Category Archives: A. W. Tozer

JUNE 13 – GOD’S RIGHT: TO ASK OBEDIENCE OF HIS CREATURES

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they …may enter in through the gates into the city.

REVELATION 22:14

The command to love God with our whole being has seemed to many persons to be impossible of fulfillment, and it may be properly argued that we cannot love by fiat.

Love is too gentle, too frail a creature to spring up at the command of another. It would be like commanding the barren tree to bring forth fruit or the winter forest to be green.

What then can it mean?

The answer is found in the nature of God and of man. God being who He is must have obedience from His creatures. Man being who he is must render that obedience, and he owes God complete obedience whether or not he feels for Him the faintest trace of love in his heart.

It is a question of the sovereign right of God to require His creatures to obey Him.

Man’s first and basic sin was disobedience. When he disobeyed God he violated the claims of divine love with the result that love for God died within him.

Now, what can he do to restore that love to his heart again?

The heart that mourns its coldness toward God needs only to repent its sins, and a new, warm and satisfying love will flood into it. For the act of repentance will bring a corresponding act of God in self-revelation and intimate communion.

Once the seeking heart finds God in personal experience there will be no further problem about loving Him.[1]


22:14 This verse may read, “Blessed are those who do His commandments” or “Blessed are those who wash their robes” (margin). Neither reading teaches salvation by works but rather works as the fruit and proof of salvation. Only true believers have access to the tree of life and to the eternal city.[2]


14. “Blessed are they who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and by the gates they may enter the city.”

“Blessed are they who wash their robes.” With this last and seventh beatitude Jesus addresses the saints on earth by calling blessed those people who wash their robes. He implies that their robes are filthy because of sin, which can be removed only through the blood of Christ. The verb to wash is a participle in the present tense to indicate that sin is a continual polluting agency that needs repeated cleansings. Earlier John recorded the words of an elder who instructed him concerning the status of the saints in heaven. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). Whereas the words of the elder are addressed to celestial saints, whose robes have been washed once for all (aorist tense), Jesus speaks to the saints on earth and by implication urges them to wash their robes again and again (present tense). Moses instructed the Israelites at Mount Sinai to wash their clothes prior to coming before God to hear the Law (Exod. 19:10, 14). This means that no one can enter the presence of God in filthy garments, for such an act is abominable to him. Only those who are covered with the robe of righteousness may enter God’s holiness (Isa. 61:10). Clothed in pure linen, they are permitted to sit at the table of the Lord (19:8; compare Matt. 22:11–13).

“So that they may have the right to the tree of life.” Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, and cherubim prevented them from approaching the tree of life (Gen. 3:24). But now the saints have perfect freedom to take the fruit of this tree (2:7; 22:2). Indeed Jesus grants them the right to do so. Delivered from the bondage of sin and guilt through his sacrifice, they now enjoy life eternal with unhindered access to the tree of life.

“And by the gates they may enter the city.” They are God’s people who have the right to enter the holy city and enjoy never-ending residency. Their names are recorded in the book of life that grants them citizenship in the new Jerusalem (21:27b).[3]


 

because of the exclusivity of heaven

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. (22:14–15)

This section begins with the last of the seven beatitudes in Revelation (v. 7; 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6), each introduced by the pronouncement blessed. This blessing is pronounced (most likely by the Lord Jesus Christ) on those who wash their robes. That phrase graphically portrays the believer’s participation in the death of Christ. In 7:14 one of the twenty-four elders said to John, “These [the Tribulation martyrs; 7:9] are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Soiled clothes represent sinfulness in Isaiah 64:6 and Zechariah 3:3, whereas Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 1:18; and Titus 3:5 speak of the cleansing of sin that accompanies salvation. The agency through which that cleansing comes is the blood of Christ (1:5; 5:9; 7:14; Matt. 26:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 3:24–25; 5:9; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20; Heb. 9:12, 14; 10:19; 13:12; 1 Pet. 1:2, 18–19; 1 John 1:7).

Those who have experienced the washing from sin that marks salvation will forever have the right to the tree of life. As noted in the discussion of 22:2 in chapter 19 of this volume, the tree of life is located in the capital city of heaven, the New Jerusalem. This will be the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God” (2:7). Those granted access to the tree of life, will be allowed to enter by the gates into the city (cf. the discussion of 1:21 in chap. 19 of this volume).

Heaven is exclusively for those who have been cleansed from their sins by faith in the blood of Christ and whose names have been “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8). In contrast, everyone else will remain forever outside the New Jerusalem in the lake of fire (20:15; 21:8), because “nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27). As in 21:8, a representative (though not exhaustive) list of the type of sins that exclude people from heaven is given to John.

The inclusion of dogs on the list seems puzzling at first glance. But in ancient times dogs were not the domesticated household pets they are today. They were despised scavengers that milled about cities’ garbage dumps (cf. Ex. 22:31; 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:19, 23–24; 22:38). Thus, to call a person a dog was to describe that person as someone of low character (cf. 1 Sam. 17:43; 24:14; 2 Sam. 3:8; 9:8; 16:9; 2 Kings 8:13; Phil. 3:2); in fact, the first time blatantly impure sinners are called dogs is in Deuteronomy 23:18, where male homosexual prostitutes are in view. Sorcerers (from pharmakos, the root of the English word “pharmacy”) refers to those engaged in occult practices and the drug abuse that often accompanies those practices (cf. 9:21; 21:8; Gal. 5:20). Immoral persons (from pornos, the root of the English word “pornography”) are those who engage in illicit sexual activities. Murderers are also excluded from heaven in the list given in 21:8 (cf. 9:21; Rom. 1:29). Idolaters are those who worship false gods, or who worship the true God in an unacceptable manner (cf. 21:8). The final group excluded from heaven also includes everyone who loves and practices lying. It is not all who have ever committed any of these sins who are excluded from heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11). Rather, it is those who love and habitually practice any such sin, stubbornly cling to it, and refuse Christ’s invitation to salvation who will be cast into the lake of fire.[4]


14 The seventh and last beatitude in Revelation is evangelistic in emphasis (cf. 21:6; 22:11, 17). Strands of the earlier imagery are blended in it. In 7:14, the washing of the robes indicates willing identification with Jesus in his death. It also carries the thought of martyrdom during the great ordeal for the saints (cf. 6:11). Thus it symbolizes a salvation that involves obedience and discipleship, since it is integrally related to the salvation imagery of the tree of life (cf. comments at 22:2) and the gates of the city (cf. 21:25).[5]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2381). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, p. 590). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2000). Revelation 12–22 (pp. 307–309). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Johnson, A. F. (2006). Revelation. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 788). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 13 – LOVING GOD ONLY

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

Matthew 24:12

The first and greatest commandment is to love God with every power of our entire being. Where love like that exists, there can be no place for a second object.

Yet popular Christianity has as one of its most effective talking points the idea that God exists to help people to get ahead in this world! The God of the poor has become the God of an affluent society. We hear that Christ no longer refuses to be a judge or a divider between money-hungry brothers. He can now be persuaded to assist the brother that has accepted Him to get the better of the brother who has not!

Whoever seeks God as a means toward desired ends will not find God. God will not be one of many treasures. His mercy and grace are infinite and His patient understanding is beyond measure, but He will not aid men in selfish striving after personal gain. If we love God as much as we should, surely we cannot dream of a loved object beyond Him which He might help us to obtain!

