Doctrinal Musing on Eschatology (Last Things)

I believe death is the cessation of the physical life, but it also has a spiritual meaning of separation from God which transitions into eternal spiritual death meaning eternally separated from God. Everyone experiences physical death because of the Fall of Adam and Eve and the entrance of sin into the world (Gen 2:17; Rom 5:12, 6:23; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Death is inescapable and irreversible (Ps 89:48; Heb 9:27; Job 16:22). Believers experience physical death, but they no longer experience spiritual death or eternal death. When believers die, their bodies return to dust, but their souls depart from the earthly life to be with God (Ecc 12:7; Luke 23:43; 2 Cor 5:8), “being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.”[1] Upon death, the bodies of unbelievers also return to dust, but they continue to experience spiritual and eternal death. Their souls go to Hades where they await the final bodily resurrection and subsequent eternity in Hell (Matt 10 :28, 25:30; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 16:22-24; Heb 10:27).

I believe in the “personal, glorious, and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ with his holy angels,”[2] wherein he will establish his eternal kingdom (Matt 16:27, 24:30-31; Acts 1:11). I believe in a classic premillennial return of Christ, and so at Christ’s return, believers who have died will receive resurrected bodies and will join the other believers on the earth, and all will reign with Christ on the earth for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-6). During the thousand-year reign of Christ, many unbelievers will turn to Christ for salvation. At the end of the thousand years, Satan will receive his final defeat and will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur” where he will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20: 7-10). Then there will be a final bodily resurrection of unbelievers followed by a final judgement and assignment to the final state separated from God in Hell (Rev 20:11-16).

At this point, believers will be with God for eternity in his kingdom and in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev 21).[3] Jonathan Edwards comments on the final state of believers with God by writing,

There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love![4]

Moreover, Edwards explains that the saints will be perfected in love, holiness and peace. The heavenly community will be in harmony with God and with one another. He writes,

Every saint in heaven is as a flower in that garden of God, and holy love is the fragrance and sweet odor that they all send forth, and with which they fill the bowers of that paradise above. Every soul there, is as a note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains in praising God and the Lamb forever. And so all help each other, to their utmost, to express the love of the whole society to its glorious Father and Head, and to pour back love into the great fountain of love whence they are supplied and filled with love, and blessedness, and glory.[5]


Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on Eschatology (Last Things)”

Doctrinal Musing on Ecclesiology (Church)

I believe the church is the people of God who are the one community called by God comprised of all faithful believers of all ages.[1] The church consists of people who are chosen (1 Pet 2:9), called (Rom 1:6), and loved (1 Pet 2:10) by the Father, and who are true believers in Jesus Christ and his redemptive work, and who are indwelt, sealed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.[2]

The universal church is invisible and consists of all people from all times and places who are united by their faith in Jesus Christ. The universal church is Jesus’ new humanity, “the first fruit of the new creation, the whole company of the redeemed through the ages.”[3] The universal church is the body of Christ (Rom 12:4-5; Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:24) of which Christ is the divine head (Col 1:18; Eph 1:22). The universal church is the flock of Christ (John 10:14-16; 1 Pet 5:2-4) and the bride of Christ (Eph 5:25-27; Rev 21:2). It is God’s temple (1 Cor 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:5) and his household or family (Gal 6:10; Eph 2:19).

The universal church is manifest in local and temporal form (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 1:2; Acts 9:31) as the visible church which “is both embassy and parable of the kingdom of heaven, an earthly place where his will is done and he is now present, existing visibly everywhere two or three gather in his name to proclaim and spread the gospel in word and works of love, and by obeying the Lord’s command to baptize disciples (Matt. 28:19) and celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19).”[4]

Baptism is a washing with water, which symbolizes the cleansing of believers from the stain and dirt of sin through the grace of God (Acts 22:16). Baptism is associated with repenting of sin and believing in the gospel (Acts 2:38, 41, 18:8), and so it is a sign and declaration of one’s union with Christ and association with his death, burial and resurrection (Rom 6:3-4).

The Lord’s Supper is a sacramental sign and spiritual truth of the believer’s redemption by Christ’s death. I agree with John Calvin when he writes, “I hold then… that the sacred mystery of the Supper consists of two things—the corporeal signs, which, presented to the eye, represent invisible things in a manner adapted to our weak capacity, and the spiritual truth, which is at once figured and exhibited by the signs.”[5] Thus, when believers partake of the Lord’s Supper, they do so in a heavenly and spiritual manner. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the King of heaven and his people of earth meet in celebration of Christ’s accomplished redemptive work and in anticipation of the heavenly banquet. I believe Christians meet with Christ in the Lord’s Supper and participate in and benefit from the spiritual meaning of his atoning sacrifice. We receive “forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.”[6]

I believe in the unity and fellowship of the church. The church is one in essence and transcends all barriers because it is founded on one gospel, united to one Lord and indwelt by one Spirit. The Apostle Paul writes, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom 12:5) and “[i]n Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Php 2:1-2), and “[m]ake every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). The unity of the church is expressed in fellowship by meeting together (Acts 2:46), by greeting one another (1 Cor 16:19-20), by extending hospitality (Rom 12:13), by sharing resources (Acts 2:44-45), and by suffering together (2 Cor 1:7).

