Utilitarianism

For the sake of posterity, utilitarianism is the belief that actions, deeds, mindsets, etc are good and right when they are of benefit to the majority. We believe, in a general sense, in a God that is utilitarian. The majority of Christianity speaks of a God that is benevolent, and seeking the benefit of the majority, if not all. Yet, this is not the way that God Himself speaks of Himself. It is not that God does not have care upon all, nor that He does not desire the benefit of all, but that our view of benevolence and welfare are not God’s view. Yes, He does give rain to both the just and the unjust, but that does not then mean that God is somehow acting in a utilitarian manner, and I think that every Christian would agree with this.

The word of God is something that is real. It touches the very nexus of our lives, and the way that we react to that relationship will determine the way that we react to all relationships. Jesus’ infamous question of, “What is it to you” reverberates through the question of Paul, “Who are you, a man, to answer back to God?” Our issue that is being rooted out is not the issue of talking back, but the issue of desiring the expedient and utilitarian thing. Fairness means that God treats all the same, and because one has been treated one way, and another treated another way, the balk is that God is now unfair. Why should Abraham be chosen, and why should God love Jacob? What is it that Israel has, that God would choose them over every other nation, so that to this day we Gentiles in Messiah are still perplexed by that election? What is it about us that we are so hostile to the holy covenant? If God is God, then let Him choose. Who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Is this not asking the question of whether God is big enough to include even they who are far off, and to bring them near, even unto the commonwealth of Israel? And, if God has brought you near, then why such glorification or hostility of the one who was originally called?

At the heart of all theological endeavor is the contention between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the principalities and powers. They are utilitarian, teaching us to view the world in a Marxist manner, whether that shows up in communism, democracy, capitalism, socialism, or in the dictatorships of monarchy and tyranny. It does not matter which government you choose, they are all the same fallen government, but different sides of the same coin. God is not it any of it. He doesn’t subscribe to our governments, nor is He limited to using our nations, as if the only way for Him to achieve anything in the world is for the Western empires to do Him a service. If even the Nazi soldiers could wear banners that claimed “Gott mit uns”,1 then who are we to claim that God is also with us? Do we have such magnificent morality that we can make merchandise of the name of God, as if His favor is upon they who are most thoroughly devoted to being a Christian nation? And, if Jesus was the herald of non-resistance, turning the other cheek, giving to they who ask, not returning evil for evil, but doing good to they who hate you, praying for they who persecute you, loving your enemies, and even all of His apostles showed that exact same fortitude of denying themselves, spending all and being expended, for even their own enemy’s sake, then why do we believe that as a “Christian nation” it is our duty, honor, and privilege to attack, scrutinize, belittle, assail, and go to war with the nations that have offended God? Is God for the mass annihilation of souls, and stacking corpses in piles, simply because Israel is God’s nation and we’re going to be there to defend them? Is God for the extermination of an entire people, simply because they are the enemies of God’s people? Or, is there something else that is happening in those Scriptures, and for us to use them as our right and obligation to uphold world peace, ironically using war and devastation to do so, because we believe in a “just cause”, is to fully embrace utilitarian mindsets at the expense of another.

It is detestable enough for a nation to do this, thinking that they are blessing God Himself. How much more heinous is it for the very people who claim to be God’s people, whether Christian or ethnic Israel, to have the same opinion of other nations? If we do not draw the line in even these matters, then where will we draw the line in any of the issues of hearing the word of God? God’s word itself is not utilitarian, seeking the best and most benefit for the world, as if world peace is what God is ultimately after. Who exactly are we worshiping? Certainly the God of the Bible has told us that He has not desired the nations of this world, with their governments as we currently know them, to drop their swords and live at peace with one another. Such a peace is a false peace, purposefully not bombing one another while we think disdainfully toward one another. Peace in truth is a peace that loves, and not simply a peace that has agreed to stop fighting.

To take the Scriptures and use them for the sake of utilitarian values is to attack the very truth and word of God that we claim to proclaim. It undermines the very reality by which we say that we live by. A people who have submitted to that kind of perversion of truth will inevitably look for an escape of the false reality through any means necessary. The very soul of man was made to live in truth, and to swallow the deception for decades displays itself in every means possible to contend against the monotony. As a society we are raising our children to be numb, because truth cannot be truth, and God cannot be God, and the word of God is neutered. Every teenager knows what it feels like to feel nothing, and seek for alternative means of expression and cognizance. Life blurs together in a haze, seeking for reality and truth, but finding pollution and more unreality.

The utilitarian god is not God. Though pulpits proclaim him, he is forged in our own image, seeking to make justification of our actions as Christians built upon a bloody history, and as Christians who identify with our nations more than with Zion. God speaks. He acts. He moves. He feels. He cares. He loves. He lives.

Any theology that is an approach to the Scripture through expediency and utilitarianism is a false theology. If we are seeking that we would have the correct answers in order for a kingdom to be built that benefits us, then we are inevitably seeking first our own kingdom, and none of “these things” will be added unto us. Any search for a kingdom that has us at the center, because “we are the people of God”, or any other misguided, conceptual justification, is not a kingdom whose builder and maker is God. With this as the obvious focus of most of what calls itself Christianity, it is little wonder, then, why we are continually asking where the power of God is, why we don’t hear the Spirit, why there are so many different opinions about various doctrines, and all of these kinds of things.

God does not relate to us through utilitarian mechanisms. He relates to us on the basis of truth and reality. The offense that the old covenant became was that it was made into an expedient mechanism of how to manipulate God. If we would only act in this manner, as it says in the Scriptures, then God would hear us, and we would have such and such blessing. Over and over again God pleaded with Israel, but they would not listen. Over and over again God spoke through the prophets of the things that He approves of, and what His heart truly is, but what was sought after was the list of prescribed actions so that they might please God. Dare we make the New Covenant into the exact same mechanism, only with new, polished gears?

1 God with us

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The Eternal Covenant

Within the pages of the New Testament, the word covenant comes up over 30 times. It might be surprising to find out that most of the time, it is not the “new” covenant. In fact, the term “new covenant” is only found about 10 times, and that includes in Hebrews 8 when quoting Jeremiah. The question that forms in my mind is why the new covenant is not utilized so much more regularly, if what God is so zealous for is a new covenant that is “better” than the old. Yet, when we read the conclusion of Hebrews, it is not the new covenant that the author mentions in his benediction, but the everlasting, or eternal, covenant.1 For the author of Hebrews, while there was much argument given about the “new covenant” being the “better covenant”, the conclusion was a blessing through the blood of the everlasting covenant.

Apparently, if we are to use easy deduction, the everlasting covenant is the same thing as the new covenant.2 It is the same Messiah, the same Shepherd, the same blood, and the same glory of God that is being worked in you, through your being made complete in every good work to do His will. Shall we then expect that there is somehow a disconnection, or even two different covenants for two different peoples? No, but the eternal covenant is the common thread that links all of history unto the end of the age. Whether we are looking into the past, and seeing the great promises that God has given, or whether we are looking unto the future, and reading the prophecies of David ruling over Israel, we can see the term “eternal covenant” used in both cases. Abraham was promised the Land and the inheritance as an eternal covenant, and David was also promised an heir that would sit upon his throne forever as an eternal covenant. Yet, the prophets use this term in eschatology as the moment when all Israel is saved, and David rules over them, and the nations themselves study war no more.

What are some of these passages that I’m speaking of?

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you – the sure mercies of David. Indeed I have given him as a witness to the people, a leader and commander for the people. Surely you shall call a nation you do not know, and nations who do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you.

Isaiah 55:1-5

And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the foreigner shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But you shall be named the priests of the Lord, they shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame, you shall have double honor, and instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs. For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering; I will direct their work in truth, and will make with them an everlasting covenant. Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people. All who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the posterity whom the Lord has blessed.

Isaiah 61:4-9

Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in my anger, in my fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be my people, and I will be their God, then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all my heart and with all my soul.

