Results tagged “eschatology” from Reformation21 Blog

'Til Kingdom Come

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So much recent debate surrounding social justice seems to boil down to fundamental disagreements and misunderstandings about the relationship between the "Kingdom of God" and the "Church."  Many have conflated these two biblical concepts so as to lose the clear lines of demarcation regarding the mission of the church and the activities of believers in the world. Others have so pitted them against one another as to bifurcate any necessary correlation. In vol. 5 of his Reformed Dogmatics, Geerhardus Vos made a number of profoundly important points regarding both the distinctness and interconnectedness of these two biblical concepts when he wrote,   

"On the one hand, 'kingdom of God' is the narrower, and 'church' the wider concept...On the other hand, the 'kingdom of God' or 'of heaven' is a broader concept than that of the church."1

Concerning his observation about the "Kingdom of God" being a more narrow concept than the "Church," Vos noted, 

"While the Church has both a visible and invisible side, and so can often be perceived of an entire nation, the kingdom of God in its various meanings is the invisible spiritual principle. It is the lordship Christ exercises over our souls if we truly belong to Him, our submission to his sovereign authority, our being conformed and joined by living faith to His body with its many members. It is the gathering of these true members and subjects of Christ. It is called the "kingdom of heaven" because it has its center and its future in heaven. All the spiritual benefits of the covenant are linked to it: righteousness, freedom, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit [cf. Rom 14:17]. As such a spiritual entity, it is within man and does not appear with an outward face. Understood in this sense, the kingdom of heaven equals the invisible church, but then in its New Testament particularity, for Christ preached that the kingdom of heaven had come near, namely, through His coming. He is the king, and through His clear self-revelation and through His completed work, the invisible church also receives a new glory that it did not have previously, so that even the least in this kingdom is still greater than John the Baptist [Matt 11:11]."2

With regard to the insistence that the "Kingdom of God" is the broader, and the "Church" the narrower concept, Vos explained,

"The Kingdom of God...is presented to us as leaven that must permeate everything, as a mustard seed that must grow into a tree that with its branches covers all of life. Plainly, such a thing may not be said of the concept 'church.' There are other spheres of life beside that of the church, but from none of those may the kingdom of God be excluded. It has its claim in science, in art, on every terrain. But the church may not lay claim to all that. The external side of the kingdom (the visible church) must not undertake these things; the internal essence of the kingdom, the new existence, must of itself permeate and purify. It is precisely the Roman Catholic error that the church takes everything into itself and must govern everything. Then there appears an ecclesiastical science, an ecclesiastical art, an ecclesiastical politics. There the kingdom of God is identical with the church and has been established on earth in an absolute form. According to us, it is otherwise. The true Christian belongs in the first place to the church, and in it acknowledges Christ as king. But besides that he also acknowledges the lordship of Christ in every other area of life, without thereby committing the error of mixing these things with each other. The Old Testament church-state, which comprehended the entire life of the nation, was a type of this all-encompassing kingdom of God."3

These distinctions lead naturally to certain conclusions concerning the complex interrelatedness of these two spheres of God's rule and reign in His people and in the world. Vos wrote, 

"If now one compares the visible church and the kingdom of God viewed from the first side, then one can say that the former is a manifestation and embodiment of the latter.

If one compares the visible church and the kingdom of God viewed from the second side, then one can say that the former is an instrument of the latter.

If one looks to the final outcome, then one must say that the church and kingdom of God will coincide. In heaven there will no longer be a division of life. There the visible and the invisible will coincide perfectly. Meanwhile, for now the kingdom of God must advance through the particular form of the church."4

The complexity of these two concepts necessitates that we give the utmost care to our consideration of both their distinctness and interrelatedness. It is only as we do so that we will profitably enter into conversations about the mission of the church, social justice, mercy ministry, the individual and the corporate, the sacred and the secular, and the myriad of others associated matters about which Christians love to spend inordinate amounts of time debating online. Though a daunting task, in and of itself, it will prove a worthy endeavor sure to yield great benefit to fellow members in the church.  


1. Vos, G. (2012-2016). Reformed Dogmatics. (R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, A. Janssen, ... K. Batteau, Trans.) (Vol. 5, pp. 8-9). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2. Ibid., vol. 5, p. 8.

