Is the Church the New Israel?

Old Testament- Israel

New Testament- Church

Genesis 12:1-3  Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Gal 3:7  Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Gal 3:9  So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Gal 3:14  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:29  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Genesis 26:1-5  Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,   because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Galatians 4:21-28  Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
Genesis 17:12-13  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Philippians 3:3  For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh–

Romans 2:28-29  For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Exodus 19:5-6  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 1 Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Hosea 2:21-23  “And in that day I will answer, declares the LORD, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.'” 1 Peter 2:10  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Romans 9:24-25  even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.'”

Ezekiel 16:4-7  And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Ephesians 2:4-7  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

 

 

Hebrews 8:6-13 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  or I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

 

Advertisements

Wilhelmus á Brakel on Election and Assurance Part 4- Sanctification

The third characteristic of the truly elect and, therefore, of those who should have assurance of their eternal salvation is sanctification.

If you then perceive within yourself a hatred, repulsion, and sorrow concerning both the secret sins of your heart, as well as your sinful deeds, and if you find an inner delight and love for a godly spiritual frame and the practice of all virtues in the fear, love, and the obedience of God, as being His will; if you perceive within yourself the warfare between flesh and spirit so that sin does not have dominion over you, that is, that you are not governed by your evil will; if sin meets with an internal resistance of your will, being restrained and often driven away by the fear of God; if you perceive within yourself the inclination to pray, wrestle for peace of conscience, and experience the nearness of the Lord; if, either privately or in the presence of men, you desire to let your heart, thoughts, words, and deeds be governed by the will of God; if, I say, these things be in you, then you are a partaker of the spiritual life and the principle of sanctification is in you. This is not the result of your natural disposition, but a gracious gift of God issuing forth from election. Thus, you may conclude your election from this spiritual condition.

Perhaps á Brakel could have done better by expositing 2 Peter 1:5-10, his point is nevertheless made. Hearkening back to the previous two marks, it should be recognized that the force of this argument is only fully appreciated by one who has accepted the biblical teaching regarding total depravity and the spiritual death of the sinner.

The soul that is saved seeks a greater experience of that salvation.

The thought that guides á Brakel’s entire discussion of assurance is that that election is personal.

Why is the gospel proclaimed to you? Why are you called, drawn, and quickened? Why do you know Jesus and receive Him by faith? Wherefore may you have some delight in communion with God and are desirous to fear His name? Does not all of this issue forth from his eternal counsel to save you? Lose yourself in holy amazement and confess with Hagar, “Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” (Gen. 16:13), and with the Psalmist, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of Him?” (Psa. 8:4).

Wilhelmus á Brakel on Election and Assurance Part 3- Faith

The second characteristic of those who are truly elect and, therefore, of those who should have assurance of their eternal salvation are faith.

If then you are assured that you find delight in God’s counsel to reconcile sinners to Himself through the Surety, the Lord Jesus Christ; if, due to grief and sorrow over your sinful heart and deeds, for God’s wrath, love for communion with God and a spiritual walk, and a sense of your own impotence to attain to these matters, you take refuge to this Surety who offers Himself; if you look to Him, long for Him, engage in transactions with Him, accept His offer, surrender yourself to Him, rest your salvation upon Him, and rely upon Him—be it one time with more, and then again with less intensity, with more clarity or more darkness, with more or less strife, continually or intermittently—if these things are to be found in you, then you are a partaker of true faith. If you may thus be assured of your faith, you may then consequently conclude your eternal election.

How do we draw strength from faith? First be realizing that faith itself is from God. á Brakel cites Acts 13:48, “and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed”; and Titus 1:1, “the faith of God’s elect.” We should also include Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” The soul struggling with assurance needs to be reminded that on his own, man does not believe in God. There is none who seeks after God. On his own, man cannot produce faith from within himself. The capacity for faith is something that God gives.