Although Jesus Christ alone is the head of the church (Col 1:18) and the Holy Spirit directs the church (Acts 13:2), God calls and equips individuals to lead and to oversee the church (Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:1, 8). I believe in a congregational church government model with plural local elders which includes the lead pastor as one of the elders (Acts 15:22, 20:17, 28).  I believe the church exists to worship (Eph 5:16-19; Col 3:16) and glorify God (Rom 15:6; 2 Thess 1:12; Eph 3:21), to edify believers (1 Cor 14:26; Eph 4:12-13; Col 1:28), to show mercy by caring for the poor and needy (Acts 11:29; 2 Cor 8:4; 1 John 3:17) and to evangelize lost people of all nations (Matt 28:19; Acts 1:8). “The Church is at the very centre of God’s cosmic purpose and is his appointed means of spreading the gospel. But a church which preaches the cross must itself be marked by the cross”[7] which demonstrates Jesus’ sacrificial love and service towards others. 


Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on Ecclesiology (Church)”

Doctrinal Musing on the Holy Spirit

I believe in God-the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor 3:17-18; Heb 9:14), the third person of the Holy Trinity (Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Peter 1:1-2). The Holy Spirit has both unity and distinction within the Godhead and “is of one substance, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God,”1 “and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified”2 (Gen 1:2; Rom 1:4; Rom 8:2; 1 Cor 2:10-11; 1 Cor 6:11; 1 Pet 4:14).  The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son (John 15:26; John 16:7) as “the unseen yet active personal presence of God in the world”3 (Psa 139:7; John 3:8) in order to bear witness to Jesus4 (John 15:26; 1 John 4:2-3), continue Jesus’ redemptive ministry (John 14:12-17; Acts 1:8), and unite believers to Jesus5 (Titus 3:5). 

The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin and its consequences (John 16:8-11; 1 Cor 14:24-25) and “by his powerful and mysterious work regenerates spiritually dead sinners, awakening them to repentance and faith”6 (Ezek 36:26-27; John 3:5-8; 6:63; Eph 2:1-5). The Holy Spirit indwells believers (Jn 14:17; Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Tim 1:14) and seals them, marking them out as belonging to God (2 Cor 1:21-22; Eph 1:13-14). He “guides, instructs, equips, revives, and empowers believers for Christ-like living and service”7 (Rom 8:14; 1 John 2:27; 1 Cor 12:3-7; 2 Cor 4:16; 2 Cor 3:18). He sanctifies believers enabling them to live holy lives dedicated to the service of God (Matt 3:11; Rom 8:13; Rom 15:16; 2 Thes 2:13).

The Holy Spirit wisely and sovereignly distributes gifts to the church for the edification and benefit of the body of Christ and for the witness in the world  (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Eph 4:11; 1 Pet 4:11). The Holy Spirit unifies the body of Christ (Acts 2:44-47; Eph 2:18-22; Eph 4:3). The Holy Spirit inspires prophecy, gives knowledge and inspired the writers of Scripture (Num 24:2-3; 2 Pet 1:21; 1 Cor 12:8; 2 Tim 3:16). The Holy Spirit assures believers of their final victory in Christ and assures their inheritance in the age to come in the eternal kingdom of God (2 Cor 5:5; Eph 1:13-14).  


Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on the Holy Spirit”

Doctrinal Musing on Soteriology (Salvation)

I believe in the necessity of salvation due to the universal rule of sin in human nature (Isa 64:6; Rom 3:19-23) which separates humanity from God (Isa 59:1-2; Eph 4:18), causes spiritual death (Rom 5:15-16; Col 2:13) and enslaves humanity to evil (Hos 5:4; Rom 7:14-20; 2 Pet 2:13-19). 

“From all eternity God determined in [love and] grace to save a great multitude of guilty sinners from every tribe and language and people and nation, and to this end foreknew them and chose them”[1] (Eph 2:4-5; Rom 3:22-24). God accomplished his salvific plan through the life and work of Jesus (John 3:16; 1 Tim 1:15; 1 John 4:9,14). 

God made “provision for human wrongdoing, corruption, and guilt, provisionally and typologically through Israel’s Temple and sin offerings, then definitively and gloriously in the gift of Jesus’ once-for-all sufficient and perfect sacrificial death on the cross (Rom. 6:10; 1 Pet. 3:18) in the temple of his human flesh (Heb. 10:11-12).”[2] Thus, the death of Jesus was an atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity (John 10:11; 1 Cor 15:3; Gal 1:4; 1 Pet 3:18; 1 John 3:16). Jesus bore the punishment for the sins of humanity satisfying God’s justice and removing humanity’s guilt and oppression and reconciling humanity to God (Isa. 53:4-6; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 2:14-15).