Lord, show me what it means to love You as You commanded—with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind (see Luke 10:27).[1]


24:12 With wickedness rampaging, human affections will be less and less evident. Acts of unlove will be commonplace.[2]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1293). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

JUNE 13 – HIS ETERNAL PURPOSE

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

—Psalm 23:1-2

God’s sovereignty means that if there’s anybody in this wide world of sinful men that should be restful and peaceful in an hour like this, it should be Christians. We should not be under the burden of apprehension and worry because we are the children of a God who is always free to do as He pleases. There is not one rope or chain or hindrance upon Him, because He is absolutely sovereign.

God is free to carry out His eternal purposes to their conclusions. I have believed this since I first became a Christian. I had good teachers who taught me this and I have believed it with increasing joy ever since. God does not play by ear, or doodle, or follow whatever happens to come into His mind or let one idea suggest another. God works according to the plans which He purposed in Christ Jesus before Adam walked in the garden, before the sun, moon and stars were made. God, who has lived all our tomorrows and carries time in His bosom, is carrying out His eternal purposes. AOGII145

Forgive me for my worry, Father. I know I can be at peace when I have such a calm Shepherd, a sovereign God working out His eternal purpose in my life. Amen. [1]


23:1 Despite its worldwide popularity, the Psalm is not for everyone. It is applicable only to those who are entitled to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” It is true that the Good Shepherd died for all, but only those who actually receive Him by a definite act of faith are His sheep. His saving work is sufficient for all, but it is effective only for those who actually believe on Him. Everything therefore hinges on the personal pronoun my. Unless He is my Shepherd, then the rest of the Psalm does not belong to me. On the other hand, if He is really mine and I am really His, then I have everything in Him!

23:2 I shall not lack food for my soul or body because He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

I shall not lack refreshment either because He leads me beside the still waters.[2]


The Lord Is My Shepherd (23:1–4)

1 The first word of the psalm, “The Lord” (Yahweh), evokes rich images of the provision and protection of the covenantal God. He promised to take care of his people and revealed himself to be full of love, compassion, patience, fidelity, and forgiveness (Ex 34:6–7). The psalmist exclaims, “Yahweh is my shepherd,” with emphasis on “my.” The temptation in ancient Israel was to speak only about “our” God (cf. Dt 6:4) in forgetfulness that the God of Israel is also the God of individuals. The contribution of this psalm lies, therefore, in the personal, subjective expression of ancient piety. For this reason, Psalm 23 is such a popular psalm. It permits individual believers to take its words on their lips and express in gratitude and confidence that all the demonstrations of God’s covenantal love can be claimed not only corporately by the group but also personally by each of its members.

The metaphor of the shepherd has a colorful history, as it was applied to kings and gods. King Hammurabi called himself “shepherd” (ANET, 164b). The Babylonian god of justice, Shamash, is also called “shepherd”—“Shepherd of the lower world, guardian of the upper” (ANET, 388). The metaphor is not only a designation or name of the Lord, but it also points toward the relationship between God and his covenantal children (cf. 74:1–4; 77:20; 78:52, 70–72; 79:13; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Mic 7:14). The people of God were well acquainted with shepherds. David himself was a shepherd (1 Sa 16:11), as the hills around Bethlehem were suitable for shepherding (cf. Lk 2:8).

The psalmist moves quickly from “my shepherd” to a description: “I shall not be in want.” Dahood, 1:146, may stretch its meaning when he writes, “Implying neither in this life nor in the next”; but so do those commentators who find allusions to the Lord’s provisions, guidance, and protection of Israel in the wilderness (cf. A. A. Anderson, 1:196–97; Craigie, 206–7). The conclusion of the psalm (v. 6) gives at least some support to Dahood’s contention; however, the psalm should not be narrowly interpreted in terms of “the eternal bliss of Paradise” (Dahood, 1:145).

2–4 The image of “shepherd” aroused emotions of care, provision, and protection. A good shepherd was personally concerned with the welfare of his sheep. Because of this, the designation “my shepherd” is described by the result of God’s care—“I shall not be in want” (v. 1); by the acts of God—“he makes me lie down … he leads … he restores … he guides” (vv. 2–3); and by the resulting tranquillity—“I will fear no evil” (v. 4).

The shepherd’s care is symbolized by the “rod” and the “staff” (v. 4c). A shepherd carried a “rod” to club down wild animals (cf. 1 Sa 17:43; 2 Sa 23:21) and a “staff” to keep the sheep in control. The rod and staff represent God’s constant vigilance over his own and bring “comfort” because of his personal presence and involvement with his sheep.

Verses 1 and 4, taken as an inclusio, read:

The Lord is my shepherd.…

Your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

2 The nature of the care lies in God’s royal provision of all the necessities for his people (see Richard S. Tomback, “Psalm 23:2 Reconsidered,” JNSL 10 [1982]: 93–96, for the background in the ancient Near East). The “green pastures” are the rich and verdant pastures, where the sheep need not move from place to place to be satisfied (cf. Eze 34:14; Jn 10:9). These “green pastures” were a seasonal phenomenon. The fields—even parts of the desert—would turn green during the winter and spring; but in summer and fall the sheep would be led to many places in search of food. God’s care is not seasonal but constant and abundant. The sheep have time to rest, as the shepherd makes them “lie down.” The “quiet waters” are the wells and springs where the sheep can drink without being rushed (cf. Isa 32:18). The combination of “green pastures” and “quiet waters” portrays God’s refreshing care for his own.

3a As the good shepherd provides his sheep with rest, verdant pastures, and quiet waters, so the Lord takes care of his people in a most plentiful way. He thereby renews them so that they feel that life in the presence of God is good and worth living. He “restores,” i.e., gives the enjoyment of life, to his own (cf. 19:7; Pr 25:13). The word “soul” is not here the spiritual dimension of humankind but denotes the same as “me,” repeated twice in v. 2, i.e., “he restores me.”

3b–4 The nature of the shepherd’s care also lies in guidance (vv. 3b–4b). In v. 2, the psalmist spoke of God as leading (“he leads me”). He develops the shepherd’s role as a guide, only to conclude with another aspect of his shepherdly care—protection (v. 4c). He leads his own in “paths of righteousness.” These paths do not lead one to obtain righteousness. “Righteousness” (ṣedeq) here signifies in the most basic sense “right,” namely, the paths that bring the sheep most directly to their destination (in contrast to “crooked paths”; cf. 125:5; Pr 2:15; 5:6; 10:9). The shepherd’s paths are straight (cf. Aubrey R. Johnson, “Psalm 23 and the Household of Faith,” in Proclamation and Presence, ed. John I. Durham and J. R. Porter [Richmond, Va.: Knox, 1970], 258). He does not unnecessarily tire out his sheep. He knows what lies ahead. Even when the “right paths” bring the sheep “through the valley of the shadow of death” (v. 4), there is no need to fear.

The idiom “the shadow of death” has stirred discussion. Briggs, 1:211–12, spoke of the MT’s punctuation (ṣalmāwet, “shadow of death”) as “a rabbinical conceit” and preferred, instead of a compound phrase, one word (ṣalmût, “darkness”). D. Winton Thomas (“צַלְמָוֶת in the Old Testament,” JSS 7 [1962]: 191–200) has argued persuasively that the MT may be correct, with “death” being a superlative image for “very deep shadow” or “deep darkness.” This imagery is consistent with the shepherd metaphor because the shepherd leads the flock through ravines and wadis where the steep and narrow slopes keep out the light. The darkness of the wadis represents the uncertainty of life. The “straight paths” at times need to go through the wadis, but God is still present.

