The Great City and the Holy

John is a binary thinker. The apostle thinks and writes in contrasts. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness (1 John 2:9). No lie is of the truth (1 John 2:21). Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil (1 John 3:7-8). By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:10). Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20). John habitually expresses himself in contrasts of light and darkness; love and hate; life and death; sin and righteousness.

In Revelation, contrast gives way to conflict. The Apocalypse is an unveiling of a conflict stretching from when the morning stars sang for joy until that great day when night will be no more. The Dragon savages a Lamb only to find a Lion. The Lamb who roars and Dragon who spews are each fighting for girl. The Lamb protects his bride; the Dragon pimps his harlot. They each battle for their kingdom. In John’s terminology, they each have their city.

The Dragon has a Great City. The Great City is strong in power. All other kingdoms of earth bow to its authority (Rev. 17:18). The Great City is rich in possessions. The only thing approaching the power of its strength is the intoxication of its wealth. The City controls so much wealth that it controls the very souls of mankind (Rev. 18:12-13). The City is so wealthy, that it has the freedom to determine who else will be wealthy and who will be poor (Rev. 18:19). The City of the Dragon is the incomparable pride of the earth (Rev. 18:18). Whether it is London yesterday; or Washington D.C. today; or Beijing tomorrow, its name is one: Babylon the Great. The power will be overpowered. The luxury will be spoiled. The light will be extinguished. The Great City building itself on oppression and painting itself with blood will be “no more” (Rev. 18:21-24).

The Lamb has a Holy City. The Holy City is rich for what it does not have: no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain, nothing unclean or detestable, nothing false (Revelation 21:2-4, 27). Forever. The Holy City is glorious in splendor not for what is there, but for who is there. God dwells with man (Rev. 21:3). We will see his face (Rev. 22:3-4). After the former things have passed away, the Holy City will stand forever and ever (21:4; 22:5).

The resolution of this conflict awaits its great cataclysmic ending. But the conflict is ongoing. It is the conflict I acutely feel as a pilgrim in America. Which city will I yield my allegiance to? Which city will I orient my life toward? The Great?

Or the Holy?

Looking for a City

 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  Hebrews 11:8-10

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.  Hebrews 11:13-16

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  Hebrews 12:22-24

This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:27-29

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:12-14

When I sense the need for food for the soul I often turn to Hebrews. A theme that I have frequently meditated on is “the city” in Hebrews.

Dispensationalists are fond of saying that Israel was God’s earthly people, while the church is God’s heavenly people. But like so many other Dispensational teachings, such a notion is flatly contradicted by the New Testament. Yes, Abraham journeyed to the land of promise. And yes, there is a land of promise. But Abraham did it because he was looking for the eternal city- not any on earth.

Such a desire characterized all the Old Testament faithful. Even those who lived their entire lives in the “promised land” desired something better: a heavenly country. They clung to the promise that God was building them a city. Think about it, if living in the Promised Land was the ultimate blessing of God, what need was there for faith? If they already had all that God promised, why look forward to anything else?

The church too, as sons of Abraham by faith (Rom. 2:28, 29; 4:11-16; Gal. 3:7-9, 13-14), “seek the city that is to come.” Yet the church has the awesome privilege of partaking of the blessings of that city spiritually now. The church, as she gathers for worship, is not alone. She is not isolated. The church gathered for worship is spiritually joined by angels and the souls of the departed in the great heavenly worship of God.

“The city” is the result of the fall. I like to say the first city was founded by a murderer and it went downhill from there (Gen. 4:17). The city is a feeble substitute for the relationship, provision, and security that man once had in God. As kooky as one-world government conspiracy theorists are, there is a biblical foundation to such concern. When men seeks to unite, it is for the purpose of uniting against God.

But God redeems the city. In His grace he is gathering together a multitude from every nation, tripe, people, and language. With one voice they will all join together saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” This is the city that people of faith long for. This is the city that people of faith anticipate as they gather together to worship.

 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. Revelation 21:2-3

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones Comments on the introductory essays to Genesis in the ESV Study Bible

The introductory articles to Genesis in the ESV Study Bible, “Genesis and History” and “Genesis and Science”, are nothing short of disastrous. That may be putting it too kindly.

We are told that Genesis 1-11 “intended to record history.” We are told that history should not be conceived of as things that actually happened but only events that the author “believes to have happened.” Just in case that is not wishy-washy enough, we are told that the author recorded “real events albeit theologically interpreted.” [Emphasis mine in all quotes.]