God calls people out of a state of sin and death to grace and salvation by Christ[3] (1 Cor 1:9; Eph 1:8; 2 Pet 1:10). This call leads to conversion which involves turning to God with repentance and with faith in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross (Luke 24:46-47; John 1:12; Acts 10:43, 20:21). Closely related to conversion is regeneration which involves the Holy Spirit renewing a person’s inner being, creating new life and transformation (John 3:5-8; 2 Cor 5:17; Php 1:6; 1 John 5:1).

Through faith in Jesus, believers are declared righteous before God (Rom 1:17, 3:28, 5:1). The righteousness of Jesus is imputed to believers (Php 3:9). On account of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the demands of the law of God are fulfilled (Rom 8:3-4) and believers are shielded from God’s wrath (Rom 5:9). Believers are adopted into God’s family (Gal 4:4-5; Eph 1:5) where they have access to the Father (Eph 2:18), to the inheritance of Christ (Rom 8:17; 1 Pet 1:4), to the provisions and protection from the Father (Matt 6:31-33), and to the loving discipline from the Father (Heb 12:6). 

God continues the work of salvation through the process of sanctification. This process of sanctification is the divine act of making Christians holy (Rom 12:1-3). It brings people’s moral condition into conformity with God’s holiness (Matt 5:48; 1 Pet 1:15-16) and with the legal status started in justification (1 Cor 6:11). Sanctification is accomplished by the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11; Rom 8:13; Rom 15:16; 2 Thes 2:13), but Christians also must strive to work and grow in sanctification (Rom 8:13; Php 2:12-13).

Genuine believers “can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved”[4] (John 10:28-29; 1 Pet 1:5,9). All true believers will be glorified. Glorification is the final step in the salvation process. It involves the completion of sanctification, the removal of spiritual defects and the ultimate transformation of the body into a new glorified eternal body (1 Cor 15:38-52; Php 3:20-21; Jude 24; Rev 21:1-2).


Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on Soteriology (Salvation)”

Doctrinal Musing on Christology

I believe in God-the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity (Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14) and the co-equal and co-eternal Son of God-the Father (John 1:2, 10:30, 14:9; Col 1:17). The Son is the “very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father.”[1] The Son is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made.”[2]

The Son became incarnate as the man Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14; Rom 8:3; Col 1:15). When the Son became human, having been conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:18; Luke 1:35; Gal 4:4), he did not cease to be God (Col 2:9; Heb 1:3; 1 John 5:20). Rather, Jesus, the Christ, was the God-man, “fully God and fully human, one person in two natures”[3] (John 1:14; Gal 4:4; 1 Tim 3:16). In other words, “two whole and perfect Natures…the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man.”[4]

Jesus, in all respects, lived a common human life with all the essential human characteristics and frailties, yet he lived without sin[5] (Luke 2:40, 52; Heb 2:14-17, 4:15; 1 John 1:1). Also, Jesus was holy (Mark 1:24; Luke 1:35; John 6:69) and righteous (Luke 23:47; Acts 22:14; Heb 1:8-9) and perfectly obedient to the Father (Matt 26:39; John 4:34; Rom 5:18-19; Heb 10:9). Through the incarnation, Jesus revealed deity and “in his words, deeds, attitude and suffering embodied the free and loving communication of God’s own light (truth) and life (salvation).”[6] Jesus fulfilled the roles of prophet (Matt 12:41; John 3:34; Luke 24:19; Acts 3:20-23), priest (Heb 2:17-18, 5:5-6, 10:19-22), and king (Matt 21:1-9; Luke 1:33; John 18:36-37; Rev 1:5, 11:15), and he is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim 2:5).

Jesus accomplished human redemption (Rom 3:24-25; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:12) and reconciliation with God (Rom 5:6; 2 Cor 5:18-19; Col 1:20) through his death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate (Matt 27:11-56; Mark 15:1-41; Luke 23:1-49) and through his bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day (Matt 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20; Acts 1:3; 4:33; 1 Cor 15:4) and through his ascension into heaven being exalted and glorified at the the right hand of the Father (Luke 24:51; Acts 2:33; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22).

The exalted Jesus continues to work as savior (Acts 5:31; Heb 7:25), high priest and advocate (Rom 8:34; Heb 4:14; 1 Jn 2:1). Jesus will physically return to the earth with glory (Matt 24:30; Acts 1:11; 2 Thes 1:7; Php 3:20; Rev 1:7), and he will establish the fulness of the eternal Kingdom of God (Luke 22:18; 1 Cor 15:24; 2 Tim 4:1; Rev 11:15).


Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on Christology”

A Friday Reflection: Deliverance

Deliverance has been on my mind for several months now. I suppose my reflection started from a pastoral posture while thinking of the people I know and the people I support who are experiencing or have been through severe violence, turmoil, challenges, grief, illness, pain and suffering. I groan for their rescue, removal and escape from these things. My reflection also has focused on my own life and circumstances. I too need deliverance from troubles, disappointments, fears, dangers and sins. Moreover, I look out into society and see the unfathomable chaos, the rampant evil, the seething anger and the extreme division, and I am wobbled saying: “We need deliverance!”  “How will we escape this?” “Who will rescue us from our condition?” 

