Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Prophecy (page 1 of 2)

Some Guidelines for Reading Prophetic Literature

Back in the summer I began a series giving some ‘Guidelines for Reading the Bible.’ At that time I covered Old Testament Narrative and Wisdom Literature.

Today I’d like to move on and cover the Prophetic Literature. These books may be divided up into their three main redemptive-historical categories of pre-exilic, exilic, and post-exilic (all referring to the Babylonian exile of 605-536 BC).

All of the writing prophets have their ministry span falling between about 760 and 460 BC. Just like your pastor’s message to your church this coming Sunday will be different than the message preached to our people (addressing different sins and different cultural pressures, etc.), the prophets were addressing different people groups (either Israel in the north of Judah in the south). It’s important to know where and when these prophets are ministering so you can make sense of their warning / admonition / rebuke. A good study Bible will always help you here.

Prophets as Historians and Future-Tellers

Often when we conceive of prophecy and prophets we think merely of future-telling. But there is much more identity-grounding memory-jogging in the prophetic literature than anything else. As historians, they were to remind God’s people of their covenantal past and all that God had already promised & warned.

But inasmuch as they reminded people of what God had said in the past, the prophets could predict the immediate future (because they knew God would keep his word to bless & to curse appropriately). The prophets saw the future events of the ‘last days’ as a mountain range in the distance, as one singular unit. Living in the ‘last days’ now, however, we see that within the mountain range there are many peaks and valleys between individual predicted events.

Some Patterns in Prophetic Literature

  1. The Lawsuit: (1) Call (2)Accusation (3) Announcement, and often, (4)plea for repentance (e.g. Amos 4.1-3)
  2. The Woe (e.g. Isaiah 5)
  3. The Promise (e.g. Isaiah 40)
  4. The Poetry (e.g. Isaiah 52-53); also, proverbs, riddles, satire, etc.
  5. The Prophetic Narrative (e.g. Jeremiah 32)
  6. The Apocalyptic Prophecies (e.g. Daniel 7-12)

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The Joy of the Lord

** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

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Around the time we were about to begin the church plant, two separate individuals pulled me aside to give me a word of encouragement and exhortation. Both of these individuals (one man and one woman) were unconnected with each other, both tremendously godly, both of whom have been in the faith longer than me, both of whom I love, and yet neither one of them has typically pulled me aside for such conversations. And so when they did, I took notice. Especially when, independent of each other, they both called my attention to the same verse from Nehemiah 8, reminding me that ‘the joy of the Lord is my strength.’

I received that as being from God, and took great encouragement from it. I believe that God, knowing my heart’s tendency to emotionalism, was reminding me of that verse to prepare me to be steady, strong, and full of joy as I lead GFC Don Mills, regardless of how things look from a worldly perspective.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill once quipped about a political opponent (Clement Atlee) that ‘He is a modest man, who has much to be modest about.’ Harsh, maybe, but he evaluated his opponent from his perspective and spoke realistically about him. Sadly, in Nehemiah’s day, he could have spoken of Jerusalem as a ‘modest city, with much to be modest about,’ and the statement would have been accurate.

Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians about 70 years previous. The walls, the temple, the palace, the houses, everything that was glorious about the city had been utterly ruined, and the people who lived there had been taken captive in a foreign land. Now they had come back. They were intent on rebuilding the city which had once been the dwelling place of God on earth.

But the numbers were small (see the census in Nehemiah 7). The opposition was strong. There were many discouragements and disappointments. Even once the walls were built, it still wasn’t that great of a sight: ‘The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt’ (Neh 7.4). And then there was the Law. In Nehemiah 8, the leaders gathered all the men and women (‘those who could understand’) and read the Law of God which had been completely forgotten, to the extent that the leaders had to offer running commentary on what the words meant (Neh 8.7-8).