3. Ibid., p. 9

A Fixed Hope

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This summer, I have been greatly encouraged through reading the works of John Bunyan. In his work Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan concludes his Preface with the following thought:

"My dear children - The milk and honey is beyond this wilderness. God be merciful to you, and grant that you be not slothful to go in to possess the land."

I've pondered this simple, yet profound thought over the past few weeks because it brings me back to a foundational Christian truth - the hope of redemption. A cursory reading of the Apostle Paul's writings will show us that Paul constantly meditated on and lived in light of this truth. As sinners who have been justified by His grace, we are called to rejoice in this hope (cf. Romans 5:2, 12:12) and we are told to fix our hope and expectation upon this reality (cf. 1 Peter 1:13). From the perspective of the Apostles, this hope encourages us to be patient through tribulation (cf. Romans 5:3, 12:12), and this hope serves as a chief motivation to pursue holiness (cf. 1 John 3:3). Furthermore, meditating on the hope of our redemption produces a sense of urgency in the Christian life. We are exhorted to recognize that our salvation is near and thus, we should behave as those who are aware that the day of the Lord is near (cf. Romans 13:11-13). For this reason, our lives should be marked with sober-mindedness (cf. Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 4:7) and patient endurance through suffering and affliction (cf. James 5:8; Revelation 13:10, 14:12).

A question that should be raised is whether or not many of us (as Western Evangelicals) have lost this sense of urgency. In recent years, I've rarely heard Evangelicals speak about the urgency in which we should live the Christian life; rather, I've heard more and more Evangelicals become very focused upon cultural engagement, typically using Jeremiah 29:5-7 as a justification. Although one's view of eschatology does affect how one views the future, this should not affect how we interpret and live in light of the exhortations to fix our hope on the appearing of the Lord Jesus.

So how can we apply Jeremiah 29:5-7 in a way that is consistent with the eschatological focus given by the Apostles? First, we must note an important difference between our modern context and the Jewish context during Jeremiah's prophetic ministry. Although we are exiles in this world (cf. 1 Peter 2:11), our exile is not due to judgment. God has not moved us from Jerusalem to Babylon as judgment; rather, He has rescued us from within Babylon so that we have dual citizenship (cf. Philippians 3:20). This means that the biggest reminder that we need is that this present world is not our home. If we are honest, we naturally feel very much at home in this present world because this is where we were born. We do not need much encouragement to build houses, grow wealthy, get married, and have children. If we aren't careful, we will naturally gravitate toward a life which has more in common with the American dream than with Biblical Christianity. This is one reason why we are commanded to store up treasure in heaven; Our Father knows where we naturally store our treasures. We don't need any encouragement to make ourselves move at home in this present world. Rather, we have a far greater need to be reminded that our home is in the new Jerusalem.

Second, in contrast to Jeremiah 29:7, we must recognize that we do not know how long our exile will last. This has led some unbelievers to mock the New Testament's teaching on the imminent return of Christ (cf. 2 Peter 3:3). Because of the seeming delay of our Lord's coming, it is very tempting to naturally live as if Jesus will never return. As believers, we must never allow the mundane nature of our everyday activities to push the hope of our redemption to the back of our minds. As mentioned previously, we should stand ready for Christ's return at any moment; we should not be found sleeping.

Third, we must recognize Jeremiah 29 holds out the glorious hope of the fulfillment of God's promises to His people. The argument of Jeremiah 29 is that the exiles should not seek to overthrow the Babylonian empire because they have a much greater hope that the city of Babylon. After 70 years of judgment, God will answer the prayers of the Jewish exiles and restore them to Jerusalem. In other words, Jeremiah 29:11 is the main point of the chapter because their hope is not that God will bring prosperity to Babylon, but that He will return the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem. As Christians, we have an even more glorious hope. Thus, the primary message of Jeremiah 29 to us is to live in the light of our future hope--to live now in this world as citizens of the world to come, neither ceasing to do good to all those around us now (cf. Galatians 6:10), nor becoming so friendly with this present world that we find ourselves enemies of God (cf. James 4:4).

