Archive for June, 2012

25
Jun
12

In These Last Days–Chapter 3 Jesus the Messiah: The Apostle Whom We Confess

CHAPTER 3

JESUS THE MESSIAH:
The Apostle Whom We Confess

Clearly, the writer of this epistle assumes his readers have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. In the first two chapters of his treatise he makes no effort to convince his readers that Jesus is the Christ. Instead, he exhorts them to give careful attention (2:1) to God’s “so great salvation” based on their common acknowledgement that Jesus is Lord (2:3). Jesus has been exalted to the throne and crowned with glory and honor.

In this chapter and the ones that follow we will examine the message of the epistle considering the two-fold division around which the writer arranges his argument. In Heb 3:1 he writes, “. . .fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. In the first main division of his argument, the writer calls on his readers to consider (fix their thoughts on) the Son, the ruler of the world to come, in contrast to the mediator and messengers of the Old Covenant (1:5-4:13). As “the apostle whom we confess,” God has sent Him to give us a full revelation of Himself and His redemptive purposes. In contrast to the fragmentary revelation of the Old Covenant, He has spoken to us by His Son (Heb 1:2). In the second main division of his argument, he contrasts the Son, the New Covenant high priest after the order of Melchizedek, with the high priests of the Old Covenant (4:14-10:18). As “the high priest whom we confess,” He speaks to God about His people. He now appears in the heavenly holy place to plead our cause before God. This He does by presenting His full and final sacrifice by which He has reconciled us to God.

Though the writer refers to Jesus, not as our “prophet” but as the “apostle” whom we confess, clearly it is His prophetic ministry that he has in mind. An apostle was one whom God had sent with divine authority to confront men with God’s message. As we shall see, the same was true of biblical prophets. Since the writer intends to compare and contrast Jesus and Moses, it follows that these two must have had the same or similar ministries. Moses and those who followed him functioned as prophets. Since the people had requested that they not “hear the voice of God anymore,” God appointed intermediaries between Himself and them. Moses was Israel’s lawgiver in the sense that he received the law from God and delivered it to the people. He was a faithful servant in God’s household.

Jesus has now replaced Moses as lawgiver. Yet, He comes not as a servant in the house but as a Son over His own household. He speaks as one having authority.

WHAT IS A PROPHET?

Before we begin to examine the prophetic ministry of Christ, we need to define the meaning of the term “prophet.” Perhaps the most common conception of a prophet is that he is a person who foretells the future. Yet, though it is true that biblical prophets were often involved in predicting future events, this was not a prophet’s primary function. Most often, it was the task of old covenant prophets to confront the Israelites with their disobedience to and rebellion against Jehovah with whom they had broken covenant. God intended the predictive aspect of their ministries to give believers in Israel hope as they anticipated the establishment of Jehovah’s reign on earth.
Normally, we think of the old covenant prophetic order as beginning with Samuel. In one of his sermons, recorded in Acts 3:12-26, Peter says, “Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after. . . .” (Acts 3:24). Yet, Moses made it clear in Deuteronomy 18:15-22, that his function as Israel’s leader was a prophetic function. He said,

15The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. 16For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” 17The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him. 19If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. 20But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” 21You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” 22If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

These verses provide us with important information concerning the nature and function of the prophetic ministry. They teach us that:

1. A prophet is a person whom God has sent (raised up) to reveal His will to His people (v.15).

2. He is one who speaks in the LORD’s name, that is, on the LORD’s behalf, in His place, and with His authority (vv.16-18).

3. A prophet’s message cannot be safely ignored. His words are God’s words. Those who refuse to hear the words of God’s prophet must give an account to God (vv.15,19).

4. A prophet who speaks his own message or who speaks in the name of other gods is a false prophet. He must be put to death (v.20).

5. The predictions that a true prophet of Jehovah makes will always come true. God’s prophets are accurate in their predictions 100% of the time (v.22).

6. False prophets may be safely ignored (v.22).

Besides stating these general principles concerning the prophetic ministry, Moses predicts in these verses that God will raise up another prophet like himself. The relationship between Moses and this new prophet is that of typical correspondence. If, therefore, we want to understand that relationship, it is necessary for us to understand the nature of biblical typology (see Appendix B).

MOSES, A TYPE OF CHRIST

It seems clear that God intended Moses, as a historic person, and the “redemptive historical” events of the Exodus typically to represent and thus predict Christ and the spiritual redemption that He has accomplished. If this is true, then we should view Christ as a second Moses, the law-giver (and prophet) of the new covenant. There are several factors that support this conclusion. We will briefly consider the following: 1. The widespread acknowledgment by the common people in Israel that Jesus was “that prophet.” 2. Direct references to and application of this prediction (Deut 18:15-22) to Christ as the predicted prophet, 3 Exodus typology recognized by NT writers (including explicit comparisons and contrasts between Moses and Jesus).

“THAT PROPHET”

There can be little doubt that the common people in Israel were expecting “that prophet” that Moses had predicted in Deuteronomy 18. Jesus also plainly presented Himself as a prophet. In all four Gospel accounts of His ministry He, speaking about Himself, reminded the people that “a prophet is not without honor except in his own country” (Matt 13:57; Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24; John 4:44). His disciples recognized Him as “a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19).