This was a pretty bleak scene. The people knew it. They had much to be modest about. They had broken God’s Law, and even now their attempts at rebuilding what had been lost fell pathetically short. They felt their failure and their weakness. Even though they worshipped (Neh 8.6), still they mourned (Neh 8.9). And that was appropriate given their circumstances and what they saw and felt. It was in this context that Nehemiah spoke these words to the people of Israel:

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8.10)

The people of God, when faced with their weakness and their failure and the bleakness of their circumstances, were right to mourn. Just like Jesus blessed those who mourn (Matt 5.4). Having an accurate view of yourself means being poor in spirit. But the people of God who mourned, were comforted. They were told they that have a strength not their own; a strength that they couldn’t account for and one that would not let them down: ‘the joy of the Lord.’ The people of God were being called to preach truth to their hearts. They were being called to consider that God was for them and not against them; that despite what circumstances look like on any realistic view, they could have joy in remembering that God would complete the work he had begun. He would be faithful to his covenant promises to deliver his people.

I offer this all to you because it’s something I’ve been thinking about over the past few months as I consider the work that God has called me to, pastoring a small church in a really big city. Realistically, there are all kinds of reasons why I could be discouraged from looking around our city. In Toronto there are churches being turned into condos and lofts; the churches that do grow seem to all be led by health & wealth charlatans; and the big, beautiful new religious buildings that are being built are Mosques and Sikh temples and the like. Where do we fit in all of this? What difference could we possibly make, as small as we are?

But we are called to remember the joy of the Lord. Our strength is not in the prospect of us doing much but rather in the remembrance that God is for us. He has shown us that definitely and conclusively in the cross.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8.31-32)

So we remember that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us, regardless of what the circumstances appear to be. And when we remember that God loves us, and is for us, we are filled with joy. An indestructible joy anchored in an indestructible hope. And that gives strength.

I pray that God gives me grace to heed this word. To remember that he is for me. To live with the joy that this knowledge brings. I believe that if I cling to this word, remembering the covenant of the cross and the resurrection, it will give me joy that will empower me to endure for another 30 years… or however long my Lord gives me life. Not because I’m strong, but because his joy gives strength.

Ezekiel’s Warning

Ezekiel’s God

The warning Ezekiel offers to Israel and the surrounding nations is resoundingly clear. The Lord (Yahweh) will act decisively to make himself known. Even though all the nations rise up in rebellion against him, he will prevail and glorify his own name.

The Lord will do whatever it takes to make his name known. Sometimes that means mercy and grace to undeserving sinners. At other times it means he will exercise his wrath and judgement (which are just as much a representation of the holiness of his name as are mercy and grace).

Ezekiel’s warning should echo down through the ages and offer a sober reminder to us today. If the judgements he prophesied came to pass, then how dare we neglect the revelation that has come since? If judgement was sure at that time, then how much more now that the Lord has made himself known in and through Christ?

The picture of God that Ezekiel gives is a timely corrective to us. When we don’t see nations falling all around us and there seems to be no justice for the wicked it can be easy to forget that God will judge. We need to be reminded of the character of God. He will make his name known, whatever it takes.

To see that illustrated read the list of verses that follows.

 

The Whole World Will Know that I am the LORD

Ezek 5  13 “Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. And they shall know that I am the LORD–that I have spoken in my jealousy–when I spend my fury upon them.

Ezek 6  7 And the slain shall fall in your midst, and you shall know that I am the LORD.

Ezek 6  10 And they shall know that I am the LORD. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.”

Ezek 6  14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land desolate and waste, in all their dwelling places, from the wilderness to Riblah. Then they will know that I am the LORD.”

Ezek 7  4 And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity, but I will punish you for your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Ezek 7  9 And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. I will punish you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the LORD, who strikes.

Ezek 7  27 The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the LORD.”

Ezek 11  10 You shall fall by the sword. I will judge you at the border of Israel, and you shall know that I am the LORD.

Ezek 13  9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord God.

Ezek 14  8 And I will set my face against that man; I will make him a sign and a byword and cut him off from the midst of my people, and you shall know that I am the LORD.

Ezek 15  7 And I will set my face against them. Though they escape from the fire, the fire shall yet consume them, and you will know that I am the LORD, when I set my face against them.

Ezek 17  24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it.”

Ezek 20  26 and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the LORD.

Ezek 20  44 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.”

Ezek 21  5 And all flesh shall know that I am the LORD. I have drawn my sword from its sheath; it shall not be sheathed again.

Ezek 22  22 As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the LORD; I have poured out my wrath upon you.”

Ezek 25  7 therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. And I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Ezek 25  17 I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I lay my vengeance upon them.”

