I once had a co-worker who loved just about everything Disney. He put a sticker on his car, and would proudly wear Disney hats and shirts. He was one of the managers at the store where I was working, and I remember one day when everything was going wrong he said to me “when this day is over I am going home, and I’m going to watch an old Disney movie.” When I pressed him a bit as to why he chose to watch an old Disney movie as opposed to anything else, he said, “Disney things just bring me back to when I was a kid.” Ultimately there was a sense of nostalgia from all the memories of growing up, and these things moved his affections in a way that made him feel a bit better after a hard day.
On another note, music has a way of doing the same type of things for us. I can remember in high school and college, and it even happens now occasionally, when I would be listening to secular radio, and that new song that I had been waiting to hear would come on. Immediately, I would turn up the volume, and I would be energized by what I was hearing. I would sing along with all the passion I could muster; sometimes to questionable lyrics.
There is nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia and being energized or moved by some piece of music, provided the context is not sinful, but when you put these things together with a Christian worship service, or program, we must be careful to discern our affections. I bring this up because sometimes we can be misled to think that we have had a time of worship, or that we have heard a great sermon, on the sole basis that our affections had been moved.
We must pay close attention to what is stirring our hearts to discern whether or not it is worship or even spiritual. When the worship leader plays the first chords of our favorite praise song, are we being energized much like the natural man who hears a secular song that causes him to turn up the radio, or are we truly worshipping? When grandma’s favorite hymn starts to play and causes us to experience a time of peace and contentment while thinking back to when she used to sing it to us as a child, do we sometimes confuse that with worship?
Now I am not saying we should only sing dull songs or songs that don’t remind us of anything, or that it is impossible to be genuinely worshipping during these times. In fact, I think it can be good to remember our family worship from when we were growing up, and I also believe it is good that we still have people today writing new psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for us to sing today that gets us excited. What I want to stress is that merely because we have these moments, does not mean we are worshipping or that we have been moved in adoration of God. Charles Spurgeon once said that if he wanted to, he could move congregations to tears by telling them sad stories of mothers with sick children or energize them by telling them stories of men and women who accomplished great things. He then went on to say, it would be a waste of time unless they were moved to cry over their sin and take joy in Christ and the cross. In other words, were their hearts and attention drawn to God.
Even the natural man’s affections can be moved in powerful ways, but those affections will never be worship unless we are moved by the truth of scripture as the Holy Spirit points us to Christ and what He has done for us. Whether we attend a modern or traditional worship service is not the biggest issue, but we must be sure to seek out worship and preaching that convicts us of sin and shows us the remedy in Christ, which is the foundation of all true worship.
I recently taught a class through Pilgrim’s Progress. Below are the discussion questions for each chapter.
-pp. 1-17 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 1-26 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 1-27 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 1-20 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. What is the book Christian has in his hand?
2. What is the burden that Christian is carrying, and have you ever felt this burden? If so, what did it feel like?
3. Christian reads the book and prays but still has the burden on his back. How is this possible?
4. Pliable has no burden on his back yet still follows Christian. Why would someone do this, and have you ever run across people like this? What kind of “churches” appeal to people in this condition?
5. What do you think the “Slough of Despond” represents?
6. Where, and to whom, does Mr. Worldly Wiseman direct Christian, and what false view of salvation does this represent?
7. Read Heb. 10:38 – How does this verse fit with Christian trying to remove his burden with morality and the law.
8. Do you ever find yourself trying to find relief for the conviction of sin by attempting to be moral rather than laying it all on Christ? What do you do in those times?
9. Worldly Wiseman is a false teacher, and Evangelist gives Christian three reasons to abhor him. What are they, and do they still apply to false teachers today?
10. When Christian is grieved by his sin of listening to Worldly Wiseman, Evangelist tells him is sin is very great. How is this different than what you may hear in many churches today?
-pp. 17-29 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 26-40 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 27-38 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 20-35 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Christian runs to the wicket gate and knocks more than once or twice, what do the running and the knocking teach us?
2. Goodwill pulls Christian through the gate. Why does he do this, and what do these dangers represent?
3. Christian goes through the wicket gate and enters the narrow path. Some people view this as the moment of his salvation, but he still has his burden on his back (which he will lose later). What do you think about this?
4. Who do you think the interpreter represents?
5. How does Christian explain to Goodwill that he and Pliable are alike? What does this teach us about Christian’s attitude?
6. Who or what do you think the man in the picture, who is authorized as Christian’s guide, represent(s)?
7. How is the heart of man like the dusty room, and what happens when the room is attempted to be cleaned with the broom of the law? What does this teach us about the law?
8. What do Passion and Patience represent in the Christian life, and what do we learn from them? Can you think of any Bible passages that relate to this?
9. What happens to the fire burning near the wall, and what do we learn from it? Can you think of any Bible passages that relate to this?
10. The picture of the man in the iron cage is one of the most shocking scenes in Pilgrims Progress. What was your reaction when you read it and what do you think it means?
-pp. 29-48 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 40-62 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 39-55 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 35-58 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. How does Christian lose his burden, and what does this represent? Have you heard of any testimonies that would illustrate this scene?
2. Last chapter we discussed whether entering the wicket gate in chapter 2 was his conversion. What do you think now that you have read of his burden being removed?
