Month: November 2013

Habakkuk

“The righteous shall live by faith.”

This was the slogan, so to speak, of the Protestant Reformation. The great discovery of Martin Luther, while he was a Catholic monk trying with all his might to work for salvation and realizing he always fell short, was that the Scripture teaches salvation is not contingent upon works. This Biblical truth was hidden by the Catholic Church and replaced with a doctrine of works, which is why Luther despaired. Consider the apostate church’s own words, which from the days of Luther till now have not significantly changed on the matter:

No one can be absolutely certain of his or her salvation unless – as to Magdalen, to the man with the palsy, or to the penitent thief – a special revelation be given (Trent, Sess. VI, can. xvi). Nor can a theological certainty, any more than an absolute certainty of belief, be claimed regarding the matter of salvation, for the spirit of the Gospel is strongly opposed to anything like an unwarranted certainty of salvation.1

Faith and no works may be described as the Lutheran view. “Esto peccator, pecca fortiter sed fortius fide” was the heresiarch’s axiom, and the Diet of Worms, in 1527, condemned the doctrine that good works are not necessary for salvation.2

They say that no one can be assured of their salvation while living. They say that good works are necessary for salvation (ever hear of Catholic guilt?). They say that Luther is a “heresiarch”, meaning he is the originator of the heresy of salvation by faith alone. But what do the Scriptures say?

The Apostle Paul writes clearly on the matter, ironically in his letter to the Romans. If only Roman Catholic theologians would pick up that book and study it! Consider the important third chapter:

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; Romans 3: 19 – 24

Before that, in the first chapter, Paul talks about the nature of the gospel:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Romans 1: 16 – 17

When Paul writes “but the righteous man shall live by faith”, he is not writing his own words, but is recalling the words of God given to the prophet Habakkuk.

Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith. Habakkuk 2: 4

Righteousness by faith is not Luther’s concept. It is not even a New Testament concept – it is God’s concept. God has always saved by faith and never by the Law, for consider that Adam and Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph were alive before the Law was given to Israel. If they existed prior to the Law, then how did the Law save them? Rather, they were all saved by their faith in God. This God concept, recorded by Habakkuk and quoted by Paul in Romans, is also found in other New Testament passages:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. Galatians 2: 21

Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “the righteous man shall live by faith.” Galatians 3: 11

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2: 8 – 9

Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. Hebrews 10: 35 – 39

So if Martin Luther is a heretic according to the Catholic Church, what do they think about Moses and Habakkuk and Paul? For did not all three write about righteousness by faith?

Rather, it is the Roman Catholic Church that promotes heresy. And they themselves would do well to heed the words of God’s prophet:

Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith. Habakkuk 2: 4

Regarding the proud one, whose soul is not right within him – who is prouder than the man who desires to stand before God and declare that he and his works have added something to the work of Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified upon a cross unto death and then resurrected on the third day, and whose death and resurrection served as the perfect sacrifice for sins?

Is there a doctrine bitterer to the soul than salvation by works? And consequently, is there anything sweeter than righteousness by faith, in which our works are not even considered and only the perfect work of Jesus Christ is considered when God grants salvation to the sinners who believe in the Son?

Thanks be to God for preserving His gospel in the Scriptures throughout the generations. And in dark days, when the light of the gospel in the Bible is put under a shade, thanks be to God for raising up men who remove the shade and once again shine the light of the Word to the world!

In doing so, the Holy Spirit is using them to fulfill the promise of Christ to His church:

“…upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Matthew 16: 18

1 “Sanctifying Grace”, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06701a.htm

2 “Faith”, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05752c.htm

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Nahum

The book of Nahum is a prophecy against the city of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire – the same Nineveh to which Jonah was sent. Upon the preaching of the prophet Jonah, Nineveh repented and God withdrew His threatened wrath. Yet the repentance of Nineveh was temporary, hence the words of Nahum proclaiming God’s coming judgment; a judgment that would not be withdrawn as in the days of Jonah.

Who were these objects of wrath, the Assyrians?

