The Mystery of Christ’s Incarnation

The Gospel of John opens with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14).[1] Incomprehensible! Often at Christmas time, we are lost in the imagery of a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. One may picture angels overhead with Mary and Joseph seated near the Child, surrounding by shepherds, wisemen,[2] and onlooking animals. But does one contemplate the great complexity of it all? John notes that the eternal Word, the Logos,[3] came to earth and became a human being. God became one of us. How does one understand this complex doctrine? Early in Christian history, two schools sought to develop and understanding on how it was that God came to earth. One developed in Alexandria, Egypt, a center of high intellectualism and which housed one of the largest libraries in human history—known as the Alexandrian school. Another developed in Antioch located in Asia Minor (around modern Turkey)—known as the Antiochene school.

The Alexandrian School of Understanding

The Alexandrian school was home to some powerful Christian thinkers including the great apologist Justin Martyr. Athanasius, the man who defeated the ancient Arian heresy,[4] came from this school of thought as well as Cyril of Alexandria and others. The Alexandrian school “focused sharply on the significance of Christ as savior.”[5] As such, the Alexandrian school focused on the divine nature of Christ and emphasized the divine Logos as He assumed a human nature. Cyril of Alexandria notes,

 “In declaring that the Word was made to ‘be incarnate’ and ‘made human,’ we do not assert that there was any change in the nature of the Word when it became flesh, or that it was transformed into an entire human being, consisting of soul and body; but we say that the Word, in an indescribable and inconceivable manner, united personally to himself flesh endowed with a rational soul, and thus became a human being and was called the Son of man. And this was not by a mere act of the will or favor, nor simply adopting a role or taking to himself a person.”[6]

Apollinarius of Laodicea (c. 310-390) took the Alexandrian understanding of the Logos assuming flesh to the point where he claimed that a human mind and soul were replaced with a divine mind and soul. The Apollinarian school thus devalued the human aspect of Christ, a concept that would be challenged by many Alexandrians and especially the Antiochenes.

The Antiochene School of Understanding

Whereas the Alexandrians focused on the salvific aspect of Christ, the Antiochene school focused on the moral aspects of Christ.[7] The Antiochene school focused on the wholeness of Christ being both divine and human. Unfortunately, like Apollinarius would for the Alexandrian school, a man name Nestorius (c. 386-451) would stretch the Antiochene understanding to the limits of heresy. Nestorius would argue that Christ held two natures: one human and one divine. Yet, Nestorius’ view led to the belief that Christ has two parts to Himself. However, a solution to this enigma would come from the Antiochene school.

The Hypostatic Union

The Antiochene school found a solution to the two natures of Christ in the term “hypostatic union.” That is, the union of the “divine and human natures in Christ—rests in the will of God.”[8] As Theodore of Mopsuestia would denote,

“The distinction between the natures does not annul the exact conjunction, nor does the exact conjunction destroy the distinction between the natures, but the natures remain in their respective existence while separated, and the conjunction remains intact because the one who was assumed is united in honor and glory with the one who assumed, according to the will of the one who assumed him…In this same way here [i.e., in the incarnation] they are two by nature and one by conjunction because the adoration offered to the one who has been assumed is not divided from that offered to the one who assumed him.”[9]

Thus, the solution is found by acknowledging that Christ was both divine and human, compiled into one person—Jesus of Nazareth. The Word became flesh. Therefore, one finds both the divine Word and a human persona in one being.

Conclusion

What mystery! What wonder! The babe lying in a manger was none other than God Himself! God joined the human drama. He became one of us so that He could point us back to Him. I read a story of a farmer who returned from his children’s Christmas program. He could not understand why God came to earth, or even why He would desire to do so. After he tucked his kids in bed, he checked on his animals in the barn on this cold, snowy night. Clomping through the snow and opening the doors to the barn, he heard faint chirping. He looked to find four little birds flopping in the snow. They could not yet fly and the cold snow was freezing them.

The farmer grabbed a broom, sweeping them towards the barn. The more he swept, the more frightened the little birds became. He tried to coax them inside with his voice, yet they could not comprehend his wisdom. He attempted to scoop them in his hands, only to find that the birds would flop back out. The birds were inches away from safety. The barn’s warmth would provide them shelter and warmth for the winter. Then the thought penetrated his mind, leaving him breathless with the insight of the incarnation for which he had long been longing: if he could become one of the birds, he could fix the broken relationship the birds had with the farmer. He could tell them that the farmer meant them no harm. He could lead the birds to safety, saving their lives—if only he could become a bird.

God did just that for all humanity. He lived among us, so that we could live with Him. He would eventually suffer for us, so that we could rejoice. He would die, so that we could live. What mystery! What amazing mystery! And what amazing love!

© December 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes:

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[2] This is an erroneous depiction as the wise men did not appear at the time of Christ’s birth, but rather appeared a few months to a couple of years after the birth of Christ.

[3] The Greek term translated “Word.” The Logos is a complex concept as it depicts the personification of divine wisdom. It was understood as the aspect of God that developed the universe.

[4] Arianism is comparable to the modern Jehovah Witness movement as it denied the divine nature of Christ.

[5] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 277.

[6] Cyril of Alexandria, Second Letter to Nestorious IV, 3-5.

[7] See McGrath, 278.

[8] McGrath, 279.

[9] Theodore of Mopsuestia, “Catechetical Homily,” 8.13-14, Woodbrooke Studies: Christian Documents in Syriac, Arabic, and Garshuni, Alphose Mingana, trans (Cambridge, UK: Heffer, 1933), 89-90.

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Demons: Their Identity and Demise

Halloween is upon us. For this week’s entry to Bellator Christi, I decided to discuss a group of beings that are often veiled in mystery and fear. Those beings are demons. Hollywood often presents demons as being entities that are nearly impossible to combat. Recently, interesting figures have been presented in music videos and films that finds parallels to some of the demonic entities found in the Bible. This article is all about demons as we ask: who are demons; how do they operate; and what is their fate? Are demons creatures to be feared? How do we combat them? Hopefully, this article will provide some answers.

Who are Demons?

Demons are angelic beings. Therefore, they are spiritual creatures. Demons are former angels who have fallen for the lies of Satan. While the Scriptures do not provide a lot of information pertaining to their fall, they are noted in Revelation 12 as being deceived by Satan, depicted as a great red dragon (Rev. 12:3), who sweeps “down a third of the stars of heaven [angels] and cast them to earth” (Revelation 12:4).[1] To my surprise, I discovered that Scripture depicts a few categories of demons.[2]

Sedim

One category of demons are mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37. In Deuteronomy, Moses notes that the people had “sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known” (Deuteronomy 32:17) and that they were “unmindful of the Rock that bore you” (Deuteronomy 32:18). The psalmist notes that they “sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood” (Psalm 106:36-37). These demons, in Hebrew, are called the Sedim (Sed, singular).

Se’irim.

The Se’irim are goat-like demons. Leviticus 17:7 states that “they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.” The Se’irim are also referenced in 2 Chronicles 11:15 as goat idols. The Se’irim bear a striking resemblance to the Church of Satan’s statue Mephisto, which has been erected in several locations in the continental United States.

satanstatue_1437931159040_22035430_ver1-0_640_480
Statue of Mephisto from the Church of Satan. Notice the goat-like features.

Lilith

Some see the “night bird” (Heb. “Lilith”) of Isaiah 34:14 as a category of demon. If so, Lilith is a female demon associated with unclean animals and desolate places.

Azazel

Some see another demon known as the Azazel noted in Leviticus 16:8, 10, 26. A lot was cast by Aaron, one for Yahweh and one for Azazel (a demon). The demon Azazel represented impurity and uncleanness. The lot that fell on the goat for Yahweh was presented as a sacrifice for God. The lot that fell on the goat representing Azazel was cast into the wilderness in representation of the separation of sin from the people. In a sense, the demon was cast into the goat and cast away from the people of God. As noted in footnote 2, there is a lot of speculation concerning this demonic entity.

Evil spirits

On several occasions, evil spirits were sent to torment individuals (1 Sam. 16:15-16; 18:10). This is especially true of King Saul.

Beelzebub

Beelzebub is noted as a prince of demons, but lower than Satan. He is often associated as the lord of the flies. Beelzebub is noted in 2 Kings 1:2-3 and 6. Ahaziah inquired of Beelzebub whether he should live instead of appealing to God. Jesus is accused by His opponents for casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub (Mark 3:22).

How do Demons Operate?

Demons are opposed to the working of God. They manifest themselves in various ways throughout the Scriptures. They bring the inability to speak (Matt. 9:32; 12:22); the inability to hear (Mark 9:25); the inability to see (Matt. 12:22; John 10:21); convulsions (Mark 1:26; 9:26); amazing, nearly superhuman strength to the individual they possess (Mark 5:4); and destructive habits and behaviors (Matt. 17:15). They can also bring diseases to individuals. While there are natural occurrences of the previously noted attributes, demonic presences can add or amplify those patterns.

What is the Fate of Demons?

As fearsome as demons are, it must be remembered that they are powerless compared to God. Jesus cast out demons on several occasions, even by simply issuing a command (e.g., Mark 1:25). So, how does one combat demonic presences? Quite simple, demons are defeated by faith in Christ Jesus. If a person has the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit-filled individual can be annoyed by demons, but they cannot be possessed. They may be afflicted, but not overtaken. It is also important for an individual to equip themselves with the spiritual armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20).

A person needs to remember that the final outcome for demons is defeat. God will be victorious as “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). All of the demonic powers will be destroyed.

Conclusion

This Halloween, one will be inundated with horror films that depict demons as irresistible beings of evil. Films like Poltergeist capture the imagination and present demonic entities as fearsome beings. Rest assured, demons are fearsome and they are powerful. But their power ceases before the awesome presence of Christ. More fearsome than the demons is the One who has flames of fire, who will ride upon a white horse bringing judgment to the world. Who is this white horseman? It is Christ Jesus Himself. Before Him, all the world will bow the knee and confess with the tongue. Christ—the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace—holds authority over all. If you are afflicted by the forces of the demonic realm, turn to Jesus.

For more information, see Joe Cathey, “Demonic Possession,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Chad Brand, Charles Draper, et. al., eds (Nashville: B&H, 2003), 412.

 christ-riding-white-horse

© October 31, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[2] It must be noted that some scholars debate whether these categories truly reference demonic beings. However, I lean towards the idea that they do, especially considering other passages that reference goats and spirit beings being demonic in nature.

Who was the “Angel of the Lord”?

Throughout the Old Testament, one finds an intriguing figure who is known as the Angel of the Lord (Hebrew, “mal’ak YHWH). The Angel of the Lord is not to be confused with an angel of God. There is a difference. The Angel of the Lord is given an extremely high status as he speaks for God. He appears at critical junctures, providing advice and giving stern warnings. But who is this mysterious figure? Is the Angel of the Lord an archangel like Gabriel? Is the Angel of the Lord the same as Michael the archangel? Or is he someone else? In this article, we will examine some of the Old Testament passages involving the Angel of the Lord. These passages provide necessary clues to the Angel’s identity.

Distinct from Yahweh[1] (Zechariah’s Night Visions).

