Results tagged “Revelation” from Reformation21 Blog

How Can We Know God?

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In my first article on the topic of theology proper, I discussed why we must know the God who created us. I will now explain how we can know that God whose ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts higher than our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Christianity is a religion of revelation, and our God is a God who reveals himself. Perhaps you, like me, experience dark days when you feel that God is distant or even absent from your life, but it is a great comfort to know that God has not left us as ignorant orphans. He has condescended and spoken, authoritatively and finally, into our lives. Human history is the story of the revelation of God.

There are two ways that God has chosen to reveal himself to us. The first is typically called general revelation, or alternatively natural revelation. This is the basic knowledge of God we see expressed in his created works, which image God to us. We use the word "image" because no created thing is exactly like God. Rather, creation reflects something of who God is. (More on that in a moment.)

The second way God reveals himself is through special revelation. Here we should think primarily of the Word of God, but for the purposes of this article, I am going to break special revelation down into three sub-categories that highlight different aspects of God's condescension to man (in the sense of stooping to our level like a loving parent, not patronizing us like someone haughty). Throughout salvation history, God has revealed himself more directly and completely through his actions in history, his written Word, and the incarnation of the Son of God.

Keeping this in mind, here are the four ways that we can know God through his revelation.

  1. Creation

God's revelation of himself in his created works is his general or natural revelation. In one of the chief texts on the subject, the Apostle Paul wrote, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." (Romans 1:20) This does not mean that everything necessary for salvation can be grasped through glancing at a poppy field. Rather, it means that the moral law of God is written on our hearts from birth, and creation itself provides a basic knowledge of God to us: namely, it points to his existence.

As the Psalmist wrote, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; / And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands." (Psalm 19:1) The Belgic Confession also affirms that God is known, "First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God."[1]

How can creation do this? After all, plenty of people study the natural world and remain unconvinced of the existence of God. I think it is helpful to remember here that Paul speaks of a knowledge that is available to us in creation, placed there for the taking, but which many of us will ultimately reject because of the hardness of our hearts. It is through this basic knowledge of God and his moral law that every proposition we make, moral or otherwise, ultimately makes sense, for if there is no ultimate source of morality or truth, then the universe is simply a teeming chaos, and we cannot know anything for certain. Paul says we sense this instinctively, but many of us "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." (Romans 1:18)

The deeper reason that creation provides knowledge of God to us is because it is a reflection of God's character. Note: It does not contain God's character, duplicate it, or even provide exact and complete knowledge of it. It reflects God's character as an image is reflected in a mirror, or to use a better example, the way a photograph shows us its subject. If you think of an old, grainy photograph in particular, it is not a completely true likeness, but it tells you something about the subject. Human beings, more than any other created thing, are made specially in God's image, as scripture tells us.

"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Genesis 1:26-27)

This concept of imaging is helpful to understanding God's revelation of himself to us. The Greek word we translate as "image" is eikόn, which is perhaps best defined as "a likeness or manifestation".[2] Another term that has often been used to describe the link between creation and the Creator is "analogy". I will write more about these terms in a later article and why different Christians may prefer one or the other.

  • Actions in history

I now move on to the first of three sub-categories of God's special revelation: his actions in history. There is obviously some overlap here with God's written Word and the Incarnation of Christ, for both have been granted to us in history. What I am choosing to focus on in this category is the way God's actions informed His people prior to and after being recorded.

Consider that the records of historical events contained in the Bible were written after the fact. Before that, many of them existed as oral narratives that those loyal to God would repeat to one another to recall the deeds and character of their Lord. They spoke of times that God had appeared to them in one way or another and made his character known.

A good example of this would be the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Though Moses recorded these events for us in scripture, he likely did not do so until well after they occurred, perhaps when the people were wandering in the wilderness. Before that, the narrative of the Exodus was repeated orally and celebrated during the Passover feast. This helped them remember the time when God acted on their behalf and revealed himself.

Immediately after the Israelites had been freed from their enslavement and the divine commands regarding the Passover were given, Moses told them, "Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place." (Exodus 13:3) When they arrived at Mount Sinai to enter into a covenant with the Lord, he identified himself by saying, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." (Exodus 20:2)

By smiting the Egyptians with plagues, God revealed himself as judge. By bringing Israel out of slavery, God revealed himself as deliverer. By sustaining them in the wilderness, God revealed himself as provider, a fact of which Moses reminded the people several years later. "He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 8:3)

These events were mentioned in the Psalms, prophets, Gospels, and epistles as proof of God's character. More than anything, they show him as a God who acts to save. They even pointed forward directly to Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote of the ancient Israelites, "they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ." (1 Corinthians 10:4)

These acts of God in history were necessary for his people to know him as Savior. He came down and entered into covenant with them, that they would know him and his character in a saving manner, as the Westminster Confession states.

