Friday, July 30, 2021


Romans 11:2–5 makes an argument from the story of Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1–18). Elijah had hid in a cave after killing the prophets of Baal, and had even asked God to kill him, believing himself to be the last believer in Israel (1 Kings 19:4–10). God corrected him, informing him there were seven thousand left who "had not bent the knee to Baal."

Romans 11:2–5 takes that story and uses it to demonstrate that God has not "cast off" Israel. It may look like it: the Church is (at least for now) predominantly Gentile (Romans 9:30–31). Things look bleak for Israel, and Paul is asking, has God replaced Israel? The answer, of course, is no. There is a day coming when all Israel shall be saved (Romans 11:25–26), but for now, God proves His intention of saving the entire nation by saving a  "remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5). They're sort of like a deposit, a show of good faith.

Elijah is convinced he is the one last man standing, so to speak. But God's response is, "I know more than you: I know 7,000 times more believers than you do." And there is an application we can make from this story to ourselves.

We, like Elijah, have a tendency to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We look around, see ruin and decay, and think, "well, I guess it's down to me now." But that's foolishness. The Lord knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19). It's a pretty safe bet to say, as many faithful believers as we know, the Lord knows 7,000 times more.

I was thinking about this in connection with the seven churches in Asia (Revelation 2–3). In the message to each church, there is the promise to the one who overcomes. Do we not think there is an overcomer in every church? If we're honest, we don't. Not really. But even Thyatira has overcomers. Even Laodicea has overcomers.

It's striking that the overcomer in Laodicea isn't commanded to move to Philadelphia, or that the overcomer in Laodicea isn't told to move to Smyrna. As far as I can tell, the overcomer in Thyatira is called to overcome in Thyatira. The overcomer in Laodicea is called to overcome in Laodicea.

I know people who believe that the Roman Catholic Church isn't a church, while simultaneously saying that "the church in Thyatira" is Roman Catholicism. That strikes me as odd... you can't have it both ways. I'm not interested in Roman Catholicism because I don't see any point to working for what God offers for free (Romans 4:5). I'm certainly not claiming that the Roman Catholic Church faithfully preaches the gospel. But if I admit there is a resemblance to the church of Thyatira, I have to admit also that the Lord has overcomers there. And it's not surprising that He knows far more than 7,000 there, even though I do not.

Here's a thought: maybe I don't know who the overcomers in the Roman Catholic Church are, because they're too busy overcoming to pay any attention to me. It's worth thinking about. 

I can't in good conscience be part of the ELCA either, but I'm sure the Lord has 7,000 there too. There are overcomers even in Laodicea.

It can be frustrating to look at the landscape of Christendom. There are some pretty crazy things out there, and there are lots of things out there that I can't in good conscience be a part of. But I dare not claim to be wiser than the Lord. He knows overcomers in every church. He knows the names of those 7,000, even if I do not.

If I don't know about the 7,000 who haven't bent the knee to Baal, that might not be because they're not there. It might be because I'm like Elijah – so absorbed in myself I'm not letting God be God.


Friday, July 23, 2021

The New Covenant and Acts 2

One of my friends mentioned to me the New Covenant in connection with Acts 2, which I thought was a little odd, as I can't find a mention of the New Covenant in Acts 2. He tried to connect them via Joel 2:19–32, which I thought was more odd, because I can't find a mention of the New Covenant in Joel 2. But after some thought, I admit there is something there that's worth considering.

It's a fact that the Lord frequently fulfills a prophecy partially before fulfilling it ultimately. We don't have to look hard to find that sort of thing in Matthew's gospel, for example. A great deal of the statements Matthew makes about prophecy seem to be based on quotes wrested from their context. One reason for that (there are other considerations too) is that God sees ultimate fulfillment in Christ. For example, when Isaiah says, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a son, and call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:10–25), our minds go immediately to Christ. And rightly so (Matthew 1:23). But in the context where Isaiah actually spoke that prophecy, he was promising deliverance from Syria to Ahaz. If we read on to the next verses (Isaiah 7:14–16), the promise is that a virgin would conceive, have a son, and before her son would be old enough to develop a discerning palate, God would destroy the kings of Syria. So God promises deliverance in the time it takes a young woman to marry, give birth to her first child, wean him, and he develops a taste for food. That's a really weird way to specify a time-frame, but God does it with a purpose: He is looking forward to ultimate deliverance from the ultimate enemy, and that will come from the Son of God, who would be born of a virgin.