On February 15th, 519 BC, the prophet Zechariah was given eight night visions. Through these night visions, God provided profound truths to the prophet pertaining to salvation, the promise of blessing, and judgment against opposition. The Angel of the Lord holds a profound role in these night visions. In the first night vision, the Angel of the Lord speaks to Yahweh, saying, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years” (Zechariah 1:12)?[2] What is most notable in this passage is that the Angel of the Lord, while of utmost importance, is shown to be distinct from Yahweh. So is the Angel of the Lord simply a messenger of God? Not so fast. Consider Genesis 16:7 and following.

Identified with Yahweh (Genesis 16:7-12).

In Genesis 16, one finds the culmination of a series of problems between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah was the mother of Isaac and Hagar was the mother of Ishmael. Sarah (then Sarai) had irreconcilable differences with Hagar, an Egyptian servant. Sarah sent Hagar away with her son Ishmael (who was the son of Abraham). Yes, this was an ancient series of Days of our Lives. Nevertheless, Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar and promised to take care of her and Ishmael. He also promised to make a great nation from Ishmael’s descendants. After the Angel spoke with her, Hagar replied to the Angel, “You are a God of seeing…Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13). The place was named Beer-lahai-roi, which means “the well of the Living One who sees me.” This is not the only time the Angel of the Lord is identified with God. For instance, the Angel of the Lord says to Joshua the high priest who wore excrement smeared vestments (representing the sin of the people), “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4). The Angel forgave the sins of Joshua and the people, something only God could do. Thus, the Angel of the Lord is divine.

Visible Manifestation of Yahweh (Exodus 3:1-6).

The Angel of the Lord is divine, yet separate from Yahweh Himself, as identified earlier. The Angel of the Lord often appears to humanity as a divine manifestation of God’s presence. For instance, Moses encountered the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush. Exodus notes that “the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed…God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!”… “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:2-4, 6). The Angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham offering comfort and a stern warning to Lot to leave the area of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14). So how are we to understand the Angel of the Lord? There is an interesting parallel between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself.

Jesus’ Association with the Angel of the Lord (John 1).

The apostle John, in his gospel, provides an interesting prologue, popular to many. John notes that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). John teaches that Jesus was the Word, thus Jesus is shown possess an eternal nature. It is quite interesting that Jesus, defending the resurrection, argued by noting God’s response to Moses, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Jesus’ statement is especially interesting as it is the Word of God, spoken by the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is an eternal person, not identical to Yahweh, but identified with, or even as, Yahweh. Jesus is noted to be the same. So what does all this mean as it concerns the Angel of the Lord?

Conclusion

From examining the evidence, the Angel of the Lord cannot be considered an ordinary angel. The Angel of the Lord cannot be accepted as an archangel, either. The Angel of the Lord is a separate entity from Yahweh, yet he is closely identified with Yahweh. The Angel of the Lord is by all intent and purposes a visible manifestation of Yahweh to human beings. Now when one considers that Jesus is acknowledged as an eternal person who is separate from the Heavenly Father, yet closely aligned with the Father and, like the Angel of the Lord, holds a divine essence, it appears that one can hold a necessary link between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself. Therefore, this article holds that the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. The Angel of the Lord is Jesus as He existed before the incarnation. Individuals are mistaken when they hold that Christ is not present in the Old Testament. In fact, the presence of the Messiah may be more evident than one supposes if the Angel of the Lord is identifiable with the pre-incarnate Jesus. Much more could be said about this issue. But for now, suffice it to say, the Angel of the Lord is no ordinary character.

 

© September 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Yahweh is the personal name for God the Father.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Is God’s Jealousy a Negative Attribute?

The Bible attributes several attributes to God. Many of the more popular attributes are God’s love, holiness, and grace. Any serious theologian will know the four core “omni” attributes: omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-presence), and omnibenevolence (all-loving). While these attributes are all positive, many critics pinpoint another attribute of God as being greatly problematic: God’s jealousy.

Critics charge that jealousy is a bad trait to hold. Famed atheist Richard Dawkins claims that God breaks “into a monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god.”[1] Paul Copan notes that “Oprah Winfrey said that she was turned off to the Christian faith when she heard a preacher affirm that God is jealous.”[2] Jealousy is condemned for the human being. One of the Ten Commandments states that a person should not “covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).[3] Thus, jealousy seems to be a negative trait. But wait! Doesn’t the Bible claim that God is jealous? It does.

The Bible states at least 13 times that God is jealous for His people. For instance, Moses notes that “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Later in Deuteronomy, God says, “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21).

What do we make of this? Jealousy seems to be a negative trait. The Bible presents God as jealous. Therefore, it would seem that God holds negative traits. One is left with three options: 1) One could claim that God holds negative attributes meaning that He is not completely perfect; 2) One could claim that the Bible is erred in its presentation of God; 3) One could claim that our understanding of God’s jealousy could be misunderstood.

The first option demerits the Bible’s presentation of God as valid. If God exists, then God must be a maximally great Being. If the God of the Bible is not a maximally great Being, then the God of the Bible is not really the God of the universe at all.

The second option devalues the Bible, the Word of God. The New Testament writers extracted their understanding of God from the Old Testament. Therefore, if the Old Testament is erred in its presentation of God, then that would carry over into the New Testament. This causes a serious problem for the believer. If we cannot accept the presentation of God in the Bible, then can we accept the God of the Bible?

The third option is best. Our understanding of God’s jealousy must be defined. There must be some misunderstanding that we hold as it pertains to the idea of divine jealousy. In fact, the third option is the only real valid option on the table. When one honestly evaluates God’s jealousy, the person comes to the understanding that God’s jealousy is actually rooted in love. Thus, God’s jealousy becomes a positive trait for three reasons.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive as it relates to God’s passion.

God has a passion for His people. Let’s go back to the passage in Deuteronomy. We all know that Scripture is often taken out of context. Placing Deuteronomy 4:24 in context, one will find that Moses was addressing the issue of the peoples’ covenant with God. God had already blessed the people immensely. God brought them out of slavery. God was about to bring them to a special place prepared for them. God was going to build a great nation out of them. However, the people kept cheating on God. God poured out His love to the nation. He was eventually going to bring the Chosen Messiah, the Savior of the world, in their midst. But they kept cheating on God. Moses says in Deuteronomy 4:23, “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you.”

The marriage analogy is often used to describe God’s jealous passion for His people. Paul Copan rightly notes that “A wife who doesn’t get jealous and angry when another woman is flirting with her husband isn’t really all that committed to the marriage relationship. A marriage without the potential for jealousy when an intruder threatens isn’t much of a marriage.”[4] God had a passion for His people. While Dawkins may think that God’s jealousy is a negative attribute due to the peoples’ “flirting with other gods,” it should be remembered that idolatry is adultery against God.[5] Thus, God’s jealousy is rooted in His love.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to God’s purpose.

God’s jealousy is also rooted in His purpose. Wayne Grudem defines God’s jealousy by “God continually seeks to protect his own honor.”[6] Critics may charge, “See! God only concerns Himself with His own glory and elevated role. This means that God is not humble.” But not so fast. Let’s put this in perspective.

Human jealousy is wrong because one covets something that he/she holds no claim in holding. It is wrong for me to covet my neighbor’s car because I hold no claim to the car. In like manner, human pride is bad because it elevates a person’s position higher than what the person possesses. I can think all day that I am the President of the United States. I can walk around like a peacock telling everyone about my successful presidency. The reality is, however, that I am not the President and will most likely never be. But what if someone who holds the office claims to be President? Right now, the President of the United States of America is Barack Obama. Regardless of your thoughts of him and his presidency, let’s ask: is it wrong for Obama to claim to be President? Is it wrong for him to demand respect for his position? Is it wrong for him to do presidential things? No. Why? It is because he is the President. Is it, therefore, wrong for God to call Himself God and to expect to be treated like God? No. Why? It is because He is God. Paul Copan rightly notes, “Is God proud? No, he has a realistic view of himself, not a false or exaggerated one. God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, which makes him worthy of worship.”[7]

Simply put: it is not wrong for God to be jealous over His purpose and glory. Such purpose and glory belongs to God and God alone.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to the human protection.

I am a big brother. My sister is about 7-years-younger than I. Big brothers normally have a protective instinct. I most certainly do. My sister is a loving, free-spirited woman who always sees the good. I, in contrast, see the world the way it really is. My son is much like my sister. I find that my protective juices flow overtime being a parent. Without guidance, it would be easy for my son to take the wrong path as the first shiny, attractive thing gets his attention. As a parent, it is my job to help keep him on the right track. I have a jealous love for my son because I want what’s best for him.

God’s jealousy works in much the same way. God’s jealous love is actually for the benefit, not the detriment, of human protection. God is omniscient. That means that God knows all things. God is also omnisapient, meaning that God possesses all wisdom. Going back to Copan, he notes, “God seeks to protect his creatures from profound self-harm. We can deeply damage ourselves by running after gods made in our own image. God’s jealousy is other-centered.”[8] I agree wholeheartedly with Copan’s assessment. God’s jealousy is actually for the greater human good.

Conclusion

God’s jealousy is not the same as human jealousy. The difference primarily lies in authority. It is wrong for people to be jealous over something that someone else holds because they hold no true claim to such thing. God, in contrast, having the greatest, supreme authority and power is completely justified in being jealous over His people. His jealousy is actually rooted in His love, purpose, and even human protection. Thus, God’s jealousy is not a negative attribute. It is actually a gloriously positive one.

© August 22, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 243.

[2] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 34.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 35.

[5] See the book of Hosea for a full treatment of this analogy.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 205.

[7] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 28.

[8] Ibid., 40.

The Christmas Story in the Gospel of John

When most people think of Christmas, they think of the Christmas stories found in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. In Matthew, one finds the genealogy on the father’s side—albeit, the adopted father; the visitation of the angels to Mary and Joseph; the visitation of the wise men; the flight to Egypt; and the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod.

In Luke’s Gospel, one finds the foretelling and birth of John the Baptist; the foretelling of Jesus’ birth; Mary’s visit to Elizabeth; Mary’s song of praise; the birth of John the Baptist; Zechariah’s prophecy; the birth of Jesus; the pronouncement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds; and Jesus’ presentation before the Temple.

Unbeknownst to many, John’s Gospel holds a Christmas story as well. While John does not provide many of the historical details that Matthew and Luke do, John provides a deep Christmas story. John’s Christmas story is found in the first chapter of John’s Gospel.

What does John’s Christmas story tell us? Seeing that Christmas is really a celebration of the incarnation of Christ, John tells at least three things about Christmas.

John’s Christmas Story introduces the divine nature of Jesus.

First, John addresses the true nature of Jesus. John boldly proclaims that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).[1] John describes the divine nature of Jesus in this passage. D. A. Carson notes that

Since Mark begins his Gospel with the same word, ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ’, it is also possible that John is making an allusion to his colleague’s work, saying in effect, ‘Mark has told you about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; I want to show you that the starting point of the gospel can be traced farther back than that, before the beginning of the entire universe.’[2]

That is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all acknowledge the beginning of Jesus’ life at his birth. John takes Jesus’ beginning back to the vast realm of eternity.

