Climax of Prophecy – Review and Commentary

Richard Bauckham says he has been fascinated by the Book of Revelation and has studied it for twenty years. In Climax of Prophecy, he offers a way to understand Revelation as rooted in early Jewish Christianity yet applicable for all times, places, and peoples.

Bauckham examines the book’s literary composition, use of Old Testament scriptures, place within the Jewish and Christian apocalypse traditions, and its contextuality then, now, and in the future. To this last point, he writes this about Revelation’s true character,

…As a prophetic critique of the political idolatry and economic oppression intrinsic to Roman power in the late first century, and as a call to its readers to bear witness to the truth and righteousness of God in the specific circumstances — religious, political, social, and economic — in which they lived in the cities of the Roman province of Asia. p. xiii

However, Bauckham writes that Revelation cannot be reduced to only a sociological commentary, but instead,

Justice must be done to its character as a sophisticated literary work of individual genius, embodying a highly reflective vision of the impact of the divine purpose on the contemporary world. Its social strategy — a call to radical dissociation from structural evil — is based on a perception of the Roman Empire as an oppressive system, characterized by political idolatry and economic exploitation. p. xiv

Climax of Prophecy is composed of eleven essays, many of which have been published previously. Bauckham has tied the essays together by inline cross-references and updated them. The essay titles are,

  1. Structure and Composition
  2. The Use of Apocalyptic Traditions
  3. Synoptic Parousia Parables and the Apocalypse
  4. The Worship of Jesus
  5. The Role of the Spirit
  6. The Lion, the Lamb, and the Dragon
  7. The Eschatological Earthquake
  8. The Apocalypse as a Christian War Scroll
  9. The Conversion of the Nations
  10. The Economic Critique of Rome in Revelation
  11. Nero and the Beast

This is a technical book, not a reader’s commentary. Bauckham studies and analyzes Early Greek. He references and critiques many authors. However, there are nuggets of insight to be had for lay people like me.

The following materials are based on my note taking while reading Bauckham’s commentary. I believe his interpretation is closest to a right understanding of Revelation though I reserve the possibility of limited historical correlation, yet not in a way that violates the scripture,

But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. Mark 13:32-33 (English Standard Version)

But, instead, in a way that affirms the scripture,

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Matthew 24:32-33 (ESV)

And we must not forget, the end, our end, is always near (Rom. 13:11.)

Pictures of the Apocalypse (1933,) Great Babylon (Rev. 17:3,) Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939)

Bauckham offers the following simplified section division of Revelation in chapter one, “Structure and Composition,” page 25:

VersesDivision Title
1:9–3:22Inaugural vision of Christ and the churches including seven messages to the churches
4:1–5:14Inaugural vision of heaven leading to three series of sevens and two intercalations:
 6:1–8:1; 8:3–5Seven seals, numbered 4 + 1 + (1 + intercalation) + 1
 8:2; 8:6 – 11:19Seven trumpets, numbered 4 + 1 + (1 + intercalation) + 1
12:1–14:20; 15:2–4The story of God’s people in conflict with evil
15:1; 15:5 – 16:21Seven bowls, numbered (4 + 3) without intercalation
17:1–19:10Babylon the harlot
19:11–21:8Transition from Babylon to the New Jerusalem
21:9–22:5The New Jerusalem the bride

In chapter seven, “The Eschatological Earthquake,” Bauckham writes that “John’s method of expanding earlier images in later visions” likely is an overarching principle controlling the structure of the book. An interesting conjecture he makes under this assumption is that Revelation, verses 19:11 – 21:8, are a recapitulation of prior visions which serve as a transition from John’s description of Babylon the Harlot in chapters 17-18 to New Jerusalem the Bride in chapter 21. Revelation 20:1-10 is likely not an added interval before the Last Judgment but rather a different way of seeing the Last Days between the Crucifixion and Parousia.

Returning to chapter one, “Structure and Composition,” Bauckham contends that John, like many of his Jewish contemporaries, used the technique of verbal coincidences between scriptural texts (gezera šāwâ) to not only study the Old Testament, like they did, but to construct his Revelation. He observes,

Texts containing the same words or phrases could be used to interpret each other. In effect, Scripture was treated as containing the same kind of network of internal cross-reference by repetition of phrases (often, of course, in somewhat varying form) as John has created in his own work. Since John certainly understood himself to be writing the same kind of inspired, prophetic work as the prophetic scriptures he studied, the parallel is surely not accidental. John wrote a work to which he expected the technique of gezera šāwâ to be applied, a work which would yield much of its meaning only to the application of this exegetical technique. p. 30

Bauckham also identifies numerical symbolism and coincidences as important to the structure of the book. For example, he writes,

Corresponding to the 7 times 4 occurrences of the Lamb, are the seven occurrences of the fourfold phrase by which Revelation designates the nations of the world (‘peoples and tribes and languages and nations’: the phrase varies each time it occurs but is always fourfold: 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15. It designates all the nations of the world, who, despite their present allegiance to Babylon and the beast, [are] the object of the Lamb’s conquest to bring into God’s kingdom. p. 37

Additionally, Bauckham cites common myths, zodiacal signs, and recent history with which John’s readers would be familiar as raw materials for John to freely use to inform and challenge his readers to patient endurance, gospel witness, and moral obedience.

In chapter two, Bauckham discusses the uses of apocalyptic traditions in Revelation. He points out that the contrast between hearing the number of God’s servants who were sealed and seeing the great multitude no one could number before the throne and the Lamb conveys a new message for God’s people. He writes,

Thus, John has made use of the tradition about the completion of the number of the martyrs and integrated it into the sequence of seven seal-openings in order to raise, for the first time, a major theme of his prophecy: that the remaining interval before the coming of God’s kingdom is the period in which God’s faithful people must bear witness to the point of suffering and death. p. 57

The third chapter, titled, “Synoptic Parousia Parables and the Apocalypse,” is mostly technical, citing correspondence between verses in the synoptic gospels and Revelation. I refer you to an earlier blog post for an outlined correlation.

In chapter four, titled “The Worship of Jesus,” Bauckham says that “the theme of his whole prophecy is the distinction between true worship and idolatry.” He writes,

The ‘eternal Gospel’ is summarized in the words ‘Fear God and give him glory… and worship him’ (14:7), and the conflict between God and Satan takes historical form in the conflict of human allegiances manifest in worship. The Apocalypse divides mankind into the worshippers of the dragon and the beast (13:4, 8,12,15; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4; cf. the emphasis on idolatry in 2:14, 20; 9:20) and those who will worship God in the heavenly Jerusalem (7:15; 14:3; 15:3-4; 22:3; cf. 11:1). p. 135

He says the contrast between beast worship and God’s worship is epitomized by the visions of Babylon the harlot in 17:1-19:10 (cf. also 2:20-22,) and New Jerusalem the bride in 21:9-22:9. Bauckham writes,

The message of these two visions is emphasized by their parallel conclusions (19:10; 22:8-9), which enable John to end both with the injunction ‘Worship God!’ The angel’s refusal of worship reinforces the point: Do not worship the beast, do not even worship God’s servants the angels, worship God! p. 135

Chapter five describes the role of the Spirit of God in Revelation. According to Bauckham, the Holy Spirit’s purpose, through John’s Revelation, is not to foretell future events but to enable the Christians in the seven churches (representative of whole Church in the last days) to be Christ’s witnesses to the world, seeing their present circumstances from the perspective of the future. Bauckham writes,

…This could only be done by directing their sight and their lives toward the coming of the Lord. The point was not so much to enable them to foresee the future as to enable them to see their present from the perspective of the future. p. 172

The prayer for the Parousia is at the heart of Christian living according to the Apocalypse. Christian life must be lived under the Spirit’s direction towards the eschatological future out of which the Lord is coming. p. 172

He then challenges us by stating,

The story of the witnesses [(Revelation 11:3-13)] is to be read neither as simple prediction (history written in advance) nor as allegory (history or future history written in code symbols). Rather it is a story through which the churches are to perceive imaginatively, through the perspective granted them by the Spirit, their vocation, and their destiny. Like 22:17, the story functions as a summons towards the eschatological future. It is not so much a story which predicts the future as a story which creates the future. P. 172

In a theme Bauckham returns to several times in Climax of Prophecy, he writes,

Bearing the witness of Jesus is a matter of sharing ‘in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance’ (1:9): it leads to suffering, rejection, and death. p. 172

The eschatological perspective alone creates the paradox in which the invitation to new life is also, so it must have seemed in the churches of Asia in the nineties, a summons to death. p. 173

He says that this view should not lead to nihilism and a meaningless life. Rather, our present takes meaning from Christ’s finished work (1:5-6; 5:9,) His everlasting life (1:18,) and His imminent return (22:12.) His sacrifice for us, “provides the model for positively living towards the Parousia.” Bauckham writes,

The followers of the Lamb must follow His way through death to life (cf. 14:4), and in so doing they may know that it is the way through death to life primarily because it was so for Him. p. 173

He then says something startling about the witnesses of Revelation 11.