There are many voices trying to address, protest, change and solve personal and societal challenges. Deliverance is offered through various means. There is the overprescribing of and the overdependence on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications in place of real deliverance and profound transformation. There is the overindulgence in distractions and the shirking of the issues. There is the notion that a political party or a social justice group will lead us out of bondage and into the utopian plains. There is the riotous protesting that demands justice and reparations. There is the increase in gun sales for self-protection against violence. There is the prideful self-reliance by humans that they can lift themselves out of the slimy pit. 

These responses cannot deliver true deliverance because only God is the deliverer of true deliverance. Only through God and through the means of God does true deliverance happen. This was the experience of the Israelites when God delivered them out of Egypt and when God delivered them throughout history from danger, illness, trouble, fear, sin and death. God directly delivered and used people as deliverers (i.e. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the judges, Samuel, Saul, Jonathan and David). 

God’s deliverance was the song of David when he sang,

Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people (Ps 3:7-8)

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Ps 18:2)

God’s deliverance was the prophetic promise by Jeremiah and by Daniel when they declared,

The Lord said, “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose; surely I will make your enemies plead with you in times of disaster and times of distress (Jer 15:11).

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book (Dan 12:1).

God’s ultimate deliverance is through the salvation deliverer, Jesus, the anointed one who came and preached good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). God-the Son became incarnate in order to suffer and die so that those who are in bondage to sin, evil and death would be set free and rescued from ‘the Devil,’ ‘the present evil age,’ ‘the domain of darkness’ (Heb 2:14-15, Gal 1:4, Col 1:13). After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, his deliverance ministry continues by God-the Holy Spirit and through the ministry of the Church being guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Triune God is still delivering people from all kinds of circumstances, conditions and perils. As 2 Peter 2:9 states, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.” God has been delivering people for a long time.

God will deliver people spiritually, emotionally and physically in this life and in the life to come. Thus, we should pray for deliverance as Jesus taught us to pray (…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. Matt 6:13). We should cry for help and trust in him and wait patiently for him to lift us up out of the mud and the mire (Ps 40:1-3). We should rely upon him to heal our suffering, to calm our fears, to transform our lives. We should be careful not to look to other gods (means) for deliverance. Rather, we should delight in God’s deliverance and give thanks and praise to him (1 Sam 2:1, Ps 30:11-12, Acts 3:8). 

May we look to God for deliverance. Open our hearts to him. Receive him and receive from him. Come to Jesus. Be delivered. No matter how much suffering. No matter how much guilt. No matter how much anger. No matter how much rioting.  

A Tribute to My Parents (50th Anniversary)

This is a theological essay on marriage as a tribute to my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Christians believe in one God in three persons. A Trinity in unity. God is a being. God is personal. God is loving. Thus, God is a relational being and from this nature, God created human beings in his own image. The image of God in humans includes various aspects while primarily corresponding to the loving, relational life of God-the Father, God-the son and God-the Holy Spirit. Humans were created to participate in this divine relationship. They were created to lean into the Trinity’s loving embrace, to experience the magnificent glory of the Godhead and to enjoy and to be completely satisfied in the Triune goodness. 

In the Genesis creation narrative, Adam begins his life journey without a suitable relational companion and helper. Then, God declares the relational truth about humanity, that it is not good for the human to be alone. God recognized Adam’s capacity for relationship as an image bearer and his detrimental isolation among the animals. Adam needed companionship with a distinct-yet-corresponding other. He needed belonging and togetherness within a peer community. God responds to Adam’s situation by creating another human (Eve) to relate with and to experience life’s journeys with. When Adam encounters another human, he responds with joy and relief uttering, “Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman, for she was made from Man” (Gen 2:23). Eve fulfilled Adam’s capacity for human relationship and vice versa Adam for Eve.

God created humans, male and female. He blessed them and commissioned them to “[b]e fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Within the blessing and the commissioning of humans, God instituted marriage between a man and a woman for future generations. The aside statement of Genesis 2:24, “[t]herefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” describes the man’s new primary loyalty to and loving embrace of his wife and the profound ‘one-flesh-ness’ unity of marriage. The ‘one flesh’ meaning of marriage involves one man and one woman in one fully shared life whereby the two become a new God-designed, God-purposed, God-supported and God-guided ‘one life.’ It is a committed, exclusive and lifelong partnership. This ‘one flesh’ union becomes the most profound bond that exists between two human beings.

The marriage relationship reflects the image of the triune God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are intimately relating equal and distinct persons of the same nature and essence with different roles in the pursuit of a glorious common purpose. The Father loves and leads; the Son submits and redeems; the Holy Spirit proceeds and sanctifies. Likewise, husbands and wives are of the same nature and essence while being equal and distinct with unique roles for a common purpose. The husband loves and leads, the wife yields to and supports her husband’s leadership and together they go out into the world as a sanctifying presence.

