The Book of Revelation is Not about Retreat from the World

New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham, in his The Theology of the Book of Revelation, writes the following timely rebuke and exhortation for Christians:

Revelation does not respond to the dominant ideology by promoting Christian withdrawal into a sectarian enclave that leaves the world to its judgment while consoling itself with millenial dreams. Since this is the standard caricature of the apocalyptic mentality, it must be strongly emphasized that it is the opposite of Revelation’s outlook, which is oriented to the coming of God’ s kingdom in the whole world and calls Christians to active participation in this coming kingdom…Worship, which  is so prominent in the theocentric vision of Revelation, has nothing to do with pietistic retreat from the public world. It is the source of resistance to the idolatries of the public world. It points representatively to the acknowledgment of the true God by all the nations, in the universal worship for which  the whole creation is destined.” [(New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 161.]

The Names of Jesus in Scripture

Theologian Herman Bavinck rattles off this stunning list of names that the Scriptures use to describe the person and work of Jesus:

“He is called the Son of God, the only-begotten, beloved Son of God, the Word, the image of God, the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, the firstborn of all creation, the true God and eternal life, God to be praised above all…, Immanuel. In addition, he is called the Son of Man, the son of Joseph and David, the Nazarene…, the Galilean, the holy and righteous one, the second Adam, the Lord of heaven, the firstborn of all creatures, and the firstborn of the dead. Finally, in terms of his office and work, he is called Prophet, Master, Teacher, Priest, the Great Priest, the High Priest, the Servant of the Lord, the Lamb of God, the King, the King of the Jews, the King of Israel, the King of kings, the Lord, the Lord of glory, the Lord of lords, the head of the church, the bridegroom of the church, the shepherd and guardian of souls, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, the pioneer of salvation, the way, the truth, and the life, the bread of life, the prince of life, the resurrection and the life, the shepherd of the sheep, the door of the sheepfold, the light  of world, the shining morning star, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the judge of the living and the dead, the heir of all things by whom, in whom, and for whom all things have been created. All these names sufficiently prove the incomparable dignity and enirely unique place that belong to Christ. He is the mediator of both creation and re-creation.” [Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, Volume 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 362- 363.]

Read it again out loud.

How can you not marvel at the “incomparable dignity” and uniqueness of Jesus? Starting your morning with a paragraph like that will incite worship in your heart. There is none like Jesus.

A Conversation with Biblical Theologian Dr. Greg Beale

Dr. Greg (G.K.) Beale is a Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and the author of the forthcoming A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (set to be published by Baker Book House in November of 2011). Some of my personal favorites of his works are the book he edited with Dr. D.A. Carson Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, his biblical theology of the temple and the Church’s mission, his biblical theology of idolatry, and his massive and important commentary on the book of Revelation. Recently he spoke a few times on the topic of Scripture at Clarus 2011–a conference held at Desert Springs Church in New Mexico. He graciously agreed to do the following interview with me this morning primarily on the topic of biblical theology. The conversation features themes like connecting the Old Testament to the New Testament, finding Jesus in the Old Testament, preaching the gospel to yourself, and be sure to hang around for the last question regarding the highly publicized prediction of judgment day and the rapture being May 21, 2011 (tomorrow, gasp!). The interview is approximately 43 minutes long, so grab a cup of coffee and take a listen or download it and listen to it on your iPod later.

Click HERE to listen.

Man is Lost, but He is Not Nothing

Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer wrote,

The Bible teaches that, though man is hopelessly lost, he is not nothing. Man is lost because he is separated from God, his true reference point, by true moral guilt. But he never will be nothing. Therein lies the horror of his lostness. For man to be lost, in all his uniqueness and wonder, is tragic. [Escape From Reason, 90]

God’s good news in Christ remedies this tragedy.  As the second Adam, Jesus, God’s Son, came to rescue men and women from their lost state incurred by sin and reconcile them to God. Jesus, the image of the invisible God, restores the brokenness of men and women created in God’s image by dying for their sin and triumphing over death.

God has not abandoned sinners to their lostness. He has not left humanity, the wonder of creation, to wander this world under his judgment alone. In the person and work of Christ Jesus, God seeks and saves lost men and women and finds them.

