Little Notes on Anger

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. – Proverbs 14:29

Great understanding of what? I think the patient person has great understanding of himself. He knows anger only hurts himself. When you harbor anger, you can begin to have it harden to hate. It can affect even your health: you grind your teeth, put great strain on your heart, etc.

The patient person also has great understanding of his circumstances. He knows that anger will solve nothing in dealing with people. It will merely drive them away.

Most importantly, he has great understanding of God. He knows that God is “slow to anger.” To be patient and slow to anger is to exhibit the very life of God in our life.

Fatherhood for Older Father’s

Two weeks ago I preached on fatherhood from Ephesians 6:4. Unfortunately, due to a congregational medical emergency, I wasn’t able to conclude my message. Here is my conclusion:

Some of you in here may be thinking, “What can I do? My children are all grown up and out of the house! I’ve blown it with my kids!”

Parents who have adult children can express much regret after hearing about God’s calling to raise up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). For some, they regret not being a Christian during the time when they were raising children. Having come to Christ later in life, they look back and see how their sin has alienated or hurt their children. For others, they regret that although they knew Christ, they did not take God’s Word seriously enough to seriously invest in their children spiritually.

Either way, you may find yourself in a position where your children are adults and out of the house, and seemingly far away from you–both physically and spiritually.

It’s not too late.

It’s not too late to begin repairing any damage that was done. And it’s not too late to begin influencing your adult children for Christ. But how?

It first comes with an acknowledgement that God is a God of restoration. God delights in taking our lost and ruined lives and restoring them. All of us are made in the image of God. But due to our sin, that image has been corrupted and effaced. Yet through Jesus we are “being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Colossians 3:10). God loves restoring things. Especially the lives of His image-bearers. He can bring restoration to your relationships with your adult children. He will do it through the gospel of Jesus Christ. By seeing your own sin and “owning” your own sin, God will bring you to the point of crying out for forgiveness. The Bible tells us that forgiveness was purchased for us through the brutal crucifixion of our Lord and His glorious resurrection from the dead. In Christ, you can be forgiven of all things–even parenting mistakes.

Remembering your forgiveness in Christ, then, gives you the power to forgive and reconcile with others–even your own children.

It’s easy to allow objections to flood our minds, however: “But what’s the point, it’s been so long!” Years may have passed since you’ve even had a meaningful conversation with your child.

It’s not too late.

Think about this way: Imagine you’ve been estranged from your child for 50 years. 50 years! That’s a long time. Now on your deathbed, your child comes to you. Would it be pointless to reconcile? Does it make sense to say, “What’s the point now. I’m almost dead. It’s been too long.”? No way! Of course you would reconcile. And although for yourself it may be too late to really build upon your relationship (since you’re on your deathbed in this imaginary scenario)…think about all the good it would do for your child! Reconciling on your deathbed may actually change the course of his/her life! The focus isn’t so much upon what you could get out of it, but upon the good that it would do for your child.

So why not now?

You’re not a failure as a parent. God has brought you on this journey so far and He has brought you to this point. You can’t go back and re-do their childhood years. But you can make a fresh start today to reach out to your children.

With God’s help, it’s not too late.

It only takes one chapter to crash and burn: Reflections on 1 Kings 1-11

The establishment of God’s kingdom in Israel takes ten long chapters to describe (1 Kings 1-10). But it only takes one chapter for the kingdom to begin to fall apart; the crash and burn is inevitable (1 Kings 11).

1 Kings opens up following the exploits of David from 2 Samuel: David is clearly king, but now he’s old and dying (1:1-4). Who will be king in his place? Because David had multiple wives who had multiple sons, many people vied for the throne, like Adonijah (1:5-10). After some political intrigue, however, Solomon eventually becomes king over Israel (1:11-53).

Solomon settles old scores and consolidates his power (chap. 2). God then promises to grant Solomon’s prayer request; Solomon asks for wisdom in how to administer justice (chap. 3). The next six chapters detail Solomon’s building of the temple, the beautiful and intricate artistry which goes into the temple, and the dedication of the temple (chapters 4-9). The Queen of Sheba (possibly Ethiopia) shows up and asks Solomon a bunch of questions which he wisely answers, flabbergasting her with his wisdom and the wealth of the kingdom (10:1-13). The rest of 1 Kings 10 is pretty much flaunting Solomon’s wealth (10:14-29). I mean, in Solomon’s reign, silver was devalued because it was so common (10:27). The summary verse: “So Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom” (10:23). Not bad.