A person cannot escape the divine nature attributed to Jesus in John chapter 1. Jesus is described as being eternal with God, being in the nature of God. John also describes Jesus as the Creator by noting that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made hat was made” (1:2). John also notes that Jesus is the source of life in 1:4-5. But, John’s Christmas story does not only include the divine nature of Jesus, he also includes information about Jesus’ mission on earth.

 John’s Christmas Story introduces the interactive mission of Jesus.

John notes that the “true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (1:9-10). Perhaps the most important truth that John provides pertaining to Jesus’ interactive ministry in the world is that “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). Kenneth Gangel emphasizes this point in saying,

“This may be the most important verse in the Bible on the doctrine of the incarnation. John went back to verse 1 to pick up one of his favorite themes, the Word. God became human; God showed us his glory; God offered us grace and truth; God literally “tabernacled” among us.”[3]

The core truth of Christmas is that God came and dwelt among us. The very God who gave us life came and became one of us. What should this tell us? It should tell us that God is concerned about the human race. God is a loving and caring God who was not willing to leave humanity as it is, but desires to save it.

Which brings us to the final point.

 John’s Christmas Story introduces the transformative gift of Jesus.

John demonstrates that God came to dwell among us. John uses the illustration of the tabernacle where God’s glory would reside in the holy of holies. In this manifestation, one finds the fulfillment of the law.

John states quite succinctly that in Jesus one finds “grace and truth” (1:17). Grace is unmerited favor. Nothing within us says, “I am worthy of God’s love and mercy.” Rather, God gives us something that we do not deserve—salvation.

While many will be inundated with the commercialism that surrounds Christmas, it is a good practice for us all to remember God’s grace during this time. We don’t deserve the love of God. But since God is loving, he came to save us from ourselves. He came to help us understand the true meaning of love. In Christ, we find the full expression of God’s love.

The world could use a great refresher course when it comes to the true meaning of love.

Love is not selfish. Love does not seek to hoard. Love seeks to give.

Conclusion

John’s Christmas story provides a poignant, yet profound statement… “the Word became flesh” (1:14). That’s the point in celebrating Christmas. Often, we become obsessed with finding the accurate date of Christ’s birth. We spend countless hours discriminating between those things that appear pagan in our celebrations, while failing to ponder on the most important truth behind Christmas.

God left the portals of heaven and dwelled in a physical body among us. He came to save us. He came to love us. He came to show us the truth. Will you be willing to focus on the core essential truth of Christmas this season? If so, you might want to camp in the midst of John’s Christmas story this year.

 

© December 24, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited:

 Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991.

Gangel, Kenneth O. John. Volume 4. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 114.

[3] Kenneth O. Gangel, John, vol. 4, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 13.

If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, Then Why is There Still so Much Turmoil?

linusIf you are like me, you love the Christmas classics that come on television every December. One of my favorite Christmas shows is Charles Schultz Merry Christmas Charlie Brown! The pivotal point of the cartoon is when Charlie Brown shouts out, “Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?” Linus, carrying his ever trusted blanket, then begins a monologue describing Christmas quoting Luke 2:8-14.

As Linus reads from Luke’s Gospel, one is left with the sense of peace as the angels proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14, NKJV).[1] The Bible greatly marks the Messiah with the sense of peace. Isaiah describes the Messiah as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).[2]

But many will ask, “If Jesus is the ‘Prince of Peace,’ then why is it that the world remains so violent and chaotic?” Shouldn’t the Prince of Peace have brought peace to the earth and goodwill to all humanity? Does this discredit Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah? No! Why? For the three reasons given below.

Jesus’ statement on a “sword.”

Many in Jesus’ day thought that the Messiah would come to bring peace on earth. However, Jesus confronts this idea in saying, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). NT scholar Craig Keener notes that

“It was normally believed that there would be great suffering before the end, and that the Messiah would lead his people in a triumphant war, followed by a time of peace. Jesus assures his listeners that the promised era of peace is yet some time off and goes on to explain the nature of the current sufferings and conflict” (Keener 1993, 74).

Jesus notes the division that would occur in following him. Even in one’s family, a person may find a commitment to Christ by one and rejection by another. Jesus concludes in saying that “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

The point is: due to the nature of Christ’s work, peace will not be brought to earth until a later time. However, the work that Christ would bring about ultimate peace. But does this mean that one cannot experience peace in the here and now?

 Jesus provides peace in this life.

Jesus does provide peace to the believer now. But, one will certainly note the presence of great turmoil in the world. So, how does the believer have peace?

The believer has spiritual peace that emanates from the Prince of Peace. Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus also said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus provides inner peace for one facing the most horrific of outer turmoil. Does this mean that the world will never experience peace?

 Jesus’ end deliverance of peace and the application of “Prince of Peace.”

If the preceding is true, then what did Isaiah mean when he called the Messiah the “Prince of Peace”? Was it a metaphor for the spiritual peace provided by the Messiah? Actually, no. Isaiah goes on to say, “Of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). Rydelnik explains that “The child will fulfill the promise of the Davidic covenant (cf. 2Sm 7:12-16), and establish the messianic kingdom through justice and righteousness” (Rydelnik & Vanlaningham 2014, 1025).

Thus, the passage looks to the end when the Messiah would usher in a final time of justice and peace. This is the same glimpse afforded to the believer in the book of Revelation. Jesus’ ultimate demonstration of peace will come at the end of time when sin is conquered, death is defeated, and peace will reign eternally.

Conclusion

The recitation of Linus in Merry Christmas Charlie Brown! provides the viewer with the message of Christmas. Christ has come to provide peace. In a sense, Christ has already provided peace to the believer through the comfort of his presence which steers the believer through even the most tumultuous waters. However, the ultimate fulfillment of peace will come when Christ returns.

Christ came once before. He is promised to come again. When he does, peace will reign supreme. Hold on to the peace of Christ! Hold on to the Prince of Peace!

 

© December 21, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited:

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1993.

Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. The Moody Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Bible Publishers, 2014.

 

[1] Scriptures marked NKJV come from the New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Those Hypocritical Christians! 4 Ways that Theological Truth Transcends Bad Behavior

For those who do not know my testimony, I left the ministry for seven years due to great doubts pertaining to the truthfulness of Christianity. I nearly became an agnostic…in fact, I seriously teetered with the idea for some time. My agnosticism wasn’t that I didn’t think that God couldn’t exist, but rather that I wasn’t sure that one could know God completely. This doubt was fueled by the lack of answers I was given by Christian leaders against the skeptical claims of the Jesus Seminar.[1] However, another element intensified the doubts that I possessed—Christian hypocrisy; that is to say, Christians who claimed to be devout but dismissed Christian teachings when it was convenient for them. Could I devote myself to something that held so many that refused to take its claims seriously?

I am not alone. In fact, one of the top-5 excuses given by those who do not want to attend church pertains to “those hypocritical Christians!” To make matters worse, the truthfulness of Christianity is often gauged by the behavior of its adherents. But is this a legitimate? Is the truthfulness of a movement based upon the actions of its adherents? As God brought me back to a strong faith which led me back into the ministry by apologetics, I learned that truth is transcendent. That is, truth exists beyond the scope of human opinions and/or actions. The truthfulness of any movement is found in four realms. It is within these realms that Christianity should be tested and not the actions of some of its so-called adherents.

1. Truth is transcendent in its reality.

Truth is not something that works for one person and not for another. Norman Geisler defines truth as that which “can be understood both from what it is and from what it is not” (Geisler 1999, 741). I really like the Greek term aletheia. It is the term that is translated as “truth.” Louw and Nida define the term as the following: “ἀλήθεια, ας f: the content of that which is true and thus in accordance with what actually happened—‘truth.’” (Louw and Nida 1996, 672). In other words, truth is defined as that which is in accordance to reality. Jesus uses the term aletheia when saying the “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).[2] In this one simple teaching, Jesus notes that truth exists, truth is knowable, and that truth is transformative. It can be demonstrated that Jesus is a historical person and that the New Testament is reliable. It can be demonstrated that God’s existence is a necessity. Thus, certain truths presented in the Bible can be supported by evidence. The reality of these truths transcends the bad behaviors of those claiming to be a Christian.

As this pertains to bad behavior with some of a movement’s adherents, one should note that truth transcends bad behavior. Allow me to illustrate. I am a huge Green Bay Packers fan. I love the team, I love the family atmosphere, I love that the team is in a small town, and I love the great history with the franchise. Nevertheless, the team can have a few bad moments. For instance, on January 18, 2015, the Green Bay Packers led the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game 19-7 entering into the 4th quarter. However, disaster struck and the Packers ended up losing to the Seahawks 28-22 in overtime. The Seahawks would go on to the 49th Super Bowl and Packers fans were left wondering, “What happened?” But, does this one bad play negate the 13 championships that the Packers had previously won? Does the one bad play negate the history of the team beginning on August 11, 1919 in a “dingy second-floor editorial room of the old Green Bay Press-Gazette building, located on Cherry Street in downtown Green bay” (www.packers.com/history/birth-of-a-team-and-a-legend) by the Indian Packing Company? The obvious answer is “no.” The history of the team transcends one bad game. The same is true for Christianity. The bad behaviors of some Christians do not discredit the historical reality of Christianity.

2. Truth is transcendent in its founder.

If one desires to know the truthfulness of a particular movement, one should evaluate the founder of the movement. For instance, if one desires to know why Protestantism began, then one needs to evaluate Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the early reformers. Why did they split from the Catholic Church? If one desires to know about Buddhism, then one should desire to know more about Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. The same is true with Christianity. If one desires to know about what Christianity stands for, look to its founder. What did Jesus say about himself? While space does not allow us to provide a full treatment of this issue, a person can tell a great deal about Jesus claim in saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you…I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-2, 6). Or, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).[3] Paul, a former enemy of Christ and later servant for Christ, wrote pertaining to Jesus that “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Look to Jesus for the case for Christianity and not to the bad behavior of some who claim to be of Christ.

3. Truth is transcendent in its claims.

The truthfulness of any religion or philosophy must be held by the claims made by the particular belief system. Christianity holds to certain foundational tenets: 1) the truth is knowable, 2) God exists, 3) God created all, 4) humanity is fallen, 5) Jesus came to redeem humanity through his crucifixion and resurrection, 6) salvation is found in Jesus, and 7) God will judge the living and the dead. Do the claims of Christianity match with reality?

A full treatment of this topic is not possible within one article. However, to find the truthfulness in Christianity’s claims requires one to investigate the essence of truth. Is truth knowable? To claim that truth is unknowable is a self-refuting claim, thus one can assert that truth is a reality and knowable. Second, God’s existence is a necessity as the existence of anything would require a transcendent intelligence: this supports the 2nd and 3rd tenets. Third, it is a certainty that human beings are not perfect individuals and are capable of doing great evil; making the 4th tenet intelligible. Jesus of Nazareth is a person of history. Manuscript evidence as well as other historical methods demonstrate great reasonability to the 5th tenet. If the first 5 tenets are true, then this lends credence to the 6th and 7th. An investigation of such claims requires much more depth than what is allowable in this article. Nevertheless, one should note that the truthfulness of Christianity does not rest upon its adherents, but rather upon the truth claims presented by Jesus and the early church.