To my shame, I must admit that I do not meditate on and rejoice in this future hope as much as I should. Because my life is not marked with physical persecution, it is much easier to become focused on the various problems and irritations of day-to-day life. It is much more tempting to center my life around my professional goals and ambitions and thus, to take my eyes off of the glory of the world to come. However, as Jesus and the Apostles warned, the day of the Lord will come as a thief. The Day of the Lord will supernaturally disrupt the normalcy of all of our lives. For those who are united to Christ, we will rejoice with exceeding joy because our redemption is complete. On that Day, we will know that all of our earthly treasures are transient and we will know the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared to the glory we will have (cf. Romans 8:18). For this reason, as the Apostle Peter states, "what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (cf. 2 Peter 3:11). As John Bunyan wrote, may we not be slothful, but rather let us be diligent to be found in Him. Let us fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

PCRT Reading Recommendations

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This weekend we kickoff the 2018 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, meeting April 13-15 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Our theme this year is The Spirit of the Age: The Age of the Spirit. I am excited to welcome Conrad Mbewe and Danny Akin and looking forward to exploring the mighty work of the Holy Spirit in the age of the gospel. Especially exciting is our privilege to hear the teaching of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., whose teaching on the resurrection Spirit literally changed my life when I sat under his seminary teaching. Friday will be a priceless opportunity to hear Dr. Gaffin lecture on Pentecost and the Work of the Spirit Today.

Now, for some book suggestions related to this important theme.

First, I can turn to no other than Dr. Gaffin himself. For a more academic version of his essential work, Perspectives on Pentecost, will open up his teaching on the difference that Christ's sending of the Spirit has really made.

For a less academic, but mind-expanding work on the gospel, Gaffin's By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation is an classic that I cannot recommend too highly.

Other books that will inform the topic of our time as the Age of the Spirit are Geerhardus Vos' classic, The Pauline Eschatology and Anthony Hoekema's The Bible and the Future. One of our previous PCRT conferences tackled this theme in book form, These Last Days, edited by me and Gabriel Fluhrer.

I have no doubt that conference attenders will be delighted to hear Conrad Mbewe, and readers will be blessed to consider his book, Pastoral Preaching: Building a People for God.

When we think of the work of the Spirit in our age, we inevitable turn to the Spirit's power in the inspired Word of God. If you have not read Kevin DeYoung's Taking God at His Word, you will be soundly instructed in this brief commendation of the Bible.

Kevin has also authored a meaty booklet on The Holy Spirit, that is an ideal introduction to this theme.

Finally, some years ago we held a memorable conference on The Promised Holy Spirit, the audio recordings of which are available in our Reformed Resources.

I look forward to seeing you in Grand Rapids, or in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania on April 27-29!

The Last Judgment

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Last night, I preached a sermon on Psalm 7--one of the lamentation Psalms of David, which he presumably wrote while hiding from Saul in the caves of Adullam.  A good portion of the Psalm is taken up with David crying out to the Judge of all the earth. The Psalmist calls on the Lord to come and judge the wicked. In so doing, he draws on the imagery of all people of the earth being congregated before the throne of God as they wait on the Judge of all the earth to render His judgment (Ps. 7:7-8). All of which reminded me of a section in John L. Girardeau's famous sermon, "The Last Judgment," in which he painted the most sobering picture of the final judgment. Girardeau envisioned all people, from all nations, throughout all time summoned before the divine tribunal on the Last Day:

"How unspeakably solemn! A world in one vast congregation! See, multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! Farther than the eye can reach extends a boundless sea of human beings, swayed to and fro with new and unutterable feelings. Before the august Judge are gathered all nations, and He proceeds to separate them one from another as a shepherd divided his sheep from the goats. He sets the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. All human and perishing distinctions are swept away. The mask is torn from hypocrisy, the veil stripped from secrecy, the paint and varnish expunged from the face of deceit. Missed are the strut and fret of 'a little brief authority.' The tiara, the mitre and the crosier, the chasuble, stole and cowl are looked for in vain. The tinseled insignia of rank and the gilded baubles of nobility, the arms of heraldry and the stars and crosses of honor are rent away from human beings, and leave them to appear as they are--'naked, unvarnished, unappendaged men.' The standards, ensigns, and gonfalons of earthly parade float not in the air of the judgment morn. Beauty, wealth, and power, gifts, talents, and fame,--of what avail are they now without true and heartfelt religion? The righteous and the wicked, the followers and the foes of Christ,--these are the only distinctions which have a place in that overwhelming presence.  Each one of that immense concourse is seen. Each one is known. Each one must give account of himself to God. No one shall share responsibility with his fellows. No one shall shield himself behind the instruction, the counsel, the example of others; no one shall cover himself with the skirt of minister, parent or friend. Families are sundered; individuals are parted from individuals by a discrimination awfully searching and particular. Oh, what a sifting! Jehovah's fan is in his hand, and he winnows the chaff from the wheat: He gathers the wheat into His garner, and consigns the chaff to unquenchable fire.