Any and every city, in whose streets the corpses of the witnesses lie, is thereby identified, its character seen in the Spirit, as Sodom and Egypt. The value of this identification as part of the Spirit’s message to the churches is that it enables them to characterize situations of conflict in their true perspective, to distinguish appearances from underlying reality, to see through the apparent success of the hostile world and the apparent failure of faithful witness. p. 173

In the chapter titled, “The Lion, the Lamb, and the Dragon,” Bauckham says that John’s visions were meant to, “promote spiritual insight. They were to manifest that most important characteristic of symbols, namely their power to direct our thinking and our orientation towards life.” p. 176

As an example, he says John hears that,

Jesus Christ is the Lion of Judah and the Root of David [(5:5,)] but John ‘sees’ him as the Lamb [(5:6)]. Precisely by juxtaposing these contrasting images, John forges a symbol of conquest by sacrificial death, which is essentially a new symbol. p. 183

The fact that Christ is the Lamb of God was well known (John 1:29,36; Acts 8:32; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19). So was His victory through death (Col 2:15). The novelty, Bauckham writes, of,

John’s symbol lies in its representation of the sacrificial death of Christ as the fulfilment of Jewish hopes of the messianic conqueror. p. 184

He goes on to say that this perspective becomes the way to understand the Old Testament war visions and symbols in the new light of Revelation.

Bauckham calls attention to “The Eschatological Earthquake” in chapter seven. He defines it as both a shaking of the heavens and the earth, naming the former a “cosmic quake.” Also, it is a symbol of divine intervention, judgment, God’s presence, and vindication of the people of God. He writes,

Both 6:12-17 and 20:11 are explicitly passages in which the earthquake accompanies the theophany of God the Judge. Moreover, in these two cases John employs the tradition of the cosmic quake, in which the heavens as well as the earth flee from God’s presence. p. 209

Delving deeper into these verses, he writes,

The first passage echoes several Old Testament descriptions of the Day of the Lord. The second seems to include the notion of the destruction of the old cosmos to be replaced by the new (cf. 21:1). The first passage refers, and is the first reference in Revelation, to the same final earthquake to which 8:5; 11:13,19; 16:18 also refer. In the case of 20:11, however, the earthquake is located on the far side of the millennium [(20:1-10)]. p. 209

Bauckham notes that, like “the bride adorned for the eschatological marriage” and “the gathering of the nations to battle,” John uses the cosmic quake image twice, on either side of the millennium (20:1-10.) He then conjectures,

…It may be that the whole sequence 19:11-20:15 should be seen as another instance of John’s method of expanding earlier images in later visions. Just as the seven last plagues are summed up in 11:19, so perhaps 19:11-20:15 does not take us on beyond the earlier images of the End but expands them. The clearest indication of this would be the echo in 20:11 of earlier earthquake descriptions in 6:14 and 16:20. The vision of the sixth seal may then be intended already to point forward as far as the Last Judgment. p. 209

Provocatively, Bauckham examines “The Apocalypse as a Christian War Scroll” in chapter eight. He writes, “John reinterprets the holy war traditions and makes the warfare metaphorical rather than literal.” p. 213 As he wrote in, “The Lion, the Lamb, and the Dragon,” here he writes,

Jesus the Messiah has already defeated evil by sacrificial death. He…won a victory, but by sacrifice, not military conflict, and he has delivered God’s people, but they are from all nations, not only Jews. The continuing and ultimate victory of God over evil which the rest of John’s prophecy describes is the outworking of His decisive victory won on the cross. p. 215

Bauckham also interprets 7:14, against most other commentators, as,

…Those whom the Lamb’s sacrificial death has ransomed from all nations (5:9) share in His victory through martyrdom. Against most of the commentators, this must be the meaning of 7:14. p. 228

The messianic army is an army of martyrs who triumph through their martyrdom because they are followers of the Lamb who participate in His victory by following His path to death. p. 230

The consequence, he says, is not setting aside Israel’s hopes for eschatological triumph, but, instead,

The Lamb really does conquer, though not by force of arms, and His followers really do share His victory, though not by violence. The combination of the Lamb and the 144,000 conveys the sense that there is a holy war to be fought, but to be fought and won by sacrificial death. p. 230

Not only is this response operative for the first century but for us and our children. Bauckham writes, “The message is not, ‘Do not resist!,’ so much as, ‘Resist—but by witness and suffering, not by violence.’” p. 236.

It becomes clear that the change of perspective from earth to heaven and present circumstances to the Parousia that Bauckham explains in chapter five, “The Spirit of God in Revelation,” is the way to understand victory in this holy war. He writes,

From the earthly perspective it is obvious that the beast has defeated the martyrs (11:7; 13:7). To ‘those who dwell on earth’ — people who see things from an earthly perspective — the power of the beast seems supreme and irresistible, and this is why they worship him. ‘Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?’ (13:4). p. 236

…From a heavenly perspective, things look quite different. From this perspective the martyrs are the real victors. To be faithful in bearing the witness of Jesus even to the point of death is not to become a helpless victim of the beast, but to take the field against him and win. p. 236

He sums it up as,

The martyrs conquer not by their suffering and death as such, but by their faithful witness to the point of death (cf. 12:11). Their witness to the truth prevails over the lies and deceit of the devil and the beast. For those who reject this witness, it becomes legal testimony against them, securing their condemnation. This negative function of witness is present in Revelation. But it entails also a positive possibility: that people may be won from illusion to truth. p. 237

In chapter nine, “The Conversion of the Nations,” Bauckham relates his insight into the opened scroll,

…The distinctive new message of the scroll: the divine intention that ‘the shattering of the power of the holy people’ (Dan. 12:7) will prove salvific for the nations. p. 301

He calls the story of the two witnesses (11:3-13,) which immediately follows John’s eating the scroll, a kind of parable. He says,

[The] two individual prophets represent the prophetic witness to which the whole church is called in the final period of world history, the 1260 days (11:3) p. 301

Bauckham explains his thesis this way,

The church’s role of witness is appropriately portrayed by a story about two prophets. Just as it would be a mistake to take the story literally, so it would also be a mistake to take it in too strictly allegorical a way, as though, for example, the sequence of events in the career of the two witnesses were intended to correspond to a sequence of events in the history of the church. The story is more like a parable, which dramatizes the nature and result of the church’s prophetic witness to the nations. Because it is a parable, it can be taken less as a straightforward prediction than as a call to the churches to play the role which God intends for them. p. 301

He says that the witnesses call to repentance proves more effective than judgments alone (p. 301.) However, he says, “it does so only as a result of the martyrdom and vindication of the witnesses.” p. 301

This, Bauckham says, is the way to understand Daniel’s prophecies. He writes,

Daniel’s prophecies of ‘the shattering of the power of the holy people’ (12:7), the giving over of the holy place to be trampled (8:13; cf. Rev 11:2), and the defeat of the saints by the beast (Dan 7:21; cf. Rev 11:7) are understood as indicating the way in which other Old Testament prophecies of the conversion of all the nations to the worship of the true God are to be fulfilled. p. 303

However, he writes, “This is intelligible only as the way in which the followers of the Lamb participate in [Christ’s] victory, won by His faithful witness, death, and vindication, and so [gives] that victory universal effect.” p. 303 Bauckham writes, “the role which the church’s suffering witness is to play in the conversion of the nations is the content of the scroll which the Lamb’s victory qualified him to open.” p. 303

