Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Two Resurrections in John 5:25-29

At the present time, the Son of God gives life to the dead spiritually (John 5:25). At a future time, the Son of God will raise all the dead from their tombs unto the final judgment (John 5:28-29).
"[25] Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. [27] And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. [28] Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [29] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment." (John 5:25–29)
This dual resurrection is also, I believe, referred to in Revelation 20. There John writes of the spiritual “first resurrection,” which spares one from the “second death” following the second resurrection, which is a physical resurrection.

In this age, Jesus speaks through the ministry of the word and in this way effectually calls sinners to faith and salvation, reviving the dead. He makes this voice effectual through his Spirit. This is a spiritual, inner resurrection. You should attend to the words of Jesus, the Son of God, who is preaching his word through Scripture and through faithful preaching. He calls sinners to receive life through faith in him. The Father has provided salvation in the Son. As Jesus said, 
"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24) 
Jesus quickens and justifies sinners. The life he gives is spiritual and eternal. He makes a person a new creation, causing one to live to God. He reunites the sinner with God, the source of true life. The believer's justification is immediate and final. The believer does not come into judgment, now or later. He is not condemned, but forgiven and accepted as righteous. The believer has passed from death to life.

There is a coming hour, not yet here, when the voice of the Son of God will raise the dead. This is a bodily resurrection - “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out.” It involves coming out of tombs and it applies to both the saved and the condemned. They shall all rise together, for the Son will execute judgment at that time. The Son of God, as the messianic Son of Man, has been given authority to execute judgment (John 5:27). He will distinguish two groups and he will bless the one and condemn the other.

Those who have done good will be raised to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil will be raised to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:24 makes it clear that the basis for the resurrection of life is a person's believing reception of Christ, but John 5:29 makes it clear that the two groups will be distinguished from one another by their works. Those who are spiritually dead will not bear fruit, but those who receive life from Christ will be eager and able to bear much fruit (John 15:1-8). 

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Isaac and Ishmael in Galatians 4

Genesis 21 describes the miraculous conception and birth of Isaac and the sending away of Hagar and her son Ishmael. The apostle Paul saw in Genesis 21 an analogy or foreshadowing of the situation in his own day. He describes this in Galatians 4:21-31. There he contrasts two groups personified by the two sons of Abraham:
  • The son of the slave woman, born according to the flesh: "the present Jerusalem." The earthly Jerusalem was still under the law and in slavery with her children. Those who reject Christ and rely on works of the law are relying on the flesh and proving to be slaves not sons.
  • The son of the free woman, born through promise: "the Jerusalem above." The heavenly Jerusalem is free and she is our mother. Those who receive Christ are children of promise, born according to the Spirit, and thus sons and heirs and free. 

Under the old covenant, even the true sons were under the bondage of the ceremonial law, as sons under age (Gal. 3:23-24, 4:1-3), but with the coming of Christ, one either progressed to the new covenant and the freedom of mature heirs or clung to the old covenant without Christ as a way of works-based salvation, proving to be slaves and not heirs. 

The Galatian saints were being tempted by false teachers to return to bondage by receiving circumcision and to rely on their works, but Paul exhorted them to stand fast in the freedom of sons through faith in Christ.

Christ is the promised offspring (Gal. 3:16), and those who are in Christ are children of the free woman, of the spiritual Jerusalem, sons and co-heirs with Christ.  “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise” (Gal. 4:28).

Even as Ishmael persecuted Isaac (Gen. 21:8-9), so Paul could point to the persecution of Christians by the unbelieving Jewish establishment of that time (Gal. 4:29). It is common in general for those who are of the flesh to persecute those who are of the Spirit, just as within the believer there is war between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26). But who will remain and inherit the covenant blessings? What does Scripture say? Paul quoted from Genesis, “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman” (Galatians 4:30).

Therefore, do not trust in the flesh and do not rely on works of the law. Believe in Jesus Christ and the provision of grace. For it is through faith in him that one is justified and adopted as an heir (Gal. 2:6, 3:24-26).