"The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he has been pleased to express by way of covenant."[3]

  • Written Word of God

The form of God's special revelation we have before us today is his written Word, the Bible. We would have no knowledge of many of God's actions in history were they not recorded for us, and in addition to relating those events, the scriptures contain prophecies and instruction that teach us even more about our Creator. The Word of God, by which I mean here the Bible, carries the authority of God himself, for it is his direct revelation to us. Again, the Westminster Confession explains that general or natural revelation alone could not provide us with saving knowledge of God: we need his inspired Word.

"Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased."[4]

Scripture reveals the character of God to us in so many ways, but to focus on just one, it speaks of Christ, who as Son of God is the supreme revelation of God's character. Jesus once told his opponents, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me..." (John 5:39) Shortly after his resurrection, when he appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus pointed out how the Old Testament (the part of the Bible in existence at that time) pointed forward to him. "Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." (Luke 24:27)

Paul makes the extraordinary statement that when God told Abraham, "All the nations will be blessed in you," he was preaching the gospel to him beforehand and announcing that the Gentiles would be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:8) And in his epistle to the Romans, Paul brings together the gospel first revealed in the Scriptures, then finally accomplished in Christ.

 "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen." (Romans 16:25-27)

It is to that final revelation of Christ that we now turn.

  • Incarnation

God has been revealing himself to creation since the beginning. His acts and his Word had already served as testaments to his character, but the supreme revelation occurred when the Son of God became incarnate as a man and, in the words of the Apostle John, dwelt among us. This was the crowning moment of God's special revelation.

"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 came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being...And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:1-2, 14)

Christ was able to reveal God to man because he himself was the Son of God, possessing the fullness of God's essence in his divine nature, while also being united to a human nature in his person. This is a great mystery the entirety of which we cannot grasp, but Paul provides us with a helpful metaphor when he calls Jesus "the image of the invisible God". (Colossians 1:15) Remember that an image (Greek eikόn) has the likeness of the original, and thus reveals to us something of the original's character, even if we are not able to comprehend everything about it. Christ functioned in such a way through his human nature that was visible to us.

The author of Hebrews wrote, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." (Hebrews 1:1-2) Now, when he speaks of "these last days", he means that in Christ and the Scriptures, everything we need to know in regard to salvation has been revealed. What is written in God's Word is fully sufficient for the believer, because the work of redemption is completed and everything of necessity has been revealed.

We must still work through what the Bible says by the power of the Spirit and in concert with the Church, even as we must apply the words of scriptures to our lives in the present day. However, the special revelation of God is closed for the present age. We live in a privileged period when it comes to special revelation, looking back as we do upon the work of Christ.

Again, God has granted us 1) general revelation, and 2) special revelation. The special revelation can be thought of in terms of God's actions in history, his written Word, and the Incarnation of the Son of God. Next time, I will consider exactly what kind of knowledge about God is available to us through this revelation, and how our knowledge of God compares to his knowledge of himself.

All scripture references are from The New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation.

[1] The Belgic Confession, Article 2. https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/belgic-confession

[2] Bromiley, Geoffrey W. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament - Abridged in One Volume, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985) 205.

[3] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 7, Article 1

[4] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Article 1

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Rick Phillips's Revelation commentary is one of the Top 10 commentaries of 2017! And while we are not all preaching week in and week out, we know Rev. Phillips is a wonderful Bible teacher and any serious student of the Word would do well having this volume.

Ray Van Neste writes in the winter 2018 issue of Preaching Magazine, "Richard Phillips opens his Revelation (P&R) with a hearty preface extolling the contemporary value of this often misunderstood and misused, and therefore frequently avoided, book. Anyone preaching this book would do well to read the preface and first chapter, at least. You could think of this commentary as sermonic renditions of Greg Beale's magisterial commentary. Phillips follows Beale's basic trajectory and does solid exegesis and application for the church."