Jesus is in the business of pursuing lost people and making them new people. You may be and feel lost and hopeless, but you are not nothing. God finds and saves people just like you. Jesus is the hope of humanity because he is God come in the flesh who saves fallen men and women who find their hope in him.

The Idolatry of Self-Righteousness

Jonathan Edwards uncovers the idolatry of self-righteousness:

You who trust to your own righteousness, arrogate to yourselves the honour of the greatest thing that ever God himself did…To take on yourself to work out redemption, is a greater thing than if you had taken it upon you to create the world…

Is it any wonder, then, that a self-righteous spirit is so represented in Scripture, and spoken of, as that which is most fatal to the souls of men? And is it any wonder, that Christ is represented in Scripture as being so provoked with the Pharisees and others, who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and were proud of their goodness, and thought that their own performances were a valuable price of God’s favour and love? [A History of the Work of Redemption, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 1, 581]

As Edwards demonstrates, when you are self-righteous you attempt to do the greatest thing that God has ever done, namely, redeem sinners. What greater arrogance can there be than to think that your own work of self-redemption is better than God’s work of redemption?

The idol within the heart of the self-righteous is self, as you present to God your righteousness in the place of his. It is a foolish attempt to do what God alone can do.

Therefore repent of your self-righteousness daily and trust God’s good news of redemption for the world found only in his perfectly righteous Son, Jesus.

Everyday Life in the Time of Jesus of Nazareth

Curious to what life was like in the time of Jesus of Nazareth?

The following bullet points of the socioeconomic life of that time is summarized from New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg’s book Jesus And the Gospels:

  • The Jewish people made up roughly 8% of the Roman empire. Of the 50 million inhabitants of the Roman empire, 4 million were Jews and 700,000 of them lived in Israel. (55)
  • Jesus ministered mainly outside of large pro-Roman cities. However, the region of Galilee was not as rural as you think–“…the majority of Galilee was made up of as many as two hundred small villages, few as large as Capernaum, which had possibly one thousand inhabitants. We must therefore avoid stereotyping Jesus and his disciples as roaming through largely uninhabited regions with large farms. Galilee, was in some respects more urban than we imagine it.” (57)
  • News was either posted in town squares or announced by a herald. (57).
  • You average family “lived in one-room, two-level dwellings with living quarters separated from and raised above the animal stalls.” (58) Jewish extended families often lived together. (63)
  • Towns stunk because many would pour their sewage into designated sections of the middle of the street. (59)
  • Wine was the drink of choice, but it was “as much as three times as diluted as it is today.” (59)
  • Wealthy Romans had four meals a day of meat and dairy, while many other ordinary Jews had two meals consisting mostly of bread. (59)
  • After dinner, usually amidst only good friends, two-three hours of the evening was spent in conversation. (59)
  • Women dressed simpler than men, yet had more colorful clothing. Most men had beards, and most women had long hair put in a bun. (60)
  • The transit system within the Roman empire was the best in the ancient world, but roads that were not well-traveled could be quite dangerous. “Inns dotted the landscape, providing lodging for travelers, but many were notorious as hangouts for pirates and prostitutes. More reputable people preferred to stay in private homes with relatives, friends, or people who were recommended to them.” (57)
  • 1 to 2 percent of the population had 1/2 the wealth of the empire (political, military and religious leaders), 5-7 were considered rich (bureaucratic individuals), and about 15 percent were middle class (priests, Pharisees, fortunate merchants, etc.); while 70 percent of the population lived within what we would consider poverty and “were struggling farmers and fisherman or subsistence  laborers working for others”. (60)
  • Slavery was common. For the most part, people were either born into slavery, a prisoner of war, or sold themselves into slavery to pay off debts. “Unlike pre-Civil War America, in the Roman world slaves could own property, earn money, and often save enough to buy their own freedom.” (61)
  • Most of Jesus’ disciples and followers were poor, but they “relied on the support that others offered, including considerable help from a strategic group of well-to-do women (Luke 8:1-3).” (61)
  • Due to the Jewish triple tax (10% to priests and Levites, 10% for temple sacrifice, and a bit over 3% for the poor) and normal Roman taxes, Jews could pay more than half their income in taxes. (61)
  • One job that was not held in high repute was teaching, and many teachers were former slaves (62).
  • Men were expected to marry: Jews usually by 18, Romans by 25, and Greeks by 30. Women were usually married in their mid teens. Divorce was common, but not as common among Jews. Children had no social voice. Girls were not formally educated unless among the Greco-Roman rich. Jewish boys were educated in the Bible, and Greek boys in Homer and rhetoric. (63)
  • Privacy was rare in crowded cities, and usually only the wealthy owned books. (58)
  • Funerals and weddings could last a week among an entire village.  Jews enjoyed singing and story-telling, Greeks enjoyed theater, and Hellenists enjoyed sporting events like Olympic games and gladiators. Holy days and the once-a-week Sabbath for Jews were a time of joy and celebration, while for Romans and Greeks (who did not get weekly days off)  “numerous annual holidays, temple rituals, and patriotic celebrations provided relief from daily routines”. (63)