3. Three beings come to Christian, what do they represent and what do they do for him? Where do we see these things in Scripture?
4. How do Formalist and Hypocrisy get on the road of salvation? What lesson do they teach us? How do they defend their not entering at the wicket gate?
5. When Christian was climbing Hill Difficulty, he finds a place set by the Lord for refreshing weary travelers. What does this represent, and what does it mean that he fell asleep there?
6. What does it mean that Christian loses his scroll, and what does it teach us that it took a while before he realized it was gone?
7. What is the role of the chained lions, and what do their chains teach us?
8. What does Christian say his name was before it was Christian?
9. What is Christian’s reason for wanting to go to Mount Zion? How do these thoughts align with your reason for desiring heaven?
10. What does Christian say is his wife’s reason for not following him? Do you ever see the same tendency in your own life?
-pp. 48-58 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 62-74 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 56-65 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 58-71 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Christian has no armor to cover his back when he meets Apollyon, what does this teach us?
2. Who does Apollyon represent? What descriptions to do see in the book that leads you to that conclusion?
3. Apollyon says, that “many of the Lord’s servants have come to an ill end.” To what is he referring, and how does Christian respond?
4. How does Christian respond when Apollyon accuses him of many sins?
5. Christian loses his sword while battling Apollyon. What does this look like in the Christian life?
6. Christian receives leaves from the tree of life to heal his wounds, what picture is Bunyan painting here? How do the bread and wine fit?
7. Why do you think the way to the celestial city goes through the Valley of the Shadow of Death?
8. Bunyan refers to the quag that King David fell into, to what do you think he is referring?
9. The valley is so dark that “when [Christian] would lift his foot to go forward he knew not where, nor upon what he should set it next.” What Scripture does this bring to mind?
10. Bunyan describes the giants Pope and Pagan as no longer a real threat, what do you think he is alluding to, and do you think he is correct?
-pp. 58-78 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 74-96 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 66-86 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 71-95 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Why does Faithful say Pliable is now seven times worse than before? To what passage of Scripture does this allude?
2. Who is Adam the First, and what are the names of his children? What doctrine is Bunyan talking about here?
3. Why do you think Bunyan portrays Moses as beating faithful, and what saved Faithful from death?
4. What friends are dishonored by going through the Valley of Humiliation? What was Faithful’s response?
5. What were some of Shame’s arguments against faithful, and where do you hear these today?
6. What does it mean that Talkative was more comely [attractive] at a distance than up close?
7. Talkative says many true things, what then is the problem with him? Do you ever have to guard your own heart against being like that?
8. What are some of the ways Faithful says the work of grace is discovered in the life of a person?
9. When Talkative is exposed as a hypocrite, what is his response to Faithful, and do you ever see this type of response happen to Christians today?
10. Christian commends Faithful for talking so plainly with Talkative and laments that it rarely happens. Do you think this is still true and why?
-pp. 78-90 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 96-111 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 87-98 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 95-110 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Evangelist tells Christian and Faithful, “You are not yet out of the gun-shot of the devil; you have not yet resisted to bloodshed,” What does this mean? Read Hebrews 12:4 as you consider this.
2. What are some of the other things Evangelist tells them?
3. As you read of Vanity Fair, what aspects of today’s world come to mind? Has any of these aspects made it into the church?
4. Why were the people of Vanity Fair stirred up when Christian and Faithful arrived? What do these things look like in the Christian life?
5. What does it mean that Christian and Faithful said, “they would buy the truth?”
6. What were Christian and Faithful charged with by Lord Hate-good?
7. Which three people came forward to testify against Christian and Faithful?
8. Pickthank said Faithful railed against several men, what were their names?
9. What was Faithful’s response to the charges of the three men?
10. Knowing that John Bunyan was in jail for the faith when he wrote this, as you read the names of the jury that convicted Faithful, do you think this was an expression of how he saw the men who convicted him?
11. How is Faithful the most blessed one in this situation, even more than Christian?
-pp. 90-110 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 111-137 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 99-118 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 110-135 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Who are some of the citizens of the town of Fair-Speech, and against what is Bunyan trying to warn us?
2. What does it mean when Christian says “you must also own religion in his rags, as well as in his silver slippers; and stand by him, too, when bound in irons, as well as when he walk in the streets with applause?”
3. What scripture did Mr. Hold-the-World twist to defend his right to cling to the things of this world?
4. How does Mr. Money-love defend using religion to get rich? What is wrong with his arguments?
5. Demas, who calls the people to the silver mine, is also a biblical character. What is his story in Scripture (See Philemon 1:23-24, and 2 Timothy 4:10?)
6. What is the River of the Water of Life where Christian and Hopeful walked? Where do we see it in Scripture?
7. Bunyan says the pilgrims had to go with Giant Despair because he was stronger than they. What does this teach us?
8. Why was Christian in double sorrow in the dungeon?
9. What were some of Hopeful’s arguments to Christian as to why they should not end their own lives?
10. What does the key represent that unlocked the door to Doubting Castle, and what does it look like in the Christian life?
-pp. 110-135 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 96-111 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 87-98 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 95-110 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. What were some of the sights the shepherds showed the pilgrims in the Delectable Mountains?
