September 2003, Volume IX,
Christ's Words Shall Never Pass Away (3)
Christ’s words, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my
words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35), are a divine promise of the
preservation of the entire Scriptures up to (and beyond) Christ’s second coming.
This text leads us to believe that God has providentially maintained His Word
for over 3,000 years and will continue to do so. The Westminster Confession
states that the OT in Hebrew and the NT in Greek "being immediately inspired by
God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are
therefore authentical" (1:8).
God’s special preservation of the Scriptures is denied or
ignored by many. Liberal Protestants don’t see God’s sovereign hand much in the
world at all, never mind in His singular care for His Word. Muslims tell us that
the Bible is hopelessly corrupted and so cannot be trusted. Most textual critics
labour without a living sense of God’s special providential preservation of His
It is true that we do not have the original manuscripts
written by holy men of God as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (II Peter 1:21).
And in the thousands of copies that we have, there are transmissional errors.
However, from these manuscripts, the correct reading can be and is seen.
God used the Jews as the librarians of the OT for the church,
as Augustine said. The OT priesthood was commanded to care for the law (Deut.
31:9f.). When Ezra returned from the Babylonian captivity, he probably brought
with him the inspired oracles written up to that point. Philo, an Alexandrian
Jew and a contemporary of the apostles, said that the Jews would rather die a
thousand times than see one word of the Scriptures altered. It was a common
Jewish saying that to alter one letter of the law is no less a sin than to set
the whole world on fire. The Massoretes, Jewish scribes who laboured in the
second half of the first millennium after Christ, had a great respect for the
written Word. They counted the number of verses in each book and identified the
middle verse. They numbered the occurrences of each Hebrew letter in every book
and in the whole OT. For example, the letter Aleph occurs 42,377 times and Beth
38,218 times. In 1947 when the Qumran scrolls were found in some caves west of
the Dead Sea, unbelieving scholars hoped to see vast differences between these
Hebrew manuscripts written before Christ and the later manuscripts used by the
church. Much to their chagrin, the Dead Sea Scrolls agreed with our Hebrew
manuscripts remarkably. These are just some pointers showing how God has kept
the OT pure by "his singular care and providence" (WC
1:8) so that His Word shall never pass away (Matt. 24:35). Rev. Stewart
Heaven and a New Earth (2)
A questioner submitted a text (Rev. 21:1-5) and asked, "In
the light of Scripture, what are we to understand by the term "a new heaven
and a new earth?"
Last time, we described briefly the history that takes
place in heaven and on earth since the time of the original creation. From
that brief sketch it became apparent that enormous changes took place in God’s
creation both through the fall and the flood.
When man fell into sin, God was not caught by surprise. We
must not conceive of the fall as outside the purpose and plan of God. It was
not the case that God determined to glorify Himself through the first Paradise
and the first Adam. Nor is it possible that Adam, by his fall, spoiled the
purpose of God so that God, watching the events which transpired at the time
of Eve’s temptation stood by helplessly, and, when Adam and Eve succumbed to
temptation, wrung His hands and tossed about for some way to salvage a bad
situation—until He finally conceived of Christ as a means of restoration. Such
reasoning obliterates the greatness of God in His sovereign works in the
Rather, from the very outset of the work of creation God
determined to glorify Himself in the highest possible way through Jesus
Christ, His own Son, by means of the salvation of all the creation in the
blood of the cross. The original creation was the stage on which would be
enacted the age-long drama of sin and grace, the fall and redemption through
Christ. God’s purpose is fully realized in the salvation of the elect angels
and men in Christ, and the redemption of the entire earthly and heavenly
creation through the blood of the cross.
When Christ comes again at the end of time, Christ will
purge this present world with fire (II Peter 3:10-13) and create a new heaven
and a new earth which He will give to His elect people and angels as an
The new earth will be new for the following reasons.
It will be new because from it will be forever banished
sin, the curse and death. Because sin and the curse shall be forever removed,
it will be filled with the glory of God and reflect God’s glory through Christ
who redeemed it.
It will be a new earth because it will not be a mere
restoration of the original Paradise, but it will be far more glorious than
the original Paradise could possibly have been.
It will be a new earth because in it Adam will not be head,
but our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the One of whom Adam was only a type.
It will be a new earth because it will be made one in
glorious unity with heaven itself. Revelation 21:1-5 speaks of the new
Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. From the moment of creation to
the second coming of Christ, heaven and earth were separated by the different
structures of each: the earth was material and heaven spiritual. But heaven
was always the reality, and the earth was the shadow of it. Now the barrier
between the two is broken down through Christ’s cross and heaven and earth
become one. The earthly is made heavenly; the material is made spiritual; the
things here below become one with the things which are above by a
transformation that lifts them to the highest level possible.