The shepherd who guides is always with the sheep. The presence and guidance of the Lord go together. He is bound by his name (“for his name’s sake,” v. 3b), “Yahweh,” to be present with his people. Underlying the etymology of “Yahweh” is the promise “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12). For the sake of his name, he keeps all the promises to his covenantal children (cf. 25:11; 31:3; 79:9; 106:8; 109:21; 143:11; Isa 48:9; Eze 20:44). He is loyal to his people, for his honor and reputation are at stake (see Reflections, p. 135, The Name of Yahweh).

The nature of the shepherd’s care lies further in the protection he gives (v. 4c). The “rod” and the “staff” symbolize Yahweh’s presence, protection, and guidance. They summarize his role as shepherd. The effects of his care are expressed in the first person—“I shall not be in want … I will fear no evil” (vv. 1, 4)—as an inclusionary motif together with “shepherd” and “rod/staff” (vv. 1, 4). Thus the psalmist rejoices that Yahweh is like a shepherd in his provision, guidance, and protection, so that the psalmist lacks nothing and fears not.[3]


23:1 The Lord is my shepherd. Cf. Ge 48:15; 49:24; Dt 32:6–12; Pss 28:9; 74:1; 77:20; 78:52; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Is 40:11; Jer 23:3; Eze 34; Hos 4:16; Mic 5:4; 7:14; Zec 9:16 on the image of the Lord as a Shepherd. This imagery was used commonly in kingly applications and is frequently applied to Jesus in the NT (e.g., Jn 10; Heb 13:20; 1Pe 2:25; 5:4).

23:2, 3 Four characterizing activities of the Lord as Shepherd (i.e., emphasizing His grace and guidance) are followed by the ultimate basis for His goodness, i.e., “His name’s sake” (cf. Pss 25:11; 31:3; 106:8; Is 43:25; 48:9; Eze 36:22–32).[4]


23:1 shepherd. The deity-as-shepherd motif is common in the Bible (e.g., Gen. 48:15; 49:24; Ps. 28:9; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Rev. 7:17; cf. Ps. 49:14). The Lord is the Shepherd of the people as a whole, as well as individual members; and in this psalm the particular member is in view. want. That is, to lack what one needs.

23:1 Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11–18, 27–29) who embodies God’s care for his people.

23:2 Green pastures and still waters are peaceful places for rest and feeding.[5]


23:1 shepherd. The image of God as shepherd is inexhaustibly rich. The shepherd stays with the flock (Is. 40:11; 63:9–12). His sheep are totally dependent upon him for food, water, and protection from wild animals. The image of shepherd also evoked the image of king in the ancient world. David was tending sheep when he was anointed to be king. In the NT Jesus is revealed as the shepherd of His church (John 10:11, 14), fulfilling the prophecy that God will come to shepherd His people (Ezek. 34:7–16, 23).

23:2 green pastures. Where the sheep get necessary food.

still waters. Lit. “Waters of resting places” (text note), referring to the place where sheep get both the water and rest that they need.[6]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 580). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, pp. 252–254). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 23:1–2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 966). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 854). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

JUNE 12 – FAITH UNDERSTANDS: GOD FRAMED THE WORLDS

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

HEBREWS 11:3

The human mind requires an answer to the question concerning the origin and nature of all things. The world as we find it must be accounted for in some way. Philosophers and scientists have sought to account for it, the one by speculation, the other by observation, but they have not found the final Truth. Here TRUTH should be spelled indeed with a capital T, for it is nothing less than the Son of God, the Second Person of the blessed Godhead!

Those who believe the Christian revelation know that the universe is a creation. It is not eternal, since it had a beginning, and it is not the result of a succession of happy coincidences whereby an all but infinite number of matching parts accidentally found each other, fell into place and began to hum!

So to believe would require a degree of credulity few persons possess.

Those who have faith are not thrown back upon speculation for the secret of the universe. Faith is an organ of knowledge, and “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”

All things came out of the Word, which in the New Testament means the thought and will of God in active expression and is identified with our Lord Jesus Christ![1]


11:3 Faith provides us with the only factual account of creation. God is the only One who was there; He tells us how it happened. We believe His word and thus we know. McCue states: “The conception of God pre-existent to matter and by His fiat calling it into being is beyond the domain of reason or demonstration. It is simply accepted by an act of faith.”

By faith we understand. The world says, “Seeing is believing.” God says, “Believing is seeing.” Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see …” (John 11:40). The Apostle John wrote, “These things I have written to you who believe … that you may know” (1 Jn. 5:13). In spiritual matters faith precedes understanding.

The worlds were framed by the word of God. God spoke and matter came into being. This agrees perfectly with man’s discovery that matter is essentially energy. When God spoke, there was a flow of energy in the form of sound waves. These were transformed into matter, and the world sprang into being.

The things which are seen were not made out of things which are visible. Energy is invisible; so are atoms, and molecules, and gases to the naked eye, yet in combination they become visible.

The fact of creation as set forth here in Hebrews 11:3 is unimpeachable. It has never been improved on and never will.[2]


3. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

At first sight we are inclined to read verse 3 with verse 1 and consider verse 2 the logical heading of the list of the men of faith. But we have no justification for rearranging the author’s design. He begins his illustrations of demonstrating faith with a comment about creation. No one was present at creation to observe the formation of the world. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” God asks Job (38:4). By using the plural we understand, the author includes himself and all his readers in the confession that God created the world.

The first declaration in the long list of the verses beginning with “by faith” is so rich in meaning that we do well to discuss this verse phrase by phrase. Before we enter upon a full discussion, however, we should note that verse 3b is translated in two ways. That is, the negative adverb not is placed either before the verb to make or before the word appear—apart from variations in translating this verse. The verse can he translated either “so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” or “so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.”11 Translators are about equally divided on this particular issue. We shall discuss the matter as it presents itself in the sequence of the verse.

  1. “By faith.” This is the first occurrence in a series of twenty-one uses of the phrase by faith. After these the author tells the readers that he lacks the time to write about additional Old testament saints who also showed their faith (11:32–38). “These were all commended for their faith” (11:39).
  2. “We understand.” The author and his readers are able to understand God’s creation by faith. Although we are unable to observe that which is invisible, in our minds we recognize the power of God. Understanding creation—even in a limited sense—means that we reflect in faith on the relationship of Creator to creation. In Romans 1:20 Paul provides a striking parallel that even in translation is close.
Romans 1:20

 

Hebrews 11:3

 

For since

 

By faith we understand

 

the Creation of the world

 

that the universe was formed

 

God’s invisible qualities …

 

at God’s command,

 

have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made

 

so that what is seen, was not made out of what was visible

 

  1. “The universe was formed.” Translations vary from “world” or “worlds” to “universe” (see Heb. 1:2). The concept includes “the whole scheme of time and space” (Phillips). Moreover, God gave form, shape, and order to the universe. According to the creation account in Genesis, “God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1) and then proceeded to give structure and variety to a formless and empty earth.
  2. “At God’s command.” We are immediately reminded of the six commands God spoke at the time of creation (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24). “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,” says the psalmist (Ps. 33:6). Purposely God created the world in such a manner that man can understand its origin only by faith. God made the world by his command. “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:9).
  3. “So that what is seen.” The author of Hebrews refers to that which visibly exists in God’s creation—that is, light, sky, stars, earth, and countless other things. Man is able to see all these entities with his physical eyes. These things, however, have not been made of what can be observed.
  4. “Was not made out of what was visible.” Because no one was present at the time of creation, eyewitness reports do not exist. Man must rely on what God has revealed to him about the creation of the universe and the formation of the world. And by faith man ascertains that creation originates with God.

