Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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October 2011  •  Volume XIII, Issue 18


The Lamb Takes the Book (1)

Revelation 4-5 is a vision of heaven. In chapter 4, we see, first, a throne. On the throne, God appears as a jasper and a sardius, two semi-precious stones (2-3). Over the throne arches a rainbow, like an emerald (3). Out of the throne proceed thunder, lightning and voices (5). Before the throne is a sea of glass clear as crystal (6). Second, four beasts or living creatures are in the midst of and round about the throne (6). In turn, they are like a lion, like a calf, with a face like a man, and like a flying eagle (7). They have six wings and are covered with eyes (8). Third, we see twenty-four elders encircling the throne farther away than the four living creatures (4). The elders, clothed in white and wearing golden crowns, are seated on twenty-four thrones (4).

Remember that this is a vision—after all, John is taken into heaven "in the spirit" (2). As a vision, it is filled with mysterious figures and heavenly imagery, such as the four living creatures and the sea of glass. The scene defies simple visualization, especially regarding its colours. How can God, who is invisible, uncreated spirit, appear in a "physical form"? What does it mean that God’s colour is like a jasper and a sardius? How can a rainbow (with its seven colours) be like an emerald (which is green)?

This scene is designed to give us one perspective of what heaven is like. Revelation 21 pictures heaven as a beautiful city with gates of pearl and streets of gold. Revelation 4-5 presents it as a royal court with all worshipping the great King—a majestic, awe-inspiring vision.

Revelation 4-5 is a vision of a throne room. Everything’s position is explained relative to God’s royal throne. The twenty-four elders have been given their (lesser) thrones by the great King. All worship, glorify and thank the One on the throne.

Revelation 5:1 introduces a new element: Jehovah holds a sealed book in His right hand. A strong angel proclaims loudly, "Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?" (2). What is this book? What is the significance of opening it? What does this tell us about God’s rule in heaven? What is the comfort of this for us in our struggles today?

The book in God’s hand in Revelation 5 is not the Lamb’s book of life which contains the names of all those eternally elected in Jesus Christ (13:8; 17:8). Rather, it is the book of God’s purpose or plan for the whole world.

We read that this book—probably a scroll (cf. Eze. 2:9)—is "written within and on the backside" (Rev. 5:1). There is no room for anything more to be added. God will not insert an introduction or an epilogue, nor squeeze anything into the middle. Why? Nothing needs to be added, for God’s full, rich, diverse decree or plan covers everything from the ascension of Christ to the end of this world. It determines every occurrence in heaven and earth, and includes men and angels, the creation, all the ungodly and the church. The last book of the Bible reveals the broad contours of Jehovah’s decree. The seven seals explain that God’s eternal purpose includes the progress of the gospel, wars, famines, economic factors, etc. (Rev. 6). We also read of the judgments of the seven trumpets and the seven vials, as well as the rise and destruction of Antichrist.

This book of God’s decree is "written" (perfect tense) by the Triune God in eternity. God’s counsel has predetermined before the foundation of the world whatsoever will come to pass. Nothing needs to be, or can be, changed. God’s decree is, as it were, written in indelible ink.

Revelation 5:1 also states that this book is "sealed with seven seals." It is firmly closed with not just one but seven seals. The seals must needs be loosed and opened before it can be read. Opening and reading the book is executing God’s decree, effecting what He has eternally planned.

Then comes the challenge to open it. A strong angel proclaims with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?" (2). But no one is able to open it. The devil and his wicked angels could not and would not open God’s seals. Nor could the angels in heaven despite all their great might and wisdom. No redeemed and glorified man in heaven could attain to it. The angel’s ringing challenge is met by deathly silence, even in this august assembly.

This has a tremendous effect on John: he "wept much" (4). These are not just silent tears, but tears with sobs. He wept audibly with his whole body shaking, the way a distressed child cries. This is the weeping of one who has lost everything (cf. 18:15, 19).

John’s weeping is not the weeping of bereavement or repentance. It is the weeping of defeat: there is no one to execute God’s decree! Consider what this would mean for the seals. Christ would have no victory in the preaching of the gospel (6:1-2). There would be no answered prayers of the saints (9-11). There would be no final judgment of the wicked (12-17). Consider the kingdoms of God and of man. How would the kingdom of heaven be perfected and the church gathered? What of the seven churches of Asia Minor? Who could stop the kingdom of the beast?