The struggling soul might reasonably ask, “Since I am struggling with assurance doesn’t that indicate that I do not have faith?” But the root of such questioning might not be faith itself, but the amount of faith. It may seem like an overly precise classification, but someone who is worrying about whether they have “enough” faith by be falling into the trap relying on their faith to save them rather than relying on the Savior to save them.

It is insensitive to experience and the biblical data to presume that everyone is going to demonstrate the same strength of faith at all times. Jesus speaks of faith as a mustard seed. Jesus helps the man who believes even as he struggles with unbelief. What we are looking for is the presence of faith, not the abundance of it.

Again á Brakel focuses attention on the object of faith, and not faith itself. This is where the struggling soul needs to look. What is the response of your soul to the gospel? Amazement or incredulity? What is the response of your soul to Jesus Christ? Attraction or revulsion? God’s children, however imperfectly, desire a relationship with the Father based on the merits of the Son. They seek such a relationship because of the working of the Holy Spirit. The very fact that you desire to draw near to God believing that He will accept you is an indication that He has chosen you to eternal salvation. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

For true assurance of biblical salvation we must accept the biblical testimony regarding such salvation. No one has any desire at all to come to Christ, to believe in Him, unless the Father first grants such a desire and such a belief. Do you believe in Christ? This is the gift of God which will certainly bear fruit unto your eternal salvation and His eternal praise and glory.

 

 

Wilhelmus á Brakel on Election and Assurance Part 1

It is thus the duty of every Christian to strive for assurance according to the exhortation of the apostle in 2 Peter 1:10, as this assurance is the fountain of much joy in God and results in much growth in sanctification. One does not obtain this assurance by ascending into heaven to examine the book of life for the purpose of ascertaining whether one’s name is to be found in it (Rom. 10:6-7). Neither is this assurance obtained by imagining oneself to be one of the elect, so that by the duration of this imagination one could consistently maintain this assurance, being of the opinion that it is a sin to be doubtful about it even though one lacks the least foundation for this assurance. Rather, one obtains this assurance from the Word of God wherein is found a clear description of those who are elect. If these characteristics are discerned within, he may draw the conclusion that he is one of the elect. (Christian’s Reasonable Service (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 247.)

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 2 Peter 1:10

Assurance of salvation is something that I have had past struggles with. I know I am not alone in this. As I examine my life it is interesting to me that embracing God’s sovereignty has only increased my assurance. What is the place of assurance on the life of the Christian? Can a person be saved and not know it?

á Brakel begins with the assertion that assurance is indeed something that a believer should seek and have. What I appreciate about the Apostle Peter’s exhortation and á Brakel’s treatment is the recognition, however, that assurance is something the believers do struggle with. At places in the New Testament, we see the biblical authors more certain of the readers’ salvation than the readers themselves (cf. Luke 22:32; Heb. 6:9). We should not miss the fact that Peter’s encouragement demands that some of his readers were indeed unsure of their “calling and election.”

But if God’s election is eternal and sovereign, how can anyone be sure of it? Brakel gives two important ways not to gain assurance. We cannot wish to know God’s hidden decrees. One day the books will be opened. But God is not like Amazon. He does not offer a look inside. In any event, such a vision would be disastrous. Do we live by faith or by sight? Seeing God’s list would only serve to destroy our faith…the very instrument of our salvation.

Secondly, we are not to talk ourselves into assurance. Having the wrong faith is just as damning as having no faith. As the saying goes we are not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith. So we are not assured of being God’s elect by our declaration that we are elect.

So how can I know for certain I am one of God’s elect?

Devotions for Advent Week 4 Tuesday Judges 13:2-7, 24-25; Luke 1:5-25 The Barren Rejoice

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name, but he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.'”
And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:5-25

 

At Advent we remember the long line of barren women that God accomplished the impossible for. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, Hannah, and Elizabeth all must have wondered at the cause of their fate. After all, the promise of the Lord was that none that he favored would be barren (Ex. 23:26; Deut. 7:14). Yet in their struggle they would each be able to bless the Lord saying, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 113:9).