They were a wicked people. A pastor once said that an ancient town, upon hearing that the Assyrians were coming, committed mass suicide, to avoid the awful torture that Assyria was known for. Archaeologists have uncovered bronze reliefs depicting heads impaled on stakes, severed heads hanging from city walls, soldiers holding victims by stumpy arms and legs, with dismembered hands and feet littering the ground. The following quote is from the Assyrian king Sennacherib, a king who is referenced in Scripture:

“I cut their throats like lambs. I cut off their precious lives (as one cuts) a string. Like the many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon the wide earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot, which brings low the wicked and the evil, were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I filled the plain, like grass. (Their) testicles I cut off, and tore out their privates like the seeds of cucumbers.”1

This quote portrays a disgusting and violent treatment of people captured in war. The Assyrian rulers were ruthless and the people of Assyria were wicked. The common folk may not have mutilated prisoners of war like their military did, yet the whole culture was lifted up in pride, worshipped false gods and filled with wickedness. Hence the words of Nahum to the city of Nineveh:

Woe to the bloody city, completely full of lies and pillage; her prey never departs. The noise of the whip, the noise of the rattling of the wheel, galloping horses and bounding chariots! Horsemen charging, swords flashing, spears gleaming, many slain, a mass of corpses, and countless dead bodies – they stumble over the dead bodies! All because of the many harlotries of the harlot, the charming one, the mistress of sorceries, who sells nations by her harlotries and families by her sorceries. “Behold, I am against you,” declares the LORD of hosts; “And I will lift up your skirts over your face, and show to the nations your nakedness and to the kingdoms your disgrace. I will throw filth on you and make you vile, and set you up as a spectacle. Nahum 3: 1 – 6

Historians accept the destruction of Nineveh as fact, although they obviously do not attribute the fall to divine wrath. But for us who understand that the city fell by God’s order, it is worth noting that before its fall, and despite its abominations, blasphemies and cruelties, God through the prophet Jonah gave it a chance to repent. What a great demonstration of the grace of God, that even people like the Assyrians were not outside of the reach of God’s saving hand!

Now the words of Nahum and the fall of Nineveh may seem to be obscure Biblical knowledge, since for us ordinary citizens of a modern society, the unbelieving friends and acquaintances we have are not like the Assyrians and their king Sennacherib. We do not know mighty warriors who gut or castrate their captives, who spill entrails and dismember hands and feet. Yet due to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must be aware of the fact that spiritually speaking, we do know people like Sennacherib. For God judges the heart, and Jesus gave us words regarding the heart of man and God’s judgment of it:

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Matthew 5: 21 – 22

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man. Matthew 15: 18 – 20

There is not one person alive who is innocent of committing verbal murder, and who would avoid the fiery hell, based on the words of Jesus. Therefore, as we think of our unbelieving friends and acquaintances, or even strangers, it may be helpful to view the situation as being analogous to Jonah and Nineveh. We are as Jonah preaching to the citizens of Nineveh. We preach the gospel so that people might believe and repent and be granted life in God, and not have to be subjected to words of wrath on the day of the Lord – such as Nineveh was in the day of Nahum.

As we do this, as we share the gospel of grace with a view of God’s wrath, what helps us deliver this hard message with humility and gentleness is remembering that we too were once like the Assyrians – lost and in darkness and without hope. But the grace of God reached Nineveh in the days of Jonah, it reached us where we were at, and it can reach anyone at any time as God wills, no matter who they are.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6: 9 – 11

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1: 13 – 14

1http://faculty.uml.edu/ethan_Spanier/Teaching/documents/CP6.0AssyrianTorture.pdf

Micah

Christmas is approaching, and so is the time when verses regarding the birth of Christ will be read throughout churches and Christian households. Undoubtedly the first three verses of Matthew 2 will be part of the seasonal reading:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Matthew 2: 1 – 3

These three verses are rich with meaning – a meaning that derives from the history of Israel recorded in the Old Testament. For it is written that God gave Israel David as king. David was then promised an eternal throne by God, and David’s descendants ruled for a few hundred years. Due to perpetual sin, God exiled His people to Babylon and ended the Davidic dynasty. From that time until the birth of Jesus, God did not allow a son of David to sit on a throne as king. In fact, via the prophet Ezekiel, God told Zedekiah, the last Davidic king, that there would be no more Davidic kings until Messiah.

Therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Because you have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your deeds your sins appear – because you have come to remembrance, you will be seized with the hand. And you, O slain, wicked one, the prince of Israel, whose day has come, in the time of the punishment of the end,’ thus says the Lord God, ‘Remove the turban and take off the crown; this will no longer be the same. Exalt that which is low and abase that which is high. A ruin, a ruin, a ruin, I will make it. This also will be no more until He comes whose right it is, and I will give it to Him.’ Ezekiel 21: 24 – 27

The last sentence from this Ezekiel quotation is an allusion to the Messianic prophecy in Genesis 49: 10.

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

Although God had ended the Davidic rule over Israel, it was because of God’s promise to David and because of the words of the prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and others, that there was great anticipation for the Messiah. People believed God would send Messiah and establish David’s eternal throne.