Throughout the Old Testament, marriage is used to describe the relationship between God and Israel. God is described as a husband declaring his marriage vows to his wife Israel. God speaking through the prophet Ezekiel states, “I came by again and saw you, saw that you were ready for love and a lover. I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine” (Eze 16:8 MSG). The prophet Isaiah states, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name” (Isa 54:5). Jeremiah 2:2 describes Israel’s early faithfulness by using the marriage metaphor, “Thus says the Lord: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” While celebrating the intimacy between a married couple, the Song of Solomon is also a marriage metaphor about God and his people. The people of God are the beloved of God, and God’s desire is for them. 

The Old Testament prophets also describe Israel’s unfaithfulness as a broken marriage covenant, which led to a form of divorce between God and his people. Jeremiah 3:20 states, “But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord.” Hosea 2:2 states, “But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.” However, speaking through the prophets, God calls Israel to return as his bride (Jer 3:12-14) and promises to restore the marriage relationship (Isa 62:4-5).

The metaphor of the marriage relationship between God and his people extends to the New Testament. In John 3:29, John the Baptist describes himself as the best man who eagerly waits and listens for the arrival of the bridegroom, knowing that upon hearing the voice of the bridegroom there is great joy. John the Baptist explains that he experiences such joy because Jesus has arrived as the bridegroom. Jesus also refers to himself as the bridegroom throughout his ministry (Matt 9:15 pp Mark 2:19-20 pp Luke 5:34-35; Matt 22:2; 25:1-13).

While teaching on marriage, the Apostle Paul identifies marriage as a ‘profound mystery’ revealing Christ’s marriage relationship with the church. Paul points to parallels between the marriage of a man and a woman and the ultimate marriage of Christ and his church. As a husband and a wife are ‘one flesh’ in marriage, Christians are members of Christ’s body. According to Paul, Human marriage is the earthly type, pointing towards the spiritual reality. Earthly marriages should reflect the heavenly marriage with Christ. Thus, husbands should love their wives with the sacrificial love that Christ has for the church, and wives should submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. Together a husband and wife have the sacred privilege of declaring through their union the greater profound union with Christ (Eph 5:22-33).

Human marriage is a good thing, but all human allegiance ultimately belongs to Christ. There is no human marriage in heaven. The heavenly kingdom with Christ is the marriage. The Apostle John writes, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”(Rev 21:2). The heavenly multitude shouts, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear”(Rev 19:6-8). 

In view of the theological aspects of marriage, here are some practical points about marriage. First, marriage cultivates spiritual formation. Marriage is one way in which the Holy Spirit transforms people into the image of Christ. Through marriage, the Holy Spirit sanctifies, heals, challenges and blesses people. Second, because of sin entering the world and its effect on the human condition, no marriage is perfect. Every marriage involves work and the giving and receiving of grace and mercy. Couples must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and grow their marriages. Third, marriage is the intended context for raising children. Marriage is the nucleus of the family. Children need a mother and a father in the home. They need the commitment, exclusivity and stability that a marriage relationship provides. Fourth, marriage is the most basic and instrumental social relationship for the welfare of society. Without marriages, society will collapse. Thus, marriage as God has designed and purposed must be upheld. 

For 50 years, my parents have emulated many of the theological and practical aspects of marriage. They are a testimony of God’s intention for marriage and of God’s faithfulness to married couples who set their gaze upon and follow Christ.

Modern Eschatology (1800-Present)

During the early nineteenth century, a group of conservative and non-conformist Christians gathered in Dublin, Ireland and later formed a church congregation in Plymouth, England. Thus, they became known as the Plymouth Brethren and were a reactionary movement against the established Church of England. They emphasized the authority of Scripture, preaching of the gospel to unbelievers, sacrificial devotion, simple and unstructured worship, and non-ordained clergy.[1] John Nelson Darby was the founder and the most influential teacher of the movement, and his views regarding dispensationalism and dispensational premillennialism challenged the historical premillennialism view.

According to Darby, God interacts with humanity through a series of dispensations (or well-defined time periods), and he reveals a specific purpose to be achieved during each period.[2] With this view of dispensations, Darby made a strong distinction between the Church and Israel. Each are located in their distinct dispensation with their own history and future, and so he posited that the Church has not replaced Israel and that God interacts separately with the Church and Israel.[3]

When his dispensational views were applied to the end of the age, Darby believed that the Old Testament prophesied that a Jewish remnant will go through a time of great tribulation before experiencing the blessings of the promised land, but since the Church was not present in the Old Testament and since the Church is separate from Israel, the Church will experience the rapture or removal from the world before the great tribulation. Also, Darby referred to Revelation 3:10 and 12:10-12 to support his view of the Church’s exemption from the great tribulation.[4] Revelation 3:10 states, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” Revelation 12:10-12 describes the devil being hurled down to earth to cause fury on the earth, and then it states, “Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!”

Therefore, Darby believed that the Church will only experience heavenly blessings which will come through the rapture, and for rapture support, he referred to 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which states, “we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” From this perspective, Christ’s second return will come in two stages. The first stage consists of his pretribulation return to meet raptured believers in the air, and the second stage consists of his full return to the earth, after the seven-year tribulation, where he will begin his literal thousand year reign. This pretribulation premillennialism (or dispensational premillennialism) view is different than the historic premillennialism view which posits only one final premillennial return of Christ.

