Archive for the ‘Eschatology’ Category

Before everything we know, there was Love. Father, Son and Spirit in deep communion; loving, giving, honouring one another.

Out of this communion of loved flowed a Plan. A plan to create others who would be the objects of, and participants in, this love. These creatures would be the gift of the Father to the Son.

The Father spoke a word, ‘Let there be Light’. Immediately, in joyful, loving obedience the Son sprang into action, and in harmony with the Spirit who was hovering over the formless void, formed light – the basic building blocks of a creation that would reflect the glory of His Father. Because of this joyful unwavering obedience of the Son to the Word of His Father, the Son would become known in the future to his creatures as ‘The Word’.

As the Father continued to speak, the Son and Spirit formed and filled the vast void, bringing order from chaos; fullness from emptiness; giving abundance, fruitfulness and life to every corner. As the Father looked upon each stage of the Son’s and Spirit’s work He spoke with love, ‘It is good!’

As the Son formed a world that reflected his Father’s glory, the Father through Him was forming an inheritance that would be for His Son’s honour. The Spirit was honoured in that every creature that had breath depended on His ongoing presence for their life, and as they lived and breathed and had their being in Him He made sure that every breath was an action of worship to the Father and His Son.

Then, the crowing act of creation. While creation was good and glorious and perfect, it was not complete. It required one more thing that would make this world the perfect gift for the Son – creatures made in his image. What greater honour could the Father bestow upon His beloved Son than to fill this creation with creatures who each displayed the Son’s glory? More than that: what better display of HIs love for the Son than these creatures forever worshipping the Son for His love towards them?

Written in the Book were the names of those who would be created to be for the praise of His glory. And a decree was made: the Son will be glorified by being united with these creatures; by becoming one of them, and by doing so catch them up into the love and joy of the Divine fellowship. His entering their lives will be such that His display of love will win their hearts and worship forever. This decree involved the entry of sin into the creation, and as a result of sin would come suffering and death – in order that the Son may share in their suffering and embrace them in their death so that he may be praised not only for His glory, but for His glorious Grace.

And so this Book would come to be called, ‘The Book of Life of the Lamb who was Slain’.

The triune God took dust – dust that was designed for this very purpose – and shaped a human being. A creature full of glory, stamped with the image of the Son, and filled with the Spirit. A creature designed love their God and love their neighbour; given the honour of being the only creature in the vast universe to participate in the divine family of love. A creature who would embody the planned union of the Son with them through the gift of being male and female, husband and wife.

Fill the earth – it’s all for you. Rule over it, care for it, be my stewards and representatives to every creature. The destiny of this creation is tied to your destiny, because I have made you to be my children.

It was no surprise to God when these creatures rebelled. It did not throw Him off guard, or make Him wonder what to do next. He had already decreed that His Son would redeem them, and the glory from that redemption would be greater than the glory of Eden. And so in the midst of the curse he gave a promise. A son of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. That which had been done by one man would be undone by one man. The curse was given in order that blessing would come that far exceeded anything that the man and woman could ever hope or imagine.

As sin and violence spread across the creation like gangrene, the love of God only grew to match it. When the first Son of Adam killed his brother if jealous rage, he was confronted with forgiveness and grace, even though his brother’s blood cried out to God for justice. When the inclination of every person’s heart was only evil all the time, God set his loving favour upon one man Noah and his family – chosen by grace – so that when God’s righteous judgement fell upon humanity in a great flood, the human race, carriers of the promise, would be saved, and allowed to rebuild in a baptised, cleansed creation. When this rescued humanity – descendants of Noah – continued in their hard hearted rebellion, refusing to fulfil their creational mandate, they were in mercy scattered across the face of the earth, and through the confusing of their language was enabled the rise of culture and diversity, of tribe and tongue and nation, of physical and social diversity. Despite their hard hearts they were inexorably driven forward towards the Goal, as God oversaw the rise and fall of nations and kings and heroes and their stories; the creation of literature and art, of music and song, of culinary delights and technology; the gathering and storing and growing of knowledge and science. Over all this was the ever abiding presence of God, ever wooing, calling, speaking; every breath of life an opportunity for His creatures to reach out and find Him, to come home to the waiting Father.

The time came in the flow of human history for the Plan to be taken up to the next gear.

One man called Abraham was chosen. He was told,

You are the start. Through you, the seed of the woman will come.

He was no-one special or good – an idolater living among idolaters. He and his wife were elderly, and had no children. He was one of the most unlikely, unqualified and unsuitable candidates for the rolling out of God’s plan of salvation; however God had set His love in him, and used Abraham’s simple faith as a catalyst to produce in him a life of obedience and hope.

God signed and sealed his promise to Abraham through a covenant of blood. Ancient treaties were sealed with each party both making promises, and preempting a curse upon themselves if they were not true to their word. God’s promise with Abraham and his descendants was different. Paralysed by God, Abraham could only watch passively as God vowed His faithfulness to His promise, invoking a curse upon Himself as He passed between the halves of the slaughtered carcasses of animals. The message was clear: if this covenant was ever broken, God would take upon Himself the consequences.

The message became clearer when Abraham was called by God to offer his miraculously born son Isaac as a sacrifice. Assured if God’s loving faithfulness, Abraham obeyed, even though he could not see how this would end well. However he knew two truths that enabled him to act: Firstly, if this God who had appeared to him in Glory had made a promise, He would provide the means for his son’s life to be spared; and secondly, even if Isaac were to die, this God was able to raise the dead.

The loving faithfulness of this God was displayed to Abraham and Isaac on the mountain when He intervened at the last minute, and provided a ram in the place of Isaac. Saved from death by a substitute, Isaac lived, and Abraham’s hope was confirmed. God had reaffirmed His covenant promise: nothing will stop His plan to restore blessing to His creation; however, this plan will be accomplished through a death.

Abraham’s descendants grew, as promised, into a great nation. Living under a cruel tyrant as slaves in Egypt, their groans were heard by God who had never forgotten His promise to Abraham.

The gods of Egypt were shown to be the empty, loveless forgeries they were, as God in his loving wrath sent plagues of judgement upon Egypt, that the Egyptians  and Pharaoh might know that He is the Lord. Then, on the eve for their deliverance, the Israelites were given a sign that would be etched in their memories and stories forever. This sign pointed them back to the moment of Isaac’s salvation, and became the template for the central focus of their worship from that time on.

For every firstborn son a lamb must be slain, and its blood painted on their doorposts. As the judgement of God passed through the land that evening, those homes marked with blood would be spared. Every home that night contained a dead body – either that of the firstborn son, or of a lamb that was slain in his place. If the Israelites had at that time insight into the eternal decree of God, they might have said, ‘My son is saved! Our name must be written in the book of life!’

Now a freed people, on the way to the promised land, God showed them time and time again that He had set His love upon them. At Sinai he gave them no question to doubt their identity as His beloved, chosen and cherished people. They could say of themselves,

We are Israelites, and to us belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To us belong the patriarchs, and from our race, according to the flesh, will come the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.

Despite their hard hearts and their complaining, He continued to prove to them that He is,

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…

…and He patiently remained with them for the forty years they were in desert on their way to the Land He had promised.

He gave them his Law through a prophet, Moses. In this law was life – all who obeyed would know blessings, freedom and joy and peace; but in this law was also death – all who disobeyed would know cursing, slavery and judgement. This Law revealed to the the very loving character of God, but also revealed their own character as rebels and sinners. This Word through Moses the Prophet pointed them to a time when another Prophet would come – one like Moses, but whose words spoke not condemnation, but forgiveness and eternal life.

He gave them the Tabernacle, the visible sign to them that He was their God, and He dwelt with them as His people. At the centre sat the mercy seat. This was symbolically the throne of God, although there was no visible image, since God is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, because heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Him.

