As Bad as We Could Be? H.C. Lord's Day 3

Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 3

Q6. Did God create people so wicked and perverse?
A6. No. God created them good and in his own image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that they might truly know God their creator, love him with all their heart, and live with God in eternal happiness, to praise and glorify him.

Q7. Then where does this corrupt human nature come from?
A7. The fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise. This fall has so poisoned our nature that we are all conceived and born in a sinful condition.

Q8. But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil?
A8. Yes, unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.

Are we really that bad?  This question is asked a lot by optimists and non-believers who desire to make a case for themselves and their perceived “inherent goodness.”  All people, culture would tell us, are inherently good; Scripture says otherwise.  Our reality is, as humans, we are born in sin and it infects us to our very core from the moment that we are conceived.

Does this mean that God created us this way?  That would seem to be a convenient out for us, but the answer to that question is also a resounding “NO.”  God created humankind perfectly in His image with the what we know as free will.  We have the ability to follow God’s will and God’s Law but, because of the Fall, we are infected by sin, a terminal infection that taints every aspect of our being.  In theological terms, this is called “total depravity.”

This does not mean that we are as bad as we could possibly be.  It does, however, mean that we are totally incapable of doing good on our own.  Ever aspect of who we are is bent toward evil; we desire rebellion against God.

Some have taken this theological tenant and called it “total inability;” that certainly has aspects of truth to it but perhaps slightly misses the mark.  As we will see next week, we are created with the ability to follow God’s Law, yet the sin that is in us causes us to turn away.  If we did not have the ability to keep the law it would put the fault back on God where it does not belong.

There is good news at the end of this week, though, and that is the Good News of the Gospel.  In Jesus Christ we are born again, our old sinful self is put to death and we are washed clean in Jesus’ blood.  In this moment, something changes.  Even though we are still sinful, those sins are washed away and we are made righteous in the sight of God.  More that this, though, as we experience this New Life, having Jesus enthroned in the very center of our heart, we also experience a new desire to follow God, to live in grateful response to the grace that He has shown us.  Through the Holy Spirit in us, our direction changes and we find ourselves desiring to live for God, not ourselves.



Total Depravity: H.C. Question 8

Heidelberg Catechism Question 8

But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil?

Genesis 6:5 – The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

Genesis 8:21 – The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

Job 14:4 – Who can bring what is pure from the impure?  No one!

Isaiah 53:6 – We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

John 3:3-5 – Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.



How Did We Get Here? H.C. Question 7

Heidelberg Catechism Question 7

Then where does this corrupt human nature come from?

Genesis 3 – Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned

Romans 5:18-19 – Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Psalm 51:5 – Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.



Did God Do This? H.C. Question 6

Heidelberg Catechism Question 6

Did God create people so wicked and perverse?

Genesis 1:26-27, 31 – Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them…

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Ephesians 4:24 – and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Colossians 3:10 – and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Psalm 8Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!



The Miserable Problem: H.C. Lord's Day 2

Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 2

Q3. How do you come to know your misery?
A3. The law of God tells me.

Q4. What does God’s law require of us?
A4. Christ teaches us this in summary in Matthew 22:37-40:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’1 This is the greatest and first commandment.

“And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Q5. Can you live up to all this perfectly?
A5. No. I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.

The Heidelberg Catechism is broken in a number of different ways.  It is broken up into 52 weekly sections, meant for preaching and teaching in the church.  It is also broken into three sub-sections dealing with salvation and the Christian life.  These sections are often referred to as “Guilt, Grace, Gratitude.”  This week we’ve begun the guilt section.  If the first week was comforting to you, it may seem like this week is exactly the opposite.

Why the focus on sin?  Because sin is, unfortunately, a very real part of our existence as humans.  We are steeped in sin.  You cannot go very far in Scripture without seeing the marks of sin in the world and in human life.  Simply put, we cannot truly know the comfort that is attested to in the first week without recognizing the discomfort of sin here and now.

Yet far too often this had digressed into a lot of doom and gloom, hellfire and damnation language.  This is not necessarily healthy either.  It might be easy to think here that, because the Heidelberger starts off with discussions on sin it is a document that is going to focus on it and, as such, is not worth reading.  Please, let me encourage you not to think in this way.  The Catechism is meant to be a teaching tool and a comfort to all who read it, not an instrument of condemnation.  Of the three sub-sections, this is by far the shortest, and that is intentional.