The dispensational movement and its implications on eschatology became popular in the United States through the works of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921 CE). His creation of the Scofield Reference Bible includesseveral study notes from a dispensational perspective, and his book entitled, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, expounds on the seven dispensations of history. These seven dispensations (or time periods) include: 1) Innocence-from the time of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Eden. 2) Conscience-from the expulsion from Eden to the flood. 3) Human government-from the flood to Abraham and his call. 4) Promise-from the promises to Abraham to the bondage in Egypt. 5) Law-from Moses and the law to the coming of Christ and his death. 6) The Church-from the resurrection of Christ to the present. 7) The millennium-consisting of the last battle, final judgment and the new heaven and new earth.[5]

The Scofield Reference Bible was very influential in forming the dispensational theology and eschatology in the United States because it taught many American Evangelicals to read the Scriptures with a dispensational mindset which informed their dispensational premillennialism eschatology. Thus, throughout the twentieth century, dispensational theology and eschatology was commonplace among many American Evangelical scholars and church laity.

Furthermore, dispensationalism was advanced through the founding of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) by dispensationalist Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1924, and his multi-volume Systematic Theology became the standard theological text at DTS. Also, beginning in the 1970s, dispensationalism and pretribulation premillennialism was promoted through popular literature specifically in the book entitled The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey and the Left Behind series of novels by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins.[6] These writings set out to present eschatological prophecies in relation to current events from a pretribulation premillennialism perspective. The Late Great Planet Earth gives a thorough systematic account of perceived eschatological current events and then predicts that the rapture would occur during the 1980s. The Left Behind series tells a contemporary fictional story based on end times prophecies. The story tells of the pretribulation rapture of Christians which leaves the rest of the world seeking answers and stability. Both works were developed into movies which introduced dispensational premillennialism to an even larger American audience.

Another aspect of eschatology that was emphasized during the late nineteenth and twentieth century was the apocalyptic character of Jesus’ teaching especially in his proclamation of the “imminent coming of the eschatological kingdom of God.”[7] This was the view of Johannes Weiss who argued that Jesus was a “wild apocalyptic visionary proclaiming the end of the world.”[8] Albert Schweitzer argued that Jesus “was a deluded fanatic who futilely threw his life away in blind devotion to a mad apocalyptic dream which was never realized and…never could be realized.”[9] Thus, according to Schweitzer, Jesus sacrificed his life due to a misunderstanding that God would deliver him from the cross while ushering in the new age of the divine kingdom.[10] 

In response to Weiss and Schweitzer, Charles H. Dodd posited a “realized” eschatological view of Jesus’ preaching meaning that the kingdom of God had already been realized or happened through the coming of Jesus. Dodd argued that the future last days events prophesied by the Old Testament prophets have been fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. Dodd submits that Jesus declared that the “kingdom of God was at hand” (Mark 1:15) and that it had already come upon the people (Matthew 12:28), and so it was not something that was to come in the future.

Dodd’s ‘realized eschatology’ was challenged by several New Testament scholars including W.G. Kümmel, Oscar Cullmann and George Eldon Ladd. They argued that the eschatology of Jesus and the New Testament was paradoxical meaning that “[i]n one sense the kingdom of God had already arrived with the presence of Jesus, but in another sense it had not yet come.”[11] This paradoxical view has been called ‘inaugurated eschatology’ which emphasizes that the “kingdom of God has begun to exercise its influence within human history, although its full realization and fulfillment lie in the future.”[12] Inaugurated eschatology became the most widely accepted view by New Testament scholars during the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century.


Footnotes: Continue reading “Modern Eschatology (1800-Present)”

Anabaptist and Post-Reformation Eschatology

During the Protestant Reformation period, the Anabaptists believed that at Christ’s second coming, he would destroy evil and establish his literal millennial kingdom. This view led some Anabaptist leaders to stir up apocalyptic rebellions and wars with the goal of ushering in the millennial golden age. Eventually, the Anabaptist settled on the idea that the New Jerusalem would be established in the city of Münster, and so they took over the city. They expelled Catholics and Moderate Protestants from the city and destroyed everything connected with traditional belief and worship. When some inhabitants of the city became tired of the excesses of the leaders, they opened the gate to the bishop and his joint Catholic-Protestant army which resulted in the end of revolution at Münster.[1] The Anabaptist revolutionary movement in Münster led to a strong negative view of premillennialism. In fact, Luther and Calvin emphatically rejected and were critical of Anabaptist premillennialism.[2] Concerning the Anabaptists’ view of the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth, Calvin wrote that this was “a fiction too puerile to need or to deserve refutation.”[3]     

Post-Reformation Eschatology (C.E. 1600-1800)