Yet this seat was not only the centre of government, but the centre of atonement. Once a year, the blood of the sacrifice would be carried into the most holy place, and sprinkled on the mercy seat. The very throne of God was marked with blood; blood that spoke of His people’s sin, carried to the place of mercy. God was bearing His people’s sin; the blood that was on their hands splashed onto his heart.

Along with this, yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, sacrifices would be brought to the tabernacle, and as the blood flowed into the ground like the blood of Abel, and as the smoke of the burnt offerings rose into the sky as a pillar, the Israelites would be reminded that their God is a God of mercy, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. They would come to the tabernacle with hearts weighed down by sin and shame, but leave with the assurance that their God forgives iniquity and transgression and sin.

As each priest helped them offer the sacrifice, as they placed their hands on the head of the animal and say its throat cut and its blood pour out, they were pointed to the time when a Great High Priest would come, and once and for all make the perfect sacrifice, and pour out the blood that would cleanse their hands and hearts and consciences.

And once a year at Passover their families would gather, eating bread and lamb and wine and bitter herbs and recall the goodness of their God who rescued them from slavery and death; when in love their God caused His wrath to pass over them.

Once in the Land, the people proved time and again that they remained the stubborn, hard hearted people they were in the desert. Judges came and went, and still each of them did what was right in their own eyes. Their eyes longed to have what the nations had; their hearts longed to be like the nations were. When they demanded a King, it was not so they may be ruled justly by God’s representative, but so they may be like the rest of the world. And so in love God gave them what they asked for – a king who fitted their own criteria. He was preparing them to receive the King of His choosing, the one who would foreshow and foretell of the Seed, the Lamb, the Prophet, the Great High Priest.

God spoke to this King, David, with promises of a Son who would be King and of the Eternal Kingdom he would establish; and David responded with songs and that told of God’s loving faithfulness, of His promises to save, and His comfort in trouble, of the joy He gives to those who worship Him, and of His call to the nations to serve him with fear and rejoice with trembling and kiss His Son who gives them refuge.

No King that followed was quite like David. Through a divided kingdom and kings who did evil in the eyes of the Lord, setting up places of false worship, making unholy alliances with pagan kings, assassinating their predecessors and eliminating their rivals, God was teaching His people to not put their trust in princes, in men with whom there is no salvation, whose breath departs and whose plans perish. No king could be quite like David, because David was not the paradigm – he was only a shadow of the real King who was yet to come.

In love, God sent His prophets. With tongues cleansed as if by fire from the altar, these men reminded the people of God’s covenant faithfulness, called them to remember and turn and believe the good news that their God reigns. They spoke of the judgement that would come to cleanse the world and humanity that He loved of sin and darkness and death. And they spoke even more clearly of the one who who accomplish this: the One who would be the Almighty God yet also a Son of Man; a great King, yet also a Suffering Servant; the anointed Messiah, yet born into obscurity; a lion of the tribe of Judah, yet also the Lamb who was slain. This One would bring about the Day of the Lord – a day of great wrath, yet also a day of great mercy; a day when justice and love will be shown to be one.

Yet, the people’s hearts remained unchanged. What the Law, weakened by the flesh could not do, could only be done by the Father sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. Everything was imprisoned under sin, so that the promise of what was to come was the only option, and faith would be the only means of receiving it. But the fullness of time had not yet come.

To show beyond question that Israel’s – and the world’s – hope was to to be found not by might or power but by the working of the Spirit of the Lord, God’s people were sent into exile in a foreign land; their cities burned, their temple destroyed, their priests slaughtered, and the mercy seat lost, melted down to fill the coffers of their captors. Decimated and broken, the remnant languished in Babylon, asking, ‘How can we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?’ They heard through the prophets that God’s presence had accompanied them into exile, and as they sat by the rivers of Babylon He enabled them to sing – of Jerusalem in her former glory; of the promise of a King, of the hope and a future that God had planned for them, when the Spirit would be poured out and bring new life to dry bones; where the Loin would lie with the lamb and a child would no longer be afraid of snakes; where the Temple would be rebuilt, and they once again would dwell with their God in a new heaven and a new earth.

Almost two generations later the remnant returned with laughter and joy, and were like those who dream. The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, and new temple took shape – yet nothing was like it used to be, and most certainly was nowhere near the promised renewal they had heard of in exile.

One more prophet came, and spoke one more time of the Day of the Lord: the day when the ‘sun of righteousness’ would rise with healing in its wings, when they would go out like leaping calves from the stall, and when all wickedness will be trodden down and turned to ashes. But they must wait. In the scale of human history; the millenia since Eve first heard the promise, the Day was just around the corner. The horizon of their future was starting to be faintly tinged with gold as the sun began to rise.

Two thousand years of history of this small, humble and hard hearted nation stand as a testimony to the nations of the love of God; a showcase of grace; a display of His unending patience; a picture of how the Father loves His enemies, the Spirit continues to strive with the hearts of sinful men and women, and the Son resolutely determines to prepare His bride.

The story of God dealing in love with His people Israel speaks of how He sets His favour on His elect from every tribe and tongue. From the nations around – Sheba, Moab, Egypt, Syria, Canaan, Babylon, Ninevah, people were drawn to this God who was close to His people when they prayed, who gave them such righteous statutes and laws. God was showing that while His special electing love was upon this people, He had also set His love on those from all the nations – true to the promise He had given to the one man from whom this nation had come.

Four years later – ten generations to us, but a blink in the timing of God – love was embodied. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. The glory of the One and Only shone forth in the form of a helpless infant, laid in a feeding trough, in the town on David. Only shepherds and pagan astrologers came to worship him; the only King who acknowledged him tried to kill him. For thirty years he lived in obscurity, loving his parents by obeying them.

When the time came for him to appear in public, his Father publicly declared His love:

This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Only two more times would the Father speak audibly – once to call us to

Listen to him

and again to declare His intention to glorify His own name through him. No other voice from heaven was needed, since Jesus was and is the voice of the Father embodied in flesh and blood. Anyone who has seen him has seen the Father because all he did was what the Father gave him to do; and anyone who has heard him has heard the Father, because he only ever spoke the words his Father gave him to speak.

Jesus embodied the compassion of God towards the sick and unclean, the lame and demon possessed, the outcast and the sinner. He gathered around himself of rag-tag team of men – fishermen, a tax collector, zealot, a traitor, and a doubter, and other nobodies, and entrusted with them the task of announcing the Kingdom of God to the world. He welcomed women and children, centurions, samaritans and canaanites. And he showed stern love and compassion to the self righteous pharisees and teacher of the law by exposing their hypocrisy speaking the truth.

As he knew his public ministry was drawing to a close, this King took the role of a servant, the humblest of all positions, and washed his disciples’ feet, loving them to the uttermost. The lamb that was decreed before the foundation of the world to be slain, ate with his friends the meal that had for nearly 1500 years been foretelling this moment. The Great High Priest was about to make the ultimate sacrifice of atonement – Himself. God had provided a substitute to save the lives of Isaac’s descendants – at that substitute was himself.

For three days and three nights the embodiment of Love was in the heart of the Earth. With troubled heart to the point of death; betrayed, abandoned and denied; falsely accused and mocked; handed over to Gentiles and shamed, and finally nailed to a tree as he became the curse that had first touched the ground when Adam and Eve first rejected love.

The Good shepherd became the prey, as bulls surrounded him like roaring and ravening lions; the King of Zion succumbed to the raging of the nations; the one in who the Father delighted became the man of sorrow, acquainted with grief; the Servant who was to be high and lifted up, was lifted up like a snake on a pole, and his blood fell to the ground like Abel’s, crying out for justice.

The Father’s face no longer shone upon him, and he cried word that had never before been heard in the eternal fellowship of the the triune God:

Why have you forsaken me?!?

