Monday, March 28, 2022

The Parable of the Ten Virgins and 1 Thessalonians 4

Something I noticed when I was preaching through the Gospel of Matthew is that when the apostle Paul describes Christ's return in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, he does so in a way very similar to Jesus' parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). 

  • In addressing whether the dead shall participate in the blessings of that day, Paul describes deceased saints like the wise virgins in this parable - those who have "fallen asleep." But Jesus shall wake them and bring them with him when he returns, just as the bridegroom woke and brought the virgins with him as he entered the wedding feast.
  • Paul speaks of Christ’s coming being accompanied with a cry of command and the voice of an archangel and with the sound of the trumpet of God, just as the virgins are summoned at midnight by the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” In both cases, the voice wakes the dead and summons his people to greet him. 
  • Paul uses the same word for “meet” that is used in the parable (ἀπάντησις). Paul says those who are in Christ shall go up to “meet” him in the air on his way down from heaven, just as the virgins went out to “meet” the bridegroom to escort him into the hall. The other use of this word in the NT is to describe how Christians from Rome went out to meet Paul to accompany him back to Rome. As Strong’s Concordance says, the word is “seemingly almost technical for the reception of a newly arrived official.” A very similar word is use to describe how the crowds came out of Jerusalem to meet Jesus, accompanying him into the city with joy. 
  • Paul writes that having greeted Jesus, “we will always be with the Lord,” just as the five wise virgins who greeted Jesus went into the wedding feast with the bridegroom, unlike the five foolish virgins who were unprepared and unable to enter.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Matthew 24:36 and the Olivet Discourse

In Matthew 23, Jesus tells the the scribes and Pharisees that because of their hypocrisy, unbelief, and consistent persecution of God’s messengers and saints, God’s judgment would be poured out on that generation. In Matthew 24:1-3, the disciples ask about the timing of this judgment and the destruction of the temple, although they conflated it with Christ's coming at the end of the age.

Jesus answers their question and gives a clear indication of the timing. From verse 4 to 34 he prophesies concerning the events that would take place in that generation in connection with the desolation of Jerusalem. In verse 36 he begins to speak of the end of the age and distinguishes it from the destruction of Jerusalem and he gives no timing or sign for that day. Here are several reasons to take 24:36 as the point where Jesus shifts from the fall of Jerusalem to his second coming at the end of the age.

1. “But concerning…” (24:36) is a phrase used in the New Testament to indicate a change of subject or to move on to a different question. This is the case in Matthew 22:31, six times in 1 Corinthians, and twice in 1 Thessalonians. Reviewing these occurrences, commentator R.T. France writes, “In each case peri de is the rhetorical formula for a new beginning. The analogy with 1 Corinthians indicates that here the phrase marks the transition from the first of the two questions asked in v. 3 to the second.”

2. 24:34 makes a fitting conclusion to his instructions regarding the desolation of Jerusalem. In it he says that “these things” which he had described up to that point would happen before that generation passed away (compare this with the similar expression used in 23:36).

3. The disciples had asked about “the end of the age,” which is a phrase which always refers to the final judgment and consummation. It is used in the parable of the wheat and weeds for the harvest when the kingdom will be purified of all causes of sin and lawbreakers (13:39-40). It is used in the parable of the net for when those gathered by the kingdom will be sorted by the angels (13:49). It is also used in the Great Commission, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20). So Jesus begins to speak of this final event after he has finished describing the events of that generation.

4. Jesus refers to “that day.” He had already spoken of a particular day throughout his ministry: the day of judgment, a universal judgment, when he would judge (Matt. 7:22, 10:15, 11:22, 24, 36). His parables had taught that this would occur at the end of the age. Thus, it makes sense for him to refer to his coming and the end of the age by “that day and hour.”

5. While he had spoken of the coming of the Son of Man in heaven as occurring in that generation - a reference to his ascension and reign at the Father’s right hand - he has not spoken of his “parousia,” the word for “coming” in their question, until after verse 36, except to say in verse 27 that it will be unlike the appearances of false Christs during the fall of Jerusalem.