Sam Storms from Enjoying God Ministries also included it in his top 10 writing, "As I'm preaching through the book of Revelation, I couldn't help but mention a new commentary on the Apocalypse that is extremely good. Richard D. Phillips has written Revelation in the Reformed Expository Commentary series (P & R Publishing). You don't need to read Greek to profit from this excellent treatment of Revelation. You only need perseverance, as it comes in at a weighty 764 pages! Of course, it helps to know that I completely agree with Phillip's amillennial perspective! If you want to go deeper in Revelation, whether in personal Bible study or in teaching the book, Phillips is the book for you."

You can get your copy while supporting the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals by ordering at ReformedResource.org!

Publisher: P&R Publishing

Publication Date: August 2017

Links:
http://reformedresources.org/revelation-phillips/
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Natural Law and the Public Square

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Being fully committed to the Protestant Reformed tradition--especially as it is represented at Westminster Theological Seminary--I have developed a basic understanding of natural law theories over the years. If by "natural law" we mean a moral order that is (a) revealed by God in nature, (b) stands behind conscience, (c) obligates all people to worship and obey Him, and (d) is sufficient to leave all without excuse and liable to divine judgment for sin, then I affirm it. However, one standard theistic account of natural law (NL) as a moral theory goes further. This account claims that all people can not only apprehend certain moral truths by unaided reason - apart from biblical revelation - but that people can, in principle, espouse and properly act upon those truths, again, apart from saving grace. It's this feature of NL theory--perhaps the critical feature, it seems to me--that allegedly opens up "common ground" for Christians to cooperate with people of other faiths (or of no faith at all) on issues pertaining to the "common good."

Now, I have learned to leave the majority of negative assessments to my colleague and resident pessimist, Carl Trueman. But I must say that, from a Reformed perspective, this additional claim by many Natural Law theorists runs into a number of obstacles. I wish to briefly mention two.

I believe this aspect of the Natural Law theory in view--that people can reason their way to actionable truths apart from God's special revelation--is too optimistic about the powers of unaided reason after the fall. The general revelation of God in nature and beneath conscience must be "carefully distinguished from the reaction that sinful man makes to this revelation" (Van Til). The apostle Paul says that unbelievers "suppress the truth" that they know (including the truth of their moral obligation to God), that they are, at root, "hostile to God" (Rom 8:7); that they have become "futile in their thinking" (Rom 1:21). They are, Paul says elsewhere, "darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart" (Eph 4:18).

These are hard words, no doubt. But they point to one side of what has been called the "antithesis" between belief and unbelief, a moral and spiritual conflict of basic commitments that touch all that Christians and non-Christians think about and discuss. According to this Scriptural principle, fallen man is slavishly committed to his own moral autonomy, while Christians are to view all things under the Lordship of Christ and the light of His Word. This means that, at the deepest level, there is no mutually acknowledged common ground between Christian and non-Christian. And this, it seems to me, leaves NL proponents calling for peace when there is no peace.

This is not to deny that by God's common grace, many unbelievers are immensely gifted and do morally upright things--often outstripping many Christians in good deeds. But such acts do not spring from an essentially unfallen rational ability, in principle, to discern and apply precepts of natural law. Rather, it is God who mercifully restrains the unbeliever's hostility against Him, so that the unbeliever is led, to some degree, to live inconsistently with his moral depravity. So common grace may facilitate a kind of formal agreement between the Christian and non-Christian. But common grace remains just that--grace. God gives it when and where He wills. You can't count on it as a foundation for public policy. This is a second reason why, I think, the NL theory I have in mind is a non-starter for programmatically advancing public morality.

To close on a positive note, Christians should confidently reason from Scripture in all of life, including life in the public square--rather than appeal to fallen unaided reason. We should do it because failing to do it leads, at best, to what we could call various forms of "well-articulated pragmatism." We should do it because God designed for us to read His general and special revelation together, never to separate the two. But Christians should reason from Scripture, above all, because it is there that we meet the Christ in whom are hidden "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2:3), including wisdom for the public square. Such a Christ-centered theology for the public square, I think, better comports with what God says to us, and does not depend on what we say to ourselves.


*This post is a slightly revised version of the opening remarks Dr. Wynne offered during a panel discussion on natural law at a "Faith in the Public Square" conference at Westminster Theological Seminary in October 2016.

The Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament

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I love reading commentaries and have many of them: technical commentaries, semi-technical commentaries, devotional commentaries, practical commentaries, evangelical and Reformed commentaries. Recently, I received three volumes in the new Lectio ContinuaI Expository Commentary on the New Testament (LCECNT).1 This series was formerly published by Tolle Lege Press but has now been picked up by Reformation Heritage Books. Volumes currently available include Galatians by John Fesko, First Corinthians by Kim Riddlebarger, Hebrews by David McWilliams, and Revelation by Joel Beeke (released November 2016).