But an elder comes to John, telling him to cease crying because of Christ’s victory: "Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof" (5:5). The elder (a representative of the church triumphant) is personal proof of Christ’s victory to John (a member of the church militant). Since weeping is unnecessary, the elder commands John, "Weep not." Jesus Christ is spoken of here as the mighty "Lion of the tribe of Juda," for He is the all-conquering King who has the right to rule heaven and earth!   Rev. Stewart

Are All Infants Dying In Infancy Saved? (1)

A reader writes concerning infants who die in infancy. He wonders whether all these infants are saved, as some teach. He refers to a number of passages in Scripture which might seem to teach this. These passages are Ezekiel 18:1-4, 20; Jeremiah 32:18-19; Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 7:16; Jonah 4:10-11; Matthew 25:45-46; II Samuel 12:15-23; II Samuel 18:29-19:5 and II Kings 4:26. 

We will consider these passages in this and following issues of the News and answer the general question: Are all those who die in infancy saved?

The first passage is Ezekiel 18:1-4, 20: "The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying, What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die ... The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him."

Appealing to these verses, the questioner writes, "The idea seems to be that the sin referred to here is the act of someone who is old enough to sin consciously and wilfully, whereas a child who dies in infancy has not lived to manifest sin in its life nor consciously reject God in unbelief. It is therefore concluded that such an infant must be elect, redeemed and regenerated, and in heaven. Is this what the passage is teaching?"

There are two points that must be cleared up before I enter into the meaning of the text. The first point is that I am assuming that the questioner is referring to all infants who are born in covenant lines, that is, from covenant families. I presume the questioner does not refer to all infants in the entire world. That was an idea taught by Ulrich Zwingli, the sixteenth-century Swiss Reformer and contemporary of Luther. Zwingli, though correct in many of his views over against Roman Catholicism, was nevertheless also under the influence of the humanism of Erasmus. I do not know how widespread this idea is today. It is probably more widespread than I realize, but it certainly is not the teaching of Scripture.

The second point is related to the first. We must not forget the doctrine of original sin. All children are conceived and born in sin. Their total depravity is the punishment of God upon them for their responsibility for sinning in Adam. All children can justly be punished for this original sin alone. No child has to sin in his or her own life and be guilty of unbelief to deserve hell; the child deserves hell for his or her original sin. This is clearly taught in Romans 5:12-14 and Psalm 51:5. If the questioner means that a child has to go to heaven because he or she has not yet manifested "sin in [his or her] life nor consciously reject[ed] God in unbelief," the reasoning is false.

If this is the reasoning of the questioner, there is blatant contradiction in the argument. On the one hand, it is argued that infants have to have sinned in order to be punished, but on the other hand, it is asserted, "an infant must be elect, redeemed, and regenerated, and in heaven." A child without sin need not be redeemed and regenerated; it is already sinless. It needs not the blood of atonement.

But if the meaning of the questioner is: The child is sinful from conception and birth and needs redemption and regeneration as well as any adult, but is saved if it dies in infancy, the question immediately pushes itself to the foreground: Why? Why should Christ die for all infants who die in infancy, when He did not die for all men head for head? There are inherent problems with this position.

The main teaching of Ezekiel 18 is that the complaint of the children of Israel that they are being punished for the sins of their fathers is merely sinful self-justification—an insufficient and pathetic excuse. God does not punish anyone for the sins of someone else, not even in the line of generations.

Let it first of all be understood that there is a sense in which the sins of fathers in the line of generations reappear in the children "unto the third and fourth generation" (Ex. 20:5). God specifically states in this, the second, commandment: "[I will visit] the iniquity of the fathers upon the children." That is punishment for those who worship graven images. God clearly explains that it is those children "that hate me" who are punished. It is a general rule that parents who do not give their children proper covenant instruction in the truth of Scripture and in a walk that is a manifestation of a covenant relation to God, see their children drift away from the church and live more and more like the world. God indeed visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children. Jeremiah confesses, "Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities" (Lam. 5:7). Nevertheless, the children bear their fathers’ iniquities, not simply the punishment of their iniquities. And so they are punished for their own sins—even if they learned these sins from their fathers, even if they have carried the sins of their fathers to greater extremes of wickedness.

God’s insistence in Ezekiel 18 is that Judah is not being punished for the sins of their fathers while they were innocent. (Ezekiel was writing to the captives in Babylon who were muttering this complaint and trying to justify themselves by claiming that Jehovah had put them into captivity for the sins of their fathers.) "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Eze. 18:4). God is always justified in all that He does. His judgment is always just and always for the sins of the individual.

Now the question is: "May we conclude from this that the children of these people went to heaven?" That is a conclusion that goes far beyond the text and has no basis in the text at all. Unless, unless ... unless these infants who die in infancy had no sin of their own. But then we must deny original sin. That we cannot do.

Ezekiel 18:20 emphasizes the same thought: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." That is, a righteous person shall be rewarded for his own righteousness, and a wicked person shall be punished for his own wickedness.

We will consider Jeremiah 32:18-19 and other texts next time (DV). Prof. Hanko

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