The matter about which they were uncertain at the beginning was the identity of the prophet. John relates the account of an interrogation of John the Baptist by the priests and Levites from Jerusalem (John 1:19-28). When they asked him pointedly, “Are you the prophet?” he answered, “no!”(1:21). There can be little question that John was a prophet. Yet he wanted them to understand that he was not the long expected prophet of Moses’ prophecy.

The woman at the well of Sychar perceived that Jesus was a prophet (John 4:19), but there is no indication that she recognized Him as the prophet of whom Moses had spoken

Yet, as Jesus continued to show His glory through the signs that His Father had given Him to do, the common people began to recognize that He was that prophet. Those who witnessed the sign that did in feeding the five thousand concluded, “This is truly the prophet that is coming into the world” (John 6:14). Later, some of those who had gathered for the Passover festival again exclaimed, “This is truly the prophet!” (John 7:40). It was this very idea that those in authority were seeking to dispel (John 7:52). Despite the unbelief of official Jerusalem, many of the common people clearly recognized Jesus as the prophesied prophet.

NT CITATIONS OF DEUTERONOMY 18:15-22

There are two direct citations of Moses’ prophecy in the New Testament Scriptures (Acts 3:22-23; 7:37). Stephen’s citation is shorter than Peter’s and does not reveal the identity of the prophet. Peter’s citation, on the other hand, makes it clear that Jesus is the prophet about whom Moses was speaking. He said,

19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus. 21He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22For Moses said, “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; . . .26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you. . . .

EXODUS TYPOLOGY

When we consider the pronouncements of our Lord Jesus concerning the Old Testament Scriptures, it must not escape our notice that He claimed to be the theme of that body of truth (Luke 24:27,44; John 5:39,46). There is a real sense in which the Jews of Jesus’ day could claim that they “delighted in the law of God. . .” (cf. Rom. 7:22). Yet, in doing so they had failed to delight in the God of the law. They had become convinced that the Old Testament Scripture was a law-centered book. In truth, it was a Christ-centered book. It was the design of Jesus and the New Testament writers to show that the Old and New Testament Scriptures were not competing and contradictory documents.The same God had inspired both documents. Both reveal one overarching redemptive purpose. Both report God’s redemptive activity on His people’s behalf in a way that clearly lends itself to analogical investigation and discovery. Christ is the central message of both the Old and New Testament Scriptures.

Redemption is one of the dominant themes in the Old Testament Scriptures. Consequently, it is not surprising that the Exodus and God’s mighty, redemptive acts that effected it became a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. God’s powerful deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage was the decisive event that formed Israel as a nation before Jehovah. It was this event that became the prototype for all God’s subsequent acts of redemption in Israel. Throughout the history of that nation, the Israelites were reminded that Jehovah was the God who had “brought them up out of the land of Egypt” (See, for example, Neh. 9:9-25; Isa. 63:11-14; Jer. 2:6-7; 16:14-15; Mic.6:4-5). It is on the ground of this great deliverance, and Jehovah’s revelation about Himself through it, that He encouraged Israel to expect repeated deliverances from her enemies” oppression. Throughout the Psalter, Jehovah is remembered and praised as the one who brought Israel out of Egypt (see Psa. 78:16; 80:8; 81:10; 105; 106:43). R.E. Nixon writes,

But when history and religion are seen to be closely related, when men believe that there is a God who orders and disposes the affairs of the human race according to His own good pleasure, the Exodus stands out as the most significant of His mighty acts until His own entry into the world in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Both the Exodus and other Divine acts of deliverance that conformed to its pattern during the old covenant period became types of the spiritual redemption that Christ has accomplished for His new covenant people.

Though it is beyond the scope of this study to trace every occurrence of Exodus typology in the New Testament, we want briefly to notice three examples in which clearly the writers regard Jesus as the second Moses, the prophet and law-giver of the New Covenant.

Synoptic Gospels

Matthew 2:11-7:29

It is difficult to ignore the striking typological correspondences that Matthew highlights in the arrangement of his Gospel. First, he clearly expects his readers to recognize the analogical relationship between Israel’s departure from Egypt under Moses’ leadership and the Egypt experience of Jesus’ early childhood. He applies an Old Testament text that originally referred to Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (Hosea 11:1), to the flight of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus into Egypt (Matt.2:14-15). He could legitimately use Hosea’s words in this way because the word “son” had taken on generic significance. It could refer to Israel as a nation, to Christ who is the quintessential Israelite, or to those who are in Christ who is the Son, in the supreme sense.

We must not overlook the purpose of this flight into Egypt. Jesus and His parents fled there to escape Herod’s attempt to exterminate all male Israelites under the age of two. Surely, Matthew wants us to see a parallel between this attempt and that of the Pharaoh in Moses’ day. Perhaps there is also a parallel between Israel’s passage through the Red Sea (cf. 1 Cor. 10:2) and Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan (Matt. 3:13-17).