Advent is a testimony to the powerful creativity of God. God can give life to a man from the ground without man or woman- Adam. God can give life to a woman from a man without a woman- Eve. God can give life to a man from a woman without a man- Jesus. God can give life to the barren.

Such mighty acts are not limited to the sphere of procreation. God accomplishes the impossible in the salvation of the Gentiles. In Galatians 4 we have Paul’s teaching that the church is the fulfillment of the promise given in Isaiah, “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. In the church god has granted life where there was only death. The Gentile nations were long barren and without hope but now the gospel bears abundant fruit. Now the Gentiles, like Isaac, are children of promise.

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 10: Phil. 2:5-8 What does the humiliation of Christ mean if he did not humble himself?

Sermon 10 is the last sermon on this subject that Chrysostom preached in Antioch before his “promotion” to Constantinople. As such, much of it is review and I will not take the time to go over it here again.

Towards the end of the sermon, however, Chrysostom brings out a crucial implication of Philippians 2:5-8 that I am not sure I have ever presented (50-56).[1] The crux of the passage is that Jesus humbled himself. The Son did not consider equality with the Father something he had to cling to jealously or seize with treachery. While Paul does not say in so many words that the Son was in fact equal with the Father, his whole argument demands it. If the Son were not equal to the Father it would not have been act of humility to take on flesh and submit to the Father’s will: it would have been duty. When my 3 year old son obeys me, he is not humbling himself. He “owes” me obedience. When I am “on the job” I am not humbling myself when I do what my boss tells me to do. I “owe” my boss that service.

But Jesus humbled himself. If Jesus humbled himself under the Father that means he had no obligation to do so. An inferior does not humble himself to his superior. A superior can humble himself to his inferior, or an equal can humble himself to his equal. And in fact, Jesus did both of these. As man’s superior Jesus humbled himself to be man’s servant. As the Father’s equal, Jesus humbled himself to be the Father’s Servant.


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

Devotions for Advent: Week 1, Thursday Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 7:21,24-27

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. For he has humbled the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city. He lays it low, lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust. The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.”
Isaiah 26:1-6

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
Matthew 7:21,24-27

The hope of Advent is the hope of righteousness. Only “the righteous nation” enters the kingdom. Only the one who “does the will” of the Father and “does” the words of the Son will enter the kingdom.

As an aside, we see again the subtle yet unmistakable way in which Scripture demonstrates the equality of the Father and the Son. God leaves things obscure enough for heretics to condemn themselves, but plain enough for believers to have faith. Who will enter the kingdom? The one who obeys the Father? Who will have a house of strong walls (cf. Is. 26:1)? The one who obeys the Son. So we are left with only few options. Either that Father and Son share in power and glory and essence so that their will is one; or there are at least two ways to enter the kingdom. And if there are two, why can there not be three, or four, or five, ad infinitum? All the Father has in his essence the Son has, saving Fatherhood.

But what is the way to enter the kingdom? A cursory reading of these texts points plainly to works. Good people will enter the kingdom and bad people will not. That is all well and good, if the Bible did not also teach that there are none good. A careful reading of these passages demonstrates the true requirement of entering the kingdom.

In Isaiah the righteous nation enters in. But what is the nature of this righteousness? The righteous nation is the nation that “keeps faith,” or, remain faithful. They are further described as “poor” and “needy.” In other words, they have nothing of worth in themselves to claim. They are the “poor in spirit.” Everything they receive from God is graced to them; none of it is earned. They can offer nothing.

In Matthew, they do the will of the Father and the Son. Yet the verses 22 and 23 clearly address the issue of “which came first: righteousness or salvation.” Matthew 7:22 leaves no doubt that man is not saved by doing righteous deeds. On the last day people will stand before Jesus with a laundry list of their good deeds and be promptly dismissed to eternal destruction. In the next verse Jesus makes plain the entrance requirements of the kingdom: personal knowledge. If Jesus does not know you, you are not getting into his kingdom.