But after those ten lengthy, detail-filled, chapters, 1 Kings 11 opens on an ominous note: “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women…” (11:1a). What’s the big deal with that? The big deal is that God explicitly commanded the Israelites (especially the king) not to marry foreigners (11:2). God said this not because He is racist. He said this because He is anti-idolatry, “for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods” (11:2b).  As expected, Solomon turned to idolatry: “Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab” and he built other shrines as well (11:7).

God did not take Solomon’s idolatry kindly and promised—remember this was after ten long chapters to get the kingdom established under Solomon—God promised that He would “tear the kingdom from [Solomon]” (11:11). All is lost. The slide into exile is inevitable now. The wealthiest and wisest king in all of Israel’s history is cut down after the first eleven verses of chapter eleven in 1 Kings.

What does this all mean for today? I am reminded of a few things:

  1. It can take years to build something, but only a few moments to tear it down

The kingdom of God in Israel took years to establish, beginning all the way back in 1 Samuel with the selection of Saul. But even though it took such a long time to build the kingdom, God did not hesitate to judge His people and tear the kingdom away from Solomon in an instance. God is not above judging churches the same either way, I suppose. It could takes years to build up a church into a thriving ministry, but only a few moments of sin to cause it to come tumbling down. God won’t necessarily keep a church running just because it seems successful from a human perspective.

  1. Who you closely associate with matters a lot

Solomon’s heart was turned away from God because he loved foreign women. The overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that believers have to be very careful of who they get into bed with—both literally and figuratively. When you love someone, they will influence you. If their heart is not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord, then they can lead you away from Him. It this same mentality which undergirds Paul’s admonition: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 6:14). Now, Paul is not forbidding friendships or association with “sinners.” As Christians, we must be in the world (befriending people to share Jesus) but not of the world (living according to its value system). I like the image of being “yoked.” It calls to mind farming imagery where two oxen are yoked together to plow a field: they are working in unison for the same goal. Are you “yoked” to someone who loves God or someone who doesn’t? Their influence on us is real.

  1. Idolatry is the root of most (or all) sin

Solomon was lead away into idolatry with the fundamental issue being worship: Who will he worship? Will he worship Molech or Chemosh? Or, the true and living God? The same issue is at the heart of church ministry today. Will church leaders worship the one, true living God? Or will we worship “success,” numbers, the lust for bigger and bigger? Will we surround ourselves with faithful followers of God, or “yes-men” who merely affirm every decision we make? If we love God, we will then allow our practices to be shaped by God’s word and not merely human wisdom?

What Does God Really Promise Us? 10 Always True Promises

The problem with the prosperity gospel–the belief that God wants you healthy and wealthy–is not that it promises too much, but that it promises way too little. It forfeits the pattern of suffering now, glory later, which runs through the New Testament. Such teaching is also deceiving because it can lead people to despair, for they can believe that God is not coming through on His promises when they get sick or lose their money. So what does God actually promise us? There are many promises of God that we as Christian can bank on, but here is a sampling of ten always true promises:

1. God works out all things for our good–to look like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29)

2. God forgives all of our sin (Romans 8:1)

3. If we walk by the Spirit, we won’t carry out the evil desires lodged in our hearts (Galatians 5:16)

4. We will be persecuted for our faith (2 Timothy 3:12)

5. If we endure to the end, we will be saved (Matthew 24:13)

6. Jesus will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20)

7. God will give us wisdom, if we ask in faith (James 1:5-8)

8. God will forgive us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9)

9. God will complete His work among us at the Second Coming of Jesus (Philippians 1:6)

10. God will be our God forever, and we will be His people (Revelation 21:3)

Daniel’s 70 Weeks: Interacting with Jim Hamilton’s book, With the Clouds of Heaven

With fear and trembling, I am interacting with Jim Hamilton’s interpretation of Daniel’s 70 weeks found in his new book on Daniel, With the Clouds of Heaven. Fear and trembling, because Dr. Hamilton is just that—a doctor in biblical studies. And having gone to Southern, I know his grasp of the biblical languages!

Now as a pastor, I try to mix up my reading: some “heavy” stuff, some easier reads, some on the practical aspects of ministry, some deeper theology and biblical studies. So I wanted to interact with his work to stay sharp in my thinking about biblical theology. So here goes, and hopefully I accurately represented his views!

Summary

Hamilton argues that the 70 weeks in Daniel 9:25-27 are symbolic. His argument unfolds like this:

First, numbers can often be used symbolically in prophesy. For example, in Ezekiel 4, the 430 days that Ezekiel is told to lie on his side does not refer to a literal 430 days or even 430 literal years, but reflects the time period that Israel spent in slavery to Egypt. Thus, the point of the 430 days is this: just as Israel spent a certain amount of time slavery to Egypt so also they will spend a certain amount of time in exile in Babylon. In Ezekiel 4, the time period is definitely not literal, because Israel spent more than 430 days in exile!