Jeremiah 32:37-41

Notice that these passages, with the potential exception of the first, cannot simply be explained away as pertaining to the church. The very people who were scattered are the people who are regathered. The very cities that were made desolate and a wasteland are the ones that are rebuilt. The very people who were in judgment, driven away in God’s anger, wrath, and fury, are the ones who God declares that will be brought back to this place, the very place from where they were scattered, where they will be given one heart and one mind – which Paul quotes and says that we should have now3 – that they may fear God forever, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. You can’t rid this promise from the very people who are under judgment. Just like Paul expresses that his heart in speaking difficult and reproving things to the Corinthians was not in hostility, but rather to show his great love for them,4 so we see that Jeremiah 32:37-41 ends with God saying that He will plant “them” in “this land”, with all of His heart, and with all of His soul. That quote is God quoting His own command unto Israel in Deuteronomy 6. Just as Israel shall love the Lord their God with all of their heart and soul, God is zealously proclaiming that the glory that shall be theirs, an eternal inheritance where heaven and earth touch, is the display of God loving Israel with all of His heart and with all of His soul.

Shall we attempt to pass by this? Shall we attempt to negate this? Who are we to claim the potter should have made us more glorious than He made others? Are you in the place of God? Do you not know that after Jeremiah 31 comes Jeremiah 32? And do you not know that after Jeremiah 31:31-34 comes Jeremiah 31:35-37? And do you not know that in that passage God declares that the new covenant is not for Gentiles that have taken the place of ethnic Israel, through whatever circumstances, but for the very ones that God led out of Egypt by His own hand? This is what makes it eternal. It is everlasting because from the beginning, and even before the foundation of the world, God has destined that He would have a people who would be made into His image and likeness, and whatever people that might be, it would be Israel. Ziba, the servant of Saul, loved David, and David loved Ziba, even though he was not ethnically Israel. Does that stop him from receiving honor in being counted as part of Israel? Such a question shows the lack of understanding God’s perfect love.

It does not seem like God is an either/or kind of God. Does the inheritance mean a heavenly inheritance? Yes. Does it mean an inheritance of the land of Canaan that has been promised Abraham? Yes. Isn’t that contradictory? God forbid that you should think that. When God establishes an eternal covenant, says that ordinances shall be for all generations, an everlasting ordinance, a statute forever, what other wording could God have used to say that this is going to last forever? How can we take this as meaning only until the heavenly thing comes into being through this hidden or mysterious entity called the church?

God is simply not trapped by these sorts of methods. We can’t make a claim on God that He has to fulfill, because His word says so, and we know His word. The land, the people, the priesthood, and even the law are all reflections of things in heaven. Just as there were twenty four priestly families, there are twenty four elders before the throne of God. Just as there is an altar in heaven, there is an altar upon the earth. The startling conclusion of the prophets is that when they saw the earthly things being destroyed or taken away captive, they did not dis-include the heavenly, eternal things from what was being destroyed and taken away captive.5

We have rightly perceived that the earthly things, commanded in the first five books of the Bible, are patterns of eternal things. What we have not rightly concluded is God’s care (or lack thereof) of the earthly things. The eternal covenant is the embodiment of all of God’s words throughout the Scriptures, and come together throughout the life of all of His saints. The sublime scandal is the specificity of God to choose, and that His choosing is His prerogative. He shall have mercy upon whom He shall have mercy. And, if God is truly the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then His choosing and election is not something separated from love or “fairness”.6 The great rage against God’s election is not from any fault in God, but from our own arrogant high mindedness, being wise in our own conceit, and thinking more of ourselves than we ought.

1Hebrews 13:20

2Specifically, when comparing the passage of Hebrews 13 with the statements given of the new covenant.

3Romans 15:6, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Philippians 2:2

42 Corinthians 2:4

5Jeremiah paints this vividly in Lamentations 2:1, when his response of seeing the people being taken away captive is that God has cast “the beauty of Israel” from heaven to earth. Yet, these are the ones in judgment, whom we would have assumed are not “in heaven”, but rather too much in the earth. Even if that is true, it does not disqualify that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places, and that we are ambassadors, and that we are in the world, but not of the world. Where do you think such statements come from? They come from the very concepts painted in these sorts of verses and passages in the Old Testament prophets about ethnic Israel, even disobedient ethnic Israel.

6Since when is it appropriate to put such condescending thoughts upon God’s character? If God chooses something, it is in His wisdom and character that He chooses. Maybe that is the problem. We are altogether not like Him, and we don’t think like Him. The sin that God indicts Israel with in Psalm 50:21 is that they thought Him to be like them, and now we are performing the exact same sin.

The Tension of the Eschaton

When you read the epistles of the New Testament, there is language that is used that comes directly from the new covenant passages in the Old Testament. They speak of unity in Messiah, the breaking down of the dividing wall of hostility, we are the temple, we are united under David, and more. With all of the writing of how the new covenant has come upon us, there is also language that suggests that it is not upon us. In Philippians, Paul mentions that there are those who are trying to preach the Gospel in order to stir envy in Paul. In Galatians, Paul confronts Peter to his face in front of everyone. There are multiple disputes between believers that are attested in the New Testament. While there is all of this declaration of unity in Christ, and that the new covenant has come in, there is at the same time various places that mention the exact opposite taking place among those who are in Christ.

This is the tension of the eschaton. How can rumors of Paul’s message being heretical reach the Jerusalem congregation if there is truly the fullness of what Jeremiah wrote being poured out in their midst? Jeremiah declared that they would no longer need to tell one another, “Know the LORD, know the LORD”, for they would all know Him. Yet, here we are finding that there is now question concerning Paul’s message. How can we read of the many passages in the prophets that speak of peace in Messiah, and how there would be unity among Israel, and yet people are preaching Christ to add affliction to Paul’s chains?

What we are witnessing in the New Testament is the exact same tension that we all feel in our own modern time. We can read their words and yearn because our own lives don’t match up. A lot of ministries are based around discomforting the believers because we don’t fit the description of the New Testament Church. However true it may be that we fall short in many ways, we mustn’t use the tension of the eschaton as a way in which to manipulate, condemn, or taunt. This tension was felt in the first century as well, and the reason for the tension should be obvious.

Reading Ezekiel 36 and finding this as an explanation of our salvation is obscure. The same is true for Hebrews 8, and the quotation of Jeremiah 31. It is difficult, because we can read these passages, as well as the many more in the prophets, and we can explain that this is precisely what has happened to us, but that explanation falls so short of the context of these passages. Jeremiah 31 is a new covenant with the House of Israel, and the passage ends with God decreeing that He will never forget them. It bleeds right into chapter 32, where we find more language of the unity that will be experienced in Messiah, but at the same time it expresses very specific prophecies that concern Israel as a whole. Ezekiel 36 speaks about the new heart, and the pouring out of the Spirit, and the being washed and cleansed, but it also speaks of the restoration unto the Land of Israel, and the whole House of Israel being made right before the LORD, and the nations of the all marveling at the spectacle.

You and I are not experiencing the new covenant in that depth. The contention is that we experience it at all. How is it that these prophecies are being used to explain what we’re experiencing, when the context is so blatantly against such a statement? To answer that, we must understand that all of the New Testament authors speak of our inheritance as something that is yet future. Even the book of Hebrews, whose author alludes us to this day, specifically states that these things have not yet taken place, and continues to point toward an event in the future that would go beyond our own experience here and now. But the point of Hebrews is that while there is future expression that we are all longing for, we have a current expression of those same things in Christ Jesus here and now. The tension of the New Testament is the tension of the eschaton. We do experience that end time fullness, even if we don’t yet experience that end time fullness. And the reason that we can experience such a tension is because that event is an eternal event that every saint, from Abel unto forever, has experienced and walked in.