In the following quote, D.M. Lloyd-Joes is addressing the Canon Criticism and Biblical Theology movement spearheaded by Brevard Childs, but his words are an apt commentary on the ESV Study Bible’s introductory material on Genesis:

Now we must come back to the Bible. But what they really mean is that we must come back to what they call the ‘message’ of the Old Testament. . . . They reject many of the facts of the Old Testament – they do not accept the early chapters of Genesis as history, they reject the story of the flood, they do not believe the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. They cannot believe such things as these, for their scientific knowledge makes it impossible. But they tell us there is a kind of religious value in it all and that they are willing to take hold of the religious principle and teaching, while they reject the facts as such and regard them as myth. . . . Christian people, in other words, are called upon to adopt an attitude and position that to the world seems utterly ridiculous. To believe these things today is as monstrous to the natural man as it was to the unbelievers of Noah’s day. And yet if we accept the Bible as the Word of God if we believe in this revelation, we must believe that it is an essential part of the teaching. . . . We must not bring natural reason to this; we must accept the Bible as the Word of God, the revelation of God, and live a life of conformity with it. The pure mind, not the scoffing, mocking mind of natural man who rejects the revelation of God, is what we need. God grant that our minds may thus be pure, and utterly free from all modern suggestions and teachings which would have us reject the clear teaching of the revelation of God in His Holy Word. (Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, 171, 174)

The Bible does not need to be excused or explained in words that have no meaning.

It just needs to be believed.

The Trinity in Scripture: 2 Peter 1:16-21 The Trinity in the Transfiguration and Revelation

Peter only has one reference to the Trinity in his second epistle, but what he lacks is quantity is more than made for in quality.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:16-21)

Commentators are divided on multiple points in this brief passage. Is “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” a reference to the Christ’s first appearance (incarnation and ministry) or his second appearance (return and reign)? What is more sure—the witness of what the apostles saw (NIV; NKJV; NLT; NASB) or the record of the Old Testament prophets (KJV; ESV)? Is it the origin or the interpretation of Scripture that Peter has in mind in verse 20? Yet in all their wrangling over these issues, I have not read a single commentator bring out the Trinity in this passage.

The ESV—more than any other translation—comes tantalizingly close to bringing out the connection. In verses 17 and 18 Peter speaks of a voice “borne” from heaven to earth at the Transfiguration of Jesus. This voice was of course that of the Father once again declaring his approval of his Son. Other translations simply use some form of “come” or simply leave it out (NLT in verse 18). But Peter did not use one of the common New Testament words for come (paraginomai or erchomai). Peter used the term phero. I believe he did so very intentionally and I believe he did so to highlight the work of the Trinity in revelation.

The use of “borne” in verses 17 is significant because it is unusual. Peter could have simply used a verb indicating speech—“God said.” The use of “borne” in verse 18 is significant because it is unnecessary: as some translations do, Peter could have left out the phrase entirely. But instead Peter twice uses the common term phero—the generic term meaning to bring, carry, move, bear something.

This highlights the strangeness of Peter’s expression. We speak of voices carrying, but never of carrying voices. Who carried the voice of the Father? Why does God’s voice need to be carried? The answer to such questions is revealed in verse 21.

Who carried the voice of the Father to the Son on the mount of transfiguration? The same person who carried the voice of the Father to prophets speaking God’s word: the Holy Spirit. In verse 21 Peter uses the same verb he used in verses 17 and 18—phero. Granted the imagery has changed a bit. In verses 17 and 18 the voice of God is carried while in verse 21 men are carried. But in both cases, the end result is the same. If it is not for the work of the Holy Spirit, man is not able to properly receive the word of God.

If the Holy Spirit had not given Peter, James, and John understanding on the holy mountain, they would not have comprehended the sound (cf. John 12:28-29; Acts 22:29). If the prophets had not been carried, they could not have spoken from God. At the Transfiguration and in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit had one objective: to declare to men the love of the Father for the Son (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12).

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 10. Containing a brief exposition of monergistic salvation and Trinitarian revelation

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Luke 10:21-22

These two verses contain two references to the Trinity: one direct, and one via cross reference.

In verse 21 we witness the work of the Holy Spirit in the Son causing him to offer thanksgiving to the Father. In the context of the chapter we are at the place in Jesus’ ministry where he sent out the 72 disciples and they returned rejoicing over all the works they were empowered to do: particularly their ability to cast out demons.

Jesus tenderly corrects them in telling them that they do have cause to rejoice, but that their rejoicing should focus on their place in heaven not their power over hell. In this admonition I believe there is a word to those today who seek after miraculous demonstrations of power; who claim special status or position because of the wonders they do; who state the normal Christian life is the miraculous Christian life. It is the same word that Paul would later state to the similarly deluded Corinthians: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:29-31).

