Difficult Subjects

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To complete our review of the Holy Scriptures, we shall turn our attention to a few of the difficulties that crop up, whether with ourselves or with another, when seeking to understand or explain the Word of God. The nature of the difficulty is not the same in each case — neither the subject nor with the person. In some instances it is principally a question of faith. Do we accept God at His word or do we yield to man’s interpretation of this world? Other difficulties are of Christendom’s own making. Two thousand years of rubbish have been heaped upon the foundation laid by the Apostles. In the sixteenth century a bright light shone forth and the truth of salvation through faith alone, and not works, was preached. It wasn’t, however, until the early nineteenth century that the true character and hope of the church was once again recognized and acted upon. With the church’s heavenly position restored, God’s promises to His earthly people, Israel, were acknowledged. This opened the way for the interpretation of the prophetic scriptures without robbing them of their true meaning. Centuries of misinterpretation, however, are difficult to overcome and its legacy still affects the greater percentage of Christendom. And yet, “What is the chaff to the wheat?” (Jer. 23:28). A hungry child knows that bread is food for the body; even so, the truth of Scripture will be received by the child of God who hungers for it.
The various subjects that follow by no means cover the full gamut of such difficulties. Furthermore, they will not be addressed as adequately as some would hope. None of the thoughts presented are new. They have all been given fuller treatment elsewhere. Should an anxious soul have lingering doubts, or questions beyond the scope of this book, written ministry and thorough expositions are available.
If we listen to modern science, the Genesis account of creation is irrelevant. Worse than that, science claims to have thoroughly contradicted it. While this may appear to be a modern view, it isn’t so new. Although Darwin’s publication, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, in 1859 was the impetus for much renewed debate, Darwin was not alone in his thoughts. Long before him, Aristotle argued for a cosmos that had no beginning. An explanation for the origin of life which removes God is, quite simply, favored by man. I do not wish to discuss the theories of science nor attempt to refute them — much has been written on the subject by those more capable than I. Rather, let us consider what the Word of God has to say.
“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3). In the eleventh Chapter of Hebrews, the faith chapter, we have chronicled the lives of Old Testament men and women whose lives exhibited faith. It is remarkable, therefore, that the verse which heads the list concerns us. Yes, it is “Through faith we understand.” There is no getting around this verse. We cannot expect to understand the faith of the patriarchs, much less live the same faith, unless we first have the faith to believe God’s account of creation. Despite all the scientific advances in knowledge, we do not know the origin of the universe or of life.
It is difficult to escape the six days of the Adamic creation. The fourth commandment recalls it: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exod. 20:11). The institution of the Jewish Sabbath makes little sense unless the days spoken of in Genesis are literal. Moreover, the account in Genesis is quite explicit, “the evening and the morning were the first day  ...  the evening and the morning were the second day” (Gen. 1:5, 8). When the expression, “the evening and the morning” is used, a literal day is meant (Dan. 8:14).
I would, however, draw our attention to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” I do not believe that this is a summary of that which follows in chapters one and two. I believe it to be a statement in time prior to the events unfolded in these chapters — possibly billions of years earlier. The condition of the earth immediately prior to the six days are given in verse two: “without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2). Something happened between verses one and two. The creation which we know, and into which Adam and Eve were placed, is given in the remainder of the chapter. There are strong objections, however, especially among evangelical Christians of this present day, to this interpretation. There is even the suggestion that one is abandoning the truth of Scripture! Nevertheless, this is most certainly not a new interpretation — it was long held to be the truth of these verses. In the nineteenth century, William Kelly wrote: In short, the portion that has been read gives two great facts: creation at first, apart from those measures of time which belong to the present condition of the heavens and earth; secondly, the introduction of the common course of time, when God is undertaking to prepare an immediate abode for man on the earth. Later in the same article he writes: Consequently the common idea of putting the creation of the world some six thousand years ago is a mere blunder. The Bible is in no way responsible for it. Where does Scripture say so, or anything approaching to it?60 By reducing the entire history of time to the six thousand years of the Adamic creation, Christians have created a conflict with the physical evidence that doesn’t exist in God’s Word. I would carefully note, however, this is not about providing time for an evolutionary explanation of life or any other such nonsense. There is a gap between verses one and two in Genesis chapter one, because this is what Scripture tells us.
Let us first consider the expression used to describe the condition of the earth in verse two: “without form, and void.” Without form (the Hebrew word is tohu) describes that which is wasted, a desolation. Void (bohu) on the other hand, means emptiness. The first of these two words (tohu) occurs a handful of times in the Old Testament. One may look at its usage and see that it is translated as: wilderness, vain, confusion — all consistent with our definition given above. The second word, however, is used just three times — in Genesis, in Isaiah (Isa. 34:11, where it is translated emptiness), and in Jeremiah. Let’s turn to the reference in Jeremiah: “I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light” (Jer. 4:23). This verse describes the destruction that would be heaped upon Jerusalem. “Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled” (Jer. 4:20). The devastation would be so great that the Spirit of God recalls the condition (tohu and bohu) found in Genesis 1:2. That exact expression, used to describe the scene of chaos and darkness so long before, is used by Jeremiah to portray the results of coming judgment. Is this description befitting a world just newly created? This is even more striking when one contrasts the verse in Jeremiah with one found in Isaiah: “For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited” (Isa. 45:18). The expression, “He created it not in vain” uses tohu — vain, or as it may be given, waste. Indeed, other translations of this verse use: waste, chaos, and without order. No, God did not create it in this state.
The verses I have given are usually dismissed as irrelevant; that they are taken out of context, but this simply is not true. In both instances the Spirit of God alludes to Genesis 1:1-2 to make a point; a point that is meaningless if these verses describe anything other than an earth corrupted from its original, created state. We find a similar usage in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). God has shined the light of His gospel into the darkness of our hearts. Did God create man’s heart in darkness? Absolutely not; it fell into that state because of sin. This verse makes sense because God likewise caused the light to penetrate the darkness which shrouded a devastated earth — one which was not in its original creation glory.
If God didn’t create the earth in this state, how did it get into this condition — a condition applicable to a scene of destruction? This we are not told. Could it have been connected with Satan’s fall? Possibly. Ezekiel 28:12-19 gives us a glimpse into the life of Satan: “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee” (Ezek. 28:15). That angels (created beings) existed at the time of the Adamic creation is evident from the book of Job: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?  ...  When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4, 7). Clearly there is a whole back-story that we are not privy to. God has given us only those details in Genesis one and two relevant to His purposes; He has not given us an account to satisfy our intellectual curiosity. By reading into Scripture that which is not there, man has made bold claims in the realms of science which have proven to be utterly false — for example, the earth-centric view of the solar system.