Immediately following Jesus’ baptism, He entered the desert to be tested (Matt.4:1-11). Nixon has pointed out that Israel’s desert experience mirrors that of Jesus. He wrote,

There can be little doubt that the forty days in the wilderness are a miniature of the forty years which Israel spent in the wilderness, as in a sense was Moses’ forty days in the mount. The temptations put to Christ are basically those to which Israel had yielded. Where they had been dissatisfied with Yahweh’s provision of manna (Num.11:1ff), He is tempted to turn stones into bread (4:3). Where they put God to the test at Massah demanding proof of His presence and power (Ex. 17:1ff), He is tempted to jump from the Temple pinnacle to force God to honour His promises (4:5f). Where they forgot the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt and substituted a molten calf for Him (Ex. 32:1f), He is tempted to fall down and worship Satan (4:8). Christ is shown to meet the temptation not arbitrarily but deliberately from Moses’ summary in Deuteronomy of the history of Israel in the wilderness.

Jesus, the consummate Israelite, passed through the desert and was subjected to the same kind of temptations that the nation had faced. But, unlike them, He was the victor.

Following His victory over the temptations of Satan, Jesus began to announce that the kingdom was near. Under Moses’ leadership at the time of the Exodus, God had constituted Israel a nation. In announcing the nearness of the kingdom, Jesus began to establish an antitypical nation. By His visit to Zebulun and Naphtali, He indicated the ethnic makeup of the new spiritual nation that He was about to establish (4:12-17). In His kingdom there would no longer be a distinction between Jew and Gentile. Now people from every nation would, through faith, become the people of God.

Just as Moses had climbed Mount Sinai and received the Law at the time of the Exodus, so Jesus ascends a mountain and gives the laws of His kingdom to His disciples (Matt. 5:1-7:29). In the so-called “sermon on the Mount,” Jesus did not merely speak as an interpreter of the old covenant law. Douglas Moo writes, “The “I say to you” emphasizes a new and startling focus on the authority of Jesus of Nazareth, an authority that goes far beyond a restatement of the OT law.” He spoke as the one who would fulfill (and therefore replace) the old covenant (5:17) and the kingdom with which it was associated.In its place He would establish a new covenant and a universal, spiritual, and eternal kingdom. Obedience or disobedience to His sayings (“these words of mine”–7:24) became the acid test of the reality of a person’s profession (7:24-27). Jesus spoke as the new Moses, the prophet and law-giver of the new covenant. He spoke “as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (7:29).

Luke 9:28-36 (and parallels)

Clearly the Synoptic writers regarded the mount of transfiguration experience a fulfillment of “Exodus typology.” Jesus ascended the mount with three companions (Luke 9:28) just as Moses had done (Exo 24:1). Moses’ face shone with the brightness of God’s glory (Exo. 34:29). Both Jesus’ face and His clothing were gleaming and flashing forth like lightning (9:29). Moses and Elijah (representatives of the Law and the Prophets respectively) appeared in glory and were discussing Jesus’ departure (exodos) which He was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. Nixon has commented, “For the instructed Christian reader of the Gospel that could mean nothing less than the repetition of God’s mighty acts of redemption in His death and resurrection at Jerusalem.” Our Lord, as Moses had done, descended from the mount to find a faithless and perverse generation (Luke 9:41).

The most arresting feature of this event is the witness that God the Father gives concerning the prophetic authority of Jesus. It seems significant that Luke informs his readers that Moses and Elijah “were going away from Him [Jesus]” (v.33) when Peter spoke and suggested that they should pitch three tents; one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus. Luke then tells us that Peter “did not know what he was saying.” He did not yet understand what was about to happen when Jesus “fulfilled the Exodus.” He was thinking that the authority of the old covenant could remain on an equal footing with the authority of Jesus, the prophet and law-giver of the new covenant. The authority of the old covenant was departing. The force of his suggestion is that the old and new covenants should continue to have equal authority in the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. In the words that came from the cloud “This is my beloved (chosen) Son; hear Him” (v.35), there is a clear echo of the prophecy and promise that God had made to Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” Finally Luke tells us that when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone (v.36). He does not intend for us to understand that Peter, James, and John were no longer there. Verse thirty-seven tells us that the next day they came down from the mountain. What he is telling us is that the authority of the old covenant (represented by Moses and Elijah) is gone, and Jesus alone remains as the authority for the new covenant believer.

This does not mean that the Old Testament Scriptures are no longer valuable. What it means is that they are not valuable as an authoritative rule of life for believers under the new covenant. Their primary value is in what they teach us about Christ who now rules alone.

Hebrews 3:1-4:13

Clearly the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews drew on the Exodus typology in showing that Christ, our New Covenant prophet, is far superior to Moses and all the prophets of the Old Covenant. In Heb 3:1-4:13 the writer shows that Jesus, the second Moses, although like Moses, is superior to him. He first shows how Moses and Jesus are alike and then draws a contrast between them. He shows that they are alike in the following ways: 1. Both Moses and Jesus were faithful in the execution of their duties (v.2), 2. Both Moses and Jesus were messengers appointed by God (v.2). 3. Both Moses and Jesus are worthy of honor and respect as God’s messengers (v.3).