Now is the day of full redemption come to those who served their Lord amidst temptations, trials, and fears, and waited and prayed and longed for His second glorious appearing. Clad in Jesus' righteousness, washed in Jesus' blood, pleading Jesus' atoning merits, they stand at His right hand and look into His smiling face. 'Come,' says the King, 'Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungered and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger and ye took Me in: naked and ye clothed Me: I was sick and in prison and ye came unto Me. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.' 'Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.' O welcome word! O thrice happy souls! Their tribulation is past, their conflict with the world, the flesh and the Devil is ended, the narrow way has all been trod, death, their last enemy, is conquered, and not one of them remains a tenant of the grave. The last battle has been fought, the last sin has been committed, the last tear is wiped away. The world's laugh and frown are alike no more. No more the cross, the fire and the stake. No more the chain, the dungeon and the rack. Shout, ye ransomed sinners, shout! For yours are harps of gold, crowns of righteousness, the beatific vision of God, and the celestial glory that faded not away."

A few more laughs, a few more tears, a few more sighs and we will all find ourselves in that one great assembly, standing shoulder to shoulder in the collective mass of humanity before the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and the Judge of all the earth. "How unspeakably solemn" indeed.  


A Better Jerusalem

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On October 27, 1994, President Bill Clinton, while addressing the Knesset (i.e. the legislative assembly in Israel) cited one of his former pastors when he said, "If you abandon Israel, God will never forgive you...it is God's will that Israel, the biblical home of the people of Israel, continue forever and ever." This widely held sentiment has had a substantial impact on American politics and foreign policy over the past 70 years. Two days ago, President Trump made the controversial decision to declare Jerusalem to be the capitol of the state of Israel. This has reopened numerous questions about the place of the state of Israel, and the city of Jerusalem, in the consummate purposes and plan of God.

When Jesus began his Messianic ministry, he did so by calling 12 Apostles. The calling of the Twelve mirrored the formation of the 12 Tribes of Israel. In short, Jesus came to reconstitute Israel in Himself. He is the true son of Abraham in whom all the promises of God are "yes" and "Amen" (2 Cor. 1.20). In The Israel of God, O. Palmer Robertson emphasized the significance of the choosing and ministry of the 12 apostles when he wrote:

"The beginning of Jesus' ministry indicates the ongoing role of Israel in the kingdom of the Messiah. The designation of exactly twelve disciples shows that Jesus intends to reconstitute the Israel of God through his ministry. He is not, as some suppose, replacing Israel with the church. He is reconstituting Israel in a way that makes it suitable for the ministry of the New Covenant.

From this point on, it is not that the church takes the place of Israel, but that a new Israel of God is being formed by the shaping of the church. This kingdom will reach beyond the limits of the Israel of the old covenant. Although Jesus begins with the Israel of old, he will not allow his kingdom to be limited by its borders" (The Israel of God, p.118).

Phil Ryken also explains that Jesus chose the twelve Apostles to be the foundation of New Israel:

"By ordaining these twelve men, God was establishing a new Israel. Just as the twelve sons of Jacob founded the Old Testament people of God, so also the apostles established the foundation for God's new people in Christ. To this day, the church rests upon their ministry. We are 'built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets' (Eph. 2:20). And since a building can have only one foundation, their ministry is non-repeatable" (Luke, vol. 1, p. 256).

This is no small observation. When Jesus told the members of Old Covenant Israel that "the kingdom will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruit of it" (Matt. 21:43), we are meant to ask the question, "To what nation did God give His kingdom to in the New Covenant?" The only answer that can be supplied is that He has established His kingdom (i.e. His redemptive reign and rule) in the lives of His people--the true Israel who He has raised up in Christ.

We are still left with the question as to whether there is any divinely-intended role for the land of Israel in general and for the city of Jerusalem in specific. In his book, Understanding the Land in the Bible, Robertson distills the meaning of the land down to its essential redemptive-historical significance when he writes, "This land was made for Jesus Christ. All its diversity was designed to serve him. Its character as a land bridge  for three continents was crafted at Creation for his strategic role in the history of humanity." The land of Israel was strategically located between three continents. It served, therefore, as the perfect land bridge for the evangelistic mission of God to the nations. The land served its purpose when the Redeemer came to Israel to accomplish all that was typified and foreshadowed in the Old Testament.

