Monday, December 3, 2018

BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND

The above title comes from a chapter title in Stephen Covey’s #1 national bestseller, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” The book came out in the late 1980s and I can remember reading it for a leadership course. I was impacted by a number of points made by the author, but perhaps his second chapter impressed me the most. I would like to give an lengthy quote from the beginning of that chapter. While Covey’s point was really very important, there is something of much greater significance to his point, far beyond what Covey likely had in mind. And I want to look at that after this story that he tells.

“IN YOUR MIND’S EYE, SEE YOURSELF GOING TO THE FUNERAL OF A LOVED ONE. PICTURE YOURSELF DRIVING TO THE FUNERAL PARLOR OR CHAPEL, PARKING THE CAR, AND GETTING OUT. AS YOU WALK INSIDE THE BUILDING YOU NOTICE THE FLOWERS, THE SOFT ORGAN MUSIC. YOU SEE THE FACES OF FRIENDS AND FAMILY YOU PASS ALONG THE WAY. YOU FEEL THE SHARED SORROW OF LOSING, THE JOY OF HAVING KNOWN, THAT RADIATES FROM THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE THERE.
“AS YOU WALK DOWN TO THE FRONT OF THE ROOM AND LOOK INSIDE THE CASKET, YOU SUDDENLY COME FACE TO FACE WITH YOURSELF. THIS IS YOUR FUNERAL, THREE YEARS FROM TODAY. ALL THESE PEOPLE HAVE COME TO HONOR YOU, TO EXPRESS FEELINGS OF LOVE AND APPRECIATION FOR YOUR LIFE.

“AS YOU TAKE SEAT AND WAIT FOR THE SERVICE TO BEGIN, YOU LOOK AT THE PROGRAM IN YOUR HAND. THERE ARE TO BE FOUR SPEAKERS. THE FIRST IS FROM YOUR FAMILY…THE SECOND SPEAKER IS ONE OF YOUR FRIENDS, SOMEONE WHO CAN GIVE A SENSE OF WHAT YOU WERE AS A PERSON. THE THIRD SPEAKER IS FROM YOUR WORK OR PROFESSION. AND THE FOURTH IS FROM YOUR CHURCH…WHERE YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN SERVICE.

“NOW THINK DEEPLY. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE EACH OF THESE SPEAKERS TO SAY ABOUT YOU AND YOUR LIFE? WHAT KIND OF A HUSBAND, WIFE, FATHER OR MOTHER WOULD YOU LIKE THEIR WORDS TO REFLECT? WHAT KIND OF A SON OR DAUGHTER OR COUSIN? WHAT KIND OF A FRIEND? WHAT KIND OF A WORKING ASSOCIATE? WHAT KIND OF CHARACTER WOULD YOU LIKE THEM TO HAVE SEEN IN YOU? WHAT CONTRIBUTIONS, WHAT ACHIEVEMENTS WOULD YOU WANT THEM TO REMEMBER? LOOK CAREFULLY AROUND YOU. WHAT DIFFERENCE WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE MADE IN THEIR LIVES?”
In a powerful way, Covey has actually hit upon an important biblical life principle. He uses a funeral (our own funeral) to get us to think about how we want to our lives to be remembered, and what kind of a legacy we would like to have. His point, of course, is that if you want things to end in a wonderful way, it is necessary to plan and work towards that end; thus the chapter title, “Begin With the End in Mind.”

For the believer, the greater application goes far beyond our earthly funerals and takes us to the coming Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10); an event that is as certain as the fact we got up this morning. So make some time, take a moment in a quiet space, and think deeply about what it might be like when we appear before the Lord Jesus. As you stand before the Lord in all His splendor and glory, you probably want to hear Jesus say to you, “well done, good and faithful servant.” I certainly want that. And if that is your desire, then it is certainly a most excellent one. However, wishing it to be so does not guarantee it will take place.

In his “begin with the end in mind”, Stephen Covey observes that so much in the life of an effective person is “twice created.” By this he means that there is a mental creation of that which we want to do, and then the task of creating the plan, with all its components, to bring about the desired end. If, as followers of Jesus Christ, we say that we want to hear Him say “well done, good servant”, we have done the first creation of mentally setting forth our goal in life. But that alone is not sufficient. We must “create” the plan for getting to the great goal of our mental creation. If you are building a house, you mentally come to know what you want (family room, great room, office space, place for the kids to play, certain features in the kitchen etc). Then comes the task of creating the blueprint, the construction plans and so on, in order to bring that house to completion.

After we believers decide we really do want to hear Jesus’ word of commendation, we then need to plan on how we are going to get to that great goal. Fortunately, we don’t have to do this from scratch. The blueprint of the Scriptures has laid out quite clearly how we can achieve that great goal of “well done, good servant.” While the following is not an exhaustive list, it will get us going. Let me suggest for your consideration, seven basic areas to analyze and plan. None of this can be quickly so don’t try to accomplish this between commercial breaks on a TV show.

(1) My walk with Christ. Without any doubt, this is the foundation for a believer hearing “well done, good and faithful servant.” Jesus Himself was abundantly clear when He told us to “abide in Him”; that is, to remain in constant fellowship with Him (John 15:1-11). If we do this then our lives are guaranteed to be fruitful. There is a lot involved with this, as most of us know. We need to be confessing our sins, having regular uninterrupted times with Him, checking ourselves daily to detect the infiltration of idolatry into our lives and certainly dealing with the Lordship of Christ in the various areas of our lives. (Luke 9:23-34; 14:25-35; Eph. 4:20-32; 1 John 1:9; 1 Cor. 10:1-23). Objectively, how is my walk with Christ?