If we accept Bauckham’s view, then,

The eternal gospel is therefore the call which Psalm 96 itself contains, the call to all nations to worship the one true God who is coming to judge the world and to establish His universal rule. p. 305

He sums up his view by writing,

The immediate effect of the Lamb’s own victory was that His bloody sacrifice redeemed a people for God. But the intended ultimate effect is that this people’s participation in His sacrifice, through martyrdom, wins all the peoples for God. This is how God’s universal kingdom comes and the concluding verse of the song of Moses is fulfilled: ‘The Lord will reign forever and ever’ (Exod. 15:18). p. 307

The rest of Revelation expands on this theme of the church’s witness, setting it in a broader context and elaborating on its results. p. 303

Before closing out the chapter, Bauckham addresses the problem of universal salvation implied by God’s universal kingdom. He writes,

Revelation seems to offer only two possibilities for the nations: repentance, fear of God, genuine worship of God (11:13; 14:6; 15:4) or persistence in worshipping the beast, refusal to repent, refusal to worship, cursing of God, final opposition to God’s rule, leading to final judgment (14:9-11; 16:9, 11, 21; 17:14; 19:17-21). p. 310

Therefore, the same judgments, modelled on the plagues of Egypt and culminating in an earthquake, characterize the witness and vindication of the two witnesses (11:6, 13) and the seven last plagues (16:2-21). In the first case, they lead to the worship of God, in the second the response is cursing of God. p. 310

He then spotlights the apparently contradictory dichotomy posed by the two witnesses and seven last plagues,

We do not take the images seriously if we allow either to qualify the other. The picture of universal judgment does not mean that the picture of the universal worship of God is not to be taken fully seriously, nor does the picture of the universal worship of God mean that the picture of universal judgment is not to be taken fully seriously. Because Revelation deals in images, it does not make the kind of statements which have to be logically compatible in order to be valid. p. 310

It is no part of the purpose of John’s prophecy to preempt this choice by predicting the degree of success the witness of the martyrs will have. One thing is certain: God’s kingdom will come. p. 310

Driving home the consequences for rejecting the church’s faithful witness and God’s call to repentance, he writes,

[Verses] 15:5-19:21 show how the refusal to heed the church’s witness hardens the world’s opposition to God into a final climactic attempt to oppose the coming of God’s kingdom. They also show how witness to the truth becomes evidence against those who reject it, the evidence which judges them. This is why the martyrs form the Lamb’s army (17:14; 19:14) when he wages war with sword of His mouth (19:15), i.e., the evidence of His own faithful witness, continued by His followers, becomes His word of judgment on those who finally reject it. p. 310

Finally, summing up the chapter, Bauckham writes,

…The sacrificial death of the Lamb and the prophetic witness of His followers are God’s strategy for winning all the nations of the world from the dominion of the beast to His own kingdom. p. 337

In chapter ten, “The Economic Critique of Rome in Revelation,” Bauckham explains Rev. 17:3 as the Roman civilization riding on the back of Roman military power. He writes,

From John’s Jewish Christian perspective, the political religion of Rome was the worst kind of false religion since it absolutized Rome’s claim on her subjects and cloaked her exploitation of them in the garb of religious loyalty. Thus, for John, Rome’s economic exploitation and the corrupting influence of her state religion go hand in hand. p. 348

Bauckham frames Rome’s indictment as all-encompassing and highlights John’s portrayal of evil Roman society. He writes,

The accusation recurs, this time with a judicial image, in 18:24: ‘in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.’ Here the prophets and saints are the Christian martyrs, and many commentators understand ‘all who have been slain on earth’ also as Christian martyrs, but this is not the natural sense, and it robs the verse of its climax. Rome is indicted not only for the martyrdom of Christians, but also for the slaughter of all the innocent victims of its murderous policies. The verse expresses a sense of solidarity between the Christian martyrs and all whose lives were the price of Rome’s acquisition and maintenance of power. p. 349

Like every society which absolutizes its own power and prosperity, the Roman empire could not exist without victims. Thus, John sees a connection between Rome’s economic affluence, Rome’s idolatrous self-deification, and Rome’s military and political brutality. The power of his critique of Rome — perhaps the most thoroughgoing critique from the period of the early empire—lies in the connection it portrays between these various facets of Rome’s evil. p. 349

This critique is obviously applicable to every world empire including ours and the next one on the horizon.

Then, Bauckham makes a significant observation on Rome’s fall. He writes,

Revelation most often portrays the fall of Rome as vengeance for the death of the Christian martyrs (16:6; 18:24; 19:2; cf. 18:6). But this is certainly not the whole story: God’s judgment of Rome is also attributed to her slaughter of the innocent in general (18:24; cf. 18:6), her idolatrous arrogance (18:8), and her self-indulgent luxury at the expense of her empire (18:7). p. 350

Subsequently, he makes a wry and convicting observation concerning John’s readers. Bauckham writes,

…It is not unlikely that John’s readers would include merchants and others whose business or livelihood was closely involved with the Roman political and economic system. For such readers John has set a kind of hermeneutical trap.

Any reader who finds himself sharing the perspective of Rome’s mourners—viewing the prospect of the fall of Rome with dismay — should thereby discover, with a shock, where he stands, and the peril in which he stands.

And for such readers, it is of the utmost significance that, prior to the picture of the mourners, comes the command: ‘Come out of her my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues’ (18:4). p. 376

Reinvoking the themes of, “a call to radical dissociation from structural evil” (introduction) and “sharing ‘in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance’ (1:9) [leading] to suffering, rejection, and death” (chapter 5,) Bauckham notes,

John’s critique of Rome therefore did more than voice the protest of groups exploited, oppressed, and persecuted by Rome. It also required those who could share in her profits to side with her victims and become victims themselves.

But those who, from the perspective of the earth and the sea were Rome’s victims, John saw from the perspective of heaven to be the real victors. Hence his account of the fall of Babylon climaxes not in the laments of the kings, the merchants, and the mariners, but in the joyful praises of the servants of God in heaven (19: 1-8). p. 378

In the final chapter, “Nero and the Beast,” Bauckham says that Revelation says nothing explicitly about Nero, but likely alludes to his persecution (Rev 17:6; 18:24; 19:2; cf. 6:9-10.) He conjectures,

We can well imagine that John would have seen the historical Nero as the figure in whom the imperial power had so far shown most clearly its antichristian tendency: as self-deifying absolutism which sets itself against God and murders His witnesses (cf. 11:7; 13:5-7). The impending confrontation between the beast and the followers of the Lamb would appear to John as an apocalyptic extension and intensification of the Neronian persecution. p. 421

Again, against prevailing opinion, Bauckham separates the accounts in chapters 13 and 17 from each other. He writes,

John has constructed a history for the beast which parallels that of Christ. The beast, like Christ, has his death, his resurrection, and his parousia. This has not hitherto been recognized, because exegetes who recognize the influence of the Nero legend on chapters 13 and 17 have supposed that the healing of the beast’s mortal wound in chapter 13 must be the same event as the beast’s coming up from the abyss in chapter 17. They have supposed this because they have assumed that the Nero legend controls John’s thinking…On any showing it is clear that John has reworked the Nero legend freely for his own purposes. p. 444

…In chapter 13 the beast’s recovery from his mortal wound consolidates the imperial power of Rome, whereas in chapter 17 the beast’s return from the abyss is a threat to the empire which leads to the destruction of its capital. p. 444

…John’s account of the beast is not just an imaginative creation. It is a theological reading of the history and future of the Roman Empire of his day. He was not simply projecting the theme of Christological parody onto the empire. He saw certain definite features of the empire as constituting a divine and messianic claim that rivalled Christ’s. p. 446

…The most natural way to read 13:3, 12, 14 is to understand that the mortal wound sustained by Nero (the head) was also a mortal wound to the imperial power as such (the beast) and that it was the imperial power, not Nero himself, which recovered. p. 446

Summing up both his final chapter and his commentary, Bauckham writes,

…As we have seen, the Christological parody corresponds to real features of the history of the empire, to the character of the imperial cult, and to contemporary expectations of the future of the empire. It is a profound prophetic interpretation of the contemporary religio-political image of the empire, both in Rome’s own propaganda and in its subjects’ profoundest responses to Roman rule.