Romans 5:12 is usually given as a counter argument to these things: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world.” The argument insists corruption and devastation could not have existed prior to Adam’s sin. And yet, where is the error in interpreting this to be the Adamic world? From Genesis 1:3 through to the end of the chapter we have six days in which God prepared a world unmarred by sin, perfectly suited for Adam and Eve. “God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). It is into this world that Adam brought sin and, as a consequence, death.
It should also be noted, that there is a distinction made in the first chapter as to those things which God created and the things which He made. A builder doesn’t create, he makes — he takes raw materials and constructs something. In the first chapter of Genesis, we certainly find God creating: “God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth” (v. 21). However, He also organized things — gathering, for example, the waters into one place (v. 9) — and He also made things, “God made the firmament” (v. 7). The distinction between these two words — to create and to make — is commonly denied; but if there is no distinction, why does the Spirit of God use them together at the close of the six days? “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made” (Gen. 2:3). This last expression makes no sense if the words mean substantially the same thing. Notice also, that in the verse given earlier in connection with God’s Sabbath rest, it does not say that God created the heaven and earth, but rather, He made: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth” (Exod. 20:11). Likewise, the writer to the Hebrews uses the word framed: “the worlds were framed by the word of God” (Heb. 11:3). Matthew and Mark use this same word to describe the mending of nets. It is also translated: fit, perfect, restore, prepare, and make.
I would like to digress, for a moment, from my earlier intent and consider a little science. In the mid-twentieth century, astrophysicists working with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, found that time and space appeared to have a finite beginning. This was rather startling, and, for that matter, it was not readily accepted. This theory has been popularly, but incorrectly, dubbed the Big Bang. A bang implies the existence of something which explodes, this is a false characterization; there was no matter to begin with, there was no explosion, and there was certainly no bang! What must be understood is that time and space, matter and energy, came abruptly into being. One cannot even think of the universe expanding into space, as space did not exist prior to this event. It was the simultaneous appearance of space everywhere in the universe. I do not wish to suggest that this theory corresponds to the Biblical creation of the universe. Scientific theories attempt to provide a framework for the understanding of known observations and to predict the existence and behavior of that which has yet to be observed. It is man’s attempt to connect-the-dots. Given that scientific endeavors are almost universally conducted to the exclusion of God, the dots will never be connected correctly and the picture will, therefore, be wrong. What is striking, however, are the implications of this theory. Something with an origin, that begins to exist, must have a cause. Watches, for example, have an origin (they are not eternal), and since they have an origin, there must be a cause — watches do not spontaneously appear; there is a watchmaker. If the universe has an origin, then there must be a Universe Maker. One of the astrophysicists instrumental in the formulation of this cosmological model was Stephen Hawking. Since his initial work, however, Hawking has pursued every alternative to rid himself of the need for a Creator. He now believes that universes spontaneously appear and we find ourselves here by chance; there is no God and there is no afterlife — convenient, but hardly logical, and certainly not authoritative. Even when science points to God, man will not have Him.
The Flood
I do not wish to say much concerning the flood. Any interpretation other than a complete inundation of the earth is difficult to maintain in the face of the Scriptural testimony: “the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth, and all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered” (Gen. 7:19). The New Testament references to the flood also confirm its literal interpretation: “the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared, wherein few, (that is, eight souls) were saved by water” (1 Pet. 3:20). “For of this they are willfully ignorant: that by the Word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water, whereby the world as it then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Pet. 3:5-6). Certainly, there is much physical evidence consistent with such a flood. The existence of fossils, such as vertical tree trunks extending through multiple layers of strata in both coal beds and sedimentary rock,1 point to a rapid sedimentation consistent with a flood. Nevertheless, there are also things which may, to the natural mind, present difficulties — the preservation of plant life, perhaps the transfer of knowledge from before to after the flood, and so forth. All these things we may wonder at. Clearly, the flood was a miraculous event, but one perfectly within the power of the Creator God. It is a serious mistake to suppose that we can describe events, such as the flood, or the ten plagues of Egypt, solely in terms of natural phenomena. This seems to be a trap into which many modern Christians fall. The One who created the world, can also bring it through a flood. That being said, the things which God has asked us to believe are perfectly reasonable — there is nothing more even in its tone, more sober in its presentation, than the Word of God.
It is helpful, nevertheless, if we keep in mind that the earth before the flood was vastly different to the one after it. For example, it would appear that the antediluvian2 world was watered by a mist: “The Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground” (Gen. 2:6). It should also be noted that, in addition to the rain, a release of water from the ground contributed to the flood, an event which must have involved significant tectonic activity. “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened” (Gen. 7:11-12). Other scriptures point to a change in geology, geography, and climate during this time — the alteration in the courses of the rivers flowing from the general area of Eden; the climatic changes evident in the book of Job; the apparent lack of a firmament and the appearance of rainbows (Gen. 1:7; 2:10-14; 9:13; Job 38:29-30). When we look at the world around us, its continents, mountain ranges, and so forth, we should not imagine that we are looking upon the same landscape that Adam surveyed.
Before leaving this topic, we must briefly consider the subject of myths. A common refrain today is that the Bible is just a retelling of ancient myths. Unquestionably, flood myths are widespread, cutting across every continent and many peoples. One of the best known is the Mesopotamian version recounted in the Epic of Gilgamesh, though, it is a retelling of an earlier tradition. On the third of December 1872, George Smith, an Assyriologist, read before the Society of Biblical Archaeology his newly prepared translation of the Chaldean account of the Great Flood from the Epic of Gilgamesh. This caused, as can be imagined, quite the sensation. To those who rejected the Biblical account, this was evidence to them of its mythical origin. It is true, that in terms of themes, it follows the Biblical account — a flood to destroy mankind, a boat constructed from timber and sealed with pitch, a man and his family saved, the preservation of the animals, the releasing of a dove and a raven (the orders are reversed), the sacrifices that followed. Beyond this, however, the accounts stand in stark contrast.