(2) My family. Each of us has a role in a family, both immediate and extended. It could be as a husband, wife, son, daughter, aunt or uncle, grandparent, cousins and so on. What would we want Jesus to say about our family life at the Judgment Seat? (Keep in mind that such details will be important there, as even a “cup of cold water” will be remembered. Mark 9:41). The husband who says he wants to be the best of husbands, but never spends time and focus on his wife, needs to rethink the way he is being a husband. The child who wants to be a “good child”, but challenges parental authority or only selectively obeys the parent, is likely not going to get positive reviews at their appearance before the Lord. If a parent wants their child to follow Christ, but does not purposely and regularly instruct them in the things of the Lord, then it is time to add planned instruction to the family schedule and likely remove some other things. If we come up short with our behaviors and actions in our family life, then it would be prudent to carefully make adjustments in what we are doing. (Eph. 5:22-6:4; Deut. 6:1-9; Col. 3:18-21).

(3) My stewardship. The scriptures don’t stutter when they tell us that the most fundamental requirement of a steward is that of faithfulness (! Cor. 4:1-2). A steward is one to whom the master has given resources and responsibilities. Every believer is a steward. We have been given spiritual gifts, natural abilities, financial resources, mental capacities, opportunities and jobs. (Eph. 4:7, 11-16; Gal. 6:6-10; 1 Tim. 6:17-19; 1 Cor. 4:7). The great question at the Judgment Seat will be “were you faithful with what I gave you?” Best we ask that question now and be very candid in how we answer it.

(4) My church. The Church, the body of Christ, is very important to the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus. Every believer has privileges and obligations, as “believer priests” to function faithfully in that setting (1 Cor. 12:7-27; Heb. 3:1-5). A healthy local church requires more than 20% involvement (which is said to be the usual percentage of believers who are active in ministry). Each of us has been given spiritual gifts which are to be used in that setting. Granted, some gifts/people are more prominent in any given local church. But prominence is not the issue; faithfulness in serving, giving, fellowshipping, and worshipping is the issue. So how are you doing? Also, Jesus values as well the attempt to “preserve the unity of the church” (Eph. 4:1-3), and this is important as churches tend to split and divide over many matters. Are we healers or dividers?

(5) My employment. Being a diligent, hard-working, honest worker is one way that we honor Christ and represent Him well in this world. It makes little difference if we are in a profession that is seen as highly admirable or one that is not thought of so highly. Wherever Christ has put us, we are to work as though He alone were our boss (He really is). Do our fellow workers look at us and see those wonderful qualities that reflect well on our Father (Matt. 5:16)? (Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:7-12; Prov. 12:11; 22:29) Are there work related areas that need to be cleaned up or changed?

(6) My neighbors and friends. We realize that we also have both relationships and responsibilities towards those outside the body of Christ. To these we are to live as “lights” and are, therefore exhorted to be characterized before them as thankful people and not as complainers (Phil. 2:14-16). We are also the carriers of the “good news”, that good word that eternal life and the forgiveness of sins is available to them through Jesus Christ. We are to be alert to doors that the Lord opens for us in sharing our faith with others (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 17:17). How are we doing in this arena?

(7) My speech. I include this as the last basic category because Jesus indicated that how we talk is so very important (Matt. 15:11, 18-19) and reveals so very much about where we really are in our spiritual maturity. We are told that life and death are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21). The wise man or woman controls their tongue (Prov. 15:1-2; 16:27-28; 17:27-28; 18:2, 6-8, 13). The NT tells us that the tongue is one of the objective indicators of our spiritual maturity (James 3:2ff.). It tells us that we are not to let unwholesome words come out of our mouths but only words that build other people up (Eph. 4:29). Is our speech all that it should be? Any adjustments needed?

So we who want to hear Jesus say “well done, you good and faithful servant”, need to move beyond “creating” the vision of the end goal, and “create” the path to get there; a path really laid out for us in the Scriptures. How many of the above areas need adjustments, either significant or minor changes?

Such a second “creation” takes time; some quiet time. Such is needed if we are really serious about hearing “well done”. It takes more than wishful thinking, but requires candid analysis of how we are really doing life. For me, this was one of those exercises that changed the trajectory of my life (and is an ongoing process). It takes some effort to be sure, but it will be worth it all when we see Jesus (and we will).

Friday, November 2, 2018

JUST WHAT IS “COVENANT (HISTORIC) PREMILLENNIALISM”?

As Chuck sat in church listening to the visiting speaker’s talk on the millennium, he couldn’t help thinking that something just did not sound right to him. The speaker apparently thought that the millennial kingdom was set up after Jesus returned, but other points seemed “off”. So after the sermon, Chuck approached the speaker and asked him to clarify some things that he had said. The speaker assured Chuck that he did indeed believe in a coming millennial reign of Jesus. He told Chuck that he used to be Amillennial in his view of Christ’s kingdom, but he changed because he just could not explain away the clear teaching of Revelation 20:1-10. The result of this was that he now considered himself an “historic premillennialist”.

Chuck also was premillennial but he did not recall hearing of this position before. He had been raised in a church which was dispensational premillennial and figured that what he believe is what all premillennialists believed. So just what is “historic premillennialism”, or “covenant premillennialism” as it is often called?

There is one type of premillennialism that is non-dispensational. It is known as covenant premillennialism though its adherents often prefer to be referred to as “historic premillennialist”; that is, because much of their position was the view that was held by many of the church fathers during the first several centuries of the church.

Covenant premillennialism (CP) believes that the millennium is established after the return of the Lord Jesus to this earth as the King of Kings. Most believe that the millennium is a literal one thousand years, though there is a minority who believe that the millennium is simply an extended period of time. The position of CP is based almost exclusively on Revelation 20:1-6, where the term thousand years is used six times. Unlike dispensational premillennialism, this form of premillennialism does not go to the OT scriptures to support the details of a millennial kingdom. It is largely dependent on the Revelation 20 passage.