Moving ahead now to the birth of Jesus, we understand why Herod, an Idumean and not a son of David, was king – because God had ended the rule of the Davidic kings and allowed for Israel to be subjegated to Rome. And because of the people’s anticipation for the coming Davidic king, the illegitimate king Herod was terribly troubled upon the arrival of the magi, who asked him about a baby born as “King of the Jews”.

It is fascinating that Herod, a king appointed by Rome, an Idumean and not a Jew, believed enough in the possibility of a coming king to inquire of the scribes and priests as to where the Scriptures say the Messiah would be born. And yet it is obvious he did not believe in the hope of the Messiah, for it was his will to kill the baby who was born.

When asked by Herod to tell of the place where the Messiah would be born, the scribes answered with the words of the prophet Micah.

Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Matthew 2: 4 – 6

That prophecy from Micah was given seven centuries earlier – the Jews kept note of it for seven hundred years, for they did believe God would keep His word. What is fascinating about the fulfillment of Micah’s words is that the only reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem is because Caesar Augustus decreed that a census would be taken, and this census required people to travel to their own city. As a result, Joseph and Mary, from Nazareth, descendants of David, went to Bethlehem to register, for that was the city of David.

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son…Luke 2: 1 – 7

God used the decree of a Gentile ruler to bring to pass Micah’s prophecy – that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Over thirty years later, God would use the decree of Pontius Pilate to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy – that the Christ would suffer and die.

So Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem in accordance with the words of the prophet Micah. He was born to be king, but not a normal king. For what king offers himself as a propitiation and sacrifice for sins? Only one.

…Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1: 20 – 21

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Luke 1: 30 – 33

Jonah

What do these two gospel definitions, from Jesus and Paul, have in common?

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day…Luke 24: 45 – 46

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…1 Corinthians 15: 3 – 4

Both Jesus and Paul declare that the Scriptures, meaning the Old Testament, prophesied that the Christ would rise from the dead on “the third day”.

Yet this is a gospel mystery – nowhere in the Old Testament will you find a prophecy that states, in effect, “the coming Messiah will die and then rise from the dead on the third day.”

So we are presented with a paradox: there is no literal prophecy in the Old Testament about a third day resurrection, and yet both Jesus and Paul said Scripture teaches that doctrine. How does one make sense of this?

In order to make sense of it, one must grow in their understanding of Biblical prophecy. It is more than “prediction – fulfillment”, as in, someone says something will happen and then it happens. There is a mode of prophecy that is based on patterns. In the Bible, God over time repeats certain patterns to prepare one to receive a greater truth. This is known as typology (the study of types), and without understanding typology one will lack a certain depth in their Biblical comprehension. Here is an explanation of the mode from some Christian scholars:

Typology ought to be viewed as a subset of predictive prophecy, not in the sense of verbal predictions, but in the sense of predictions built on models/patterns that God himself has established, that become known gradually as later texts reinforce those patterns, with the goal of anticipating what comes later in Christ.1

Applying this concept of types and patterns to Scripture, one needs to look no further than the book of Jonah. Jonah has Messianic implications, not through predictive prophecy, but because of a type found in the first chapter. You may recall that Jonah was thrown into the sea for his sin. The Scripture says:

So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1: 15 – 17

Now there is nothing obviously prophetic in this passage. But the words of Christ give it significance.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12: 38 – 41

I am sure there are a great many Christians who have read Jesus’ words here and have understood the parallel – three days in the fish for Jonah and three days in the earth for Jesus. But it is more than a neat coincidence, and it would be my guess that many do not know Jesus is giving Jonah typological significance and that typology is not limited only to Jonah but has further applications in Biblical reading and interpretation.

It is true – the only way to understand the words of Jesus and Paul, when they say that the Scripture teaches a third day resurrection, is to understand the Old Testament types that point to a third day resurrection. And there are more than just in Jonah, although not many more. I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure none of the other third day types are pointed out by Jesus or the apostles, although there is a slight reference to one in the book of Hebrews. The other third day types can only be discerned after training the mind to look for such things and then reading through Scripture.

It is significant, I think, that the gospel definitions offered by Jesus and Paul, in Luke 24 and 1 Corinthians 15, cannot be fully understood without knowing how types function in Scripture. And since the Holy Spirit inspired the written word, and inspired the types to be documented, they are worth paying attention to, and it is a study worth undertaking.

Although theologians and Bible exegetes sometimes get nervous about typology, because they don’t want people turning everything in the Bible into a type, nevertheless it is a legitimate mode of Bible prophecy, and as in all things pertaining to Bible study, it ought to be done with care and with precision, and with respecting what the Holy Spirit is communicating through Scripture, not forcing what we think or feel upon the Holy Text.

1Gentry & Wellum. Kingdom Through Covenant, pg 103. Wheaton: Crossway. 2012. Print.