All of this was God's original intention when He called Abraham. The Lord told Abraham that he would be "the father of a multitude of nations" (Gen. 17:4-5). The land of Israel was a downpayment of the eternal inheritance that God promised to Abraham. When Christ came, he fulfilled the promises made to Abraham. Jesus is "the heir of all things" (Heb. 1:2). Everyone who believes in him--as Abraham did (John 8:58)--becomes the heir of all things in union with Christ. 

The Apostle Paul understood that the original promise to Abraham was much larger than simply the inheritance of the land of Israel. In Romans 4:13, he wrote, "The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith." During his lifetime, Abraham only came to possess a burial place in the land--the place from which he (buried there in hope of the resurrection) will one day rise to inherit the earth. This is also true of all those who are trusting in the son of Abraham, Jesus Christ, and in his finished work of redemption.

As far as the city of Jerusalem is concerned, it's important to recognize that God set apart this city to be the place of the Temple and the king's house. It was the capitol of the theocratic nation of Israel in the Old Testament. It should not, therefore, come as a surprise to us to see that Jesus' ministry ended in Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been established by God to be the focal point of the whole earth during the Old Covenant era. Jesus was crucified there (i.e. he was lifted up there) because he is the great King to whom all worship is to be directed. As Robertson observes:

"The lifting up of the Son of God could occur only in Jerusalem. No other place, no other city could substitute. To the covenant people of God he must come, and by the covenant people of God he must be rejected. Only then could the purposes and plans of God as revealed through all the ages be realized" (Understanding the Land, pp. 121-122)  

As the earthly ministry of Jesus came to a close in Jerusalem, so the ministry of his Apostles began in Jerusalem. From there it broke out from there into the whole world to show that the reign of God was now the reign of the resurrected Christ in the heavenly Jerusalem. From the rejection of Christ onward, the earthly Jerusalem became a symbol of fleshly, earthly, man-centered religion. The destruction of the Temple in A.D 70 marked the end of the Old Covenant era and the fact that the spiritual, heavenly reign of Christ had commenced throughout the earth. Robertson goes on to contrast the present Jerusalem (Gal. 4:25) with the heavenly Jerusalem--a contrast that the Apostle's make in Gal. 4:23-26 and Heb. 12:18-24--when he notes:

"To know the new way of living with God, a person must look to the 'Jerusalem above,' where the resurrected Christ reigns over the heavenly and earthly powers. For the present, earthly Jerusalem known to men continues to be in bondage to men (Gal. 4:25). The power flowing from the heavenly Jerusalem and its reigning, resurrected King was displayed openly at Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus'  last Passover meal. The disciples had been told to remain at this same earthly Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father. It was in the temple area...that visible, audible manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit came on the assembled disciples.

These first twelve recipients of the Spirit of the new era of redemption instantly became the vehicles for transporting the new life that had its source in the heavenly Jerusalem. The new Israel of God was born in a day, and soon the worldwide kingdom of the cosmic Christ began to spread into the vast regions occupied by men of all nations. While the Jerusalem of this earth continues in bondage to the corrupting pride of man's sense of personal accomplishment, the Jerusalem above gives birth to men newly freed" (Understanding the Land, pp. 124-125). 

Robertson summarizes his thoughts on the city of Jerusalem when he says:

"Like all Old Covenant shadows, glorious prospects [i.e. those restoration prophecies in the OT prophets] have been realized in the days of the New Covenant, when people worship neither in Jerusalem nor in Samaria, but wherever in the world the Spirit of God manifests himself (John 4:21-24). The redemptive reality that the Old Covenant city could only foreshadow finds its consummate realization in the "Jerusalem above," which is "the mother of us all" (Gal. 4:26). The "Jerusalem above" is not merely a "spiritual" phenomenon that had no connection with the "real" world in which we live. Its reality injects itself constantly into the lives of God's people" (Israel of God, p. 17).

While recent developments concerning the city of Jerusalem has given us reason to revisit this subject--it would do us good to be settled in our minds about the fact that all who are united to Jesus by faith have been made children of Abraham and heirs of God (Gal. 3:29). Believers are the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem (Phil. 3:20). This is the only Jerusalem that ultimately matters. As John Newton put it, "Solid joys and lasting treasures, none but Zion's children know."