What we are a part of is an eternal faith, a covenant that God has made from the foundations of the world. God hovered over the darkness, walked in the Garden, came down to talk to Cain, came down to examine the tower at Babel, came down to walk through the sacrifices of Abraham, spoke audibly at Sinai, promised that He would walk in the midst of Israel, came in flesh, and at the end of the proclamation has promised to be on this world for all of eternity. It has always been about God dwelling in the midst of His people, just like what He has spoken concerning the Tabernacle itself. If we experience God’s presence with us, we are experiencing the eschaton. That is the ultimate end of God’s purposes and plans. How exactly He shall reign forever upon this earth in unadulterated splendor is the essence of the Gospel, and the grand paradigm of eschatology. That grand paradigm is something that we currently experience and walk in as saints.

Eschatology and the New Testament

I mentioned in passing when speaking of Christo-centrism that the whole of the Bible seeks to answer the question of how God can dwell upon the earth in unadulterated glory. For this reason, much of the Scripture is eschatological in nature. This is especially true for the New Testament. Just about every concept – if not every concept – in the New Testament is an eschatological concept. When Paul speaks of justification, we cannot come to conclusions of what that concept means apart from an eschatological understanding.

The reason that the New Testament is written in an eschatological mentality is twofold. First, they believed that they were in the last days. This is firmly attested to in just about every book of the New Testament. Second, under the New Covenant, the understanding of these theological aspects was supercharged by the fulfillment of many eschatological Scriptures through Christ. Because Jesus had fulfilled many of the Messianic prophecies, the majority of them considered to be end time prophecies, the apostles believed and taught that what remained was simply the outworking of these other remaining prophecies. Once all had been fulfilled, there would be nothing left but for Jesus to return and establish His Kingdom upon this earth.

This created a dynamic in the first century ecclesia. Everything about the Gospel was eschatological. For what reason did the first saints sell their possessions and devote themselves to fellowship, prayer, and the apostles’ teaching? Why do we not find people doing this today? I think the answer is simple. They fully believed that Jesus would return in their lifetime, so why do they need all of their possessions? It is the end time piece of the puzzle that opens up as a key the interpretation of all Scripture.

In this, we have a few things to go through. First, we need to wrestle a little bit of eschatology just to know and understand what it is that I’m implying. Second, we need to establish the hermeneutic precisely. Third, we need to find a couple examples of how this works and why it is important.

Maybe the proper place to start would be Daniel 2. It has been the most common way of translating end time passages as “now, not yet”. By this, also sometimes considered “already not yet”, we mean that we find fulfillment “already”, but there is a fulfillment “not yet” accomplished. In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. Daniel gives the interpretation of the dream in exactitude. The dream says there will be four world kingdoms, represented by four elements on a statue, and the fourth is divided into two: legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. He then tells us that Nebuchadnezzar is the head. We then infer from other parts of Daniel that the chest is Medo-Persia. The thighs are Greece. This leaves the legs to be Rome.

Let us think this through. If the legs are Rome, then what could the feet be? You see, Jesus’ first advent was during the reign of Augustus Caesar. It would make sense that the feet were signifying Rome under the Caesars instead of the proconsul. Thus, Daniel 2 seems to have been fulfilled, because Jesus did come and establish the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God has been growing since the advent of Christ. There is, therefore, no reason for us to not believe that the Kingdom of God is “now”. It is “already” here. This is what many of the preterists actually claim. They will use this interpretation of Daniel 2 to show that it has been fulfilled in the first century.

What is left to take place? In the interpretation, we see a stone cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands, and it strikes the feet of the statue. The statue crumbles, and the stone grows into a large mountain. It is precisely here that we say we find our “not yet” principle at work. Have the kingdoms of the world truly become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ?1 Has it actually happened that these kingdoms have been crushed to powder, no longer existing, so that all is left is the Kingdom of God? Some would say yes, simply because in Daniel 2 and 7 these world empires are being addressed, and not all the kingdoms of the world. I would say no, because there seems to be real expectancy in the verse quoted above that all the kingdoms of the world are included in that statue.

So, when we read our Bibles, what is the eschatological key to interpretation? What exactly is the hermeneutic principle that I believe has been misunderstood? The Old Testament progresses. The details aren’t fully disclosed from the beginning. We all know this. When we come to the New Testament, the advent of Christ is the breaking in of the Kingdom of God as declared by Daniel. Yet, often what is then declared is that we use the New Testament to decipher the meaning of the Old Testament. I think this is our blunder. There is a foundation given with the Pentateuch, which if we neglect we cannot understand the rest of the Bible. We begin with Genesis and work our way forward in the story, not three quarters of the way in and work backward.

You don’t come into a movie over an hour after it starts and expect to be able to explain what the movie is about. You might get a general gist, but a general gist is not the same as being able to express precisely all of the plot. Our hermeneutic principle is one of progressive revelation. Why do we use the New Testament in order to understand the Old, rather than using the Old Testament as foundation for the New? Why do we stress that the New Testament describes fulfillment of the Old, but then reject the possibility of the Old pertaining to the New? The bottom line is that we cannot interpret the New Testament without the Old, and we cannot rightly understand the Old without the New. They work hand-in-hand together, and not one over the other. There is a progression that God has Divinely prescribed for us to be able to interpret and understand correctly.

What are some examples in order to better understand what I’m getting at? Let us start with the Old Testament, and then we’ll come to the New Testament. In Genesis 3:15, we read of a “seed of the woman” who will bring humanity back into the Garden of Eden. Therefore, when we read the prophets, we find statement after statement regarding Eden-like conditions after the coming of the Messiah. The Messianic figure throughout all of Scripture is one who will take us back unto Eden, and yet also forward unto Zion. Thus, when we read Genesis 4, we find that Eve has a son. Could this be the deliverer? Could this be the messianic hope? Instead, Cain slew Abel, thus showing that this hope was vanity. How does Genesis 4 end? Seth is born, and it is at that time that men and women began to call upon the name of the Lord. Could he be the rescuer?

We continue. We find Noah being the only one, with his family, to be preserved through the flood. It is then Noah’s son Shem who gets the greatest blessing. Could Shem be the deliverer? Could it be Shem who is the seed of the woman? It doesn’t take long before we’re reading about this Abraham. Could this be the Messiah? Is Abraham the promised one? No, because God promises Abraham a “seed”, thus signifying that Abraham’s “seed” is the deliverer. This puts the premium on Isaac, who then begets Jacob, who then begets twelve sons. Notice that. We thought this Messiah would be one person, but the book of Genesis ends with the seed of the woman being an entire people.

As we come to Exodus, we find the seed of the woman in Moses, that this man is the one who delivers Israel from Egypt. Notice, though, that Israel is still somehow the “seed of the woman” along with Moses.2 There is a man who represents Israel unto Pharaoh, and also is the “leader” of Israel, who alone talks to God face-to-face, and delivers Israel from Egypt, but is not the full statement of the seed of the woman. Similarly, we find Jesus being the King of the Jews, the one who delivers us from darkness, sin, and death, and is the full representation of all that Israel is supposed to be. Christ is the seed of the woman, and we thus find the progression quite explicit.

For this reason, when we come to the New Testament, we find that the authors continually insist upon Jesus being the fulfillment of this end time hope. We find an “already” fulfillment through Christ for this seed of the woman. Yet, don’t forget the principle learned through Genesis and Exodus. There are a people that must also be the seed of the woman. God didn’t allow for one man to be the absolute fulfillment. Instead, He designated an entire nation. It is because of this that we cannot put all fulfillment upon Jesus, as the fulfillment theologians desire to do, but must instead expect that, as Paul tells the Church in Rome, God will crush Satan under our feet.3 The debate lies from there as to whether it is “our” feet as the Church alone, or “our” feet means all Israel.

In Exodus 25:9, we find that the Tabernacle and the instruments within it are being patterned after heavenly counterparts. Therefore, when we reach the New Testament, and we read how we are “living stones” being built together as the Temple of God, we understand that the heavenly counterpart was the believing people of God. God dwelt “in their midst” instead of “in the Tabernacle’.4 Jesus came and “tabernacled” with us, rather than what we would expect: Jesus to rule from the Temple. Thus, it is often concluded that the Tabernacle and Temple, and all of the instruments and articles with them, are obsolete under the New Covenant.