6. While he gave clear timing and signs for the desolation of Jerusalem, he did not have knowledge (with respect to his humanity) concerning that day and hour of his coming, and so does not indicate its timing or signs. There is some mystery here, but this further serves to indicate a shift at verse 36. 

For more on the Olivet Discourse, check out the sermons on Matthew 24-25 in my series on the Gospel of Matthew

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Sabbath Rest, Worship, and Mercy

Q. 60: How is the sabbath to be sanctified? 
Answer: The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

The fourth commandment requires us to keep the sabbath day holy. This is done, first, by resting from our normal activities. “…in it thou shalt not do any work” (Ex. 20:10). God exemplified this pattern of weekly rest in his work of creation. God tells his people to take a break and to trust him, our heavenly Father. We are not slaves under harsh spiritual bondage, nor are we orphans who are on our own in this world, but we are children of the living God. This rest is a guard against a workaholic mentality, worldliness, and the oppression of workers.

This rest is also intended to make room for the devotion of the day to duties of piety and mercy. The sabbath day is kept holy, not only by resting from worldly employments and recreations, but second, by spending the day in worship, as well as in works of necessity and mercy. As a holy day, it is set apart unto the worship of God. In commemoration of Christ’s resurrection, we ought to meditate on God’s word and works and give him praise. As Leviticus 23:3 says, the sabbath is a day for a holy convocation, the assembly of God’s people in local congregations for worship. As mentioned earlier, the New Testament describes this as well, that the church gathers for worship on the weekly sabbath, which is now the first day of the week. By resting the whole day, we gain time to prepare for public worship and as well as to practice family and private worship on that day.

In Matthew 12:1-13, Jesus corrected the Pharisaic practice of the sabbath, which had turned it into a burden. He noted how the sabbath day is also a day for deeds of mercy and kindness. Even in the Old Testament, it is noted that not only should you rest, but you should give rest and refreshment to others (Ex. 23:12, Deut. 5:13). Having received mercy from God, we should show mercy to others, sharing with one another and encouraging one another. Jesus also taught that deeds of necessity are permitted on the sabbath day, rebuking the Pharisees when they condemned the disciples for feeding themselves from the grain fields.

You can learn more on the observance of the sabbath day in this short video and in these sermons: Jesus and the Sabbath and Keep the Sabbath Day Holy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Christian Sabbath: The First Day of the Week

Q. 59: Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?
Answer: From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath. (WSC)

The sabbath day is the weekly day of rest and worship (Ex. 20:11, Lev. 23:3). The observance of the sabbath day in the Old Testament on the seventh day was based on God’s works of creation and redemption (Ex. 20:11; Deut. 5:15). But the day of the new creation and redemption in the New Testament is the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead. Thus, our observance of the sabbath and its “holy convocation” (Lev. 23:3) also shifts to the first day. The fourth commandment was not abrogated, but its old covenant form was replaced by its new covenant form, explicitly connected to the work of Christ.

This shift was not a mere invention of the church, but was taught by the example of our Lord and intentionally recorded in Scripture. Jesus met with his gathered disciples on the day of his resurrection and broke bread with some of them (Luke 24, John 20:19-23). A week later, on the first day of the week, they were gathered again and he met with them (John 20:26-29). Seven weeks after his resurrection, on the first day of the week, was the day of Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-16), when the disciples were gathered again in one place and the Spirit descended upon them in the morning (Acts 2:1ff). They spoke in foreign tongues and Peter preached.

After this, we find the apostles following this example and gathering for worship on the first day of the week. In Acts 20:7 we find that “on the first day of the week” they “were gathered together to break bread” and “Paul talked with them…and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” In 1 Corinthians 11 we find that the Corinthian church gathered together as a church to eat the Lord’s Supper (11:18, 20, 33), and in 1 Corinthians 16 we find that the day that they met together was the first day of the week, since Paul tells them to collect supplies for the Jerusalem church on “the first day of every week” (16:2). Finally, we find that the Apostle John received God’s word when he was in the Spirit on “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10, a reference to the first day of the week, the day of the Lord’s resurrection.

