Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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July 2003, Volume IX, Issue 15


Christ's Words Shall Never Pass Away (1)

Just days before His cross and in the midst of His Olivet discourse on His coming at the fall of Jerusalem and at the end of the world, Christ uttered these famous words: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35).

By speaking of the heavens and earth as one day to pass away, Christ does not mean that they will be annihilated or cease to exist. Instead the heaven and earth in their present condition and qualities will pass away. This will happen at the return of Christ when the world is purged by fire (II Peter 3). The renewed world or "new heavens and new earth" will result. Earth will still be the same planet only much more beautiful and glorious. It will no longer be a world of sin and death and the curse, for it will be filled with righteousness and the knowledge of God will cover the whole earth (Hab. 2:14).

Man is like the grass of the field which withers and dies. Human houses—no matter what their owners might think—won’t last forever (Ps. 49:11). Cities and empires decline and collapse—think of mighty Babylon! But the heavens and the earth, of all of created reality, are the most permanent and fixed. We take the solid ground underneath us for granted. It is terra firma. Sure it has existed for thousands of years!

But Christ states that God’s Word is more firm, enduring and permanent. One day the heavens and the earth (in their present qualities) will pass away but Christ’s words shall never pass away. The Greek text is emphatic: they shall never never pass away!

But why does Christ make this strong affirmation of the permanence of His words in this context? First, He has been speaking of glorious events which are hard to believe. The gospel will be preached to all nations (Matt. 24:14)! Think how incredible that must have appeared to the few disciples in the first century or the church in the middle ages. Christ will come again bodily in the clouds "with power and great glory" (30) and His angels will gather His elect "from one end of heaven to the other" (31). Could all these wonderful things really happen? Yes, for Christ says that His words shall never pass away.

Also, this promise of the certainty of his words is necessary here, because Christ is predicting events so terrible that we are apt to wonder if they could really happen: wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes; great apostasy, false Christs and false prophets; great tribulation and persecution. The false Christs and false prophets "shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (24). But lest we doubt, Christ tells us that His words are more firm and enduring than the very earth under our feet! So believe it always, and don’t doubt! Rev. Stewart

God's Saving Love (2)

For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment (Deut. 10:17-18). The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth (Ps. 11:5). Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated (Rom. 9:13).

The question is, "Does God have a compassionate love, if not a redemptive love, towards all his creatures? Or does he have only hatred towards the reprobate?"

In the last issue of the News we considered some of the issues involved in this interesting question. This time, we will look at the texts referred to (Deut. 10:17-18; Matt. 5:44-45; Acts 14:17).

In Deuteronomy 10:18, we read that God "loveth the stranger." Israel had thousands and thousands of foreigners in the nation. This began with the Egyptians who came out of Egypt with Israel. There were also Rahab, the Gibeonites, Ruth and many from various countries and nations who made Canaan their home. Some were taken there as slaves; some were attracted to the nation for various reasons. Uriah, whose wife David stole, was a Hittite. Araunah, on whose threshing floor David sacrificed to stop the angel of death, was a Jebusite. Foreigners were plentiful in Israel.

What is unique to all these foreigners who took up permanent abode in the nation was that they were so incorporated and absorbed into the nation that they and their descendants became, in fact, Jews. They were, therefore, members of the church of the old dispensation. In this way they too were saved. This was all prophetic of the coming age when God would save a church from all nations and tribes and tongues.

Is it any wonder then that Israel was commanded to be kind to these strangers? And is it any wonder then that God loved them? They were part of the church and nation which God loved. This does not mean that God loved every one of them, for He did not even love every single Israelite. God has mercy on whom He will have mercy and compassion on whom He will have compassion (Rom. 9:15). But the nation, with its many strangers, organically considered, was loved by God.

Matthew 5:44-45 and Acts 14:17—both frequently quoted as proof of God’s love towards all men—do not, in fact, mention the love of God at all. You may consult your Bible to see that this is true. To say that these texts speak of a love of God for all is to introduce something into the text which simply is not there. We must not do that.

But the argument is that we must love our enemies if we are to be children of our Father in heaven, for our Father in heaven sends rain and sunshine on His enemies.