 

The Truth about the Rapture

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"We...will be caught up" (1 Thes. 4:17) Soon after I was converted at age 17 my dad gave me three books--a King James Bible and two by a local pastor I had yet to hear of: Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth and The Rapture. For the next three years I was immersed in eschatology. I even started a Bible study on my college campus utilizing charts that laid out the entire scheme of the last days utilizing a verse here from Daniel, a verse there from Ezekiel, and a verse over there from Revelation. To say I am conversant with the pre-tribulational, pre-millennial rapture of the church is an understatement.

I now believe that the rapture is the Second Coming. There is no gap between them. 1 Thessalonians 4 makes this clear.

Several weeks ago as I continued to preach through the doctrines explained in the Heidelberg Catechism at my congregation's evening service, I came to the final words in the Apostles' Creed: "the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting." Always trying to keep things fresh for those who've heard my preaching over the years, I went back and re-read many sources that expressed the rapture doctrine above. I knew what they said but it was a good exercise for my congregation. Then a few weeks later Dallas Theological Seminary had a sponsored post on Facebook for a free E-book by Dr. Mark Hitchcock on The Truth and Timing of the Rapture. I couldn't resist. I couldn't resist writing a counter E-book.

Thanks to my friends at the Alliance, we are pleased to offer the following free E-book and inexpensive booklet: Caught Up: 1 Thessalonians and the Truth About the Rapture. Download it; read it; share it.

Caught_Up_Cover_r21.jpeg

My goal is simple: show from 1 Thessalonians 4 that the rapture occurs at the Second Coming; there is no gap in time between these two events. If I can get brothers and sisters in Christ to see that, then they (you!) can move on to more heavy duty theological works I mention in the notes of the book.

Tolle Lege! Take up and read!

Just Thinking...

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As more and more is being written about ethnicity, I thought that I'd point our readers to the B.A.R. Podcast (Biblical And Reformed), hosted by my friend, Dawain Atkinson. Dawain has had some the most noted pastors and theologians on the show (e.g. Derek ThomasMark Dever and H.B. Charles, Jr.). Additionally, he regularly interviews Christian hip hop artists and various local pastors. Recently, he interviewed Darrel B. Harrison, a fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of the Princeton Theological Seminary. The biblical and theological emphasis in this particular episode brings much to the table for your consideration, in light of current discussions about race and social justice. So, do yourself the favor and go listen to the episode titled, "Just Thinking...For Myself!"

Why Did Jesus Need the Holy Spirit?

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As we make our way through the Gospel records, we quickly discover that Jesus needed the Holy Spirit at every step and in every stage of His life and ministry. While the human nature of Jesus was inseparably united to the Divine nature of the second Person of the Godhead, Jesus needed to live a perfectly sinless life in the power and by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It was not sufficient for Him--as the second Adam and representative of a new humanity--to merely live according to His Divine nature. What we need as fallen men is a human Redeemer who would gain a human holiness for His people and would die a human death in their place. As was true for Adam so it was for Jesus--the Last Adam. The Savior needed the Holy Spirit to sustain and empower Him to obey His Father, even to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:10).

Jesus needed the Holy Spirit in every act that took place in His life and for the work of redemption. The Holy Spirit had to overshadow the virgin Mary at Jesus' incarnation (Luke 1:35); Christ needed the Spirit at His anointing for public ministry when John baptized Him (Matt. 3:16; Luke 3:22); He needed the Spirit when driven into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12); He needed the Spirit when casting out demons in order to establish the kingdom of God (Matt. 12:28); He needed the Spirit to enable Him to offer Himself without spot to God as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of His people (Heb. 9:14); and, He needed the Spirit to raise Him from the dead (Rom. 8:11). At every step in the Messianic ministry, Christ relied upon the Third Person of the Godhead.