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Church and Covenant, Visible and Invisible

The visible church is composed of all those who profess the true religion and their children (1 Cor. 1:2, 7:14). The invisible church is composed of all the elect (John 10:16, 29). These are both legitimate ways to speak of the one church of Jesus Christ. 

Not all who are in the visible church are members of the invisible church. Some of them are not elect and never come to saving faith in Christ, although they may profess to believe. (There are also some who are members of the church in both senses and yet are unsaved at the moment, their conversion being still future.) The church is being gathered through the visible administration of the covenant and presently contains a mixture, but it shall be purified and made perfect in the end (Matt. 13:47-50, 22:8-14). 

We can apply the same distinction when speaking of covenant membership. Those who profess the true religion and their children are members of the covenant of grace in its visible administration, but in another sense, the covenant of grace is made with Christ as the last Adam and in him all the elect.

The children of believers are visible saints, members of the visible church like their parents. This is why they are baptized as infants. As the Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1645) put it, the children of believers “are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized…” They are to be raised as disciples of Christ. And all members, young and old, ought to be regularly encouraged to believe in Christ, to make use of the means of grace, to repent of their sins, and to grow in Christ.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Two Kinds of Judicial Laws in the Old Testament

Regarding the judicial laws, Reformed theologians have distinguished between laws peculiarly fitted to Israel and laws on things common to all nations. They taught that the first category, while instructive in various ways, is not binding on the nations, but that the second category, resting on general equity, does bind them. I wrote about this earlier in The Judicial Laws, the 39 Articles, and the Westminster Confession and have taught in more detail on this subject in The Judicial Laws of the Old Testament. While there is some room for debate on what was peculiarly fitted to the commonwealth of Israel, as well as more details as to how the binding judicial laws should be interpreted and applied (see my lesson), here I want to give you an idea of how 16th-17th century Reformed theologians described this distinction.

Johannes Piscator, Disputations on the Judicial Laws of Moses (2015 [1605]).
“Things common to all nations (that is, which befall all) and are immutable with respect to their own nature and merits are moral offenses, that is, against the Decalogue, such as murder, adultery, theft, seduction from the true God, blasphemy, and smiting of parents.

“Those laws which are mutable and which were peculiar to the Jews for that time are things such as the emancipation of Hebrew slaves in the seventh year, Levirate marriage, releasing of debts in the appointed year, marriage with a woman from one’s own tribe, and if there were any other of the same sort.” 
Henrici Alting, Scriptorum theologicorum Heidelbergensium (1646)
“For whatever was a particular proper right, such as peculiarly concerned the Jews, of which sort was the law concerning the office of the Levites, as another concerning inheritances not being transferred from one tribe to another, all of this kind have ceased. But insofar as it concerned common right, enacted according to the law of nature for all men together, of which sort are the laws concerning the punishments for crimes, these same judicial laws all remain.” 
William Gouge, A commentary on the whole Epistle to the Hebrews (1655):
“Many branches of that law appertained to the Jewish priesthood; as, the particular laws about the cities of refuge, whither such as slew any unawares fled, and there abode till the death of the high priest. Num. xxxv. 25. And laws about lepers, which the priest was to judge. Lev. xiv. 3. And sundry other cases which the priest was to judge of, Deut. xvii. 9. So also the laws of distinguishing tribes. Num. xxxvi. 7 ; of reserving inheritances to special tribes and families, of selling them to the next of kin, Ruth iv. 4 ; of raising seed to a brother that died without issue. Gen. xxxviii. 8, 9 ; of all manner of freedoms at the year of jubilee, Lev. XXV. 13, &c.

“There were other branches of the judicial law which rested upon common equity and were means of keeping the moral law: as putting to death idolaters and such as enticed others thereunto ; and witches, and wilful murderers, and other notorious malefactors. So likewise laws against incest and incestuous marriages ; laws of reverencing and obeying superiors and governors ; and of dealing justly in borrowing, restoring, buying, selling, and all manner of contracts, Exod. xxii. 20 ; Deut. xiii. 9; Exod. xx. 18 ; Num. xxxv. 30; Lev. xx. 11, &c., xix. 32, 35.”