This is not to say that we are to simply “rest in the Lord” when it comes to salvation. Indeed, this seems to be the opposite error that infects broader evangelicalism. There are many who feel that once they have “prayed the prayer” there is not much else to do in the Christian life except make an occasional guest appearance at church, give a little something every now and then, but otherwise do nothing to evidence the grace of God. This is due in large part to the shallow gospel that is preached to them and the shallow gospel they believe. The gospel that preaches a salvation that comes with no strings attached. The gospel that proclaims come as you are and leave as you were. The gospel that pleads for a prayer but not repentance and belief. Yes, we are saved by faith alone; but the faith that saves is never alone. True faith produces works.

In this prayer, Jesus teaches us that salvation is due to the work of God the Father. It is God the Father who has written the names of believers in heaven (10:20); he hides salvation from the wise and graciously reveals it to those whom he wills (10:21). The Father is “Lord of heaven and earth.” He is sovereign over all things, and this includes the salvation of sinners.

A common charge against the reformed understanding of salvation is that it leads to pride and arrogance about God’s choice. But any self-professed Calvinist who is proud of his salvation has certainly not understood what Calvin and the other like-minded reformers (to say nothing of Jesus and the apostles) taught regarding salvation. A biblical understanding of God’s election brings nothing but humble rejoicing. When one realizes that there is nothing good in himself; that he can do nothing to merit his salvation; that his salvation is based entirely upon God’s good pleasure; he can do nothing but respond in humble praise. In eternity, not a single man will be praised for making “the right choice” when it comes to salvation. God and the Lamb receive all the praise, honor, and glory. For salvation is of the Lord.

In verse 22, Jesus continues emphasizing God’s sovereignty in salvation. In a marvelous statement that begins to stretch our capability of comprehension Jesus teaches vital truths about relationship and revelation in the Trinity.

After making the well-supported statement that the Father is Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus boldly proclaims that he has the same title of authority. The Son proclaims that “all things” have been handed over to his control. Statements like this flatly contradict those scholars that assert Jesus had no God-consciousness, or that he never claimed equality with God, or deity itself. The enemies of Jesus understood statements like this and their implications well: it is the very reason they delivered him to Pilate to be crucified (John 5:18; 19:7).

Just as Jesus asserted that God’s sovereignty over heaven and earth extended to man’s salvation; he proclaims that he is sovereign over who knows God. The Father and the Son have complete knowledge of one another. Such knowledge is perfect and eternal. Because the Son has dwelt eternally with the Father he is the only one that can give accurate revelation of the Father (John 1:1, 18). Because the Father has dwelt eternally with the Son he is the only one that can give accurate revelation of the Son (John 6:44, 65; 2 Cor. 4:6).

But where does that leave us? Jesus is no longer on earth revealing the Father. The Father no longer raises up prophets and apostles to add to his word. Are we abandoned? In no way.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”– these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1Co 2:9-11)

1 Corinthians 2:11 completes the teaching on Trinitarian knowledge and revelation. Jesus taught that he alone had knowledge of the Father and He alone could give that knowledge to others. Paul proclaims that the Spirit alone has knowledge of the Father and the Spirit alone communicates that knowledge to others.

We are left with two options: either Jesus or Paul—and therefore Scripture as a whole—are wrong; or, we are led onward to accept the orthodox teaching of the Trinity. What the Father has in his essence, the Son knows and has in his essence. What the Father has in his essence, the Spirit knows and has in his essence. God is one in essence, three in persons. Such knowledge of God—yea, any and all knowledge of God—is only given to and received by those children God himself wills to reveal himself.

If you know anything of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it is only because God has chosen to bless you with such knowledge. Who will not humble tremble before such an awesome gift?

Who is a true Jew? Revelation 2:9 & 3:9

I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Revelation 2:9

Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie–indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Revelation 3:9

Twice in the letters to the seven churches of Asia, Jesus mentions a group of people identified as, “Those who say they are Jews and are not.”  As if that statement were not perplexing enough, both times rather incendiary descriptions are added to this group: they are synagogues of Satan, liars, and will worship at the feet of Christians.  Immediately a very large section of American evangelicals are put on the defensive.  Here, in the same breath, we have mention of Jews, liars, synagogue of Satan, and God humbling said group.  The antisemitism bullets are ready to be fired!

But let us divorce the phrase “those who say they are Jews and are not” from the context in an attempt to take some of the passion out of the exegesis.  Just looking at that phrase alone what can we determine about the group?

What does it say?

