long as they are in dying bodies).

So what is freewill? It is the volitional power human beings possess, which, among other things, allows them to be the expression of the image of God who possesses freewill in its ultimate sense. Though a soulish quality, it is communicated in the physical world through the auspices of the physical being (particularly, the brain). Natural human beings have no ability to express that capacity in line with God, supernatural human beings (the regenerated) have some capacity to, eternal human beings will be able to perfectly.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Existence of Freewill

Having invoked its creation, God governs the universe by sustaining its existence and allowing it to operate on principles of action he infused in it upon creating it. He guides its operations in time to an end he's fashioned and foreseen. He is absolutely sovereign over all that he has made, but his will is not the only one operational, nor the only one influential in the unfolding of things. At least some angels and virtually all humans also exert their wills in the mix of things unfolding, with their ability to will autonomously being the very will of God.

If determinism is actually how God expresses his sovereignty, then God engineered the plan for history before the beginning of time, wound up the spring at the beginning, and then sat back and let it unwind. To some extent this has to be true, because the effort made to establish energy and mass along with the principles of action that governs their interaction were finished by the end the sixth day of the creation week. Since then, things have generally proceeded on the basis of what was initiated and infused back then. Determinism is accurately descriptive of such governance.

Life, however, throws a wrench into the works, particularly conscious life. Mankind, and at least some of the angels, have the conscious power of choice (will) which, when exerted, affects the details of what happens to stuff in the universe. Life may not be able to change the the spinning of galaxies, but it can affect where the molecules that make up a loaf of bread (or even a mountain) end up today, and whether or not a life continues today. God, of course, can always intervene and interdict such choices, but they are real choices nonetheless, made by sentient beings by allowance under God's sovereignty.

The God who created all things is not under necessity, not determined in his action, but free to do as he pleases, whether this or that. Freewill is not an illusion, then, but the very substance of divine power and attributes which are, in turn, reflected in creation. Freewill exists in nature because God, nature's maker, has freewill and nature reflects his attributes. For freewill to not actually exist in nature would be for nature to fail to reflect a defining attribute of the Sovereign God who created it.

Friday, November 8, 2013


“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?"  (Luke 6:46 NASB)

Hypergrace is an approach to God's favor in which acceptance and love are extended from God to the believer without any expectation or demand. Under such a view, Christ's work on the cross, which secured salvation, ended any need for such from the one trusting in Christ. It sounds absolutely heavenly to those who've labored under a regimen of works-righteousness, and is a deal too good to pass up on for those who just don't want any urgency or intensity to be required in responding to God. No one wants to go to hell, after all, but is grace of this sort actually available?

If it is taught in the scripture, then it certainly is. So, is it taught there? Not in the least!  Hypergrace is a doctrine which cannot float in light of scripture.

It springs a leak in the Sermon on the Mount.

It takes on water in Romans 12.

It searches frantically for life jackets in Ephesians.

It gurgles the death throes of the drowning in the book of James.

It sinks to the bottom in the Letters to the Churches in Revelation.

[Not to mention how this, this and this crush it's sunken corpse into nothingness]

Hypergrace is for the lazy at heart and the blind of mind. It is for those lost in the childishness of sin--wanting their cake and to eat it too--rather than those surrendered in a child-like faith to following Christ. I've heard its proponents protest that they've never "felt closer" to God than when they've embraced this teaching. But the Gospel is never said to be efficacious through the auspices of what one feels, but only through faith in who Jesus is and what he's done.

Grace describes the attitude of God's heart, a kindness there that breaks the sinner free from the bondage of death and releases him or her into the freedom of new life in Christ Jesus. This grace is never an excuse for sin, nor does it forgive sin as if it did not truly matter after all. Grace forgives sin through an expiating sacrifice of sinless blood that it moved God to provide. God's grace is more than sufficient to deliver the broken and dying sinner through a stumbling journey in life to eternity with him, but is never a substitute for following him as Lord.

If hypergrace actually represents the way God looks on man, and the way man should look on God, then I submit that there was actually no need for the cross and there is no present need for faith.