But God will, through Christ, create a new heaven also. How
is heaven new? This is a little more difficult to describe partly because
Scripture does not tell us much about heaven, and partly because we who are of
the earth earthy cannot understand heavenly things. But some things we do
Heaven will be new because Christ becomes the head of the
angelic world and the heavenly creation, as well as the head of His church and
the earthly creation. Heaven has a new head, eternally ordained by God.
Heaven will be new because, although God’s people are now
there, they are there without their bodies, which await the coming of Christ
to be raised. Heaven will be more wonderful when the saints are there in soul
Heaven will be new because all God’s people will be
there. When Abel came to heaven, he was alone—except for the angels. Gradually
the number of those in heaven grew, but the church in heaven was not and is
not complete. So much does this detract from the full blessedness of heaven
that the saints under the altar cry out, "How long, O Lord, holy and true,
dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And
white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that
they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and
their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled" (Rev.
Heaven will be new because it will take up into itself and
be united with the glorified and redeemed earthly creation so that both parts
of the creation are now one, forever and ever, world without end.
Then all things shall be accomplished as God determined
them. The Lord Jesus Christ, crowned with glory and honour, shall be head over
all in the name of the Triune God. With Him shall be His own elect bride, His
beloved church washed in His blood and clothed in the white garments of His
righteousness. They shall reign with Him in heavenly perfection. Under the
elect shall be the angels who shall continue as the ministers of the elect
(Heb.1:14). And to that elect bride of Christ shall be given the whole
glorified and redeemed heaven and earth as their possession to enjoy and over
which to rule with Christ to the glory of God. All shall be one in Christ, and
God shall be all in all. A new heaven and a new earth! That is the object of
our hope and longing.
Press on in the truth, weary pilgrim, for at the end of
your wearisome journey lies the celestial city in which you shall dwell with
Christ and God forever. Prof. Hanko
Role of Israel (2)
The lady questioner and I both agree that there are
"exceeding great and precious promises" (II Peter 1:4) made to Israel in the
OT. The point of difference lies in the identification
of Israel and hence in the interpretation of these promises—two
intrinsically related issues. Let us look at Amos 9 and see how it is
interpreted and to whom it is applied by the Holy Spirit in Acts 15.
Amos prophesied to the N. Kingdom of their impending
devastation by the Assyrians. In the last chapter, he promises deliverance
after their destruction: "In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David
that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his
ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the
remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith
the Lord that doeth this" (9:11-12). The following verses speak of God’s
"people of Israel" (14) returning to the cities of Palestine and enjoying
great agricultural productivity (13-15). So who is being spoken of here?
Surely it is Israel, for they are so indicated by name (14), land (14-15),
history (those taken captive; 13) and royal dynasty (David; 11). Thus the
passage refers to restoration of the Jews to Palestine some time future to us.
David’s son, Christ, shall sit on a throne in Jerusalem (11), the land shall
be abundantly fruitful (13-15), and the Jews shall have dominion over the
surrounding country (12).
But this is not the inspired NT interpretation of this
passage. At the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, Amos 9 is used as the key
biblical proof for the salvation of the Gentiles (without any need for
physical circumcision). James’ conclusive argument is striking: God is saving
the Gentiles (Acts 15:14) and Amos 9:11-12 proves it (Acts 15:16-17)! In other
words, Amos 9 does not predict a glorious earthly future for national Israel
in Palestine some time yet future to us. Instead it predicts the glorious NT
church made up of elect and called Jews and Gentiles. With the ascension and
session of Christ, the "tabernacle of David" (11) is raised up to glorious new
(heavenly!) heights (cf. Acts 2:31-36; Luke 1:32). The possession of Edom (12)
is the salvation of the Gentiles through faith in Christ (Acts 15:14, 17). The
fruitfulness of the land (13-15) speaks of the NT blessings purchased by
Christ and poured out upon His church—"the fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23)
which is the manifestation of the "kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:21). The reality of
the promised land (14-15) is the whole world, for when Abraham was promised
Palestine, Paul tells us that he—and all those of faith, Jew or Gentile (Rom.
4:11-12)—were thereby made "heir[s] of the world" (Rom. 4:13).
Amos 9 is the culminating prophecy of blessing in the book.
James’ explanation of Amos 9 identifies the hope
of Amos as the salvation of Jews and Gentiles in the catholic church of Christ
(pictured in Amos in OT terms). Moreover, James declares that the promise of
Amos 9 is "the words of the prophets [plural]" (Acts 15:15). This is
the message of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, etc., for "known unto God are all his
works from the beginning of the world" (Acts. 15:18). Rev. Stewart
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