The series editors are Jon D. Payne and Joel Beeke.2 Authors will include an array of seasoned Reformed pastors from around the world and various Reformed denominations. Among them are Joel Beeke on the Gospel of Mark, Ian Campbell on the Gospel of Luke, Terry Johnson on the Gospel of John, Jon D. Payne on Acts, John  Fesko on Romans, Ian Hamilton on Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson on Colossians, Derek Thomas on Second Corinthians, and Richard D. Phillips on 1-3 John, to name a few.

Series endorsers include Hughes Oliphant Old, Carl Trueman, Michael Horton, and T. David Gordon. The goal of this work is to "provide lectio continua sermons which clearly and faithfully communicate the context, meaning, gravity and application of God's inerrant Word. Each volume of expositions aspires to be redemptive-historical, covenantal, Reformed and confessional, trinitarian, person-and-work-of-Christ-centered, and teeming with practical application" (from the Introduction).

Evaluation

Just as the wise preacher said, "of making many books there is no end" (Eccl. 12:12), the same is certainly true of Bible commentaries. As Christians living in the 21st century, we are blessed with an abundance of good commentary series from many different publishers. Some of my favorites are, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC)3, The Baker Exegetical Commentary Series (BECNT), The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC), and the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series (ZECNT).

All of these are good, solid, evangelical commentaries, excellent aids for the expositor of God's Word and worthy of regular consultation. Enter the new series by Reformation Heritage Books--The Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament. My perusal of the early volumes is most encouraging, not only because all the writers are Reformed scholars I esteem, but also because this set is delightfully different from the aforementioned collections. As advertised, LCECNT is not "academic or highly technical," but sermonic and homiletical. It is pastoral, practical, insightful, theologically robust, warm and winsome, confessional, conversational, Calvinistic, and best of all, Christ-centered. There is much useful sermon material here, including helpful introductions, vivid illustrations, great quotations, and practical, gospel-focused applications. LCECNT handles the biblical text in a way that is faithful, clear, and immediately beneficial for the sheep of Jesus' fold, without getting bogged down in minutiae such as with textual variants and the like. Reading these commentaries is like sitting at the feet of a great expositor and having his notes right before you--a rare and rich treasure indeed!

Recommendation

After praying and doing my own exegetical work on a particular passage of Scripture, it is a privilege to consult the trustworthy works of others and discover what they wrote about the text before me. This tests my own exegesis and usually adds some profitable thoughts. In view of this, I believe that the new Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament is a valuable tool for any minister of the gospel, filling in gaps where other commentaries leave us wanting, adding essential content especially suitable to preachers.4

From what I have already seen of the newest volume, Revelation, I highly recommend it. I have been greatly encouraged by it both theologically and practically, especially with its optimistic amillennial position. View it at Reformation Heritage Books.

Here is what others are saying:

"Joel Beeke's new sermonic commentary on Revelation is one of the brightest resources I have seen to date on how we should face our perplexing future in the West: by studying afresh the triumphant Christ, whom John saw and described in the last book of the Bible. Dr. Beeke shows that the Apocalypse is not meant to be a closed, enigmatic book, for, on the contrary, through a proper interaction with it, the glory of the reigning Christ shines through. Dr. Beeke has encouraged me in this regard, and I shall be commending this volume to those in my classes and conferences. Read and rejoice!"

--Douglas Kelly, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina, and author of Revelation (Christian Focus)

"The book of Revelation promises a blessing to the one who reads it, but it is one of the most challenging books of the Bible. Joel Beeke shines bright exegetical light that both illumines the book and provides pastoral warmth to the heart. With Dr. Beeke as an able guide, readers can benefit from one of Scripture's richest feasts."

--John Fesko, Academic Dean, Professor of Systematic and Historical theology, Westminster Seminary, Escondido, California

"Dr. Beeke's work on Revelation is a fine example of the kind of expository preaching that God has frequently chosen to bless to the salvation of sinners, the edification of saints, the strengthening of the church, and the demolition of satanic strongholds. My hope and prayer is that this sermonic commentary on Revelation will encourage preachers to also take the plunge and preach many more sermons from this much-neglected but much-needed book."

--David Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

A new promotional video for the Lectio Continua can be viewed on Vimeo.