The brevity of the section on sin is not to discount the importance of this topic, neither is it meant to be an amplification of sin.  As author Kevin DeYoung says in his book The Good News We Almost Forgot,

[The authors] realized that true, lasting consolation con only come to those who know of their need to be consoled.  The first thing we need in order to experience the comfort of the gospel is to be made uncomfortable with our sin.  The comfort of the Gospel doesn’t skirt around the issue of sin, or ignore it like positive thinking preachers and self-help gurus.  It looks at sin square in the eye, acknowledges it, and deals with it.  While many people will tell us to stop focusing on sin and to lighten up because we aren’t “bad” people, the Catechism tells us just the opposite.  In order to have comfort, we must first see our sin-induced misery.

We see this through the Law.  Scripture itself says that the Law is good which means the problem cannot be with the law, it must be with us.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we know this to be true.  The problem is us, our sin… our rebellion… or naturally tendency to “hate” God.

The solution, however, is not more law.  The solution is not more rules… it is not to try harder.  Christianity is not a set of moral codes that we are called to obey.  In fact, when we act in this way, preach moralism, or any such way of thinking, we are effectively denying the power of the cross of Christ.  The solution, friends, is Jesus, in the grace that we are shown by God through His death on the cross and the good news of the Gospel that we don’t have to try (and ultimately fail) to earn our own salvation… that is where our comfort comes from, our salvation comes from, and our hope in the midst of this misery that we find ourselves in.  Again, Christianity doesn’t begin with a big “DO,” it begins with an eternal “DONE!”  Praise God!



Striving: H.C. Question 5

Heidelberg Catechism Question 5

Can you live up to all [God’s Law] perfectly?

Romans 3:9-20 – What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
    there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”
“Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
    “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
    ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.”
    “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

1 John 1:8 – If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

1 John 1:10 – If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

Genesis 6:5 – The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?

Romans 7:23-24 – but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Romans 8:7 – The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

Ephesians 2:1-3 – As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

Titus 3:3 – At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

 



Law: H.C. Question 4

Heidelberg Catechism Question 4

What does God’s law require of us?

Deuteronomy 6:5 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Leviticus 19:18 – “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Matthew 22:36-40 – “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”



Sin: H.C. Question 3

Heidelberg Catechism Question 3

How do you come to know your misery?

Romans 3:20 – Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Romans 7:7-25 – What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.



Guilt, Grace, Gratitude: H.C. Question 2

Heidelberg Catechism Question 2

What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

Romans 3:9-10 – What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;

1 John 1:10 – If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

John 17:3 – Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Acts 4:12 – Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 10:43 – All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 5:16 – In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Romans 6:13 – Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

Ephesians 5:8-10 – For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

2 Timothy 2:15 – Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

1 Peter 2:9-10 – But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Romans 12 – Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.



Revelation 22 – Maranatha!

Read Revelation 22

John’s vision of the New Heaven and New Earth, as well as the New Jerusalem, is glamorous and exciting; it is truly fun to imagine what life will be like in this time.  Not much is truly known about this time and what it will be like but Scripture indicates that this will be a physical existence with our renewed bodies, those that are renewed in the likeness of Christ’s resurrected body.  What we see here is that, though the New Jerusalem has everything and contains the wholeness and fullness of eternal life, there may be life and living beyond its walls.  Indeed, while we get the sense that everything we need will find its source and life through the presence of God, there may be things to do in this eternal life.  We are not given an indication that we will simply be laying on clouds, plucking our harps.  Indeed our life may also be a perfect fulfillment of the life we are called to live now, worshiping God through the use of the gifts, skills, hobbies, and interests that we have in a new and redeemed way.

All of this, as John describes it, is “Eden restored”.  This is an important image of creation being restored to its original state.  It’s hard to say exactly what this means, but likely it does not mean that we’ll all be living in a garden like Genesis 1 and 2, but rather than all creation is back in the state that God created it to be.  This might be best seen in the image of the lion laying with the lamb; it marks the end of striving, of predator/prey relationships, and a life in which life itself is sustained by God.  This is seen in both the centrality of the river of the water of life, which flows directly from the throne of God down the middle of the “great street”, and also the availability and abundance of the tree of life, something that had been blocked and made unavailable since the fall.  Eternity will be in this perfected state, all creation living in harmony and in the presence of God.