In his masterful work on The Holy Spirit, Sinclair Ferguson succinctly summarized the various stages in Jesus' life in which the Holy Spirit was at work:

The Spirit who was present and active at Christ's conception as the head of the new creation, by whom He was anointed at baptism (John 1:32-34), who directed Him throughout His temptations (Matthew 4:1), empowered Him in His miracles (Luke 11:20), energized Him in His sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14), and vindicated Him in His resurrection (1 Timothy 3:16; Romans 1:4), now indwells disciples in this specific identity.1

Somewhat surprisingly, while theologians have righty devoted much time to unpacking and systematizing the biblical teaching about the two natures of Jesus, very little has actually been written--in a concentrated way--on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus. In addition to Ferguson's work, there is R.A. Finlayson's collection of short essays titled, Reformed Theological Writings, in which he contributed two short articles--"The Love of the Spirit in Man's Redemption" and "The Holy Spirit in the Life of Christ"--to flesh out the essence of this all-important aspect of Christology. However, it was John Owen, the Prince of the Puritan theologians, who has written what is arguably the most substantial treatment on this subject. In vol. 3 of his works, Owen set out eleven ways in which the Holy Spirit is said to have worked in the life and ministry of Jesus in the Scriptures:


"First, the framing, forming, and miraculous conception of the body of Christ in the womb of the blessed Virgin was the peculiar and especial work of the Holy Ghost...2

Second, the human nature of Christ being thus formed in the womb by a creating act of the Holy Spirit, was in the instant of its conception sanctified, and filled with grace according to the measure of its receptivity...3

Third, the Spirit carried on that work whose foundation he had thus laid. And two things are to be here diligently observed:

  • That the Lord Christ, as man, did and was to exercise all grace by the rational faculties and powers of his soul, his understanding, will, and affections; for he acted grace as a man, "made of a woman, made under the law."
  • The human nature of Christ was capable of having new objects proposed to its mind and understanding, whereof before it had a simple nescience...

Fourth, the Holy Spirit, in a peculiar manner, anointed him with all those extraordinary powers and gifts which were necessary for the exercise and discharging of his office on the earth...4

Fifth, it was in an especial manner by the power of the Holy Spirit he wrought those great and miraculous works whereby his ministry was attested unto and confirmed...5

Sixth, by him was he guided, directed, comforted, supported, in the whole course of his ministry, temptations, obedience, and sufferings. Some few instances on this head may suffice...6

Seventh, He offered himself up unto God through the eternal Spirit, Heb. 9:14...7

Eighth, there was a peculiar work of the Holy Spirit towards the Lord Christ whilst he was in the state of the dead; for here our preceding rule must be remembered,--namely, that notwithstanding the union of the human nature of Christ with the divine person of the Son, yet the communications of God unto it, beyond subsistence, were voluntary...8

Ninth, there was a peculiar work of the Holy Spirit in his resurrection, this being the completing act in laying the foundation of the church, whereby Christ entered into his rest,--the great testimony given unto the finishing of the work of redemption, with the satisfaction of God therein, and his acceptation of the person of the Redeemer...9

Tenth, it was the Holy Spirit that glorified the human nature [of Christ], and made it every way meet for its eternal residence at the right hand of God, and a pattern of the glorification of the bodies of them that believe on him...10

There is yet another work of the Holy Spirit, not immediately in and upon the person of the Lord Christ, but towards him, and on his behalf, with respect unto his work and office; and it comprises the head and fountain of the whole office of the Holy Spirit towards the church. This was his witness-bearing unto the Lord Christ,--namely, that he was the Son of God, the true Messiah, and that the work which he performed in the world was committed unto him by God the Father to accomplish..."11

1. Sinclair Ferguson The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996) p. 72

2. Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 3, p. 160). Edinburgh: T&T Clark. p. 160.

3. Ibid., pp. 160-161.

4. Ibid., p. 162.

5. Ibid., p. 168.

6. Ibid., p. 171.

7. Ibid., p. 174.

8. Ibid., p. 174.

9. Ibid., p. 176.

10. Ibid., p. 180.

11. Ibid., p. 181.

Henry van Dyke, an English literature professor at Princeton University in the 19th-20th centuries, wrote, "As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge." We, therefore, prize spontaneity. Many things that come prepackaged are overly familiar and sometimes boring. It is common to place one's daily activities in the realm of "habit" and "routine."

Every morning you awake to the same tune--whining children, an alarm, whistling birds outside your window. You look in the mirror at the same face, use the same toothbrush, wear the same shoes for work, and drive the same car. You come home at the same time, unless traffic prohibits, to an empty house or perhaps your family. As your evening retires, you awake the next morning, provided the Lord wills, to do it all over again. Where is the freshness? Where is the novelty? With such a life, will "new dimensions of the soul...emerge?"