Ezek 30  25 I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, but the arms of Pharaoh shall fall. Then they shall know that I am the LORD, when I put my sword into the hand of the king of Babylon and he stretches it out against the land of Egypt.

Ezek 32  15 When I make the land of Egypt desolate, and when the land is desolate of all that fills it, when I strike down all who dwell in it, then they will know that I am the LORD.

Ezek 35  9 I will make you a perpetual desolation, and your cities shall not be inhabited. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Ezek 36  23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

Ezek 37  13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.

Ezek 37  14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”

Ezek 37  28 Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”

Ezek 39  7 “And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.

Ezek 39  22 The house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God, from that day forward.

Ezek 39  28 Then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, because I sent them into exile among the nations and then assembled them into their own land. I will leave none of them remaining among the nations anymore.

 

 


This is a small, selected sample of verses from Ezekiel which speak of the Lord make himself known to Israel and to the nations. For a complete list, download my own compilation of these verses.


Scripture quotations from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Tertullian and Contemporary Biblical Ethics

Tertullian lived ca.150-ca.225 AD. He was born in Carthage, which is in North Africa (so he was probably a little darker than the picture would suggest). He was a man brilliantly gifted by God for writing. He wrote extensively on things like apologetics and ethics and often wrote polemically against the heretics of his day (eg. Marcion and Praxeas). He ably defended both Scriptures and the Trinity. In his writings–which are easily dated from the end of the second and early third centuries–Tertullian quotes from the New Testament, plainly citing it as being on par with Old Testament Scriptures, thus indicating an already accepted Canon, long before Nicaea.

All that said, Tertullian was not perfect (as no saint has ever been). Tertullian was associated with a movement in his day known as Montanism. Based on the teachings of a ‘Prophet’ named Montanus, this group believed that the age in which they lived was the dispensation of the Holy Spirit (the Old Testament was the dispensation of the Father, the Gospels were the dispensation of the Son). Since this was the age of the Holy Spirit, they relied heavily on prophecies and other miraculous revelatory gifts for their doctrine and ecclesiastical practice.

Citing John 16.12-13, Tertullian and the Montanists claimed that the ethics Jesus declared were not finally absolute, nor fully developed, but that they were all that the disciples were able to handle at that point in redemptive history. The Holy Spirit, who was to come, would then have the ministry of revealing a heightened ethic to Jesus’ followers in the days and years to come.

It is absolutely essential to notice, however, to what end Tertullian and friends used this position. They argued for the insufficiency of Scriptural ethics in several areas: namely, marriage / remarriage, and flight from persecution. Whereas Jesus had made allowances for both of these, the Holy Spirit was now teaching them to advance beyond what Scripture had revealed to a higher ethic.

Why in the world would they choose these areas? Because that’s what their culture demanded. Asceticism was the philosophical milk Tertullian had been raised on, and persecution had become the norm for Christians of their day. For Christianity to be consistent, relevant, and morally / ethically contemporary with the philosophical ideals of the day it needed to be advanced from what Scripture had revealed.

The irony, of course, is that looking back from about 1800 years later it seems absurd to us (in a completely removed culture) to suppose the Holy Spirit would counsel against marriage (or even remarriage after one’s spouse dies) or that he would specifically command that Christians not flee, but rather, seek persecution.

Since we don’t breathe that air, it smells real funny to us.

But here’s the thing: People today insist on making the same mistake as Tertullian and the Montanists. No, not with the marriage / remarriage thing or the persecution thing (in fact, we’re tempted to loosen the biblical commands here rather than tighten them), but rather, with the ordination of women to the position of elder, or to accept some forms of homosexuality as legitimate lifestyle alternatives.

People argue now, like Tertullian argued then, that the Bible’s ethics are unfinished; they merely establish a trajectory that we must follow, and by the guidance of the Spirit (and by finding the ‘spirit of the text’) we can ultimately determine a better ethic than the one laid out in Scripture.

But it’s all hoogly! I would be willing to bet–if any of us could be around–that 1800 years from now people will look back on our times and wonder why in the world we would think the Scriptures were insufficient in these areas.