The first thing that needs to be determined is, “What does the phrase actually imply?”  What is the truth that is assumed by the phrase?  In an attempt to further remove any prejudices, put the phrase in other terms.  If you heard someone say, “he says he is a professional baseball player, but he is not,” what could you safely assume?  I believe you could safely assume two things:

  1. There really is such a thing as a professional baseball player:  such a person actually exists.
  2. The person making the claim is not truly a professional baseball player.

So returning to the text we can safely assume two things:

  1. There really is such a group as Jews:  true Jews.
  2. Those making the claim to be Jewish are not truly Jews.

To paraphrase a T-shirt– there is a Jew, and you’re not him.

What could it mean?

So who are these people who say they are Jews but are really not?  I can think of three broad options:

  1. They are Gentiles who for some reason claim to be Jews.  Perhaps they do not really want to worship the Emperor, so they seek exemption under the umbrella of Judaism.  Maybe in Smyrna and Philadelphia there was some economic incentive to be Jewish.  For whatever reason, this group refers to Gentiles calling themselves Jews.
  2. They are ethnic Jews who are not practicing their faith according to Scripture.  Whether intentionally or not, they are practicing an apostate form of Judaism.
  3. They are ethnic Jews who have misidentified what being a true Jew is.  This is somewhat different than the second category.  These people practice an orthodox faith, yet the orthodoxy itself flawed.

What is the question?

In all of this, the real question is, “What is a true Jew?”  The statement under examination, “those who say they are Jews and are not,” is based on the fact that true Jews exist.  By condemning the “false” Jews, Jesus acknowledges the “true” Jews.  But who might Jesus say is a false Jew and a true Jew?

Comparing spiritual things with spiritual

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a clear answer to this question in the text.  So might the Scripture answer this question elsewhere?  Does the Bible speak about this true vs. false Jew dichotomy in other places?  In fact Scripture addresses this subject in various places and diverse manners.

Both Matthew 3:9 and Luke 3:8 record John (the baptizer) assailing ethnic Jews with the statement, “…and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”  This certainly leads in the direction of asserting that there is more to being a child of Abraham- hence, a Jew- than physical genealogy.  At the very least, John asserted that being a physical descendant of Abraham merited his audience members nothing with God.

While I assume this is what John meant, I know it is what Paul thought.  At the end of Romans 2 we read, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”  If this is not the jackpot, it is certainly a very handsome consolation prize.  Paul is seeking to answer the very question we are asking, “What is a true Jew?”  A true Jew is not a physical child of Abraham, but a Spiritual child of God.  It is not the physical circumcision made by man that counts, it is the heart circumcision made by the Spirit that matters.

Paul returns to a variation of this theme in Romans 4:11-12.  Again the question is, “Who is a true son of Abraham?”  Again Paul answers that physical circumcision is meaningless, but that whoever has the faith that Abraham had can claim Abraham as “father.”  This is also the argument of the entire chapter of Galatians 3.  The precise statements include:

Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.  And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”   So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. (3:7-9)

that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (3:14)

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (3:26, 29)

In Philippians 3:3 we see more about this circumcision of faith, “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh…”  Again we see that physical descent is meaningless (no confidence in the flesh).  Writing to the church, Paul says they are “the circumcision.”  What makes Christians in Philippi “the circumcision?”  Their relationship with the Trinity: they worship God, in the Spirit, while rejoicing in Christ Jesus.

Summary and Conclusion

So a true Jew is:

  1. Not necessarily a physical descendant of Abraham (Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8; Rom. 2:28; 4:11-12; Phil. 3:3).
  2. Someone who has the same faith Abraham had (Rom. 4:11-12; Gal. 3).
  3. Which faith includes a work of the Holy Spirit circumcising the heart (Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3).
  4. Which heart circumcision brings one into worshiping relationship with the Holy Trinity (Phil. 3:3) by way of one’s union with Christ (Gal. 3:26, 29).

What Scripture makes abundantly clear in the New Testament is that true Jews are more commonly known to us as Christians.  If you have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ to worship God, you are a true Jew.

So who are “those who say they are Jews and are not?”  While the first option above was Gentiles claiming to be Jews, I find it completely irrational and cannot find anyone who seriously suggests it as an interpretive option.  As for options 2 and 3, there is not much difference since both deal with ethnic Jews: the same people addressed and rebuked in Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8; Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 3; and Phil. 3:3.  Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 speak to and rebuke the same false Jews: all those physical sons of Abraham who have no relationship with God.  Those who say they are Jews and are not are still with us: worshiping on Saturday in the synagogue, denying the Lord who bought them.  Many Evangelicals call them Jews, the apple of God’s eye, God’s chosen people, etc.  Jesus simply says they “are not.”

Praise God for the circumcision not made with hands.