“We do not regard it to be soul-winning to steal members out of churches already established, and train them to utter our peculiar Shibboleth: we aim rather at bringing souls to Christ than at making converts to our synagogue.”
“In the next place, we do not consider soul-winning to be accomplished by hurriedly inscribing more names upon our church-roll, in order to show a good increase at the end of the year. This is easily done, and there are brethren who use great pains, not to say arts, to effect it; but if it be regarded as the Alpha and Omega of a minister’s efforts, the result will be deplorable.”
“Teach gospel doctrines clearly, affectionately, simply, and plainly, and especially those truths which have a present and practical bearing upon man’s condition and God’s grace. Some enthusiasts would seem to have imbibed the notion that, as soon as a minister addresses the unconverted, he should deliberately contradict his usual doctrinal discourses, because it is supposed that there will be no conversions if he preaches the whole counsel of God. It just comes to this, brethren, it is supposed that we are to conceal truth, and utter a half-falsehood, in order to save souls. We are to speak the truth to God’s people because they will not hear anything else; but we are to wheedle sinners into faith by exaggerating one part of truth, and hiding the rest until a more convenient season. This is a strange theory, and yet many endorse it.”
“To try to win a soul for Christ by keeping that soul in ignorance of any truth, is contrary to the mind of the Spirit; and to endeavour to save men by mere claptrap, or excitement, or oratorical display, is as foolish as to hope to hold an angel with bird-lime, or lure a star with music. The best attraction is the gospel in its purity. The weapon with which the Lord conquers men is the truth as it is in Jesus. The gospel will be found equal to every emergency; an arrow which can pierce the hardest heart, a balm which will heal the deadliest wound. Preach it, and preach nothing else.”
Poverty is painful. Anyone who has experienced it will tell you that it comes with great distress. We fight against it, and rightfully so. Scripture speaks of the poor with great concern. The poor do not want to be poor. They struggle from day to day to have what they need. If they could get out of the situation, they would, but they do not have the means.
At the same time, we are told, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall see God.” There are many ideas about what this means. Some have said it means to take care of the poor. Others have said it is to take vows of poverty. Finally, many have simply interpreted this to mean that if you are poor, you will see God.
The main problem with these explanations is that they miss a key word in the text, “spirit.” We are to be “poor in spirit.” In fact, all of the beatitudes are spiritual qualities. They are characteristics of people who have been born from above. The rich, though they have their own challenges in knowing God, are not excluded from seeing God. Likewise, the poor are not guaranteed salvation simply because they are poor. The idea that the poor are good, and the rich are bad is shallow reasoning. There are evil rich people and evil poor people. There are godly rich people and godly poor people. To be poor in spirit must go much deeper than this. Being poor in spirit is more than taking vows of poverty as well because even that can be an act of pretense. It can be done before men in order to receive their praise.
So what does it mean to be poor in spirit? The beatitudes are not things we do to be saved; they are something we become as a result of God’s work in our hearts. They are a change in our nature. Spiritual poverty is realizing we have no merit before God because we have all sinned and fallen short of his glory. According to scripture, our righteousness is as filthy rags. They are unacceptable to a holy God and deserve his wrath. We are also dead in our sins, and nothing we can do can get us out of this situation.
The reality is, due to our sin, every person alive is already poor in spirit. When the text says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” it is not talking about our actual poverty of spirit. Instead, it is talking about the acknowledgment of our poverty.
To be awakened to our poverty of spirit is not something we can do in our power, it must be a work of God. We are naturally proud, and once we acknowledge our poverty of spirit, it is unpleasant and leads to the second beatitude, which is mourning. It is something the old nature does everything in its power to resist, but it is the first step to being filled. Matthew Henry put it this way, “This poverty of spirit is a disposition of soul, by which we are emptied of self, in order to our being filled with Christ.”
We see it exhibited in the life of David when he wrote, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles” (Psalm 34:6). David was king. He was not poor in the things of this world, but he knew, before God, he was nothing. There was no merit in David that caused God to save him. It was God’s grace alone.
When you realize you are poor in spirit and see the glory of Christ, it changes you. All of a sudden, we become willing to part with all that we have in order to know him because all we have is worthless without him. To use a parable of Jesus, we become willing to part with all we have to possess the Pearl of Great Price (Matt. 13:45-46). Moses choose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt (Heb. 11:25, 26).