Only the righteous will enter the kingdom of heaven. But the righteousness of the righteous is not their own. They are faithful because they have believed and cried out to God for aid. They do the will of the Father and Son because Jesus has identified himself with them. All of their righteousness is found from God. All of the righteousness is found in Christ.

 

For All Saints’ Day: You are the saint you want to be

Early in William Law’s A Serious Call to A Devout and Holy Life, the author provides the kind of slap in the face missing from all too many “Christian Life” books:

And if you will here stop, and ask yourselves, why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will you, that it is neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.

This statement was a punch to the gut when I first read it. Being a somewhat active reader in church history I do have a tendency to romanticize the past. Being somewhat pessimistic by nature I do have a tendency to think things will never be that good again: “there were giants in the earth in those days.”

In his article “Our Unclaimed Riches”, A.W. Tozer elaborates on the same thought as Law. Tozer offers 4 convicting statements that get to the root of explaining your present condition in the Christian life:

  1. You will get nothing unless you go after it.
  2. You may have as much as you insist on having.
  3. You will have as little as you are satisfied with.
  4. You now have as much as you really want.

Taken in isolation these statements appear to be little better than the message of contemporary health-and-wealth televangelists. From beginning to end, however, Tozer is speaking of spiritual riches. For instance, immediately after the fourth statement Tozer writes, “Every man is as close to God as he wants to be; he is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wills to be.”

So are Law and Tozer right? Am I as holy as I want to be? Consider:

  1. God’s plan for you is holiness and Christ-likeness: from eternity God has intended this (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4).
  2. God’s will for you is holiness and Christ-likeness: this is what God wants for you now (1 Thess. 4:3).
  3. Christ’s passion was accomplished to make you holy (John 17:17-19; Eph. 5:25-27; Titus 2:14).
  4. Holiness and Christ-likeness is what the Holy Spirit is trying to form in you (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:2).
  5. Beyond His own personal plan, desire, sacrifice, and work, God has given everything we need to escape sin and live righteously (Acts 20:32; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Peter 1:3; 3:9)

We must agree with Law and Tozer. Every man is as holy as he wants to be. But, as Tozer concludes,

Yet we must distinguish wanting and wishing. By “want” I mean wholehearted desire. Certainly there are many who wish they were holy or victorious or joyful but are not willing to meet God’s conditions to obtain.

Can a Christian lose his salvation: Trinitarian Ungodliness and the question of Apostasy in Jude

In verses 5-7 Jude describes three classes of people who experienced “a punishment of eternal fire.” First, the Lord destroyed those Israelites who were exodused from Egypt but did not believe. Second, there is a group of angels who left their proper dwelling and are confined until the final judgment. Third, the immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown for their sexual immorality and unnatural desire.

The third example is not too surprising. This is the sort of thing we expect a holy God to do. But the first two examples of God’s judgment give Christians reason to pause. In the first two examples we have members of the people of God and holy angels. By these examples should we understand that loosing salvation is possible? If people who were “saved” out of Egypt can fall away; if angels can fall away; can Christians fall away and face the eternal judgment of God?

There are several indications that Jude does not believe this is a possibility.

First, Jude repeatedly indicates that the appearance of these false Christians who face God’s judgment is not a surprise. In fact, these people “long ago were designated for this condemnation” (4). The word “designated” means “written before.” Their story has already been written. Because of their sin “the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever” (13). Their spot in hell is marked “reserved.” Jude says their appearance was predicted as far back as Enoch (14) and as recently as the apostles (17-18).

This is contrasted with the fate of the righteous. Jude instructs believers to contend for the faith (3) and to build themselves up in the faith (20). But does their security depend upon these things? Does their entrance into heaven depend on their own contending and their own building? Jude does not leave them with such a treacherous foundation. Jude closes his book with the encouraging reminder that God alone is the source of the eternal security of the believer. It is only God who is ultimately “able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (23). We contend, but God gives the victory. We build, but God holds together.