After showing the ways in which Moses and Jesus are alike, he draws the following contrasts: 1. Jesus is worthy of greater honor than Moses (v.3). Because, a. He built (furnished) the house; Moses is part of the house[hold]. b. Moses is a servant in the house; Christ is a Son over His own house[hold]. 2. The rest that Moses spoke of was only a type of the spiritual and everlasting rest that Jesus gives His people. Neither Moses nor Joshua could lead Israel into the fulfillment of God’s promised rest (3:7-4:13). Therefore, we must conclude, not only that Jesus is “the prophet like Moses’ that God had promised, but also that He is a better prophet than Moses was. We shall consider the details of Jesus’ superiority over Moses and Joshua in a later chapter on the inheritance theme in Hebrews.

THEOLOGICAL CONCLUSIONS

There are certain theological conclusions that we can draw from the material we have examined. The following are some of the more important ones:

1. Moses, and the old covenant he mediates, is inferior to Christ (the second Moses) and the new covenant He mediates. The type is always inferior to the antitype. R.E. Nixon writes, “The Old Testament can only leave men expectant, it cannot make them satisfied. . .The Old Testament predicts a pattern, the New Testament proclaims a fulfillment.”

2. The continuity that exists between the old and new covenants is that of type to antitype and of promise to fulfillment. The Church does not replace the nation of Israel in the sense that the Church now equals Israel. The Church is rather a totally new creation that fulfills that which characterized Israel in type and promise.

3. Christ is the central theme and message of both the Old and New Testament Scriptures.

4. God did not intend for Moses to continue as the law-giver after the antitype he predicted (Christ) had arrived. The antitype (the fulfillment), by its very nature, supersedes the type that predicted it.

5. We must reject every pretended prophet who does not come to us with God’s words.

6. Christ is now the law-giver for His people. We must hear and obey Him. He alone is the Lord of His Church.

7. We who have heard Jesus, the greater law-giver, have a greater responsibility than did Israel under the law (Old Covenant).

8. Christ alone, by His Spirit, can open the Scriptures to us. We must depend on Him.

09
Jun
12

“. . .so that no one may boast. . . .”

This morning I had the unhappy experience of watching and listening to a YouTube video in which the speaker was trying to “refute Calvinism” by his “exegesis” of Romans 9.  Apart from his deplorable communication skills, and his ignoring of the context in which we find this passage, (an error of which he accused his opponents) the Pelagian speaker* actually said many things with which most Calvinists would probably agree.  In fact, I confess I became impatient as I listened waiting for him to state something that would not be obvious to a poorly educated third grader.  Finally, he came to points of difference.  His primary argument seemed to be that God is sovereign in choosing and rejecting nations but is not sovereign in the salvation of sinners.  The truth is, God is sovereign everywhere, or he is not sovereign anywhere.  And, if he is not sovereign everywhere, he simply is not God.  The speaker on the above mentioned video finally concluded, though he did not state it in as many words, that the sinner is the potter who must make himself either a vessel of honor or a vessel of dishonor.

The reality is, Romans 9 is intended to answer a concern that arose out of Paul’s teaching in Chapter 8.  Paul had made it quite clear that God has effectually called believers according to his eternal electing purpose.  If he has called us according to his purpose, he has declared us righteous by his grace.  God’s act of justification comes to those, and only those, who are united to Christ by faith.  This meant many of Abraham’s natural offspring were going to perish in their sins since they had obstinately refused to believe the gospel of grace.  It was for this reason Paul wrote, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (v.6). As his argument unfolds in chapters 9-11 it becomes clear God is certain to justify all his foreknown and chosen people, in this case the remnant among ethnic Israel.

In verses 9-13, the Apostle’s intent was to demonstrate God’s sovereign right to choose whom he wills and pass over whom he wills.  His choice of Jacob [Israel] to national blessings is a figure of his choice of his New Covenant people to spiritual and eternal blessings.  The way in which he chose Jacob, i.e., before birth, without consideration of good or evil actions [Had he considered Jacob’s actions, he would never have chosen him], illustrates the manner in which God has chosen New Covenant believers to salvation, “not because of works but because of him who calls” (v. 12).

A large portion of the remainder of the chapter is taken up with two objections to the idea of sovereign election:  1.  Someone is going to say, “but that’s not fair.” “What shall we say then, is there injustice on God’s part. . .”  (v. 14)?  and 2.   Someone is going to say, “If this is true, how can God hold sinners responsible” (“Why does he still find fault, for who can resist his will” (v. 19)?

Interestingly, these are the same two objections that invariably arise whenever we teach the biblical doctrine of sovereign election.  The way Paul answers these objections is extremely significant. If the doctrine of free will salvation were correct, Paul would simply have answered that God is not unjust in choosing one sinner over another since his choice is only a rubber stamp of the “free will”decision he foresaw the sinner would make.  It is not God who determines who is saved, but the sinner.  This is not the way he answers.  Instead, he answers that God is the absolute sovereign who in his holiness is free to do whatever he pleases.  He concludes that God’s display of mercy does not depend on the sinner’s will “it is not of him who wills,” nor the sinner’s exertion “nor of him who runs,” but of God who shows mercy.

