Luke 21 – “The Times of the Gentiles”

•March 5, 2010 • 1 Comment

It’s not about AD 70.

Not completely, anyway. There are two questions the disciples ask, but they’re roughly the same. I’ve heard a wild theory that Jesus interprets the first question as AD 70 and the second as his second coming. Don’t buy it.

The disciples don’t realize that the “times of the Gentiles” (v.24) has to be thousands of years, mainly because they don’t realize how many Gentiles there are on the planet. With satellites and modern anthropology and the Joshua Project we’ve just in the last few decades been able to count the unreached people groups (a phrase which was coined by Ralph Winter at the Lausanne Conference in 1974). It’s a very recent development that we’ve been able to see the unfinished task in its entirety – now we only need missionaries!

The times of the Gentiles began in 586 BC with the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar deported to Babylon, “trampling” on Jerusalem. The kingdom was destroyed, and no king has ever been allowed to sit on David’s throne since, although the last king of Israel came to his city (Luke 19:28-44)  exactly 483 years after the return to Israel, as Daniel prophesied (Daniel 9:25).

But the times of the Gentiles are winding down. Although we can’t know the hour, day, month or year of Christ’s coming, we can know the season. Jesus rebukes the Jews in Luke 12:54-56 for being able to interpret signs in the earth and sky –  the coming of storms, droughts, etc. – and not being able to interpret the “present time.” And how would they interpret the present time? Through Scripture and especially through the signs preceding the first coming of Messiah – the coming of ‘Elijah,’ the prophecy of Daniel 9.

The prophecy of Daniel 9! Gabriel counted it out to the day, and they wouldn’t understand. How many prophecy scholars are mocked today for attempting to discern the season!

But they crucified their king, instead, because they would not understand. They couldn’t be bothered. Disinterest in Biblical eschatology is Satanic.

A few more scriptures regarding this “mystery”:

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” Acts 3:19-21

The prophets testify to a time of restoration, and Peter testifies with Jesus that Jesus will remain in heaven until that time. AD 70 was not Christ “coming,” because he remained in heaven and he didn’t restore anything. Luke 21:28 uses the word “redemption” – this is the kingdom of God coming to earth to reign for 1000 years before the eternal state.

“I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.'” Romans 11:25-27

The last sentence evokes Daniel 9 – when Messiah comes, he will put an end to Israel’s sin and bring in eternal righteousness. Paul equates this spiritual event to the physical event – Israel will be spiritually softened (Zech. 12:10-13:6) when the time of the Gentiles is finished. Then their king will come to his city, they will look on the one they’ve pierced and mourn for him as for a firstborn son, and will say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Then the government will be on his shoulders, and he will reign forever.

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A Few More One-Line Truths From Luke

•February 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Prayer does not influence God’s justice, nor his mercy in salvation. Prayer is the means by which God exercises his justice and mercy. Those who “cry out” are already chosen (Luke 18:7).

The “one thing” that the rich ruler “lacked” was actually many things that he possessed, and loved (Luke 18:18-22).

Jesus didn’t always speak in parables. He could be speaking the truth as plainly and descriptively as possible – if you don’t have ears to hear, you won’t understand (Luke 18:31-34)

Repentance is restitution (Luke 19:1-9).

The king’s lazy servant will be treated like the king’s ungrateful subjects. Christians who don’t obey the Lord do so because they don’t know his true character, and are no more Christians than those who outrightly hate him (Luke 19:11-27).

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” is utter nonsense without the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave them a knot that only he could untie (Luke 20:25).

Luke 15 – The Prodigal Son, or The Loving Father

•February 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Prodigal Son parable is not about the prodigal son. The son’s leaving and return is the context for the point, it’s the husk to the kernel. The point of the story is the father’s love of both sons, despite their wickedness.

Both sons have a false understanding of who their father is – the younger son (the prodigal) leaves home because he thinks his father and his father’s home are less valuable than the “distant country.” The older son stays at home because he thinks his “slaving” will ensure his inheritance. Both sons are ingrates, who wickedly assume that their father doesn’t love them. They act like the wicked servant of Matthew 25:24, who “knew” his master wrongly. Both of their sins are crimes of willful ignorance – they’ve been with the father and seen his love, but have hardened themselves against it.