Here is the fatal flaw: The Old Testament seems to indicate that God establishes His name upon the Temple forever, and the prophets even seem to indicate that God will rule from Jerusalem and Zion. David is promised an heir to sit upon his throne. If we take the spiritual applications given in the New Testament and establish them as the end all be all, we then make these promises and prophecies null and void. Will there be fulfillment of these things as was expected, or did God only promise them in earthly terms, but He knew that it would be fulfilled spiritually? Are they physical promises and prophecies, or are they spiritual? If spiritual, then by what exegetical precedent can we conclude that God did not lie to the people of the Old Testament?

When we read the story of Hannah and Samuel, we need to ask why it is that this woman so desired a son? Here is the thing, I know that it was considered “a curse” (if you could use such language) if you aren’t able to bear children. But, the question only changes slightly. Why is it considered a curse? Why do people believe that God is against a woman if she cannot produce children? It goes back to our discussion of the seed of the woman. Within the thinking of the Hebrews was the consideration that the child you bear might be the Messiah. When Hannah is crying out to God, it is indeed because she was being mocked and couldn’t continue, but there is something happening behind the scenes, so to speak. There is a messianic hope, and in bearing a son, and not just a child, there is a hope that maybe this is the Messiah.

Why was David’s victory over Goliath such a big deal? God has promised one who would deliver the people and take them back into the Garden of Eden. Could this be the Messiah? He delivered Israel from the Philistines, and Saul wasn’t even willing to do that! What about Solomon? David was promised a son to reign on his throne forever. Could this be Solomon? The kingdom of Israel had more splendor than any other time in Israel’s history. Solomon dies. His son Rehoboam splits the kingdom. What happened to the blessed hope?

This is where the New Testament comes in. We could continue through the Old Testament, but I think you get the point. Jesus’ coming is the end cap of all these messianic expectancies. We see that now the Messiah is revealed, and therefore the Kingdom of God is here. This is the blessed hope, right? Here comes the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. When we come to the New Testament, we have a lot of Old Testament background that is still presupposed. Jesus taught of His death and resurrection. He taught of “when the Son of Man comes”. Have you ever wondered why Jesus is teaching about “when the Son of Man comes” when it is blatantly clear that He has already come?

The Old Testament expectancy saw a time where the messianic hope would take us back into Eden. The two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, would be reunited, and the son of David would rule over them. These prophecies and promises aren’t really addressed in the New Testament. Instead, the apostles spend the majority of their time teaching about how the Kingdom already has broken in. Yet, there is always a hint in the background, and sometimes put forthright, that we don’t see the absolute fulfillment yet. Because the Kingdom of God has indeed broken in, we see an eschatological fulfillment of many prophecies and promises, but we don’t see the fullness of those prophecies and/or promises. The degree to which was proclaimed is lacking.

Just like Daniel 2 doesn’t seem to be fully accomplished, there are many promises and prophecies that are referenced in the New Testament that we can’t honestly embrace as being fulfilled. In Acts 2, Peter claims that what is happening before the crowd is what Joel prophesied. When you go back to Joel 2, you see exactly what Peter is saying, but the problem is that the extent of what Joel prophesies is impossible to accept as being fulfilled in Acts 2. Joel 2 is speaking of all nations, not just representatives from all nations, having the spirit poured out upon them.

It is through the Old Testament context that we find the extent of new covenant promises. Though we find these passages quoted and taught, and even at work among the saints, the new covenant promises were originally intended for the whole House of Israel, and they worked out from that unto the uttermost parts of the earth. This presents a couple problems for certain interpretations. For they who advocate replacement or fulfillment theology, saying that somehow the old covenant is fulfilled in Christ, Israel is replaced by the Church, and/or Jesus is the representative of all true “people of God”, I have a question that I have not heard sufficiently addressed or answered. If one were to take the notion that the kahal (assembly) in the Old Testament is the ecclesia (church) in the New Testament, exactly when is it that the kahal went from representing all of Israel to only representing the believing remnant? In this case, precisely when did the kahal change from both believing and unbelieving Israel to only meaning they who believe in Jesus? Was it in the Gospels? On the day of Pentecost? A.D. 70? When is the transfer from all of Israel to only the believing remnant, whether Jewish or Gentile?

The other difficulty is how we can advocate that these things are truly fulfilled in Christ, only to they who are in Christ? Please understand the question. This is not to suggest that you can be saved through law, nor that outside of Christ you can obtain the promises. All nations were going to participate in the blessedness, and not simply Gentiles that have been grafted in. How do you account for this? Can it be that the New Testament completely disregards it, or is it possible that because we attempt to read the Old Testament strictly through the lens of the New Testament that we have misrepresented the whole understanding? When it says, “and all nations shall know the Lord”, does that only mean certain Gentiles who are saved?

When it says in Zechariah 14:16 that all nations will send a representative to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, does that mean that there will be at least one person in Christ from all nations? This kind of spiritualizing of these prophecies seem to undercut the weight and significance of those prophecies. When it is said in Isaiah 2:2-4 that all nations shall stream unto the mountain of the Lord’s temple, and that the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, and that nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore, is this physical peace on earth, or is this spiritual unity in the Body of Christ?

I understand that Paul exhorts us to be one in Christ, and that this comes from Jeremiah 32:39 under the new covenant, but does that then infer that all of these other prophecies are fulfilled in the Church? Jeremiah 31:31-34 is speaking directly about the House of Israel, and not some ‘body’ called “the Church”. When you continue reading Jeremiah 31:35-37, you find that God actually explicitly decrees against that interpretation. We can only come to two conclusions. Either the New Testament is nothing but lies, or the apostles considered that all of this that I’m suggesting was presupposed. If the apostles declared something contrary to the Old Testament, then how is it possible for the New Testament to be Scripture?

The New Testament’s use of the “new covenant” passages should cause us to seriously reconsider the faith. It is not that they are deceiving you, but that our interpretations are commonly the deception. The apostles are revealing to us the magnanimity and magnitude of the Kingdom of God broken in. There is a real sense in which the Kingdom of God is “already” and “now”. We don’t need to wait for a future time of glory and splendor before we can exercise the promises of the new covenant. It is all at our disposal, because Jesus has already triumphed over the principalities and powers and established the Kingdom of God upon the earth. Yet, with that being said, to then negate the fact that there is still missing components to the Old Testament promises and prophecies is absolute error.

When we read the New Testament, we need to understand it is entirely eschatological. Everything is pointing toward a future event that will cause for all things to be restored. All teaching of the New Testament presupposes a future glory that is beyond what we currently know. That isn’t to rectify what is available to us, nor to downplay it, but instead to encourage us. If what you and I experience here and now in Christ is not the final statement, then eye has not seen, nor has ear heard what God has planned for those He loves. It is far beyond our comprehension. It is enough to be given what we have – and indeed far beyond what we deserve. To consider that there might be something greater that God has purposed is the blessed hope that the apostles are striving for us to consider and pursue. Through that lens the New Testament makes all the more sense, because they teach us how to live “now” in expectancy of what is “not yet”.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul masterfully explains to us the future time of glory in a way that is hidden to the wise and arrogant. In the first chapter, Paul opens up by telling us that we have every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.5 There we have it, right? That’s the end of the story, right? And yet, it cannot be the end, because Paul then uses this statement as the means to entertain how we have an inheritance that we shall inherit.6 What is the inheritance?

If you continue to read, you eventually come into chapter 2. Paul explains how we’re no longer under the prince of this world, no longer in darkness and sin. We’ve been redeemed, and that redemption is of grace. Yet, our concept again is small, because it is from this discussion that Paul begins to explain how we’ve been brought into something already existing. We’re now a part of “the commonwealth of Israel”. While we were once far off, once Gentiles, once at enmity with God, we’re now brought nigh through the blood of Christ, and we’re now a part of His Body, that the wall of hostility and separation has been broken down.