In answer to the second objection, Paul merely replies that God is the sovereign potter who has the right to dispose of his creatures as he pleases.  If he wishes to leave us in our sins and then judge us for committing those sins, he has the right to do so.  Who are you to reply against God?  If the free will position were correct, he would simply have answered that the matter is really under the control of the sinner’s free will and not under the control of the potter.

There are two questions the proponents of “free will” salvation need to consider.  One concerns this issue of boasting; the other concerns the issue of God’s purpose in creating and redeeming us.

The New Testament Scriptures are clear that God has so planned the sinner’s salvation that no room will be left for boasting in anything but God and grace.  Consider the following verses:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1: 26-31).

Please notice the Apostle says, “it is because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus.” It is God’s work, not the sinner’s.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
“For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it”  (1 Cor. 4:7).
The question the proponents of the free will doctrine or the prevenient grace doctrine need to answer is how their view excludes boasting on the sinner’s part.  If faith in Christ  arises from sinful nature, i.e., the sinner finds something he is not seeking and to which by nature he is averse, or in the case of the Pelagian faith arises from the person’s neutrality toward God,  or in the case of the Arminian, faith results from prevenient grace  that inexplicably enables some but not others [one must assume some sinners must be better than other sinners.]  In all these cases it is the sinner who ultimately tips the scale toward a reception of the gospel.  The one who receives the gospel apparently has some virtue others do not possess and he has this virtue apart from any special grace.  If this were the case, he would have cause for boasting, would he not?

Martin Luther wrote, “If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free-will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.”

Centuries later, C. H. Spurgeon echoed these words in his sermon, “Free Will–a slave,” He said,

It may seem a harsh sentiment; but he who in his soul believes that man does of his own free-will turn to God, cannot have been taught of God, for that is one of the first principles taught us when God begins with us, that we have neither will nor power, but that he gives both; that he is “Alpha and Omega” in the salvation of men.

The other issue is the purpose for which God created us and redeemed us.  God’s purpose in all things is the manifestation of his glory.  By “glory”  we understand the sum of his glorious attributes.  Peter wrote, “. . .whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).
My question is, which view most magnifies God’s glorious attributes and most deflates the sinner’s pride, the free will doctrine or the free grace doctrine?
Boast if you will in your choice as though it were all of your own doing;  I intend to boast in the free, sovereign and distinguishing grace of God.

*A Pelagian is a person who believes the doctrines set forth by Pelagius who denied the doctrine of original sin, and the imputation of Adam’s guilt and sinful nature and affirmed the ability of humans to be righteous.  Pelagianism was condemned as heresy by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.

08
Jun
12

In These Last Days–Chapter Two

CHAPTER TWO
THE NEW AGE HAS COME

“In These Last Days”

The reader of The Epistle to the Hebrews needs to read no further than the first two verses of the first chapter before he is struck by the fact that the writer intends to draw a contrast. He distinguishes what he refers to as former times–”in the past”–from a period that he calls “these last days,” lit. the last of these days. He writes,

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . .”

It is impossible to interpret this epistle properly apart from understanding the significance of this contrast. First, it is important to understand what the writer means by the phrase “formerly” or “of old time.” Commentators generally agree that this phrase denotes that period during which God revealed Himself to the covenant nation of Israel. The writer clearly expected his readers to regard this as an inferior revelation because of its fragmentary nature.

Though it is plain, since it is the same God who spoke in both Testaments, that there is continuity between them, it is equally obvious that there is a great deal of discontinuity. Consider the contrasts that the writer draws in these two verses.

GOD SPOKE

In the Past

to our forefathers

by the prophets

in many parts and many ways

 

In These Last Days

to us

by one who is a Son as to his essence

in a full and final revelation

 

 

The other phrase, “in these last days,” seems to have been the subject of a bit more disagreement. For example, John Owen interpreted this phrase as a reference to the very end of the period that our author calls “the past.” He wrote, “It is the last days of the Judaical church and state, which were then drawing to their period and abolition, that are here and elsewhere called “the last days,” or the latter days,” or the last hour,” 2 Pet. iii.3; 1 John ii.18; Jude 18.” Now, it is true that it was in the last days of the period when the old covenant was still in force that the Messiah appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. He fulfilled the old covenant so that He might establish the new. He took the curse of the old creation on Himself that He might establish, enter and become the head of the new creation. But, if Owen is right, then the period the writer describes as “these last days” has already ended. This is true even if we consider the end of Judaism to have occurred when the sacrificial offerings finally ceased in 70 A.D. Yet, this is an epistle of sharp contrasts between the respective situations under the old and new covenants. For that reason, it makes more sense to understand the phrase as a reference to the entire period that began with the advent of Christ and will continue until the eternal state begins. It is a phrase that in Rabbinic literature is consistently called “the age of the Messiah.” If we understand the phrase this way, the contrast is not between the former times and the last of these former times. This would not be much of a contrast at all. The contrast that the writer intends, is a contrast between two distinctive ages, governed by two distinct covenants. Consider Philip Hughes” excellent comment on this contrast. He writes,