So in Acts 2, the coming of the Holy Spirit is identified by Peter (Acts 2:14–21) as the pouring out in Joel 2:28–32. A lot of Christians read Peter's words here and declare that God has fulfilled the prophecy in Joel 2, it's now in the past. I disagree, because Joel clearly promises things that didn't happen in Acts 2. We have no record that the younger people prophesied while the older people dreamed dreams. As Watchman Nee points out, between the Holy Spirit's coming and Peter's sermon, we know for a fact no one had dreamed dreams, because none of them had been sleeping!  Peter goes on to mention the signs and wonders Joel promised (Joel 2:30–31; Acts 2:19–20), which is odd considering none of these things are recorded in Acts 2, nor anywhere else in Acts.

Peter wasn't claiming that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 was the fulfillment of the prophecies in Joel 2. Peter was claiming that what they saw in Acts 2 was a pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and they should have known a pouring out of the Holy Spirit was coming, because it's foretold in Joel 2. This is subtly different: the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is coming, I have no doubt. Acts 2 wasn't the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy, but it was a partial fulfillment. Just like the child born in Ahaz's time was a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, but a bigger fulfillment was coming; so the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was a fulfillment of Joel's prophecy, but a more complete fulfillment is coming.

Notice this same theme is picked up in Romans 11:25–27. What God has done since Christ was rejected (see especially Acts 3:19–26) is build something new on the earth that gives a glimpse into what things would have been, had Israel repented. And Romans tells us, it's with the intention that Israel would see what God has done in the church, and be moved to jealousy. 

And notice, Romans 11:27 mentions the Covenant God will make with Israel "after I take away their sins."

So here's another place the church and the New Covenant meet. Again, I don't believe that the church benefits under the New Covenant, but I absolutely believe that God is using us to demonstrate publicly His grace, so that Israel would be moved to repentance. God is showing how He would treat them, in how He treats us. And part of that promised renewed relationship with Israel is the New Covenant.

I should probably also mention... I don't believe the church is temporary, but I am certain the church is playing roles right now on earth that are temporary. What I mean by that is, our relationship to Christ as Bride isn't going to end, but our place on this earth as the house of God will absolutely come to an end. We will eventually be replaced by Israel in that sense. And that's a good thing! We should look forward to that, because it'll be part of the public vindication of the Lord Jesus Christ. I mentioned before, I don't believe our role as the Body of Christ will last beyond our time here (Christ already has a body in Heaven, our place is to be His Body on earth). I don't believe our role as the habitation of God through the Spirit will last beyond our time here. But we absolutely will be "forever with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Friday, July 16, 2021

The New Covenant and the Church

I think at this point I've made it clear that I don't believe the Church receives and blessings under the New Covenant. Properly speaking, the Church isn't a party to the New Covenant. The New Covenant has not yet been inaugurated, but when it is inaugurated, it will be made between God and the houses of Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 31:31–34; Hebrews 8:8–12). 

But the fact is that the Church isn't entirely separate from the New Covenant for several reasons:

  1. we are united to Christ (Ephesians 5:28–33), the Mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6)
  2. we have the "blood of the New Covenant" (1 Corinthians 11:23–26)

Whenever we eat the bread and drink the cup, we announce the Lord's death (1 Corinthians 11:26). We have a tendency to think that we eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of what the Lord has done for us, but Scripture tells us otherwise. We eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of Him (I Corinthians 11:24–25). He is more than "just" the One who died for us. His death was for us, that's true. But it wasn't only for us: there is value in His death for God. There is something in His death for Israel. There is something in His death for us. And while our Calvinist friends might not approve of my saying so: there is something in His death for fallen, unredeemed, unrepentant man too.