The post-reformers followed the traditional eschatological views of Christ’s return, a general bodily resurrection, the last judgment, eternal punishment and the new heavens and the new earth with a few differences from that of the reformers. During the post-reformation era, there was a move away from the amillennialism posited during the medieval period and by Luther and Calvin. There was a renewed interest in premillennialism because of theologian Johann Heinrich Alsted’s defense of  premillennialism in his book entitled, The Beloved City. Also, the Puritan scholar and writer named Joseph Mede followed Alsted’s premillennialism views and popularized them in his book entitled, The Key of the Revelation. Thus, the thought and works of Alsted and Mede sparked a return to the premillennial position of the early church.[4]

Moreover, the idea of millennialism was prevalent during the English Civil War (1638-49) particularly among the “Fifth Monarchy Men,” which was a group in London who declared that the millennium was near when Christ would return as king to rule over the earth. With the recent Thirty Years War and the present English Civil War, they believed that they were involved in the wars of the last days, and so it was incumbent upon them to usher in this new and fifth[5] monarchy in order to change the social order by promoting justice and equality.[6] They believed that “the immediate duty of the saints was to prepare for the kingdom, by making the existing government accord as closely as possible with the rule of Christ. To this end none but godly men should sit in the seats of the mighty, tithes should be abolished, and the existing laws replaced by the law of God.”[7]

Puritans Thomas Bright-man, John Cotton and John Owen posited a doctrine of the “latter-glory” which was a preface to what has been described as a postmillennialism view. They believed at the end of history there will be a time marked by the power of the Kingdom of God when many people will convert to Christianity and the church will be pure in all aspects while experiencing support from governments worldwide. After this period of expansion, peace and prosperity, Christ will return. This view became unsustainable during the political turmoil in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth century; however, it was adopted and developed in New England by Daniel Whitby and Jonathan Edwards.[8]

Whitby and Edwards believed that Christ will return after the millennium, which was characterized by the radical spread of the gospel and the conversion of scores of people throughout the world. During this time, the Jews will be restored to the Holy Land and there will be universal peace and blessing. According to Whitby and Edwards, the reformation had set in motion many events that would lead to the demise of the papacy, which was identified as the Antichrist, and the ushering in of the millennium. They believed that the outpouring of revival during their time was a sign of the approaching thousand-year golden age.[9]

Furthermore, many post-reformers addressed the eschatological doctrines of final judgement and eternal punishment. While acknowledging the “two results of judgment—the blessings of eternal life and the torment of eternal punishment,” John Andrew Quenstedt expounded on both by using the terms “privative” and “positive.” As for the blessings of eternal life, “privative” blessings involve the removal of weakness and evil from the Christian experience, and “positive” blessings involve internal and external enrichment of the Christian experience. Turning to the torment of eternal punishment, “privative” torments involve the forfeiture of the beatific vision of God and separation and exclusion from all that is good, joyous and heavenly, and “positive” torments involve internal anguish and torture of the soul and external punishment that is “most painful and burning without being consumed.”[10]

Jonathan Edwards addressed the eschatological doctrines of final judgement and eternal punishment often through his sermons. Referring to the final judgment, Edwards states, “When that day comes, all mankind that have died from off the face of the earth shall arise; not only the righteous, but also the wicked.”[11] Then he describes the final judgement of the wicked by stating,

When Christ comes in the clouds of heaven to judgment, the news of it will fill both earth and hell with mourning and bitter crying. We read that all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him, and so shall all the inhabitants of hell; and then must the souls of the wicked come up to be united to their bodies, and stand before the Judge.[12]

At this point the wicked, “with all its guilt, and in all its filthiness, a vile, loathsome, abominable creature, an enemy to God, a rebel against him, with the guilt of all its rebellion and disregard of God’s commands, and contempt of his authority, and slight of the glorious gospel,”[13] will enter into eternal punishment.

Edwards affirmed the traditional eschatological doctrine of eternal punishment in his most famous sermon entitled, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. He writes,

There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all… your punishment will indeed be infinite.[14]

Thus, according to Edwards, there is no hope for the wicked in hell because they will be unable to defeat or appease God that they might break free or be delivered. They will have no friends or advocates who will help them or pity them, and there is nothing that will ever relieve them of their extreme torment.[15]

As for the righteous, Edwards explains that they will be in heavenly glory with the triune God forever, where they will experience him without hindrance or obstacle. In heaven, the righteous will bask in God’s fountain of love. Edwards writes,

There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love![16]

Moreover, Edwards explains that the saints will be perfected in love, holiness and peace. The heavenly community will be in harmony with God and with one another. Edwards writes,

Every saint in heaven is as a flower in that garden of God, and holy love is the fragrance and sweet odor that they all send forth, and with which they fill the bowers of that paradise above. Every soul there, is as a note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains in praising God and the Lamb forever. And so all help each other, to their utmost, to express the love of the whole society to its glorious Father and Head, and to pour back love into the great fountain of love whence they are supplied and filled with love, and blessedness, and glory.[17]

The Post-Reformers affirmed the eschatological doctrines of the new heavens and the new earth, but like previous eras there was some disagreement regarding the process. Theologians David Hollaz, Quenstedt, and Edwards held an annihilation perspective arguing that the entire fabric of the heavens and the earth will be conflagrated to nothing, and at this point, God will create and establish the new heavens and the new earth. In opposition, theologians William Ames and Francis Turretin opted for a transformative perspective arguing that the present heavens and earth undergo alteration or change orchestrated by God into the new heavens and new earth.[18]


