Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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January 2005, Volume X, Issue 9


Receiving Preaching as the Word of God (3)

The truth of I Thessalonians 2:13 that faithful preaching is the Word of God has implications, first, for the minister. Obviously, he must not teach error or his own opinions. Such are wood, hay and stubble (I Cor. 3:12f.), if not worse. For these things the minister receives no reward, and by such doctrines he and the congregation are led astray. Instead, the preacher must labour hard in rightly dividing the Word of truth. He must meditate on the passage, compare Scripture with Scripture, study the context and use the original languages. Like Paul in Acts 17:2-3, he must point his hearers to the sufferings and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate revealed in the Word of God written and proclaimed in the Word of God preached.

Second, there is also a calling here for the elders. They must test the preaching. Did the sermon come "out of" the Scriptures? Did it explain the text? Did it apply the text? Is this sound or health-giving doctrine? If it is not, the elders should lovingly admonish and correct the minister. They should also sustain proper criticisms of the minister’s preaching made by members of the congregation and exhort the preacher in a brotherly manner. It is amazing today how much anaemic and erroneous preaching goes unchallenged! On the other hand, if the minister’s preaching is a faithful exposition of the text of Scripture, the elders should receive it as the Word of God, encourage the minister in his work and rebuke those who criticise it.

Third, the congregation has a calling. Every member should be a Berean, searching the Scriptures daily to see if the doctrine taught is in accordance with God’s Word (Acts 17:11). If a minister mispronounces a word, or states that a verse is in John 8 when it is in John 5, or even if he interprets a text or part of a text in a different way from you (provided his interpretation is within the analogy of faith), you may wish to say something to him about it but there is no ground for a protest. Moreover, if the minister is faithfully exercising his office and if believers are faithfully exercising their office, there will not be any protests. If the preaching is faithful then all are under solemn obligation before God to receive it as God’s Word or, as the apostle puts it, "the word of God ... in truth" (I Thess. 2:13). Those who do not receive it as such are guilty of the sin of unbelief and hardness of heart. They are resisting a means of grace, the chief means of grace. Such people will not benefit as they ought from the preaching and their spiritual life will suffer accordingly. They must repent. However, those who receive faithful preaching as God’s Word will grow in grace. Christ will speak to you and you will know His Word working effectually in you. Thus you will thank God for a minister "who feed[s] you with knowledge and understanding" (Jer. 3:15). Rev. Stewart

The Binding of Satan (1)

And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season (Rev. 20:1-3).

A reader writes, "Please enlarge on the binding of Satan."

The book of Revelation is not so easy to understand, chiefly because it is composed of visions. These visions are given in signs and symbols (Rev. 1:1), and the symbols are not always clear. The general rule which applies here is the rule for the interpretation of all Scripture: Scripture interprets Scripture. Symbols used in these visions must also be interpreted in the light of other scriptural passages where the same or similar symbolism is used. And the interpretation must be in harmony with Scripture as a whole. But even such exegetical work is not always easy. What is true of Revelation as a whole is all the more true of Revelation 20. Symbols are used in this chapter which are difficult to interpret, and the result is that many different interpretations have been offered of this chapter in particular and of the book as a whole.

These different interpretations have resulted in radically different eschatologies or doctrines of the last things. Most of the differences in the interpretation of Revelation 20 begin with interpretations of the 1000 years or millennium mentioned in this text.

Premillennialists interpret the 1000 years as a literal period of 1000 years during which Christ shall return to His chosen people, the Jews; establish with them a glorious kingdom in Palestine (after the pattern of the kingdom of the Jews during the reigns of David and Solomon); restore the temple worship; and make them a light to all the other nations. They say that the coming of Christ is prior to (pre) the millennium.

Postmillennialists also envision the 1000 years as a period (not a literal but a symbolic period) in which Christ’s kingdom will be manifested in great glory. But these folk do not envision a kingdom in Palestine with the Jews, but a kingdom spread over the whole earth. They do not see the kingdom established through the return of Christ, but see the kingdom gradually developing as Christianity becomes more and more influential and succeeds in transforming more and more of the institutions of society until all comes under the rule of Christ. After (post) the millennium is realized here on earth, Christ comes. (Some postmillennialists, however, speak of the coming of Christ Himself not as a historical event, but as the realization of the kingdom here on earth.)

I believe that these two views of the text are not only wrong, but are relatively recent innovations in the history of Christian thought. With rare exceptions the church throughout the ages has maintained that the 1000 years of Revelation 20 is a symbolic number which indicates the time between the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ and His bodily return in the clouds of glory.