But even more than that, we aren't really called to remember His death. We're called to remember Him, and in doing so, we announce His death. We remember the Lord as the eternal God who became Man. We remember that He spoke the universe into existence (Hebrews 1:1–4, Colossians 1:16). We remember that He dwells in light unapproachable, that no man has seen, nor can see (1 Timothy 6:13–16). We remember that He is the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18).

And yes, we remember that He came down here, becoming a Man with the express purpose of giving Himself for us (Hebrews 10:4–10).

But the point is, we don't dissect Christ. We remember Him, and that includes the New Covenant. 

Even more to the point, He gave us the cup, and told us explicitly it's "the new covenant in [His] blood" (1 Corinthians 11:25).

This last point is a problem for people (like me) who take the view that the New Covenant is with Israel and Judah. If the New Covenant isn't ours, why do we have the cup? Why doesn't the Lord say we have "the cup, which is My blood?" Why does He bring up the New Covenant?

To me, this is all about Asenath. The Lord came to His own, and they didn't receive Him (John 1:11). He presented Himself to His own people, and they made it very clear they'd rather have Caesar than their own King (John 19:11–15). So He was crucified by the hands of wicked men (Acts 2:22–23), and when they killed Him, they were clear that He was the King of Israel (Matthew 27:37). And then, after His resurrection, the apostles called them to repent, promising them that He would come back then and there, to set up His kingdom (Acts 3:19–21). But of course they didn't repent.

The timing of the Last Supper is significant: it's before the assembly was formed, before the Holy Spirit came. It's the night He was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23). And on that night, He gives the disciples the cup, and tells them it's the New Covenant in His blood (Luke 22:19–20). They might not have realized it at the time, but the New Covenant will be made in blood (Hebrews 9:15–22), just as the Old Covenant was (Exodus 24:4–8). And the disciples were to remember that blood until He comes back.

No, I don't believe in transubstantiation. I don't believe the cup really is His blood, or that the bread really is His body. But I do believe that the Lord left a memorial of His blood, and of the New Covenant that will be made in it. And He made it a definite thing: we remember Him in bread and wine until He comes back (1 Corinthians 11:23–26).

So here we are: we announce His death while we wait for Him to come back. And when He comes back, He'll establish the "times of refreshing," inaugurating the New Covenant with Israel and Judah in His own blood. And that blood has been a testimony to His death for this whole time (Hebrews 12:24).

So in a sense, we're keeping the cup in trust for Israel and Judah. When our Lord comes back, He'll be their Lord too. And then we won't have that cup anymore.

But right now we're Asenath: we're the Lord's here while He has been rejected. We remember Him here so that His name won't be forgotten, but will be remembered throughout all generations (Psalm 45:17). And once His own people receive Him, we won't need to be holding that cup for them anymore.

There will be something amazing between the Lord and His people when He comes back for them. Some of that isn't our business, just like our union with Him is none of theirs. But when He does come as their King, He'll write His own copy of the law, just like Moses commanded (Deuteronomy 17:18). He'll write it on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).

So no, I don't believe the Church is party to the New Covenant. And I don't believe the Church receives any blessings from it, although I'm sure there are some blessings that we'll both have, not because we share them, but because we need them. But I do believe the assembly is connected to the New Covenant, because it is Christ's New Covenant, and we are connected with Him. And I believe we are connected with the New Covenant, because we hold (even if only symbolically) the blood of that New Covenant, until He comes.


Friday, July 9, 2021


It's popular to hate on Dispensationalism these days (although I've seen faint glimmers of its coming back into fashion). Some of the criticisms I have seen are valid, most are a bit of a reach, some are entirely outside the realm of reasonable.

In my experience, the term "dispensationalism" generally means the Scofield version, with seven ages that each begin with a covenant and end with a judgment. I'm not a huge fan of that system, although I understand its appeal. Clarence Larkin taught a version with eight ages, rather than seven. I'm sure there are many other versions of Dispensationalism, but the Scofield version seems to be the one people think of first, and the one people are attacking when they claim Dispensationalism is wrong.

Reading Darby cured me of Scofield's brand of Dispensationalism. Scofield does a good job of seeing and calling out discontinuities between the Old and New Testaments (for example), but not such a great job of recognizing continuities. The immediate effect reading Darby had on me was to make me step away from a lot of the Dispensationalist ideas I had grown up believing.