This religio-political ideology, which John sees as a parody of the Christian claims about Christ, was no mere cover for the hard political realities: it entered deeply into the contemporary dynamics of power as they affected the lives of John’s contemporaries. He sees it as a deification of power. The empire’s success is founded on military might and people’s adulation of military might.

By these standards Christ and the martyrs are the unsuccessful victims of the empire. Instead of worshipping the risen Christ who has won His victory by suffering witness to the truth, the world worships the beast whose ‘resurrection’ is the proof that this military might is invincible.

The parallel between the ’death’ and ‘resurrection’ of the beast and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ poses the issue of what is truly divine. Is it the beast’s apparent success which is worthy of religious trust and worship? Or is the apparent failure of Christ and the martyrs the true witness to the God who can be ultimately trusted and may alone be worshipped? p. 452

Dear reader, I trust you know who is victorious and is worthy of worship. I urge you to see our times as similar to those of first century Rome and act accordingly.

In light of Bauckham’s message, I continue to be amazed at the bravery of Pastor Wang Yi, who prepared his flock for persecution, challenged the society he lived in, and now suffers for the Gospel in prison (release date set for 2028.) He demonstrates foresight, planning, and integrity. He has posted ninety-five theses to call the China house churches and the global churches “to have courage, perseverance, humility, and wisdom in the days ahead.” Please read the subtitles of this video. Very challenging and life changing.

Die! – Pastor Wang Yi, 6:42, YouTube, Preached on November 26, 2017, Wang Yi Sermon Clips 王怡牧师讲道短

Why Pray?

In my discussions with friends and foes, I am asked, “Why do you bother following such depressing news?” My answer is twofold. First, the Lord said:

“…You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” Matthew 16:2–3 English Standard Version

Therefore, I read and study the signs of the times in which we live. And second, I want to understand these times in the same spirit as the Tribe of Issachar,

“…Men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…1 Chronicles 12:32 ESV

With them, I ask, what are we to do? Incidentally, Issachar’s territory incorporated the valley of Megiddo.

As a result of my studies, I’ve concluded, we must pray. The main reason to pray in our circumstances comes from Paul’s remark in his Letter to the Ephesians:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:11–13, ESV

Clearly, no action in our flesh can prevail in this warfare.

Relative to this struggle, Albert Barnes comments on Daniel’s prayers that are recorded in the Book of Daniel, chapter 10. In this chapter, Daniel discovers that the answers to his prayers are the result of angelic warfare. Barnes has some surprising insights into Daniel’s prayer and the answer he receives. He says in regard to verse 13:

…The great truth is, that the answer to prayer is often delayed, not by any indisposition on the part of God to answer it, and not by any purpose not to answer it, and not by the mere intention of trying our faith, but “by the necessary arrangements to bring it about.”

[Prayer] is of such a nature that it cannot be answered at once. It requires time to make important changes; to influence the minds of men; to remove obstacles; to raise up friends; to put in operation agencies that shall secure the thing desired. There is some obstacle to be overcome. There is some plan of evil to be checked and stayed. There is some agency to be used which is not now in existence, and which is to be created.

The opposition of the “prince of Persia” could not be overcome at once, and it was necessary to bring in the agency of a higher power – that of Michael – to effect the change. This could not be done in a moment, a day, or a week, and hence, the long delay of three “full weeks” before Daniel had an assurance that his prayers would be answered.

So, it often happens now. We pray for the conversion of a child; yet there may be obstacles to his conversion, unseen by us, which are to be patiently removed, and perhaps by a foreign influence, before it can be done. Satan may have already secured a control over his heart, which, is to be broken gradually, before the prayer shall be answered.

We pray for the removal of the evils of intemperance, of slavery, of superstition, of idolatry; yet these may be so interlocked with the customs of a country, with the interests of men, and with the laws, that they cannot be at once eradicated except by miracle, and the answer to the prayer seems to be long delayed.

We pray for the universal spread of the gospel of Christ; yet how many obstacles are to be overcome, and how many arrangements made, before this prayer can be fully answered; and how many tears are to be shed, and perils encountered, and lives sacrificed, before the prayer of the church shall be fully answered, and the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.

The duty, then, which is taught, is that of patience, of perseverance, of faith in God, of a firm belief that he is true to all his promises, and that he is a hearer of prayer – though the blessing seems long delayed.

Daniel prayed earnestly for the restoration of his people to their land and received an answer that far surpassed his request. His desire was pure. However, we must check our motives if we are to expect answers. James cautions:

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? James 4:2b–4a, ESV

However, if our motives are in line with His commandments, then, whatever the request might be, John reminds us:

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. 1 John 5:14–15, ESV

Then, like Daniel, we persevere and wait patiently, with trust in God, for the answer to come.

I must leave you with a sermon by Pastor Wang Yi. On December 30th, 2019, Pastor Wang Yi was tried in a secret trial and sentenced to 9 years in prison for the crimes of “inciting to subvert state power” and “illegal business operations.” His sermon is titled, “Persecution is a Test.” Unless you understand Mandarin, please read the subtitles; I think it’s worth the effort.

Persecution is a Test 逼迫是一种测试 – Pastor Wang Yi 王怡牧师, YouTube, Posted January 29, 2019, Preached October 10, 2018, Wang Yi Sermon Clips 王怡牧师讲道短片

Who Can Stand?

What should be our response to God’s impending Judgment?

O God, you know my folly;

    the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

Psalm 69:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

Even more, we should say,

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,

   O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,

   that you may be feared.

Psalm 130:3-4 English Standard Version (ESV) 

John Calvin says to these verses,

If thou, O God! should mark iniquities …Should God determine to deal with us according to the strict demands of his law, and to summon us before his tribunal, not one of the whole human race would be able to stand… “All the children of Adam,” he [essentially] says, “from the first to the last, are lost and condemned, should God require them to render up an account of their life.” …Further, …since no man can stand by his own works, all such as are accounted righteous before God, are righteous in consequence of the pardon and remission of their sins. In no other manner can any man be righteous in the sight of God.

But with thee there is forgiveness. …How few are persuaded of the truth …that the [unmerited favor which they] need shall [be given to] them? …The consequence of this [lack] of hope [within] men …is an indifference about coming into the Divine presence to [ask] for pardon.

When a man is awakened with a lively sense of the judgment of God, he cannot fail to be humbled with shame and fear. Such self-dissatisfaction would not however suffice, unless at the same time there were added faith, whose office it is to raise up the hearts which were cast down with fear, and to encourage them to pray for forgiveness…

“As soon as I think upon You,” [the psalmist] says in [effect], “Your clemency also presents itself to my mind, so that I have no doubt that You will be merciful to me, it being impossible for You to divest Yourself of Your own nature: the very fact that You are God is to me a sure guarantee that You will be merciful ” [This unmerited favor] of God… enables the sinner to conclude with certainty, that as soon as he seeks God he shall find him ready to be reconciled towards him. …The first step to the right serving of God unquestionably is, to submit ourselves to Him willingly and with a free heart.

What does God say of the forgiven Man?

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,

    whose sin is covered.

Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,

    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Psalm 32:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV) 

If you haven’t been forgiven, yet, consider God’s free offer,

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9 English Standard Version (ESV)

If you’ve made this solemn profession of faith and now walk with your Savior and Lord in obedience, then, you too will be counted among the blessed.

Will Christians Who Have Been Forgiven Answer for Their Sins in Judgment? Nov 30, 2018, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries

The Reckoning

There will be a reckoning, a judgment, or as Spurgeon said, a Great Assize:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

 and every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Romans 14:10-12 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin says to these verses,

But thou, why dost thou, etc. …It is an unreasonable boldness in any one to assume the power to judge his brother, since by taking such a liberty he robs Christ the Lord of the power which He alone has received from the Father.