The contrast is further emphasized by the assertion that it was in former times that God spoke through the prophets, whereas it is in this final age that he has spoken through his Son. That quite distinct ages or dispensations are involved–the one marked by incompleteness and anticipation, the other by completeness and fulfillment, the one preliminary, the other ultimate–shows how fundamental the contrast is. This contrast, too, plays a prominent part in the structure of the epistle as our author demonstrates that the old order of patriarchal expectation, prophetic utterance, Mosaic covenant, and levitical priesthood has given way to the new order of messianic reality which, unlike the old, is final and permanent because its leadership, its priesthood, and its kingdom belong uniquely to him who is the eternal Son.

C.K. Barrett has argued that “. . .the eschatological is the determining element” in the epistle to the Hebrews. He wrote,

The characteristically Christian conviction, however, that eschatological events have already taken place . . .is found as clearly in Hebrews as in any part of the N.T. The first coming of Jesus was of course such an event, and indeed the primary eschatological event. . .The days in which the Church lived were the last days, ushered in by the incarnation, death, and ascension of Jesus and shortly to be consummated by his return, when all his enemies should have been subjugated to him (ii.8f.,x.12f.). Indeed, the consummation of the ages has already been reached, and the present moment is that on which the meaning of the Old Testament turns (xi 39 f).

The writer labors throughout this epistle to show that the age of the Messiah has come. The new creation has been inaugurated. God has established the new covenant order, and its blessings now flow to those who are in Christ. How foolish it would be to return to the weakness and unprofitableness of the old covenant order which made nothing perfect.

“The World to Come”

A second phrase that parallels the one we have just considered occurs twice (2:5;6:5) in the KJV translation of The Epistle to the Hebrews. It is the phrase, “the world to come.” Though the Greek word translated “world” is not the same in both these verses, the phrase has essentially the same significance in both cases. In Heb 2:5 the word translated world is oikoumenen–inhabited earth. In Heb 6:5 the word is aionos–age. In both cases, the reference is to the age of the Messiah.

Hebrews 2:5-13

The World to Come Has Come

The translation of Heb 2:5 in the New English Bible is particularly interesting. It reads, “For it is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, which is our theme.” Our author does not use the phrase “world to come” or “coming age” as a reference to some future period in contrast to the age in which we now live. He uses it as a reference to the new, Messianic age, the new creation that Christ inaugurated at His resurrection, in contrast to the old creation. This becomes clear when the writer begins to expound the eighth Psalm. He writes,

5It is not unto angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
7You made him a little lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor
8and put everything under his feet.”

In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

There are many questions that surround the use of Psalm eight in this epistle that, when properly answered, shed significant light on a plethora of theological issues.

Clearly, the writer of The Epistle to the Hebrews, in citing Psalm Eight, intends to bring to his reader’s minds that great day in which redeemed man will again be crowned with glory and honor and given dominion over the works of God’s hands. It is the Messianic age of fulfillment he has in mind. It is that period which, from the perspective of the OT prophets, was yet future, i.e., “the world to come.” Yet, from the perspective of our author, the world to come was a present reality. Nevertheless, the full realization of God’s purposed blessings continues to await the return of the Messiah.

Already/Not Yet

The passage under consideration provides an excellent example of the already/not yet tension that exists not only in this epistle but throughout the New Testament Scriptures. There is an important question we need to answer in the exposition of this passage: Who is it to whom God will subject all things? Is this a reference to Christ in particular, or is it a reference to redeemed man? To whomever it refers, the text clearly tells us that all things are not yet put under him, v.8. Perhaps it would help us discover to whom all things are to be subjected, if we should ask whether it is really accurate to say that all things are not yet subject to Christ? Philip Hughes, among others, has taken the position that the writer is referring to Christ when he says that we do not yet see all things put under him. He writes, “But the transition is given more, not less, point when we understand our author to mean that we do not yet see everything in subjection to Christ;”. His interpretation seems to turn on the phrase, “we do not yet see . . . ,” i.e., Though Christ’s dominion over all things is a reality, it is only the eye of faith that can discern that all things are under His control. This view appears to rest on the distinctively Messianic interpretation of Psalm 8. It is better to interpret this Psalm, as we have done, as referring to the dominion of redeemed man over the renewed creation (See also Westcott, Moffatt, Bruce, and Delitzsch). There seems little question, considering other New Testament passages, that all things have already been subjected to Christ (see Matt 28:18; 1 Cor 15:27; Eph 1:22; 1Pet 3:22).

Though it is certain, because of the redeeming work of Christ, that God will again give man dominion over all things, He has not yet put all things under him. Yet, clearly, the age of the Messiah in which this subjection is to occur has already begun. Though it is true that God has not yet crowned redeemed man with glory and honor as he will when Christ returns, it is, nonetheless, true that he has already crowned and exalted him to the throne in Christ, his representative. C.K. Barrett wrote,

It is simply not true, he says, that all things are now in a state of subjection to man; but we do see Jesus the Man crowned after his humiliation with glory and honor. Not man but the Son of man, not man but Man, reigns already with God, awaiting the entire subjugation of his foes (x.13)

The Son of man, the quintessential man, has, as a reward for His death sufferings, already been exalted to the throne and crowned with glory and honor. Our author writes,

“But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death” (2:9).