Second, the 490 “years” of the 70 weeks probably refers to an ultimate Jubilee. The jubilee seems to have typological characteristics. In other words, Israel’s jubilee years seem to look forward to an ultimate Jubilee. Hamilton sees the 490 “years” as this ultimate jubilee which also coincides with the consummation of all things. Therefore, the ultimate Jubilee (the consummation) does not refer to a literal time period, but a symbolic one.

One implication of his argument is that it is futile to “date hunt” for a starting point of the 70 weeks. Another implication is that its best to see the breakdown of the 70 weeks as a schema of “time periods” (see page 131). He breaks down the prophecy into four major periods.

  1. “Seven weeks”—The time from Daniel 9 to Malachi (9:25a)
  2. “62 weeks”—The 400 “silent years” (9:25b)
  3. The cross and destruction of the temple in 70AD (9:26)
  4. “70th week”
    1. First half—”The church age”—the church is protected and spreads the gospel
    2. Second half—The beast persecutes the church and overcomes it.

Although I couldn’t find a place where Hamilton explicitly stated it, he seems to believe the 70th week begins at some point after Jesus’ resurrection. He seems to locate the beginning of the 70th week at Jesus’ ascension: “The first half [i.e. the beginning] of Daniel’s seventieth week comprises most of church history between the ascension and return of Christ” (216).  He also seems to believe that the 70th week begins when “the nations join together against the Lord and his Messiah after the cutting off the Messiah” (132). Either way, he sees the 70th comprising church history, culminating in a terrible persecution by the beast (i.e. Antichrist) in the second half of the 70th week (215).

Critique

I am sympathetic with the symbolic view of the 70 weeks. Having gone to Liberty University, which is a traditional/revised dispensational school, I know the dispensational system well and also its weaknesses. I usually don’t hold dispensational readings of certain biblical texts, but in the case of the 70 weeks, I must reluctantly concede that a modified dispensational reading makes slightly better sense than Hamilton’s. Here’s why.

According to Daniel 9:27, the 70th week has a definite starting point when “he [i.e. “the prince who is to come” i.e. the Antichrist] will make a firm covenant with the many for one week.” Unless I misread Hamilton, he seems to think that the 70th week begins right after the cross and the destruction of the temple in 70AD by the “nations” (see the above quote from page 132).

But it is not the nations who make a covenant for one week, but an individual—“he.” The text says that the “prince who is to come” (the Antichrist according to many interpreters) will both inaugurate the 70th week and attempt to stamp out worship in the middle of it. Therefore, it is hard for me to see how the first half of Daniel 70th week comprises most of church history. It seems that the beginning of 70th week occurs when the final, personal Antichrist is on the scene.

Now, it’s still possible to salvage a completely symbolic understanding of each “week.” For example, the “70th week” still need not be a literal 7 years. The 70th week could be symbolic and yet still pushed off into the future. Yet, a “gap” must still be inserted between the 69th and the 70th week, because the personal Antichrist inaugurates the 70th week. So the 70th week—even though its symbolic—must still be pushed off into the future.

Although Hamilton criticizes the need for a gap between the 69th and the 70th (126, n. 13), he himself must still insert a gap in his “chronology.” In his reckoning, Hamilton sees two time periods—the “seven weeks” and the “62 weeks”—happening, and then the cutting off of the Messiah and the destruction of the temple. Essentially, what Hamilton advocates for is that the “clock” of the 70 weeks is paused during the period of the cutting off of the Messiah and the destruction of the temple. Then the “countdown” resumes with the 70th week. In other words, Hamilton puts a gap between the 69th and the 70th week! He just locates it differently than most dispensational interpreters.

Modifying His Proposal

It does seem that each of these “time periods” is symbolic. Hamilton’s evidence for the symbolic use of numbers in prophesy as well as the thorny problem of needing to pick a “start date” if a literal view is taken seem to suggest that the weeks are symbolic. Furthermore, if God intended the 70 weeks to be a literal timeline, then why not say it plainly: 490 years? Giving the “timeline” in such a round about way might suggest its to be read symbolically, not literally.

It seems better, however, to have the 70th beginning when the final Antichrist comes and makes a strong covenant with many for one week (9:27). During the first half of this symbolic week, there may be an extraordinary empowerment of God’s people and the gospel goes forth in an unusually strong way. A few texts may suggest this idea. First, all the references to the 3.5 years in Daniel refer to times of intense persecution. This matches the only 3.5-year period spoken of in Daniel 9, the last half of the 70th week, which is also a time of intense persecution. Second, the church is protected in Revelation 12 for 3.5 years (the first half of the 70th week), possibly signifying a time of evangelistic success, even though the Antichrist has made a covenant with the many.