Instead of a grieved God — “It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart” (Gen. 6:6) — we find the gods meeting in secret counsel and agreeing to send a flood to destroy humankind.61 No reason is given, though translators frequently add one. Uta-napishti, the hero of the story, would have perished with everyone else had he not been forewarned in a dream by the god Ea, who broke the oath of secrecy. The boat itself, equal in length and breadth, built in just seven days, differs significantly from the realistic dimensions and construction of Noah’s ark. Furthermore, we read of Uta-napishti providing the workers fresh meat along with beer, ale, oil, and wine like water, as on a feast day! It is the story of capricious gods, meting out destruction on mankind, a legend typical of this world’s religions. The gods of Gilgamesh are just as lustful as the wicked men they rule and just as petulant in their whims. Gilgamesh’s quest to meet Uta-napishti, interestingly, is centered on his desire for immortality. Uta-napishti had found eternal life, and yet the way to it had been lost. This reflects the state of man’s heart.
The widespread existence of flood myths points to a common event: a calamity once universally acknowledged among the ancients. Rather than undermining the Genesis account, the Chaldean legend only serves to corroborate it. Nevertheless, that God has acted in judgment, and that He could act again, is rejected by man: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1:32). In the fashion of the daily tabloids, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and other similar stories, sensationalize reality, turning it from a serious lesson into a story that satisfies man’s craving for such salacious tales.
If we look at myths and legends more generally, the themes of creation, judgment, redemption, immortality, and so forth, do indeed appear. But to suggest that the Biblical accounts sprang from these, goes against all logic. The staid and rational accounts of the Holy Scriptures contrast dramatically with these ancient myths. In them we find man groping about in the darkness of his own mind, seeking for immortality in a world inhabited by heroes, gods, and demigods, subject to the same passions and lusts as himself.
Let’s switch continents now and touch on the Egyptian myths surrounding Ra, the sun God, and the story of Isis and Osiris.62 Ra spoke at the beginning of creation and commanded the earth and the heavens to rise out of the waste of waters. All that he desired to see came into being. In the waters and upon the dry land, he created the creatures that move. Ra, the creator and the ruler of the gods, became the first king upon earth. He took a form like mankind and went about among them. As an aside, this is very like the blasphemous view given by Brigham Young3 which makes Adam our god: Adam came into the Garden of Eden; he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize the world. He is Michael, the archangel, the Ancient of Days! About whom holy men have written and spoken — He is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do.63 Without going into details, the Egyptian creation myth also speaks of a serpent, created by the enchantress, Isis, who bites Ra; we also find a flood sent to destroy mankind for his disdain of the aged ruler Ra.
In a separate myth (keep in mind, there are various retellings of the same myth) we read how the Egyptian deity Set, who regarded with jealousy the good works of his brother, Osiris, murdered him. The general similarity to the story of Cain and Abel is not missed. Osiris’ body is ultimately divided into fourteen pieces and thrown into the Nile River. Isis recovers the pieces and, hovering over them, the air from her wings enters his nostrils so that he is imbued with life again.
The life of Osiris is sometimes given as an example of death and resurrection; the supposed precursor of Christian accounts. Needless to say, the human mind is capable of imagining fanciful parallels — and yet, many will cling to such nonsense to avoid the truth. Even if we take up this accusation and consider it based on the facts, it is quite irrational. Osiris remained firmly beyond the realm of the living and became the judge and king of the dead. Egyptian burial rites were based upon this legend; the story was reenacted so that the dead might be imbued with vitality and pass to the judgment hall and from thence into paradise. This is certainly not the resurrection which we, as Christians, understand and look forward to.
Modern revisionists love to pull together pieces of myths, often unrelated, and retell them using Biblical phraseology. From these reconstructed stories they produce, as from the magician’s hat, a pseudo-scriptural interpretation. Everything, however, has been turned on its head; it is man who has borrowed from the Scriptures and not the other way around. It should not surprise us, therefore, to find parallels. These stories are a corruption and retelling of knowledge, once known to man, but which he chose to reject: “Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind” (Rom. 1:28). Underlying much of this is the recent age given to the Scriptures in contrast to the great age ascribed to the myths of Babylon and Egypt. One source cites the books of Moses as dating from the Persian period! The source and transmission of the Old Testament texts has already been covered in the first section of this book, and I will say no more on it at this juncture — except to reaffirm the authenticity and great age of the books of Moses.
Modern interpretation is also tainted by the general assumption that man is improving; that the murky myths of old were refined into the elegant Biblical accounts, which have now given way to scientific knowledge. One sees in it the principle of evolution applied broadly across man’s thinking. To the contrary, man has fallen. From the creation of Adam until the flood we see man sinking into complete immorality and corruption. After the flood, we once again see a decline, arrested for a moment in one nation set apart to God, Israel. The light of Christianity lifted the state of those nations where it was permitted to penetrate, but as we see the rapid abandonment of all things relating to Christianity, we also see a return to the former depraved condition of things: “As the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt. 24:37). “Men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, evil speakers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, profane, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, of unsubdued passions, savage, having no love for what is good, traitors, headlong, of vain pretensions, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; having a form of piety but denying the power of it” (2 Tim. 3:2-5 JND).
Judgment, God’s Strange Work
God’s judgment upon the antediluvian world, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the judgment executed by Israel against the nations of Canaan, these have all been used against the Bible. Famed atheist, Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, makes much of these things. Even Christians become confused when they attempt to apply the twisted morals4 of this present day to the historic account of the Scriptures. I have no desire to counter the Dawkins of this world, but rather, to seek to be a help to those who may be struggling with this subject. In addressing the supposed dilemma between the God of judgment and the God of love we will take things up from the perspective of a believer.
“But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:16). God’s judgment is always just; He doesn’t capriciously annihilate people. To deny this is to make God unrighteous and in so doing we set ourselves on a higher moral plane than He. It’s one thing to say that we don’t understand — there is nothing wrong in that. There are many things we don’t understand: “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” (John 13:7). But to say that God is unjust is the pride and arrogance of man. Later in Genesis, Abraham says: “That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from Thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). Indeed He will.