4. Truth is transcendent in its parameters.

As this article has addressed the issue of truth compared to the bad behaviors of particular adherents, it should be noted that truth itself provides parameters. If someone were to ask for a wooden pencil, certain parameters must be met. The thing must be a writing instrument. The instrument should contain lead. The instrument should be made from a wooden casing. These are the parameters that constitute what is commonly known as a pencil. It should be noted that certain things are expected from one who is considered to be a Christian.

Certain parameters exist for a person to be considered a “Christian.” The apostle John in his first letter provides certain parameters that a genuine Christian will possess. They are: holiness (1 John 3:9; 5:18); love for others (1 John 4:7); acceptance of the truth found in Jesus (1 John 5:1); perseverance in one’s faith (1 John 5:1); and the testimony of God through the Holy Spirit’s presence (1 John 5:9-10). These parameters help one to determine those who are truly from God and those who are not (Matthew 7:15-20).

Conclusion

Have you been hurt in church? Have you been hurt by a person who claims to be a Christian? There is a saying that says, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” When one dismisses Christianity due to the bad actions of those claiming to be of Christ, a person does precisely just that. They dismiss claims that are transcendent due to individuals who may or may not be of Christ, or may be those who have simply lost their way. Understand that God’s existence and the truthfulness of Christ are a reality. If you have been hurt, incline yourself to the healing hands of God. For it is Christ who says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). If you learn the transcendent truth found in Christ, you may find that you will be given the power to forgive those who have hurt you and help transform a bad situation into a much better one.

Sources Cited

 “Birth of a Team and a Legend.” Packers.com. Accessed September 21, 2015. http://www.packers.com/history/birth-of-a-team-and-a-legend.html.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Copyright September 21, 2015. Brian Chilton

[1] This is not meant to degrade anyone. Many of those leaders had not been met with such questions. This should, however, show the great need for apologetics in the modern church.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Some hold that the statement is that of the apostle John summarizing Jesus’ earlier statements in the chapter. Nonetheless, the words relate back to the teaching of Jesus so they are still genuine to the teachings of Christ.

A Theology of Missions

When the term “missions” is used, great missionaries such as Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and/or William Carey come to mind. For others, missions may bring the thought of a Christian sitting amongst tribal peoples in a jungle. Yet, the term “missions” is understood to be, as Moreau and his colleagues describe it, the “specific work of the church and agencies in the task of reaching people for Christ by crossing cultural boundaries.”[1] Yet, one must inquire, what theological foundation exists for one to engage in missions? This paper will argue that missions is built upon biblical and systematic theological understandings about God. The paper will first examine two Old and New Testament texts that support missions. Next, the paper will examine the nature of God as he relates to missions work. In addition, the paper will examine two theological attributes of God and how they relate to missions endeavors. Then, two motifs pertaining to mission theology will be evaluated. Finally, the paper will demonstrate that missions should be part of the lives of missionaries, clergy, and the laity alike. In the first section, the paper will provide two Old and New Testament texts that support the field of missions.

Old and New Testament Texts that Support Missions

Strewn throughout the Bible, one will find evidence that God has been involved in missions endeavors since the fall of humanity. The first evidence of God’s mission work is found in Genesis 3:15. Moreau and his fellow authors call Genesis 3:15 the “protoevangelium…the promise that Jesus will come for all people.”[2]

In the so-called protoevangelium, God makes the promise to Adam and Eve, as well as to Satan—the instigator of the fall—that God would “put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, brackets mine).[3] Thus, the passage ensures that God would save humanity from the fall and the separation that exists between God and humanity. This solution would materialize in the Messiah who “takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Yet, within the Old Testament there exists another example of God’s mission mindset.

In Genesis 12:1-3, God calls Abraham, then known as Abram, to leave his homeland. God promises Abram that he would “make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). While God concerned himself with the so-called chosen people, known as the Israelites, God’s mission mindset was demonstrated as he sought to use the Israelites to reach other nations for his glory. As the psalmist recalled, “All of the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Psalm 22:27). Whereas the mission-mindedness of God is acknowledged in the Old Testament, the mission-minded nature of God is clearly demonstrated in the New Testament.

Sometime after the resurrection, Jesus meets eleven disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16). Jesus tells them that they are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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 28:19-20). Particular individuals who hold to extreme forms of cessationalism view the commands of Christ as applicable to only the eleven apostles at the time. Yet, William Carey, the patriarch of the modern missions movement, argued that “if the command of Christ to teach all nations be restricted to the apostles…, then that of baptizing should be so, too…then ordinary ministers who have endeavored to carry the Gospel to the heathens, have acted without warrant…[and] the promise of the divine presence in this work must so be limited.”[4] That is to say, if Christ’s command to evangelize all nations was only given to the apostles, then the promises offered by Christ were only given to the apostles. In addition, one must ponder the following: if the commands of Christ given in the Great Commission only applied to the apostles, then why was Matthew compelled to document Christ’s teaching in the first place?

Before the ascension of Christ, Jesus provides a model by which the apostles were to perform their missions work. Jesus instructed the apostles that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). From the instructions given by Jesus, the apostles were to begin where they were located—“in Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8). From there, the apostles were to reach outlying areas—“Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8). In the end, the apostles were to reach the world with the gospel message—“to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus’ command not only provides an example for the great emphasis that God places on missions, he also provides a model by which mission work can be accomplished.

The Nature of God and Missions

God’s attributes are so complex that not even the most brilliant of scholars could traverse the width and breadth of the canyon of his being. Notwithstanding, God has revealed to humanity certain elements of his nature and character. This paper affirms John S. Feinberg’s notion that the “simplest division of the attributes distinguishes those that reflect moral qualities of God and those that refer to non-moral qualities.”[5] The non-moral aspects of God’s character are far more complicated than the moral aspects, as the moral aspects are related to God’s dealings with humanity. Of the moral attributes as it relates to missions, God’s omnibenevolence stands supreme. Omnibenevolence refers to God’s all-loving nature. Geisler denotes that John refers love to God in such a way in 1 John 4:16 as if “applying the term to His essence.”[6] Thus, God’s essence is that of love. It is important to note that God’s love coexists with God’s holiness, thereby discrediting any universalistic methodological interpretations to salvation. Nevertheless, as it pertains to missions, God’s love is central. God does not desire that “any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, one would expect a loving God to be involved in missions activities. One must also query; do the non-moral attributes of God anticipate God’s involvement in missions?

How Mission Relates to God’s Aseity and God’s Omniscience

Two non-moral attributes of God, among many others, relate to God’s involvement in missions. The first attribute may sound bizarre to some readers; nevertheless it is the so-called “aseity of God.” J. I. Packer states that “The word aseity, meaning that he has life in himself and draws his unending energy from himself (a se in Latin means “from himself”), was coined by theologians to express this truth.”[7] Isaiah demonstrates this truth in proclaiming that “The LORD is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28). God’s aseity also includes the acknowledgement that “there are not properties independent of God upon which he depends in order to have the constitutional attributes he possesses”[8] as well as acknowledging that God is “totally immune to external influences so that nothing that happens in our world fazes him.”[9] So how does God’s aseity relate to missions?

God’s aseity impacts missions when one understands the concept that God’s salvific emphasis did not stem from something that God was forced to do. No higher authority pressed upon God the necessity to save souls because there is no higher authority than God. Rather, God chose to offer salvation to individuals not for the need or desire that God had in and of himself, but rather due to God’s good pleasure and loving nature. This demonstrates John Pipers’ point vividly in that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”[10] Therefore, missions is performed for the good of humanity not because of some deficiency in God. Missions work brings people to a saving relationship with the God of aseity. Due to this, one should consider it an honor that God would choose not only to save anyone, but to also use his people to do missions work. God relies upon nothing; therefore God does not need human help to reach others, but chooses to allow people the opportunity to reach others as part of his kingdom work.

Another missional aspect of God’s character is God’s omniscience. Timothy George defines God’s omniscience as God’s “comprehensive knowledge of all that was, is, and ever shall be.”[11] George also notes that God’s omniscience is a “corollary of his eternity.”[12] God’s omniscience indicates that God knows all events in the past, present, and future. God knows all contingencies. Therefore, God knows what a person would do, would not do, and would do under certain circumstances.[13] In correlation with God’s omniscience, God is also omnisapient. Geisler defines omnisapience as God’s “unerring ability choose the best means to accomplish the best ends.”[14] Since God is all-knowledgeable and all-wise, then God knows who would be saved, who would not be saved, and what it would take to reach those who would be saved. In combination with God’s power and love, one can clearly note that God’s plan to reach others will always be effective one way or another. God’s choice to use those in missions is an example of the person’s worth to God. Therefore, missions is a high calling for anyone and should never be taken lightly.

Two Key Motifs of Mission Theology: Jesus and the Holy Spirit

Scott Moreau and his colleagues provide six motifs that are fundamental to mission theology—“1) the kingdom of God, 2) Jesus, 3) the Holy Spirit, 4) the church, 5) shalom, 6) the return of Jesus.”[15] While all six motifs are important, two are critical for mission theology.

First, Jesus (i.e. Christology) is essential for missions. Moreau notes that “Jesus is central not only to the Christian faith, but also to the mission that is integrated into the faith.”[16] Jesus is the means by which individuals are saved. Peter and John made it clear before the Jewish council that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Without Jesus, no mission work would be necessary. All would be lost and there would be no plan of salvation. However, because Jesus came, salvation is available to all who would receive the salvation afforded to them by the invitation and revelation of the Holy Spirit. Piper states that “A new day has come with Jesus Christ. The people of God are being rebuilt in such a way that they will no longer fail in the task of reaching the nations.”[17] Jesus is the reason that mission work is possible. Therefore, a proper understanding of the person and work of Christ is of utmost importance as it relates to missions.

In addition, the Holy Spirit is essential for missions to work in the first place. It is impossible for anyone to come to faith without the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit of God. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus noted that “when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). It is impossible to convince someone to come to faith unless the Holy Spirit is drawing that person. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the lifeblood to missions. Without the Holy Spirit, there can be no success in any mission effort.

How Missions Relates to the Church

The previous sections have discussed the nature and attributes of God as God relates to missions. Yet, a person may inquire how mission work applies to the individual Christian. The universal church consists of all regenerate believers across the world and is comprised of various individuals in heaven and on earth. The universal church also consists of congregations which themselves contain individual believers. Without the work of each person, missions work would not be accomplished. Geisler is correct in noting that “whereas the universal church contains the whole body of Christ, the local church has only part of it. Christ, the Head of the church, is visible to members of the universal church who are in heaven, but He is the invisible Head of the local churches on earth.”[18] Thus, under the leadership of Christ, church leaders cast the vision for missions to the laity. The laity, responding to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, provides means for local and global mission work. Missionaries, who are called by the leadership of Christ, use the means afforded to them to spread the gospel message to particular areas. Great things can be accomplished when Christians heed and respond to the leadership of Christ Jesus.

Conclusion

This paper has demonstrated that the concept of missions is rooted in a proper biblical and theological understanding of God. It is clear that both the Old and New Testaments demonstrate that God has a global purpose to his salvific plan. God’s loving nature demonstrates his desire for people to join him for eternity, while God’s aseity and omniscience provides exemplifies the free choice God made to save the lost. The work of the incarnate Savior provided the means to salvation, thus allowing for missions; while the Holy Spirit is the imparter of grace. Thus, God is the agent who saves and illuminates, yet God chose to use his children to partake of the blessings of the kingdom. Missions is a critical aspect of Christian ministry. When one fails to understand one’s role in missions, one fails to understand the God who made missions possible.