The author of Hebrews continues, “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated-of whom the world was not worthy-wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” – Hebrews 11:36-38″.
Why would these people be willing to give up so much? It was because, by faith, they had become poor in spirit and knew where their true riches were to be found. They had died to themselves. They may be poor in spirit, but they have a part in the kingdom of heaven. This poverty of spirit will often translate into a concern for the poor, which is why the two are often associated, but being concerned for the poor does not necessarily mean one is poor in spirit.
Christ is King over his kingdom, and we have nothing in ourselves that can claim any merit to it, but when we see our poverty of spirit, mourn over our sinfulness, approach Christ in meekness, and hunger for the righteousness we do not possess, we will be filled. We will have Jesus, who has filled us with his righteousness. Being in Christ, you’re part of his kingdom, which is under his governance, guidance, and guard. Like Christ himself, his kingdom will never fail, and we shall see God. Only by seeing our poverty can we truly be filled.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3
If you want a picture of your sin, all you need to do is to spend some time studying the passages of scripture that deal with leprosy. Doing so, you will see countless parallels. With that in mind, here are five ways leprosy is a picture of sin. Many people have expressed these before, so I do not claim them as original. They come from men such as Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, and S. Lewis Johnson.
1. Leprosy was an inward disease
Even though you saw leprosy on the outside of the body, the real cause of the disease was lying beneath the surface. The sores and other problems were symptoms of the disease, but the cause ran deeper still. Sin is precisely the same. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. The root of sin runs deep. Sin proceeds from a sinful heart. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. – Matthew 15:19
Just like the leper would have the disease long before it even began to show, sin does its work in us well before others may ever see it. It often starts with secret sins, where only we will feel the tenderness. Then it begins to show itself in public sin, then when we defend and justify our sin, it starts to fester and putrify, but it all starts from within.
2. Leprosy was a loathsome disease
It could be felt. It came with uncomfortable numbness, aches, and unhealing wounds. Many of the wounds that the leper would have were the result of the numbness the disease produced. Once the sense of pain was gone, the lepers could be cutting or burning their flesh without even knowing it. Likewise, sin stupefies us and then when our conscience is numb, it wounds.
It had a terrible odor. The aroma would drive others away, but the infected person could not escape it, and at other times didn’t even notice it. Lepers didn’t even like the smell of each other, much like when two sinners get together. The sins of the other often repulse them even though their own sin is just as rancid.
It could also be heard. It attacked the vocal cords causing a raspy voice. In the same way, sin finds its easiest escape through the tongue, which is why James warns us of its power. Even Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Sin can be heard.
Leprosy could also find its way into clothing and the walls of the house. Likewise, sin can manifest itself in the way we dress and what we do with, and in, our homes.
In all of these ways leprosy was loathsome. It could not be kept hidden, and like leprosy, our sin will find a way out, and we will be exposed. There is no hiding the disease, especially from God.
3. Leprosy was a separating disease
Leprosy put you outside of the camp for quarantine, but not only did it separate loved ones, like sin can destroy relationships, but it also separated the infected person from the presence of God. They were considered ceremonially unclean, which meant they were unable to go to the temple to worship, and the temple was where God manifested His presence. Sin does the same. It puts us at enmity with God, severing our relationship with Him and leads to our destruction.
4. The leprous person could not cure themselves
During biblical times, there was no natural remedy, no exercise program or diets, and there were no topical ointments that could touch the depths of the disease. This lack of a cure, however, did not mean that people were not cleansed of the disease. Miriam only had the disease for a short time on her hand, and God healed Naaman by having him wash seven times in the Jordan. What is impossible with men, is possible with God.
5. Jesus can heal the leper
In Matthew chapter eight we see Jesus touch the leper. The fact that Jesus touched the leper is astounding because if anyone else had come in contact with a leper, they would have become unclean. Jesus, however, touches the leper, and the opposite happens; the leper becomes clean. We are sinners deserving judgment, and God being a just God must punish sin. If God were to let sin go unpunished, it would mean that He Himself would be unjust, so how could God justify sinners without himself being tainted? He did it by bearing the justice and wrath that sin deserved when the Father sent the Son and died upon the cross. For those who have faith in Jesus, their sins can be forgiven because their just punishment was placed upon Christ. God will judge every sin, and His wrath will either be poured out on the sinner or upon Christ in their place. This substitution is why God can be both just and the justifier of sinners.