The final words of Revelation reflect, once again, the urgency of the Great Commission: “Behold, I am coming soon!”  I think we often set these words aside, preferring to look at the magnificent splendor of eternity of paying attention to the many images that jump off the pages of John’s Revelation.  However, Jesus’ words here are important; the time is near for Jesus’ return, we are in the “last days” now.  We cannot seal up these words or waste our time in frivolous arguments about peripheral issues that don’t really matter.

As we close our study of Revelation and the whole of the New Testament, the same truth of God’s continuing work in creation remains and we much join Him in this!  The angel bids John, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll because the time is near.”  We too should take these words to heart as we join with the angels and the spirit who say together, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

“May the Grace of the Lord be with God’s people.  Amen.”



Revelation 21 – All Things New

Read Revelation 21

“See I am doing a new thing…” God speaks to His people through the prophet Isaiah.  That phrase reverberates throughout the end of the book of Revelation seeing it’s true fulfillment as John sees the New Heaven and New Earth.  In fact, much of what is happening here takes its cue from the words of the prophets, especially Isaiah as one who envisions “the day of the Lord” and sees that vision unfold throughout His writing.  God has been at work since the very beginning to redeem and restore all creation to its perfect, natural, created state.

John has just witnessed the final fall of Satan, the beast, the false prophet, and all those who oppose God, and the final inauguration of eternity has begun.  This is truly the moment that all of God’s people have been waiting for and the description of the eternal realm could not be more exciting and enticing!

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

These words contain within them so much beauty, hope, and excitement, and they are full of references that span the Old and New Testament, drawing on imagery from practically every period of Biblical history to describe what is happening.  Allusions to the Tabernacle and the Temple, words of hope from the prophets, and references to the completed and full work of Jesus Christ from Paul are all contained in these short but powerful verses.  John is describing the true fulfillment of God’s redemptive work throughout history.

In this restored world, everything will exist in abundance for those who are God’s children.  All life will draw its sustenance from God and from the Lamb, finding its light and nourishment from them.  The Living Water, that is Jesus Himself, will sustain everything “at no cost,” pointing to a contrast to life as we know it now in which food and nourishment come with toil, sweat, and much work.

John then sees the city of God, Jerusalem restored, coming down to rest on the mountain of God.  This too draws its imagery from the Old Testament, first at Sinai, and then in the prophets who all envision God’s dwelling to be on the “highest of mountains.”  Isaiah, in the second chapter of His book, says this:

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,  “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lordto the temple of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”  The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

John not only sees this mountain but also the city of God descending down onto it perfectly adorned and beautiful.  Again, this is a vision of the true fulfillment of God’s redemptive work as accomplished in Jesus Christ and culminating here at the end of time.  The city itself, however beautiful, does not shine with her own glory, though, but rather with the glory of God.  This too is a testament to God’s completed work.

The New Jerusalem is packed with imagery.  John finds it to be a perfect square, certainly not an accident, measuring 12,000 stadia, a number that is familiar and represents the fact that it contains the fulness of the people of God.  Having 12 gates is certainly not an accident either, representing a way in for all of the people of God from every direction and never closing for them either revealing that the people will always have access to and be in the presence of God.  Twelve foundations for the wall, representing the 12 Apostles is also not accidental and perhaps is representative of the Church, or more likely the Gospel message that the Apostles were charged with, as being the both barrier and protection; one cannot enter the city without receiving the Gospel message and those within it are protected by it.

Seeing the foundations of the walls closer, John records that they are also made with precious stones that correspond to the stones that were worn in the ephod of the High Priest’s clothing.  This is a beautiful picture too of the transfer of the priestly office away from a High Priest and being given to the entire city, the whole of the people of God.  It is a bridge between the priestly order of the Old Testament and the role of the entire people of God a “Kingdom of priests,” as Scripture says.

Finally, John recognizes that there is no Temple present in the city.  This is an important revelation about the nature of God’s dwelling in this renewed world.  God’s throne is in the city, and His dwelling place is among the people.  No longer is a special building needed for worship because God is with them in perfect reconciliation and relationship.  John points out that “all nations will walk by its light,” meaning that everyone will be worshipping God and living in perfect union with Him.