2. Why does Ignorance think he will be accepted at the gate of the celestial city?
3. What is the story of Little-faith, and what do we learn from it?
4. Bunyan describes Faint-heart, Mis-trust, and Guilt as powerful. Who were some of the Biblical examples that Bunyan gives who where injured by them?
5. What warning does Christian gives us about desiring to meet our enemies, and what two things must we do if we do meet them?
6. Why did Christian and Hopeful not recognize Flatterer, and what does this teach us?
7. What were some of Atheist’s arguments to Christian and Hopeful?
8. The Enchanted Ground had air that makes pilgrims drowsy, what situations in life have this effect on us?
9. How do the pilgrims keep from falling asleep? What does this look like in the Christian life?
10. What aspects of Hopeful’s conversion do you find interesting and encouraging?
-pp. 135-145 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 167-179 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 138-147 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 167-78 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Where did Ignorance ground his hope when asked whether he was right with God or not? What are some examples where we hear similar things today?
2. What does Christian say to set Ignorance right about whether his thoughts are correct or not?
3. What is Ignorance’s understanding of justification? Where might we hear a view like this preached?
4. What are Christian’s four responses to Ignorance’s false view of justification?
5. What problem does Ignorance have with Christian’s response?
6. What is Christian’s response to Ignorance’s objection to justification?
7. How does Christian say that correct fear can be detected over a wrong fear?
8. How do some people try to stifle the conviction of sin?
9. What reasons does Hopeful give for Temporary’s backsliding?
10. What does Christian say are the ways people like Temporary backslide?
-pp. 145-154 in the Revell Spire Edition
-pp. 179-191 in the Moody Classic Edition
-pp. 149-156 in Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English
-pp. 178-190 Barbour and Company. 1985
1. Why do you think the grapes of the vineyard caused Christian and Hopeful to talk in their sleep? What is Bunyan trying to tell us?
2. Why do you think that Bunyan decided to use a river to represent death? What Scriptures come to mind?
3. The golden beings tell them that the river is “deeper or shallower as you believe in the King of the place.” What does this mean in the Christian life?
4. What do you think it means that Christian “in great measure lost his senses” as he crossed the river?
5. Why were Christian and Hopeful able to climb the hill to the Celestial City so easily?
6. Christian asks what they would do in the holy place, what were some of the things he was told by the ministering spirits?
7. What did you find interesting or encouraging about the reception the pilgrims received and the description of the Celestial City?
8. What was the name of the ferryman the helped Ignorance cross the river so easily?
9. Now that we have finished Christian’s story, what were some of the aspects of the book that had the biggest impact upon you?
I recently had the privilege of being a guest on the Apologetics.com radio show which airs Saturday mornings on KKLA 99.5 FM in Los Angeles. The discussion was lead by Christopher Neiswonger on how to answer Jewish arguments against Jesus.
The MP3 can be found at the link below, or it can be downloaded here. It can also be found in the Apologetics.com podcast.
All throughout scripture, we are promised that God will meet our needs. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?2 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:26-27).
Like God feeding the Israelites with manna in the wilderness, God still provides for us today. He gives us what we need when we need it. Why then does this not always give us peace? Why, when the troubles come, do we still fret?
Edward T Welch sums it up best when he says, “Beneath our questions about God’s generosity and his care for our needs is something darker, what we really care about is our wants.?” God promises to take care of our needs, not our wants, and this is what often drives our anxieties. Much of the fight of faith must be fought on this front.
Welch goes on to say that “our version of the kingdom looks peculiarly like suburbia.” We have painted our own worldly pictures of what it means to be taken care of by God. Then, like Abraham having a child with Hagar, we try to force the promises to happen in our own way. Doing this only compounds our anxieties, because, not only are we worried about our wants, but we are now living as if God’s promise to provide depends on us. This type of anxiety is often seen in many of the prosperity churches.
God will give us what we need when we need it, but that does not mean you will never get sick, lose a job, a child, or even die yourself. What it means is that he will give us what we need to face these times should they come, and only when they come. Just like the Israelites never had tomorrow’s manna today, we may not have what we need to face these future difficult times now. In fact, we may not even be able to imagine how we could handle it, but we will, if the time comes. The Lord never fails.
We all have desires that war against our soul, and these are often the cause of our greatest anxieties. We need to align our wants with his word and our desires with his decrees. If we think that a trouble-free life now is what it is all about, our gospel and our God are too small. As Welch says, “Life in the kingdom is not easy, at least not when we want to share the throne.”
You, O Lord, are my refuge and strength. No matter what fears assail me, they cannot stand before you. Whether my anxieties are based on reality or the result of my doubting heart, you are the calmer of my soul. There is no darkness your light cannot penetrate.
You are my peace. Every fear finds its defeat in you because none of them can overshadow your glory. There is no anxiety which can maintain its strength in the presence of your might. There is no cunning that can stand in the light of your wisdom and knowledge.
One day your Majesty will be acknowledged by all. Not only will every knee bow and every tongue confess that you are Lord, but, for all who come to you in faith, every sickness must heal, every broken heart must mend, every need must be met, and every loneliness must find its true companion. All of this is possible because no stain of sin can resist the cleansing power of your cross.