The Difference Between Discouragement and Humility

Humility and discouragement are not the same thing. Sadly, some Christians walk around discouraged presuming that their discouragement is an evidence of their humility. Nothing could be further from the truth. Humility breeds conviction and joy; discouragement breeds condemnation and moroseness. William Bridge, in his book written in 1649, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, writes the following:

“True humiliation is no enemy but a real friend unto spiritual joy, to our rejoicing in God. The more a man is humbled for sin committed, the more he will rejoice in God and rejoice that he can grieve for sin…Therefore humiliation is said by our Saviour Christ to be an effect of the work of the Comforter: ‘I will send the Comforter, and he will convince the world of sin.’ Because comfort always goes along with true humiliation, it is not an enemy but a friend to our spiritual rejoicing; but discouragement is an enemy to spiritual joy…when a man is truly humbled, the more he is humbled for sin, the more he can rejoice in God; but the more a man is discouraged, the less he rejoices in God.” (82)

The conviction of sin that the Holy Spirit brings will lead one into sorrow for sin, but ultimately leads one into the comfort of Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit loves to glorify the work of Jesus not the work of sinners. Humility is not being overly preoccupied with sin, but being convicted of sin and preoccupied with Jesus.

“Let Christians carry this rule always up and down with them, namely, that a man is to be humbled for his sin, although it be never so small, but he is not to be discouraged for his sin, though it be never so great. Both these parts are true. A man is not to be discouraged under his sin, though it be never so great; because discouragement itself is a sin, and that cannot help against sin. Sin cannot help against sin…So, then, if you would be humbled and not discouraged, carry this rule up and down with you, and remember it upon all occasions: It is my duty, and I have reason to be humbled for my sin, although it be never so small; but I have no reason to be discouraged under my sin, though it be never so great…

The more you are humbled and grieved by the sight of God’s free love and grace, the more you will be humbled and the less discouraged.” (83, 86)

Christian, are you discouraged and depressed over your sin? This may be due to the fact that you are prideful not humble. Jesus is in the business of forgiving sinners and desires that you walk in the joy of the forgiveness he purchased for you.

How My Mom Helped Teach Me Substitutionary Atonement

My Mom taught me a lot of things and showed me a ton of grace through the years, but one particular moment that has been seared into my mind is when she showed me substitutionary atonement. Now all analogies and metaphors break down so what follows is not perfectly analogous to the central Christian teaching of Jesus dying in the place of sinners–but it does point to it.

I do not remember what I was being disciplined for. Most likely it was either cheating on an assignment (which I did a lot of) at the local Christian school that I attended or just good old fashioned rebellion; regardless, I deserved a spanking. I knew that I deserved it, yet after discussing what I had done wrong, as I was preparing to receive a few swats, shockingly, my Mom handed the stick to me and offered to take my place and the punishment I deserved upon herself.

I do not remember what was said, but if memory serves me right I do remember breaking at that point and beginning to cry. After all, I was the one who deserved the punishment for my disobedience–she did not. Yet in grace she offered to take my place. It was indeed a powerful picture of substitutionary love on display for any young boy.