1. Lectio continua is Latin for continuous reading or the systematic exposition of God's Word, "line upon line, precept upon precept." Lectio continua is the consecutive expository method of preaching the Bible which has deep roots in the Reformed tradition.

2. Jon D. Payne is Pastor of Christ Church Presbyterian (PCA), Charleston, South Carolina, and visiting professor of homiletics at Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta, GA. Joel Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary; a pastor of Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

3. The only caveat I offer is that The New International Greek Testament Commentary series is a bit uneven, theologically speaking (e.g., John Nolland on Matthew; James Dunn on Colossians and Philemon).

4. I will also recommend this series to my congregation and other non-office bearing friends for their own reading and edification.

The Climactic Word - Transfigured Hermeneutics 6

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This is the sixth of a ten part treatment of the significance of the Transfiguration for Christian theology and biblical reflection. I am currently exploring the way in which the Transfiguration draws upon associations with the events of the Exodus and Mount Sinai and upon broader Old Testament themes.

At Sinai, the Law of God was given to Israel on tablets of stone. At the Transfiguration, God declares that Jesus is his Son and his Word to the world: 'This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!' Jesus is God's climactic word, the Word that all of the other words anticipated. Although Jesus' identity as God's Son and Word given to the world is the fundamental implication of the gospels and the New Testament in their entirety, it is here, at the Transfiguration, that God's gift of his Son as his revelation to the world is declared in a direct and unmediated word from God himself.

Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, both persons who had spectacular yet fleeting visions of God's glory at Mount Sinai and both persons who had experienced a form of transfiguration by the Glory of God themselves (Moses' shining face and Elijah's ascent in the divine throne chariot in 2 Kings 2). Moses was the one through whom God gave the Law; Elijah was the one through whom God established a remnant prophetic movement. Between them they are the two greatest OT witnesses: some have seen Moses as representing the Law, and Elijah the prophets. They stand for all of the revelation that had come beforehand, revelation that witnesses to and is exceeded by God's gift of his Son.

Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus concerning what he is about to fulfil. Jesus' superiority to them is apparent, especially as they are removed from the scene and God testifies to his Son. Even the most important prophets and mediators of revelation in the Old Testament are surpassed by Jesus.

The words of God's declaration concerning his Son in verse 35 resonate deeply within the world of the Old Testament. Richard Hays observes the presence of Genesis 22 and Isaiah 42:1--'Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights'--in the background of God's declaration at Jesus' Baptism. The Isaiah echo is more prominent in Luke 9, where it is 'amplified into a more explicit allusion' as Jesus is referred to as the 'chosen one'.[1] This designation as the Isaianic Servant presents Jesus as the True Israel, and as God's faithful covenant partner.

In contrast to the divine voice at Jesus' Baptism, the voice here is directed to the disciples, not to Jesus himself. The disciples are instructed to 'hear' Jesus, a probable allusion to Deuteronomy 18:15-19. The promised Prophet like Moses is one that the people must 'hear' (cf. Acts 3:22). Jesus is the One for whom Elijah was preparing the way and he is the great Prophet like Moses that was foretold. His word comes with a glorious finality in the history of redemption, the revelation that will not be surpassed. 'God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son ... the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person' (Heb. 1:1-2).

In Malachi 4:4-6, the final verses of the Old Testament prophets, the coming Day of the LORD is announced and the people are told to remember the 'Law of Moses,' God's servant. It is also promised that 'Elijah' will appear 'before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.' This prophecy is prominent in the context of the Transfiguration account, where Matthew's account records Jesus referring the prophecy concerning Elijah to John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13). As Moses and Elijah are the great witnesses and the ones who will prepare the way for the climactic coming of the LORD himself, their appearance with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration is very fitting.

Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus about his departure--literally his 'Exodus'--that he was about to 'fulfil' in Jerusalem. The use of such a resonant term at this juncture is worthy of attention: Moses and Elijah are not merely referring to Jesus' coming death as an event about to befall him, but to his purposeful and powerful outworking of a new Exodus, in which all previous and anticipatory 'exoduses' will be fulfilled and all the promises of God realized. Jesus' departure--his 'Exodus'--is more than merely his death: it is also his resurrection, ascension, and his deliverance of a great multitude of captives. By his death and resurrection Christ tears open the sea of Death and Hell, allowing all of his people to pass through unscathed, while drowning all of their pursuers behind them.