Revelation 20 – Millennium

Read Revelation 20

There is a lot packed into these last few chapters of the Bible.  At the end of Chapter 19 we see the Beast, symbolic of the antichrist, and the false prophet captured in the last battle between the armies of God, led by Jesus, and the forces in opposition to God.  Then John sees an angel coming down from heaven who binds up Satan.  Associated with this is a 1,000-year reign of Christ and the martyrs who were faithful to Him and did not worship the beast.

How this all plays out is a bit difficult to interpret.  Many have offered their interpretations and many “doctrines” have come out of these attempts.  The three major interpretations are known as Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism, each carries a different interpretation of when Christ’s actual return will be in relationship to the millennial reign” that is spoken of here in Revelation 20.

Postmillennialists believe that the physical appearance of Christ at the second coming will be the culmination of a 1,000-year era of blessedness that will take place in the world.  As the church grows and the Gospel spread, it was thought that things on earth would get increasingly better until a time that evil was practically non-existent.  This would mark the supposed binding of Satan and would last for a millennium until the time that Satan would be loosed, Jesus would appear, and the final judgment would take place.  Especially toward the end of the second millennium, that is the years 1,000 – 2,000, many people started to believe this.  As countries developed and life became better for some people, there was a notion that somehow the Church and the spread of the Gospel were causing this era of blessing which, some believed, would culminate in a 1,000-year reign beginning, perhaps, at the end of the millennium.  The height of this view’s popularity was in the early 1900’s before a significant decline following the first and second world wars.

Premillennial belief is a bit more complex as there are two forms that it comes in.  Normal Premillennialists, also known as historical premillennialists, believe in the rapture, a time in the future where Christ will “return” to take all the faithful up to heaven with Him.  Following that will be a period of great tribulation and persecution, the time of the rule of the antichrist, and the period when the judgments that we have read about will be poured out on the earth.  This will also be the last chance for people to turn to Christ.  At the end of this period, which many believe will be seven years, drawing on the numbers from different parts of Revelation, Christ will return and set up His millennial reign on earth which will mark the period when Satan is bound as well.  All of this will take place for 1,000 years which will be followed by the final judgment and eternity.  This belief was held early on in the church but started to die out mid 300’s B.C. and was given little consideration until it was revived in the post-reformation era.

Dispensational Premillennialism offers a similar premillennialist view but casts it within a greater understanding of how God deals with humanity in different, successive ways, or dispensations, throughout time.  Each dispensation is a further revelation and offers a new understanding of God and the way He deals with humankind.  Another marker of Dispensational Premillennialism is the literal view taken on the differences between Israel and the Church.  God’s dealing with the world through the Church is different than His dealing with Israel, prior to Christ, and He will return to His work with Israel post-rapture, during the time of the tribulation.  Those sealed from the tribes of Israel, then, would be an actual number of Jewish people saved prior to Christ’s physical return roughly seven years after the Rapture.  This particular spin on Premillennialism comes largely from U.S. Biblical Fundamentalists, finding a most of its roots in the 1800’s, and has become widely popular in U.S. culture.  Many books such as the widely popular Left Behind series have been written from this perspective and have served to popularize this theory all the more.  Much of the political dealings with Israel as well as a number of other things throughout western culture have been influenced by the Fundamentalist influence, something you won’t find much in Christianity throughout the rest of the world.

Amillennialists hold to the view that, like the rest of Scripture, and especially the book of Revelation, the numbers in chapter 20 are symbolic and there is no “true” millennium.  Amillennialism, also known as realized millennialismsays that the binding of Satan took place at the time of Jesus resurrection, that Jesus is reigning now along with the saints and the Church, and that this reign is spiritual in nature. This binding of Satan and the reign of Christ is shown in the spread of the Gospel throughout the world because Satan “cannot deceive the nations anymore”.  At the end of the so-called millennium, which if you remember the number 1000 is a symbol in other places for power, strength, and completion, Christ will return, the final judgment will take place, evil will be vanquished forever, and the eternal reign of God will begin.  Along with this view of eschatology comes a particular grounding in Scripture and Covenant theology, much of which we have talked about, and does not look at Revelation differently than the rest of Scripture but views it within the context of the entire Bible, as we have tried to do here.  At some time in the future, it seems that Satan will be set free to deceive the nations once again and gather the people in opposition to God for a final battle at which time He will be summarily defeated and the eternal reign of God will begin.