Nothing can touch you, O Lord, and my life is hidden in you. You are my helper, the upholder of my life. I give you thanks and praise in the midst of a dark and troubled land. May my worship be like a lighthouse calling to ships on a dangerous sea to find their rest in your harbor.
Calm my soul, O Lord. Let me look in triumph upon every fear. Let your peace, which passes understanding, rule in my heart. Hide me in the shadow of your wing. My soul clings to you, and your right hand upholds me.
O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. Psalm 59:9
There is something about me that always wants to be in control. If I am sick, I want to outlearn the disease and overcome it. If relationships start to fail, I want to be able to charm them back to life. We all want to be in control. I think this is why there are so many diets promising snake oil results: don’t eat gluten, eat kale, only eat raw foods. I don’t say this as a judgment on eating right; it is a wise thing to do, but how much of it stems from the desire to be in charge. If there is something I can do, then it is something I can control. I am the master of my destiny. This desire to be in control has even found its way into Christian circles. “If you can muster enough faith, it will all go right. Positive thoughts create positive results.” The problem is, it is not true. We could do all of this, and it could still fall apart. We are not in control.
The storm around me reminds me of this. I realize, with every peal of thunder, that I am not the center of the universe. Regarding orchestrating the master plan for creation, I am no more special than the other 7 billion people on the planet. We all tend to live as if we are, but it is a delusion. You and I both could come into contact with something in this fallen world that could end our lives within a month, and there could be nothing we could do about it.
Once we are gone, our co-workers would remember us and then replace us. Sure, they may even put up a picture for a few years to commemorate our contribution, but they would be able to continue without us. Our demise would most likely hit our family the hardest, but our children would move on with their lives just like we would want them to. Even the one we love, if the Lord wills, would find someone else to love and with whom to share the rest of their life.
I don’t like to think about these things, but it is good. It reminds me that the world is not yet the way it should be, so I should not put my trust and hope in it. There is something eternal that deserves my devotion and attention. Something else should be my source of hope.
Though the storm swells around me, I have found salvation in the cleft of the rock: Christ Jesus. All the sins that caused me to be fearful of God have been forgiven. The great and righteous judge of the universe has reconciled me to Himself through the cross. Yes, I, a sinner, am a friend of God. In fact, He calls me His child.
One of the problems is that we often interpret being a child of God to mean, that we are now co-sovereigns with Him, but that is not the case. When the omnipotent God makes us His child, He does not stop being God. He does not hand us the reigns of the universe. Instead, He continues right on with His plan, and we should be glad.
What tends to bother us, is that He still keeps much of his plan hidden. The hidden things belong to the Lord (Deuteronomy 29:29). His judgments and ways are past finding out, and none of us have been his counselor (Romans 11:34). He has not told us everything He is doing. He is operating in a fallen world in many ways that are unseen and unknown to us, but He has given us some revelation. One of the things revealed is that he will return and set all things right. We sometimes complain that He has not done it yet, but it is His patience that makes him tarry. If it were not for His patience, none of us would be saved. The day He returns in glory will be a day of great trembling and delight for His child, but it will be a day of terror for those who do not know Him. Though we should desire His return, it is not something we should rush.
Our salvation involves so much more than what we have already experienced. Though we have nothing without it, salvation is more than justification. Redemption is much more than what happen to us as individuals. Though we are to strive to give people a glimpse of glory in this life, it is only a dim reflection. We cannot place all our hope in what we are experiencing now. He has given the Holy Spirit, and we know this is a guarantee of what is to come, but what we are experiencing now, is not the consummation of our salvation.
Everything could fall apart. The darkest things imaginable could happen, except one: that He would fail to complete our salvation. We will see Jesus face to face in all of His glory. One day all believers will inhabit a place without sickness, without tears, and without death. A place where it can no longer come undone, but this is not it.
If we think that everything must fall into place now for our salvation to be real and our faith to be true, we have a short-sighted view of both salvation and faith, and our God is too small. True faith will trust God even if He does not do what we want Him to do right now. What He is doing is bigger and better than what we could ever imagine, even if we don’t fully understand it. One day the hidden things will be revealed, and we will stand in awestruck wonder at the wisdom of His plan. No matter how dark and painful it gets, the believer wins in the end, because we will stand in the presence of Jesus. It could all fall apart, and that’s ok.
For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. – Isaiah 54:10
His mom had laid out the situation. The room was to be clean by 4:00 p.m. If he completed the job on time, his mom would buy him movie tickets so he could go out with his friends. If he did not finish on time, he would be grounded for a week. At 4:00 p.m. he had not even started to clean the room, and he was grounded. What was astonishing was what he did when he finished serving his time. He walked up to his mother and said, “my punishment has been paid, now give me my movie tickets.” The request was absurd. Even though the penalty had been paid, he never fulfilled what was required to receive the reward.
We have all come into this world under certain requirements. We are called to live a righteous life. If we accomplish it, there is blessing, and if not, there is cursing. The problem is that Adam was unsuccessful, along with everyone who came after him. You and I have failed to inherit eternal life and have merited nothing but wrath. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
No one had been successful until Jesus took on flesh and walked among us. He came, lived a perfect life and fulfilled the law. Then he went and died for our sins. He took our sins upon himself on the cross, becoming a curse for us. He bore the wrath that we deserved, but bearing our sins is not all he did. If it were, we would be like the young man asking for the reward after our punishment had been paid but having no claim to it. This shortcoming is why it is so important to understand that our justification involves two imputations: for those who have faith, our sins are imputed to Christ, and his righteousness is imputed to us.