The literary purpose of the overarching Exodus motif in this passage in Luke, to which I drew attention earlier, should become more apparent now. Luke's use of a mini-exodus pattern in this passage is akin to the composer of the film score who allows the hero's theme to surface in the background, readying the audience for its full expression as the hero achieves his magnificent victory. Luke wants our minds to be on Exodus, so we will understand both what is taking place on the mountain and what Jesus is about to go to Jerusalem to achieve. Jesus' Exodus will be the culmination of redemptive history, the decisive, definitive, and dreadful statement of fundamental themes that had been hitherto only quietly, yet pervasively, intimated.

Within the next post, I will discuss the relationship between the Transfiguration and the parousia.

Notes:

[1] Richard Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014) p. 60.

One of the most regrettable legacies of 20th century evangelicalism is the marginalizing of the book of Revelation as a guide to spiritual warfare during the church age.  Animated by the literalism of Dispensational theology, Revelation's visions have been misapplied to one scenario after another, featuring overblown claims to identify individuals as the Antichrist and hysterical readings of historically insignificant newspaper headlines.  The effect of this misuse has been not merely the discrediting of biblical literalists but also an ill-ease of many Christians regarding the instructional value of Revelation.  Yet if there has ever been an era in American history when Revelation offers the most valuable insight to Bible-believers, that era is taking place now.  Indeed, it is particularly the material found in Revelation 13 and its prophecy of Satan unleashing his beasts that should inform the faith of Christians regarding the present times.

Informed Bible readers know that there will not only be a particular Antichrist who arises at the end of our age (see 2 Thess. 2:3), but that there is an antichrist pattern that recurs in spiritual warfare throughout history.  1 John 2:18 says not only that "antichrist is coming," but also that "now many antichrists have come."  The point is that the spiritually evil tactics described in Revelation can be expected to recur as a general pattern drawn from Satan's playbook.  Thus Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that Christians should "not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs."

Revelation 13 is one place where the Bible discloses the general pattern of Satan's design.  The chapter begins with beastial imagery that is familiar to readers of the Old Testament, since Daniel's visions employed beasts to describe tyrannical government powers (Dan. 7:1-23).  Daniel's beasts, like John's in Revelation, rose from the sea, which is a symbol of dark and chaotic evil in rebellion to God (Rev. 13:1).  It is not difficult to see that these beasts represent government tyranny, since their heads are adorned with horns and crowns.  Thus we see compulsive force employed by rulers with beastial intent.  Revelation 13:2 sums up this approach by saying that to his beast Satan "gave his power and his throne and great authority."

If we are to compare the beast of Revelation 13:1-10 with forces at work in America today, we should identify the main features of its agenda.  The biblical text identifies two evil aims: first, the idolatrous seeking of worship in the place of God, and, second, an insidious persecution of Christ's church and true believers.  So the question is asked, Does the political left in America seek to deify government power and does it seek to oppress the Christian church?

As for the first of these aims, Revelation13:3-5 outlines the beast's desire for false worship.  Verse 3 states that one of the beast's heads "seemed to have a mortal wound," but the wound was healed so that "the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast."  The general idea is that Satan sets forth his usurpers as counterfeit Christs.  Moreover, there is a general tendency for tyrants to "resurrect" their regimes from apparent defeat, aided by evil spiritual power.  Napoleon Bonaparte was a classic "beast" in 19th century France, using military glory to inspire raw worship from mass legions.  After his armies were crushed in 1814, Napoleon executed a stunning imperial resurrection in 1815 until his beastial head was cut off on the fields of Waterloo.  These awe-inspiring resurrections attend the careers of many tyrants, whether Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, or ones yet to come.  The aim is a usurpation of the worship that belongs only to God.  Revelation 13:4 records the adoring words of idolatrous beast-praise: "Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?" (compare with Ex. 15:11).  

Thankfully, America has yet to witness the blatant idolatry seen in the Nuremberg rallies of the 1930's, although pre- and post-election political events can chillingly approach that level of veneration.  At the same time, it is hard not to be disturbed as the political left in America seeks to make a messiah out of government.  Moreover, the primary tactic of the left in recent years has been political compulsion, primarily through the edicts of a liberal Supreme Court but more recently with the threat of unconstitutional executive orders.  Whenever the state is set forth as the remedy for all ills - economic, social, moral, and even spiritual - then the idolatry of the state usurps the place reserved for God alone.[1] When secularists would have us all join to sing its new doxology, "Praise the state from whom all blessings flow," Christians should suspect the work of the beast rising in our midst.  