Yet God was not not torn apart by this, because this moment was the moment when His love shone forth brighter than it had ever been before. The Eternal Spirit was in Him as he offered himself unblemished to God, and as he breathed his last he called to the Father he could not see,

Into your hands I commit my Spirit.

As he was laid in the tomb, and as his friends and family mourned, the Sabbath began.

There was nothing more precious to the Father, since the first word of creation, than these three days and nights. The Son had loved the Father to the uttermost, and for the joy set before him was obedient to the point of death. And the Son had loved to the uttermost the creatures made in his image, taking their sin and shame into the grave.

What else could the Father do, but raise Jesus from the dead, seat Him his right hand and give him the name that is above every name, and call all creatures in heaven and earth and below the earth to bow the knee and pay him homage. The resurrection is the Father declaring to the world,

This is my beloved Son, whom I love; listen to him! I have glorified Him as I promised I would.

Side by Side, in perfect unified Love, the Father and the Son together send the Spirit into the world, who poured into people’s hearts the love of God. He cased them to cry out,

Abba, Father dear!

and to kiss the Son in whom they have taken refuge.

Like a flood, the revolution of love began to wash across the world. Kings tried to crush it, but their swords were ineffective against the relentless love of God. Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth became witnesses of the glory of the one and Only, and His family grew as more and more heard the Good News that the God, who is Love, reigns.

Scattered across the centuries are countless trophies of love. Frightened disciples turned into bold proclaimers; an angry murderous Pharisee, whose heart was softened and conquered; legalists turned to lovers of grace; pagan philosophers, prison guards, soldiers, tax collectors, widows and orphans, slaves and masters, all the beginning of the new creation.

As with the returned exiles of old, God’s people now wait for another Day. Again, the horizon is tinged with gold, as the cry of the Spirit and the Bride goes out, ‘Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.’ On this day the curtain will be pulled aside to reveal the full glory of the One who has been with us always, and every soul will stand before Him. On that day no-one will dare say, ‘if God is Love, then why…?,’ because the God of Love will be before their eyes, and the sign of His love will be the nail-scarred hands – the only man-made thing that will enter the new creation.

On that day tears will be wiped from our eyes, and death and crying and pain will be no more. We will know as we are known. The Bride will stand before the Lamb without wrinkle, blemish or stain, and they will be one. Love will be complete.

ef21d1d84ea14ba82a5045a3e48bb114Christmas is a time of year when we hear a lot of hopeful talk. Despite our culture’s loss of understanding about the real meaning of Christmas, there is still a strong sense that it has something to do with hope, peace, harmony. Something that’s often said is, ‘If there’s anything the world needs at the moment, it’s hope.’ The thing is, that’s what people say every year, and nothing much seems to change in the world. We have a sentimental, mushy sense of, ‘Maybe things will work out one day, if those other people in the world who are causing problems get their act together and change,’ and then a few days after Christmas is over we go back to living our own regular, self centred lives, and nothing much really changes.

Do you have a hope for the future of the world? If so, what is it?

And is your hope merely wishful thinking – ‘It would be really great if it were to happen,’ – or is it a hope that is grounded in a sense of certainty – ‘Despite the present circumstances, I know for sure that all will work out for good in the end.’?

I put it to you that we all, in some way or other, have some kind of perception about what the future holds, and some kind of longing or yearning that that future be good. Even ISIS is a movement based on a sense of hope. We might find that difficult to comprehend, however if we were to speak to any ISIS fighter and ask them why they do what they do, they would speak about their vision of a future world in which there is peace and harmony when all people everywhere submit to the rule of Islam.

World leaders recently gathered in Paris to discuss the issue of climate change. For some people this was probably an ethical issue – that it’s just plain wrong for human beings to disrupt the world’s finely tuned ecosystem, while for others – and I suspect the majority – the problem is that our future is at stake. They have an intrinsic sense that the future for humanity and this world should be a positive one. I think much of what motivates human beings to take action and world for a cause is the desire to remove any threats to a future that is good and positive for us and for the world in which we live.

Our passage this morning is about this hope. It tells us not only what is in store for the future of creation, but that that future is a good one. It tells us how that future will be accomplished. And the events that took place at the first Christmas are right at the heart of this promising story of future hope.

 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister
(Colossians 1:11-23 ESV)

Paul, who wrote these words, is telling the Colossians – the Christians who received this letter – that they have an excellent reason for living in hope. He prays that they will be strengthened by God the Father so that they may have endurance and patience – words that speak of waiting for something good that is yet to come. And in this patient waiting, they are to have the attitude of joyful thankfulness. This not just grinning and bearing it, or stoically facing tough times just for the sake of it. This waiting is done with a deep sense of joy and gratefulness, knowing that what the Father has in store for us not only makes the waiting worth it, but actually gives a sense of purpose and glory in the waiting. This is because the hope Christians have is that we ‘share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.’ (12) I don’t have time or space now to to unpack all that that means; but those words alone show us that the future the Father has in store is pretty glorious, and far above all that we can ask or imagine.

This glorious hope has to do with a rescue mission, in which we are transferred from a kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his Son; a rescue which is accomplished by the forgiveness of our sins. (13)

There is a reason why human beings universally have a sense, or longing, for a future for the world which is only good. It’s because that is actually God’s design or plan for creation. And as part of this creation, we have been designed for this good and glorious future. We live with a sense of awryness in our lives because deep down we know that this world, and we, are not the way we should be. And so most, if not all of human endeavour is all about us trying somehow to bring things back to the way we know they should be. Yet in all that there is a deep sense of dissatisfaction, because no matter how hard we try, the world and the future we long for always seem elusive, just over the horizon or just around the corner.

The Bible tells us that Jesus is the answer to this unfulfilled longing; the solution to a world and a human race that is not what it should be.

Verses 15-18 tell us many things about who Jesus is – ‘Image of the invisible God,’ ‘firstborn over creation,’ ’Before all things,’ ‘In him all things hold together;’ ‘Head of the church,’ ‘The beginning,’ ‘firstborn from the dead,’ the one who has ‘Supremacy in all things.’ Each of these things are tied together and summarised in the astounding statement, ‘God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him.’ (19) The complete fulness of God, dwelling in one man. The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.

At a point in history, a little over 2000 years ago, something took place which would change the nature of the world forever. A biological process was miraculously triggered in the uterus of a young woman, and a human being began to form inside her. At this point, God Himself invaded this world, not with the armies of heaven or in visible power, but in a dividing cell, that nine months later would be born as a helpless child. As the old hymn says, ‘Our God contracted to a span.’ As many like to put it today: 100% God, 100% human.

God in his fullness entered this world as he had never done before, and we’re told that he was pleased to do two things: to dwell (19) and to reconcile (20).

At the heart of God’s covenant with His people was the promise that he would dwell with his people. This was more than just being present in some philosophical way. To dwell is to make your home; to pitch your tent. God looked at this world in all its awryness and brokenness and rebelliousness and said, ‘I will come and make my home here.’

The end result of this coming to dwell is all things – and all means all – will be reconciled to himself. He is not saying here that everyone will be ‘saved’ or ‘go to Heaven’. He is using the word ‘reconcile’ in the sense of everything being put into its proper place, so that there is justice. It is bringing about a harmony, where all who oppose God and his loving rule are finally put in their place, and in the words of Revelation 11:15, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!”

The entry of God into this world in the person of Jesus is the guarantee that both God’s promise, and our yearning, to see this world retuned to the way it is supposed to be will be fulfilled in him.

Notice that there is not only a global, universal dimension to this. Not only will ‘all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.’ be brought back to their proper place, but so will individual people. In fact, this personal work in you and me is the foundation for the global work.