As I live, etc. …All flesh ought to be humbled while expecting that judgment; and this is expressed by the bending of the knee. …This prophecy …is far from being completed and will not be so until the day of the last resurrection shall shine forth, when Christ’s enemies shall be laid prostrate, that they may become his footstool. But this cannot be except the Lord shall …ascend his tribunal to judge the living and the dead; for all judgment in heaven and on earth has been given to Him by the Father.

Every tongue shall swear to me. As an oath [this] is a kind of divine worship. …All men should not only acknowledge his majesty, but also make a confession of obedience, both by the mouth and by the external gesture of the body, which he has designated by the bowing of the knee.

Every one of us, etc. This conclusion invites us to humility and lowliness of mind: and hence he immediately draws this inference, — that we are not to judge one another; for it is not lawful for us to usurp the office of judging, who must ourselves submit to be judged and to give an account.

What, then, should be our response to this impending Judgment?

O God, you know my folly;

    the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

Psalm 69:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

God’s Glory in Judgment, Nov. 22, 2011, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Transcript

We Stand United – A Review

Thomas Brooks, seventeenth century Puritan preacher, wrote much during his time on earth. One of these is his book: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. According to Ligonier, Brooks said, among other reasons, he wrote it because:

Satan has a greater influence upon men, and higher advantages over them than they think he has, and the knowledge of his high advantage is the highway to disappoint him, and to render the soul strong in resisting, and happy in conquering.

We Stand United is a brief excerpt from his larger work.

In We Stand United, Brooks discusses twelve remedies for the ways in which the adversary divides Christ’s body, that is, you and me. He bases this portion on the scripture:

If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:15 English Standard Version (ESV)

And motivates his readers with the statement that one device by which Satan destroys the Saints is:

By working them first to be [strangers,] and then to divide, and then to be bitter and jealous, and then ‘to bite and devour one another.’

The remedies listed are:

  1. Dwell more upon one another’s graces than upon one another’s weaknesses and infirmities.
  2. Consider that love and union make most for your own safety and security.
  3. Dwell upon those commands of God that do require you to love one another.
  4. Dwell more upon these choice and sweet things wherein you agree, than upon those things wherein you differ.
  5. Consider that God delights to be styled Deus pacis, the God of peace; and Christ to be styled Princeps pacis, the Prince of peace, and King of Salem, that is King of peace; and the Spirit is the Spirit of peace. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, and peace’ (Gal. 5:22).
  6. Make more care and conscience of keeping up our peace with God.
  7. Dwell much upon that near relation and union that is between you.
  8. Dwell upon the miseries of discord.
  9. Consider that it is no disparagement to you to be first in seeking peace and reconcilement, but rather an honor to you, that you have begun to seek peace.
  10. Join together and walk together in the ways of grace and holiness so far as the saints do agree, making the Word their only touchstone and judge of their actions.
  11. Be much in self-judging: ‘Judge yourselves, and you shall not be judged of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 11:31).
  12. And this, above all, labor to be clothed with humility.

Please take the opportunity to read Brook’s pamphlet. His exposition is very encouraging.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Perhaps the most important question in the world is: “Who do you say Jesus is?” The answer to this determines whether you will find yourself at His right hand or the left, saved or condemned, and filled with joy or weeping for eternity.

Three of the gospels ( Matthew 16:15, Mark 8:29, and Luke 9:20) record the Lord Jesus asking this very question:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 16:15-17 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin says about this question:

But who do you say that I am? Here Christ distinguishes his disciples from the rest of the crowd, to make it more fully evident that, whatever differences may exist among others, we at least ought not to be led aside from the unity of faith. They who shall honestly submit to Christ and shall not attempt to mix with the Gospel any inventions of their own [mind], will never [lack] the true light.

But here the greatest vigilance is necessary, that, though the whole world may be carried away by its own inventions, believers may continually adhere to Christ. As Satan could not rob the Jews of the conviction which they derived from the Law and the Prophets, that Christ would come, he changed [their hoped-for Messiah] into various shapes, and, as it were, cut him in pieces. His next scheme was, to bring forward many pretended Christs, that they might lose sight of the true Redeemer.

By similar contrivances, [Satan] continued ever afterwards either to tear Christ in pieces, or to exhibit him under a false character. Among the confused and discordant voices of the world, let this voice of Christ perpetually sound in our ears, which calls us away from unsettled and wavering men, that we may not follow the multitude, and that our faith may not be tossed about among the billows of contending opinions.

Then, Calvin explains the importance of Peter’s answer:

You are the Christ. The confession is short, but it embraces all that is contained in our salvation; for the designation Christ, or Anointed, includes both an everlasting Kingdom and an everlasting Priesthood, to reconcile us to God, and, by expiating our sins through his sacrifice, to obtain for us a perfect righteousness, and, having received us under his protection, to uphold and supply and enrich us with every description of blessings.

Mark says only, “You  are the Christ.” Luke says, “You are the Christ of God.” But the meaning is the same; for the Christs (χριστοί) of God was the appellation anciently bestowed on kings, who had been anointed by the divine command.

And this phrase had been previously employed by Luke, (2:26,) when he said that Simeon had been informed by a revelation from heaven[, which was clearly divine,] that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ for the redemption, which God manifested by the hand of his Son; and therefore it was necessary that he who was to be the Redeemer should come from heaven, bearing the impress of the anointing of God.

Matthew expresses it still more clearly, “You are the Son of the living God;” for, though Peter did not yet understand distinctly in what way Christ was the begotten of God, he was so fully persuaded of the dignity of Christ, that he believed him to come from God, not like other men, but by the inhabitation of the true and living Godhead in his flesh. When the attribute living is ascribed to God, it is for the purpose of distinguishing between Him and dead idols, who are nothing, (1 Corinthians 8:4.)

He goes on to describe Christ’s blessing of Peter:

Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona. [Peter was blessed in this sense]:

This is life eternal, to know the only true God, and him whom he has sent, Jesus Christ, John 17:3 ESV,

Christ justly pronounces [Peter] to be blessed who has honestly made such a confession. This was not spoken in a [unique] manner to Peter alone, but our Lord’s purpose was, to show in what the only happiness of the whole world consists.

That everyone may approach him with greater courage, we must first learn that all are by nature miserable and accursed, till they find a remedy in Christ. Next, we must add, that whoever has obtained Christ [lacks] nothing that is necessary to perfect happiness, since we have no right to desire anything better than the eternal glory of God, of which Christ puts us in possession.

Finally, Calvin recounts the mechanics of faith:

Flesh and blood has not revealed it to you. In the person of one man [(i.e., Peter)], Christ reminds all [of us] that we must ask faith from the Father and acknowledge it to the praise of his [unmerited favor]; for the special illumination of God is here contrasted with flesh and blood.

Hence, we infer, that the minds of men are destitute of that [discernment] which is necessary for perceiving the mysteries of heavenly wisdom which are hidden in Christ; and [beyond] that, all the senses of men are deficient in this respect, [until] God opens our eyes to perceive his glory in Christ.

Let no man, therefore, in proud reliance on his own abilities, attempt to reach it, but let us humbly suffer ourselves to be inwardly taught by the Father of Lights, (James 1:17,) [so] that his Spirit alone may enlighten our darkness. And let those who have received faith, acknowledging the blindness which was natural to them, learn to render to God the glory that is due to Him.

So, ask yourself, “Who do you say Christ is?”

Who Is Jesus? How Would You Answer?, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Published on April 13, 2017

What Is Christmas All About?

Some think it’s for SHOPPING! Retail certainly hopes so. Some think it’s for time off from normal obligations. Family and friends look forward to these times. Some think it’s discriminatory to single out a point of view that is only one among many. And some think it’s all too much.

But, the Lord Jesus Christ, through His servant, Luke, wrote:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:8-11 English Standard Version (ESV)

The holiday commemorates this prophecy’s fulfillment: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us.) Matthew 1:23, quoted from Isaiah 7:14.

As is our custom, let’s see what John Calvin had to say:

The angel opens his discourse by saying, that he announces great joy; and next assigns the ground …of joy, that a Savior is born. These words show us, first, that, until men have peace with God, and are reconciled to him through the grace of Christ, all the joy that they experience is deceitful, and of short duration.