The preceding consists of the academic work of its author. This paper has been scanned and submitted through SafeAssign. Any efforts to plagiarize the content of this paper will be detected by one’s institution of learning.

Bibliography

Carey, William. An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. Fourth Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009.

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

George, Timothy. “The Nature of God: Being, Attributes, and Acts.” In A Theology for the Church. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H, 2014.

Moreau, A. Scott, et. al. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.

Packer, J. I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1993. Logos Bible Software.

Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad: the Supremacy of God in Missions. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010. Kindle Edition.

Copyright July 20th, 2015. Brian Chilton

—–Footnotes—————————-

[1] A. Scott Moreau, et. al., Introduction World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 17.

[2] Ibid., 30.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture used in this paper comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] William Carey, An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed, Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 314

[5] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 237.

[6] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: All in One (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 585.

[7] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), Logos Bible Software.

[8] Feinberg, No One Like Him, 240.

[9] Ibid., 241.

[10] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: the Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), Kindle Edition.

[11] Timothy George, “The Nature of God: Being, Attributes, and Acts,” in A Theology for the Church. Daniel L. Akin, ed (Nashville: B&H, 2014), 197.

[12] Ibid.

[13] This is also known as Scientia Media, or Middle Knowledge, as popularized by Luis de Molina and philosopher William Lane Craig, a concept that this writer accepts.

[14] Geisler, Systematic Theology: All in One, 515.

[15] Moreau, et. al., Introducing World Missions, 80.

[16] Ibid., 81.

[17] Piper, Let the Nations be Glad, Kindle Edition.

[18] Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume, 1146.

Opinions or Truth: Which Shapes You?

Jesus was being interrogated by Pilate when the Prefect inquired, “’You are a king, then!’ asked Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ ‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate” (John 18:37-38).[1] Both Jesus and Pilate make tremendous points. Jesus directly pinpoints the lover of truth to himself while Pilate inquires about the very nature of truth.

Models of Truth

Recent matters have brought to the forefront the matter of truth as it is opposed to opinions. Do opinions shape truth or does truth shape opinions? When exploring the issue of truth, philosophers have determined three models that correspond to one’s relationship with truth. The coherence theory of truth considers “any coherent system of belief counts as a ‘true’ system of belief” (Ashford and Whitfield 2014, 56) However, the problem with this view is that a person can have a systematized belief based upon wrong premises. Such coherence does little to discover the reality of a particular thing or person.

Another model is the pragmatist theory of truth. Advocates of this theory propagate that “whichever beliefs prove to be invaluable instruments of action can be counted as truth” (Ashford and Whitfield 2014, 56). The trouble with this theory is that many evil things have been performed based upon a false belief system (e.g. Hitler’s Nazism, Colonial slavery, etc.).

The third model is one that this writer holds—and should be the one that anyone seeking the truth should hold—the correspondence theory of truth. This model claims that “truth is what corresponds with reality. Truth is independent of the human mind. Even if the human mind cannot recognize a particular truth, the truth of the matter still stands” (Ashford and Whitfield 2014, 56). Thus, truth exists whether the human does or not. The question has been asked, “If a tree falls and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The answer would be a resounding, “Yes!” The tree falls, sound waves are made; therefore sound is produced whether or not someone is around to hear it. Truth stands upon itself and not upon the one advocating it.

Yet, it would appear that many hold that truth is shaped by the individual’s opinions. When one engages social media, one will discover that a lot of emphasis is placed upon one’s opinions. Person A will say, “I want to say something that I want you to hear, but it is my opinion.” Person B say, “I want you to hear something different than what Person A was saying, but this is my opinion.” It would appear that three models shape a person’s opinion, and contrary to popular belief, not all opinions are created equal.

Opinions Driving Truth Claims (Personal Defense)

The first category of opinions is found to be those who use their opinion to drive truth. In this case, a person is not about discovering truth. Rather, such a person seeks to prove his or her opinion as truthful. Therefore, truth claims are shaped and remolded to fit the paradigm of belief. Such a one may or may not fit within the coherent theory of truth because most of the time such opinions are not well thought out, but are compiled to prove a particular point. Often this category of opinions is used to defend one’s actions, even when such actions are immoral. If a person watches daytime television and evaluates a person who has been caught in a bad act, one will quickly note how some outlandish things are said in order to defend a person’s action. Such a one will often never learn from his or her bad behaviors while holding on to this model.

Opinions Blending with Truth Claims (Political Defense)

The second category is far more deceptive. Many use elements of truth in order to prove a particular opinion. Such a person will do research and will evaluate truth claims, but will not allow the truth claims to come to their conclusion. While the first category blatantly uses logical fallacies, the logical fallacies in this category are much more subtle. For instance, a person could claim that Americans dislike soda Cheerwine. Such a person would interview people in urban areas where Cheerwine was not available asking them if they like Cheerwine. Suppose the survey was worded so that only the options “Yes “ or “No” were available to the question “Do you like Cheerwine”. Since most people in those areas never heard of Cheerwine, their answer would be “no.” However, the study was not fair since it did not engage individuals who had actually tried the drink. Often, the fallacies are not always easily evaluated. For instance, advocates of this position will use history to their advantage. Attempts at what is called historical revisionism, or rewriting past history to prove a present-day point, are often employed to prove opinions. For this reason, politicians will often fit within this category as truth claims are molded with one’s opinion to drive a particular end—exemplified by the pragmatist theory.

Opinions Conforming to Truth Claims (Philosophical Defense)

Lastly, the third category of opinions is found in those who allow their opinions to be shaped by truth. This category fits well with the correspondence theory. It should not be surprising that this is the most difficult of the three as one would require a great deal of research into a particular avenue in order to allow one’s opinion to be shaped by truth. Norman Geisler describes one who adheres to this philosophy as one who acknowledges that Truth is what corresponds to its referent. Truth about reality is what corresponds to the way things really are. Truth is “telling it like it is.” (Geisler 1999, 742). Such a person evaluates the truth, acknowledges the truth, accepts the truth, and allows the truth to mold their beliefs and opinions. Christian philosophers fit the model for this view. They have researched, evaluated, and allowed the truth to shape their opinion. It may not be that Christian philosophers agree with one another on every detail—far from it. However, they will agree on the fundamentals of truth. Truth has shaped them rather than them shaping truth.

Conclusion:

In the movie A Few Good Men, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise) interrogates Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson). Kaffee states, “I want the truth!” Jessup retorts, “You can’t handle the truth!” Can a person handle the truth? This is the question that everyone must ask themselves. Pilate, who inquired of the nature of truth, was met face-to-face with the greatest reality found in the universe—Jesus Christ! Yet, due to his political and personal opinions missed the opportunity to know the greatest Truth that one could ever find. So, you (the reader) must ask yourself—are your opinions shaping truth or is the Truth shaping your opinions? Furthermore, are you ready to handle the Truth?

Sources Cited:

Ashford, Bruce Riley, and Keith Whitfield. “Theological Method: An Introduction to the Task of Theology.” In A Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H, 2014.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.

© July 6, 2015. Brian Chilton

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture used in this article comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

Could a Big God Care about Small Things?

The movie Men in Black features Will Smith as Agent J and Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K. These agents seek out aliens who have immigrated among various societies on planet Earth. One of the memorable scenes in the movie comes from when Agents J and K interrogate an alien hid in the body of a pug named Frank. When asked about a particular item of interest, Frank the pug retorts, “You humans! When are you going to learn that size doesn’t matter? Just because something is important doesn’t mean it is not very, very small.” Wise words from a tiny pup.

Atheists and skeptics tend to fall in the same category that Frank the pug describes. Many skeptics cannot fathom how a great God could care about humans who, compared among the scope of the universe, are infinitesimally minute. Could such a God care about the little details of one’s life? As I have defended on this website, one can rest comfortably in the revelations—both natural (from the universe) and specific (given by special revelation by God in the Bible)—given for the existence of God. In like manner, one can rest in the knowledge that such a God cares for each person, even if such beings are infinitesimally small.

Two Examples of the Importance of Small Things

If God is concerned over small things, then one would expect that God would place a great emphasis on small things. There are multiple small things in the universe that hold great importance.

DNA

One such example is found in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA for short). DNA is a polymer made from units called nucleotides. The nucleotides are made up of information called nucelobases. These nucleobases include guanine (G), adenine (A), thyminie (T), or cytosine (C) as well as deoxyribose and phosphates. This information is arranged in such a way to create structures called chromosomes. DNA is responsible for the structure of organs, cellular division, and the transfer of information. DNA is critical for life. If the DNA is found to be in disarray, then life either becomes impossible, or one finds damaging mutations which cause great problems for the living thing suffering from such a mutation. All of this is to simply point out one important truth—DNA, although incredibly small, is of vast importance. Thus, the small yet vastly important nature of DNA designates the Creator’s emphasis on small things.

 Universal Structure

Another example of the Creator’s emphasis on small things is found in the particle structure of the universe. Parts of the universe are made up from the atomic structure. Atoms are made from three components—a proton (positive charge), a neutron, and an electron (negative charge). Atoms make up solid, liquids, gases, and plasma. Without the atomic structure, life would be impossible, and in fact, much of the universe would be impossible. Thus, atoms hold great importance, but are also incredibly small. Most atoms are around 1.67 x 10-27 to 4.52 x 10-25 kg. Or, it has also been suggested that atoms are around 100 pm (a ten-billionth of a meter). The universe is also constructed of a substance called dark matter. At the time of this article, not much is known of dark matter outside of the fact that it is an invisible form of matter which its evidence is inferred from its gravitational effects on visible matter, radiation, and the structure of the universe. Dark matter neither absorbs nor emits light. Scientists suggest that dark matter constitutes around 84.5% of the known universe. While dark matter is also infinitesimally minute, it is of vast importance. The point from this section is found in this—the Creator has placed great importance in small microscopic things. Such is even more apparent when one considers quantum mechanics (e.g. quarks and bosons). Therefore, while something may not be large, that thing may be of huge importance.

Evidence of God’s Concern for Small Things

If one is to concede God’s existence and were to concede the truthfulness of Jesus of Nazareth’s message, then one would find the care that God places on all things great and small. Jesus taught the following in his famous message popularly called the Sermon on the Mount: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they” (Matthew 6:26)?[1] Jesus goes on to say, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith” (Matthew 6:28-30)? Jesus’ teaching is clear. God cares for the most minute of things. Compared to humans, birds and grass seem insignificant. However, God cares for them. One could expand upon Jesus’ message to include DNA, the atomic structure, and the sub-atomic structure. All of these things, while small, are important to God. Therefore, human beings, being made in the image of God, hold great importance to God.

So what can we take from this article? The reader can note that everything in life both small and great holds great importance. While we place greater emphasis on the biggest, the strongest, the fastest, and the smartest; God places emphasis on all things—even the smallest, the weakest, the slowest, and the most intellectually challenged. Often, God chooses the small things to demonstrate the greatness of God’s power. The apostle Paul wrote that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). Do small things hold worth with God? Most assuredly they do!!! For this matter, we can learn a lot from Frank the pug from Men in Black.