What about the second prong of the beast's strategy, namely, the persecution of Christ's church?  Revelation 13:7 says of the beast: "Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them."  Note that Christians are persecuted specifically as "saints," that is, not for our sins and failings but specifically for our godly obedience to God's Word.  Here is where the recent advance of the American political left is especially chilling.  Not long ago, the supporters of homosexual rights argued primarily on the basis of tolerance.  But now that they are armed with compulsive political power, tolerance has been forgotten.  Suddenly individual rights - not long ago the very basis of the gay lobby's argument - are seen as a threat to the advance of culture.  Thus Christian bakers have suffered ludicrously onerous fines for exercising their constitutional right to free association.  Free speech, the very first of the rights protected by our Founders, is now openly derided by progressive law-makers and downgraded by the courts.  It is literally conceivable now that the mere public reading of the Bible will be considered a criminal offense.  Revelation 13:6 says that the beast "opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling."  In the American media, in entertainment, in academia, and in government, gross misrepresentations and vile slanders are uttered against God and against his teaching in the Bible on almost a daily basis.

Moreover, the bulls-eye of oppression is being lowered on a single segment of the American populace: Bible-believing Christians.  One might reasonably think that homosexual advocates would take special aim at a religion like Islam, given its ungodly oppression of women and violent threats against homosexuals.  But it is Christians alone who find themselves the targets of a strategy designed to suppress our civil rights and silence our witness to God's Word.  

The point of this analysis from Revelation 13 is not that American Christians face a unique and spiritually bizarre attack from Satanic powers.  The point, rather, is that this is the typical kind of Satanic attack that Christians will often face throughout the history of the church age.  There is no basis to conclude that our current president is the Antichrist or that certain other anti-Christian figures are somehow demon-possessed.  Rather, this is the normal way that unbelieving worldly powers are animated and manipulated by the powers against which Christians are warned in Scripture.  According to the rule of thumb given by Paul in Ephesians 6:12, "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."  The aim of Revelation with its depictions of the Satanic strategy is that we, like Paul, would not be unaware of his designs (2 Cor. 2:11).

What are Christians to do in times like ours?  Fortunately, Revelation 13 provides three perspectives that should equip us in responding to spiritual warfare in America today.  The first is that Christians should gain peace from the hope that is ours through our sovereign God.  Notice that Revelation 13:7 says the beast was "allowed" to war on the saints and that authority was "given" to it.  These are not things that are said of a true sovereign!  It is God who reigns even as he permits and employs even Satan and his agents for his own holy and ultimately redemptive purposes on the earth.  Moreover, John reminds us that believers remain eternally secure in God's sovereign will.  He says that not that the ones who worship the beast are those "whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain" (Rev. 13:8).  This reminds followers of Christ that our salvation was established before the creation of the world.  Thus, by trusting in Jesus our ultimate well-being is beyond the reach even of Satan and his beasts.

What, then, is the calling of Christians under persecution?[2] John writes: "If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain" (Rev. 13:10).  The point is that Christians are to submit to persecution of all kinds rather than compromise our faith in Christ and our witness to God's Word.  This does not mean that we should not take prudent steps to avoid persecution.  I would urge, for instance, that Christians serving in state assemblies and local governments will play an especially important role in years to come in opposing federal tyranny.  But when and if true persecution comes, Christians must embrace it with faith and a resolve to do God's will.  This stance centers on our continued worship of the true God and our loving witness of the grace of God in Christ, even to those who place the label of "hate speech" on our gospel testimony.

Finally, John concludes with one of Revelation's many stirring appeals to perseverance in faith despite all affliction: "Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints" (Rev. 13:10).  Here is the bad news for political beasts who seek to marginalize Christians in society: by persevering in faith, we have the victory through the grace of our sovereign God.  John emphasized this same principle at the end of his first epistle: "this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith" (1 Jn. 5:4).  

Christians in America should take inspiration from the many biblical examples of how stalwart and uncompromising believers received supernatural aid in the darkest of times.  An example is Daniel's three friends, who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar's golden idol.  Thrown into the blazing furnace, they were not consumed as everyone thought would happen.  Instead, the beast of that age saw them unhurt, accompanied by one whose appearance was "like a son of the gods" (Dan. 3:25).  Likewise today, Christ will come to his faithful, persecuted people with blessing and power.  He tells us: 
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior" (Isa. 43:1-3). 

Notes:

[1] This insight is drawn from Vern Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: 2000), p.139.