It is designated as 1000 years because 1000 is 10 x 10 x 10. Ten is the number of God’s full purpose. There are ten commandments, for the decalogue is the full expression of God’s moral will for man. There were ten plagues, because the plagues on Egypt were the full expression of God’s wrath against a nation that would not let His people go. 1000 years measures the period of New Testament history when God realizes His purpose in the gathering of the church from Jews and Gentiles through the exalted Lord. When the church is gathered, Christ comes, for God’s purpose is accomplished.

This is why the text says that when the 1000 years are over, the devil will be loosed for a little season. Only a smidgeon of time remains after he is loosed and before Christ returns. Those who hold to a symbolic 1000 years have maintained this position consistently over the centuries.

If we agree on the symbolic meaning of the 1000 years, and if we agree that the number of years designates the period from Christ’s ascension to the time of His second coming (or shortly before it), then we have more light on the rest of the text.

First, the binding of Satan has to be symbolic. It cannot be taken literally in any case, for Satan cannot be bound with a chain and thrown into a literal pit which is then locked with a key. Satan is not a material being such as we are. He, though fallen, is like the angels in heaven, spiritual beings whose substance cannot be measured or weighed with human instruments.

Satan’s binding is further described in the text: the angel "cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him." This certainly cannot mean that the devil was actually thrown bound into hell, for we know from other parts of Scripture that he is "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2) and that he goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). Paul describes Satan and his angels as "not flesh and blood," but "principalities," "powers," "the rulers of the darkness of this world," and "spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12).

When our Lord cast out the devils from the Gadarene demoniac, their anxious question to the Lord, recognizing His absolute sovereignty over them, was "Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" (Matt. 8:29). They feared being forced to go to hell before the great Judgment Day. Thus we must take this binding figuratively and recognize that the vision John saw was filled with symbols. Prof. H. Hanko

Love Your Enemies (2)

Near the end of the last article on Matthew 5:44-45, we noted that Christ certainly does "love," "bless," "do good to" and "pray for" His elect enemies. But the question was raised, Does Christ "love," "bless," "do good to" and "pray for" His reprobate enemies? First, Christ certainly does not pray for them, for He says in His "high priestly prayer:" "I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine" (John 17:9). Second, Christ blesses the children of Israel (Gen. 48:16) and His disciples (Luke 24:50-51), but there is no word in Scripture of Christ blessing the reprobate. Third, all agree that Christ did good to the ungodly. He healed 10 lepers though 9 did not return to thank Him, and He fed 5,000 though many of them did not believe on Him. So with respect to the reprobate, Christ did not do two of the four things that we are commanded to do for our neighbours: He did not pray for nor bless the reprobate. He did do one of the four things we are commanded to do: He did good to the reprobate. What about the fourth one? Did He love the reprobate? We say that He did not; those who believe in common grace say that He did. This verse of itself does not determine the issue either way. Other texts will have to decide this question.

What then about God? Does He "love," "bless," "do good to" and "pray for" His reprobate enemies? First, God does not pray for the reprobate, for God does not pray. Second, God blesses His elect (Eph. 1:3), the righteous (Ps. 5:12), His inheritance (Ps. 28:9) and those who fear Him (Ps. 115:13). Each of the beatitudes begins "Blessed are ..." (Matt. 5:3-11), and many Psalms contain the line: "Blessed is the man ..." (e.g., Ps. 1:1) or "Blessed are they ..." (e.g., Ps. 84:4). In each case it is God’s people (the meek, the godly, etc.) who are blessed. God blesses His elect people "with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3-4), who is the One supremely blessed of the Father (Ps. 45:2). Our being blessed in Christ is the realization of the Abrahamic covenant in Christ with His elect (Gen. 12:2-3; Gal. 3:8-9, 14, 16, 29). This is God’s irreversible blessing of salvation (Num. 23:20) which turns us away from our iniquities (Acts 3:26). What then about the reprobate? As those who curse Christ and His people, God curses them (Gen. 12:3; Num. 24:9). Scripture teaches that "the wicked ... blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth" (Ps. 10:3). Proverbs 3:33 declares, "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just." Third, all agree that God does good to the reprobate wicked in this life. Acts 14:17 states that God "did good" to the pagan nations by giving them "rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." We conclude that with respect to the reprobate, God does not do two of the four things that we are commanded to do for our neighbours: God does not pray for nor bless the reprobate. God does one of the four things we are commanded to do: He does good to the reprobate. What about the fourth one? Does God love the reprobate? We say that he does not; those who believe in common grace say that He does. This verse of itself does not determine the issue either way. Other texts will have to decide this question. Rev. Stewart

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