Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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September 2003, Volume IX, Issue 17


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 inspired Word.

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

A New 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 world.

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 everlasting inheritance.

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 know.

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 and body.

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. 6:10-11).

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

The 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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