Righteousness is more than guiltlessness. As our representative, Jesus not only bore our punishment and forgives us of our sins, but he also earned the reward by fulfilling what needed to be done. His righteousness is counted as ours. Because of this, we are not simply sinners who can no longer be punished. Instead, we are counted as those who had fulfilled the law, and we become co-heirs with Christ. Even now there is an inheritance being kept for us: one that can never perish, spoil, or fade.
When we stand before the Lord one day, we will have no merit of our own. We will stand and say, “it is because of what the Lord Jesus did in my place that I am declared righteous.” It is true that we will grow in righteousness as believers here and now, but the righteousness we attain in this life will never be the basis upon which we have a right standing before the Lord. Like Abraham, it is through faith that we are declared righteous, and it will always be Christ’s righteousness.
For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.-Romans 5:19
Here is a sermon I preached recently which looks at the typology of Joseph’s brothers who came to buy grain from him in Genesis 42. Like the brothers, even when it seems God is against us, we must remember that He will supply our need.
Being laid up for three days gives you some time to think about your frailty. Day one was enough in itself, but when you expect to get better on day two, and it gets worse, it starts to lower your spirits. Today, the third day, is the first day I have had enough strength to sit up and write, and I am even finding this exhausting. I only have a flu virus. I’m sure if anyone reading this has battled, or is battling, cancer or some other serious disease, they are shaking their head saying, “you have no idea.” I’m sure you could teach me more than I could you, but I will put my thoughts here regardless, in case someone finds them edifying. Here are three thoughts that have been going through my mind as I have been laid up.
1. Sin is Serious
There would be no sickness if it were not for sin. The reason we have to deal with any of it is because we live in a fallen world. Let me be clear, I am not saying that anytime someone gets sick it is a result of some sin they have committed. What I am saying is that because sin has entered our world, there is sickness in general. I’ve seen sickness ravage the lives of some of my friends. I saw it once in a friend whose life was taken by a virus, that, for the last several weeks of his life, he lost all control of his body. Up until a couple of months earlier, he was physically fit and running every day. I saw it in another friend who lost his life to cancer. These two examples are enough to show us that sickness is serious, and though I do not believe these two friends were suffering because of any particular sin in their lives, they were suffering because sin has ravaged our world.
What does this say to me? It says sin is dangerous in any form. We often play around with it like it is a tame pet, but in reality, it is a deceptive brutal killer. Every time I play around with sin, I am playing with the very thing that brought not only sickness but death into the world. We must stop taking it lightly.
2. We Are Not Our Own
This life is not our own. This is true for everyone, but for the Christian, it is true in two senses. First, it is true for everyone in the sense that life is a gift, and tomorrow is promised to no one. We should never take our health for granted. None of us know when our last day of feeling good may be. It can happen overnight, all of the things we take for granted can be taken away. We live in a culture that hates to be reminded of this. We often try to hide sickness and death-keeping it as far away from us as possible. Being mindful of our frailty, however, is a valuable thing. Even David cried out, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! ( Psalm 39:4)” He wanted to be reminded that his life is a vapor: here today and gone tomorrow. There is a grace in knowing this, as it keeps our vision clear. We must redeem the time. Our sinful hearts are pulling us in so many directions it is easy to get lost: to lose our center. So many things are vying for our attention, and much of it is vanity.
Once you are laid out on your back, you quickly realize just how unimportant many of the things you are pursuing are. Even if you know that your life is in no real danger, the questions still come. “What if this were it? What if my days of health were behind me? Was I spending it on what mattered?” The interesting thing about these questions is you would think the answers would make you speed up. Instead, they challenge you to slow down. So much of what we are chasing is vanity, and we don’t need to work so hard to have other people be impressed with us. We do not need to put on so many masks to make people believe we are something that we are not. In the end, none of that will matter. Our lives are not our own, and as much as we think we are, we are not in control of when or how it will end.
For the believer, there is a second sense in which our lives are not our own. We have been bought with at price: the cross of Jesus. Let that cost sink in for a moment. Remember what your Savior suffered to save you. Even knowing this, we rarely sacrifice our time for Him. As Thomas Watson put it, “Christ went more willingly to the cross than we do to the throne of grace.” We are so busy chasing the things that we think will bring us glory and pleasure that we have little time for the One who really can. We have hardly any time for the Word of God and even less time for prayer. The pursuit of holiness is rarely as enticing as chasing status in this world, and they are often opposed to one another, so it is impossible to go after both. The fact that we have little time for God tends to show us where our treasure is.
3. Suffering is Crucial to our Spiritual Health
The first two reflections leave me with one final thought on the role of Suffering in the Christian life. Suffering is essential to our spiritual health. If our Savior, who had no sin, had to suffer in this fallen world, how do we, who have sinful hearts think we will escape it. We should neither seek affliction nor run from it. As one theologian once said, “It will find us,” but when it does, it wakes us from our slumber. We are naturally drowsy and need to be frequently awakened. Not only do we begin to see the power of sin in these times, but we are also awakened to the suffering of others. It is not until we are comforted by the Lord in our times of suffering that we will be truly able to comfort others.