We know the story of Jonah well. Jonah pouted because his pronouncements against Nineveh were suspended when the people repented. Did God care for that gentile nation, especially the innocent children? Absolutely! “Should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11). Nineveh did ultimately come under judgment — some one hundred and fifty years after Jonah (read the book of Nahum). By then, Nineveh had become a city of blood, so vile were their doings (Nah. 3:1). Even so, God had His eye on the righteous: “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and He knoweth them that trust in Him” (Nah. 1:7). Incidentally, the execution of God’s judgment didn’t actually fall on Nineveh until a further one hundred or so years after Nahum. During that time, I have no doubt that many mocked Nahum’s prophecies — just as men mock the Scriptures today. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl. 8:13). On the other hand, I suspect there were also those who rebuked God for not intervening in the terrible state of things. It doesn’t matter how God acts, man will find fault with Him.
The verse given above, quoted from Genesis 18:25, concerns the judgment of Sodom, and yet, when judgment fell on that city, fire rained from the heavens. Were the children spared? I understand the difficulty we have with this. Nevertheless, when there is a hurricane, when there is a pandemic, when there is an earthquake, does God separate the righteous and innocent from the unjust? We view death as something horrible; God views it very differently — it’s a door to another world. God says: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psa. 116:15). And contrariwise: “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die” (Ezek. 33:11). Do we ever stop to consider that in death God may be sparing the righteous and innocent from evil to come? “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come” (Isa. 57:1). Those children in Sodom would have been raised up accepting the same wicked lifestyle as that of their parents.
We should never suppose that when the instrument of God’s judgment acts in cruelty, that this is sanctioned of God or that He takes any pleasure in it. This is the subject of the Book of Habakkuk. The Babylonians were used by God as an instrument of judgment against Judah. Was God indifferent to the cruelty that the Babylonians inflicted? No, they would come under judgment themselves in God’s time: “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:3-4). The Assyrian before this was used by God against Israel; was God indifferent to their arrogance? “O Assyrian, the rod of Mine anger, and the staff in their hand is Mine indignation  ...  Shall the axe boast itself against Him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against Him that shaketh it?” (Isa. 10:5, 15). As we just read, Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, ultimately came under judgment.
When the children of Israel entered the land of Canaan, they were commanded to drive out seven nations who lived there. God had given these peoples space to repent, but they had not done so (Gen. 15:16). “When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them” (Deut. 7:1-2). The reasons for doing so are given: “When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee” (Deut. 18:9-12). By historic accounts, the debauched condition of these nations, the child sacrifices and so forth, would be (or should be) utterly repulsive to individuals of this present age, and, if so, how much more therefore to God? That God’s judgment should have been called forth, on the one hand, shows the depravity of these nations, and, on the other, the perfect righteousness of God.
God was not destroying an innocent people. God held them accountable for their behavior. At the very least, man has the testimony that creation gives to God: “From the world’s creation the invisible things of Him are perceived, being apprehended by the mind through the things that are made, both His eternal power and divinity, so as to render them inexcusable” (Rom. 1:20 JND). “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard” (Psa. 19:1-3). After the flood, the world was divided into nations; they knew the true God and they also knew His judgment (Rom. 1:32). But mankind made a choice: “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:21-23). God did not immediately judge the idolatry, immorality, and corruption. He gave space for these nations to repent, but they did not; they heaped iniquity upon iniquity. God is righteous and He cannot be otherwise; judgment must ultimately come.
God is both love and light — we like to remember the former and forget the latter. “This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13). On the other hand “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He demonstrated that love by sending His Son: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16). Not to destroy, but to save: “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). If we reject the grace of God, there is no other remedy — there is nothing more that God can do. And though we may not like to talk about it, judgment must come: “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know Him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people” (Heb. 10:29-30). To say that we will have a God of love but not of light is to create our own god — this is modern day idolatry.
God has, once again, in His long and patient dealings with mankind given him space to repent. The gospel of the grace of God is being preached throughout the world. Those who reject it, or are indifferent to it, will be judged on that basis: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation” (Heb. 2:3). Those who have never heard it will not be judged on the same ground. After the church is taken out of this world, the everlasting gospel will be proclaimed. It’s the story of the Creator God, to whom mankind is accountable, and His promise of a Saviour, the One who would crush the serpent’s head: “I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Rev. 14:6-7).
Scripture calls God’s judgment His strange work: “For the Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim, He shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that He may do His work, His strange work; and bring to pass His act, His strange act” (Isa. 28:21). God does not delight in judgment. He carries it out because He is righteous. Righteousness is as intrinsic to His character as love is.
The Deity of Christ
Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been those who have insisted that the Lord Jesus never affirmed His deity. It is claimed that His disciples conferred this status upon Him well after His death. Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code writes: Jesus’ establishment as “the Son of God” was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea. Once again, we remind ourselves that this book is truly fiction; nevertheless, the message it propagates is deadly poison. Contrary to the nonsense Brown writes, the Council of Nicaea did not establish the deity of Christ — it upheld it. In 325 A.D., three hundred and eighteen bishops, along with deacons and other men of the church, assembled at Nicaea in Bithynia5 to consider the controversy known as Arianism. The teachings of Arius called into question the nature of the Trinity and in particular the position of Christ in the Godhead. The council rejected the Arian opinions. Instead, the doctrine of the holy Trinity, and the true Godhead of Christ, and of His oneness with the Father were all upheld.
The Scriptures, beyond all shadow of doubt, present the Lord Jesus Christ as the true God who, in grace beyond all comprehension, became true Man for the vindication of God’s glory and our redemption.64She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matt. 1:21-22). All who reject this fundamental truth rest upon a false hope and are still dead in their sins. “Whoever denies the Son has not the Father either; he who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 1:23 JND). Other religions may accept Jesus as a great teacher or even a prophet, but neither could have died for my sins.
Although this subject should present no difficulty to the believer, it is good for us to know how we might answer someone who has questions regarding the Lord’s deity. More than this, however, it thrills our hearts to be reminded of the One who came down from the heights of glory to Calvary’s depth of woe.
Brightness of the eternal glory,
Shall Thy praise unuttered lie?
Who would hush the heaven-sent story
Of the Lamb who came to die?
Came from Godhead’s fullest glory
Down to Calvary’s depth of woe,
Now on high, we bow before Thee;
Streams of praises ceaseless flow!65
Before we consider various verses which affirm Christ’s deity, we must correctly understand two titles of our Lord: Son of God and The Son of Man. Both have been used to suggest that the Lord was less than God.