Secondly, Jude emphatically describes the true nature of those who seemingly depart from the faith. The most important and most repeated description of these people is that they are “ungodly people” (4). They are ruled by “ungodly passions” (18). Jude goes out of his way to drive this point home in verses 14-15: Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him. Such people are ungodly in the fullest sense of the term. They pervert the grace of God the Father, deny the Lordship of Jesus the Son (4), and are “devoid of the Spirit” (19). They are completely without God. They live in full denial of the Triune Lord.

This is in complete opposition to the source of life and strength for the believer. As mentioned above, the believer is commanded to build himself up in the faith. How does this building up occur? According to verses 20-21, by living a life in communion with the Trinity:

pray in the Holy Spirit;
keep yourselves in the love of God,
waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The life of the believer is life in the Trinity. The life of the unbeliever is un-Trinity.

People are going to fall away. There are and will be imposters in the church. This should come as no surprise. Their falling away is not due to any weakness on God’s part or overwhelming strength on sin’s part. People creep in and hinder the life of the church; people cause divisions; people speak against the leadership; people seek their own way; people live a life of sensuality; because they do not know God. More importantly, because God does not know them.

 

Did the early church believe in a literal hell of eternal punishment

I am aware that the very title of this post raises immediate objections and dismissals. Those who do not believe in an eternal hell have little difficulty mustering lists of early church fathers who did not believe in the eternal punishment of the lost. Church historians scoff at the very mention of “the” early church. Christianity was too diverse. “The” early church is a myth spun by ignorant romantics.

To the first group of naysayers, I ask you to consider the witness of the church not just individuals. To the second group, it is a pleasant surprise to find out that men who were actually a part of “the” early church, had no problems making assertions about what “the” church believed and practiced.

Consider Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 140 – 202/3). While his precise theological upbringing cannot be determined, he mentions learning from Polycarp of Smyrna who was a disciple of the Apostle John. So if Irenaeus was not John’s spiritual grandson, he was at least a nephew. Irenaeus was esteemed highly enough to be sent by his church with correspondence to the bishop of Rome. While he was away persecution arose and the bishop of Lyons was killed. When he returned he was elected bishop. Historians stumble over themselves in estimating the importance of Irenaeus. It is said that Irenaeus “killed Gnosticism” and “founded Christian theology.”[1] Irenaeus “is by far the most important of the theologians of the second century” and “deserves to be called the founder of Christian theology.”[2] While Irenaeus never claimed or desired to be an original-thinking theologian, he was “among the first Christian writers to seek the theological meaning of history.”[3] In short, Irenaeus is “among the greatest theologians of all times.”[4] One might say Irenaeus has a pretty decent résumé.

So what did the most important theologian of the second century, the founder of Christian theology say about the church and eternal punishment of the lost? In Against Heresies book 1 chapter 10, Irenaeus writes,

The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven” and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and 331 the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

And just in case it was missed the first time, in book 3 chapter 4 Irenaeus writes,

Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the 417 water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. . . . carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendor, shall come in glory, the Savior of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent.

Two points: Irenaeus seems to have a pretty strong opinion about the existence of “the” church; and, according to him at least, the church taught that “ungodly, unrighteous, and wicked” men share in the same fate as fallen angels: eternal fire.

It seems fair to say that the most important theologian of the second century believed in an eternal hell of suffering for the lost and that he presented this as the teaching of the one, apostolic, catholic, church.

 


[1] F. Cayre, Manual of Patrology (Paris: Desclee &Co., 1936), 146.

[2] Johannes Quasten, Patrology vol 1 The Beginnings of Christian Literature (Utrecht-Antwerp: Spectrum Publishers, 1975) 287, 294.

[3] Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought Thought: From the Beginning to the Council of Chalcedon (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987), 170.

[4] Ibid, 170.