[2] I realize that some Christians scoff today at the thought that what we suffer in America is really persecution.  Of course it is true that fellow believers around the world often face much worse that is threatened here.  Yet, according to the Bible, confiscation of property and wrongful imprisonment are serious and harmful forms of persecution.  The threat of these, and in some cases their beginning, is indeed present in America today.

"More light, Lord!"

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Light is one of those commodities, like oxygen, much underestimated until one finds oneself in need of it. I am particularly conscious of this because my desk light - a quite splendid piece of kit - decided to pack up rather suddenly a few days ago. Being a sentimental type, I sent it off to the manufacturer in the hope of its being restored, but - having gone under the knife in some electronic operating theatre somewhere in England - it was recently declared most definitely deceased.

But it means I have been without light. To be sure, even in the UK in October, there's a smidgen of daylight that filters through the window from time to time. And yes, the general illumination provided by the main light in the room, and even some assistance from the angled reading light in the corner, alleviate the gloom somewhat. But there is nothing - I repeat, nothing - to compare with the vibrant beams of pure brilliance that not so long ago washed out of my much-missed and too-much-presumed-upon and sincerely-mourned desk light.

But good news! Today brought a matutinal delivery of light - not the watery gleam of a British sunrise, but a replacement desk light - and now I sit here in a pool of white brilliance, bathed once more in happy illumination, and actually able to work without straining the wearied eyes beyond the point of no return.

"So what?" I hear you cry. "What hath Walker's desk lighting to do with us?"

Well, nothing, at first glance, but remember, if you will, the record of that wonderful preacher, John 'Roaring' Rogers of Dedham, of whose preaching people exhorted one another, "Let us go to Dedham to fetch fire."

Several well-known anecdotes capture something of the fervency of Rogers the preacher, his self-forgetful earnestness in the pulpit. In one of them, Thomas Goodwin, himself to become a renowned preacher and scholar, went to hear Rogers preach before he was converted, not imagining that anyone would be able to touch his conscience. Goodwin reported his experience to John Howe, who recorded it in this way:
He told me that being himself, in the time of his youth, a student at Cambridge, and having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham, in Essex, purposely he took a journey from Cambridge to Dedham to hear him preach on his lecture day. And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible [I am afraid it is more neglected in our days]; he personates God to the people, telling them, "Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it; it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs. You care not to look into it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer." And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it, and carrying it from them; but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly, "Lord, whatsoever thou cost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible." And then he personates God again to the people: "Say you so? Well, I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it." But by these actions [as the Doctor told me] he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that he never saw any congregation in his life. The place was a mere Bochim, the people generally [as it were] deluged with their own tears; and he told me that he himself when he got out, and was to take horse again to be gone, was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his horse weeping, before he had power to mount, so strange an impression was there upon him, and generally upon the people, upon having been thus expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible.
Underestimated light. Nothing compares to the Word of God for true illumination. The faint gleams of natural revelation and human reason are light, to be sure, but they are distant candles to the present white light of God's holy Word. And yet how ready we are to wander around in the gloom, imagining that we see well and sufficiently while we are for the most part blind.

Would it bother you to be without your Bible? Could you preach without it? Live without it? Worship without it? Perhaps we have learned a casual neglect of that which is more precious than thousands of pieces of gold and silver (Ps 119.72)?

How little we value it, but what if it were taken away? What if the Lord deprived us of what is a gracious gift, not a natural right? How quickly would we learn the limitations of natural revelation and human wisdom, how soon would we cry out to God to restore to us again the pure brightness of his revelation, rising to its heights in the dawning of the Sun of Righteousness, that we might once more have a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119.105).

The story is told of a debate in the seventeenth century, I think it may have been among the Westminster divines. One man stood and was making a powerful address concerning some particular point. His opponent in the matter was observed to be writing fairly constantly on his paper. When his turn came, this opponent rose to his feet and delivered a magnificent oration, well-ordered and insightful, Scriptural and compelling, profound and persuasive.

When this tour de force was completed, a man nearby glanced at the notes that had prompted this outpouring of genuine and gracious eloquence, and found a single phrase repeated over and over across the page: "More light, Lord!"

May God grant that we should value in some appropriate measure the fact that he has spoken to us in these last days in his Son, and that his Spirit has moved men to record these saving and sanctifying truths in the Word written, and that "the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness . . . has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2Cor 4.6). How shall we see, how shall we walk, if the Lord does not give us his light? Let us not underestimate the illumination we have been given. Let us not neglect our Bibles. Let it be our constant and humble prayer, "More light, Lord!"