It is from here that we enter into the discussion of Ephesians 3. The glory that is being expressed is not that we have an inheritance in heaven, and that we’ll have a mansion all to ourselves. What is being expressed is that we have an inheritance, which the inheritance of Joshua foreshadowed. A Prophet was promised in Deuteronomy 18:15, one to come after Moses who shall be like Moses, and at the end of Deuteronomy it is said that no such one had risen. Joshua wasn’t the fulfillment. They waited for one who would bring them into an inheritance that is eternal, and as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 demanded, it would be such a blessed hope that God Himself would walk in their midst.

While you have passages like Hebrews 12:22-24 that say that we have already inherited Zion, and that we’re already a part of this promise, Ephesians 1:13-14 with 3:3-6 tell us quite the opposite. We have not yet inherited, and there shall be an inheritance. The controversy to the Jews is that this inheritance is not solely a Jewish inheritance. Rather, God has determined that the Gentiles in Christ, those who have been grafted in, they who are now a part of “the commonwealth of Israel”, shall also inherit. The eternal inheritance promised and prophesied unto Israel is now opened wide for the Gentiles in Christ. That eschatological inheritance that is given at the coming of the Messiah, with the resurrection of the dead, is granted to the Gentiles who come to Messiah here and now, and experience that inheritance by “coming unto Zion”, and by being raised with Christ through the glory of the Father.7

Everything of the New Testament is eschatological. It all surrounds this end time view of the resurrection and the return of Christ. It all looks unto the climax, which isn’t something that already happened, but it has broken in. This is the struggle of revelation. God has been revealed, and His Kingdom has broken in from the foundation of the earth. Yet, so often we think of it as far away and in a distant future time. The answer of the New Testament is “yes”. God has broken in, and the Kingdom has come, but God will come again, and bring the Kingdom with Him.

1 Revelation 11:15

2 Israel is called the son of God (Exodus 4:22), but Moses is not somehow excluded from Israel. Rather, Moses is a part of Israel, and therefore a part of God’s son, even though he is the one to declare to Pharaoh that God demands His son.

3 Romans 16:20

4 Exodus 25:8, 29:45

5 Ephesians 1:3

6 Ephesians 1:13-14

7 Romans 6:1-2

Christo-Centrism

There is a belief that the whole of the Bible points to Jesus, and all of biblical theology declares this. I would like to challenge this, because when we make it all about Jesus, we then come across difficult books of the Bible. What is the point of Obadiah? There is almost nothing in that book that can relate to Jesus, and the same is true for many of the minor prophets. I’m being a bit extreme here, but the point remains that the Old Testament is used primarily for allegory and illustration, but not to consider God’s heart and His purposes. The difficulty is that there is a lot of legitimacy to saying that Christ is the focus of the Scripture. Jesus even claims of Himself in John 5:38-47 that Moses wrote of Him. We see in Luke 24 (road to Emmaus) that Jesus takes the two men through all of the Scripture to show how it explains His ministry.

My argument is that what the Scripture is focusing upon is actually the eschaton. The conclusion and consummation of the ages is the pinnacle of all Scripture, and Jesus’ first coming. What I’m questioning is whether all of Scripture is speaking of Christ, and Christ alone. To one degree, yes, because you cannot separate the head from the body, otherwise you have death to both. To another degree, no, absolutely not, because if we shove Jesus into the passages of every story, psalm, and prophecy, we will eventually nullify something critical. The same arguments to support Christ-centrism, I can use to show Israel-centrism. The Old Testament had always supported a time when Israel would be cast off temporarily, a future time of calamity at the end of the age, and a final restoration of Israel. Now, it is true that this all revolves around the two comings of Christ, but that is exactly the point. Christ’s first and second coming revolve around Israel’s casting aside and re-engraftment just as much as Israel’s casting aside and redemption revolve around Christ’s first and second appearing. There is a cosmic plan at work, and we miss it when we ignore everything but Christ and how this or that verse pertains to Him.1

I would like to suggest two things. First, Christ is not merely God incarnate, but is also the representative of Israel. Second, we don’t only look back to Christ’s death and resurrection, but we see the Scripture through the lens of the two comings of Christ. There are many topics within Scripture that pertain to Christ, but are not central upon Christ. For example, in what way does Christ’s centrality effect the statements of Israel in Ezra telling the enemies of Israel they could have no part in rebuilding the city?2 Is it impossible to understand the narrative of Genesis 1-3 without Jesus being at the absolute center? Or, is it possible to comprehend these things apart from Christ’s centrality? That isn’t to say Jesus isn’t necessary, but that Jesus isn’t center in those texts. Obviously, in the New Testament Christ is central. Yet, even there we don’t abandon the discussion of Israel’s centrality either.

Let us deal with this first point. In Hosea 11:1, we read that “out of Egypt [God] call[s His] son.” This is in context to when God called out Israel. We can go back to Exodus 4:22 and find that God calls Israel His firstborn son. Matthew takes this statement and applies it to the life of Jesus. Now, what Matthew is doing is applying a hermeneutic principle that we simply have lost in modern times. “As with Israel, so with Messiah. As with Messiah, so with Israel.” In this, we find that Matthew is hinting to us that there are many parallels between the life of Jesus and the history of Israel. For example, Pharaoh killed all of the Hebrew children in his day, and Herod killed all of the children in Bethlehem in his day. Just as Israel is called out of Egypt, Jesus is called out of Egypt. Just as Israel wonders through the wilderness for 40 years, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days.

We see Jesus as the representative of Israel, much like the Olympic athletes are representative of their nations. When someone wins the gold, the announcer does not get on the microphone and say the name of the person. Instead, the announcer exclaims, “Israel has won the gold!” That doesn’t mean everyone in Israel ran the race. It means the one person who got the gold is representative of the entire nation of Israel. Likewise, Israel did not live up to her purpose and call, but Jesus did. Jesus acts as a representative of Israel, fulfilling all that Israel has been called to fulfill.

At the same time, we find it reflected in Jesus’ words, as well as in Old Testament eschatology, that Israel will also fulfill her destiny.3 This is corporate Israel at the end of the age. So, the principle states, “As with Messiah, so with Israel”. What Jesus endured on the cross, and what He endured through His life, Israel will endure at the end of the age. She will go through tribulation, and in that experience her own Calvary, so that she too might receive resurrection. When Jesus returns, all Israel shall be saved, as it is written.4 Thus, we see the connection between Jesus and Israel, so that the Scripture is indeed Christo-centric, but at the same time, it is centered upon Israel.

And can we expect anything less? The mystery of election is that the elect one of the Isaiah 40’s and 50’s is always Israel, but then sometimes it speaks of one who shall be the deliverer of Israel. There is a connection, and God does not see distinction. Israel is the Body of Messiah, and you wouldn’t claim that a body is altogether apart and disconnected from the head. Why does God choose Israel? Why must election be national? It is because there is a corporate son as much as there is Jesus, the Son of God. Israel was called the son in Exodus 4:22. Why that specific people? Why elect them instead of some other ethnic people? This all gets at the heart of God. God chose that which He identifies with – the weak, the oppressed, the small and insignificant, the blind, and even the pariah. This is a people who have culturally been altogether distinct from other cultures – even in the book of Genesis. When we talk about Israel, we talk about Christ. When we talk about the end of the age, and the redemption of Israel, the absolute havoc that we expect, and the restoration of all things as spoken by the holy prophets, we are indeed talking about Christ and the Gospel, for the two cannot be separated. Anything else is not actually the Gospel at all.

In relation to the second point, that we focus upon Christ’s two comings, I think this is incredibly important. The whole question of Scripture is this: “How can God dwell with His creation in unadulterated glory?” Eschatology seeks to answer that question. Yet, the entire Bible is eschatological. Everything is seeking to expound and answer that one question. We see the patterns and promises given, and the prophetic statements written, and we see that in all of these things, they are trying to explain to us how it is that God will dwell upon the earth. In Genesis 3, God walked with Adam in the cool of the evening. Yet, we find in Genesis 1 that God separated the light from the darkness. In Revelation 21-22, there is no more darkness. It has ever and always been God’s intention to do away with the darkness; otherwise it wouldn’t be His intention now. So, how do we go from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem? How do we go from light and darkness being separated to only light exists?