Our awryness, our disfunction and alienation from God and one another is a result of our sin (22). Because we have refused to live in loving obedience to God, we deserve God’s wrath, and so we live our lives running and hiding in the shadows, instead of coming into the light. Notice that he says we are ‘enemies in our minds’ – the problem is not merely that we do ’naughty’ things, but that in our minds – the word encompasses thinking, feeling and desiring – we stand apart from God and refuse to acknowledge or come to him. Jesus solves this personal problem by bringing together in himself – literally – a union between God and humanity. So the reconciliation he brings gives us not only a ‘big picture hope’ for the world, but also an intensely personal and individual hope.

How can it be that the arrival of Jesus – God among us – heralds the solution to both the problems of the world and the problems of our own hearts? Our passage tells us it was ‘through his blood, shed on the cross’ (20) and ‘by Christ’s physical body through death’ (22). What actually happened in Jesus’ death is unpacked in chapter 2:13-15:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

In Jesus’ cross (his death) he accomplished both personal and global reconciliation. His death was the payment for the debt we owe to God – the debt of sin which makes us stand guilty before him, and which gives Him every right to justly and fairly banish us from his life-giving presence forever. By taking our place and dying the death we deserve, he has opened the way for forgiveness and a re-entry in to a warm, intimate relationship with the Father. Not only that, but the cross was the ‘D-Day’ for the defeat of all evil in the world. Evil has been ‘disarmed’ (15), and like an ancient king who returned from victorious battle dragging his captors behind him for his citizens to mock and deride, the cross shows up all spiritual and human evil for the empty, foolish and pointless sham that it is, and it marks the downfall of all who choose to stand in opposition to God.

When God the Father raised Jesus from the dead in the power of the Holy Spirit, he not only secured the future of all who will put their trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, but he also guaranteed the eventual renewal of this world and all human systems so that peace and justice will reign forever.

The question for all of us is, which side of the cross do I stand? Do I stand on the side that simply displays my rebellion and sin – sin so serious it required the death of the Son of God for payment? Or do I stand on the side that means peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation – a reconciliation that was accomplished not by my efforts or good works, by by the lavish grace and mercy of this loving and merciful saviour who gave himself for me?

I urge you – if your faith is not in Jesus Christ, to come to him – flee to him and his abundant mercy, and know renewal of your soul and a hope for the future. Take the opportunity this Christmas to prepare him room, so that he may come and make his dwelling with you.

Doug Wilson is a great pastor and Bible scholar. I deeply respect him, and have appreciated his teaching ever since I subscribed to Credenda Agenda back in 1997.

As a young(er) upstart from backwater of the Evangelical world, I am reluctant to call out prominent Christian leaders when I disagree with them; and it’s extremely unlikely that he will read this anyway. However I want to point out an error that he made recently, not to make myself out to be smarter than him, but because it touched a raw nerve of mine: the need to be consistent when doing exegesis, and to avoid at all costs having our use of Bible texts influenced by our own Creed or Agenda.

Doug’s article Until Someone Unsettles It, posted on Feb 2, is a defence of young earth, 6 day creationism. I’m not going to tackle him on the big issues of this debate, but simply pick up on a text he uses where he argues for universal death (ie. humans and animals) entering the world at the point of Adam’s sin:

First, the Bible teaches from beginning to end that the plan of salvation is intended to restore the entire created order. In Genesis, we were banished from Eden and the tree of life, and at the end of Revelation, the tree of life is there beckoning us, with leaves for the healing of the nations. And in that return to the Edenic state, God includes the creatures, which means that these creatures were included in the bliss we fell from. Why would they be restored with us if they didn’t fall with us?

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, And the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: And dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord” (Is. 65:25).

Wilson uses Isaiah 65:25 to support the notion that animals will also be renewed in the new creation, with all their predatory and carnivorous instincts removed. So, he is reading this verse literally, using it as evidence that 1. animals will be in the new creation, 2. The way animals behave now in a fallen creation is a result of Adam’s sin that introduced death, and therefore 3. The scenario painted in this verse is what we will actually experience in the new creation.

Here’s where the problem comes in. This verse is plucked from a wider passage (17-24) in which God promises a new heavens and a new earth:

17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.

20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,and their descendants with them.24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17-25 ESV)

We see that our verse in question is a part of a bigger portrait of peace, prosperity and joy that God is promising His people as the fruit of the redemption he will be accomplishing through the work of his Servant (Isaiah 53).

The big question is: Are we to take this as a literal, actual description of the new creation – what we as Christians will actually experience, or is it to be taken as an image, described in local, cultural terms, to give us an impression of the nature of God’s saving work that leads to the liberation of all creation?

See, if we are to take verse 25 literally, we need to be consistent and take the whole passage literally. That includes:

  •  Confining the new Creation to the city of Jerusalem, or at most to the Holy Land (if ‘Jerusalem’ represents the nation) (18,19)
  • Old men dying at 100 years (20)
  • Sinners who are cursed for living up to 100 years (20)
  • People still marrying and producing more children (23)
  • Snakes remaining under a curse (25)
  • A specific mountain (probably Zion) being holy in distinction from the rest of creation (25)

All of these things, we know, need to be read in light of the coming of Jesus and the fulfilment of God’s promises in Him, for the Church, who are the continuation of God’s chosen people. We know that in the New Creation there will be no more death, no curse, no sin, and no human marriage (with the implication of no procreation). We also know that all of creation will be renewed, not just a pocket surrounding geographical Jerusalem. In fact, the New Testament presents the ‘New Jerusalem’ not as a geographic or architectural structure, but as the community of God’s family among whom He dwells forever.

What does this mean for our interpretation of Isaiah 65:17-25? I believe it means we must read it in the second sense I described above: as an image, described in local, cultural terms, to give us an impression of the nature of God’s saving work that leads to the liberation of all creation.

I actually agree with Wilson that there will be animals in this new creation, and that they will be peaceable and not to be feared. I just think this is the wrong verse to substantiate this claim, because to do so requires us to then take the whole passage literally on things that the New Testament requires us to take figuratively.  To take it one step further and present it as evidence that there was no non-human death before the fall is digging the hole even deeper.

To be consistent, if we are to take verse 25 as an indication of the result of God’s renewal of creation on animals, then we must also take verse 20 as meaning that this renewal will result in us all living to 100 years and then dying. Which kinda contradicts his thesis (which I agree with wholeheartedly) that there will be no death.

What it comes down to is that Wilson has taken a text out of context to become a prooftext for his pretext; something that he, with his usual passion for biblical truth and integrity, would reject wholeheartedly.

 

1 Corinthians 7:25-31, 1 Peter 1:13-25

Our world recently has had no shortage of crises that have had some impact on us.

The Christians during the first century were no stranger to crises; in fact a significant proportion of the New Testament exists to some extent because of various crises happening either in the church, in the world, or both. Jesus was very clear that the time between his first and second coming – what we call ‘the Last Days’ would be a time of turmoil and tribulation, with God’s people by no means being immune from trouble. Christians are assured that we will be in a battle – a battle with a world which is hostile to Him; a battle with circumstances that comes from living in a world that is under a curse and is full of chaos, danger and confusion; a battle with others within the church who distort or water down the Gospel, or grasp for power; and a battle with the devil and with our own sin.

We are in a privileged position at the moment in Australia, where by and large life feels pretty stable. We all have access to our basic human rights, and can feel relatively secure with a stable government system, a wealthy economy, good law and order, and no major conflicts with our neighbours. For the majority of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world this is not necessarily the case. Many of them are born into crisis situations, and will die never having left them.

We should not become complacent to think that our comfort is going to continue forever for us or for our children or grandchildren. Recent events with terrorism happening on our own shores have reminded us that we live in a bubble – and some are fearful that this bubble will burst more easily and sooner than we might think.

And all of us also, no doubt, have experienced – or are experiencing – crises on a more personal level – in our family, work, community, finances or health. So, how should we view – and respond to – crises?

