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Signs of the End of the Age September 3, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 24:1-35.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples depart from the temple. Although His disciples are still in awe of the temple, He asserts that it will be devastated.

They respond by asking Him when:

  • the temple will be devastated
  • He will fully reveal Himself as the Messiah
  • will be the final end of the age of man.

He responds by warning them to keep their eyes open so that they would not be deceived. While there will be:

  • many false Messiahs who will deceive others
  • constant wars and rumors of wars
  • famines and earthquakes throughout the world

these events only mark the beginning of the final end of the age of man.

Later, true believers will be arrested, afflicted and even murdered – since they identify with Him. False teachers will deceive false believers, and false believers will betray true believers. Yet true believers will be saved after enduring these trials, and the Gospel message will be proclaimed throughout the world.

Now when they see that which is abhorrent to God that causes devastation in the temple – as referenced in Daniel 11:31 – they should flee. Those who are on their housetops should not attempt to retrieve their belongings, while those who are in their fields should not attempt to retrieve their outer cloaks. Moreover, pregnant women will be ripped open, and infants will be smashed to pieces. They should pray that their escape would not be hindered by the weather or by Sabbath-day laws, as they are witnessing the worst period in world history. He notes that if that period were not immediately curtailed, then no one would be saved – yet God will immediately terminate it so that those whom He has chosen will be saved.

He then asserts that some will try to deceive them by claiming that the Messiah has fully revealed Himself. Yet when the Messiah fully reveals Himself, that event will be public and glorious.

At that point, the entire universe will disintegrate – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 13:10. They will see Him in heaven. While all unbelievers will mourn this event, His angels will gather all believers throughout the world and bring them into His kingdom.

He concludes with the following lesson: just as when a fig tree puts forth its leaves, it is time for summer, so when they see all these things, it is time for them to be brought into His kingdom.

Thoughts: In verse 4, Jesus warns His disciples to not be deceived regarding the timing of His Second Coming. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Irvingism and Mormonism have been only too successfully used as arguments for rejecting the whole doctrine of the second coming of Christ. Let us watch and be on our guard.

While I am (somewhat) familiar with Mormonism, I had never heard about Irvingism before I read that quote, spurring me to learn about Edward Irving. Based on my brief investigation, it appears that Edward Irving was simply another preacher who attempted to predict the Second Coming of Christ. Perhaps repeated failures to predict the timing of that event should spur believers to resist the temptation to “control God” by making such predictions. By not fixating on particular times and dates, we place His Second Coming into the hands of the Father, trusting that He will exercise His sovereignty on some future date.

Here, Jesus presents a list of catastrophic events that will occur before His Second Coming. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

One main subject of this part of our Lord’s prophecy is the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans. That great event took place about forty years after the words we have now read were spoken. A full account of it is to be found in the writings of the historian Josephus.

On a related note, I read through several transcripts of sermons by John MacArthur on this passage; in one of those sermons, he asserts:

Now, some people have tried to say that this is a sermon about the destruction of Jerusalem, that this whole sermon was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed. For many reasons that is impossible, as we’ve tried to point out in our previous message.

It is apparent that there is no single interpretation of this passage, and I am not prepared to resolve that debate. Given that the pastor at my previous church emphasized the significance of authorial intent in reading Scripture, I would posit that Matthew’s original audience would have understood Jesus’ prophecies in light of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. I would also posit that they would have had no concept of a future desolation that would last for seven years. That being said, I could be wrong on both of these points; thus, I anticipate learning the correct interpretation of this passage in the next life (or even in this life).

In verse 34, Jesus notes that “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Third, these verses teach us that until Christ returns the Jews will remain a separate people…The continued existence of the Jews as a distinct nation is undeniably a great miracle: it is one of those evidences of the truth of the Bible which the unbeliever can never overthrow…The Jewish nation stands before the world a crushing answer to unbelief, and a living book of evidence that the Bible is true.

While the meaning of “this generation” is also debatable, Ryle’s thoughts remind me of Paul’s assertion in Romans 11:25-32 concerning the ultimate salvation of the Jews. If Ryle’s interpretation of “this generation” is correct, then it is all the more remarkable at this point in world history that the Jews continue to exist “as a distinct nation” – since Ryle could not have anticipated the Holocaust. Indeed, I wonder if God is actually displaying His sovereign plan in continuing to preserve the Jews as “a separate people”; if so, when will He restore them to His favor and enable them to acknowledge the identity of His Son, Jesus Christ? That is an event that should spur all believers to rejoice in His abundant grace.

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A Tree and Its Fruit January 19, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:15-23.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus warns His disciples to be wary of their religious leaders, since they are deceptively dangerous – like a ravenous wolf dressed in a sheepskin. Indeed, they promote sinfulness in their teachings, revealing their sinfulness – like a thornbush that naturally produces thorns.