This is the crux upon which all of Scripture hangs. If we don’t see the three hinges of history (creation, Christ’s Advent, and the Second Advent), or if we only focus upon one or two of those hinges, we will come to radical misinterpretations. Yes, I do believe that the Bible is Christo-centric, but I think that this needs to be defined a lot more properly. We can’t simply make a narrow claim that there are “only two ways to read the Bible”. The truth is that there are many ways to read the Bible. Do they all funnel down to those two claims? No.

If you read the Bible through the focus of Israel, you will come to many solid conclusions, but you will also be wrong in regard to many other conclusions. This is one of the mistakes that many rabbis through the ages have made. If we focus only upon Jesus, and not upon Israel, we will have equally false conclusions. Our erroneous allegations will depend entirely upon this one question: How has God established that He shall dwell upon the earth in the fullness of His glory? The answer to that question is the resurrection. People need to be resurrected; therefore God has sent His Son as the firstborn from the dead. Nations need to be resurrected; therefore God has established that Israel shall be His firstfruits.5 The whole of creation needs to be resurrected, and so God has established that through the revealing of His sons – not only Jesus, but all who shall be resurrected at His appearing – the creation itself will be changed.6 Yet, in regard to the creation’s resurrection, we don’t find in the return of Jesus the resurrection of nations or the earth. Instead, it is after the judgment seat when we see a “New Heaven and New Earth” that all have been resurrected, and those who are elect take their place in the City of God. This is why in Revelation 21-22 we find the throne of God and the Lamb – God in all of His splendor fellowshipping with His creation.

All of Scripture is progressing toward that event. Without the understanding of this event, let alone the expectancy, we will grossly misrepresent what the Bible says. We need to be willing to live within the tension of claiming the Bible to be Christ-centered, Israel-centered, and eschatologically centered. All three are true at all times.

1 This mindset has been introduced more heavily in the modern rise of biblical theology. While it is true that names like Augustine, Jerome, Chrysostom, and Calvin were all blatant anti-Semites, and it is true that all of them held to this kind of Christ-centered theology, it is in modern times that biblical theology is being heralded instead of systematic theology. Systematic theology puts Christ at the center of all theology; biblical theology puts Him at the center of every biblical text. The difference is crucial.

2 Ezra 4:1-3

3 Jesus at the Temple casts out the money changers and says, “This is to be a house of prayer”, and when you go back to Isaiah you find that the phrase ends, “for all nations”. In the same way, Jesus then sends out His disciples “to all nations”. Jesus tells His apostles in Matthew 19:28 that they shall judge over Israel. In Acts 1:6 the question is whether Jesus will at that time restore the Kingdom to Israel. Jesus then affirms the legitimacy of that question by saying, “It is not for you to know the times…” Jesus says that Israel shall again see Him when they say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus tells the Canaanite woman that He came for the lost sheep of Israel. We read in Matthew 21:31 and 43 that the Kingdom of God is being stripped from the Pharisees and given unto they who will bring forth its fruit – namely, the tax collectors and prostitutes of Israel (notice the context is against discussing the engrafting of Gentiles).

4 Romans 11:26. This is the correct interpretation of the progression of Revelation 12-14.

5 See Jeremiah 2:3, Romans 11:16 (in context to verses 24-26), Revelation 14:4, etc

6 If we reject the Israel focus of Romans 8 here, we reject the entirety of the book of Romans. This isn’t a matter of opinion. This is a matter of willingness. They have stumbled at the rock of offense. Don’t allow yourself to also now stumble at their stumbling.

Is God Constrained?

When we are discussing limitations, we need to understand that we are wrestling with the issue of revelation. Can God reveal to us, even we who are not the often overglorified apostles and prophets of old? We might have faith for our pastor, or for the spiritual inspirations of our lives, but when the finger is pointed into our chests and Jesus is asking, “Who do you say that I am,” what do we respond with? The Father revealed to Peter, who many like to mock because of his immaturity and lack of understanding, that this man Jesus was the Son of the Living God. He isn’t some revolutionary that wants to lead Israel out of the oppression of the Romans, but rather the very Son of God, the son of David promised, the one that God Himself says, “This day you are my Son”.

That kind of spontaneous insight comes from above. Theology should always be the distinct revealing of the Son of God within the one speaking. It is God’s revelation through us unto those we teach. This begs the question: Is God free to reveal Himself in us, to us, and through us, or is there limitation on God Himself because of our condition as creature and fallen?

Our study of theology is from knowing God, and that knowledge continues to grow as we continue to walk with God. To then say there is limitation in the study of theology is to undermine that relationship that we claim to have with God. It is like the atheist who asks whether God can create a rock so big He cannot lift it, only to be laughed at by the theologian. Jesus told His disciples that if you say to this mountain, “Be cast into the sea,” it would be done for you; how can we use this term “lift” in such circumstances? And to what avail does it actually discredit God anyway? In our current question we have the same enigma, but this time theologically: Is human finiteness and sinfulness a rock too large for God to lift?

We aren’t asking whether God can reveal. The very fact that Jesus came in the flesh, and that He reveals (exegetes even) the Father says that God can reveal Himself. The question is whether God can reveal Himself in you and I. Can God come in a manner that we don’t simply see Him outside of ourselves, but even within the depths of who we are, we know that we know that we know that God has shown this to us? We come to know truth and know Him because He has spoken to our spirit, and deep has cried unto deep to find lodging for that word. Can our study of theology not be a matter of terms and definitions, but a matter of a Person and relationship with Him? The answer is a resounding yes, because God doesn’t think like that.

If salvation says anything about our condition, one thing is certain. We were dead in our sins and trespasses. That isn’t to say that we must die, but that we were dead. Dead is dead, and if we’re foolish enough to think that life is death then it is little wonder why we have such questions. You were dead, but now you are alive. You were once fallen, once an enemy of God, once under the bondage of sin, and once ruled by the principalities and powers of the air, but that no longer defines you. You are no longer “in sin”, but now “in Christ”. Sanctification is the discovery of what that means, what it looks like, and how we now live in life instead of death. This is why the resurrection is so important. Without it we are left scratching our heads wondering how God can speak to us. But since we’ve been raised with Christ Jesus, by the same glorious power of the Father, we now have ample ability to hear and respond to God. That is the basis of our Christianity, and this is simple Christianity 101. To stumble at this shows where we truly are in our modern theology. God has made means of communion, and we should rejoice in that grace.

Sola Sola Sola

Within the reformation, there are five solas that are emphasized. What most of us are familiar with is sola scriptura – Scripture alone. In addendum to that there is sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (glory of God alone). While the “alone” might be confusing in all of these, especially considering that there are five “alones”, what was being proclaimed is that these five principles are all that are needed for sound theology, and for Christian life. Salvation is by grace alone; no one would debate this, except that there is the issue of faith and walking out your salvation. Thus, there is “faith alone”, which says that our deeds are not what save us. Our salvation is in Christ alone, and not through penance, indulgence, or righteousness. Our salvation is by grace, through faith, and faith solely within Christ.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. Each of the solas is answering a specific theological objection. So it isn’t that we operate by Scripture alone, and end of story. There is a harmony between the the solas, one that must remain in tact. When we’re dealing with the solas, what is often being combatted is Roman Catholicism. You don’t usually find a Protestant debating sola scriptura. If they do bulk against it, it is because they misunderstand it. Sola scriptura does not mean that the Bible is the sole source for all things. It means that the Scripture alone speaks to us of the issues of salvation, theology, sanctification, and all of these other things. That is not to say that we don’t use reason, tradition, or philosophy. That is to say that the other sources are not authoritative, and they are insufficient.