George Ladd was a covenant premillennialist who did not accept a millennial kingdom in which Israel has a predominant role because he (like other CP theologians) applied OT prophecies to the church. So in this regard, CP is similar to many perspectives of Amillennialists. Ladd said this:
“Dispensationalism forms its eschatology by a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and then fits the New Testament into it. A nondispensational eschatology forms its theology from the explicit teaching of the New Testament. It confesses that it cannot be sure how the Old Testament prophecies are to be fulfilled. (George Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism”, in “The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views: ed. R. Clouse: Downers Grove, Ill. Intervarsity, 177. p27)
CP does not make a sharp distinction between the church and Israel, and it regularly spiritualizes the Old Testament. On these major points it is much like Amillennialism and significantly different from dispensational premillennialism. Because of this approach, CP generally believes that the church will remain on the earth during the period of the tribulation, not being raptured out of the world until after this seven year period of time.

In evaluating the speaker at church, Chuck needs to understand that the position of CP has three very real weaknesses. First, as has been mentioned, it spiritualizes the prophecies of the OT, applying them to the church, which is viewed as spiritual Israel. To be able to substitute the church for Israel, one must adopt a dual hermeneutic; and must be able to show from the New Testament that such a change has taken place. There is simply no NT passage which teaches that the church has replaced Israel; but Romans 11 forcefully teaches the opposite. Second, it fails to give the nation of Israel its proper place in the program of God. The unconditional, eternal biblical covenants ratified by God on oath, were made with Israel, and this requires that the nation of Israel be the recipients of the promised blessings. The fact is that Israel, not the gentiles or the church, is party of these covenants. And as the Apostle Paul made abundantly clear, in Galatians 3:13-18, a ratified (legally binding) covenant cannot be changed in any way. No one has the authority to substitute the church for Israel in these ratified covenants.

The third weakness of CP is an inaccuracy in its view of progressive revelation. It is true, of course, that God has revealed more and more truth progressively over the years. And it is true that the NT reveals new truth and develops truth previously given in the OT. However, CP fails to recognize that many of the OT prophecies should be understood on their own merit because they are clear in their meaning. And the idea of progressive revelation does not mean that the OT cannot be understood apart from the NT, which is basic to the CP position. And further, it does not mean that clear OT prophecies must be reinterpreted, changed or altered. They can stand on their own.

In conclusion, while CP correctly sees a future, earthly reign of Christ, they are carrying many of the interpretive, hermeneutical problems of Amillennialism. Anytime that the covenant nation of Israel is marginalized, the student of Scripture is alerted that there is something amiss in sermon or teaching. So there was good reason why Chuck sensed that something was not quite right in the presentation that he heard.

Monday, September 10, 2018

WHO IS THE “WORTHLESS SLAVE” OF MATTHEW 25:30?

(1) Jesus’ story of the business man and his three slaves (Matt. 25:14-30)

Jesus tells the story of a business man who went on a trip, and before leaving gave 5 talents to one servant, 2 talents to another and 1 talent to the third. They were not given equal amounts because the business man knew that each one had different abilities. (Note that this parable is different than the one Jesus gave a week earlier, recorded in Luke 19). When he returned from his trip, he discovered that two of the servants had faithfully worked and each had doubled what had been given to them. Those servants then received identical rewards. Jesus’ point was not the total amount acquired, but the faithfulness of each. However, the third servant did nothing with his talent, with the result that judgment fell on him. He is then cast into “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” So, who is this third servant?

(2) The context of Jesus’ story


This third servant has been a significant interpretive challenge for Bible students. Is he saved, or is he unsaved? Was he once saved and is now lost? Is he a believer who loses out on rewards, and perhaps participation, in the kingdom? This brief article simply cannot deal with all the viewpoints. But it is the viewpoint of this writer that the third servant is unsaved, and that his fate is that of an unsaved person, even though he is called a “servant.” As is often the case, the context is extremely significant. There are certain things that have led to this understanding.

 1. The understanding of “you” in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse


This parable is part of the Olivet Discourse where Jesus was answering the questions of His disciples related to the future of the nation of Israel. Jesus, in answering them, speaks of Israel, not the church and not of the gentiles. A key is the word “you” that is found in Matthew 23 through 25. Beginning in Matthew 23:33, and continuing on through chapter 25, He used the word “you” which refers to Israel, and always Israel. Sometimes “you” refers to the nation generally; sometimes it is a past generation in Israel and sometimes a future generation; sometimes Israel is represented by the Pharisees and other religious leaders and sometimes by the apostles. But “you” contextually is always focused on Israel. And so, when Jesus gave the six concluding parables for the purpose of application, He is still focused on the disciples’ concern; that of Israel’s future. So the primary application, including the present parable in Matthew 25:14-30, is on Israel. There is nothing in the text which shifts the subject to gentiles or the church. So, the three servants would in some way represent the people of Israel.