Footnotes: Continue reading “Anabaptist and Post-Reformation Eschatology”

Reformation Eschatology: Martin Luther and John Calvin

During the reformation period, there was an emphasis on the historical perspective of biblical eschatology which views the last days as already coming upon humanity and the church. There was an anticipation of the new heavens and the new earth, “an ultimate end in which the fulness of the creation is maintained unimpaired in union with a heavenly consummation.”[1]

For Martin Luther, eschatology involved the tension between having and not- having which was formed from his thoughts on simul justus et peccator meaning “both righteous and a sinner.”[2] Luther believed that Christians “have begun to be justified through faith” while receiving “the first-fruits of the Spirit” and experiencing the beginning of the “mortification of the flesh,” but they are “not perfectly righteous.”[3] Thus, Luther states, “We possess Christ by faith and in the midst of our afflictions through hope we wait for the that righteousness which we possess already by faith.”[4]

John Calvin emphasized the resurrection, renewal and union with Christ “which raises [Christians] upwards, and casts its anchor in heaven, so that instead of subjecting Christ to the interventions of our reason, we seek Him above in his glory.”[5] This is where Calvin’s eschatological mood of hope and joy becomes central in the Christian life. When Christians understand that they participate in the victory won by Christ through his death, resurrection and ascension, they can live with a glorious eschatological vision and mission in the world.

Luther and Calvin affirmed the historic eschatological views of Christ’s return, a general bodily resurrection, the last judgment, eternal punishment and the new heavens and the new earth with each event following the other with no interval of time between.[6]In connection to Christ’s return, Luther and Calvin believed that there would first be an end times antichrist, and they identified the Pope or the papacy as the end times antichrist. Martin Luther, in a letter to Staupitz and others, wrote that the “Papacy is the seat of the real and true antichrist.”[7] Calvin called the Roman Pontiff antichrist and explained by writing, “Seeing then it is certain that the Roman Pontiff has impudently transferred to himself the most peculiar properties of God and Christ, there cannot be a doubt that he is the leader and standard-bearer of an impious and abominable kingdom.”[8] With this view of the antichrist, many reformers believed that the second coming of Christ would happen within their lifetime. They upheld the amillennialism view of Augustine and of the Medieval Church and rejected the premillennialism view that was being posited by the Anabaptists.                                                                                                

In his 95 Theses, Martin Luther rejected the medieval church’s teaching on the purchasing of indulgences to release souls from purgatory. He wrote, “Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.”[9]  Moreover, he writes, “those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved.”[10] A few years later, Luther rejected the doctrine of purgatory all together. Thus, instead of three final states for humans, as believed by the Medieval Church, Luther posited two final states—heaven and hell.

With the rejection of purgatory and the belief in heaven and hell as the two final states for humans, Luther and Calvin affirmed the eschatological doctrines of final judgement and eternal punishment. Luther wrote:

The fiery oven is ignited merely by the unbearable appearance of God and endures eternally. For the Day of Judgment will not last for a moment only but will stand throughout eternity and will thereafter never come to an end. Constantly the damned will be judged, constantly they will suffer pain, and constantly they will be a fiery oven—that is, they will be tortured within by supreme distress and tribulation.[11]

While maintaining the central aspects of a final judgement and literal physical eternal punishment, Luther appears to be adding his own vision of the fiery oven based on Psalms 21:9, Malachi 4:1 and Revelation 9:2.

Calvin described the last judgement by writing:

He will separate the sheep from the goats and the elect from the reprobate, and when not one individual either of the living or the dead shall escape his judgment. From the extremities of the universe shall be heard the clang of the trumpet summoning all to his tribunal; both those whom that day shall find alive, and those whom death shall previously have removed from the society of the living.[12]

With this statement, Calvin is echoing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:31-33 and Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.  

When referring to the eternal punishment of unbelievers, Calvin commented:

Unhappy consciences find no rest, but are vexed and driven about by a dire whirlwind, feeling as if torn by an angry God, pierced through with deadly darts, terrified by his thunderbolts and crushed by the weight of his hand; so that it were easier to plunge into abysses and whirlpools than endure these terrors for a moment. How fearful, then, must it be to be thus beset throughout eternity![13]

Much like the Scriptures’ use of metaphors when describing eternal punishment, Calvin also uses metaphors in this statement to describe the anguish that unbelievers will feel from being separated from the Almighty God.

Luther and Calvin did not add much to the historic doctrines of the new heavens and the new earth other than giving commentary on certain passages of scripture (i.e. Isa 65:17; Rom 8:21; 2 Peter 3:6-17). Calvin summarizes, “For though we are truly told that the kingdom of God will be full of light, and gladness, and felicity, and glory, yet the things meant by these words remain most remote from sense, and as it were involved in enigma, until the day arrive on which he will manifest his glory to us face to face.”[14]


Footnotes: Continue reading “Reformation Eschatology: Martin Luther and John Calvin”