These topics are very interesting to talk about and even debate with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is important, however, to recognize that our views of “eschatology,” the study of end times, are peripheral in nature and not central to the doctrines of salvation by grace.  They should not be dividers within the Church nor should they be barriers to the Gospel.  Scripture is very clear that, while the signs of the “end times,” can be clearly seen, and we’ve talked about that throughout this book, the actual times and dates, as well as the specific events that will take place, are known only to the Father.



Revelation 19 – Victory!!

Read Revelation 19

Again we hear from the great multitude in heaven as they worship God over the defeat of Babylon the Great.  Chapter 19 marks an extremely important event in salvation history, one that is rivaled only by Christ’s death and resurrection.  The defeat of Satan, along with the beast, the false prophet, and all the sin that is symbolized by Babylon is what has been foretold since the very beginning.  God’s judgment against sin, as well as the punishment that comes along with it, is just and is a true revelation of the character of God.

People often ask the question, “how could a ‘loving’ God condemn so many people to eternal punishment?”  Indeed, this is a good question, one that makes little sense on the surface.  But God doesn’t condemn all people to punishment, despite our deserving of it.  A loving God that gave no one a chance after the fall would be a much more difficult thing to understand.  The pages of Scripture reveal the love of God in the grace and salvation that He offers through His Son Jesus who, through His life, death, and resurrection, conquered sin.  Without Jesus, there is no way to God, no offer of salvation, and no reconciliation.  What we see in this moment is a celebration of the ultimate revelation of God’s truthfulness, faithfulness, and love.

You may be wondering how we see that here as we mark the defeat of sin and evil.  Simply put, we see it here because God accomplishes exactly what He said He was going to do.  Think about it this way, if a parent threatens punishment for something that their children do repeatedly but never follows through, then that parent is made out to be a liar and their threats are meaningless.  The parent doesn’t want to punish the child, but the punishment is necessary (as I’m sure any parent knows).

Others bring up the subject of fairness and justice of the discipline and punishment in this conversation, which is also something to consider.  However, if the rules are clearly laid out as they are in the Bible, and the consequences are also clearly defined as they are throughout Scripture, then fairness is, one again, God following through on what He has clearly communicated.  To not do so would make God either a liar, which is counter to what we know about God as being completely true, or incapable of following through or carrying out the punishment that was forewarned, making Him somehow less than all powerful which is also counter to what we know about God.

And what of those who have listened to the Word of God and have followed Jesus as their Savior?  Those who speak of fairness are often those who desire the benefits of salvation without “burdening” themselves with the “work” of faith.  The contrast of results is indeed fair and just, even though no punishment seems fair at the time one is being punished.  If there is no difference in the outcome, why does one’s actions in the present matter?  Once again, what we see here is the true revelation of God’s character on an eternal and universal scale.

With all heaven and earth watching, God works through the mighty warrior on the white horse to go out and strike the final blow, win the final victory and had been initiated in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  This warrior, who is undoubtedly Jesus as He was revealed at the beginning of Revelation, captures the beast as well as the false prophet, and “strikes down” all the enemies of God with the sword coming out of His mouth.  Remember that the sword represents the “Word of God” that comes from the mouth of God and is “sharper than any double-edged sword.”

This too is important because it reveals that God doesn’t simply go out and destroy anyone He pleases, but it is the Word of God that convicts the enemies of God.  The same Word is that which justifies and brings to salvation those who stand with God in this moment and celebrate the victory over Satan and all those who oppose God.

One thing that I think is interesting to notice is what happens in the final battle.  We had been given a glimpse of this before, seeing the armies of God and the armies of the Beast line up for war.  Yet, at the climactic moment when the battle is supposed to begin, the Beast is captured and the enemies of God destroyed.  The people of God do no fighting, Jesus does it all.  I think this is notable because it shows truly where they power of God really lies, not in the might of an army, not in the tactics of battle, or in the number of the multitude present, but in the strength and power of Jesus Christ alone.

In the time that John was writing this, a vision of God’s power in this way would have been powerful for the Christians were experiencing extreme persecution. Their strength and power and hope, as well as ours, in the face of everything that would seek to destroy us is found only in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.