2. The Unique place of Israel in God’s plans and purposes

The nation of Israel is absolutely unique among the nations of the world. They, and they alone, are in a covenant relationship with the Lord.(1) This is not true of the Italians, the Chinese or even Americans. And uniquely, every single Israelite is included in the Abrahamic Covenant whether they are saved or unsaved. Even an unsaved Israelites was a “covenant man.” Was this not the great problem that both Jesus and John the Baptist had to deal with? It was convincing the Jews of their day that they had to be born again in order to enter the messianic kingdom. The belief of Jesus’ day, as the rabbis taught it, was that no descendant of Abraham (aside from an apostate) could be lost.(2)

But being Jewish was not enough, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus (John 3). When Jesus referred to Israelites as “sons of the kingdom”, He was focusing on the fact that the messianic kingdom belonged to the Jews by right of inheritance that came through the Abrahamic Covenant. Nicodemus understood that, but did not understand that Jews did not have a free pass into the messianic kingdom. Entrance into Messiah’s kingdom was not automatic, but they had to be born again, by which He was teaching that covenant people can be unsaved. Later, in Jesus’ powerful talk about “fathers” in John 8, He acknowledged that the leaders of Israel did indeed have Abraham as their physical father, but declared that their spiritual father was the Devil (John 8:37, 44). Jesus also spoke about the fate of the “sons of the kingdom” in such a way that they are viewed as unbelievers who will experience fiery punishment (note Matt. 13:41-42; 8:12). Paul, in Romans 9:6 said that “they are not all Israel who are descendant from Israel.” He stated that the Jews were people of great privilege, since they were in a covenant relationship with God and had unique blessings from Him (Rom. 3:1-2; 6:1-5). Yet, the majority in Israel were unbelievers. And this concept is seen time and again in the New Testament; where there are Israelites who believe and Israelites who do not believe, even though all were part of the Abrahamic Covenant. Dwight Pentecost correctly states: “apart from faith in Christ none of Abraham’s physical descendants could have a part in the kingdom. Those who heard the kingdom offer and then rejected the person of the King thereby excluded themselves from the kingdom.”(3)

3. Isaiah’s “servant of the Lord” includes all Israelites

The concept of “servant” does not require that a servant is a believer. The concept of “servant” has an important place in the Old Testament, particularly in Isaiah’s “servant of the Lord” section. Most Bible students know that Isaiah’s “servant of the Lord” gives wonderful truth about the Person of Jesus, particularly truth related to Him being the sin-bearer for all. But less known is that the nation of Israel is called “My servant” (Isa. 41:8; Exo. 19:5-6).(4) As God’s servant, Israel was to represent Him before the spiritually blind, idolatrous gentiles. Israel was to serve Him by being a light to the gentiles. As servants, they were responsible to the Lord, and they would be accountable to Him. But Israel became just as blind spiritually as the gentiles. They were seen as an unbelieving nation, though they were called “servant.” God declared: “Hear you deaf! And look, you blind that you might see. Who is blind but My servant, or so deaf as My messenger whom I send?” (Isa. 42:18-19). This clearly cannot refer to Jesus, but it certainly does tell us that national Israel was observed as spiritually blind (as in John 8). In the future, God will revive His servant Israel and will redeem them (Isa. 44:1-2, 21), but clearly in Isaiah 42 Israel is viewed as an unbelieving servant of the Lord. The third servant fits into this category.

4. “Outer darkness”, “wailing and gnashing of teeth” refers to the unsaved

The third servant is to be cast into “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” These were common Jewish images which spoke of the fate of the unrighteous.(5) This same imagery is used by Matthew elsewhere as he recorded the words of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 8:10-12; 13:41-42, 49-50; 22:13; also Luke 13:28). All are in agreement that the verses in Matthew 13 and Luke 13 refer to unsaved people. And there is no compelling reason to assume a radically different application in the other four passages. It would seem to be strange and confusing if Jesus used the same term to refer to the fate of unbelievers and then applied them to a believer.

“Outer darkness” are words normally associated with the fate of unbelievers. The word “outer” points to a realm where unbelievers are, as in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 where they are described as “outsiders” (Note also Rev. 22:15 and Col. 4:5). In the Scriptures, light is often contrasted with “darkness”; and darkness is regularly associated with hell, the unsaved and Satan (e.g. Jude 1:13; 2 Pet. 2:17; Col. 1:12-13). Darkness is just not associated with the fate of believers.

The master is said to “cast” or “throw” the servant into the outer darkness. The word “cast” (Grk. ballow) often speaks of a forcible act, something that is not passive or gentle.(6) Jesus often used ballow to speak about throwing something; such as throwing into gehenna (Matt. 5:29), throwing into prison (Matt. 18:30) and throwing on a sickbed (Rev. 2:22). It is simply difficult to line up these words with actions taken by the Lord Jesus against those who have placed their trust in Him, and who are part of His “bride”, the church. These words are saying that the third servant is removed, excluded from, the messianic kingdom. It would be strange of the Lord to use these words to talk about His own believing servants without some clear explanation. These words, we are convinced, point to the third servant as being an unbeliever.

“Wailing and gnashing of teeth” is a phrase used by Matthew, but also by Luke as he describes the intense anger of the religious leaders who stoned Stephen (Acts 7:54). Louw and Nida say that this is an “expression of an emotion such as anger or of pain and suffering.” And they note this is an idiom “to express and manifest intense anger; to be furious.”(7) This phrase has consistently been viewed by Christian expositors as giving the fate and reaction of one who is an unbeliever. And, it may be that the unbeliever will react with hatred as well as pain when they are sentenced; perhaps, much like the reaction of the unbelievers under the judgment of God during the final judgments of the bowls (Rev. 16:9, 11, 21).

5. Other interpretations of the third servant

There are those that have proposed that this third servant is a believer and the story is looking at the fate of a sinning believer who will end up in eternal punishment. Those theologies which teach that salvation can be lost see support for their position in these passages. But if one holds to the eternal security of the believer in Christ, then this is not a credible interpretation. It is simply beyond the scope of this article to deal with that subject. It is discussed elsewhere.(8) Believers are eternally secure.

Others who believe in eternal security relegate the third servant to the “professed believer” category. It seems that could possibly apply only if they recognize that the third servant contextually is referring to Israelites, sons of the kingdom/covenant, who see themselves as covenant men but are unregenerate.