Just like we look back on Tertullian and see him reading Scriptures and conforming Christianity to his culture, so we must see that we ourselves are always being tempted to do the same. The simple fact is that we live in a profoundly feminist, pro-gay culture. The pressure we face is always to accept these things. We have been raised and educated, indoctrinated from our youth to accept these things. The ‘highest’ of ethics in our culture is an accepting one that does not place boundaries on other people, especially when it comes to gender or ‘sexual preference.’

Those are our ‘hot-button issues’, just like Tertullian’s were asceticism and persecution. We must not be like him. We must stand firm and stick to the Scriptures. It is them alone which are able to make us wise for salvation, and them alone which equip us for every good work.

The real questions we must ask are not about whether women should be ordained as elders or homosexuality should be accepted; we already have the answers to those questions!

The real question that needs to be asked is this: Am I willing to stand on the authority of the word of God alone? Do I have enough faith in God to base my ethics on it, even when it makes me appear ‘morally backward’ in a culture of acceptance? Is God’s word enough?

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For a fuller treatment of ‘Trajectory ethics’, see here.
For another post on the influence of asceticism on Christianity, see here.

The Chicken or the Egg?

After my last post (with regard to the miraculous gifts) evanmay made the comment, ‘We should be open to and seek the miraculous, but we should not neglect to thank the Spirit for the ways he gifts his church that seem ordinary.’ The first part of the sentence is what caught my attention, because it touches on another issue that’s been floating around in my mind: the giving and receiving of the gifts.

Please bear with me if my questions here seem simplistic and practical, but I simply haven’t moved in charismatic circles enough to know anything about this. We know that we are to eagerly desire the gifts… but what does that mean, really? If the giving of the gifts is truly the work of a sovereign God (which no one here would deny), then how does one ‘desire’ them in an ‘effective’ way (or is there an effective way)?

I have prayed to God many times, asking him for more of the Spirit. I have acknowledged to God that my position on this issue is underdeveloped–I am totally open to the possibility of the sign gifts continuing on even now, but I remain unconvinced. I know I want to prophesy… I know that if it means I experience more of the Spirit, then I want to speak in tongues, too. Is that fulfilling the command to ‘desire’ the gifts, or is there something more?

Here’s the big question I’m getting at: Do I need to be entirely convinced of the reality of the ongoing nature of the gifts in order to receive them? Why would God wait till someone is totally convinced before giving them the experience of prophecy? Why wouldn’t he give me a prophecy first so that I would know for certain that is the Lord speaking? I know that I would be convinced by a genuine experience of such a miracle…

If I am open to the Lord’s working in my life in this way, and desirous of experiencing him in every appropriate way, is that enough? Or do I need to be fully convinced that tongues continue before I speak in tongues? I don’t know of a biblical text to which I can directly refer, since obviously everyone at that point believed in the presence of the miraculous gifts at that point.

Is it wrong to desire something I’m not convinced is biblical? Is it wrong to seek an experience in order to validate theology?

Anyone got any practical suggestions?

Random Thoughts on the Sign Gifts

Attending WorshipGod06 (run by Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Ministries) with Tim has given me lots to think about. Ever since Tim and I got back I’ve been mulling over the issues with regards to the ‘sign’ or ‘miraculous’ gifts. Here are some random thoughts I’ve been chewing on…

1. 1 Corinthians 13.8-13. This is not profound, but merely an acknowledgement of what the majority of evangelicalism has already said: these verses are not referring to the closing of the canon. Without this text, the intratextual evidence for any strong cessationist position is incredibly weak. To my knowledge this is the only text cessationists use to argue their position that Paul knew of the gifts coming to an end. Further, even if we could allow that this text is speaking of these gifts (tongues, prophecies, and knowledge), then why do we include things like the gift of healing in the list of gifts which have ceased?

2. Where do we draw the line? It seems to me that the categories of ‘miraculous’ or ‘sign’ gifts are somewhat artificially imposed on the New Testament text (like imposing the ‘moral / civil / ceremonial’ categories on the OT Law). Nowhere does it seem evident that such a distinction is made. Quite the contrary, in places like Romans 12.4-8 Paul lumps prophecy in with faith, service, teaching, exhortation, contributing, leading, acts of mercy, etc. What justification is there for picking and choosing which cease and which continue?