What is necessary to note in regard to the solas is that they are not sources for theology. They are not principles that we must strictly adhere to in order to make all things correct. They are the logical deductions of what God has said. It is plainly put in the pages of Scripture, and to debate that is more than foolish. The reason that we hold to the solas is to give us a guide, but the solas are not something to continuously remain at. There are other aspects to the Christian faith. I’m not one where the solas are always at the forefront of my mind, lest I fall into heresy or something. These aren’t “law”; they are just principles. They are a stepping stone and a foundation, and once we’ve all come to a place where we understand that, we can then move onward to discussing the details of each, and discussing the things beyond them.

Each of those solas have problems – not in the sense of being in error, but in the sense of the Scripture having two sides to every coin. Yes, it is Scripture alone that we base our understanding, but we don’t come to that understanding by the Scripture alone. No one uses only Scripture, because that would be a robotic methodology. Yes, we believe it is by grace that we are saved, and through faith. But that does not answer to the difficult questions of how faith and works go together in James, or how 1 John continuously puts emphasis upon works (specifically loving our brethren). What is important to continue to press is that our salvation is not by our own merit, but after salvation we are expected to live a certain way, and in it grace and faith are not made void, they do go together with deeds. The problems do not outweigh the whole point. Let us not lose focus in quibbling. Our study of theology is much larger than that. 

The Unity of Sources for Theology

We all already know that there is a harmony between the sources of theology. But, practically speaking, what does this look like and mean? It is one thing for our sources to all say the same thing, but it is something else entirely when we attempt to use all sources to discover something. Should we attempt to do theology in a formula sort of way, where we examine what others have written, and then study the Scripture to see if it lines up with their thinking, and then pray about it a bit? Or is it much more natural, where in our devotion, whether reading Scripture or praying, we begin to have various thoughts and understanding enter our consciousness, and we then check tradition to see if anyone else has considered these things?

While I might be dramatizing this a bit, there is a real struggle here. Our tendency is to look for ways in which we can get the right answer quickly, and once we’ve apprehended the correct answer, we then check it off the list and expect that we can move on to the next question. Life, nor theology, works like this. God on purpose actually wants to have a relationship with us. He actually wants to speak to our hearts, work our minds into better and deeper understanding, and then to send us out to teach and disciple others. The way we mature does not allow such a process of learning. I would expect the person who has wrestled the issues of theology for decades to have greater insight than the one who is beginning their journey. Yet, this isn’t always the case, and it is because theology is not a study of a subject, but a person, and the way you study a person is by listening to them and spending time with them. That is a process that takes time and willingness to wait.

The four or five sources for theology all unite in Christ. Just like we are no longer in sin, but are now in Christ, we no longer study like the secular sciences, but now through Christ. The apostle Paul really sets the standard here in his epistles. He didn’t simply labor more than anyone else by his own merit, but through the strength of God. He didn’t come to his understanding through the other apostles, as he maps out in Galatians, but rather through spending months and years with God listening and believing. While this is difficult to then consider what it means practically, it is actually the easiest thing in the world. It takes a load off of the shoulders, because if God is not speaking about certain issues, then it is not for you to know, and you can have confidence that God has revealed these things to someone else in the Body for that purpose. What God has spoken to you, that you are entrusted with, and anything else is unnecessary baggage.

The Eschatological Zenith and Paradigm

Everything within theology has eschatology as its nexus,1 zenith,2 and crux.3 With such a statement as that, I suppose each of those three need to be explained out a bit. Firstly, let us deal with the issue before those three words. Eschatology is the study of the end times, coming from the Greek word εσχατον. Why would the study of the end times be the very fulcrum of theology? And what does it mean that theology hinges in all ways upon eschatology?

When you go into the Bible, you find that there are very few passages that do not deal with the end times – especially when you see the overview of the Scriptures. Taking seriously the words of the prophets and apostles leads you to understand that even the things that happened at the beginning are mere reflections of what shall happen at the end. It’s all one giant cycle where we have patterns that happen over and over again throughout the Scripture, and every time the cycle repeats, it gets closer to the ultimate finale and consummation. Take for example the exodus story. You first have a righteous lineage from Seth through Noah, that is separate from the children of Cain. After Noah comes the tower of Babel, in which you have the great call unto Abram to “come out”, or “leave” the system and nation he is in, in order to be established as God’s nation. After Abram comes the generation of Moses, which “comes out” from Egypt, out of nations to be established as God’s nation. Hosea recounts this deliverance, and says that “out of Egypt I called my son”, and Matthew then applies that to Jesus, to show that just as Israel has gone through this, so too does messiah. And yet, it doesn’t stop there, for the prophets declare a “new exodus” at the end of the age, where Israel is again brought into the wilderness to meet with God. And, of course, there is the “come out from her my people” of Revelation 18:4. It is after the exodus of the end times that God then establishes again the nation of God forever – according to the prophets as well as the book of Revelation.

Within these patterns we see something emerge. It isn’t just that the Scripture all revolves around a final conclusion of the age. It isn’t just that all things are leading unto that epoch that includes the return of the Son of God. What we find emerge is that there is a theological foundation to all of the various dogmas, or doctrines, which begins in Genesis, and branches out unto the very last chapters of Revelation. When we discuss soteriology, we’re discussing an end time salvation. When we discuss anthropology, we’re not only discussing the nature of man from the Garden, and after the fall, but we’re also discussing humanity in the bodily resurrection. God’s perspective and view is ever and always upon that eschaton. For our view to consistently be upon the here and now, wanting to expound the depths of the Scripture and theology according to current experience falls short of the glory of God.

Therefore, theology has eschatology as its nexus. Everything links and comes together when the key of eschatology has been put into place. That isn’t to say we cannot understand without first going to eschatology, but to say that if we have been negligent to understanding God’s paradigm and cosmic, apocalyptic, and eternal purposes, then we have been even more negligent within every other branch of theology. The very culmination and aggregation of the great dogmas is rooted and grounded, even the foundation being laid, within the eternal purposes of God. What is the Church, and what is the Church’s purpose if it does not have an end time orientation? What is salvation, and what is the purpose of salvation, if it does not have an end time conclusion?

Eschatology, though it seem to be a study of the end time events, is much more than that. If we are trying to graph and chart things out, imparting a knowledge of how things will take place, but we have not yet seen the pertinence upon daily life, and the constrains that the eschaton brings into practice, then we have not truly studied, nor understood, nor desired to understand, the end of the age. It is not the heart of God that we are looking for, but rather a pristine theology, and sound doctrine. To ask the question of the end is to ask the question of God Himself. What we claim to believe about God is put to the test in what we believe about the end. Nothing shows forth the grace, mercy, severity, love, and anger of God like the end of the age, the conclusion of all things.

Therefore the eschaton is the zenith of theology. To do theology apart from an apocalyptic expectancy, and a blessed hope in which Messiah shall come, and raise a banner for the nations, that all might see His glory, and Israel might be joined under her brethren, and we might enter Zion together with an eternal inheritance, with everlasting joy upon our heads, and tears being wiped away, the Spirit of grace and supplication being poured out on the House of David, and the Spirit being poured out on all flesh – that kind of theology that refuses to consider this eternal bliss in all things is a prime example of ministerial malpractice. It doesn’t prepare the congregation for the glory that is coming, if they shall truly be found faithful unto that glorious appearing. Rather, it teaches a dullness, and a malaise, in which every Sunday is like the other, new messages with the same message, and all of the hearers are lulled into thinking that what we have is all we’ll ever have in this life.