1 Corinthians 7:25-31

In our first passage, Paul is having a conversation with the Corinthians about the place of marriage. In the midst of this conversation he refers to a principle that should not only shape their approach to marriage, but to all of life:

‘The present form of this world is passing away.’ (31)

This is the reason he gives for why, ‘those who have wives [should] live as though they have none, those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods…’ (7:30) summed up I with the phrase, ‘…those who deal with the world as though they have no dealings with it.’ (31)

At first glance Paul’s words here might seem a little extreme. Is he calling for Christians to dissolve all their marriages, get rid of all their possessions, and live a life of complete detachment from all desires – as if there is something wrong with this physical world and bodies in which we live? When he says ‘the appointed time has grown very short,’ is he implying that Jesus will return within their lifetimes – even within the next week or so, and so they should simply sit and wait for His appearing, and to make any plans for the future is pointless and wrong?

A look at the context of Paul’s comments – both within the letter of 1 Corinthians and in the historical setting – will help us to understand not only what Paul was saying to the Corinthians, but also what God is saying to us, particularly at times of crisis.

What is ‘the world’?

Firstly, we need to understand what he means when he uses the word, ‘world’. Today this word can tend to mean simply the physical reality of the planet in which we live – our location within the universe. Sometimes the Bible uses it in this sense. But in this context, ‘the world’ is referring to the human world, the reality of human life and civilisation and its social, political, religious and moral systems. In and of itself it is not necessarily a negative term, however because of sin and human rebellion it most often is negative – ‘the World’ is a humanity that is living in organised, sophisticated rebellion against God, and whose culture – despite occasional glimpses of goodness and truth and beauty – is by and large striving to topple God from His throne and to set itself up as the masters of the universe. This is the world about which Jesus warned his disciples, ‘in this world you will have trouble,’ but then immediately comforted them by saying, ‘but take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33) It is the world about which one day we will see the truth that, ‘the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.’ (Revelation 11:15)

‘The present crisis’

Secondly, in verse 26 Paul mentions ‘the present distress (or crisis)’. The Corinthians were facing some kind of crisis that was having a significant impact on their lives, causing them to have to think carefully and wisely in their decisions about what would normally be ‘everyday things’ such as marriage, business and leisure. Most likely, this ‘crisis’ was a famine which we know impacted this region around the time that Paul wrote this letter. With a shortage of food also came a degree of social unrest, as people developed uncertainty about their future, mistrust of authorities, and competition with their neighbours. Corinth was a wealthy city, but would nevertheless have been impacted by this famine.

The ‘world’ in which the Corinthians lived was, it seemed, crumbling.

So Paul’s advice about who should and shouldn’t get married is in the context of a particular time of crisis. Getting married was a big event, one that required many resources and much time. The Corinthians were to remember what it meant for them to live as God’s people, and how this living reflected the power of the Gospel. At the end of chapter 15 Paul tells them to ‘be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.’ He goes on in 16:1 to straightaway talk about the need for them to make a collection to help their much poorer brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. He is calling them to be other-person-centred, to think of the needs of others before their own, and so to put on hold some of their own activities for the moment in order to demonstrate God’s generosity to others.

A wake-up call

It is in times of crisis that we are called to reassess our priorities. God’s actions of judgement upon the world are also a mercy and a gift, designed to shake us out of our complacency; to make us wake up to how much we have become engrossed in the things of the world instead of the things of the Lord.

I have recently returned from a trip to New Zealand, where we did a tour of Christchurch and heard stories of the 2012 earthquake. We heard of neighbours developing a closer sense of community as they were drawn to work together to support one another. Apparently some people who used to sleep naked now wear pyjamas, since when an earthquake strikes at night you don’t even have time to put your clothes on. We also heard of the controversies that have arisen as people debate how the city should be rebuilt, with many complaining about the Anglican church not being willing to spend nearly 200 million dollars and 6 years to repair the cathedral (maybe some of those people might also complain that the church has too much money and should be spending their resources on feeding the poor instead of making moral judgements and trying to convert people.)

We had boarded the plane for New Zealand unsure of what was going to happen with bushfires burning in the Mt Lofty Ranges just 20 km from our own home. But even at that time, there was an almost overwhelming response of generosity from people offering accommodation and assistance to those affected by the fires. Possibly the magnitude of this response had something to do with the shock we had felt as a nation just weeks earlier with the Martin Place siege; people realised the importance of standing together as neighbours.

Now, these are examples are of non-Christian communities! These are people who do not necessarily know anything of the power of the Gospel to transform and reconcile. Yet these people are nevertheless people made in the image of God, and while crises can often bring out the worst of people’s selfishness and sinfulness, they are also marked by glimpses of how we should be. God, in what theologians call ‘common grace’ at times enables people to act in a way that is contrary to their own sinfulness, maybe so that people will stop and take stock, and say to themselves, ‘Hey! What just happened – what I did, or what someone did for me – seems to resonate with my humanity. I know that this is the way I should be all the time – so what am I not like it all the time? Why do I by default operate out of selfishness and greed? Is there any way that I might be able, somehow, to attain to this picture of goodness and generosity that I have just glimpsed?’

So we should be willing to welcome crises, knowing that the Father only ever gives good and perfect gifts; and our first response in these times should be, ‘Father, what are you teaching me in this? How are you using this time of trouble to make me more like your Son?’

Looking towards the End

While Paul is referring to this very specific situation here, he deliberately uses the kind of language that is also used to refer to the end of the age, the time of Jesus’ return. ‘distress’ is often associated with the last days. ‘The appointed time has grown very short’ and the present form of this world is passing away’ speak of the expectancy of a soon to come resolution to the turmoil of this life; the kind of language used by someone who is expecting Jesus’ return to be just around the corner. Paul wants them to think not just of their immediate situation, but in light of eternity. Times of crisis remind us that this world does indeed have a ‘use by date’. It is a kingdom that is being shaken, and will one day be completely overtaken by the reign of God the Father through His Son. Crises remind of who is truly King, and enable us to look forward with hope to the goal He has for us and His creation.

And so the reason for the Corinthians to make wise choices about how they live their lives is not simply a moral or ethical one on its own – as if there is some abstract moral standard that makes something right or wrong in itself. Rather, it is about Who deserves – and receives – the glory. And the One who deserves the glory is the One who is the true King of all things. This is a big focus in this letter – and in fact in the whole scriptures. We are created to be for the praise of the glory of God. Ethics and morality is not about conforming to a certain standard; it is about loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – or in short, doing all things to the glory of God. Loving God is not about a warm mushy sentiment, but living in such a way that makes much of him, so that people see our lives and say, ‘God is good! God is love! God is gracious! God is my Father who is working all things together for good! God is worthy of all my worship!’

The power of the Cross

We will only be enabled to live such lives when we are able to say, ‘The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ (Galatians 6:14) And we will only be able to say such thing when we have a vision of the cross of Christ. This leads us to our second passage.

1 Peter 1:13-25

In this passage Peter sums up some general principles that Paul applied when giving advice to the Corinthians about marriage: being prepared for action, making wise, sober decisions, all in the light of the promise of Jesus’ return. (13) We are to desire to be holy – not for the sake of holiness in and of itself, but because ‘he who called you is holy’ – in other words, we should desire to have lives that bring glory to God be reflecting His character in our actions. And he reminds us that this world is not our home – we are to see ourselves as ‘exiles’ living temporarily living in the kingdom of this world until we see His kingdom break in.

What is the secret to living this kind of life – one of integrity, love and certainty in hope? It is simply knowing something: verse 18-20 We have been ‘ransomed… by the precious blood of Christ.’ This phrase in itself contains enough significance for a whole series of sermons, but we will look briefly at it, to see what kind of vision of the cross enables us to face crises with a confidence and hope that far outweighs anything this world has to offer.

Firstly, we have been ransomed.