© May 2015. Brian Chilton

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

4 Major Views Pertaining to the Millennial Reign of Christ

Eschatology, or the study of the end-times, is perhaps the most divisive area of the Christian faith, and rightfully so as eschatology deals with things that are yet to come as opposed to the things that have already taken place. Due a great degree, eschatology always holds a degree of speculation. However, some views hold greater biblical weight than others. Such is the case when one examines the various views pertaining to the Millennial Reign of Christ. Eschatological systems find their main difference when it comes to the interpreter’s view of the Millennial Reign of Christ. This article will provide information pertaining to the four major views pertaining to the Millennial Reign of Christ. But before one can evaluate the four views, one must first answer, just what is this Millennial Reign of Christ anyway?

Millennial Reign of Christ Defined

The idea of the Millennial Reign of Christ stems from Revelation 20:1-3. The text describes a time when Christ rules while Satan is bound. A millennium refers to 1,000 years, the time that Satan is said to be bound and which Christ will reign. Perhaps the best way to understand the concept is to read the text to which the doctrine is referenced. John writes,

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time” (Revelation 20:1-3).[1]

The question scholars ask relates to the literal vs. symbolic nature of the event. Jones, Gundersen, and Galan inquire, “Are these centuries intended to be taken as a precise time-period or as a symbol of something greater?”[2] Thus, interpreters approach this event from four different perspectives.

The Amillennial View

The amillennial view holds that the Millennial Reign of Christ is a symbolic gesture in Revelation that refers to the church age. During this reign of Christ on earth through the church, tribulations will naturally occur as the Church seeks to proclaim the gospel to the world. Eventually, amillennialists hold, the world will be evangelized and will progress until Christ returns, judges the world, and establishes the physical heaven and hell for all eternity. For the amillennialist, Revelation is symbolic and should not be taken literally. Thus, for the amillennialist, there is no future Millennial Reign of Christ. Now is the time that Christ rules through the church. Many mainstream denominations consider themselves amillennial. Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther are normally considered to be amillennial in their approach to eschatology.

Strengths:

Amillennialism places a high value on the work of the church and stresses the importance of the leadership of Christ. In addition, amillennialists are less prone to the sensational claims that other interpretations tend to hold.

Weaknesses:

Ed Hindson of Liberty University summed it up well in a video post when he claimed, “If God was literal in the fulfillments of prophecy in the past, what makes us think that God would not fulfill future prophecies in a literal manner?”[3] In addition, amillennialists certainly take certain portions of eschatological Scriptures seriously as they would hold to a literal return to Christ and a literal heaven and hell. Thus, where does symbolism end and literalism begin in the amillennial model?

The Postmillennial View

Postmillennialism is much like amillennialism with one major distinction; postmillennialists believe in a distinct time of tribulation for the church. Towards the end of the tribulation, Christ will be victorious through the church, the world will be evangelized, and the world will become better until Christ returns and establishes His kingdom which will lead into eternity. Famous postmillennialists include such Reformed thinkers as the great intellectual giant R.C. Sproul and B.B. Warfield. However, one small addendum needs to be added. Postmillennialists do not agree that a literal tribulational period will commence before the return of Christ.

Strengths:

Postmillennialists, like amillennialists, focus on God’s work in and through the church. In addition, postmillennialists stress evangelism and the change that the Christ can bring to a culture through the church.

Weaknesses:

Postmillennialism suffers from one, potentially fatal, blow; that is, that postmillennialists hold that the world will become better as time progresses and as the gospel is proclaimed. For 2,000 years the gospel has been proclaimed. At times, certain societies have improved due to their acceptance of the gospel message. But, most would concede that the world is becoming more and more evil as time progresses and as more people reject the grace of God.

The Dispensational Premillennial View (Pretribulational and Mid-Tribulational)

Dispensational premillennialists hold that God is working both through the church and Israel. Dispensationalists generally agree, especially in the progressive interpretation, that God is bringing forth salvation to the world. However, God is going to establish His Millennial kingdom through Israel. Thus, the promises made to Israel through Abraham still apply. Dispensational premillennialists hold that Christ is working through the church. But, a time is coming where God will focus His attention on Israel and will call out the church by an event called the Rapture. This Rapture event will leave behind many to endure a 7-year period termed the Great Tribulation. During the tribulation, God will judge the world and reestablish Israel as a world leader in which time Christ will return to establish a literal Millennial kingdom for 1,000 years on earth. During this time, some hold, judgment will occur which will lead towards the establishment of a physical heaven and hell. Within this paradigm, two different subsets are presented. Pretribulationalists holds that the Rapture will occur before the Great Tribulation as God will judge the world on a national level during this time. Midtribulationalists, otherwise termed pre-wrath, advocates hold that the church will endure a portion of the tribulation but will be Raptured out of the world before the wrath of God is poured out upon the earth. Some famous advocates of dispensational premillennialism include Paige Patterson (president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), John N. Darby, C.I. Scofield (author of the Scofield Reference Bible), John MacArthur, John Hagee, Norman Geisler, and Tim LaHaye (author of the Left Behind series).

Strengths:

Dispensational premillennialism is among one of the most literal interpretations of the Bible. Dispensational premillennialists hold the veracity of future prophecies in a literal fashion as they do past prophecies. Dispensational premillennialists are also pro-Semitic in their approach. Unfortunately, past amillennialists such as Martin Luther have taken an unfortunate anti-Semitic approach in their interpretations. Such is not the case with dispensational premillennialists as they hold that Israel still possesses great value to God.

Weaknesses:

Dispensational premillennialism is one of the newer systematized theologies pertaining to eschatology. However, while this view was not developed as it is now, some in the early church tended to hold views consistent with some attributes of dispensational premillennialism, termed chiliasm. However, it would be anachronistic to claim that any early church leader would completely be considered dispensational in their approach. In addition, dispensational premillennialists are perhaps the most prone towards sensationalism. The church has been plagued with individuals attempting to pinpoint the date and time that the Rapture event would occur.

The Historical Premillennial View (Posttribulational)

The last view pertaining to the Millennial Reign of Christ is held by those who are historical premillennialists. Historical premillennialists believe in a literal time of tribulation. However, historical premillenialists, sometimes called post-tribulationalists, hold that the Rapture and the Return of Christ are the same event. Thus, the seven-year tribulation will usher in the return of Christ. In the historical premillennialist view, the church will endure the seven-year tribulation. After the period of time is over, Christ will return to establish His kingdom on earth, judgment will occur, and then after Armageddon, eternity in heaven and hell will begin. Unlike postmillennialists, historical premillennialists hold that the world will progressively become worse until the time that Christ reappears. Famous historical premillennialists include Albert Mohler, Jr. (president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, Gordon Clark, and Millard Erickson. It must be noted that many in the early church such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Polycarp. Some trace the view back to the Apostle John himself.

Strengths:

Historical premillennialism enjoys the support of many giants in the faith (both modern and ancient). Like dispensational premillennialism, historical premillennialism is very literal in its approach in its interpretation of Scripture. Unlike dispensational premillennialism, historical premillennialism is far less likely to become imbibed by the sensationalism in which some dispensationalists find themselves.

Weaknesses:

This view holds the least amount of weaknesses of any view. However, some opponents of the view, as well as dispensational premillennialism, claim that there must have been some reasons that the church eventually parted ways with the interpretation. Also, some Reformed historical premillennialists find themselves in a peculiar situation as they, on the one hand, promote Augustine’s views pertaining to election, but, on the other hand, find themselves battling Augustine in his perspective for amillennialism.

Conclusion

It must be noted that this writer has not completely settled his viewpoint concerning eschatology at the time this article was released. However, I find myself gravitating around a premillennial perspective. For me, postmillennialism is certainly out as no one could claim that the world is getting better unless they were delusional. Amillennialism is attractive because it is less complicated in its approach. The church does its work and then Christ comes. End of story. However, as I find myself as one who takes the claims of the Bible seriously, I find myself gravitating around a premillennial perspective. Both dispensational and historical versions of premillennialism hold some attractive aspects. Thus, while this writer cannot promote a precise eschatological paradigm for you the reader, I can state that premillennialism seems to be a better option than either amillenialism or postmillennialism.

Chart not original to Pastor Brian Chilton. All rights reserved to the authors of the chart.
Chart not original to Pastor Brian Chilton. All rights reserved to the authors of the chart. Note that historical premillennialism is termed post-tribulational premillennialism on this chart.

11/17/14

 © Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

 

 

Bibliography

Hindson, Ed Hindson and Daniel Mitchell. “The Seventy Weeks of Daniel.” Video (2012). Liberty University. Accessed November 17, 2014.

Jones, Timothy Paul Jones, David Gundersen, and Benjamin Galan. Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy. Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing, 2011.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

[2] Timothy Paul Jones, David Gundersen, and Benjamin Galan, Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy (Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing, 2011), 67.

[3] Ed Hindson and Daniel Mitchell, “The Seventy Weeks of Daniel,” Video (2012) Liberty University.

The Human Soul: What Is It and Why Should One Believe in It?

Recently, my son joined my wife and I as we attended the funeral of a dearly beloved friend. My son asked the question, “Why is she lying there?” My wife answered and said, “Honey, that’s just her body. Her soul has gone to be with the Lord.” Then, my son asked me the most challenging question yet, he said, “Daddy, what is a soul?” I compared the human soul to an electrical current. It is given by one that generates the power; it does its work; and then returns to the generator. In like manner, God gives us a soul which is our living, inner-being, and then one day God requires it back from us. Afterwards, I really began to wonder if I answered the question thoroughly enough for my young son. How would you answer the question? Furthermore, how does the Bible answer the question? That will be the topic of this article as we ask what is the human soul, and should the Christian believe in the existence of the human soul?

The Old Testament writers use the term nephesh to refer to the human soul. When used of God, “it refers to God as an immaterial, transcendent self, a seat of mind, will, and emotions, etc.” (Moreland 2014, 45). When used of a person, it can refer to a person’s “life itself or to a vital principle/substantial entity that makes something animated or alive” (Moreland 2014, 45). Moreland also states that “there are passages in which ‘nephesh’ refers to the continuing locus of personal identity that departs to a disembodied afterlife as the last breath ceases” (Moreland 2014, 46). What? The Old Testament teaches that an afterlife exists for the human being? Yes.

The Old Testament writers also used the term ruach to describe the soul, or spirit, of a person. Moreland suggests that the two terms are used in collaboration with one another. Yet, the two terms suggest different things. “First, ‘ruach’ is overwhelmingly the term of choice for God…and, second, ‘ruach’ emphasizes the notion of power” (Moreland 2014, 49). Therefore, one could deduce from the Old Testament terms ruach and nephesh that the Old Testament clearly teaches in the existence of the human soul. But what about the New Testament?

Two terms are also used in the New Testament to describe the soul or spirit. The term pseuche is used to address a person’s mind or intellect. The term pneuma, a term used to describe the Holy Spirit (hagios tou pneumon), can mean life, wind, breath, or the inner man.

The New Testament clearly teaches that the human soul exists after the human body ceases to function. The writer of Hebrews states, “You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). In this passage of Scripture, the writer mentions the “spirits of the righteous” as indicative of individuals who have passed from this life and awaiting the resurrection.

i-am-the-resurrection-john-lautermilch

In Luke 23:46, Jesus is said to “give up the spirit.” Moreland states three things about the usage of the phrase “giving up the spirit.”