Ungodly men frequently indulge in frantic and intoxicating mirth; but if there be none to make peace between them and God, the hidden stings of conscience must produce fearful torment. Besides, to whatever extent they may flatter themselves in luxurious indulgence, their own lusts are [, themselves,] tormentors.

The commencement of solid joy is, to perceive the fatherly love of God toward us, which alone gives tranquility to our minds. And this “joy,” in which, Paul tells us, “the kingdom of God” consists, is “in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17.)

By calling it great joy, he shows us, not only that we ought, above all things, to rejoice in the salvation brought us by Christ, but that this blessing is so great and boundless, as fully to compensate for all the pains, distresses, and anxieties of the present life.

Let us learn to be so delighted with Christ alone, that the perception of his grace may overcome, and at length remove from us, all the distresses of the flesh.

…Christ proclaims peace, not only, to them that are [near], “but to them that are, far off,” (Ephesians 2:17,) to “strangers” (Ephesians 2:12) equally with citizens. But as the peculiar covenant with the Jews lasted till the resurrection of Christ, so the angel separates them from the rest of the nations.

Here, …the angel expresses the cause of the joy. This day is born the Redeemer long ago promised, who was to restore the Church of God to its proper condition.

Of course, Spurgeon has a few choice words concerning the passage, too.

As we spend this time away from ordinary cares, let us reflect on the One who came to earth to die as payment for our sins and reconcile us to God. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

What Is Christmas All About? | A Charlie Brown Christmas, YouTube, Snoopy, Published on Nov 25, 2016, Transcript (of sorts)

Whatever Shall We Pray in Times Like These?

Some think the President of the United States is unqualified and unfit to hold office. Some think this man is the best chance to turn America around peacefully. Providence has caused many more hurricane landfalls on the US mainland than in the past ten years. Russia and China continue to use their proxies, Iran and North Korea, respectively, to cause strife in the world with the goal of overturning the existing world order. Whatever shall we pray in times like these?

The Lord Jesus Christ, when His followers requested: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples,” said:

Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.”

Matthew 6:9-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

And the Lord prefaced His instruction with a reassurance: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

So, should we merely repeat this prayer verbatim, or use it as a template for our own requests of the Living God? Let’s see what John Calvin had to say:

Do therefore pray thus …It was not the intention of the Son of God… to prescribe the words which we must use, so as not to leave us at liberty to depart from the form which he has dictated. His intention rather was, to guide and restrain our wishes, that they might not go beyond those limits and hence we infer, that the rule which he has given us for praying aright relates not to the words, but to the things themselves.

This form of prayer consists …of six petitions. The first three, it ought to be known, relate to the glory of God, without any regard to ourselves; and the remaining three relate to those things which are necessary for our salvation. …In prayer, Christ enjoins us to consider and seek the glory of God, and, at the same time, permits us to consult our own interests. …It would be altogether preposterous to mind only what belongs to ourselves, and to disregard the kingdom of God, which is of far greater importance.

Concerning our address to God, he says:

Our Father who art in heaven Whenever we engage in prayer, there are two things to be considered, both that we may have access to God, and that we may rely on Him with full and unshaken confidence: his fatherly love toward us, and his boundless power. Let us therefore entertain no doubt, that God is willing to receive us graciously, that he is ready to listen to our prayers, — in a word, that, of Himself, he is disposed to aid us.

…Now, as it would be the folly and madness of presumption, to call God our Father, except on the ground that, through our union to the body of Christ, we are acknowledged as his children, we conclude, that there is no other way of praying aright, but by approaching God with reliance on the Mediator.

Next, to the crux of the first petition, he says:

May thy name be sanctified …It is of unspeakable advantage to us that God reigns, and that he receives the honor which is due to him: but no man has a sufficiently earnest desire to promote the glory of God, unless (so to speak) he forgets himself, and raises his mind to seek God’s exalted greatness.

…To sanctify the name of God means nothing else than to give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name, so that men may never think or speak of him but with the deepest veneration. The opposite of this is the profanation of the name of God, which takes place, when men either speak disrespectfully of the divine majesty, or at least without that reverence which they ought to feel.

…We need not …wonder, if we are commanded to ask, in the first place, that the reverence which is due to [His Name] may be given by the world. Besides, this is no small honor done to us, when God recommends to us the advancement of his glory.

And, to the second petition:

May thy kingdom come …The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word, — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world.

Now, he commences his reign by subduing the desires of our flesh. Again, as the kingdom of God is continually growing and advancing to the end of the world, we must pray every day that it may come: for to whatever extent iniquity abounds in the world, to such an extent the kingdom of God, which brings along with it perfect righteousness, is not yet come.

Finally, to the third:

May thy will be done …It is said, that the will of God is done, when he executes the secret counsels of his providence, however obstinately men may strive to oppose him. But here we are commanded to pray that, in another sense, his will may be done, — that all creatures may obey him, without opposition, and without reluctance.

…It is a prayer, that God may remove all the obstinacy of men, which rises in unceasing rebellion against him, and may render them gentle and submissive, that they may not wish or desire anything but what pleases him, and meets his [approval].

…When we pray that the earth may become obedient to the will of God, it is not necessary that we should look particularly at every individual. It is enough for us to declare, by such a prayer as this, that we hate and regret whatever we perceive to be contrary to the will of God, and long for its utter destruction, not only that it may be the rule of all our affections, but that we may yield ourselves without reserve, and with all cheerfulness, to its fulfillment.

Now Calvin tackles what he calls ‘the second table:’

…Of the form of prayer which Christ has prescribed to us this may be called, as [it were], the Second Table. I have adopted this mode of dividing it for the sake of instruction. The precepts which relate to the proper manner of worshipping God are contained in the First Table of the law [above], and those which relate to the duties of charity in the Second [below].

…We must not be so exclusively occupied with what is advantageous to ourselves, as to omit, in any instance, to give the first place to the glory of God. When we pray, therefore, we must never turn away our eyes from that object.

He has much to say about the first petition of the second table:

Give us today our daily bread …Though the forgiveness of sins is to be preferred to food, as far as the soul is more valuable than the body, yet our Lord commenced with bread and the supports of an earthly life, that from such a beginning he might carry us higher. …Since God condescends to nourish our bodies, there can be no doubt whatever, that he is far more careful of our spiritual life. This kind and gentle manner of treating us raises our confidence higher.

…It is indeed the true proof of our faith, when we ask nothing but from God, and not only acknowledge him to be the only fountain of all blessings, but feel that his fatherly kindness extends to the smallest matters, so that he does not disdain to take care even of our flesh.

…Such a petition as the following: “O Lord, since our life needs every day new supplies, may it please thee to grant them to us without interruption.” The adverb ‘today,’ as I said a little ago, is added to restrain our excessive desire, and to teach us, that we depend every moment on the kindness of God, and ought to be content with that portion which he gives us, to use a common expression, “from day to day.”

…These words remind us that, unless God feed us daily, the largest accumulation of the necessaries of life will be of no avail. Though we may have abundance of corn, and wine, and everything else, unless they are watered by the secret blessing of God, they will suddenly vanish, or we will be deprived of the use of them, or they will lose their natural power to support us, so that we shall famish in the midst of plenty.

There is …no reason to wonder, if Christ invites the rich and poor indiscriminately to apply to their Heavenly Father for the supply of their wants. No man will sincerely offer such a prayer as this, unless he has learned, by the example of the Apostle Paul, “to be full and to be hungry, to abound and to suffer need,” (Philippians 4:12,) to endure patiently his poverty or his humble condition, and not to be intoxicated by a false confidence in his abundance.

…Why [do] we ask that bread to be given to us, which we call OUR bread? I answer: It is so called, not because it belongs to us by right, but because the fatherly kindness of God has set it apart for our use. It becomes ours, because our Heavenly Father freely bestows it on us for the supply of our necessities. …What we seem to have acquired by our own industry is his gift.

We may likewise infer from this word, that, if we wish God to feed us, we must not take what belongs to others: for all who have been taught of God, (John 6:45,) whenever they employ this form of prayer, make a declaration that they desire nothing but what is their own.