But I digress. 

Dispensationalism seems to me to be particularly strong in its hermeneutic. It's not perfect, but it's based on a remarkably consistent hermeneutic. Dispensationalists tend to view things in context (perhaps to a fault), and are very consistent across passages. I'm frequently surprised by the inconsistent hermeneutic in conversations with Christians from other backgrounds.

One of the more common criticisms of Dispensationalism is that it teaches that man was justified by works under Law in the Old Testament, and is now justified by grace through faith.  That's a common enough criticism that it deserves a detailed answer.

Let's be clear that God has only ever justified fallen men and women by grace through faith. That's the plain teaching of the Epistles. But I admit that I have met some (not all, not most, not even many) dispensationalists who weren't very clear on that. I can't recall ever speaking to a dispensationalist who didn't quickly realize the truth when pressed on the point, but I should be fair and say that I have actually met dispensationalists (not many, but some) who weren't very clear on that. I don't think I've ever heard anyone teach error on that point, and I've certainly never read it anywhere that I can recall.

But there is another "line of truth" to consider: the Epistles teach that the Law was given to reveal man's sinfulness (Romans 3:20, 5:12–21, Galatians 3:19). God was testing the human race. It wasn't to educate God, but to reveal what fallen men and women are.

What God knows (and has always known) is that Adam's descendants aren't merely guilty, but are lost. When Romans 8:7 says the mind of the flesh is not subject to the law of God and cannot be, it's giving God's verdict of our race. We're not merely guilty, we are also lost.

The testing of our race reaches its climax in the life and death of Jesus Christ. God Himself comes to live as a Man, is hated, persecuted, and murdered. In the rejection of Christ, we have the very worst thing the human race has ever done. There is no sin worse than Deicide.

Is God surprised by the death of His Son? Of course not! It was by the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" that He was killed (Acts 2:22–23). But that doesn't mean it wasn't the lowest point in human history. That doesn't mean God isn't going to judge the human race for this greatest of all crimes.

So Dispensationalism recognizes not only the individual need for redemption (only by the blood of Christ) and justification (only by grace through faith). It also recognizes God's testing of the human race. This is brought out especially by Darby and other "brethren" writers:

Man was lawless; then, when the law came, there was the transgression of the law; and when the blessed Lord in wondrous love and grace came into the world and went about doing good, they could not stand God's presence ("Our Portion in Christ," Collected Writings, Volume 21, pp. 317–326).

By nature, man was simply lawless (anomos), with a conscience, or the sense of good and evil. But he, being lawless in nature, was expressly put under law. If he had fulfilled it, he was righteous; but the flesh is not subject to it, nor can it be. ("The Pauline Doctrine of the Righteousness of Faith," Collected Writings, Volume 7, pp. 349–386).

Men had been sinners, lawless sinners and law-breaking sinners, before Christ came. His coming brought an additional element of sin. God came into this world in goodness. What did it do to Him?  ("The Law, and the Gospel of the Glory of Christ", Collected Writings, Volume 34, pp. 416–429)

One of the tragedies of Dispensationalism is that it has become characterized by charts and tables, rather than by a deep appreciation of God's ways with our lost race, but I digress. I love charts and tables, by the way. But the real meat isn't in the charts and tables.

It's fair to say dispensationalists believe that God put Israel – as representatives of the entire human race – under Law at Sinai as a test. It was a test He knew they (we) would fail, but it was a real test. And so we believe if they had passed the test (they did not and could not), then they would have been righteous based on their own merit. But that's not at all the same thing as saying they were justified by their works. They were not, as Romans 4:1–8 shows.

So yes, in a way, all dispensationalists believe that if men and women had kept the Law, they would have been righteous before God. But that would mean they were not lost. The Law doesn't prove man's guilt, but his lostness. And the impossibility of lost men and women being subject to the law of God is precisely what the law proved.

We don't believe that God has justified lost men and women any other way than by grace through faith. That is universally true: it was true of Abraham before the Law, and of David under it (Romans 4:1–8). 

Only one Man is just in God's sight on His own merits.