But then the church will be given into the hands of the Antichrist for the last half of the 70th week. Thankfully, however, that last half of the week will be shortened. Hamilton suggests such a reading based upon the beast of Revelation having authority for a “little while” or “one hour” and the witnesses of Revelation 11 (which symbolize the church) lay dead for “three and a half days” (216). Thus, the apostle John prophetically “foreshortens” the time of the beast’s conquest. The “success” of the church under the beast’s reigns will be 3.5 years, while the persecution under the beast will only be “one hour,” i.e. a much shorter time.

Conclusion

Daniel’s prophecy of “70 weeks” is majorly disputed text for Christian pastors and theologians alike. Just peruse the various interviews on Daniel 9 over at the blog My Digital Seminary, and you’ll see quite a diversity of opinion on the meaning of the 70 weeks. So my intent here is not to provide the final word on the subject. No blog post (or even scholarly article) could ever do that! Really, this is my attempt to join the discussion and to “dialogue” with a fellow-brother in Christ (Dr. Hamilton) who upholds God’s inerrant word as normative for faith and practice. May scholars like him keep producing God-honoring works which benefit the church!

Also, if you’ve made it this far, jump over to Dr. Hamilton’s blog, For His Renown, and you will find many different posts, articles, and book reviews which can help your understanding of the Bible.

Jesus Is the Temple (and so much more)

 

Old Testament “Shadow” Fulfillment in Christ
The Priesthood Christ is the True, Eternal Priest
“The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently” (Hebrews 7:23-24)
The Sacrifices Christ brought in eternal redemption through His sacrifice
“Not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12)
The Temple Christ is the place where God’s presence can truly be found
“He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21)
The Curtain of the Temple

(which separates the Most Holy Place from the rest of the Temple)

Christ’s body is the true curtain which was torn so that we could be accepted by God
“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh…” (Hebrews 10:19)
The Mercy Seat Christ is the Mercy Seat, the place where God’s wrath was truly poured out
“God displayed publicly [Jesus] as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Romans 3:25)
The word “propitiation” refers to the Mercy Seat found in the temple. It was the place where the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled to avert God’s wrath.

Tips for Reading Bible Prophecy

Exiled GraphicThis summer at Lincroft Bible Church,  we’re walking through the book of Daniel chapter-by-chapter in a series called “Exiled: Faith in a Faithless World.” Like Daniel, God’s church is living within a foreign culture as an ambassador to His kingdom. The book of Daniel teaches us how to live faithfully amidst the temptations, pressures, and challenges of a hostile culture.

One of the particular challenges of living in our culture is having a proper understanding of the future. Our culture can present two distinct possibilities for the future. The first is a bleak one based upon naturalistic science, which says that our future is mass extinction when the sun eventually burns out. Your personal future is merely death, nothing more. On the other hand, another narrative is put forth in media and pop political writing:  if you just work hard enough, you can achieve utopia for your future (whatever that looks like for you).

 Both of these narratives of the future have a fatal flaw: God and His grace are out of the equation. Which is why it is so important that the Bible gives us a picture of the future. Rather than being depressingly nihilistic, or naively optimistic, the Bible speaks of a time of both salvation and judgment. The vindication of God’s people and the setting of all things right. In fact, about 25% of the Bible is considered prophecy. Now some of these prophecies have already been fulfilled in history, but some do actually refer to a future which extends past our present time.

Unfortunately, much confusion surrounds reading Biblical prophecy and thus nonsense can be promoted within the church. Therefore, it is important to become good readers, especially when approaching Biblical prophecy. 

Pitfalls to Avoid

I think that there are two major pitfalls to avoid when reading Bible prophecy: ignoring it and speculation.

 Ignoring It: It can be very tempting to ignore the harder parts of the Bible, parts like prophesy. Prophecy is difficult not only because of a lot it contains symbolic language, but also because of its content: it regularly speaks of God coming in judgment against people and often uses graphic language to express the reality of God’s judgment.

So readers can become confused and outraged when they read biblical prophecy. But I would submit to you that this can actually be a good thing sometimes. God’s plan is so much bigger than anything we can ever conceive of; God’s ways are not like our ways. So what makes us think that we will be able to fully comprehend God’s plan? Sometimes, we can study the Bible for as long and as hard as we can and still not come up with a conclusive answer. And that’s ok. At that point, we should be lead to worship, because we recognize the greatness of God’s wisdom.