This means that we were once slaves. This is terminology that comes from the slave market; a slave could be given their freedom by having someone pay all the debts they owed, effectively purchasing them and then setting them free. We were once slaves – slaves to sin and to our sinful desires, and slaves to the world and its systems, unable to resist all the empty promises of happiness and power and self-fulfilment that it offers. The world, the flesh and the devil – our three greatest enemies were once our masters, and when they said, ‘jump’ we said, ‘how high?’. Jesus has set us free from these masters by cancelling the debt that stood against us, and for which God, in His justice, had rightfully handed us over to. He has come and fought against the strong man, and has overcome him, and he now has possession of all that is in his household, including us. We are now free. Our citizenship in this world has been replaced with citizenship in heaven, and we no longer have to conform to this world and its demands and desires because we know that the world is passing away.

Secondly, the ransom was at the cost of his own blood.

Jesus taught his disciples, ‘…whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’(Mark 8:35-36) He said these words as the one who had already stood in front of the devil, who had offered him all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worshipping him, and said, ‘“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’ (Luke 4:8). He then did just that – lived a life of total obedience to the Father, that took him to the cross to make that redeeming payment for our sin. This not only shows us the magnitude of our sinfulness – that it requires the blood of the eternal Son to atone for it – but also the great assurance we can have in our freedom, that we have truly been crucified to the world and the world to us. It is not just a metaphor; it actually happened that day at Calvary.

Thirdly, this blood bought ransom is precious.

It was not merely sufficient, something that just got the job done. And it was not just costly – worth a lot. It is precious – a word that means honourable, or held in high esteem. The Father looks at the obedience of the Son culminating in his willing death on a cross and says, ‘That is precious to me! This is the thing that I hold as supremely important over all things, that my Son has given himself as a ransom for sinners.’ That is what is meant in part by the phrase, ‘He was foreknown before the foundation of the world’ (20a). The Father created the world, knowing – in fact pre-ordaining –  the corruption and turmoil that would enter into it, because His goal was that His Son would be honoured and glorified above all things because of his willing incarnation and death to save sinners. Knowing the inestimable worth of Jesus’ sacrifice to the Father should make it of inestimable worth to us also. It should make the crises of this world fall into their proper perspective, when knowing him is far more precious to us than anything in this world that we may lose.

Trembling, bewildered and afraid at the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection?

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you. ’” 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8 NIV)

Just as Mark gives a concise description of Jesus’ death, so he give a concise description of the resurrection. He is not concerned so much with the how, but the simple fact. None of the Gospels give us a statement on the meaning or reason for the resurrection; the writers seem to assume that this is obvious: Jesus is the Son of God, of whom the Father says, ‘This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased’; God’s chosen and anointed King who does nothing but what pleases the Father, to his dying breath.

The wages of sin is death (and all have sinned, therefore all die), but also God promises to vindicate the righteous and reward them with life. The Psalmist, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost says, ‘You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your holy one see corruption.’ (Psalm 16:10) Because Jesus’ sacrifice was the culmination of all Jesus did in his God-pleasing life, the Father’s response to this action is to declare Him to be the Son of God and King by raising him from the dead.

Mark began his gospel, stating clearly that Jesus is ‘the Son of God’ (1:1), and his account of the resurrection is like him saying, ‘See, I told you!’

Marks original Gospel, I believe, ends with verse eight. 1

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

To us this may not seem like a very satisfying conclusion, especially as we are used to Hollywood movies that end with a moving speech, a song, and the hero riding off into the sunset. However Mark, in his succinct way, is simply stating the facts, and the way he does has a ring of authenticity about it. If someone were inventing the story of the resurrection, and making it the lynchpin of their whole religion (ie. without the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus, the whole of Christianity is pointless), we would expect them to embellish the story to make it believable. Instead Mark records the authentic response of the women.

How would you respond after a traumatic weekend of seeing Jesus tortured and killed, expecting to find his body in the tomb, but instead encountering an angel who tells you he is alive? Would you immediately believe, or would it take a while for the reality of it to sink in? This was not just one miracle – the last in a long list of 3 years worth of miracles. Jesus’ resurrection means not merely that the man Jesus is alive again against all odds. It marks the start of a cataclysmic, history making, destiny forming, earth shattering reality of the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It meant the resurrection not just of one man but of the entirety of humanity. This will in turn mean a total renewal and liberation of the entire universe. The enormity of this had gripped them, and according to the NIV their response was, ‘trembling’, ‘bewilderment’ and ‘fear’ – three words which have almost wholly negative connotations for us. Yet they do not need to.

The word translated ‘bewildered’ is ‘ekstasis’ – ‘ecstasy’. ‘Fear’ is not terror, but extreme awe. And so their ‘trembling’ (‘tromos’) was not a disturbed trembling, but one of joyful anticipation, like a child may tremble as she stands before the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, or a contestant on X-Factor shakes with overwhelming disbelief as the panel of judges stand to applaud them.

‘They said nothing…’ obviously doesn’t mean, ‘ever,’ otherwise we would not have this account. Rather, it simply means they did not speak to anyone as they fled, as they had been commanded to report to the disciples. They were simply being obedient.

Marl ended his Gospel at this point possibly because of the purpose for which he wrote: it is thought that Mark was especially an ‘Evangelistic’ Gospel – ie. written not primarily for Christians but for non-Christians, who had heard the Gospel proclamation of the crucified, risen, reigning Jesus and wanted more background to the story. He leaves the ending somewhat open – as if to say, ‘What do you now make of all these events? What is your conclusion about Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of Man and the Son of God; who healed the sick, proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and willingly laid down his life to be a ransom for sinners; who predicted both his death and his resurrection?

One writer has suggested that Jesus, his miracles and the resurrection simply give us useful symbols to help reflect on the paradox of life and death. However Mark presents his account of Jesus as historical fact, with geographical and biographical references to confirm this. If the claim of Mark and the rest of the New Testament that Jesus literally rose form the dead is true, as well as the implications it gives for the hope of our own resurrection and the renewal of the entire universe, we ignore Jesus at our peril.

So what is our response to the news of Jesus’ resurrection? It may be rattled off as one in a list of core Christian beliefs, and we may talk about it so often that we end up taking it for granted, and it no longer grips us with awe, ecstasy and trembling like it did the women. However we view verses 9-20, it is an indication that this reality of the resurrection captured the hearts and lives of the disciples, and that they were unable to contain the wonder of all God’s promises being fulfilled – being ‘Yes’ – in Jesus; what resulted was a revolutionary, world and history changing explosion of the Gospel going out to all nations. This is what we are a part of, and God calls us to continue to be part of this explosion.


  1. Verses 9-20 do not appear in the earliest, most reliable copies of Mark that we have, which is why many modern translations have it as a separated section. It probably indicates that it was not part of the original Gospel. The court is still out on this, and Christians have different views on whether it should be considered as 1. Truly Mark’s ending, 2. Not Mark’s ending, but still fully scripture, 3. Not Mark’s ending, and not fully authoritative (yet indicative of the early church’s teaching). My view is in line with no. 3, which makes verse eight Mark’s final words to this account of Jesus. 

Temple Destruction

 

This is a passage that has been debated over the years. Does this speak of the second coming of Jesus, or is it describing the events leading up to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD? Or, some combination of both? Those who argue for the second option (that it was all fulfilled in 70 AD) point to verse 32:

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.’

While some suggest ‘generation’ can be translated as ‘race’ – ie. the Jews will continue to exist as a people right up to Jesus’ coming, this requires an obscure use of this word, and also does not match with other similar statements, as we will see in a moment.