Although, we may use son to mean something less than father, it is never used this way in connection with the Godhead. Son implies essence. As an example, Scripture uses it in a negative sense when it speaks of the “sons of Belial” (Judg. 19:22; 1 Sam. 2:12, etc.). This expression is not literal — if so, Belial had a rather large family (and characteristically, he does!). Rather, those whose lives were the very personification of wickedness are called by God the sons of Belial. It describes the very essence of their character. This usage should not be foreign to us; it has come down to us in the idiom, “Like father, like son.” The Jews understood perfectly when Jesus answered them: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18).
The same principle applies when son is used in connection with us, though from a very different perspective. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption [sonship], whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:15-16). We receive sonship; it is the position we now possess in Christ. In contrast, the Son was Son from eternity past. The Lord Jesus is never called a child of God, but we are; He is always the only-begotten Son. “He is not ashamed to call [us] brethren” (Heb. 2:11), whereas, it would be inappropriate (and irreverent) for us to call the Lord, Brother — it is a position into which we have been brought in virtue of His work.
There is, however, a portion in the Gospel of John, relating to this title, which may be confusing to some: “For a good work we stone Thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If He called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of Him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (John 10:34-36). Again, there is no uncertainty in the mind of the people as to the meaning implicit in the title, Son of God — Jesus was God. Based on the testimony of Scripture, however, their accusations were wrong and He had every right to use this title. In Psalm eighty two the judges in Israel, commissioned by God and responsible to judge in His name, are called gods. If such a title could be used of a mere magistrate, it was unreasonable to accuse Him of blasphemy, whom the Father set apart (sanctified) and sent into the world, because He said He was God’s Son! He was neither affirming nor demonstrating what He was in this but simply convicting them of their perverseness. His was an infinitely superior claim; if God referred to the judges as gods, being, as they were, representatives of His name, how much more was it due to Him who was sent from the Father?66
The Son of Man6 is a most interesting title. Although it speaks of Christ’s humanity, it cannot be separated from His divinity. In Proverbs thirty, Agur proposed a challenge: “Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended?  ...  What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if thou canst tell?” (Prov. 30:4). God alone, and not man, answers to this challenge: “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven” (John 3:13). Though the Lord took upon Himself flesh and blood, He was of a completely different moral order. He was “the second man, out of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47). In His nature He never departed from heaven. In the second chapter of Hebrews, we see how the Lord Jesus answers to The Son of Man7 as found in the eighth psalm. As The Son of Man, He was rejected, suffered, and died; and, as The Son of Man He will assume universal headship; all things will be put in subjection under His feet (Heb. 2:8). This is the One of whom we read in the seventh of Daniel: “One like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). The title, The Son of Man, is every bit an affirmation of His deity as His title Son of God.
Returning to our study as to the Lord’s deity, let us begin with the Epistles of Paul. Paul’s letters predate the Gospels. The Epistle to the Galatians is one of Paul’s first, having been written around 58 A.D., just twenty five years after the death and resurrection of the Lord. If Christ’s deity were a late invention of Christianity, then it would not be found in Paul’s writings. In Galatians, however, we read: “The Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “God sent forth His Son” (Gal. 4:4). Turning over to Philippians: “Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7). We should never diminish Christ’s deity because of His humility and dependence on the Father. If we move on to Colossians, there we find: “The Son of His love: in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins; who is image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation; because by Him were created all things, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones, or lordships, or principalities, or authorities: all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all, and all things subsist together by Him” (Col. 1:13-16 JND). Turning now to Hebrews, we read: “God,  ...  hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:2-3). Back in the Epistle to the Romans, we have an especially strong statement as to Christ’s deity: “of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever” (Rom. 9:5). This is only the tip of the iceberg. There is no question as to the deity of the Lord Jesus in Paul’s writings. Truly, upon his conversion, Paul “straightway  ...  preached Jesus that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20 JND). Naturally, it should not surprise us to learn that some accuse Paul of inventing the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. So we turn to the Gospels.
If we start with the Gospel of John, the evidence is overwhelming. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). The Lord is presented in these verses as The Word. The Word stands in correlation to God just as the Son stands in relationship to the Father. As the Word He is eternal, He is a distinct person of the Godhead, He is divine, and His position in the Godhead is as eternal as His person. Moreover, God created the worlds by means of The Word. Need we say anything more on the subject! What about the Lord’s testimony concerning Himself? “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is He, Lord, that I might believe on Him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen Him, and it is He that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him” (John 9:35-38). Many additional verses could be given from John’s Gospel (three were used earlier), and to these we could add the testimony of John’s epistles. John presents Christ in the character of the Son of God. As an aside, the Gospel of John also uses the title, The Son of Man, in fact, more often than Son of God. Again, this reaffirms the divine character of that name.
Of course, the testimony of John’s Gospel is rejected! John, it is argued, wrote very late in the first century and so it’s hardly surprising that his gospel would support this novel doctrine of the Christians. We can see how the game goes. If, one by one, we eliminate all the texts which speak of Christ’s deity, then certainly, there will be no scriptures left! I find it rather remarkable that the oldest manuscript fragment that we presently have, Papyrus P52, is from John’s gospel! It could be as little as fifty years removed from the original text.8
What about the remaining gospels? What do they have to say concerning Christ’s deity? There is nothing in them to surprise us and everything to confirm that which we’ve already read. We have already quoted Matthew: “they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matt. 1:23). The Gospel of Mark begins, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Of course, men pounce on Luke’s Gospel when it says: “therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35 JND). Luke presents Christ as The Son of Man, but as such, he adamantly protects His deity. Lest any should question who this babe was, the Holy Spirit testifies that He would be called (not become) Son of God. He was Son before His birth (Isa. 9:6) and it remains His rightful title after His birth. Similarly, Luke is careful to never call Joseph the Lord’s father: “Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph” (Luke 3:2323And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, (Luke 3:23)). Some of the most telling testimony, however, comes from the Lord Himself at His crucifixion. The Lord Jesus was not crucified for His good works, though, to be sure, man was envious (Mark 15:10). He was crucified because of who He was. In Matthew’s account (Mark’s is similar) of the Lord before the Sanhedrin,9 we read: “But Jesus held His peace. And the high priest answered and said unto Him, I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now ye have heard His blasphemy” (Matt. 26:63-65). The expression, “Thou hast said,” sometimes raises questions in the minds of people. To see what it means, we can just go back a few verses. Here we find the exact expression used in answer to a question given by Judas: “Then Judas, which betrayed Him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said” (Matt. 26:25). It is clear to us that this is an affirmative; yes, it is so. The Lord’s answer to the High priest is also, unequivocally, a confirmation. More than this, however, the Lord in His reply evokes Daniel, chapter seven, as well as the one hundred and tenth psalm: “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool” (Psa. 110:1). These verses bring before us The Son of Man in His exaltation coming with power and glory to receive His universal dominion. It was Jehovah God who has said to Him, “Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” The one hundred and tenth psalm is the most quoted Old Testament text found in the New, and it is inextricably connected with the Lord Jesus. We might well pose the same question as the Lord Himself: “If David then call Him Lord, how is He his son?” (Matt. 22:45). If the Christ is merely man (and, at that, David’s son) why does David call Him Lord?