“(1) Jesus committed Himself, not His breath, to God (Luke 23:46); (2) this was a standard way of referring to the disembodied dead in intertestamental Judaism (e.g. 2 Esdras 7:78…); (3) Luke 24:37-39 clearly uses ‘spirit’ much like ‘rephaim’ is used in the Old Testament—as a disincarnate person…” (Moreland 2014, 60-61).

Thus in all of these references, one can deduce that the human soul is a conscious, eternal (from the point of birth onward…much like the geometrical definition of a ray), living entity that constitutes the real nature of a person. The body may change and transform over time, but the real “ego” (or soul) will remain forever.

While space and time does not allow us to investigate the nature of Christian dualism, it should be noted that the Christian should hold to a form of dualism. Dualism is defined by J. P. Moreland as “The view that the soul is an immaterial thing different from the body and the brain” (Moreland 2014, 19). If the Christian does not believe in some form of dualism, a couple of problems emerge. One, the Christian monist (one who holds that the soul and body are part of one part and cannot be separated) will have difficulty explaining certain biblical truths, such as Jesus’ promise to the crucified man that the man would join Jesus that very day in Paradise (Luke 23:43). If a disembodied state did not exist, then the claim of Jesus holds no truth or must be evaluated in a different fashion. The clear reading of the text suggests that the crucified man would join Jesus in Paradise in a disembodied state. Second, the Christian monist will have trouble in holding anyone accountable. If a person only consists of biological processes, then there is no way to hold anyone accountable for any action. The reason is that a person’s body changes. The molecular structure of a person’s body changes over time to the point that one who committed a crime in the 1980s would be a completely different person in the 2010s. The only way to hold one accountable is if one accepts the position that individuals have a non-changing inner-person called the “soul.” This “soul” survives death and will rejoin the body at the final resurrection.

j.p. moreland the soulFor more information on the human soul, check out J. P. Moreland’s book titled The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters published by Moody Press.

 

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2007).

Moreland, J. P. The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters. Chicago: Moody Press, 2014.

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

Was God a Bad Parent?

In this day and age, it seems that the more vulgar a cartoon or program is, the more popular it becomes. With this being the case, a vulgar atheist cartoon is making its rounds online and on social media. One of the many growing offensive anti-religion sites is called “The Atheist Pig.” The comic is a vulgar, rancid display of the juvenile, invasive, ad hominem style that marks many atheist online communities. While the site claims to attack all religious beliefs, Christianity is clearly the primary target. One particular strip addressed God’s morality as a parent. The strip indicated that God was a bad parent since God killed His Son. However, does this accurately identify the New Testament’s teaching on the doctrine of atonement? This article will address the question, “Was God a bad parent for allowing His Son to be killed?” Four fundamental truths must be understood in order to answer this question.

 Jesus picture

Jesus Was God

Advocates of the “God is a Bad Parent” motif clearly do not understand Christian theology. Therefore, Christian theology should be clarified for the believer and adversary alike. Perhaps this view is stemmed from a misunderstanding of John 3:16 which states that “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life(John 3:16, NLT). Perhaps the skeptic thinks that God forcefully handed over His Son and negligently allowed Him to be killed. The view is flawed in that the advocate fails to understand that Jesus (the Son) is understood to be God. Yes, Jesus (the Son), Yahweh (the Father), and the Holy Spirit are three distinct personas, but they are part of the same Godhead. Jesus understood Himself to be divine. Jesus said, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). In fact, Jesus would get in trouble with the Jewish authorities over such claims. But not only did Jesus understand Himself to be God, the disciples understood the same thing about Jesus. John clarifies all doubt when he writes of Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Also, God Himself claimed Jesus as His Son as on several occasions a voice from heaven was heard saying “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matthew 3:17, NLT). So, the picture of God negligently handing over His Son is a misconception. It was God Himself that took on the sacrifice for the good of humanity.

Gethsemane

Jesus Died Willingly…He was Not Forced

As previously noted, God Himself took on the problem of sin. In addition, it should be noted that God was not forced to cure the problem of sin (which will be addressed in the final section of this article). Jesus died willingly for the good of humanity. In fact Jesus said, “This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father” (John 10:17-18). Did the Father only love the Son because of the sacrifice? No. Remember, the Father and Son are one. Perhaps Jesus is talking about the work being done. It had the Father’s approval because God knew the end result. Nonetheless, for the purpose of this article, it should be remembered that Jesus gave Himself freely because of His love for humanity.

 cain and abel

The Sacrifice Saved Humanity from Their Own Destruction

Along with the misconception of bad parenthood, Christian adversaries purport that God sent Himself to save humanity from Himself. However, this does not adequately present the full picture of the atonement. The sacrifice of Christ is better understood as God coming to save humanity from itself. When a person evaluates the growing depravity of our culture and the coinciding lack of faith by the populace, a clear parallel is found. Humans do not have a good track record when living according to their own whims and fancies. That is where humanism leads. However, when one understands the great virtues found in the sacrifice of Christ and His selflessness, one can appreciate how such virtues can transform societies for good. Societies are much better when individuals live selfless lives instead of selfish lives. Only Christianity can provide a clear view of such selflessness.

sin graph

Holiness and Sin Are Irreconcilable and Must Be Dealt With Accordingly

Why was the sacrifice necessary? Could God not just look the other way? No, because of a logical inconsistency. Holiness and sin are just as opposed as light and darkness. Holiness is “in relation to God refers climactically to his moral perfection. His holiness is manifest in total righteousness and purity” (Williams 2001, EDOT, 562). Holiness knows no sin. In contrast, sin cannot be holy. One sin demerits holiness. No one can be holy as long as one has sin. Sin is the lack of moral perfection. Therefore, holiness and sin cannot coexist. So, how does God handle the sin problem? God has two options.

Holiness Can Destroy, or Isolate, Sin

Unatoned sin cannot stand before a holy God. This is why a place called hell exists. Hell was never intended for human beings. Jesus said that hell was “prepared for the Devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41)! Thus, when a souls reject the atoning, loving work of Christ performed for them, only one alternative exists: the soul must be separated from God’s holiness; not for God’s protection, but because sin cannot coexist in God’s presence. But thankfully, another option exists.

            Holiness Can Atone Sin

God can also atone sin. Because of God’s justice, God cannot simply pretend that the sin does not exist. However by the love of God, God can pay the penalty for the sin. That is essentially the definition of atonement. As L. L. Morris states, “Christ has taken our place, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Our part is simply to respond in repentance, faith, and selfless living” (Morris 2001, EDOT, 114). Faith is dependence upon God and the acceptance of the work done at the cross. Thus, a person’s sins are atoned and the person is able to live eternally in the presence of God with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, and faithfulness.

the atonement synopsis

Conclusion

Is God the Father a bad parent for allowing His Son to be sacrificed? Absolutely not! God knew the end result. God knew that His Son would be raised back to life. God knew the transformation that would come in the lives of many. God knew the hope that many would have. God knew the bliss and joy that would come from this sacrifice to countless individuals. God did not just send His Son to save us. When the person of Christ is understood, one will find that God Himself visited humanity and saved us from ourselves.

praying

 If you have not experienced the salvation offered through Christ, why not do so now? Repent of your sins and pray a prayer similar to this one:

“Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and I do not deserve eternal life. But, I believe You died and rose from the grave to make me a new creation and to prepare me to dwell in your presence forever. Jesus, come into my life, take control of my life, forgive my sins and save me. I am now placing my trust in You alone for my salvation and I accept your free gift of eternal life.”

 

Bibliography

 All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009.

Morris, L. L. “Atonement.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

Scripture marked “NLT” comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2007.

Williams, J. R. “Holiness.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

 

Copyright. Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

50 Shades of Green: The Problems Associated with a Greed-Driven Life

There is concern among the Christian community about an ultra-erotic novel titled 50 Shades of Grey. While it must be admitted that this writer knows very little about the novel, it is certain that the Christian needs to avoid those things that would tempt them. While I will leave the book 50 Shades of Grey to be critiqued by another more knowledgeable about the book than myself, it does seem to me that there is another problem. For the sake of argument, let us call this problem 50 Shades of Green. What is 50 Shades of Green? It refers to a greed-driven life. While there is nothing wrong with possessing nice things, especially if one has worked hard for those things; there is something wrong about a life that is focused more on possessions and power than on the things in life that really matter (God, family, friendships, parenting, and the like). The Bible presents at least four problems that come by living a greed-driven life. Those four problems will be addressed in this article.

money bag

Greed Brings Immorality

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy 6:10). Some have misinterpreted this verse to claim that “money is the root of all evil.” However, Paul writes that the “love” of money is the core root of evil. Thus, a greed-driven life is a catalyst for immorality. Have you ever thought about what drives individuals to rob banks, steal information from another person’s bank account (e.g. identity theft), and even commit atrocious acts of abuse? Greed is the engine that drives such actions. It stems from the desire to have more.

While there is nothing wrong in one desiring to improve one’s life, it is wrong when one has an incessant desire, or craving rather, for more things. Part of the problem is that a person will never know contentment under such circumstances. I have known more than one person who has worked themselves to an early grave. Why? Perhaps, it came from a desire to possess more or to do better than everyone around them. In such cases, a person will not know peace and contentment. Rather, for such a one, life will be one continuous competition in which no ultimate winner will ever emerge.

Money_Dollar_Sign_Money_Clipart

Greed Brings Hypocrisy

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence! Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so the outside of it may also become clean” (Matthew 23:25-26). Jesus said of the Pharisees that they were guilty of hypocrisy. Why did they become hypocrites? Greed! Recently, Eric Metaxas wrote a powerful article for the Christian Post titled What We Can Learn from Young Atheists: What Turned Them Off Christianity. Metaxas writes, “Here’s something that one of the students told Larry Taunton; he said, “Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven’t seen too much of that” (Metaxas 2014, http://www.christianpost.com/news/learning-from-young-atheists-what-turned-them-off-christianity-124151/). The Pharisees were not changed by their belief system. Jesus called them on their hypocrisy. The Pharisee’s hypocrisy was driven by greed. They wanted people to look to them for answers. They wanted to be liked. They wanted power. They wanted to have all that came with fame and popularity. However, the Pharisees sacrificed their integrity at the altar of greed. Jesus teaching and Metaxas’ article should remind us that we should not allow greed to warp our mentality. Greed should not cause us to warp the message of the Bible in favor of entertainment. Greed should not cause us to be so driven by proclamation that we fail to undergird the message by a close, personal relationship with God. Perhaps, part of the weakened state of the American church stems from congregations placing more focus and attention on the building in which they worship instead of the God in whom they serve.

money-hi

Greed Brings Idolatry

“Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature:  sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Atheists and agnostics will commonly call themselves “free-thinkers.” Yet, it seems that once one enters a “free-thinking community,” one loses the freedom to believe in God. If one chooses to believe in God in the “free-thinking community,” the community may not be as open to them as they once were. So, how free-thinking is the “free-thinking community”? Nonetheless, a greed-driven life leads one to idolatry. Idolatry is a lifestyle that leaves God out of the midst. Idolatry is the worship of a material thing over the Creator. It should be of no surprise that the “free-thinking community” refers to themselves as “pagans” or “the godless.” The free-thinkers do worship something. Perhaps the object of their worship is found in themselves. The object of worship could be that of their perception of science. The object of worship could even be in the free-thinker’s own fight against religion. Whatever the case may be, something is still worshiped.