How should verse 3 be translated? I have adopted the translation that negates the verb to make, for this translation appears to favor the flow of the argument. The word visible implies that at one time this creation did not exist and therefore is not eternal. Creation has a beginning. Moreover, prior to creation, the invisible prevailed. We would have been happy to receive more revelation concerning this point, but the author of Hebrews provides no further information where God’s revelation is silent. We do well not to speculate (Deut. 29:29).[3]


The Illustration of Faith

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (11:3)

The writer is saying to the Jews who had not yet trusted Christ, “You already have a certain faith in God. You believe that He created the universe and everything in it.” They believed this without any doubt, even though they were not there when God created. They could not see His act of creating, but they could see His creation and they believed in the Creator. They had a start of faith. They knew and accepted this truth by faith, not by sight. Their own Scriptures taught it and they believed it.

God did not just create the world, but the worlds (aiōn), which designates the physical universe itself and also its operation, its administration. He created everything simply by His word (rhēma), His divine utterance. He created from nothing, at least not from anything physical, or visible. The writer makes an absolutely stupendous claim in this short verse. The greatest claim, and the one hardest for an unbeliever to accept, is that understanding of creation comes entirely by faith.

The origin of the universe has been a long-standing problem for philosophers and scientists. Centuries of investigation, speculation, and comparing of notes and theories have brought them no closer to a solution. Every time a consensus seems to be developing about a particular theory, someone comes up with evidence that disproves it or makes it less plausible.

Bertrand Russell spent most of his 90 years as a philosopher. His most certain conviction was that Christianity was the greatest enemy of mankind, because it taught of a tyrannical God who stifled man’s rightful freedom. He admitted at the end of his life that philosophy “was a wash-out,” that it held no answers for anything. He had written that “we must conquer the world by intelligence,” and yet all of his own great intellect and all of the other intellects who looked to themselves for answers never found an answer. Russell’s greatest faith was in the idea that there is no God. He rejected the only source of answers, meaning, and hope.

Most philosophy is mere doodling with words, as many people do with a pencil. Without revelation, a source of basic truth, the best it can do is make verbal squiggles. Some are more impressive than others, but none can lay claim to the truth or to ultimate meaning. Paul warned the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men” (Col. 2:8).

Science has done no better than philosophy in offering answers to the origin of the universe. Even though science, by definition, is limited to the observable, measurable, and repeatable, some scientists persist in speculating about the origin of the earth and of the entire universe—trying to reconstruct the process from what can be observed today. They, like the philosophers, have assumed a burden far beyond their competence and resources.

For some 100 years the nebula theory was the dominant scientific explanation of the origin of the universe. It was eventually replaced by the tidal theory, which was soon replaced by the steady-state theory, the super dense (big bang) theory, and so on. None of these theories gained universal acceptance among scientists. Today, theories are still multiplying and none yet is universally accepted, much less proved. The same is true of theories of evolution. Even some nonreligious scientists are calling for science to reconsider the very notion of evolution. Discovery of origins is far outside man’s scope of knowledge and investigation. His attempts to discover where the universe came from, or where man himself came from, cannot possibly end in anything but futility. He is doomed to go from one unprovable theory to another.

Physics professor T. L. Moore of the University of Cincinnati has said, “To talk of the evolution of thought from sea slime to amoeba, from amoeba to a self-conscious thinking man, means nothing. It is the easy solution of a thoughtless brain.”

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, a truth the world’s most brilliant thinkers have not discovered and cannot discover on their own. It is beyond the realm of scientific investigation, but it is not beyond knowing—if we are willing to be taught by the Word of God. The Christian has no reason to be proud of his knowledge. It is a gift from God, like every other blessing of faith. By his own resources, he could no more discover the truth about origins than could the rankest atheist.

The Christian insists that all truth is God’s truth. Some of it—the natural world—is discoverable with our eyes, ears, touch, and intellect. A great deal more of it, however, is not. It is apprehended only by faith, for which the Christian should make no apology. The very attempt to explain the universe, or our own being and nature, apart from God is a fool’s effort. These things we understand only by faith in the revealed Word of Scripture. Faith comprehends that which the mind of man, no matter how brilliant, cannot fathom. “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him. For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God” (1 Cor. 2:9–10).

An evangelist of many years ago told the beautiful story of two little boys he once visited in a London hospital.

The cots were side-by-side. One boy had a dangerous fever, the other had been struck by a truck and his body was badly mangled. The second one said to the first, “Say, Willie, I was down to the mission Sunday school and they told me about Jesus. I believe that if you ask Jesus, He will help you. They said that if we believe in Him and pray to God, then when we die He’ll come and take us with Him to heaven.” Willie replied, “But what if I’m asleep when He comes and I can’t ask Him?” His friend said, “Just hold up your hand; that’s what we did in Sunday school. I guess Jesus sees it.” Since Willie was too weak to hold up his arm, the other boy propped it up for him with a pillow. During that night, Willie died, but when the nurse found him the next morning, his arm was still propped up.

We can be sure that the Lord saw his arm, because the Lord sees faith and the Lord accepts faith. By faith Willie saw the way to heaven. By faith he saw what the learned will never discover on their own. God’s greatest truths are discovered by simple faith. It is not the world’s way to truth, but a thousand years from now—if the Lord tarries that long—the world will still be devising and rejecting its theories. The person of faith knows the truth now. Faith is the only way to God.[4]


3 “Faith” cannot be found in the normal way in the creation story, since there were no human beings there to exercise it (except Adam and Eve, who are conspicuously and understandably not included in the list!). The opening “by faith” cannot therefore have here the biographical focus it has throughout the rest of the chapter. It might then seem an unnecessary and inconvenient decision to include Genesis 1–2 in the catalogue at all: did the author really have to start at the very beginning? But in fact, different as this example must be, it contributes something important to the chapter, a telling example of “being certain of what we do not see.” People can look at the created universe and see it as a self-contained reality—many scientists and ordinary people do so today, as they always have. It is only “by faith” that we, guided by the scriptural account, are able to see behind the scenes, to find in the visible world a testimony to “what we do not see,” the God who made it. The point is important. When all the philosophical arguments have been rehearsed and refined, it remains in the end a matter of faith. There will always be those who cannot see beyond the surface level, and argument alone will not persuade them. This is the realm of faith.

“What is seen was not made out of what was visible” (or “was made out of what was not visible”—the Greek allows either rendering) makes the point emphatically. Behind the sequence of matter begetting matter there lies a beginning, when the material world was made not out of preexisting matter but by the creative word of the invisible God. “What was visible” translates the Greek word phainomena—phenomenology is not the whole story! For “the universe,” see note on 1:2.[5]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2195). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 312–314). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 292–294). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 150). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 12 – CHRIST MADE THE WORLD

God…hath…spoken unto us by his Son…by whom also he made the worlds.