Next, he comments on a second petition composed of two complementary parts:

And forgive us our debts …Christ has included in two petitions all that related to the eternal salvation of the soul, and to the spiritual life: for these are the two leading points of the divine covenant, in which all our salvation consists. He offers to us a free reconciliation by “not imputing our sins,” (2 Corinthians 5:19,) and promises the Spirit, to engrave the righteousness of the law on our hearts. We are commanded to ask both, and the prayer for obtaining the forgiveness of sins is placed first.

…For, though the righteousness of God shines, to some extent, in the saints, yet, so long as they are surrounded by the flesh, they lie under the burden of sins. …For, when he commands all his disciples to betake themselves to him daily for the forgiveness of sins, everyone, who thinks that he has no need of such a remedy, is struck out of the number of the disciples.

Now, the forgiveness, which we here ask to be bestowed on us, is inconsistent with satisfaction, by which the world endeavors to purchase its own deliverance. For that creditor is not said to forgive, who has received payment and asks nothing more, —but he who willingly and generously departs from his just claim, and frees the debtor…

Thus reminding us: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So, then, it follows:

As we forgive our debtors This condition is added, that no one may presume to approach God and ask forgiveness, who is not pure and free from all resentment. And yet the forgiveness, which we ask that God would give us, does not depend on the forgiveness which we grant to others: but the design of Christ was, to exhort us, in this manner, to forgive the offenses which have been committed against us, and at the same time, to give, as it were, the impression of his seal, to ratify the confidence in our own forgiveness. …If the Spirit of God reigns in our hearts, every description of ill-will and revenge ought to be banished.

And, of course, this calls to mind the example of: “the unmerciful servant.”

Finally, Calvin tackles the third, a second compound petition that happens to be recently in the news:

And lead us not into temptation Some people have split this petition into two. This is wrong: for the nature of the subject makes it manifest, that it is one and the same petition.

…The meaning is: “We are conscious of our own weakness, and desire to enjoy the protection of God, that we may remain impregnable against all the assaults of Satan.” We showed from the former petition, that no man can be reckoned a Christian, who does not acknowledge himself to be a sinner; and in the same manner, we conclude from this petition, that we have no strength for living a holy life, except so far as we obtain it from God. Whoever implores the assistance of God to overcome temptations, acknowledges that, unless God deliver him, he will be constantly falling.

The word temptation is often used generally for any kind of trial. …We are tempted both by adversity and by prosperity: because each of them is an occasion of bringing to light feelings which were formerly concealed. But here it denotes inward temptation, which may be fitly called the scourge of the devil, for exciting our lust.

…All wicked emotions, which excite us to sin, are included under the name of temptation …We ask that the Lord would not cause us to be thrown down, or suffer us to be overwhelmed, by temptations. …We are liable to constant stumbling and ruinous falls, if God does not uphold us with his hand.

As the news says, some would want to change this petition. To this, almost five hundred years ago, Calvin said:

Christ used this form of expression, (μὴ εἰσενέγκὟς,) Lead us not into temptation: or, as some render it, Bring us not into temptation.

It is certainly true, that “every man is tempted,” as the Apostle James says, (1:14) “by his own lust:” yet, as God not only gives us up to the will of Satan, to kindle the flame of lust, but employs him as the agent of his wrath, when he chooses to drive men headlong to destruction, he may be also said, in a way peculiar to himself, to lead them into temptation.

In the same sense, “an evil spirit from the Lord” is said to have “seized or troubled Saul,” (1 Samuel 16:14) and there are many passages of Scripture to the same purpose. And yet we will not therefore say, that God is the author of evil: because, by giving men over to a reprobate mind,” (Romans 1:28,) he does not exercise a confused tyranny, but executes his just, though secret judgments.

And, Calvin concludes the third petition with:

Deliver us from evil …The meaning remains nearly the same [to the previous clause], that we are in danger from the devil and from sin, if the Lord does not protect and deliver us.

Lastly, Calvin comments on a sometimes omitted clause:

For thine is the kingdom [Left out of the Latin, this petition] was not added merely for the purpose of kindling our hearts to seek the glory of God, and of reminding us what ought to be the object of our prayers; but likewise to teach us, that our prayers, which are here dictated to us, are founded on God alone, that we may not rely on our own merits.


Circling back, then, to what we should pray in our times, as the hysteria subsides before beginning again, gratitude towards our Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, points the way.

The Lord’s Prayer by Dr. Albert Mohler – Lecture 1: Teach Us To Pray, YouTube, Mohler’s Series on Prayer

What Kind of Friend?

What’s the quality of our friendships? Do you share yourself unreservedly with others? Do you communicate with vulnerability, even after long periods of absence, without missing a beat? If the truth be told, many of us fall short of this ideal. Some of us don’t have even one person with whom we can be this intimate. Perhaps we chalk this up to our fast-paced lifestyles. Could the crowd we run with not be the types with whom we have that much in common? Or, maybe, we’ve been burned before and haven’t even tried for such friendships.

There once walked a Person who, though he was highly exalted, did not count His high honor as something to hold on to, but gave up all privilege, becoming like one of us; in fact, becoming our servant, He walked among us, ate with us, and cried with us and for us. And, as one of us, yet righteous in all His ways, He humbled himself by suffering, in place of us, the ignominious punishment that is our due. This One said:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:12-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

Speaking on these verses, C. H. Spurgeon delivered a sermon, number 1552, on Lord’s-Day morning, August 8, 1880, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, titled: “The Friends of Jesus,” based on verse John 15:14: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” Spurgeon introduced his theme this way:

OUR Lord Jesus Christ is beyond all comparison the best of friends…”You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” That is the point by which your friendship shall be tested — “If you are obedient you are My Friends.” …You must, my Brothers and Sisters, yield obedience to your Master and Lord and be eager to do it, or you are not His bosom friends …This is the one essential which Grace, alone, can give us. Do we rebel against the request? Far from it! Our joy and delight lie in bearing our Beloved’s easy yoke.

Next, he describes what obedience our Lord himself requests:

From those who call themselves His friends. True friends are eager to know what they can do to please the objects of their love. Let us gladly listen to what our adorable Lord now speaks to the select circle of His chosen. He asks of one and all obedience. None of us are exempted from doing His commandments. However lofty or however lowly our condition, we must obey. If our talent is but one, we must obey and if we have [ten], still we must obey. There can be no friendship with Christ unless we are willing, each one, to yield Him hearty, loyal service.

The smallest command of Christ may often be the most important and I will tell you why. Some things are great, evidently great and, for many reasons even a hypocritical professor will attend to them. But the test may lie in the minor points, which hypocrites do not take the trouble to notice, since no human tongue would praise them for doing them. Here is the proof of your love. Will you do the smaller thing for Jesus as well as the [weightier] matter?

…When we refuse to obey, we refuse to do what the Lord, Himself, commands! When the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Redeemer, is denied obedience, it is treason! How can rebels against the King be His Majesty’s friends? The precepts of Scripture are not the commandments of man nor the ordinances of angels, but the Laws of Christ and how dare we despise them! We are to act rightly because Jesus commands us and we love to do His pleasure—there can be no friendship without this. Oh, for Grace to serve the Lord with gladness!

To close this first point, it appears that our Lord would have us obey Him out of a friendly spirit. Obedience to Christ as if we were forced to do it under pains and penalties would be of no worth as a proof of friendship. Everyone can see that. He speaks not of slaves, but of friends. He would not have us perform duties from fear of punishment or love of reward. That which He can accept of His friends must be the fruit of love. His will must be our Law because His Person is our delight. Some professors need to be whipped to their duties. They must hear stirring sermons and attend exciting meetings and live under pressure. But those who are Christ’s friends need no spur but love.

Spurgeon, then posits: “those who do not obey him are not friends of his.”

…He who is truly Christ’s friend delights to honor Him as a great King, but he who will not yield Him His sovereign rights is a traitor and not a friend. Our Lord is the Head over all things to His Church and this involves the joyful submission of the members. Disobedience denies to Christ the dignity of that holy Headship which is His prerogative over all the members of His mystical body and this is not the part of a true friend. How can you be His friend if you will not admit His rule? It is vain to boast that you trust His Cross if you do not reverence His crown! He who does not do His commandments cannot be Christ’s friend because he is not of one mind with Christ—that is evident. Can two walk together unless they are agreed?