But that’s not the emphasis – the point is the Father.

The Prodigal Son has been interpreted by some Arminians as an example of the exercise of free will, or agency, or whatever term you like to suggest that the son has control over his actions regarding salvation. He chooses to leave the father, and he chooses to return.

That interpretation is set up to fail, for at least one major reason. If you interpret the father as God, then the staying or leaving of his sons in the house can be nothing other than salvation – to be in God’s house is to be saved, and to be outside is to be damned. And if the father is God, then you must admit that God doesn’t have control over the main motivating event in the son’s return, which is the famine. So the metaphor carries the meaning that God presides over the house, but everything outside of that is beyond his dominion, and he’s waiting eagerly at his property line, biting his nails for the lost son to return home.

Even the boldest bible-believing Arminian wouldn’t venture this close to open theism – would they? To put it simply, if the point of the story is the prodigal son’s free agency in accepting or rejecting his father, then the father certainly doesn’t have any more control over the climate than he does his son.

What sort of weak god is this?

The Calvinist Prodigal Son goes like this – assuming that we can rework this parable to discuss the process of salvation and not God’s love:

There was a man who had two sons. The man put words into the younger son’s mouth: “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them.
Not long after that, the man made the younger son get together all he had, set off for a distant country, and there squander the man’s wealth in wild living, which the man allowed (the man even set up the parties). After he had spent all the man’s money, there was a severe famine in that whole country, because the man could control the weather and made it stop raining. So the son went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, to whom the man had given land. The man called the citizen and told him to put his son to work in his fields (which were actually the man’s) feeding pigs (which were also the man’s.) The son longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything, because the man told them not to.
When the man changed the son’s mind and made the son come to his senses, the son said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death, because my father is starving me! If he lets me, I will set out and go back to my father and ask him to put the words in my mouth to say: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son, make me like one of your hired men.’
Since the man could hear everything, so he heard the son’s words in the distant country. But actually, it’s more accurate to say that since the man could hear everything and cause people to say things, which is why the son said “put the words in my mouth.” So the man heard his son and put words in his mouth. And even more accurately, since the man knew all things, including the future and could hear all things and could put words in people’s mouths, he had always intended for all of these things to happen, and for his son at that moment to say what he said, so really he just is.
So the man made the son get up and come back to himself, because he is.

And you get the point. If this story were an accurate model of the sovereignty of God in salvation, it would be really weird.

Luke 15 – The “Lost” Parables

•February 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It seems to me that the Prodigal Son parable explains the previous two – I have two puzzles to solve in this chapter.

1. Jesus phrases the question in the first two parables as a negative. Does the man with 99 sheep not go searching for his 1 lost sheep? Does the woman with 9 coins not go searching for her 1 lost coin? The answer I have to both of these is a very weak “no.”

It isn’t obvious that a man who loses 1% of his sheep go looking for that 1%. If it’s going to cost him more time than it’s worth to write off the sheep, he writes it off. So it’s not business that’s going on here.

The woman who loses the coin strikes closer to the heart of the metaphor. These aren’t just items of business, like sheep, but personal possessions. Still… I can’t get excited about money. Nor do I think money is the best metaphor for the relationship between God and sinful humanity.

So Jesus uses those two to create a tension before the big parable. He wants to highlight the principle of importance, because, strangely enough, he needs to show that the Prodigal Son is valuable.

The Pharisees and teachers can understand the value of sheep and coins, but not an ingrate son. Jesus prefaces the Prodigal Son with the Sheep and Coin to lead the Pharisees’ line of thought: God values sinners the way people value possessions, because they are his.

The point of the Prodigal Son is the older brother – the Pharisee. He was always with the father, and everything the father had was his – so why didn’t he act like the father? Why didn’t he rejoice, knowing that all good things were his, even the love of the father.

So that solves the second puzzle, which is

2. Why does he rejoice?

The Father rejoices in the very ownership of his creation. He has made all things, and all things good, despite the curse. He is able to look on even the most reprobate sinner with the eyes of a father, and rejoice when that sinner repents, and mourn when that sinner perishes.

Some beautiful one-line truths from Luke.