Hebrews 1:1–2

Think about the world into which our Lord Jesus Christ came—it is actually Christ’s world!

Every section of this earth that we buy and sell and kick around and take by force of arms is a part of Christ’s world. He made it all, and He owns it all.

Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, made the world. He made the very atoms of which Mary was made; the atoms of which His own body was made. He made the straw in the manger upon which He was laid as a newborn baby.

Let me digress here. I hear an occasional devotional exercise on the radio, in which the participants ask: “Mary, mother of God, pray for us!” It is only right that we should express our position based on the Word of God, and the truth is that Mary is dead and she is not the “mother of God.”

Mary was the mother of that tiny babe, for God in His loving and wise plan of redemption used the body of the virgin Mary as the matrix to give the eternal Son a human body. We join in giving her proper honor when we refer to her as Mary, mother of Christ.

Lord, help me and my family make the appropriate choices to be excellent stewards of this world that You created for us to enjoy.[1]


1:1 No other NT Epistle comes to the point as quickly as this one. Without benefit of salutation or introduction, the writer plunges into his subject. It seems as if he were constrained by a holy impatience to set forth the superlative glories of the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, he contrasts God’s revelation by the prophets with His revelation in His Son. The prophets were divinely inspired spokesmen for God. They were honored servants of Jehovah. The spiritual wealth of their ministry is preserved in the OT.

Yet their ministry was partial and fragmentary. To each one was committed a certain measure of revelation, but in every case it was incomplete.

Not only was the truth doled out to them in installments; they used various methods in communicating it to the people. It was presented as law, history, poetry, and prophecy. Sometimes it was oral, sometimes written. Sometimes it was by visions, dreams, symbols, or pantomime. But whatever the method used, the point is that God’s former revelations to the Jewish people were preliminary, progressive, and various in the manner of presentation.

1:2 The periodic, partial, and differential prophecies of the OT have now been overshadowed by God’s preeminent and final revelation in the person of His Son. The prophets were only channels through whom the divine word was communicated. The Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the final revelation of God to men. As John said, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18). The Lord Jesus said concerning Himself, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Christ speaks not only for God but as God.

To emphasize the infinite superiority of God’s Son to the prophets, the writer first presents Him as heir of all things. This means that the universe belongs to Him by divine appointment and He will soon reign over it.

It was through Him that God made the worlds. Jesus Christ was the active Agent in creation. He brought into being the stellar heavens, the atmospheric heavens, the earth, the human race, and the divine plan of the ages. Every created thing, both spiritual and physical, was made by Him.[2]


1. In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.

In sonorous tones and in a somewhat musical setting, the author begins his epistle with an introductory sentence that is elegant in style, diction, and word choice. Some translators have tried to convey the dignity and alliteration of the original, but most of them have been ineffectual in capturing the exact intonation of the opening sentence of Hebrews.

God spoke to the forefathers in the ages preceding the birth of Jesus and communicated to them his revelation. God is the originator of revelation. He is the source, the basis, the subject. God used the prophets in the Old Testament era to make his Word known to the people. But he was not limited to speaking through the prophets; this first verse states that God brought his revelation to his people at many times and in various ways. The words times and ways have a prominent place in the original Greek: they stand first in the sentence. Among the forefathers who received God’s revelation were Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. God spoke to Adam “in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8); to Abraham in visions and visits—in fact, Abraham was called God’s friend (James 2:23); to Jacob in a dream; to Moses “face to face” (Exod. 33:11) as a man speaks with a friend.

Through the prophets, from Moses to Malachi, God’s revelation was recorded in written form as history, psalm, proverb, and prophecy. The prophets were all those saints called by God and filled with his Spirit to speak the Word as a progressive revelation that intimates the coming of Christ. In his first epistle, Peter refers to them:

The prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. [1:10–12]

The prophet did not bring his own message, his own formulation of religious truth. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he spoke the Word of God, which did not have its origin in the will of man (2 Peter 1:21) but came from God (Heb. 3:7).

2a. But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.

Although the contrast between the times before the coming of Christ and the appearance of Christ as the completion of God’s revelation is striking in verses 1 and 2, the continuity of this revelation is also significant. Both parts of God’s revelation form one unit because there is but one Author. There is but one God who reveals, and there is but one revelation. The Word spoken by God to the forefathers in the past does not differ basically from the Word spoken to us by his Son.

Yet in many ways the contrast between the first and the second verse is obvious. We may show the contrast graphically:

God has spoken

in the

OLD TESTAMENT ERA

 

NEW TESTAMENT ERA

 

how?

 

at many times

 

and

 

in various ways

 

when?

 

in the past

 

in these last days

 

to whom?

 

to our forefathers

 

to us

 

by whom?

 

through the prophets

 

by his Son

 

The figure appears to be incomplete: the “how” on the Old Testament side does not have a New Testament counterpart. The phrase “at many times and in various ways” lacks a parallel. The writer is pointing out that the fullness of revelation is unique, final, and complete. He is not implying that the piecemeal revelation given through the prophets was inferior and that the revelation provided by the Son was without variation. Not at all. The many-sided revelation of God that came repeatedly to the forefathers in the ages before the birth of Christ was inspired by God. It was a progressive revelation that constantly pointed toward the coming of the Messiah. And when Jesus finally came, he brought the very Word of God because he is the Word of God. Therefore, Jesus brought that Word in all its fullness, richness, and multiplicity. He was the final revelation. As F. F. Bruce aptly remarks, “The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond Him.”

Jesus himself did not write a single verse of the New Testament; men designated by him and filled with the Spirit wrote God’s revelation. Jesus, the living Word, speaks to us because no one else possesses equal authority; “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). By his Son, God addresses all believers. In these last days God has spoken to us by his Son. The phrase in these last days is set over against the phrase in the past and refers to the age in which the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies has taken place. This age waits for the liberation “from its bondage to decay” to be “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).

In the first two verses of Hebrews there is a contrast between the prophets, who were a distinct group of people chosen and appointed by God to convey his revelation, and the Son of God, who surpasses all the prophets because he is Son. In fact, all the emphasis in verse 2 falls on the word Son. There is, strictly speaking, only one Son of God; all others are created sons (angels) and adopted sons (believers). As God has spoken by his Son, so the Son has spoken by the apostles who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote the books of the New Testament. The new revelation that God has given us in his Son is a continuation of the revelation given to the forefathers. God’s revelation, completed in his Son, is a unit, a harmonious totality in which the Old is fulfilled in the New.

2b. Whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

To express the excellence of the Son of God, the writer of Hebrews describes what God has done.

God appointed his Son heir of all things. An heir rightfully inherits whatever the father has stipulated in his will. As the one and only Son, Jesus thus inherits everything the Father possesses. Incomprehensible! Unfathomable!

The time when God appointed the Son heir of all things cannot be determined. The Son may have been appointed heir in God’s eternal plan. Or Jesus may have been appointed heir when in the fullness of time he entered the world, or when he pronounced the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).