Those who argue for the first (that it speaks of Jesus’ second coming) point to 27:

Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

This certainly sounds like the second coming. However, it does not have to be; in fact there are similar statements Jesus made that clearly do not refer to his return. The first is in the context of Jesus’ call to discipleship:

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ (Matthew 16:28, emphasis mine)

Obviously everyone standing there as Jesus said these words have long since died. So here he must have been speaking of something that would occur within the first century. Another similar statement is made during Jesus’ trial:

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:63-64)

Jesus says that they will see the Son of Man ‘from now on’ – ie. from that moment. It seems that on these two occasions Jesus is not speaking of an event, as much as a position of power and authority. In fact, He is making an unveiled reference here (and every time he calls himself ‘the Son of Man’) to Daniel 7:

…and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14)

Daniel’s vision is ‘apocalyptic’ – filled with visions and images that are not meant to be taken literally, but which communicate a truth. The ‘Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven’ communicates his status as the divinely appointed King; the One who shines with the power and glory and authority of God Himself. For the Jews, ‘heaven’ was a euphemism for the name of God, which they used to avoid using His name in vain, and so the ‘clouds of heaven’ speak of the cloud of God’s glory that guided the Israelites in the desert; from which the Lord defeated the Egyptian armies; the cloud that covered Mt Sinai while the Law was being given; from which God proclaimed His character to Moses; and which filled the Tabernacle and the Temple.

It is important to see in this passage that Daniel sees this Son of Man ‘coming’ – but to where or whom is he coming? Not to Daniel, but to the Ancient of Days (God the Father) in order that he may be given an eternal kingdom. So the phrase ‘the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven’ is not speaking of Jesus travelling from Heaven to earth, but of His appointment as King of every people, nation and language.

So when do we ‘see’ Jesus being bestowed with this status as the all-powerful, all glorious King?

…the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4)

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

All of his in no way discounts the fact that Jesus will be ‘coming’ again – although this event is described by the New Testament more as his ‘appearing’ – ie. an unveiling of the reality that He is already King, is already ruling over the Nations, and is already present, as promised to his disciples as he sent them out on the co-mission.

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1:9-11)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Currently not every knee bows and not every tongue confesses Jesus as Lord, but that does not diminish in anyway his present Lordship; on the day when all do acknowledge Him it will not be the beginning on His Kingdom, but simply an acknowledgement by all of its reality.

All of this background now helps us to confidently approach this passage and see two things:

  1. How Jesus was preparing his disciples (and those to whom the disciples preached) for the events that were to happen within their own lifetime – the destruction of the Temple in 70AD.
  2. How we are to understand the bearing of HIs kingdom on our lives in this world as we await with patience His appearing, especially in times when troubles and persecution come – how then should we live?
1. Preparing for the destruction of the Temple – 70AD

5-7

We know from the other gospels that the ‘some’ who were speaking of the Temple’s glory were his disciples, and that from verse 7 the conversation took place across the valley, as Jesus and his disciples were sitting on the mount of Olives, from where they could see the Temple rising above the city walls. It would have been a shocking thing to hear Jesus say that this building would be destroyed. They had already heard him say (John 2:19–22) ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,’ and understood that he was speaking of Himself in his death and resurrection; Jesus is the true Temple, the true dwelling place of God with His people. Yet if this is true, then it makes the old physical Temple obsolete; the physical Temple had served its purpose, and now that the One it foreshadowed has come, it is no longer needed, and has a use-by date. (Hebrews 8:13). Yet this was something they were yet to realise; we are told it was only after Jesus’ resurrection that they understood (John 2:22). So their hearts must have been burning and in turmoil as they walked through the valley to the place they were staying that night, and we can imagine them wanting to burst as they looked for the opportunity to ask him what he meant.

8-9

Jesus responds initially with a word of caution. There will be terrifying events that will happen in their lifetime, and many will immediately see it as the sign of the End, even claiming to be Jesus physically returned. But he assures them: these events are only ‘penultimate’ – they are a foretaste of the End, but ‘the end will not be at once’ (9) – ie. the final judgement is yet to come; this will be an ‘interim judgement’ with a specific purpose – as we will see, the purpose of the Gospel going out to the ends of the earth and being proclaimed to all the nations.

10-11

This will be a time of great political turmoil – nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom. We might take the ‘earthquakes, famines, terrors and signs from heaven’ as being apocalyptic language, or we may take it literally, but either way it means that this is the action of God’s judgement. Many times in the past He has used nations as His instruments of judgement upon other nations; the Biblical view of wars is not of a world that has gone crazy, over which God has lost control; but of peoples and nations who have been handed over by the sovereign hand of God to the outworking of their sinfulness, and all as an action of God’s wrath.

12-19

Jesus’ disciples are in this world, and so necessarily they suffer along with everyone else in this turmoil of judgement. Yet Jesus speaks of another kind of suffering that will come to them – the suffering of persecution. The Jewish people already faced a difficult time at the hands of the Romans, however the Jewish faith was still an ‘authorised’ religion. For some time the Romans considered Christians as a branch of Judaism, however as the Jews increasingly rejected Jesus as Messiah, and the divide grew between Jews and Messianic Jews, the Christian faith became ‘illegitimate’ in the Roman Empire, and so Christians faced conflict and persecution from both Jews and Romans. This was combined with the escalating tension between Rome and the Jews in the 60’s, and the division among Jews as to how they should respond to the oppressive power of Rome, and meant that being a Christian in Jerusalem and Judea was a very dangerous thing – humanly speaking. Possibly some Jews would have considered the Christians to be the cause of their troubles, by their acceptance and worship of Jesus they had brought wrath upon the nation.

Jesus makes a wonderful promise to the disciples: not a hair of their head will perish (18). This does not mean they will not be killed, as has just said in 16 that some of them would be put to death. But their hope will be one that goes beyond the grave; even though they die they will live; the worst people will be able to do will be to kill their bodies, and in fact the worst will actually be the best, because by this – the laying down of their lives – they will actually gain life (19). Jesus is not saying ‘hang in there and they will not get to you,’ but ‘hang in there, because even if they do get to you you will never die, because your life will be hidden with me in God, and when I who are your life appears, you will also appear with me in glory.’ (Colossians 3:3)

20-26a

In 68AD the Jewish zealots took over the Temple and turned it into a fortress from which to stage their rebellion against Rome. They killed the priests, along with anyone else who opposed their mission, and installed one of their own as High Priest. The temple was filled with the blood of humans, and became a place of violence, drunkenness and immorality. In response the Romans multiplied their armies, and literally surrounded Jerusalem, until in 70AD they besieged the city, slaughtering all they came across – men, women and children – and destroyed the Temple and all who were in it. They literally trampled Jerusalem underfoot.

The Jews saw this as an action for which the wrath of God would come upon the Romans; yet Jesus describes it as ‘wrath against this people’ (23). Just a few days earlier he had stood weeping over Jerusalem:

“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation (Luke 19:42-44)

This was not about Rome storing up judgement for herself; it was about the judgement that Jesus’ own people had already stored up for themselves by rejecting him as their Messiah. They should have recognised that their responsibility as God’s chosen people was to welcome the Messiah when he came; to recognise Him as the fulfilment, the ‘Yes’ to all of God’s promises to bless them and to make them a blessing to the Nations; yet they forsook this commission, wanting to keep all of God’s blessing for themselves, and cut themselves off from and despised the nations.

Yet God’s promises and plans were not to be thwarted by Israel’s disobedience. Paul speaks in Romans 11 about the necessity of this judgement:

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean (Romans 11:11-12)

…a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25)

This is the ‘time of the Gentiles’ that Jesus speaks of here (24). The old system of the Temple with all its rituals; the city, nation and people of the Jews, has been brought to an end because now the Gospel is going out not just to Jews by to every tribe and people and tongue and nation. This is the era we are now in; if it were not so, we would not be here this morning, a gathering of gentiles who acknowledge and worship the Jewish Messiah!.