It is all coming to an end one day, and our health has not been promised to us. What are we doing with the time we have? I for one do not want to find myself on my deathbed saying, “I wish I would have spent more time living for my Savior, in His word, in prayer, and showing a suffering world that Jesus is the answer.” Sin, in general, and, in particular, is our greatest problem, and He bore it on the cross. He has even defeated death by rising again, and though we are sown perishable, we will be raised imperishable. I will live for Him. Everything else will be vanity on the last day, for the things of this world are passing away.
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. – Philippians 3:8
Revelation 20 is one of the most debated passages in Scripture. When reading commentaries on this passage, it seems that there are about as many interpretations as there are writers. What causes this to be such a unique passage of Scripture is that according to Eerdmans’ Handbook on the Bible, this is the Scripture “which contains the Bible’s only mention of a millennium” (Alexander, 656). The questions which most are trying to answer are, what is the millennium? How long is it? Are the 1000 years symbolic or literal? Where does it take place? And, is it spiritual or physical? All of these questions are what makes this passage so unique. The focus of this post will be first, to give a basic understanding of the three most common understandings of the millenium, second to follow some basic hermeneutical principles and exegete the Scripture to get a general understanding of what the author originally meant, and third, to give arguments for and against each view.
I. General Understandings of the Millenium
The three most common understandings of the millenium may sound a little different depending on who you talk with, but can be broken down into three different categories; premillennialism, postmillennialism or amillennialism.
Today, it seems the most predominant view is premillennialism. This view holds to the idea that Christ’s second coming will precede the millennium. According to Henry Virkler in his book Hermeneutics, premillennialists believe that “He (Christ) will descend to earth and set up a literal 1000-year earthly kingdom with its headquarters in Jerusalem” (Virkler, 201). It is important to understand that not all premillennialists agree on all the details. There are two major camps of premillennialists: traditional premillennialists and dispensational premillennialists. When it comes to the actual details of the millenium there will be a lot of disagreement on its nature and purpose, but to be a premillenialist a person must believe that Christ’s second coming will take place before the millennium (pre-millennium).
Postmillennialism, according to Virkler, “is the view that through evangelism, the world eventually will be reached for Christ. There will be a period in which the world will experience joy and peace because of its obedience to God. Christ will return to earth at the end of the millennium” (post-millennium) (201). It must be clarified that postmillennialists do not believe that everyone will be a Christian during this time, but that society as a whole will be Christian.
Amillennialism, according to Virkler, “is conceptually a form of postmillennialism. The millennium, in this theory, is symbolic and refers to the time between Christ’s first and second coming. During this time Christ rules symbolically in men’s hearts. Christ’s second coming will mark the end of the period.” Amillennialists believe that Christ will never have an earthly rule (a- or no-millennium)” (201).
The terms postmillennial and amillennial are sometimes interchangeable depending on who is defining the them, since both of them believe Christ will return after (post) some kind of millennium. This paper will use the definitions provided by Virkler. The major difference between the two is that postmillennialists believe that Christianity will spread across the globe and usher in a time of peace. Amillennialists do not believe that Christianity will usher in this time of peace universally, except in the hearts of men. In the history of the Church, variant forms of these two positions have been the dominant view. Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology explains the most basic understanding of postmillennialism: “The common doctrine of the Church stated above, is that the conversion of the world, the restoration of the Jews, and the destruction of Antichrist are to precede the second coming of Christ, which event will be attended by the general resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, the end of the world, and the consummation of the Church” (Hodge, 861). This was the view of many of the reformers and the puritans and some suggest that even though the terms were not used, the bare bones of this doctrine shows through in Augustine’s famous work City of God. Postmillennialism seems to carry the worst stigmatism because of the fact that the liberals had hijacked this doctrine early in the twentieth century and turned it into a naturalistic and modernist’s doctrine. For a while, if you were a postmillennialist then you were considered to be on your way to becoming a liberal—if you were not already. Though this was an actual concern, it was based on a misrepresentation of what postmillennialist’s actually believe. In fact, the puritans were postmillennial, but not commonly considered liberal. Consequently, postmillennialism cannot automatically be linked with liberalism.
Premillennialism, being the less commonly held view, began to gain momentum about 300 years ago. This was around the time that dispensationalism came onto the scene, but it did not find its origins at this time. In fact, Charles Hodge states, “In opposition to this view (postmillennialism) the doctrine of a premillennial advent of Christ has been extensively held from the days of the Apostles to the present time.” Two world wars also led many people to reconsider the idea that the world was getting better, which helped premillennialism become the new majority view.
II. General Exegesis of Revelation 20
It is here that we will turn our attention to the actual Biblical text. The goal of finding the truth of Scripture is to find out what the author originally meant. The way to accomplish this is to start with historical-cultural and contextual analysis. This analysis means to uncover some basic information about the text, such as when was it written, who is the author, what was the situation at the time the author was writing, what was the purpose of the author, and how would his targeted audience have understood the passages. These questions can sometimes be harder to answer than they sound, but many of the answers can be found in the text itself. It is important to always interpret the obscure passages of Scripture with clear and easy to understand passages.