Now, I did not go through with it and I don’t think any spanking was given that day. And here is the point where the analogy breaks down. God cannot just let sin sit. Sin must be judged. He must deal with it according to who he is–holy, righteous, and just.  Charles Spurgeon put it this way:

“The God of Scripture is one who is inflexibly severe in justice, and will by no means clear the guilty. ‘The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power; and will not at all acquit the wicked.’ The God of Scripture is a ruler, who, when his subjects rebel, marks their crime, and never forgives them until he has punished it, either upon them, or upon their substitute.” (“Substitution”, No. 141, The Charles H. Spurgeon Library Version 1 (AGES Digital Software), 460)

And God did not, unlike my Mom, just offer to be the substitute for sin, but in the person of Jesus Christ, the God-man, he became the substitute for sinners. The apostle Paul writes,

“For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

In that wonderful moment with my Mom her actions showed me two of the most important truths one can know: 1. Sin is serious and deserves the judgment of God; 2. God is not only just but gracious, and lovingly sends his Son Jesus to substitute himself for any sinner who would trust Jesus.

In this the day after mother’s day, thanks to my Mom for helping me see gospel truth. Her actions pointed me to the beauty of substitutionary atonement that Spurgeon describes where: “the sinner is treated as if he were Christ, and Christ is treated as if he were the sinner” (Ibid., 465).

I love you Mom. Thanks for showing me Jesus.

Real Men Nurture and Care for Their Sons – Dr. Michael Kimmel

Moms should not be the only one’s nurturing and caring for their sons–dads should too. One of the places boys derive their view of masculinity is from their dad’s, and a robust masculinity should be inclusive of nurture, love, and care. Michael Kimmel, a professor of Sociology at State University of New York, Stony Brook and author of Manhood in America, said the following in response to an interviewer’s question regarding how to change the way we raise men:

And if nurturing and loving and caring is something that both mothers and fathers do around the house. If they see their mother and their father doing this…the one thing you can always count on is every little boy thinks that his father is a real man. So they will grow up to think that nurturing and loving and caring is something that grownups do. And when those little boys get to be grownups, they’ll be nurturing and loving and caring, too, because that’s what real men do. So it’s actually a real opportunity through fathering that men can be raising a new generation of boys. And I think it’s very important that we let that, that we encourage this because otherwise the alternative is really quite nasty. I don’t know if you remember this event a few years ago, the spur posse in Southern California. There was a group of teenage boys that were sort of date raping and sexually abusing a lot of junior high school girls. And these guys were keeping score of how many girls they had sex with. These are like 14, 15-year-old boys. And they were keeping score through the numbers of the San Antonio spurs. So that’s why they called themselves spur posse and they would just say that the number of basketball players that they were thinking about that day or the number whose conquest they had reached. And the mothers when they were told about this, were horrified. My boy has been doing that? That’s so horrible, I want to make sure he stops it. You know, the fathers’ response was, “That’s my boy.” Sixty-five girls, that’s great. Now I think what we have to do is we have to tap into the fact that men want to be good fathers. They want to have better relationships with their children than their fathers did with them. So I think this is a tremendous opportunity if fathers can model new kinds of behaviors they will raise a new generation of sons. [“Interview: Michael Kimmel, Ph. D.”, Accessed online: (May 5, 2011)]

Father’s: don’t just wrestle and play and watch sports with your sons–hug them, communicate with them, tangibly care for them, and draw them out.

Interview with Author & Pastor Jared Wilson

Jared Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Vermont. His sermons are available for download here. He is also the author of Your Jesus is Too SafeAbide: Practicing Kingdom Rhythms in a Consumer Culture, and the forthcoming Gospel Wakefulness (expected October 31, 2011). He is currently working on a book tentatively titled Grace Upon Grace: The Many Glories of the One Gospel, and is assisting Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Texas, with a book tentatively titled The Explicit Gospel. In his spare time he blogs at Gospel Driven Church and does research for pastors around the nation through Docent Research Group–a group of which I also am a part. His life’s passion is “for the spread of gospel wakefulness in the evangelical church.” What follows is my interview with Jared which he graciously agreed to do:

What is gospel wakefulness?

Gospel wakefulness means treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring him more sweetly, and it results from beholding Christ powerfully in the gospel in a moment of utmost brokenness. It is, simply put, being astonished by the gospel and then living with that astonishment enduring.