Though God has not yet consummated the new age, He has already inaugurated it in Christ. It is this new age, this new creation, about which the author of this epistle is writing.

Once we understand that the author is writing about the new creation, of which believers are a part, it is easier to answer the question, who is the “everyone” for whom Christ tasted death? Is it every member of Adam’s race (the old creation) for whom He tasted death? Did He intend, by His redeeming work, to restore the right of dominion to every member of the [Adam’s] race, believers and unbelievers? Will God crown all men with glory and honor? Of course not! The “every one” for whom He tasted death clearly refers to the members of the new creation (all in Christ, not all in Adam) whom God will certainly raise to glory and give dominion over the works of His hands. They are the “many sons” whom God will bring to glory (v.10), “those who are sanctified,” and called “brethren” (v.11), and “the children which God hath given me [Christ]” (v.13).

Hebrews 6:4-6

Our purpose in this section is not to concern ourselves with all the problems connected with the exegesis of this controversial passage. For a more detailed treatment of Hebrews 5:11-6:6, see Chapter 6 of this work. At this point, we only want to point out the use, in Heb 6:5, of the phrase “age to come,” a reference to the age of the Messiah. This paragraph describes the experience of those whom God had blessed to witness the establishment of the new covenant. It is not difficult to discern that the blessings the writer lists here are those belonging to the new covenant era. This is especially true concerning the references to the Holy Spirit’s blessings and influence (see Ezek 36:24-27; Joel 2:28-30). Those described here have heard the announcement that God has fulfilled the promises made to the fathers. They no longer live under the old covenant, which the writer describes as “weak and unprofitable.” They have now experienced the powers of the Messianic age. The danger against which the writer warns them is the folly of trading the new and better covenant and its administration under Christ, for the inferior and old (antiquated, outworn) covenant. If they should do so, they would fall away and forfeit all the blessings of that new covenant. If they should turn their backs on Christ and the new covenant that He mediates, they would show that they had never belonged to Him.

“Good Things to Come”

The phrase, “good things to come” occurs twice in this epistle; once in 9:11 and once in 10:1. In both instances, the phrase refers to those blessings that God grants to His new covenant people. This He does in fulfillment of those promises that He made during the old covenant period. In these verses, the author draws a sharp contrast between the shadow and the substance. He wants his readers to understand that they are now enjoying the reality to which the types and promises of the Old Testament Scriptures pointed.

Hebrews 9:11

Due to a textual variant in 9:11, it is difficult to be certain whether the autograph read, “coming good things” or “good things that have come.” In either case, it is likely that the meaning would be the same. If the text read “coming good things,” we should understand it from the perspective of those who were looking forward to the establishment of the new order. The “coming good things,” viewed from their perspective, would be, from the perspective of our author, “the good things that have come” with the establishment of the new order. This is clearly the sense in which we are to understand these words in 10:1. It is possible, of course, to understand these words as referring to those good things that are yet to come at the second advent of the Messiah.Yet, this seems unlikely considering the contrast that our author draws in verses 10-13. Clearly, he is contrasting the state of things under the law with the situation that now exists because of Christ’s redemptive work. He writes,

10They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings–external regulations applying until the time of the new order. 11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not part of this creation. 12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

If we follow the other reading of the text, “the good things that have come,” the reference would be to those long expected blessings that God has finally granted with the establishment of the new order. In either case, the author is referring to blessings that God has already granted, not to blessings that He is yet to bestow. By this, we are not saying God’s new covenant people already enjoy all the blessings that Christ died to win for them. Nor do we mean that God has already fulfilled everything prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. What we are saying is that the age of fulfillment, in contrast to the age of type and promise, has begun.

God could not grant any real, lasting, spiritual blessing based on the old covenant (apart from the work of Christ), because “the law works wrath.” God could not justify anyone by the law because no one would or could obey it. The old covenant promised real blessings to the Israelites, but it could not grant the spiritual realities that corresponded to them. Those realities now flow to the heirs of the new covenant based on Christ’s obedient life and death under the old covenant. Our author is teaching that it is foolish to look back longingly to the old covenant system. The old covenant could never do for sinners what Christ alone has accomplished by His obedience.

Hebrews 10:1

The other occurrence of the phrase “good things to come” is in Hebrews 10:1. The author writes, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves.” Clearly he is drawing a contrast between the shadowy character of the old covenant and the reality that has dawned with the advent of Christ. The law is a shadow of coming good things in contrast to the realities themselves. It is not difficult to see that these “good things to come” are the realities that the law foreshadowed.