Still others who hold to eternal security view the third servant as representing believers who suffer terrible loss at the judgment seat.(9) They do not see this as the loss of salvation but exclusion from the messianic kingdom and/or their reaction to the loss of rewards. But that position fails to give adequate recognition to the context of Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse” in interpreting the parable. Furthermore, this view that sees exclusion from the messianic kingdom (the wedding feast) has a very difficult time explaining the absence of people making up the “bride of Christ” from her own wedding feast. Jesus and the “bride” were married in heaven in Revelation 19:7-8 and this is followed by the wedding feast on the earth. Marriage is to unite two, and it is quite strange that almost immediately after the marriage there is going to be the exclusion of many for some period of time, perhaps even 1,000 years.

It seems far better, because of context, to see the third servant as an unbelieving Israelite, of which there were many in the days of Christ and the Apostles.

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(1) Paul N. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006) 35-78.

(2) Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 180.

(3) Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 191.

(4) Victor Buksbazen, The Prophet Isaiah, (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel, 2012), 336-349.

(5) R.T.France, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 156. L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology IV (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1964), 430-431.

(6) Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1960), 74; Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press).130.

(7) Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), I. 254, 762.

(8) Paul Benware, The Believers Payday, Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 199-209.

(9) Hal M. Haller, Matthew in the Grace New Testament Commentary, (Denton, TX, 2010), 117, 120. Joseph Dillow, Reign of the Servant Kings, (Hayesville, NC: 1993), 351.

Monday, August 13, 2018

IS IT POSSIBLE FOR A BELIEVER TO LOSE REWARD AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF JESUS CHRIST?

The New Testament teaches us that all believers in the Lord Jesus will someday appear before Him to be rewarded according to what they have done in this life since becoming a believer (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12). Jesus isn’t obligated to give rewards but He has declared that He is going to do so. Rewards are just more of His grace. The Judgment Seat of Christ will be an event that will take place immediately after the Rapture of the Church. At that time, He will evaluate a believer using three criteria (1 Cor. 3:10-4:5): (1) whether we lived our lives according to His standards and commands as found in the Scriptures; (2) whether or not we were faithful (faithfully using all that the Lord gave to us---spiritual gifts, natural abilities, resources, intelligence, etc); and (3) whether or not our motives were good ones, that is, we did what we did to honor and please Christ. The believer who lives well is going to receive rewards of various kinds that will be manifested in the millennial kingdom, and most likely, in the eternal kingdom as well.

The reality of Jesus giving rewards to believers has raised the question of the possibility of losing rewards. Can rewards be lost as well as gained? Actually, there are two issues here. First, can believers lose rewards that Jesus had wanted to give to them; and second, can a believer lose rewards for meritorious deeds already done.

The first issue is clearly “yes”. There are scriptural warnings about the possibility of losing rewards that are being offered to us. The Apostle John says that we are to be careful not to be deceived by false teachers. One of the consequences of believing false teaching is that we will not live according to the dictates of Scripture and this will cause the losing of reward. This is so because false teaching keeps us from living the way God wants us to.
“Watch yourselves, that you may not lose what we have accomplished, but that you might receive a full reward.” (2 John 8)
This is one of the great consequences of embracing false teaching.

The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian believers about the same matter. You live badly, you lose reward (not salvation). It cannot get much clearer than the way he states it in these verses.
“Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor….If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:8, 14-15)
Each has a reward that would be given according to his own works, but not to faithfully do those deeds will mean the losing out on those rewards that would have been given. So rewards offered may be lost by living poorly.

Again, Paul shares his concerns for them, and for himself, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. There he states that he disciplines himself, like an athlete does, because he wants to participate in the “game of life” and be able to receive the “crown” at the end. He is fearful of being “benched” (Gr. adokimos) because of not playing “by the rules”. (See also 2 Timothy 2:5). The “crown” (reward) is available but it may or may not be received, depending on the performance of the athlete.

There is no question that the Scriptures reveal the generosity of the Lord and His desire to give good gifts to His children. He is good and He is a giver. His resources are immense and He delights in sharing them with His children. He is not a tight-fisted miser who reluctantly lets go of His rewards. But, not only is He generous, but He is also just in His dealings. And being the best Father there is in the universe, He will not reward the bad behavior of a child in the same way He will reward good behavior. So in a number of reward passages, it become pretty clear that rewards are “on the table” and the offer is authentic. But being offered a reward and actually getting it is not a sure thing. So rewards that are available to the believer just might not be possessed by that believer.

The second issue is that of losing reward that has already been earned. So, if a believer has done a good work (such as giving a “cup of cold water” to one in need) where a reward is promised, can that be rescinded? Once earned, can it be lost? The answer to this seems to be “no”. When we look at Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, we see Him saying that it is permanent.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, whether moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)
The Lord carefully contrasts treasures accumulated on earth versus those accumulated in heaven. On earth, there is clearly a temporary nature to these possessions. But spiritual investments, placed into the “Bank of Heaven”, are not subject to decay or theft. In other words, they are permanent. The Lord advocates making spiritual investments (“laying up”) because they are, in fact, permanent and cannot be lost. People cannot get at them to borrow or steal, and the laws of decay on earth do not apply to heaven. Once in the “Bank of Heaven” the account remains safe in the vault until the Judgment Seat of Christ where the “dividends” are paid out.

The important issue is our heart. Jesus said that our investments follow our hearts. For many believers it seems that they are not really that interested in laying up rewards in heaven because their focus is on laying up treasures on earth. Their hearts are pursuing the “American dream” or some version of it. (Now there is a very legitimate place for purchasing houses and lands, etc. but these are not life and these are not to be the focus of life). It is, as Jesus declared, an issue of the heart. How we use our time and where we invest our resources tells us in which direction our investments are going. So to each of us there is a crucial question that we must answer: “where is my heart?”