The writer of Hebrews immediately clarifies the term all things by saying that God made the universe through his Son. The phrase obviously refers to the creation account in the first chapters of Genesis. Many people think that the New Testament, which speaks about redemption, has nothing to say about creation. However, the New Testament is not entirely silent on this subject; both Paul and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews teach that Jesus was active in the work of creation. In his discussion about the supremacy of Christ, Paul teaches: “For by him all things were created …; all things were created by him and for him” (Col. 1:16). And John in his Gospel confirms the same truth: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (1:3).

Through his Son, God made the universe. It is impossible for man to understand the full import of this statement, but complete understanding is not the objective at this point. However, it is important to recognize the majesty of the Son of God, who was present at creation and is the sovereign Lord of all created things. He is God.

The word universe signifies primarily the cosmos, the created world in all its fullness, and secondarily all the stars and planets God has created. But the meaning is much more comprehensive than this, because it involves all the events that have happened since the creation of this world. It concerns the earth and its history throughout the ages. The word has been interpreted as “the sum of the ‘periods of time’ including all that is manifested in and through them.” It refers not to the world as a whole but to the entire created order that continued to develop in the course of time.[3]


The Superiority of Christ

(1:1–2)

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (1:1–2)

The writer does not delay in getting to his point. He makes it in the first three verses. These verses are very simple. They tell us Christ is superior to everyone and everything. The three primary features of His superiority are: preparation, presentation, and preeminence. Keep in mind that all through the book Christ is presented as being better than the best of everyone and everything that was before Him—absolutely better than anything the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, provided.

The Preparation for Christ

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways. (1:1)

Here is an indication of how God wrote the Old Testament. Its purpose was to prepare for the coming of Christ. Whether by prophecy or type or principle or commandment or whatever, it made preparation for Christ.

The senses of man, marvelous as they are, are incapable of reaching beyond the natural world. For us to know anything about God, He must tell us. We could never know God if He did not speak to us. Thus, in the Old Testament, the writer reminds us, “God … spoke.”

Man’s Ways to God

Man lives in a natural “box,” which encloses him within its walls of time and space. Outside of this box is the supernatural, and somewhere deep inside himself man knows it is out there. But in himself he does not know anything certain about it. So someone comes along and says, “We must find out about the supernatural, the world ‘out there.’ ” And a new religion is born. Those who become interested run over to the edge of the box, get out their imaginative mental chisels and start trying to chip a hole in the edge of the box—through which they can crawl, or at least peer, out and discover the secrets of the other world.

That, figuratively, is what always happens. The Buddhist says that when you have worked and thought yourself into Nirvana, all of a sudden you are out of the box. You have transcended the natural and have found your way into the supernatural. The Muslim says basically the same thing, though in different words. So do all the other religions—Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Confucianism, or whatever it may be. These are all attempts by man to escape from the natural to the supernatural, to get out of the box. But the problem is, he cannot get himself out.

God’s Way to Man

By definition, natural man cannot escape into the supernatural. We cannot go into a religious phone booth and change into a superman. We cannot in ourselves or by ourselves transcend our natural existence. If we are to know anything about God, it will not be by escaping, or climbing, or thinking, or working our way to Him; it will only be by His coming to us, His speaking to us. We cannot, by ourselves, understand God any more than an. insect we may hold in our hand can understand us. Nor can we condescend to its level, or communicate with it if we could. But God can condescend to our level and He can communicate with us. And He has.

God became a man Himself and entered our box to tell us about Himself, more fully and completely than He was able to do even through His prophets. This not only was divine revelation, but personal divine revelation of the most literal and perfect and wonderful sort. All of man’s religions reflect his attempts to make his way out of the box. The message of Christianity, however, is that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

When God burst into the box, He did it in human form, and the name of that human form is Jesus Christ. That is the difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world. That is why it is so foolish for people to say, “It doesn’t make any difference what you believe or what religion you follow.” It makes every difference. Every religion is but man’s attempt to discover God. Christianity is God bursting into man’s world and showing and telling man what He is like. Because man by himself is incapable of identifying, comprehending, or understanding God at all, God had to invade the world of man and speak to him about Himself. Initially, He told us He would be coming.

By the Prophets: Many Ways

This He did through the words of the Old Testament. He used men as instruments, but was Himself behind them, enlightening and energizing them. The deists teach that God started the world going and then went away, leaving it to run by itself. But God is not detached from His creation; He is not uninvolved in our world. The true and living God, unlike the false gods of man’s making, is not dumb or indifferent. The God of Scripture, unlike the impersonal “First Cause” of some philosophers, is not silent. He speaks. He first spoke in the Old Testament, which is not a collection of the wisdom of ancient men but is the voice of God.

Now notice how God spoke: “in many portions and in many ways.” The writer uses a play on words in the original language: “God, polumerōs and polutropōs. …” These two Greek words are interesting. They mean, respectively, “in many portions” (as of books) and “in many different manners.” There are many books in the Old Testament—thirty-nine of them. In all those many portions (polumerōs) and in many ways (polutropōs) God spoke to men. Sometimes it was in a vision, sometimes by a parable, sometimes through a type or a symbol. There were many different ways in which God spoke in the Old Testament. But it is always God speaking. Even the words spoken by men and angels are included because He wants us to know them.

Men were used—their minds were used and their personalities were used—but they were totally controlled by the Spirit of God. Every word they wrote was the word that God decided they should write and delighted in their writing.

Many ways includes many literary ways. Some of the Old Testament is narrative. Some of it is poetry, in beautiful Hebrew meter. The “many ways” also includes many types of content. Some is law; some is prophecy; some is doctrinal; some is ethical and moral; some is warning; some is encouragement; and so on. But it is all God speaking.

Progressive Revelation

True But Incomplete

Yet, beautiful and important and authoritative as it is, the Old Testament is fragmentary and incomplete. It was delivered over the course of some 1500 years by some forty-plus writers—in many different pieces, each with its own truths. It began to build and grow, truth upon truth. It was what we call progressive revelation. Genesis gives some truth, and Exodus gives some more. The truth builds and builds and builds. In the Old Testament God was pleased, for that time, to dispense His gracious truth to the Jews by the mouths of His prophets—in many different ways, developing His revelation progressively from lesser to greater degrees of light. The revelation did not build from error to truth but from incomplete truth to more complete truth. And it remained incomplete until the New Testament was finished.

Divine revelation, then, going from the Old Testament to the New Testament, is progressive revelation. It progressed from promise to fulfillment. The Old Testament is promise; the New Testament is fulfillment. Jesus Christ said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” that is, the Old Testament, “… but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). His revelation progressed from promise to fulfillment. In fact, the Old Testament itself clearly indicates that the men of faith who wrote it were trusting in a promise they had not yet understood. They trusted in a promise that was yet to be fulfilled.

Let me give a few supporting verses. Hebrews 11 speaks about many of the great saints of the Old Testament. “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (v. 39). In other words, they never saw the fulfillment of promise. They foresaw what was going to happen without seeing it fully realized. Peter tells us that the Old Testament prophets did not understand all of what they wrote. ‘As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you” (1 Pet. 1:10–12).

We must, of course, clearly understand that the Old Testament was not in any way erroneous. But there was in it a development, of spiritual light and of moral standards, until God’s truth was refined and finalized in the New Testament. The distinction is not in the validity of the revelation—its rightness or wrongness—but in the completeness of it and the time of it. Just as children are first taught letters, then words, and then sentences, so God gave His revelation. It began with the “picture book” of types and ceremonies and prophecies and progressed to final completion in Jesus Christ and His New Testament.