If we should argue that the “good things to come” are yet future, we would then have to concede that we are still living in the shadows, under the Mosaic covenant. If that were the case, we would still be living in an age characterized by the types and shadows of a fragmentary revelation. Of course, such argumentation is clearly contrary to the author’s entire line of reasoning in this epistle. The “coming good things” are those blessings that believers have already begun to enjoy as a fulfillment of the promises of the new covenant.

The Time of the New Order

In Heb 9:10, the writer refers to a period that he calls “kairou diorthosis” (“time of the new order”). The Greek word diorthosis may be used of a setting straight, a restoration of that which is out of line, an improvement, a reformation, and a new order.

There can be little question that the period this phrase describes has already begun. Otherwise, those weak and external regulations imposed by the old Mosaic order would still be in force. The significance of such conclusion would be absolutely devastating. If such were the case, the way into the presence of God would not yet have been disclosed (9:8). A human high priest of the tribe of Levi would have to continue to offer the same sacrifices that could never take sins away; even sins committed in ignorance (9:8). It would be impossible to approach and worship God with a clear conscience (9:9).

The contrast that the writer draws is a contrast between “the time then present” and “the time of the new order.” The “time then present,” during which the earthly tabernacle (signifying the worship of the Mosaic covenant) was still standing, was characterized by weakness, externality, ceremonialism, and inaccessibility in worship. It was not merely the priestly system or the arrangement of the tabernacle that made God unapproachable. The absolute holiness of Jehovah, revealed in the old covenant, was more than enough to keep sinners at a distance. Once the covenant of Sinai had convinced sinners of their guiltiness before God, there was no need for a thick linen veil to prevent their intrusion into the Holy of Holies. The arrangement of the tent in the wilderness was only a symbol of the sinner’s inability to see the face of God in peace. The sinner’s guilty conscience formed a sufficiently formidable barrier to prevent his bold approach into the presence of Him who dwells in unapproachable light. As long as the Mosaic covenant was in force, the Levitical system continued to give bold testimony to the truth that we cannot approach God apart from a perfect priest, who has offered a perfect sacrifice, that He presents in a perfect sanctuary. The messengers of the new covenant gladly proclaim the good news that such a priest has appeared to put away sin by sacrificing Himself. He has come to restore and set straight all that is out of line. The establishment of the covenant of Sinai was attended with lightening and thunder but, as John Newton has written,

He has hushed the law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched Mt. Sinai’s flame;

The Mosaic covenant, with its external ceremonies, gave eloquent testimony to the truth that guilty sinners, who seek access into His presence apart from a mediator, cannot approach God. Through Christ, our great high priest, we may now approach the eternal throne with boldness, because He has cancelled our guilt and cleansed our consciences.

The time of the new order has come. Jehovah has fully disclosed the way into His holy presence. He has replaced the external ceremonies of the old covenant with the reality of the all-sufficient sacrifice of our great high priest. The types and symbols of the old covenant have given way to the reality and fulfillment of the new order. Jesus, our great high priest, has done what the law could never do. He has turned us, who by nature were self-centered rebels, into worshippers of God.

At The End of the Ages

There is one final phrase in this epistle that we want to consider concerning this idea. It is the phrase, “at the end of the ages,” sunteleia ton aionon (Heb 9:26). The word sunteleia is characteristic of Jewish apocalyptic literature. We should understand it in a teleological rather than a temporal sense. It refers not so much to the end of a period as it does to the realization of what has been anticipated. By using this phrase, the author has designated the time of Christ’s redemptive activity as the time of fulfillment. It stands in contrast to the times of promise and expectation that preceded it. It corresponds to the Pauline idea that is expressed in the words “the fullness of the time” (Gal 4:4). This is “the time in which the ages of history have found their fulfillment.” Philip Hughes concurs with this view when he writes,

All that preceded the advent of Christ was leading up to this climactic event which is the focal point for the true perspective of all human history. With his coming the long years of desire and expectation are ended and the last, the eschatological, era of the present world is inaugurated (cf. Heb. 1:2). Consequently, we who live since his coming are those “upon whom the end of the age has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).

Once this idea is firmly entrenched in our minds we will have no trouble understanding that God never intended the old covenant and its administration to be a permanent arrangement. Instead, He intended it to be prophetic, promissory, and preparatory. When the ends for which God gave it had been realized, it had out lived its usefulness and was ready to pass away.

Conclusion

This brief survey of the phrases our author uses to designate this time of fulfillment shows that one of his major thematic concerns in this epistle is to contrast “the former times of promise and expectation with “these last days” of fulfillment and realization. Yet, we also need to be alert to the fact that, though we live in the age of fulfillment, we have not yet experienced the fullness of God’s promised blessings. We, too, live in a time of expectation and hope that requires our perseverance in clinging tenaciously and confidently to the promises of God.

The age of the Messiah has dawned, but the best is yet to be. He who has come to put away sin by sacrificing Himself will come again to grant salvation to those who eagerly but patiently wait for Him (Heb 9:28). Then, He will make all His and our enemies a footstool for His feet (10:13) and restore His redeemed ones to the place of dominion for which man was created.

O Day, for which creation
And all its tribes were made;
O joy, for all its former woes
A thousand fold repaid!

Henry Alford

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”