Such a theology does not know God, nor the power of God. God Himself has made this one statement at the end of the age, the epochal drama and saga of Israel and the saints, to be the very testimony and witness of a King who rules forever. Where eschatology has classically been the end cap of theology, and almost an addendum of interesting discussion, I would persist that it is actually the foremost consideration in God’s heart. This isn’t one doctrine among many, in which we can come to whatever conclusions we want, because it doesn’t really matter. What you say of the end of the age will result in the life or death of countless masses. Martin Luther must have rolled in his grave to behold Nazi Germany willingly using his material to woo the anemic church into antisemitism and violence. And this is modern history, after the enlightenment, when Germany was the motherland of theology, and the place of immaculate culture. We aren’t dealing with primitives, nor with uneducated or uncultured Middle Eastern Muslims. The atrocities of Auschwitz and Birkinau were performed by a nation of civilized and cultured jewels, who willingly forfeited their humanity to become automatons under the coercion of the principalities and powers of darkness, who have only too gladly held their place of honor and rule over the German people from before the Reformation, and even through the Reformation with the giddy condemnation and slaughter of the anabaptists.

Would such a mass murder and condemnation of the reformers been allotted if the so-called church held to a view that God would kill all the sinners of His people? Would it have been conceivable for Martin Luther to call the anabaptists demon possessed, simply because of their exemplary holiness and godly living, if he took seriously that the Church is to be a demonstration of the manifest wisdom of God unto the principalities and powers of the air – a demonstration that is quite obviously of unity, not just between brethren, but even an impossible humility to accepting that we as Gentiles have been brought into the commonwealth of Israel? And how does that demonstration manifest? Is it not explained in Ephesians as well? Is it not that in the dispensation of the fullness of time that God would bring together under in one all things in Christ? When is that dispensation? At the formation of the church in Acts 2? Never for a minute consider that Paul had such a thought, for he continues in pointing out that we have obtained an inheritance, “εις απολυτρωσιν της περιποιησεως”.4 Here it is mentioned “to the praise of His glory”, which goes back to verse 12, in which Paul speaks of “we who first trusted”, which is not the Gentiles addressed in verse 13, but the Jewish believers that are a part of that “purchased possession”.

If we are willing to hear God’s heart, I think we would be flabbergasted. All of us would be on our faces to consider the things that He has spoken, but we have not been willing to heart it. Our thoughts are too high, and our ways are too high – far higher than the meek and lowly road that God has endured. The proud won’t understand, because God hides Himself from them. The meek, however, who shall inherit the earth, stand in God’s counsel, willingly hearing the hard things, and willingly embracing even the statements of an Israel that God still loves, who are currently “not my people”, but shall in that day be called “my people”. The Bride of Christ is Israel, the congregation (εκκλεσια) is Israel, the election is Israel, and even the promises, covenants, prophecies, blessings, and inheritance are all for Israel. Any part that you or I have, if we are not a Jew by birth, is not because we are somehow a superstructure in Christ called “the church”, but because we have been grafted in, and are now a part of the commonwealth of Israel.

A theology that does not embrace the things that God has declared about the end of the age, and has made light of His very heart and vexation, is an arrogant theology. That arrogance is not something to take lightly, considering that Ezekiel 28 tells us that Satan himself corrupted his wisdom, and his heart boasted over – exalted itself – because of his beauty. The arrogance of Romans 11:18 is not about high mindedness, which is found in verse 20, but rather an exaltation and “boasting over of”. Do not boast against the branches, being arrogant, exalting yourself like the ancient serpent, and corrupting your wisdom in the process. Rather, remain pure, lay down your life as a living sacrifice, be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and all these statements come after the explanation that we as Gentiles have been grafted in so that they might be driven to jealousy – a statement straight out of Deuteronomy 32 for the end of the age.

The arrogant theology parades as God’s view, exalting itself against and above the branches, not believing that the root supports it. Any branch that is grafted in that does not take dies, and is good for nothing but firewood. To not take seriously the eschaton, and to expect that you don’t need to see the mystery that Paul emphatically declares in Ephesians 3, is to willingly, and arrogantly, believe that there are more important things than the eternal purposes of God. Such a slap in the face desecrates all of the teachings of Jesus, and it certainly doesn’t take seriously the call that Paul lays forth for “the Church”. Whatever he was expressing as this mystery, which will demonstrate the manifest wisdom of God unto the powers of darkness, is the very thing that brings the conclusion, “αθτω η δοξα εν τη εκκλεσια”.5 That glory is not a seasonal glory, but “εις πασας τας γενεας του αεωνος των αεωνων”.6

1 A connection or series of connections linking two or more things.

2 The time at which something is most powerful or successful.

3 The decisive or most important point at issue.

4 To the redemption of the obtained, or acquired, or purchased possession

5 To him be glory in the church…

6 To all generations forever and ever.

Requirements of Studying Theology

There are a lot of things that can be said to be requirements of study, especially in regard to systematic theology – or theology in general. In consulting sources, both personal and books, the general consideration is that a theology scholar should have a disciplined mind, a Bible, a knowledge of the original languages, reverence, teachableness, and other such things. While I can rejoice in some effort to get to the heart of it in things like reverence and teachableness, I also have cried multiple times in prayer over the absence of one key thing.

The requirement of studying any type or branch of theology is, and not simply should be, a hunger and thirst after righteousness. We need to have a thorough and incorrigible pursuit of knowing God, and not merely knowing about God, and knowing God as He in fact is. Anyone can get on a microphone and proclaim some ideas they have concerning God, concerning the Bible, and concerning theology. Anyone can publish a book. Anyone can go through school and now have a platform from which to speak and preach. The question is not about whether they are studious, nor about whether they are open to criticism, nor whether they have solid argumentation and reasoning, but rather whether what they are saying is conveying the truth and nothing but the truth. Are you actually speaking about God, or is this some idea that you have intellectually attained, simply because you were unwilling, or unable, to know God as He says of Himself?

When I was brand new to the faith, not even yet familiar with much of the Scripture, I went to multiple Bible studies a week, a couple prayer meetings a week, listened to multiple sermons everyday, prayed for 4-8 hours a day, and read mass amounts of Scripture. I literally had something within the realm of church or christianity that I was attending every day of the week, and I also made sure to pray and read the Bible for hours everyday whether I had school or not. My whole reason for such devotion was that I wanted to know God as He is. I wanted to know Him. I wanted to be with Him. I wanted to share all things with Him.

As an atheist, I knew nothing of God. I knew nothing of the Bible. When I was converted, I had, and still have, nothing but unreasonable desire to know Him, love Him, honor Him, and glorify Him. Because of this, I study theology – God Himself and His relationships with all things. I hunger and thirst after righteousness. I pant as the deer to see God, to know Him, and not simply know things about Him, my soul longing with fervor. I make haste to drink deeply from the wells of salvation.

This is the requirement of study – wanting to know God as He is, and to know His view, His thoughts, His opinions, His heart, and His mind. It isn’t about what I can get out of the Scripture, seeking blessings and promises for me and my daily life. Truly, I don’t care what the Bible says is mine if it is only for the sake of my benefit. What matters to me is what benefit and glory it brings to God, and whether it is according to His purposes and cosmic plan. What matters to me is seeing Him, and His plans, and His purposes, and to rejoice that He has given me opportunity to be a part of all of this.

We’re also not interested in new understanding that have been hidden in the past, and now we’ve come across the true way of perceiving. While I believe that as the Day draws near that God will continue to pour out understanding, it is not something that is altogether new or different. Even the prophets of the Old Testament built upon Leviticus and Deuteronomy (not to mention the stories of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Joshua through Job). The apostles likewise didn’t declare a new thing, but rather expounded the interpretation of what was previously unknown, or misunderstood. The prophets and apostles have built upon the previous prophets and apostles – not to write something new that wasn’t before seen or comprehended, but to continue to further explain and express the details that have not until this time been revealed by the Father.

Such fads, conspiracies, and “secret things” that parade around in Christianity as if they are the new way of perceiving are anathema. When you find someone that continues to speak or preach, and you can’t understand plainly what they proclaim without buying their books, listening to all of their material, and learning new ways of thinking, you’re listening to a false teacher – or worse. Theology is not to be confused to “secret things”, and so called “deep secrets”.1 I understand the hidden things belong to the Lord,2 but these are not the same as what is expressed through much of the fads and fables of modern Christianity.

1 Revelation 2:24

2 Deuteronomy 29:29