•December 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

God wants control over every part of your life. The Jews had to tithe everything, from their herds to their spice racks.

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42, emphasis mine)

Jesus accepts the hospitality of a Pharisee, then proceeds to insult him. He wasn’t going to sell himself for a meal, like Esau. (Luke 11:37-54)

Demons love the self-righteous. They practically run them like hotels. (Luke 11:24-26)

Stress is biblical. Worry is not. (Luke 12:50)

False Christians will have it worse in hell than unbelievers. This may be the world’s largest mission field. Those who have heard the gospel preached and have rejected it will suffer more than those who have only known of the Creator (Romans 1) and rejected him. (Luke 12:47-48)

Jesus is eager for the judgment day. None of this “God is angry and Jesus is begging him to relax” nonsense. The Father and the Son are one, in patience and in eager anticipation of judging sinners. (Luke 12:49)

We can’t know the hour, day, month or season of Christ’s return, but we can know the “time.” (Luke 12:54-56, Matthew 24:33)

Nerfing Revelation

•December 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Don Carson, gospel preacher and brilliant New Testament scholar, is coming out with a new commentary on Revelation that will sum up how he’s taught Revelation and Matthew 24 for years – that many prophecies (such as “time, times and half a time”) cannot be interpreted literally because the apocalyptic genre is the primary lens through which the book should be viewed. Since Revelation is an example of that genre, popular in post-exilic Jewish lit, the book’s details have to be interpreted with a knowledge of the genre.

I may post more later on the specific passages that Carson misinterprets, but this is my quick thought for now:

Dismissing literal interpretations of Revelation because of genre is the same as dismissing literal interpretations of Psalms – you can’t gloss over Psalms as mere poetry, nor is Revelation mere apocalypse. When God speaks, it transcends genre. If Carson’s method of interpretation were applied to Psalms, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” would forever be David’s.

Don’t cage God!

Hebrews 6:4 – Out on a Limb

•December 7, 2009 • 8 Comments

I think I’ve discovered a new Scriptural connection that clarifies Hebrews 6:4, which is as follows:

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

I couldn’t understand who is addressed in this verse. Are they Christians or non-Christians? Is it possible to lose salvation?

Then I read Luke 11:24-26.

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes several other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”

It’s a strange connection, but it fits perfectly. The key is the final condition of the man being worse than before. If these two scriptures describe the same reality, then the problem is solved.

I argue, then, that the “impossibility” of Hebrews 6:4 isn’t referring to a limitation of God but rather the futility of the non-elect to save themselves. Notice the demon leaves and returns at will – the natural man is not a sovereign entity, but is an open house for a stronger being to inhabit. (Jesus affirms this in v.21-22 – the strong man, though heavily armed, is always taken by the stronger).

But what of “tasting” and “sharing”? Don’t these things strongly suggest a Christian? The Jews who called for their Messiah’s blood to be on their heads had shared him for three years. They’d tasted the ex nihilo bread on the hillside. They’d seen Millennial power in the quieting of storms and paralytics walking and demons sent to the pit and the dead resurrected. They’d shared in the Holy Spirit of God who poured onto them on Palm Sunday and left them on Good Friday as quickly as he left Saul.

I have no trouble interpreting Hebrews 6:4 as describing non-Christians. (The best example is Judas. No pagan has ever gotten closer to the Most Holy God.)

Another hole in the boat of works salvation. We can’t do anything to gain or lose our justification.

One loose thread – there are demons in the equation. The natural man isn’t just natural. He has as much power over his life as soil has over the seed. He’s fertile soil for the supernatural. He’s the strong man who musters up his arms (v.21) but is inevitably overpowered.

See, when the demon leaves, the man cleans the house. But this only makes room for more spirits. The works of the natural man, especially those ‘productive’ works of self-righteousness, contain more and greater evil. Great spirits of pride enter in and live and refuse to share power, and the man is enslaved.

Preach Christ crucified. We’re cleaning our houses for demons. We’re fertilizing our soil for weeds. We need new houses, new soil.

Preacher, you will condemn people to hell with your words. Be careful that you condemn only those predestined to destruction, those who reject the crucified Son of God. Don’t condemn your whole church with soft sermons about “sharing” and “tasting.” God calls us to take and eat.