As tragic as it is for the free-thinker, it is far more tragic for the believer to fall into greed’s idolatrous trap. When a person claims to be a Christian, the person should realize the value of life and of creation in general. When anyone allows greed to take control, the person will then justify his or her actions to obtain a particular thing. For a Christian, this may allow for unChristlike behavior. The Christian should remember that Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (John 14:15). How much do you love Jesus as opposed to materialism?

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Greed Brings Atrophy

“They will exploit you in their greed with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep” (2 Peter 2:3). Peter was writing to the church concerning false prophets in the end days. In fact, I would suggest that every believer makes oneself familiar with the teachings of 2 Peter chapter 2. Peter warns the church about the problem of greed. A greed-driven life will lead one towards atrophy (or destruction). One will find that the more one is driven by greed, the less one is concerned about family, friends, or even God.

I will never forget a time when I met a Christian businessman. He was asking about how serious he should take the commands of Jesus in the workplace. I told him that he should take the teachings of Jesus very seriously. However, there were others who tried to justify his actions in business. I admit that I do not know what those actions entailed. But, if Jesus is God incarnate (which I believe He is) and if Jesus is the truth (which I believe He is), then what He taught and what He instructed in how we should live should be taken seriously, regardless of whether the context is in business, or in the life of one’s family. Now obviously, context is the rule. Nations cannot turn the other cheek whilst they are being bombed. They must protect their citizens. Of course, Jesus was not addressing national polity in His messages. Jesus was addressing individuals. Context is the key. Nonetheless, the clear teachings of Jesus should be followed by the one who claims Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Otherwise, a person will find oneself eroding in their relationship with God and in their relationships with others.

 

Conclusion

Do you need evidence that greed erodes? Just look around you. Nations will war against other nations because one nation wants what the other possesses: the driving force—greed. Businesses will ruthlessly overtake every other smaller business that they can drive out of business: the driving force—greed. Companies will charge hidden fees to obtain more and more of your money: the driving force—greed. Groups of individuals will ruthlessly take the lives of others that cause them problems: the driving force—greed. American sports constantly face union strikes that often interrupt American pastimes: the driving force—greed. The NCAA is potentially facing an implosion: the driving force—greed (be it from players or from the NCAA…you be the judge). The United States of America was once the greatest superpower in the world. The nation’s standing is eroding: the driving force behind this erosion—greed (and the rejection of God). Why do great churches crumble? Why do great leaders fall? The reason…they begin to look more upon themselves and their desires than toward the direction and leadership of the One who first gave them life: God. Greed is a dangerous monster. Don’t be found to hold 50 Shades of Green. Be found to be driven by God…not greed. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate the one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24, NLT).

fifty shades of green

 Bibliography

 Metaxas, Eric. “What we can learn from young atheists: what turned them off Christianity.” Christian Post.com. (August 1, 2014). http://www.christianpost.com/news/learning-from-young-atheists-what-turned-them-off-christianity-124151/. (Accessed August 4, 2014).

Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the Holman Christian Standard Version. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009.

Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2007.

The 5 Minimal Facts Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

Someone once said that if you have three Baptists, you will have four opinions. The statement alludes to the fact that it is difficult for Protestant Baptists to find common ground (being a Baptist I can say such a thing). Let’s face it; it is difficult to find common ground on anything. The same holds true for scholarship. However when general consensus is held, it generally confers that the evidence is strong for a given thing or event.

Individuals may find it interesting that there exists a general consensus among biblical and historical scholars concerning certain events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. One may find it even more surprising that there is a general consensus among said scholars concerning the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Gary Habermas and Mike Licona have presented what they term the “minimal facts approach” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 46). Minimal facts are those things that which “nearly all scholars hold, including skeptical ones” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 46). Therefore the minimal facts data only presents data that are “strongly evidenced…[and] granted by virtually all scholars on the subject, even the skeptical ones” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 47). There are at least five minimal facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The minimal facts are:

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Minimal Fact #1:       Jesus died by crucifixion by the order of Pontius Pilate

It is universally held that Jesus was crucified under the order of Pontius Pilate. The only individuals who would ever deny this fact are those who are deluded by the “Jesus Myth” ideology (those that hold that Jesus was a fictional character). No serious scholar would deny the existence of Jesus. During a debate with John Lennox, even skeptic Richard Dawkins conceded that Jesus was a person of history (see the confession at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5EjA-JNiVk). Along with the fact of Jesus’ existence, one must admit that Jesus was crucified under the order of Pontius Pilate.

Crucifixion was a torturous form of execution that was implemented by the Romans to quiet rebels and dissenters. Cicero writes that crucifixion was “that most cruel and disgusting penalty” (Cicero, Against Verres 2.5.64). The fact that Jesus was crucified in this manner is attested by the fact that all four gospel accounts proclaim that Jesus died in this fashion. Matthew writes, “Then [Pilate] released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified” (Matthew 27:26). Mark writes, “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (Mark 15:15). Luke writes, “So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will” (Luke 23:25). John writes, “Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’…So he delivered him over to be crucified” (John 19:15-16). In addition, extra-biblical citations from Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian of Samosota and others identify Jesus as having been crucified. So much is the evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion that even skeptic John Dominick Crossan wrote, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be” (Crossan 1991, 145). It is for this reason that Jesus’ crucifixion is one of the minimal facts.

 risen Jesus

Minimal Fact #2:       The disciples claimed to have seen the risen Jesus

As surprising as it may sound, Habermas and Licona write, “There is a virtual consensus among scholars who study Jesus’ resurrection that, subsequent to Jesus’ death by crucifixion, his disciples really believed that he appeared to them risen from the dead” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 49). Again, all the gospels present Jesus as risen from the dead. While the authenticity of Mark’s ending after 16:8 is disputed, Mark still presents Jesus as risen and assumes that Jesus would…and in fact did…meet with the disciples after the resurrection. For instance, Mark writes that the messengers of God told the women at the tomb, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6-7). So even if Mark’s longer ending is not authentic, the first 8 verses of Mark still presents Jesus as risen from the dead and that He would appear to the disciples. Since Mark is writing after the fact, Mark implies that Jesus did in fact meet with the disciples.

Perhaps the most important biblical creed that supports the resurrection is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. The creed dates back to the time of Christ. The creed states that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Aramaic term for Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7). Paul then records that he himself saw the risen Jesus. A multitude of other creeds exist in the New Testament that supports the resurrection of Jesus. Clement of Rome, a first-century Christian who apparently knew the apostles of the Lord wrote,

Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand” (Clement of Rome, “First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” XLII).

Therefore, Clement provides additional evidence for the appearance of Jesus to the disciples. That is why that the apostles’ belief that they had seen the risen Jesus is a minimal fact.

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Minimal Fact #3:       Paul converted from an antagonist of Christianity to an apologist for Christianity after having claimed an experience with the risen Jesus

While one may wonder what Paul has to do with the resurrection of Jesus, when one understands the reason behind Paul’s transformation, one will understand its association. Paul was a well-educated Jew. Paul said that he had lived “according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5). Paul even said that he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6). Yet, something happened to Paul. Instead of persecuting the church, Paul was an advocate for the church. It all changed due to Paul’s experience with the risen Jesus. Paul’s transformation, says Habermas and Licona, is “well documented, reported by Paul himself, as well as Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origen. Therefore, we have early, multiple, and firsthand testimony that Paul converted from being a staunch opponent of Christianity to one of its greatest proponents” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 65). The evidence is also found in the establishment of several churches by Paul. For this reason, Paul’s conversion after having seen the risen Jesus is listed as a minimal fact.

 st james

Minimal Fact #4:       James, the brother of Jesus, converted to Christianity after having an experience with the risen Jesus

Like the third minimal fact, the fourth minimal fact concerns the conversion of a skeptic turned believer. James was one of the brothers of Jesus. John records that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry. John writes, “For not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5). Yet, James became a believer and a strong, influential leader of the early church. The early creed in 1 Corinthians 15 lists James as one who had encountered the risen Jesus. James is listed as an early church leader. For Paul writes of his trip to Jerusalem, “But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). James would believe strongly in the Lord Jesus. James even writes that “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). James’ works would prove that his faith was very much alive as he was eventually martyred. Habermas and Licona report that James’ “martyrdom is attested by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 68). James’ conversion was so strong that it is listed as an indisputable minimal fact.

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Minimal Fact #5:       The Empty Tomb

Surprisingly, the final minimal fact is not as well-accepted as the first four. However, there is strong evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty by the earliest disciples. While this fact is not universally accepted by scholars, it is strongly affirmed by most scholars. Gary Habermas shows that “roughly 75 percent of scholars on the subject accept the empty tomb as a historical fact” (Habermas & Licona 2004, 70). Habermas also reports that “There were apparently reports in Palestine that caused the emperor to issue an exceptionally strong warning against grave robbing, which was punishable by death (Nazareth Decree)” (Habermas 1996, 185). Not only does archaeology imply an empty tomb, the Bible states that there was an empty tomb. Mark writes that the angel said, “He has risen; he is not here…And they went out and fled from the tomb” (Mark 16: 6, 8). John also reports that “Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (John 20:6-7). Therefore, the biblical evidence strongly supports an empty tomb.

Justin Martyr refers to the empty tomb when he writes in his response to Trypho,

And though all the men of your nation knew the incidents in the life of Jonah, and though Christ said amongst you that He would give the sign of Jonah, exhorting you to repent of your wicked deeds at least after He rose again from the dead, and to mourn before God as did the Ninevites, in order that your nation and city might not be taken and destroyed, as they have been destroyed; yet you not only have not repented, after you learned that He rose from the dead, but, as I said before you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilæan deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven” (Justin Martyr, Trypho, CVIII).

Since archaeology, biblical, and non-biblical records support the empty tomb, in addition to the tradition that Constantine’s mother Helena successfully found the tomb which was still venerated by Jerusalem Christians despite Rome’s defilement of the site, provides a strong case for the historicity of the empty tomb, thus making it one of the five minimal facts supporting the resurrection of Jesus.

 

Conclusion

A great deal of consensus exists for these five facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus. This does not necessarily indicate that consensus indicates that something is correct because at one time consensus held that the earth was flat. However, scholarly consensus along with the archaeological evidence, and biblical and non-biblical references that were provided provided presents one with a strong case for the authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. One may be inclined to claim, “Yeah, but there are SOME scholars who deny that Jesus existed.” Well, there are SOME individuals who claim that the Holocaust did not occur. But if one is going to be a seeker for truth, one must accept not only Jesus of Nazareth’s historical existence, but one must also accept the crucifixion, burial, and apparent resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is in my opinion that the resurrection itself is one of the most verifiable historical events of antiquity. If the resurrection is true, then there is great hope that our deaths do not serve as the end of our history, but the exciting beginning to a new level of existence…that is, if one has faith in Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Cicero. Against Verres 2.5.64.

Clement of Rome. “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Volume 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Crossan, John Dominick. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin: College Press, 1996.

_______________, and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

 Martyr, Justin. “Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Volume 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

 

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.