From God, Through His Messengers

Now the picture is set for us. Long ago God spoke to “the fathers,” the Old Testament people, our spiritual ancestors—also our physical ancestors if we are Jewish. He even spoke to some of our Gentile predecessors. He spoke to them by the prophets, His messengers. A prophet is one who speaks to men for God; a priest is one who speaks to God for men. The priest takes man’s problems to God; the prophet takes God’s message to men. Both, if they are true, are commissioned by God, but their ministries are quite different. The book of Hebrews has a great deal to say about priests, but its opening verse speaks of prophets. The Holy Spirit establishes the divine authorship of the Old Testament, its accuracy and its authority, through the fact that it was given to and delivered by God’s prophets.

Throughout the New Testament this truth is affirmed. Peter, for example, tells us that “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke flora God” (2 Pet. 1:21). “Prophecy” in that text refers to the Old Testament. No human writer of the Old Testament wrote of his own will, but only as he was directed by the Holy Spirit.

Paul also tells us that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. The American Standard Version reads, “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable,” implying that not all Scripture is inspired. But all Scripture is fully, not simply in part, inspired by God. God has not hidden His Word within mans words, leaving His creatures to their own devices in deciding which is which. The Old Testament is only a part of God’s truth, but it is not partially His truth. It is not His complete truth, but it is completely His truth. It is God’s revelation, His progressive revelation preparing His people for the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ.

By the Son: One Way

In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (1:2)

God’s full, perfect revelation awaited the coming of His Son. God, who used to speak in many different ways through many different people, has finally spoken in one way, through one Person, His Son Jesus Christ.

The whole New Testament is centered around Christ. The gospels tell His story, the epistles comment on it, and the Revelation tells of its culmination. From beginning to end the New Testament is Christ. No prophet had been given God’s whole truth. The Old Testament was given to many men, in bits and pieces and fragments. Jesus not only brought, but was, God’s full and final Revelation.

Coming in These Last Days

There are several ways to interpret the phrase, in these last days. It could refer to the last days of revelation. It could mean that this is the final revelation in Christ, there being nothing else to add to it. Or it could mean that in the last days of revelation it came through God’s Son. But I think the writer is making a messianic reference. The phrase “the last days” was very familiar to the Jews of that day and had a distinctive meaning. Whenever a Jew saw or heard these words he immediately had messianic thoughts, because the scriptural promise was that in the last days Messiah would come (Jer. 33:14–16; Mic. 5:1–4; Zech. 9:9, 16). Since this letter was written first of all to Jews, we will interpret the phrase in that context.

The woman at the well, though a Samaritan, told Jesus, “I know that the Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us” (John 4:25). She knew that when Messiah arrived, He would unfold the full and final revelation of God, as indeed He did.

The writer, then, is saying, “In these promised Last Days Messiah (Christ) has come and has spoken the final revelation of God.” Jesus came in these last days. Unfortunately, Messiah’s own people rejected Him and His revelation, and so the fulfillment of all of the promises of the last days has yet to be fully realized.

True and Complete

The Old Testament had been given in pieces. To Noah was revealed the quarter of the world from which Messiah would come. To Micah, the town where He would be born. To Daniel, the time of His birth. To Malachi, the forerunner who would come before Him. To Jonah, His resurrection was typified. Every one of those pieces of revelation was true and accurate; and each one related to the others in some way or another. And each one in some way or another pointed to the Messiah, the Christ. But only in Jesus Christ Himself was everything brought together and made whole. In Him the revelation was full and complete.

Since the revelation is complete, to add anything to the New Testament is blasphemous. To add to it The Book of Mormon, or Science and Health, or anything else that claims to be revelation from God is blasphemous. “God has in these last days finalized His revelation in His Son.” It was finished. The end of the book of Revelation warns that if we add anything to it, its plagues will be added to us, and that if we take anything away from it, our part in the tree of life and the holy city will be taken away from us (Rev. 22:18–19).

In the first verse and a half of Hebrews, the Holy Spirit establishes the preeminence of Jesus Christ over all the Old Testament, over its message, its methods, and its messengers. It was just what those Jews, believing and nonbelieving, needed to hear.

And so is established the priority of Jesus Christ. He is greater than the prophets. He is greater than any revelation in the Old Testament, for He is the embodiment of all that truth, and more. God has fully expressed Himself in Christ.

The Preeminence of Christ

(1:2–3)

In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the fight hand of the Majesty on high. (1:2–3)

Someone has said that Jesus Christ came from the bosom of the Father to the bosom of a woman. He put on humanity that we might put on divinity. He became Son of Man that we might become sons of God. He was born contrary to the laws of nature, lived in poverty, was reared in obscurity, and only once crossed the boundary of the land in which He was born—and that in His childhood. He had no wealth or influence and had neither training nor education in the world’s schools. His relatives were inconspicuous and uninfluential. In infancy He startled a king. In boyhood He puzzled the learned doctors. In manhood He ruled the course of nature. He walked upon the billows and hushed the sea to sleep. He healed the multitudes without medicine and made no charge for His services. He never wrote a book and yet all the libraries of the world could not hold the books about Him. He never wrote a song, yet He has furnished the theme for more songs than all songwriters together. He never founded a college, yet all the schools together cannot boast of as many students as He has. He never practiced medicine and yet He has healed more broken hearts than all the doctors have healed broken bodies. This Jesus Christ is the star of astronomy, the rock of geology, the lion and the lamb of zoology, the harmonizer of all discords, and the healer of all diseases. Throughout history great men have come and gone, yet He lives on. Herod could not kill Him. Satan could not seduce Him. Death could not destroy Him and the grave could not hold Him.

Fulfillment of Promises

The Old Testament tells us in at least two places (Jer. 23:18, 22 and Amos 3:7) that the prophets were let in on the secrets of God. Yet at times they wrote those secrets without understanding them (1 Pet. 1:10–11). In Jesus Christ they are both fulfilled and understood. He is God’s final word. “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20). Every promise of God resolves itself in Christ. All the promises become yes—verified and fulfilled. Jesus Christ is the supreme and the final revelation.

In these last days. The last days are days of fulfillment. In the Old Testament the Jew saw the last days as the time when all the promises would be fulfilled. In these days Messiah would come and the Kingdom would come and salvation would come and Israel would no longer be under bondage. In the last days promises would stop and fulfillments begin. That is exactly what Jesus came to do. He came to fulfill the promises. Even though the millennial, earthly aspect of the promised Kingdom is yet future, the age of kingdom fulfillment began when Jesus arrived, and it will not finally be completed until we enter into the eternal heavens. The Old Testament age of promise ended when Jesus arrived.

Has spoken to us in His Son. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God climaxed. God fully expressed Himself in His Son. That affirms Christ as being more than just human. It makes Him infinitely superior to any created being, for He is God manifest in the flesh. He is the final and last revelation of God, in whom all God’s promises are fulfilled.

We have looked at the preparation for Christ and the presentation of Christ. Now we will look at His preeminence. In this brief but potent section (1:2–3) the Holy Spirit exalts Christ as the full and final expression of godsuperior to and exalted above anyone or anything. In these verses we see Christ as the end of all things (Heir), the beginning of all things (Creator), and the middle of all things (Sustainer and Purifier).