How do you cultivate gospel wakefulness in your personal life?

The only way to be astonished is to, in some way, see the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus. Many of us look at Jesus but don’t see this glory. (My friend Ray Ortlund says, “Stare at the glory of God until you see it.”) We can look without seeing, but we can’t see without looking, so the thing to do is to keep looking and don’t stop. We must fix our eyes on Christ. Some days in a variety of ways, brokenness will find us, and we want to be holding hands with Jesus when it does.

How do you cultivate gospel wakefulness in your marriage and family?

We have to keep our own eyes fixed on Christ and we have to help each other do that too. So as husbands, we want to love our wives like Christ loved the church —  sacrificially, graciously, redemptively, with a heart to honor and sanctify her — so when her sins or failures or brokenness become manifest, she is seeing the gospel of Jesus in our love for her. Wives will submit joyfully to their husbands, so that husbands can see — if they have the eyes to do so — the sacrificial servanthood of Jesus in the face of their undeserving ways. As parents we want to keep pointing our children to the gospel when they disobey or make mistakes. We want to help them see Jesus in our words and actions. And in our discipleship of them, we want them to see him too, so gospel-centered family devotions or reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible are great things to do.

As a pastor, how do you cultivate gospel wakefulness in the church you shepherd?

By refusing to give them anything but the gospel. The gospel of Jesus will be the main point of every sermon, and it will be the theme of my counseling and discipleship. And we will measure everything we do, from music to programs and other ministry efforts, against how well it commends the gospel. We will be purpose-driven that way!

In your book Your Jesus is Too Safe, you talk about false Jesuses. What do you mean by that?

We are incredible at making Jesus in our own image. So we have all these caricatures of Jesus that we propose as “the real Jesus” when really they are just projections of our own personalities, platforms, or priorities. The Jesus of the Scriptures is big and multi-faceted. He’s a real Person! And really God. We have trouble finding the real Jesus conducive to our motives and desires, so we shave off the inconvenient parts and sculpt our own. We want Aslan to be a tame lion.

What are some false Jesuses you find in broader evangelicalism? How does the real Jesus deconstruct the false one?

There are all kinds. There is the ATM Jesus of the prosperity gospelists, who just wants you to be successful financially and in other ways, but you just have to learn the right buttons to push. There is the Hippie-Guru Jesus of the more emergent tribes. There is the Postcard Jesus of the superficially religious. There is the Motivational Speaker Jesus of the moral therapeutic deists.

The real Jesus deconstructs these caricatures when we see him in the composite picture of the entirety of the Scriptures. To get to the caricature you have to exaggerate or inflate some characteristics or sayings while ignoring or downplaying others. The real Jesus is much more complex, and if we could factor in the wholeness of Scripture — like good biblical theologians — the caricatures would start to dissipate. The caricature would start to look more like a portrait. And the portrait should start to look like a living, breathing person. (Of course, I assume even the best theologians will still only see him dimly until he comes again and we see him face to face.)

Any false Jesuses that the “new Calvinism” may be prone to? How does the real Jesus deconstruct the false one?

Goodness, yes. There are two big ones. The first might be called the Doctrinaire Jesus. He treats Calvinism like the gospel and inflates Jesus’ hard words to the downplay of his soft ones. I think the real Jesus deconstructs this false Jesus when we see how he responded to the chief doctrinaires of his day, the Pharisees. And in the bigness of Jesus, there is room for those covered in his righteousness, not just those carrying “The Institutes.”

The other false Jesus somewhat popular among “new Calvinism” is the one fairly common in my tribe. I call him Ultimate Fighter Jesus. We have got it in our heads that Jesus looked like The Rock or a Jewish Kimbo Slice. I understand the drive to do this, to rescue the strong Jesus from the clutches of the effeminate, chai latte-drinking Jesus. But I think we are in danger of the pendulum swing. We have zero evidence that Jesus was a quote-unquote “tough guy” in the sense we tend to favor culturally. What if he looked like Woody Allen? I think we ought to be careful we aren’t placing idolatrous demands on Jesus. “You must look like somebody who could beat me up or I won’t worship you.”