The Lord Jesus, as a man upon this earth, did not refuse the worship of others nor did He correct their language when they addressed Him as Son of God. And yet we know, from other scriptures, that worship is due to God alone (Rev. 19:10; 22:9). “Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God” (Matt. 14:33); “And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him” (John 9:38); “Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
We could also discuss the careful choice of words that the Holy Spirit uses in connection with the Lord. For example, Martha may suggest that the Lord supplicate the Father (John 11:12), but the Lord never uses this expression of Himself — He always asks as an equal (John 14:16; 17:9, etc.). In truth, many proofs could be supplied. Nevertheless, as we earlier noted, unbelief rejects the testimony of the Scriptures.
Israel and the Church
Rightly distinguishing between Israel and the church is not a difficulty in the same sense as the previous topics; rather, it is a question of interpretation. I do not suggest that there are multiple interpretations that we can choose from; this is not the way of Scripture. But, if we allow the Word of God to speak to us, rather than imposing our framework upon it, I believe that the correct Scriptural view of Israel and the church will become clear. When a man’s mind apprehends the truth, and he seeks to give it a form, he does it according to the capacity of man, which is not its source; the truth as he expresses it, even were it pure, is separated in him from its source and its totality; but, besides this, the shape that a man gives it always bears the stamp of the man’s weakness.  ...  That is theology.67
Much of Christendom interprets the Scriptures through a framework known as Covenant Theology. Its use of covenants, to organize the history of God’s dealings with man, leads to its name. Though a broad system, at least two covenants are generally identified: the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. The first supposedly describes God’s relationship with Adam in the Garden of Eden; the second, that relationship from the fall of Adam and the promise of the woman’s seed (Gen. 3:15) up until this present day. To these some add a third covenant, the Covenant of Redemption — supposedly an eternal agreement within the Godhead. It should be noted, these are theological covenants, and are not covenants explicitly found in the Word of God.
I only intend to discuss Covenant Theology in a general way, focusing on widely accepted principles, without delving into details. In particular, I wish to consider the so-called Covenant of Grace — from the fall to the present time. God’s relationship with man, according to this system, remains the same in substance both under law and grace. As we might expect, there are some rather serious outcomes to this interpretation. As we consider these things, we should keep in mind that Covenant Theology is rooted in centuries of biblical exegesis. Its present form took shape following the reformation as theologians sought to make sense of the Scriptures so long shrouded in the darkness of Catholicism. As such, it remains firmly rooted in the reformation and is limited by the truth recovered at that time.
One of the most distinctive outcomes of Covenant Theology is its view of the church. The church is considered to be the true Israel of God and vice versa. Consequently, Christians today form a spiritual Israel, and conversely, the faithful in Israel of old were part of the church. A distinction is made between spiritual Israel (which includes all the faithful throughout all ages) and Israel after the flesh, which is to say, those ethnically so. Having spiritualized Israel, vast portions of the Old Testament must also be spiritualized. God’s promises to Israel, though clear enough in their presentation, can no longer be taken at face value. If a person takes up broad principles, they may have some success with this approach — and in some instances, it may be quite valid. But the force of the truth depends on its details and distinctness. If you blunt the edge of the truth, then the sword no longer cuts. Things get very murky when one tries to interpret the truly vast number of prophecies concerning the nation of Israel. Consider those scriptures that speak of her restoration in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah — in fact, turn to any prophet and you’ll read of Israel’s restoration and God’s judgment upon her enemies. Ezekiel is so explicit in this regard it is difficult to imagine how one can apply his prophecies to the church. When have Israel and Judah ever been reunited (Ezek. 37), spiritually or otherwise? Ezekiel’s prophecies are also directed to the very land of Israel itself: “prophesy unto the mountains of Israel” (Ezek. 36:1). Covenant Theology robs Israel of her future blessing, and because these blessings are applied to the church, the church loses her distinctive, heavenly position.
Two texts are commonly used to justify the distinction between a physical Israel and a spiritual one. Both are from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: the first is found in chapter two, the second in chapter nine. Beginning with the verses from Romans two: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28-29). In the first three chapters of the Epistle to the Romans mankind is examined, so to speak, in the court of God. The verdict — both Jew and Gentile are found to be guilty! “For we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:9-11). The verses used above fall, as it were, within the cross examination of the Jew (vss. 2:17-3:8). Being born a Jew did not make one righteous; no, God looked upon the heart. The Gentile is not in view at all in this portion; as to them, God rested His case in the earlier verses (vss. 1:19-2:16).
We now turn our attention to the second verse: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). As we have just seen, the first three chapters of this Epistle show both Jew and Gentile condemned by the Word of God. As far as that goes, they are indeed on common ground! This, however, presents a difficulty in the mind of the Jew. To them, the sovereign grace of God, which concludes all alike under judgment and which now holds out blessing for all, appears to set aside the special promises made to Israel — indeed, just as Covenant Theology has done. In Romans chapters nine, ten and eleven, the Apostle addresses this concern. Chapter nine proves that the sovereign grace of God is the only ground of blessing whether for Israel or the Gentile. In chapter ten, the Apostle shows that the fall of Israel opens the way for sovereign grace to bless the Gentile. Finally, chapter eleven foretells the rejection of the grace of God by the Gentile, preparing the way for the restoration of Israel — God has not forgotten His promises to His people of old.