Herman Hoeksema explains this passage well: "... it stands to reason that, in the case of loving our enemies that despitefully use us, curse us, and persecute us, love must needs be one-sided. There cannot be a bond of fellowship between the wicked and the perfect in Christ. To love our enemy, therefore, is not to flatter him, to have fellowship with him, to play games with him, and to speak sweetly to him; but rather to rebuke him, to demand that he leave his wicked way, and thus to bless him and to pray for him. It is to bestow good things upon him with the demand of true love that he leave his wicked way, walk in the light, and thus have fellowship with us. If he heed our love, which will be the case if he be of God’s elect and receive grace, he will turn from darkness into light, and our love will assume the nature of a bond of perfectness. If he despise our love, our very act of love will be to his greater damnation. But the cursing and persecution of the wicked may never tempt the child of God to live and act from the principle of hatred, to reward evil for evil, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

"As a single illustration from actual life and experience, the Lord points to the fact that ... God [sends rain] and causes His sun to shine upon the just and the unjust, thus bestowing good things upon them all, demanding that they shall employ them as means to walk in righteousness and light. For with God love is delight in perfection in the highest sense of the word. If now the wicked receive grace with rain and sunshine, they will walk in the light and have fellowship with God. If they do not receive grace, they will employ the rain and the sunshine in the service of sin and receive the greater damnation. But rain and sunshine are never grace [or love] and Matthew 5:44, 45 does not prove the contention ..." (Ready to Give an Answer, pp. 72-73).

One more quote: "God does, indeed, love His enemies, not as such, but as His children in Christ ... if rain and sunshine are a manifestation of God’s love to all men, the just and the unjust, what are floods and droughts, pestilences and earthquakes, and all the destructive forces and evils sent to all through nature, but manifestations of His hatred for all, the just and the unjust? But it is absurd to say that God hates the just, for He loves them. It is also absurd to say that God changes, now loving the just and the unjust and manifesting this love in rain and sunshine, now hating them and revealing His hatred in upheavals and destruction. Hence, the interpretation that leads to this evident absurdity is itself absurd" (Ibid., pp. 71-72).

It is all so clear; it is all so God-glorifying; it is all so conducive to seeing God’s magnificent grace shown sovereignly to us poor sinners! Prof. H. Hanko

Christ's Cursing the Fig Tree

A reader asks several questions about Christ’s cursing the fig tree: "And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away" (Matt. 21:19).

(1) What is there in the fact that it was a fig tree? The fig tree has two harvests: May-June and August-October. Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover which occurred about April. Thus as Mark says, "the time of figs was not" (11:13), so ordinarily you would not expect figs. However, the fig tree is remarkable in that it brings forth fruit either at the same time or even before it bears leaves. In other words, a fig tree with leaves should have fruit no matter what the season. This was why Christ came to this fig tree expecting fruit: He saw "a fig tree afar off having leaves" (13).

(2) Does the fig tree symbolise Israel? Yes. First, the fig tree elsewhere represents Israel (Luke 13:6-9; cf. Hos. 9:10). Second, the context speaks of judgment upon Israel (e.g., Matt. 21:12-13, 33-46).

Israel was like this fig tree in that it promised fruit by its leaves—its religious endeavours and ceremonies. It said by its many sacrifices, broad phylacteries and intense study of the law, "I have fruit for God! All the other nations have no fruit but I have!"

Israel was also like this fig tree in that it actually had no fruit. Jesus Christ came to the nation of Israel, as he did to this fig tree, looking for fruit and found none. His verdict upon Israel was that it was a "wicked and adulterous generation" (Matt. 16:4).

Thus in this passage Israel is presented not merely as a nation which didn’t produce fruit, but as a nation which didn’t produce fruit and yet was proclaiming loudly that it did have fruit! It was her proud boasts and her hypocrisy which made her sin the greater and cried out for judgment.

(3) Thus Christ’s cursing the fig tree was not a display of childish petulance but an expression of His righteous indignation. His pronouncement, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever," was a word of curse and wrath and death upon the tree/Israel ending her role as the nation of God "for ever" because of her sin, pride and hypocrisy. At no time in the future will Israel be restored to her special nation status with God and certainly not in some future earthly millennium. This severe word is in keeping with Christ’s other judgments upon apostate Israel (e.g., Matt. 21:43-44; 23:38).

This Word applies especially to congregations and denominations today which boast of their fruit—their many converts, their religious zeal, etc.—but all the while they lack true faith in the biblical gospel. There are lots of leaves—religious trappings—but no fruit. Christ is dishonoured by such churches and even removes their candlestick for their apostasy (cf. Rev. 2:5). Let us evaluate churches rightly, for not every church which has leaves also has fruit. And let us individually and in our families and churches look to the crucified Christ from whom our fruit is found (Hos. 14:8). Rev. Stewart

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