If you are not careful, the Christmas season could easily fall into nothing more than habit and routine. Every year after Thanksgiving, you begin preparing for Christmas. The brown, red, and orange decorations are buried in the boxes while the green, red, and gold colors emerge. The nativity scene--lest baby Jesus--is placed on a table in your house, and the reef is placed on the front door. The initial days of December afford you the right to purchase a Christmas tree. Your home is now newly revived with a scent of pine. Presents are placed under the tree as you await 12:01am on December 25th. All this is routine. It is a pattern that emerges year-after-year. Where is the freshness and novelty? They both come not necessarily from decorating your home or Christmas tree, though that can provide a sense of joy. The novelty, if I may put it this way, comes from 'what's in the box.' That's the excitement--new presents. That's the freshness--new toys. 

We may not consciously be thinking about this at the moment we open our gifts, but the gifts ultimately point to the Greatest Gift--the Lord Jesus Christ. This costly Gift is ours; we celebrate it every Sunday; we celebrate it during the Christmas season. This is Christmas Doctrine 101--what then does this have to do with the star on your Christmas tree? My observations, I believe, will neither take away nor add to the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Rather, it may provide an insight to the Christmas season that might, according to the late Professor van Dyke, add "new dimensions [to] the soul." 

First, let's consider the historical narrative leading to the birth of Christ. 

"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was" (Matt. 2:1-2, 9; ESV). 

Far from Matthew foreshadowing the first On Star navigation system, this star represented something so striking it is no wonder people want to take the Christ out of Christmas. However, in order to comprehend the meaning of this star, and correspondingly the star on top of your Christmas tree, one must take a trip down memory lane to Numbers 24.

There, the king of Moab was fearful that Israel was going to destroy his nation. He, therefore, called a seer, Balaam, to prophesy against Israel. In his final prophesy, he said,

"I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!" (Num. 24:17-19; ESV). 

Contrary to what the King of Moab desired, Balaam prophesied that the enemies of Israel would be destroyed. "Edom [would] be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, [would] be dispossessed." The star, along with the scepter, indicated destruction was near. The scepter represented sovereign rule, the duty of a king, and the star indicated destruction, the movement of a king.

It is fitting that Jesus, therefore, in Matthew's Gospel is portrayed as king (Matt. 1:1, 2:2, 4). He exercises dominion over all nations and peoples (Matt. 28:16-20). It was his duty, nevertheless, to do much more than rule. Jesus also came to destroy. More particularly, he came to destroy all his and your enemies (WSC 26).

The star in Matthew 2, mentioned also in Numbers 24, was a sign for the people that God was going to stretch out his right arm of power. He was going to retrieve what was ruined by sin and Satan. He was coming to destroy. As the wise men, therefore, were somehow led by the star, their final destination--the resting place of the star--indicated that they found the king, the one who exercised sovereign dominion over all the nations and peoples, the one who came to destroy his enemies. 

It must have been striking to be led to a child. How could a child rule and destroy the enemies of God and his people? Whatever their thoughts, Jesus did accomplish all that his Father purposed. Yes, while Jesus offered great hope for sinners, we must not forget that one part of his mission was to destroy the enemies of God. Colossians 2:15,

"He disarmed the rulers and authorities, and put the to open shame, by triumphing over them..."

Therefore, this is an exciting time of the year, one that, while it is filled with routine, provides opportunity for an invigorating taste of the past and the future. The Son of God clothed himself in human flesh to destroy his enemies. Then, it was largely spiritual (Col. 2:15). However, when he comes again, he will destroy people (Rev. 20:11-15).

Does the star atop your Christmas tree point you to destruction? Are you reminded that just as the wise men were led by a star to the Great Gift--one who would destroy his enemies--so, too, you are led by the star atop your Christmas tree at dusk to lesser gifts? As you look at that star, are you reminded that just as your savior came once to destroy, he is coming again? You, who are united to Christ, have a great hope, namely your savior who is coming to bury all your enemies, which includes sin and death, once for all. 

Do not be completely immersed in the idea of routine and habit this Christmas season. It is easy to be conditioned by pattern without experiencing joy. Routine is good; habit can be as well; the new dimensions of the soul, however, is what will come when all that the star atop your Christmas tree represents is fully realized and you see your savior face-to-face, for you will be like him.