Paul begins in chapter nine by showing that the sovereign grace of God, in taking up the Gentile, does not make the Word of God (and especially the promises to Israel) of none effect (Rom. 9:6). The Jew, however, tenaciously clings to his natural descent as the guarantor of those promises. They have to learn otherwise. Of Abraham’s two sons, Isaac, and not Ishmael, was the child of promise. With Jacob and Esau the argument is even stronger — they were twins born of the same parents (Ishmael had a different mother) and yet, even before they were born, Rebecca is told by God, “The elder shall serve the younger” (Rom. 9:12). This was God’s sovereign election. A Jew cannot simply rest upon his genealogy; for that matter, he never could. The principle, “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4; Heb. 10:38), is indeed common to both the Old Testament and the New. When God looked down upon the Israel of old, He saw a faithful remnant in the midst of an unbelieving nation — this remnant was the true Israel of God.
In conclusion, neither of the portions (in Romans chapters two and nine), used by Covenant Theologians, speak of a spiritual Israel extending beyond the fold of that nation; rather, these verses speak of a faithful sub-set within that people. It is a principle which excludes. It is not expansive — he is not a Jew; not all Israel.
The expression, “the Israel of God,” occurs once in the Scriptures. It comes at the close of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. Again, when we examine it in context, the meaning is plain. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:15-17). The Epistle to the Galatians addresses itself to those who were trying to Judaize the Gentile believers of Galatia, especially with the outward ordinance of circumcision. Some had come in and had turned the Galatians aside (see Gal. 5:7-12). These were Jews and false teachers, not Christians. Circumcision accounted for nothing; it was a question of a new creation. Those who walked in the power of the new creation could be assured of peace and mercy in their earthly pathway — there wasn’t much peace in the assemblies of Galatia (Gal. 5:15). This was not only true of the Gentile believer but also “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:15). Again, this speaks of that faithful remnant from among the Jews (in this context, those who had owned the name of Christ). These were the true Israel of God, and not the false Judaizing teachers.
It does not help when so many Christians fail to recognize that God has not made a covenant with the church. When the Epistle to the Hebrews quotes Jeremiah10 — “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Heb. 8:88For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: (Hebrews 8:8)) — it means exactly what it says; a covenant will be made in a coming day with Israel and Judah. The very fact that the two nations are mentioned here (consistent with the thirty seventh chapter of Ezekiel) should in itself make it clear that the church is not the subject. The church does enjoy all the benefits of the New Covenant — though the blessings of the church go far beyond them (read Ephesians and contrast it with the end of the eighth chapter of Hebrews). And although Paul refers to himself as a New Covenant minister, it was not in letter but in spirit (2 Cor. 3:6); for the letter kills — it destroys the unique character of the church.
Having shown that the only spiritual Israel found in Scripture is that faithful remnant within that literal nation, we can now address the differences between the Jew, Gentile, and the church of God. Each, as used by God in His Word, represents a distinct entity. Scripture itself speaks of this three-fold division: “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). As to the Gentiles, the Word of God is perfectly clear, they were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). God, however, has “annulled the enmity in His flesh, the law of commandments in ordinances, that He might form the two in Himself into one new man, making peace” (Eph. 2:15 JND). God has formed something entirely new — something that did not previously exist. Nothing could be more straightforward than the language used in this verse. We should also note that the law has been annulled in Christ — the law, which established that division between Jew and Gentile and which shut man out from blessing (for he could not keep it), has been annulled. That new thing which has been established is quite apart from the law. We cannot patch the new into the old (Matt. 9:16). This new man is a new body composed of believers from among both Jew and Gentile, “fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19 JND).
In the third chapter of Ephesians, a parenthetical chapter, the Apostle goes into greater detail and explains the mystery of the church. He begins by telling how he was a vessel chosen for the revelation of this mystery: “by revelation He made known unto me the mystery” (Eph. 3:3). A mystery that was not known previously but which now has been revealed through the Apostle: “to enlighten all with the knowledge of what is the administration of the mystery hidden throughout the ages in God, who has created all things” (Eph. 3:9 JND). The word mystery was a specific term used in that day — it meant something that could not be known by natural knowledge. And what is the mystery? “That they who are of the nations should be joint heirs, and a joint body, and joint partakers of His promise in Christ Jesus by the glad tidings” (Eph. 3:6 JND). This is that new order in man established by God and introduced in the second chapter. Never before had this been true — no company in the Old Testament was ever joined together into one body through the Holy Spirit and, much less, united to the man Christ Jesus in glory (Eph. 1:22-23; 1 Cor. 12:12-13). It was quite impossible; the church could not exist until Christ’s death and resurrection; and it could not be formed until the Holy Spirit was sent to baptize those first believers into one body (Acts 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Eph. 1:22-23; Eph. 2:16-18).
If any should still question whether the church existed in the Old Testament, they may also turn to Romans 16:25-2625Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, 26But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: (Romans 16:25‑26) and Colossians 1:24-2724Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: 25Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (Colossians 1:24‑27). The prophetic scriptures spoken of in Romans are those of the New Testament by which means the mystery has been made known: “The revelation of the mystery, as to which silence has been kept in the times of the ages, but which has now been made manifest, and by prophetic scriptures, according to commandment of the eternal God, made known” (Rom. 16:26 JND). The church was not spoken of by the Old Testament prophets. It is true that we may catch glimpses in some of the Old Testament types, for example, in Asenath the gentile wife of Joseph (Gen. 41:45). Nevertheless, a picture is not a revelation; until we have the antitype, the type is nothing more than a picture.
Instead of imposing a framework of covenants on the Scriptures, a structure of which it does not speak, we can simply use the language of Scripture itself. God’s present administration of His people is called “the administration of the mystery” (Eph. 3:9). The word administration, alternatively translated dispensation, literally means the management of a household. It is used in the Scriptures to mean a publicly ordered dealing of God with men in the administration of His ways in His house during various ages.68 The dispensation of the Law was a very different administration to this present one. It was an ordered dealing of God with the nation of Israel predicated upon their obedience to the law. Following the church period, there will be yet another dispensation, diverse from the two preceding it: “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him” (Eph. 1:10). This speaks of the public reign of Christ during the millennium (Rev. 20:3; Isa 32:1). The key point is to recognize that each dispensation is distinct and unique — especially this present dispensation. The church falls as a parenthesis between God’s past dealings with His earthly people and His future earthly kingdom; the church is heavenly. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). As such, her hopes are heavenly; she does not look forward to an earthly kingdom (John 14:2-3; Col. 1:5; 1 Thess. 4:15-17; Rev. 4:1).