How do we receive this cleansing? Are there works of righteousness we must fulfill to merit this forgiveness? The answer, of course, is no. In Leviticus 13 we see a picture of how we can be declared clean.
And if the leprous disease breaks out in the skin, so that the leprous disease covers all the skin of the diseased person from head to foot, so far as the priest can see, then the priest shall look, and if the leprous disease has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean of the disease; it has all turned white, and he is clean. But when raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean. – Leviticus 13:12-14
If the leprous person was only partially covered with the disease, they were unclean, but if the disease covered the entire body, they were pronounced clean. This is a perfect picture of recognizing our sinfulness and coming to the Lord in repentance. If we come to Him and say, “I know I am sinful, but I still have some soundness in me, see these good works I do? Please see them and accept me.” The Lord will say “unclean,” because self-righteousness is like the raw flesh; it is as filthy rags. However, if we come to Him in poverty of spirit, recognizing our real condition, we will say, “There is nothing good in me. I am completely sinful. Have mercy on me a sinner.” The Lord will say “You are clean.”
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
The verbal inspiration of Scripture is the truth that the Bible is exactly word-for-word what God wanted to say. This doctrine is constantly under attack by liberals and postmoderns. They argue that God did not put the writers of Scripture in a trance and use their bodies to write the Bible, nor did He audibly dictate to them exactly what to write like an executive to a secretary, and we agree with both of these statements. So how did God get word-for-word what He wanted out of the writers? Below is a great quote by Gordon Clark on this topic.
“Verbal inspiration therefore must be understood in connection with the complete system of Christian doctrine. It may not be detached there from, and a fortiori it may not be framed in an alien view of God. Verbal inspiration is integral with the doctrines of providence and predestination. When the liberals surreptitiously deny predestination in picturing God as dictating to stenographers, they so misrepresent verbal inspiration that their objections do not apply to the God of the Bible. The trouble is not as the liberals think, that the boss controls the stenographer too completely; on the contrary, the analogy misses the mark because the boss hardly controls the stenographer at all.
Put it this way: God, from all eternity, decreed to lead the Jews out of slavery by the hand of Moses. To this end he so controlled events that Moses was born at a given date, placed in the water to save him from an earthly death, found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, given the best education possible, driven into the wilderness to learn patience, and in every way so prepared by heredity and environment that when the time came, Moses’ mentality and literary style were the instruments precisely fitted to speak God’s words.”
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?
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
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)
May my prayer be set before you like incense. – Psalm 141:2
All throughout the Old Testament we see incense playing an important role in the way God prescribed that the people should worship Him. There was even an altar of incense in the Holy Place. As we look at this, it is important to remember the ceremonies of the old covenant were pictures and shadows of what Christ would accomplish in His atoning work on the cross, and incense is part of that picture. Ultimately, incense is a picture of the sacrifice of Christ which is the sweet aroma that goes before the Father on our behalf, but in another sense, incense also typifies prayer.
John Owen in his commentary on Hebrews lays out four ways incense is like prayer.
1. Incense was beaten and pounded before it was used. Likewise acceptable prayer proceeds from a broken and contrite heart.
Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Elsewhere we are told that God “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” In order for our prayers to be as incense we must be broken enough to be aware that we are poor in spirit, knowing that our sinfulness has separated us from God, and that only through Christ our mediator do we have peace with Him. If we approach God in any other way we are like the tax collector leaning on our own righteousness, and he went away unjustified.
2. Incense rises toward heaven, and the point of prayer is that it ascends to the throne of God.
One of the major points made in the book of Hebrews is that Christ is exalted and sitting at the right hand of the Father. Yet we are encouraged to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence. When we pray, we are doing that very thing. We are bringing our praises and petitions to the throne of God. In doing this we need to remember three things. First, we are approaching a throne, and we need to approach it with reverence and not flippancy. Second, we need to remember that it is a throne of grace in the sense that we have no merit there. We make our petitions without making demands. Third, we need to remember that it is a throne of grace in a different sense. Though we have no merit there, we still find favor because of the merit of Christ and His righteousness. So for our prayers to be as incense, we need to be aware of the great heights they are reaching when we commune with the exalted Christ.