The early church continued to gather on this day, as Justin Martyr records in A.D. 155,
“We all make our assembly in common on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology)

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

Q. 57: Which is the fourth commandment?
Answer: The fourth commandment is, Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Q. 58: What is required in the fourth commandment?
Answer: The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself. (WSC)

It is just and right that a certain amount of time be set aside for the worship of God. It is true that we ought to serve God in everything we do, but part of the service we owe to God is to directly and explicitly praise him, thank him, call upon him, pay homage to him, meditate on his deeds, hear his word, and renew our covenant with him. Thus, the law regarding the sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11) is a moral law at its core, not merely a ceremonial law.

In his word, God has specified that we set aside one day in seven for this purpose, as a holy sabbath. He has taught this pattern to us by the way he made the world, by resting on the seventh day and thereby blessing and sanctifying it. The sabbath is a creation ordinance that predates man's fall as well as the giving of the ceremonial law to Israel. Another catechism question will address the shift from the seventh day to the first day, but the proportion of time is the same from the creation of the world to the present. And in both Old and New Testaments, the day is specified by God’s word and sanctified by his deeds. 

The catechism accurately notes that the fourth commandment does not merely require a cessation from your normal work. The commandment requires us to “keep it holy,” that is, to set it aside from other days and consecrate it to the worship of God. God has made it holy (“hallowed it”), and so we ought to treat it as holy. It is not only a day of rest, but also a day of worship. In Old and New Testaments, the church has assembled for worship on its weekly day of rest (Lev. 23:2, Acts 20:7). Rest and worship complement each other. The rest allows us to direct our attention to the worship of God, and in turn the worship of God refreshes us. God “blessed” the sabbath day, and he makes it a blessing to us as we observe it with faith and gratitude.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

The Third Commandment and God's Name

Q. 53: Which is the third commandment?
Answer: The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Q. 54: What is required in the third commandment?
Answer: The third commandment requireth the holy and reverend use of God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works.

Q. 55: What is forbidden in the third commandment?
Answer: The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known.

Q. 56: What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
Answer: The reason annexed to the third commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment. (WSC)

The first commandment specifies the object of worship and religious allegiance (God alone), the second commandment specifies the means of worship (only as God has prescribed, not by images), and the third commandment specifies the manner of worship, that we worship God with sincerity and holy reverence.

The third commandment forbids taking God’s name in vain, and therefore implies that we must use his name in a holy and reverent manner. Rather than using his name lightly or profanely, we must use it in a weighty manner as a holy thing.

And as the Shorter Catechism notes, the principle here refers to more than the use of a word or phrase, such as “Jehovah,” “the LORD,” “I Am,” or “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” It also refers to “anything whereby God maketh himself known.” For example, the book of Malachi makes a strong connection between God’s name and his worship, word, and ordinances. The priests and people had despised God's name by treating these holy things with contempt. Jesus rebukes the vain oaths the scribes and Pharisees used by pointing out the connection between God and his altar and temple (Matt. 23:16-22). They had profaned God’s name when they had sworn by his altar and temple in vain.

Therefore, this commandment requires that we speak of God in a reverent manner. It requires us to hear and read his word attentively and reverently. It requires us to partake of the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. It requires us to remember our baptisms and to remember that we bear God’s name and ought not to profane it by living in a manner contrary to it. A false and empty profession of faith is an instance of taking God’s name in vain. This commandment requires us to pray with sincerity and honesty, and to not pray mindlessly or to show off before others (Matt. 6:5-13). It requires us to be careful in our use of oaths and vows, to swear only by God, to do so reverently, and to assert nothing but what we are fully persuaded is the truth and to bind ourselves only to what is good and just and what we are able and resolved to perform. “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:12).