When one views the Scriptures without the interpretive lens of Covenant Theology, things, once murky, become clear. The prophets begin to make sense — they mean what they say concerning Israel (not the church) and they fit together with perfect harmony. The book of Revelation, instead of being a fanciful description of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.11 ties in perfectly with the Book of Daniel and the other prophets. On the other hand, I recognize that there may also be things which surprise the reader. It is disconcerting to some that the establishment of the church follows upon Israel’s rejection of Christ. It suggests, to their minds, that there was a plan A which, having failed, was replaced with plan B — from man’s perspective, perhaps, but certainly not God’s. This leads to a second objection: since God knew of His plans concerning the church, then His presentation of Christ to Israel was not in good faith. This is also false. God knows our hearts but He still holds us responsible. Israel’s diaspora was prophesied in Deuteronomy, even before they were in the land (Deut. 30:1). Why then did God send prophet after prophet to plead with them when He knew the outcome? Christ’s presentation to Israel concluded a long history of God’s pleadings with His people (Heb. 1:1-2; Luke 20:13). The fullness of time had come (Gal. 4:4-5). Man had fully manifested the evil of his heart and had entirely failed to answer to his responsibilities. Israel’s rejection of their Messiah was, on their part, the consummation of this. And as to the faithful who did receive the Lord Jesus as the Christ, did they lose out? The Epistle to the Hebrews answers this question — I cannot say it more clearly than the Word of God. Theirs was a far, far better portion!
In a similar vein, to say that the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5, 6 and 7) is not directed to the church is usually met with disbelief — aren’t we taking something away from the church? The Sermon on the Mount was addressed to the disciples. The Lord Jesus spoke as their Messiah, the Prophet-King of the Jews. In it He gave the suited condition of those entering the kingdom — not the church. Redemption does not appear at all. In Matthew’s Gospel (the only Gospel which mentions the church) the church is not spoken of until the sixteenth chapter, and there, as a result of Israel’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah:12 “Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ” (Matt. 16:20). Furthermore, when Matthew speaks of the church, it is a future thing: “I will build” (Matt. 16:18).
Not a single word of Scripture ever confounds the kingdom and the church; and to say that Christ is the king of the church is completely without warrant. This error is implied by the false teaching reviewed earlier, that the church is the spiritual Israel. The church is presented as the Body of Christ, the House of God, the Bride of Christ, but never a nation under a king. It is also important to recognize that the Sermon on the Mount is not a spiritualization of the law — that is to say, giving a higher view of it. Instead, the Sermon on the Mount stands in contradistinction to the law, giving the internal state of the heart in contrast to the outward, legal requirements of the law. The Lord speaks after this manner: “Ye have heard that it was said,   ...   But I say unto you” (Matt. 5:21-22).
Does this mean that the Sermon on the Mount has no application to us as Christians? Far be the thought! The moral principles contained within it are most certainly applicable to us — as, for that matter, are the moral principles contained within the law, though we are neither under it nor is it our rule for living. We do not spiritualize these things, but, having recognized to whom they are addressed, we can read them with intelligence and draw from them appropriate principles. I cannot take a letter from my father, written to my brother, and read it as if it were to myself. Understanding, however, to whom it is addressed, I can learn about my father and glean from it those lessons which are applicable. We cannot rob another and expect to gain thereby; the loss to us will always be greater than the loss to the other. Israel’s blessings are earthly; the blessings of the church are heavenly. In assuming Israel’s blessings, Christendom has given up a great deal.
Covenant Theologians typically teach that the present age answers to the millennium, albeit a spiritual one. The leaven in the lump, by their interpretation, is the gospel message filling the whole world (Matt. 13:33). This, despite the fact that leaven always typifies the insidious nature of evil (1 Cor. 5:6-7), and that this interpretation is quite out of line with the parables which precede it (Matt. 13:1-32). The Word of God, on the other hand, teaches quite plainly that Christendom has become a great house admitting all kinds of evil (2 Tim. 2:20), that men have built a great edifice of wood, hay and stubble soon to be burned up (1 Cor. 2:12-13), that Christendom is fast heading towards apostasy (Jude) and that God will shortly spew it out of His mouth (Rev. 3:16), but not before snatching His people out of this world at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:16-17; 2 Thess. 2:1-3). To reconcile, therefore, the false teaching of Covenant Theology with what is actually happening in the world, requires a watering down of the truth — both a spiritualization of the gospel message and of the moral principles found in the Word of God. Such is the general state of Christendom today.13
We have considered just a few of the difficulties (or objections) which one may encounter when reading the Word of God. Obviously, there are many more. Satan’s attacks on the Word will not cease, and when one approach fails, he will come up with another. When talking to others, even if one were able to counter all their arguments, this alone cannot and will not save them. The presentation of objective facts may help to remove certain prejudices and misconceptions; salvation, however, is an inner working of the Holy Spirit and not an outward work of reason. A faith that rests on reason is not faith at all and will ultimately succumb to doubt and unbelief.
Nevertheless, to have a better grasp of those principles which must be employed when interpreting the Scriptures is clearly beneficial. To summarize, these are: not taking ones thoughts to the Scriptures but letting them be formed by the Scriptures; not isolating and interpreting verses outside of their immediate context and the Word of God as a whole; and yet, recognizing the distinctive truths, distinguishing those things which differ, thereby rightly dividing the Word of truth; finally, we must recognize that the Word of God is a spiritual book and cannot be explained using natural means.
1. These exist world-wide and are commonly associated with coal-bearing strata.
2. The period prior to the flood.
3. President of the LDS (Mormon) Church, 1847 – 1877.
4. As an example, killing the unborn is justified whereas genocide is not.
5. In modern day Turkey.
6. Both Ezekiel and Daniel are called son of man, but never, The Son of Man.
7. In Psalm 8:44What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? (Psalm 8:4), “What is man” addresses itself to mortal man (the word in Hebrew is enosh); in contrast, “the Son of Man” (literally, “the Son of Adam”) is answered in Jesus. He is that Son of Adam according to the counsel and purpose of God: “which was the Son of Adam, which was the Son of God” (Luke 3:38).
8. Dating papyrus fragments is a contentious art. A date, however, of 100 A.D. has been suggested, though, there are detractors.
9. An assembly of Jewish judges sitting at Jerusalem.
11. We can say with almost certainly that it was written subsequent to that event.
12. Christ is the Greek word for anointed; Messiah is the Hebrew word.
13. For a more complete and a far fuller exposé of Covenant Theology, read: A Covenantal or a Dispensational Interpretation of Scripture, by Bruce Anstey.