3. Incense requires fire for it to be useful, and prayer has no virtue unless is set on fire by the power of the Holy Spirit.
By this we are not referring to some mystical experience. The very fact that a believer desires to go to the Lord in prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit. The natural man desires to be independent and self-sufficient. Prayer is not his natural disposition. Most prayer will never take place apart from the Spirit’s work. The only prayer that would take place without Him would be prayer that is not in accord with the Word of God: for example, prayers to false gods, and ritualistic prayers by those who believe they will be heard because of mere formality. We must pray in accordance with the Word of God. When this happens it is because the Spirit is moving.
4. Incense yields a sweet aroma, and our prayers are a sweet aroma to the Lord.
This seems to be at the heart of the cry of the Psalmist. “May my prayer be as incense,” means, may it be a sweet aroma to you. In Revelation 8:4 we see that the smoke of incense rose with the prayers of the saints. This seems to signify that there is a sweet fragrance associated with our prayers, and the sweet fragrance is due to the fact that we approach the Lord in Christ’s name. This teaches us that our prayers are pleasing to the Lord, and the very fact that we can bring pleasure to God is something that should cause us to drop to our knees with joy.
As you spend time with the Lord in prayer this week, may you approach him with a broken and contrite heart, may you be reverent and hopeful as you understand the exalted nature of the One with whom you commune, may your prayers be set on set on fire by the Holy Spirit, and may you approach Him with joy knowing that your prayers bring him pleasure. In so doing, your prayers will be as incense before the Lord.
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. – Hebrews 7:23-24
There is a depth to these verses that is often missed. The basic truth is clear, under the old covenant, though there was only one high priest at a time, there had to be many of them because they were prevented from continuing in the office by death, but think about this a little deeper.
The priesthood under the old covenant was a wonderful picture or shadow of the reality that Christ would fulfill. Some people, including the original readers of the book of Hebrews were tempted to go back to the old system for several reasons, but one of the benefits was that it was tangible. You could see the sacrificed animal, you could smell the incense burning, and hear the priest make intercession for you. This was undoubtedly a comfort, but in this picture of our true salvation in Christ there was a gaping hole. The priests kept dying.
The role of the priest was to mediate between God and man, and they would illustrate atonement from sin, but the wages of sin is death and even the priests continued to die. If you are in desperate need of salvation and you understand that death is part of what you need to be saved from, how much hope could you receive from priests who continue to die? You could only gain hope if you understood that it typified something greater that God was going to provide.
Every one of us, unless Christ returns, is going to face death. Some of us may already be feeling its effects. We are unable to do many of the things we used to do, and the older we get the more illness and health issues we have to deal with. When death becomes more of a reality for us, to whom are we going to turn and place our hope? To priests who still die? Your own goodness or heath regimens? Since none of these have defeated the enemy of death, there must be something greater in which we can place our trust.
V. 24 But he [Jesus] holds His priesthood permanently. He will never stop being our high priest because he continues forever. He has defeated death, even after tasting it on our behalf! So when your body starts to break down, when your work hours begin to outlast your physical strength, when you begin to see the doctors more frequently, you will know you have the correct High Priest if he has defeated death and continues forever. No other priest will ever truly be able to mediate between God and man and make atonement for sin and its wages. Never shrink back from Christ, and never lean on any substitute, for Christ and Christ alone is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For those who have faith, we have peace with God. He bore our wrath and His righteousness is accounted as ours so we can be co-heirs with Him, and since He lives forever, exalted with the Father, His work as our mediator is an ever present reality in the true tabernacle. In Christ, because of His priestly work, all of God’s actions toward you are grace, and none of it wrath. Even His chastening hand is moved by love.
Draw near to Christ today, approach the throne of grace with confidence, and if you are feeling the effects of a body tainted by sin, let it drive you to your Savior’s side, for all those who are in Christ will live with him forever. Though we are sown in weakness we will be raised in power, and though we are sown perishable we will be raise imperishable.