There is no place like the “Bank of Heaven” when it comes to excellent returns on our investments. Hopefully each of us is weekly sending treasures which are being placed into our account!

Monday, July 9, 2018

WILL SOME BELIEVERS MISS THE RAPTURE?

The technology of today is amazing. It can be amazingly good or amazingly bad. This would definitely apply to “YouTube.” On “YouTube” you can find just about anything by way of subject matter and posted by most anyone. I have found watching some videos of events in nature to be interesting; such as flash floods, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. But other subjects, such as how to clean tile, do not exactly fire me up. On “YouTube” you can also find an astonishing array of preachers as well as amateur theologians who put forth their views on all subjects. “YouTube” has become a modern day pulpit. There seems, however, to be a special preference, among these folks, on prophetic subjects, which brings me to our present discussion.

I have noted that a number of individuals promote the idea that some believers in Jesus will miss the rapture because they are living sinfully and selfishly when Jesus comes. So because of their sinfulness and carnality, they will not be taken up in the rapture but will continue to live on into the tribulation period. Many teach that if these sinful believers repent and get their act together, then there will be other times during the tribulation when they could be taken up. They use Revelation 7:9-14; 11:2; 12:5 and 16:5 to teach raptures occurring during the Tribulation. However, a close inspection of these scriptures, in their contexts, reveal that no sudden, supernatural meeting of Christ in the clouds is in view. These are not rapture passages.

Now for someone who discovered this subject on “YouTube”, they might think they have stumbled onto a new, enlightened teaching. That would not be true. This idea of a conditional rapture has been around since it was first articulated in the mid-nineteenth century. It is commonly referred to as the “Partial Rapture” theory and it teaches that only believers who are “watching and waiting” for the Lord’s return will be taken up to meet Him in the air. In this view, the rapture is actually a reward for faithful believers. And so, those passages that emphasize the need to be alert and anticipating the Lord’s return are the ones focused on.

Many scriptures are used by those who promote this theory. And the use of so many scriptures gives the impression that there is significant support for this idea of a conditional rapture. However, the Partial rapturists generally fail to observe some necessary distinctions. Some of their scriptures are referencing the 2nd Coming and not the Rapture event. Other scriptures are focused on the nation of Israel and not the Church. Yet other passages are really talking about the rewarding of believers and not the rapturing of believers. But beyond this failure to observe these distinctions, there are four reasons why this view should be rejected.

(1) THIS VIEW HAS PROBLEMS IN RELATION TO THE DOCTRINE OF SALVATION. The believer in Jesus Christ is justified by faith and not by works. All aspects of our salvation come to us because of the grace of God. The resurrection and translation of believers to heaven to be with Christ is the future part of our salvation, and we receive that aspect of our salvation also by God’s grace not by our works. Yet, in the Partial rapture view, this aspect of our salvation is based on merit, at least to the extent that the future aspect of our salvation is postponed. To accept a works principle for this important aspect of salvation is to undermine the whole concept of justification by faith through grace, as well as to diminish the present work of the Spirit (Eph. 4:30) who has sealed us for the day of redemption.

(2) THIS VIEWPOINT CONTRADICTS THE PLAIN TEACHING OF SCRIPTURE THAT ALL BELIEVERS ARE INCLUDED IN THE RAPTURE. In the rapture passage of 1 Corinthians 15:51, the Apostle Paul declares that “we shall all be changed.” This rapture passage speaks of just two categories of believers (the living and the dead) and states that all will be involved. There is no indication at all of anyone being excluded. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 that those involved in the rapture are those who are “in Christ”, whether living or dead. Those who are raptured are those who “believe that Jesus died and rose again.” He does not divide believers into categories of “watching” and “not watching” of the partial rapture theory. And these are the two primary rapture passages, and they clearly teach that all believers are taken in the rapture, prior to the Tribulation period. There is no category of “unwatchful believers.” .

(3) THE PARTIAL RAPTURE THEORY CONTRADICTS A CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF A KEY RAPTURE PASSAGE, THAT OF 1 THESSALONIANS 5:9-10. .
Here the Apostle teaches that it is the sovereign will of God that His children not experience His wrath but, rather, that they obtain deliverance. Paul then gives them additional encouragement concerning their removal from the earth before the time of wrath when he says, “that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.” Often those “awake or asleep” have been interpreted as living and dead believers. Paul, of course, does speak of these two categories of believers in relationship to the rapture event in 1 Thessalonians 4. There Paul contrasts living and dead believers and uses the Greek word koimao when speaking of the dead believers (“those who have fallen asleep”). But in 1 Thessalonians 5:10, Paul has chosen to use the Greek word katheudo to speak about those who are asleep. This word is rarely, if ever, used in the N.T. for death. And in this context it refers to one who is not being watchful and alert. The word was used in verses 5 and 6 to describe the state of unwatchfulness against which Paul is warning. In the same way, the verb in verse 10 for “awake” has been used in verse 6 to describe the state of alertness which is what Paul desires for these believers. Unless sound exegetical procedure is to be thrown out, verse 10 cannot be seen as a description of living and dead Christians. Rather it refers to watchful and unwatchful believers. So Paul is clearly saying that whether a believer is watchful or unwatchful, they will be involved in the rapture which forcefully contradicts the Partial rapture view. Paul, of course, is very concerned that believers live godly lives, waiting eagerly for the Lord’s coming. But in these verses he makes the point that all will go in the rapture. The very next event after the rapture (the judgment seat of Christ) will be the place where the matter of how the believer lived will be dealt with---not the rapture itself. .