He, next, explores the thesis: “those who best obey Christ are on the best of terms with him.”

…There is no feeling of communion between our souls and Christ when we are conscious of having done wrong and yet are not sorry for it. If we know that we have erred, as we often do, and our hearts break because we have grieved our Beloved and we go and tell Him our grief and confess our sin, we are still His friends and He kisses away our tears, saying, “I know your weakness. I willingly blot out your offenses. There is no breach of friendship between us. I will still manifest Myself to you.”

When we know that we are wrong and feel no softening of heart about it, then we cannot pray, we cannot speak with the Beloved and we cannot walk with Him as His friends. Familiarity with Jesus ceases when we become familiar with known sin.

Search the Scriptures for yourselves, each one of you, and follow no rule but that which is Inspired. Take your light directly from the sun! Let holy Scripture be your unquestioned rule of faith and practice and, if there is any point about which you are uncertain, I charge you by your loyalty to Christ, if you are His friends, try and find out what His will is. And when you once are sure upon that point, never mind the human authorities or dignitaries that oppose His Law. Let there be no question, no hesitation, no delay. If He commands you, carry out His will though the gates of Hell thunder at you! You are not His friends, or, at any rate, you are not His friends so as to enjoy the friendship unless you resolutely seek to please Him in all things!

Finally, Spurgeon defends the statement: “the [friendliest] action a man can do for Jesus is to obey him.”

…If a man should give all the substance of his house for love it would utterly be [scorned]. Jesus asks not lavish expenditure, but ourselves. He has made this the token of true love—”If you do whatever I command you.” “To obey is better than sacrifice and to listen than the fat of rams.” However much we are able to give, we are bound to give it and should give it cheerfully. But if we suppose that any amount of giving can stand as a substitute for personal [obedience] we are greatly mistaken. To bring our wealth and not to yield our hearts is to give the casket and steal the jewels. How dare we bring our sacrifice in a leprous hand? We must be cleansed in the atoning blood before we can be accepted, and our hearts must be changed before our offering can be pure in God’s sight.

The practical outcome of it all is this—examine every question as to duty by the light of this one enquiry — “Will this be a friendly action to Christ? If I do this, shall I act as Christ’s friend? Will my conduct honor Him? Then I am glad. If it will dishonor Him, I will have nothing to do with it.” Set each distinct action, as far as you are able, in the scales and let this be the weight—is it a friendly action towards your Redeemer? I wish that we all lived as if Jesus were always present, as if we could see His wounds and gaze into His lovely countenance. Suppose that tomorrow you are brought into temptation by being asked to do something questionable? Decide it this way—if Jesus could come in at that moment and show you His hands and His feet, how would you act in His sight?

Behave as you would act under the realized Presence of the Well-Beloved. You would not do anything unkind to Him, would you? Certainly, you would not do anything to grieve Him if you saw Him before your eyes! Well, keep Him always before you.

Obedience will gladden you with the blissful Presence of your Lord and, in that Presence, you shall find fullness of joy. You shall be the envied of all wise men, for you shall be the beloved of the Lord. And your pathway, if it is not always smooth, shall always be safe, for Jesus never leaves His friends and He will never leave you! He will keep you even to the end. May this be my happy case and yours. Amen.

From Spurgeon’s sermon, we see we have no closer friend than the Lord Jesus Christ, to those He’s redeemed and those who shall respond to His call. Yet, though we’ve not covered it in this post, for those who resist Him, they have no fiercer enemy; and this is so to demonstrate His justice and hatred of evil.

Having said these things, what kind of friend are we to those who’ve come to Jesus, both those saved and those seeking Him? Do we die to ourselves? Do we put others first? Do we seek by faith, in all our ways, to honor and serve the One who’s purchased us at unfathomable cost to Himself? And, towards those outside who resist Him, do we leave vengeance to our Lord?

Mark Heard – What Kind Of A FriendSecond Hand (1991) , YouTube, Lyrics, alternate arrangement, third arrangement and alternate vocalization, fourth arrangement and second alternate vocalization

Confess Your Sins II

We’ve covered this topic before on July 2, 2015. This time we’ll explore it from the point of view of community. Google’s second definition for ‘community’ is:

A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

“the sense of community that organized religion can provide”

A church has common interests and goals built-in. And we should have one attitude. However, a church is also made up of a diverse collection of people. As with any group of flawed human beings, they will offend one another. For the cohesiveness of our church communities, we need to do the following more often:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16 English Standard Version (ESV)

The pastor to several church bodies during his tenure, Calvin comments on this verse:

Confess your faults one to another. …[James] had [just] said, that sins were remitted to the sick over whom the elders prayed: he now reminds them how useful it is to [disclose] our sins to our brethren, even that we may obtain the pardon of them by [our brethren’s] intercession.

…Many…think that James [is indicating] …the way of brotherly reconciliation, that is, by mutual acknowledgment of sins. But…his object was different; for he connects mutual prayer with mutual confession; by which he [implies] that confession [benefits us] for this end, that we may be helped as to God by the prayers of our brethren; for they who know our necessities, are stimulated to pray that they may assist us; but they to whom our diseases are unknown are [less likely] to bring us help.

…For the words clearly mean, that confession is required for no other end, but that those who know our evils may be more solicitous to bring us help.

Here, Calvin calls us to vulnerable community. He goes on to elaborate on the nature and quality of our prayer for one another. First, he says:

Avails much. …When others pray for us, [James] expressly mentions the benefit and the effect of prayer. But he names expressly the prayer of a righteous or just man; because God does not hear the ungodly; nor is access to God open, except through a good conscience: not that our prayers are founded on our own worthiness, but because the heart must be cleansed by faith before we can present ourselves before God. Then James testifies that the righteous or the faithful pray for us beneficially and not without fruit.

Then, finally, Calvin says:

But what does he mean by adding effectual or efficacious? For this seems superfluous; for if the prayer avails much, it is doubtless effectual.

…Our prayers may properly be said to be ἐνεργούμεναι (i.e., working) when some necessity meets us which excites in us earnest prayer. We pray daily for the whole Church, that God may pardon its sins; but then only is our prayer really in earnest, when we go forth to [help] those who are in trouble.

But such efficacy cannot be in the prayers of our brethren, except they know that we are in difficulties. Hence the reason given is not general, but must be specially referred to the former sentence.

Puritan Pastor Thomas Manton also commented on James 5:16:

[We should privately confess our sins] to a godly minister or wise Christian [when we are] under deep wounds of conscience. It is but folly to hide our sores till they be incurable. When we have unburdened ourselves [to] a godly friend, [our] conscience finds a great deal of ease. Certainly, they are then more capable to give us advice, and can the better apply the help of their counsel and prayers to our particular case, and are thereby moved to the more pity and commiseration…

[Truly,] it is a fault in Christians not to disclose themselves and be more open with their spiritual friends, when they are not able to extricate themselves out of their doubts and troubles. You may do [so with] any godly Christians, but especially to ministers, who are solemnly entrusted with the power of the keys, and may help you to apply the comforts of the word when you cannot yourselves.

…The weak must pray for the strong, and the strong for the weak. There is none but should improve his interest. When there is much work to do, you give your children their parts… So in the family of Christ. None can be exempted: `The head cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you, 1 Cor. 12:21-22 .

God delights to oblige us to each other in the body of Christ, and therefore will not bless you without the mutual mediation and intercession of one an other’s prayers; for this is the true intercession of saints. And so, in a sense, the living saints may be called mediators of intercession. But chiefly the strong, and those that stand, are to pray for them that are fallen; for that is the intent of this place.

Oh! then, that we would regard this neglected duty. Not to pray for others is uncharitable; not to expect it from others is pride. Do not stand alone; two, yea, many, are better than one. Joint striving mutually for the good of each other makes the work prosper.

Let us, therefore, increase our sense of community in the churches by confessing to and praying for one another.

“Mercy Will Prevail” – Nashville Floods 2010, YouTube, thechoirvideos