Most scholars place the writing of Revelation around 90-95 AD. In Revelation 1:4, the author identifies himself simply as John. According to Robert H. Mounce in his Commentary on the Book of Revelation, “Early tradition is unanimous in its opinion that the Apocalypse was written by John the Apostle” (Mounce, 27). Further insight into the historical context can be found in Revelation 1:9 which says, “I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” This verse lets us know that the audience the author was trying to reach was facing persecution and that John himself had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos at this time because of his preaching. In How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth, Gordon D. Fee writes, “the main themes are abundantly clear: the church and state are on a collision course; and initial victory will appear to belong to the state. Thus he warns the church that suffering and death lie ahead; indeed, it will get far worse before it gets better (6:9-11)” (Fee, 239). Fee goes on to state that John’s message is to encourage the church not to capitulate because Christ holds the keys to history and the future, and that eventually the wrath of God will be revealed against those who persecute the Church.
After understanding the basic historical situation of the author and the original audience it is important to understand lexical-syntactical facts about the text. For the book of Revelation, the most important step is to identify and have a general understanding of the literary form. The book of Revelation is what is called “apocalyptic literature,” which was common around this time. In the Old Testament, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and parts of Isaiah are examples of apocalyptic literature according to Fee (232). Most scholars place the majority of apocalyptic literature—much of which is not canonical—between 200 BC and 100 AD (Mounce, 18).
Fee sums up the general purpose of this type of literature:
“Apocalyptic was born either in persecution or in time of great oppression. Therefore, its great concern was no longer with God’s activity within history. The apocalyptists looked exclusively forward to the time when God would bring a violent, radical end to history an end that would mean the triumph of right and final judgement of evil.” (p. 233)
This is the type of literature that is found in Revelation. Typical apocalyptic literature used many symbols and is presented in the form of fantasy rather than reality (Fee, 233). This fantasy rather than reality is where much of the trouble in interpreting the book of Revelation is found. What is to be taken as symbols and what is to be taken literally? The trouble is that in many of these cases the Scripture itself does not tell us what is symbolic and what is not. Here is actually where most of the disagreement is found.
A quick read through Revelation reveals a basic outline. The book starts with an introduction followed by a message to the seven churches of that time, which are actually the recipients of John’s letter. In Chapters 4 and 5, the book moves into a view of heaven and of Christ. In Chapter 6-22, we see the drama unfold as Christ, the only one fit to open the seals, begins to pour his wrath upon the earth and the wickedness found in it. The book closes at the end of chapter 22 with the angel giving John some basic instructions not to seal up the book because “blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book” (Rev.22:7).
Whether John was writing about the past, present or the future, further complicates the interpretation of this book. There are three different understandings regarding this. First, according to J. Vernon McGee, we have the preterist view, which holds that everything John was writing about had already taken place when it was written. It was recent Church history written in symbols to encourage the Church at that time” (Mcgee, 13). The next view is the historical interpretation. This is the view, “that the fulfillment of Revelation is going on continuously in the history of the church from John’s day to the present time” (14). The third interpretation is called futurist. This is view most commonly held by premillennialists, which sees the book of Revelation as prophetic. The book is describing what will take place in the future (14).
Reading through the book of Revelation it will be difficult to fit the entire book into one of these categories. It seems pretty hard to fit chapters 21 and 22, which deal with the new earth, into a preterist understanding. It also seems hard to place chapter 12, which seems to be speaking about Christ’s birth into the futurist view. Understanding whether the fulfillment of John’s Revelation has already taken place, is taking place currently, or will take place at the end times is probably one of the most difficult aspects of the book to uncover.
The millennium seems to be found after the second coming, which is written about in chapter 19, in which Christ returns and the beast is destroyed. Moving into chapter 20, the chronology seems to flow to the dragon or Satan who controlled the beast. The dragon is then bound and cast into the bottomless pit. Those who did not take the mark of the beast during the struggle will be resurrected first and rule with Christ for a thousand years after which will be the second resurrection of the saints and the final judgment. This is where we find the “million-dollar question:” what, when, and where is the millennial reign?
III. Arguments for and against the different views of the millennium
Postmillennialists and amilliennialists tend to use many of the same objections against the premillennial interpretation. The following objections can be found in Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology. Hodge lists eight objections, many with subcategories, but due to the length of this post, only a few will be dealt with briefly. The majority of the objections against the premillennial view deal with its inconsistency with the rest of Scripture. Post- and amillennialists tend to hold tightly to the idea that Scripture is its own best interpreter. One of Hodge’s main objections is that the premillennial theory is inconsistent with Scripture, because “the Bible teaches that when Christ comes all nations shall appear at his bar for judgment. This theory teaches that the final judgment will not occur until after the millennium” (Hodge, 862). Another reason that Hodge believes this position is inconsistent with Scripture is that “the Scriptures teach when Christ comes the second time without sin unto salvation, then the Church shall enter on its everlasting state of exaltation and glory.” The inconsistency is that according to the premillennial position, “instead of heaven awaiting the risen saints, they are to be introduced into a mere worldly kingdom” (863).