(4) THE PARTIAL RAPTURE THEORY DIVIDES UP THE BODY OF CHRIST. . The unity of the Church, the Body of Christ, is important to Him. And the vital, organic union between Christ and believers cannot be broken. The N.T. doctrine of the oneness of the Church stands against the Partial rapture view. When the Lord Jesus and His Bride are united in marriage (Rev. 19:8-10), which is then followed by the marriage supper (the millennial kingdom), they are never seen separated again. It is inconceivable that after being united with His Bride that Jesus would have part of the Bride disappear for the millennial kingdom (which is what many partial rapturists hold will be the fate of those unwatchful believers who don’t repent during the Tribulation).

To the credit of the partial rapturists, they clearly encourage believers to live holy lives. But the theory has so many exegetical and theological problems that very few people in the last 150 years (since the idea was formulated) have held to it.

Monday, June 11, 2018

WILL UNBELIEVERS BE ANNIHILATED?

In the past, the doctrine of annihilation has been taught by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists as well as some other groups which are usually viewed as cults. Today, unfortunately, the doctrine has begun to invade evangelicalism. This trend does fit in well with the current heavy emphasis in so many pulpits on a God who isn’t particularly interested in judging anyone, but simply wants everyone to be happy, and pretty much guarantees that everyone will end up in heaven.

What is the teaching of annihilation? The basic teaching is that when God judges the unbeliever, He will judge them by causing them to cease existing. This judgment, which will bring about the cessation of their existence, is “eternal” in that it last forever. The view denies that punishing itself goes on forever. In other words, the unbeliever will not suffer torment for all eternity because he no longer exists. This condition will last forever; thus, the judgment is in a sense eternal.

Why is this view held? The position of annihilationism comes primarily from a misguided desire to defend the character and actions of God. It is said that God is loving and gracious (and He certainly is), but it is felt that God would go against His very character if He allowed people to suffer in torment forever and ever. God would then, they believe, be cruel and vindictive, and be a monster akin to Satan. So God’s love prohibits Him from causing unbelievers to suffer eternally. This idea is compatible with so much preaching today, which avoids any real discussion of hell and judgment.

Responding to Annihilationism. There are several basic responses to this distorted doctrine that the Bible believing Christian needs to make.

(1) Jesus’ clear teaching on the subject. In Matthew 25:46 Jesus declared that the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Jesus used the same word (Gk. aionios ) when speaking of the eternal destiny of both the righteous and the wicked. Since one cannot legitimately have the same word mean two entirely different things in one context (and one verse!), it must be concluded that Jesus was teaching that the duration of the righteous and the duration of the wicked are the same. If the righteous live forever, then the wicked also live forever. The Scriptures teach that the punishment of the wicked is everlasting.

(2) Annihilation is not really logical and is not a punishment at all.
Nonexistence is certainly not an adequate punishment for sin, and the wicked would not feel constrained to cease sinning if that is all they faced. This would, in fact, be a blessing. He would have no pain, no remorse, no guilt and no regrets. Man has sinned against an eternal being and the punishment must fit the crime. God is not only love, but He is also characterized by holiness. He is, therefore, righteous in all His dealings which requires that evil be punished.

(3) Others, besides Jesus, teach the everlasting nature of the punishment of the wicked.
Such passages as Daniel 12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Jude l:6-13; Revelation 14:11; 19:3 and 20:10 inform us that the unbeliever faces a conscious eternal torment. It should be noted that the Scriptures speak of “everlasting fire” and “everlasting punishment” (cf. Matt. 18:8; 25:41; Mark 9:43). In these passages “gehenna” was the name used. This valley south of Jerusalem, commonly called the Hinnom Valley, came to be equated with the fiery judgment of apocalyptic literature, because human sacrifices were made there and it was a place of burning. We need to observe that “hell” is not the place of eternal punishing (though it is very frequently used that way by Christians). Death and hell are temporary places and will eventually be cast into the “lake of fire”; and, it is the “lake of fire” that is designated as the place of eternal residence of the unbeliever.

(4) The proper understanding of “destroy”. Annihilationists commonly interpret words that speak of the destruction of the wicked as meaning the cessation of their being. But the word for destroy (apollymi ) does not mean annihilation but rather “loss” or “ruin.” For example, its means “lost” in the parables of Luke 15. It can be applied to that which has become “useless”, as in the case of the wineskins in Jesus’ parable (Matt. 9:17) or the idea of Judas Iscariot having already “perished” in John 17:12. In none of these passages would the idea of annihilation be appropriate. And it questionable that it is ever used that way. To destroy simply is to ruin something.

Another word for “destroy” (olethros) is found in a key passage in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. There the word emphasizes the point of the ruination of people; that is, they are away from God and their lives no longer have the value and meaning that God originally intended for mankind. Their very purpose for their being is gone and will never be retrieved. There is no full, meaningful lives for these, but rather the loss of well-being; the ruination of the very purpose of their being. Originally intended to be ruling the planet and in fellowship with God, they have nothing. They are separated from God and even from His “common grace.” Their condition will be one of everlasting depression.

A conclusion. Although annihilation might appeal to human sentiment and human wisdom, it is not a doctrine that emerges from a study of the Scriptures. We must never forget that the Judge of the Earth will always do what is right and will maintain the perfect and proper balance between love, justice, patience and holiness. In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus taught and warned people to escape from hell (Gehenna/Lake of fire) more than any other individual. Instead, He encouraged people to enter the joy and blessing of the Lord forever.

People today need constant reminding that there is not only a heaven to gain but a hell to avoid. As we share the whole counsel of God, we do no favors to anyone when we cut the bad news out from the good news.

Monday, March 12, 2018

WHAT IS “DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY” (And Should We Care)?

