Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Kingdom Question: Acts 1

It was recently brought to my attention that the first chapter of the book of Acts refutes the idea of Christ's present reign.  Historically the church has seen the Biblical understanding of God's kingdom as a present reality that becomes fully actualized at Christ's second coming.  In contemporary evangelical circles there has been a push to set God' kingdom out after Christ's second coming during a 1000 year reign of Christ on the earth.  In light of this question and the one put to me I went back to the text and this is what I found.

The claim that Acts 1 refutes the idea of an existing kingdom comes from a question raised by the disciples.  The question was this:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8 ESV)

The argument by the millennialists (those who would like to see God's kingdom established in a future millennium) is, if in fact God's kingdom is a present reality why wouldn't our Lord just say it here in this passage?  In other words His response to this question should have been something like, "the kingdom is presently being restored to Israel."  Since He did not say that then the kingdom must be a future reality not a present reality.  We would call this argument fallacious since it creates a false dilemma.  Either Jesus uses this question to explain a present reality or the kingdom must be a future reality.  Obviously when we think of the numerous reasons why a thing isn't so we realize this is overly simplistic reasoning.  In fact it is the kind of reasoning John Mac Arthur employs in his lecture "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Is Pre-millennial".

Since we do not know the thinking of our Lord when He answered the question in the way that He did, we are left with the task of having to figure this one out by looking at the text of Scripture.  First we know that Jesus began his earthly ministry proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand (Matt 3.2, Mark 1.15).  It is clear from our Acts passage that some of the disciples still believed that the Messiah was a political ruler who would stomp out the Romans and reclaim Israel.  However, Acts 2 Peter tells a different story.

Before looking at Acts 2 there are some remarks to be made with regards to Acts 1.  Notice, our Lord begins by saying "It is not for you to know."  As students we need to be aware that there are things that are not for us to know and we have to be careful that we don't speculate about these things.  However, what our Lord does tell them is that they will receive power and they will be witnesses not only in Jerusalem, not only in Judea and Samaria, but to the end of the earth.  This was very different from the popular notion of the concurring Messiah.  Now we turn the page to Acts 2.

In Acts 2 we see these very things take place.  That is they received the power of the Holy Spirit and their witness has spread to the end of the earth.  However, there is something important to notice in Peter's interpretation of David's prophecy.  Namely, the one that they thought would rule from David's thrown and restore Israel 2 Samuel 7 is none other than Christ our Lord.
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:29-36 ESV)

Therefore, Peter is using David's prophecy to show its fulfillment in our Lord's Ascension to the right hand of the Father where He is ruling and reigning.  Peter gives us no indication of a return to OT type and shadow, and no indication of a second or a future reign.  Peter is saying this is the fulfillment of OT prophecy so that when we see the Holy Spirit being poured out at Pentecost we can then know and understand Christ's kingship.  Prior to this the disciples couldn't fathom what a true restoration of Israel's kingdom would like.  Now they see what they thought restoration was greatly underestimated by them.  


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Paul On The Alleged Distinction Between Israel And Church

Paul's position here is that under the new covenant the ethnic distinctions that once divided Jew and Gentile especially as it pertains to redemption is abolished.  This is a hard one for old school dispensationalists to over come.

One in Christ
    [11] Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—[12] remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
    [14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, [16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. [17] And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. [18] For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. [19] So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, [20] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [21] in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. [22] In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
(Ephesians 2:11-22 ESV)

What did Calvin think about chiliasm (millennialism)?

“This fiction is too puerile to need or to deserve refutation. Nor do they receive any countenance from the Apocalypse, from which it is known that they extracted a gloss for their error, (Revelation 20:4,) since the thousand years there mentioned refer not to the eternal blessedness of the Church, but only to the various troubles which await the Church militant in this world” (Institutes 3.25.5).

Sunday, June 17, 2012

“A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”: Article 2 "The Sinfulness Of Man" and Romans 5

A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation:
Article 2 "The Sinfulness Of Man"

We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.
We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel. 
Genesis 3:15-24; 6:5; Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 6:5, 7:15-16;53:6; Jeremiah 17:5,9, 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:19-20; Romans 1:18-32; 3:9-18, 5:12, 6:23; 7:9; Matthew 7:21-23; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 6:9-10;15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 20:11-15
Romans 5.12-19
 Death through Adam and Life through Christ
      12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned. 13 In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to one’s account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a prototype of the Coming One.
      15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ. 16 And the gift is not like the one man’s sin, because from one sin came the judgment, resulting in condemnation, but from many trespasses came the gift, resulting in justification. 17 Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
      18 So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone. 19 For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Romans 5:12-19 (HCSB)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My Take On "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation"

If you haven't noticed there has been a dust up within the SBC over A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation posted in SBC Today back in May 31.  The statement represents many years of tension between Southern Baptists over the issue of soteriology (doctrine of salvation).  The fact that their is tension isn't necessarily a bad thing.  After all, how one is made right before a righteous God is at the top of the perennial questions.  So while some would like to take the "pious" stand on not "major on the minors" a blatant disregard for such a perennial question could be very problematic.  Thus this should not be treated as an issue that is neither here nor there.  This is an important issue and should be dealt with in a humble and respectful manner.

What is the controversy about?  Over the past three decades there has been a significant interest over the issue of "Calvinism" within the SBC.  One recent survey conducted by Life Way Christian Books (the publishing arm for the SBC) showed that 10% of Church leaders identify themselves as "Calvinists" and 30% of newly graduated SBC seminarians also identify themselves as "Calvinists."  These figures are so staggering that "non-calvinists" within the denomination feel the need to stake their claim.  That is not to say these figures precipitated the statement, only that increased interest in "Calvinism" has given some reason for concern.

Conversely there are some in the SBC with a more "Calvinistic" understanding who find certain claims in the statement to be problematic for all Christians.  Having reviewed some of the concerns I would have to say they are warranted.  However, while this is an important dialogue and will hopefully result in fruit the tendency within the SBC (my denomination) is to raise the question, dialogue about it, and in the final analysis  let sleeping dogs lay.