3. We need to know. The going line in our circles is that these are matters of secondary or tertiary importance to the gospel, and so we are united in our differences and able to fellowship with each other since we agree on the central issues. I agree with this. But I can’t help but wonder how consistent it is. If there are people prophesying by the Spirit and we are saying that they’re not, aren’t we closing our ears to God’s words to us? Aren’t we guilty of denying a genuine work of God? Or if the opposite is the case and they’re not really prophesying, but are saying they are, are they not false prophets? If they are putting false words in God’s mouth is that something we can afford to call ‘secondary’? I don’t see how. I’ve been reading through Jeremiah lately and finding that God has some very harsh declarations against those who prophesy falsely in his name…

4. ‘But they’re not the New Testament gifts…’. This was one of Tim’s (and mine as well) biggest complaints against the practising of the gifts that we saw at WorshipGod06. Simply put, what we saw did not line up with what we read in the New Testament. Now, as one who believes strongly in Sola Scriptura, I want to phrase very carefully what I say next, because I realize that variations of this thinking can be used to all kinds of nefarious ends. But as I think about the practising of the gifts described in Acts and then think about the gifts that I see today at Bible-centred places like Covenant Life Church, I have to ask, ‘so what if they’re different?’ Again, I don’t want to dismiss any biblical command or restrictions which are ongoing, but don’t we often argue that the book of Acts is more ‘descriptive’ rather than ‘prescriptive’? And if we’re honest with ourselves, how much of what takes place on a Sunday morning in our church buildings actually resembles what the first believers did as they met ‘day by day’ anyway? So why is it such a big deal with the gifts? It seems that the more important (if one can speak in such terms) place to look for guidance on the practice of the gifts would be the epistles written to post-Acts churches. These epistles contain many instructions on how to practice the gifts in an ongoing sense and nowhere seem to indicate that they will cease. Places like Covenant Life Church, leaders like Bob Kauflin, and organizations like Sovereign Grace Ministries do seem to follow those instructions quite well. Everything is done decently and in order (more ordered, in fact, than many cessationist churches I’ve been in where no one even has an order of service written up).

Again, these are all just random thoughts not leading to any conclusions. They’re just things I’m contemplating in the spare moments my brain manages to come across.

Any thoughts are more than welcome!

The Christ of Isaiah

In my own devotions I’ve just finished reading through the book of Isaiah. I must say that I think one of the reasons why our churches today are so weak and shallow, and have such a small view of God is that we don’t read our whole Bible. I know so many Christians who just simply don’t want to read the Old Testament for one reason or another. What a tragedy!

This time through Isaiah has been my favourite so far. Isaiah’s God is so wonderfully transcendent, yet so amazingly concerned for the poor; so profoundly righteous, so awesomely just; forever concerned with making the whole world to know that he–YHWH–is God, and there is no other.

One of the other things that really struck me this time is how much the apostle Paul quotes Isaiah. It’s amazing! I don’t know how I never noticed it before. And not just Paul, either–the New Testament authors seem to love the book of Isaiah. The cool thing is that so many times when an NT author quotes Isaiah it is to say some pretty remarkable things about our Lord Jesus. Here are just a few examples that stuck out to me the past couple of days.

  1. Isaiah 60.1-2, quoted in Ephesians 5.14. This passage in Ephesians 5 is cool because Paul takes a saying of Isaiah about YHWH and then directly applies it to the New Covenant believers in Ephesus, saying that all the truth of the person and holiness of God is found in the man Christ Jesus, who is none other than God himself.
  2. Isaiah 60.19-20, quoted in Rev 21.23 and 22.5. Make sure you read both of those references. In Isaiah the promise is given that in the New Jerusalem there will be no need of sun or moon YHWH (his specific, personal name) will be the light in that place for his people. In Revelation, John says that the glory of God–which is paralleled with the lamb of God (i.e., Jesus) will be the light. In other words, Jesus and YHWH are One. Now this is an obvious theme throughout Revelation, but it’s that much cooler when you read it in the context of Isaiah and all that you’ve heard over the past 60 chapters about the glory of God.

Too often we either don’t want to read our Old Testament or else we read it as quickly and superficially as possible because we think it has nothing to say to us. In reality, all its truth speaks of Jesus, who has everything to do with us if we claim to be Christians.

So get in the Word! Remember that every word is God-breathed and useful to us, so that we can be equipped to do the work of God that he has called us to.

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