As I was thinking about writing this article on “Dispensational Theology”, it did occur to me that it might not be necessary. After all, the people reading materials sent from Scofield Ministries are pretty articulate in truths related to dispensational theology. And while I am sure this is an accurate assessment, I do imagine that for some (or for some friends of Scofield folks) the subject may be a little less than clear. Just a few days ago, one who had been a believer for many years did ask me, “Just what is dispensationalism?” So I will answer that believer and you can listen in if you wish. If not, I will be back next month!

(1) WHAT IS A DISPENSATION? Dispensation is a word that comes from the Greek word oikonomia, and is used in several places in the N.T. (e.g. Eph. 1:10; 3:2, 3; 1 Tim. 1:4; Col. 1:25). Oikonomia comes from two Greek words: oikos (which means “house”), and nemo (which means “to manage”). The word dispensation (oikonomia) communicates the idea of a stewardship where someone who has authority delegates duties to another who is a subordinate. We who are parents have experienced this with our children. As the authority, we set the rules (and the consequences) for our children. They understood what they could or could not do and the benefits of obedience and the negative consequences for disobedience. As they grew from being infants to toddlers to young children to teenagers, the rules and regulations changed to fit the situation. And, if we were good parents, we clearly spelled out those changes in the rules and the consequences to our children.

In this world, God is the authority and He is the One who sets the rules and regulations for humans. Depending on the era of human history, the rules God has established has different. God never changes, but what He requires of people does, and He lets mankind know what those changes are.

(2) WHAT A DISPENSATION IS NOT. Sometimes it is thought that a dispensation is, at its core, a period of time. It is not. Although a period of time is obviously involved, a dispensation is a stewardship or a way in which God administers His will in this world. So what He required of Adam is different from Abraham which is different from Moses which is different from Peter and Paul.

Also, dispensations are not different ways of salvation. Probably due to some unclear statements made in the past by some dispensational theologians, it has been concluded that dispensational theology teaches different ways of being saved. That is not the case. Salvation has always been by faith based on the finished work of Christ on the cross.

(3) HOW MANY DISPENSATIONS ARE THERE? The number of dispensations in human history is usually thought to be seven; with six bringing us up to the present and one yet to come. There have been slight differences among theologians based on whether they see enough differences and changes in God’s administration. But generally, the number is seen as seven.

(4) ARE DISPENSATIONS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM ONE ANOTHER? No, there are often carry overs from one dispensation to the next. For example, the right of capital punishment was given in the dispensation of human government (dispensation #4) but was also carried over into the next dispensation of the Mosaic Law (dispensation #5). That is to be expected, since God’s truth does not cease to be truth. But each dispensation will have features that are unique to it.

(5) HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN THERE IS A CHANGE IN DISPENSATIONS? Each dispensation does have unique aspects to it that are clearly revealed by God. The requirements, responsibilities, blessings and disciplines are spelled out by revelation from God. New responsibilities are spelled out by new revelation. Everyone observes that the requirements and responsibilities for mankind before the Fall of man, and after the Fall, are distinctly different. The age before the giving of the Mosaic Law and the age after the Law are obviously not the same. And, so it is with all the dispensations.

(6) WHAT ARE THE “NON-NEGOTIABLE” ELEMENTS OF DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY? Many years ago, Dr. Charles Ryrie set forth three indispensable elements of dispensational theology. These three elements have proven to be an accurate assessment of dispensationalism.
  • A consistent literal approach to interpreting the Scriptures. All who approach the Scriptures with a literal (normal) hermeneutic end up believing certain doctrinal truths. For example, conservative theologians all believe in the Trinity because they take the Bible at face value on what it teaches about the Godhead. When the basic interpretive approach of taking the words of Scripture in their historical, grammatical, normal sense is taken, then the various dispensations are sitting there in the Scriptures and can be easily seen. When this approach is taken in all of the Scriptures, and allegorization is avoided, then the various dispensations emerge out of our reading of Scripture. The dispensations are not forced on the text of scripture but rather emerge from the scripture.
  • A clear distinction is made between the nation of Israel and the church of Jesus Christ. When the student of the Bible observes the biblical differences (starting with the Abrahamic Covenant) between Israel and the Church, they will almost always end up in the dispensational camp. To try and make the Church the “new Israel” is simply not supported by the Scriptures, and it ignores the nature of God’s covenant commitments to Israel. (Past studies have looked at the distinction between Israel and the Church. If you go to my website Paulbenware.com you will see on the main menu “Prophecy Articles”. If you click on that you will see a sub-section “Interpreting Bible Prophecy”. In that section there are 5 articles on the subject of Israel and the Church that were previously written for Scofield Ministries).
  • God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of history. In Covenant Theology, it is normally said that the purpose of history is the salvation of the elect. As we have noted before, in other studies, that is far too narrow. Everything that was lost in Eden is going to be restored by God and He is moving through history to bring about the restoration of man’s unique role of ruling the planet (starting with the Son of Man); the restoring of the physical paradise that man was originally placed in (thus a new heaven and earth); and the restoration of believing people back into full fellowship with God (we will see His face and He will dwell among men).


Dispensational theology does a good job in bringing clarity and unity to our understanding of the Bible. It does so by approaching the Scriptures from a normal interpretation of language. Sometimes non-dispensationalists scoff at dispensational theology as being simplistic and somewhat naïve. It is okay for simple folks, but if one wants to understand the “deep things” of the Bible, then dispensational theology will not take you to the deep and profound things. But we must remember that God communicated His truth through the written Word, and He intended for His Word to be grasped by ordinary believers. There does seem to be more than a little arrogance in some who “trash” dispensational theology. If it is naïve to simply take God’s Word at face value, then let us strive to be naïve.