He then asserts that those who merely offer a verbal profession of faith in Him have not been saved; if they had been saved, their deeds would have revealed their genuine faith in Him.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the following question: how can we tell if we are bearing good fruit? Our attempts to answer this question are hampered by the following realities:

  • only God can answer that question with complete certainty
  • the standard that He applies in assessing the quality of our fruit may not constitute a quantifiable metric.

For example, consider a long-term missionary living among a tribe of unbelievers who passes away without converting even one member of that tribe. Has this missionary necessarily borne less fruit than an evangelist whose sermons cause many to dedicate their lives to Christ? This – admittedly extreme – example leads me to believe that in terms of bearing fruit, a believer must begin by assessing their personal relationship with God. If we sense that we are becoming more like Christ – as revealed by our thoughts, words and deeds – then that could be a sign that we are bearing good fruit. We must also be attuned to any clues that God provides in that regard; for example, He may use other believers to evaluate our fruit.

False Oracles and False Prophets April 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 23:33-40.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah – condemning the false prophets and wicked priests in Judah for asserting that He speaks through them. He has repeatedly commanded them to refrain from prophesying in His name, yet they have refused to obey Him. Thus, He resolves to punish them – especially since they have misled His flock in the process.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the tendency of at least some believers – including myself – to put out a fleece in the midst of trials. As human beings, we rely on evidence that we can perceive with our senses; thus, it is natural to look for signs when we are caught in a bind. One thought is that we need to overcome this inherent bias towards the physical world and gravitate towards the words that God has already spoken to us in the Scriptures (albeit in general terms); in fact, we can often glean insights from His (general) Word in our specific circumstances with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Broadly speaking, perhaps we should ask Him to:

  • grant us sufficient evidence – in the midst of a particular trial – based on our current spiritual state
  • enable our faith to grow so that we would need fewer signs during the next trial.

Lying Prophets April 28, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 23:9-32.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah – condemning the false prophets and wicked priests in the southern kingdom of Judah. Indeed, their sinfulness exceeds that of their counterparts in the northern kingdom of Israel – as they actually sanction the sinfulness of their flock. Consequently, He resolves to punish them.

Jeremiah also exhorts the people of Judah to ignore these false prophets and wicked priests. This stems from the fact that God does not speak to them, and so they themselves formulate the prophecies that they proclaim. Indeed, a genuine prophet of God would realize that He wants to communicate a simple message to His people: they must repent of their sins.

Thoughts: In verse 14, we see that the prophets and priests in Judah sanctioned the sinfulness of their flock. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Jeremiah shows how these men surpassed other prophets in impiety by dissimulating when they saw on one hand adulteries and on the other fraud, plundering and perjury…As these prophets banished shame as well as fear from the wicked and ungodly, they strengthened their hands and gave them more confidence, so that they rushed headlong into every evil more freely and with greater liberty.

I assume that these false prophets and wicked priests condoned acts of injustice and oppression. Now I am curious as to whether they attempted to furnish a theological justification for these actions. Did they view the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow as people who were cursed by God? Did they assert that these disadvantaged people were separate from the church of God – and so He had no concern for them? Or did they passively condone these actions while secretly acknowledging their inherent sinfulness?

Here, we see that Jeremiah contends with a plethora of false prophets and wicked priests in communicating his message to his compatriots. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

As Jeremiah forbade the people to listen to such men, they must have been very confused: “What does this mean? Why does God allow these unprincipled men to occupy a place in the temple and to exercise a prophetic office there though they are all cheats, perjurers, and impostors?”

I have blogged about the difficulties that the people of Judah faced in attempting to discern truth from fiction. Since the messages conveyed by Jeremiah and the false prophets were diametrically opposed, one could only assess their veracity by looking for confirmatory evidence. Now the people of Judah knew that the Babylonian forces were pressing their siege of Jerusalem. In light of their predicament, how did the false prophets justify their optimistic messages? Were they convinced that God would never sanction the destruction of His temple? Were they assured that their foreign allies would break the ongoing siege of their capital? How did they respond when the Babylonians overran Jerusalem?

A secondary application of this passage concerns the delicate balance that modern-day pastors must strike when crafting their sermons. On one hand, they must learn from the negative example of the false prophets and wicked priests in Judah: if they neither spur their congregants to live holy lives nor exhort them to regularly assess their walk with God, then they display a lack of concern for their spiritual growth. On the other hand, if they harp on the themes of sin and guilt, then their congregants would probably grow spiritually weary and despondent. Truly it is difficult to know – on an arbitrary Sunday – what God wants to say to an arbitrary congregation. Thus, we must continue to pray for our spiritual leaders – that they would know how to discern God’s voice on a daily basis and respond to Him through their sermons.