26b-28

What does Jesus mean by the statement, ‘…the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luke 21:26-27)? As we have already seen Jesus is using images from Daniel 7. In Daniel’s vision he sees the enemies of God and of His saints being destroyed, and the Son of Man ‘coming’ in order to be installed by the Ancient of Days as the ruler of the Nations, whose kingdom will last forever and will never be destroyed. We have also seen that this event finds its fulfilment not just in some event that is still in our future, but in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the cross, ‘He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him in it.’ (Colossians 2:15); this is, ’…the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 3:8-10) At the cross all God’s enemies and ours – sin, death and the devil – were defeated, and Jesus’ resurrection is the Father’s declaration to us ‘It is done! I am making all things new! This is my beloved Son, whom I love, listen to Him! Trust in Him! pledge your allegiance to Him! Look and long for His appearing and the day when the heavens and the earth will be made new and will become through and through the dwelling place of righteousness!’

2. How then should we live?

Jesus gives plenty of guidance to his disciples as they anticipated not only this event in 70AD, but as they continued to live in anticipation of the Main Event it foreshadowed: His glorious appearing. How should they – and we – live and respond in this world, knowing that He is the Son of Man who has established the Kingdom in his death and resurrection?

Do not be led astray (8).

It seems almost an annual occurrence that someone somewhere tells us that Jesus will show up on a given date or time; there are still those even today who claim to actually be Jesus in person. Yet one thing we know for sure: when Jesus appears there will be no question it is him. He will not need to advertise in the papers, start his own TV show or buy property in Queensland. Every eye will see Him. Yet we are called to trust in the sovereign plan of the Father, that He is working all things out according to His schedule. There will be a time between the end of the old age and the consummation of the new, and during this time we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and know for sure that the work He has begun he will bring to completion on the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). This assurance in the Father’s sovereignty will save us from being sidetracked by all kinds of fanatical and fanciful date setting and end-time scenario silliness.

Stay awake at all times (34-36).

Avoiding end-time silliness does not mean, however, that we become complacent in the face of all that is happening in the world around us. We are called to live with wisdom and shrewdness as we live in a world of social, moral, political and spiritual turmoil. When disasters come – whatever their nature, and however it impact on us as God’s people – we should not be surprised. This is not only because Jesus has warned us in advance that these things will happen continually until the end, but also because we know that He rules the nations, and nothing takes place in this world that is not ultimately serving His purposes to make the kingdom of this world into the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15)

Take the opportunities that come to proclaim Jesus (13).

Literally, ‘testify’ – the word is ‘martyrion’ from which we get the word ‘martyr.’ We are not holding the fort until Jesus comes and takes over. Rather, we are emissaries, or ambassadors of the King. We proclaim not our own message, but the message that He has given us to declare, and so as we testify it will not be us speaking by Him speaking through us with the full weight of His authority. Do we see opposition to the Gospel – be it something as extreme as the threat of death, or as ‘mild’ as being mocked or ostracised – as a terrible calamity from which we have to be rescued, or as an opportunity to declare the grace of God in Jesus Christ and the good news of His kingdom?

Raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (28).

Faith in Christ is not a cheap insurance policy, nor is it an excuse to retreat into our bunkers and disengage from the world and just wait it out. Yet we do have the sure promise of a new heavens and a new earth; the day when there will be no more sickness, pain, crying or death; and the day when our mortal, weak and frail bodies will be clothed in glorious immortality and our current battle with sin will be a fading memory. Christians are to be characterised as those with heads held high – if not literally, then spiritually; living each day in eager expectation the day of Jesus Christ:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

 

In Revelation 18 we see a mighty angel take a large boulder and throw it into the sea, declaring:

‘So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more…’

He is speaking of the final Day – the conclusive Day of the Lord when ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’ (Rev. 11:15)

The final judgement and defeat of sophisticated rebellious humanity – in Revelation dubbed ‘Babylon’ – is conclusive. Like a large stone thrown into deep water, the shock and violence of it is great, yet once it is done, it is done, and there is no return. It doesn’t take long for the ripples to subside and the water to cover any memory that the stone ever existed.

What should be our response to this certainty of final judgement? Through five chapters of the Book of Revelation (15-19) we see an occasional call to God’s people in the midst of this devastation. They are both the response that will actually happen at that time, but they are also to shape our response as we look forward to these events.

Worship God for His faithfulness throughout history (15:2-4).

The final day is the day that all of history has been leading up to, and with the eyes of faith we can look at the revelation of this in the Scriptures and understand the faithfulness and justice of God. We are called to be thankful for all that God Has done and to have a thankful confidence that History with be brought to a conclusion exactly the way God has planned, where, ‘…every knee will bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.’ This knowledge and thankful spirit is the key to us living faithfully as the expression of God’s family in this world (Philippians 2:1-11)

Be prepared for Jesus’ return at any time (16:15).

In the midst of the sixth bowl, in which the kingdoms of the world are gathered for destruction, we are reminded that we do not know the day or hour of Jesus’ coming as judge. No thief sends an advance schedule to tell his victims what time he will be coming to steal their VCR, but this doesn’t preclude householders being alert and watching for when it will happen. Christians likewise should not become complacent, and think that since it has been nearly 2000 years since His promise to return then He is probably not coming soon, if at all. He could easily come before you finish reading this sentence, because the timing of His return is not dependent upon historical events or our own evangelistic activities, but is in the hands of the Father.

To be prepared for His coming doesn’t mean passively waiting. It means actively serving God: proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, and living a life of service and sacrifice towards our fellow human beings, regardless of whether they are those who stand beside the glassy sea or those who are heading for destruction in Babylon. It is this action of God through His people – ‘the righteous acts of the saints’ that make up the beautiful gown of the bride of Christ. (see  19:8).

Come out from Babylon and be separate (18:4).

There is obviously a clear call here to separate ourselves from the immorality of the world’s standards, and to be an example of the transforming righteousness of God which we have received in Christ. But there is another dimension to this call. In our zeal to serve our neighbours and proclaim the Gospel to the world, we need to be sure that we in no way participate in its actions. This may not seem possible, but it can happen when we try so hard to package and present the Gospel in ways that are ‘relevant’ and ‘easy to understand’ that we actually end up compromising and diluting the Gospel itself. We may leave out the ‘bits’ that are controversial to avoid confrontation and persecution. We may overemphasise or exaggerate the earthly benefits of being a Christian in order to make the Gospel sound attractive. We may rely on humanistic methods of marketing, entertainment and psychology to draw people rather than rely on the power of the Gospel itself to save. We may unquestioningly adopt a cultural expression in the church without noticing the damage it does to our witness to the truth. We may follow the lead of the world in its statements about gender, sexuality, racism, social action and politics instead of leading the world in our prophetic proclamation of the Biblical view on these issues.

What we see today in the liberal arm of the earthly church, in all its compromise of Biblical truth and its partnership with the secular world and its agendas, began three or four generations ago as an evangelistic zeal to reach the whole world with the Gospel, and to present the Gospel in a way the world can relate to. Some current trends in the evangelical community today demonstrate that we have not learned this lesson of history, and are in danger of living in Babylon instead of coming out – fleeing, as Abraham and Lot did Sodom and Gomorrah, without looking back or wondering whether we can hang on to just a small piece.

Rejoice in the justice and vindication of God (18:20, 19:1-5).

God’s certain and coming judgement should and will raise a triumphant shout from all His people. It may appear cruel for us to rejoice over the condemnation of sinners; but we are called here to celebrate the victory of God and His complete vindication of us. Every injustice will be paid for, every sin will be called to account, and those who have oppressed the saints – be they spiritual or human agents – will receive the full due for what they have done. Be assured of this: God will not finally condemn anyone in whom there is still the ‘potential’ for repentance. As we have seen, the impenitent will face judgement acknowledging the truth of Christ’s rule, but they will remain in their anger and the hardness of their hearts right to the end and into eternity. Our call is not to focus on or question their fate, but to celebrate the fact that this defeat of evil assures our place at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

The gaudy, worldly, widowed prostitute Babylon has been dethroned, and in her place stands the pure, beautiful bride of the Lamb.