Another objection that postmillennialists make against the premillennialist’s theory is that “it disparages the Gospel” (864). Since the postmillennialists believe that eventually the Gospel will spread across the globe and usher in an era of peace, because the “gospel is the power of God unto salvation,” (Rom. 1:16) and against the church “the gates of hell will not prevail” (Mat. 16:18). The premillennial view says the gospel will fail to usher in this time of peace. To the postmillennialist, this idea seems to weaken the power of the gospel to change the world.
The premillennial position also has its list of objections to the other positions. The main objection that is usually brought up is that the other positions do not take Scripture literally enough. Revelation says that there will be a thousand year reign which will follow the second coming. The other positions tend to symbolize too much. Of course, the common response to this argument is that the other positions do take the Bible literally, and when symbolism is used, they take what that symbol represents literally. The premillennialists in this instance see no indication that the millennium is a symbol.
One of the strongest arguments against the amillennial view is that if we are in the millennium now, then Satan is currently bound. This is where the premillennialists argue that this positions is inconsistent with Scripture, because Satan, according to Scripture “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). This does not appear to be someone who is bound in a bottomless pit! Not to mention that the passage says he will be unbound in the last days. If it was Christ’s death that bound him and rules in our hearts, as the amillenniallists argue, does that mean that the power of Christ’s death will be undone when he is loosed?
In the book Hard Sayings of the Bible, Walter Kaiser presents three purposes for the millennium. Two of which seem the strongest. “First, it demonstrates the victory of Christ, [and] second, it vindicates the righteous rule of God, redeeming history. Is it possible that God could not rule this earth any better than human beings” (Kaiser, 779). Dispensationalists also see it as the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament, which as they claim have not yet been fulfilled.
One of the amillennialists strongest arguments against the postmillennialist position is the parable of the wheat and tares found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. In this parable, Jesus paints a picture of believers and non-believers growing up in the world together, one in which they will not be separated until the day of the Lord. They believe this shows us that the church will not overtake the world, but will grow alongside of the world.
In conclusion, it seems that the way a person interprets the millennium is directly related to how they see the outline of Revelation. Is it a chronological flow of events as the dispensational premillennialists suggest it is, or are some of the visions that John sees out of order and somewhat concurrent as they portray many of the same periods of time in different ways? For example, David Chilton, in his book The Days of Vengeance, sees chapters 19, 20, and 21 as a series of seven independent visions. Speaking of the binding of Satan, he states, “The importance of the imagery in this passage is heightened by its centrality as the fourth of seven visions introduced by the expression ‘and I saw’” (Rev. 19:11, 17,19; 20:4, 11; 21:1) (Chilton, 499). Viewing the breakdown of Revelation this way makes it easier to see the millennium as not following the second coming.
Understanding apocalyptic literature, it may actually be that John through his writing of Revelation was not intending to give us a full understanding of how the end times will unfold. It seems that its main purpose was to encourage the Church through the persecution it will face, by realizing that in spite of anything we face, all struggles will eventually be solved by the coming of Christ. As believers, we should seek to live our lives with Christ as our perfect example. If the day comes when Christianity becomes the dominant religion of the world, as the postmillennialists say, then we will enjoy peace ushered in by the gospel. If that time does not come and there is no real millennium as the amillennialists say, then we have done our job and fought for what is right and the final judgment will set things straight. If there is an actual millenium after Christ returns, it will be a time when the saints who are there will enjoy reigning with Christ. But for us who are not living in that time period, our job is still to be salt and light, regardless of the fact that the Church will never become dominant in this world. I says this because it seems that some of the dispensationalists view the end times as only getting worse, believing that the church should merely huddle in a corner until it is all over because there is no hope of any significant reformation and revival. This goes directly against what Scripture has called us to do.
After reading so many sources on this topic, I find myself holding loosely to historical premillennialism also known as non-dispensational premillennialism. The reason for my gravitation to this point of view is influenced by many factors, but most importantly by my understanding of the book of Revelation itself, even though I believe some passages like, chapter 12 seem to be preterist passages, and many others are historical. It seems that many of the passages that John writes, especially in chapters 19-22, are prophecies of the future, because this is how John actually starts the book. He states that the Revelation is of things “which must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1). Seeing these passages as eschatological, they seem to follow a forward moving chronology except for a few interludes. Having both of these in place leads me to see the millenium as taking place after the second coming. As to whether the millenium is an actual thousand years, I am not certain.
At this point, I would not rule out the other views. I would be what Herschel Hobbs in his book Revelation: Three Views, calls a “pre without a program” (Hobbs, 136). By this he means someone without a detailed layout of how the end times will unfold. It seems to me that there are things about the last days that we know with certainty and it is these truths that bring us hope. The book of Revelation encourages us to hold firm regardless of any persecution we may face, because Christ is coming to judge. The Apostles Creed tells us, “[Jesus Christ] ascended into heaven. And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” Because of this certain knowledge there is no further explanation that is really needed. It is with this simple truth that we can take courage and move forward proclaiming the gospel to all nations.
Alexander, David, Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987)
Chilton, David, The Days of Vengeance an Exposition of the Book of Revelation, (Dominion Press, 1987)
Fee, Gordon, How to read the Bible for All Its Worth, (Zondervan, Second Edition 1993)
Hobbs, Herschel, Revelation: Three Viewpoints, (Broadman Press, 1977)