 Tim Keller also makes the point that sometimes it’s also ok to be outraged by what you read in the Bible. Because in order to have a personal relationship with someone, they need to be able to contradict you. For example, a wife who can never contradict her husband doesn’t have a healthy relationship, but lives in a dictatorship. So the Bible must be able to contradict you and offend your own personal sensibilities. Because if every time you read the Bible, you are never offended, then you probably are worshipping a god formed in your own image. You can try to manipulate God to affirm your pre-conceived ideas. But in actuality, to have a personal relationship with God, we must get to know Him on His terms. And sometimes, His terms might strike us as offensive. But in humility we must not seek to change or manipulate God.

 But the confusion and difficulty in understand biblical prophecy can lead us to ignore it. But God gave us prophecy in the Bible so that we can come to know Him more. So it is good for us to read, even if we don’t fully understand it.

 Speculation: But another pitfall to reading prophecy is speculation. In one of his letters, the apostle Paul, who was an early church leader, warned a church “not to go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). In other words: don’t speculate! The Bible is abundantly clear about the major points of the future: Jesus wins! That’s where the whole story of the Bible is going. Jesus will return, bring His rule and reign with all its glory for the joy of God’s people.

 And that’s where I place my stake. I want to stick to what can clearly be demonstrated from Scripture: Jesus is coming again. In all the other details, solid, Bible-believing Christians have charitably disagreed for centuries. We need to allow for other points of view. When we begin speculating about the details, it can bring reproach upon Christ. It hinders our witness in the world, because we end up looking foolish by making pronouncements of things which will come to pass and they don’t.

 Principles to Apply

If we can avoid the pitfalls when approaching prophecy, we can begin to apply some principles which can help us become better Bible readers.

1) Try your best to understand the ancient world on its own terms

 The world of the Bible can be a strange place. It regularly speaks of priests, temples, sacrifices, and other things which no longer exist in our contemporary American culture. Therefore, it’s important to try to understand the world of the time. For example, ancient cultures often had a different conception of time than we do. When we hear the phrase “the last days,” we typically think of the world ending tomorrow. But Hebrews 1:1-2 says this, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” So the “last days” according to Hebrews has been going for over 2000 years! The phrase “last days” doesn’t refer to the literal last few days before the end of the world, but refers to the last stage of God’s plan before the end. And how long that last stage will be? No one knows. In sum, we need to understand the ancient world on its own terms, and not impose a modern, Western view on the text.

2) Listen with your heart, not only your head (From Plowshares and Pruning Hooks)

Prophecy is often given in symbolic language. Symbolic language is given to provoke your emotions and imagination, not only your intellect. These prophecies often give us grand pictures of the joy that God will give to His people and also terrify pictures of the horror of the judgment that God will rain down on His enemies. This striking language is to cause to yearn for heaven, long to be with the Lord, and also to motivate us toward mission—because when Christ returns it is too late to switch sides and all the nations found outside of Christ will mourn.

3) Be humble in your conclusions

As I mentioned before, Christians for thousands of years have differed on the details of the future. We need to be humble in our conclusions. I think that God has allowed for a variety to opinions on the details to help us grow in maturity. Spiritual maturity means having the ability to know what are the right hills to die on. Spiritual maturity also means being able to hold your own personal convictions on the details without imposing them on others. It might be surprising to you, but with three of us on pastoral staff at the church, we have disagreements on different points of what we think the Bible teaches. We have lively discussions and possibly even debates, but we are ironclad solid, of one-mind, on the essentials. We are united on the gospel!

 4) Connect it Jesus

One thing we have tried to do is show consistently on Sunday mornings is how every story connects to Jesus. The whole Bible is ultimately about Jesus and what He has done for us. And prophecy is no different. Propehcy speaks of a time when God will return as King and vindicate His people. And He will judge the wicked. As you read into the New Testament, you will find that Jesus is that King. He will come and vindicate His people and they will live with Him forever. And Jesus is the conquering King who will judge the wicked. The function of prophecy, then, is to drive you to Jesus. If you already belong to Him, it should cause you to long to be with Him forever in glory. And if you do not know Jesus yet, it should cause you long to get to know Him in a saving way.

 5) Live what you have learned

 Finally, when you read prophecy, you need to live what you have learned. Too often, we can get consumed with figuring out the details of prophecy and forget that prophecy is meant to change our lives by showing us Jesus. You can claim that you understand prophecy. You can claim that you understand that God is in control of history and Jesus will return for His people. But if you still live a life racked with anxiety and worry, then you don’t really understand prophecy and God’s control! Living the truth demonstrates that you have adequately grasped the truth.