When the question is brought up as to who Jesus Christ really was, some people will say He was a good teacher, some will say He was a religious fanatic, some will say He was a fake, and some will claim He was a criminal, a phantom, or a political revolutionary. Others are likely to believe that He was the highest form of humankind, who had a spark of divinity which He fanned into flame—a spark, they claim, that all of us have but seldom fan. There are countless human explanations as to who Jesus was. In this chapter we are going to look at what God says about who Jesus was, and is. In just half of verse 2 and in verse 3 is a sevenfold presentation of the excellencies of Jesus Christ. In all these excellencies He is clearly much more than a man.

His Heirship

Jesus’ first excellency mentioned here is His heirship: In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things. If Jesus is the Son of God, then He is the heir of all that God possesses. Everything that exists will find its true meaning only when it comes under the final control of Jesus Christ.

Even the Psalms predicted that He would one day be the heir to all that God possesses. “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee’ ” (Ps. 2:6–7). Again we read, “ ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware’ ” (Ps. 2:8–9). And still again, “ ‘I also shall make him My first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth’ ” (Ps. 89:27). “First-born” does not mean that Christ did not exist before He was born as Jesus in Bethlehem. It is not primarily a chronological term at all, but has to do with legal rights—especially those of inheritance and authority (which will be discussed in more detail in chapter 3). God’s destined kingdom will in the last days be given finally and eternally to Jesus Christ.

Paul explains that all things not only were created by Christ but for Him (Col. 1:16) and that “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). Everything that exists exists for Jesus Christ. What truth better proves His equality with God?

In Revelation 5, God is pictured sitting on a throne, with a scroll in His hand. “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals’ ” (v. 1). The scroll is the title deed to the earth and all that is in it. It is the deed for the Heir, the One who has the right to take the earth. In New Testament times Roman law required that a will had to be sealed seven times, to protect it from tampering. As you rolled it up, you sealed it every turn or so for seven times. The seals were not to be broken until after the person whose will it was had died.

John continues his vision: “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?’ ” (v. 2). Who, the angel wondered, is the rightful heir to the earth? Who has the right to possess it? “And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it” (v. 3). Perplexed and saddened, John “began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals’ ” (vv. 4–5). As he continued to watch, he “saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (v. 6). Jesus Christ, the Lamb, came and took the scroll out of the right hand of God. Why? Because He, and He alone, had a right to take it. He is Heir to the earth.

Chapter 6 of Revelation begins the description of the Tribulation, the first step in Christ’s taking back the earth, which is rightfully His. One by one Christ unrolls the seals. As each seal is broken, He takes further possession and control of His inheritance. Finally, “the seventh angel sounded; and there arose loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever’ ” (11:15). When He unrolls the seventh seal and the seventh trumpet blows, the earth is His.

In his first sermon, at Pentecost, Peter told his Jewish audience, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). This carpenter who died nailed to a cross is, in fact, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He will rule the world. Satan knew this truth when he approached Jesus in the wilderness and tempted Him to take control of the world in the wrong way, by bowing down to Satan. As the temporary usurper of God’s rule over the earth, Satan continually tries every means of preventing the true Heir from receiving His inheritance.

When Christ first came to earth He became poor for our sakes, that we, through His poverty, might be made rich. He had nothing for Himself. He had “nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). Even His clothes were taken from Him when He died. He was buried in a grave that belonged to someone else. But when Christ comes to earth again, He will completely and eternally inherit all things. And, wonder of wonders, because we have trusted in Him, we are to be “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). When we enter into His eternal kingdom we will jointly possess all that He possesses. We will not be joint Christs or joint Lords, but we will be joint heirs. His marvelous inheritance will be ours as well.

Some Still Reject Him

Amazingly, though Christ is the Heir of all God possesses, and though He offers to share His inheritance with anyone who will trust in Him, some still reject Him. Many rejected God as He revealed Himself in the Old Testament. Now God has perfectly revealed Himself in the New Testament of His Son, and people continue to reject Him.

Jesus illustrated this tragedy in a parable.

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey. And when the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.” And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers? They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” (Matt. 21:33–44)

That parable needs no explanation.

To willfully reject Jesus Christ brings on the utter damnation and destruction of a vengeful God. To Israel that parable says, “Since what you have done was so blatant, not only rejecting and killing the prophets but rejecting and killing the Son, the promise has been taken away from you and given to a new nation, the church.” Israel was set aside until the time of her restoration.

His Creatorship

The second excellency of Christ mentioned in Hebrews 1 is His creatorship: through whom also He made the world. Christ is the agent through whom God created the world. “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). One of the greatest proofs of Jesus’ divinity is His ability to create. Except for His complete sinlessness, His total righteousness, nothing more sets Him apart from us than His creatorship. Ability to create belongs to God alone and the fact that Jesus creates indicates that He is God. He created everything material and everything spiritual. Though man has stained His work with sin, Christ originally made it good, and the very creation itself longs to be restored to what it was in the beginning (Rom. 8:22).

The common Greek word for world is kosmos, but that is not the word used in Hebrews 1:2. The word here is aiōnas, which does not mean the material world but “the ages,” as it is often translated. Jesus Christ is responsible not only for the physical earth; He is also responsible for creating time, space, energy, and matter. Christ created the whole universe and everything that makes it function, and He did it all without effort.

Sir John C. Eccles, Nobel laureate in neurophysiology, said that the odds against the right combination of circumstances occurring to have evolved intelligent life on earth are highly improbable, but he went on to say he believed that such did occur but could never happen again on any planet or in any other solar system (“Evolution and the Conscious Self,” in The Human Mind: A Discussion at the Nobel Conference, John D. Rolansky, ed. [Amsterdam: North Holland, 1967]). If you do not recognize a Creator you have quite a problem explaining how this marvelous, intricate, immeasurable universe came into being.

Yet thousands upon thousands of men believe that man emerged out of primeval slime. Man just evolved—that wondrous creature whose heart beats 800 million times in a normal lifetime and pumps enough blood to fill a string of tank cars running from Boston to New York; that same man whose tiny cubic half-inch section of brain cells contains all the memories of a lifetime; that same man whose ear transfers sound waves from air to liquid without losing any sound.

A.K. Morrison, another brilliant scientist, tells us that conditions for life on earth demand so many billions of minute interrelated circumstances appearing simultaneously, in the same infinitesimal moment, that such a prospect becomes beyond belief and beyond possibility.

Consider the vastness of our universe. If you could somehow put 1.2 million earths inside the sun, you would have room left for 4.3 million moons. The sun is 865,000 miles in diameter and is 93 million miles from the earth. Our next nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is 5 times larger than our sun. The moon is only 211,463 miles away, and you could walk to it in 27 years. A ray of light travels at 186 thousand miles per second, so a beam of light would reach the moon in only 1 1/2 seconds. If we could travel at that speed, it would take 2 minutes and 18 seconds to reach Venus, 4 1/2 minutes to reach Mercury, 1 hour and 11 seconds to reach Saturn, and so on. To reach Pluto, 2.7 billion miles from earth, would take nearly 4 hours. Having got that far, we would still be well inside our own solar system. The North Star is 400 trillion miles away, but is still nearby in relation even to known space. The star Betelgeuse is 880 quadrillion miles (880 followed by fifteen zeroes) from us. It has a diameter of 250 million miles, which is greater than that of the earth’s orbit.

Where did it all come from? Who conceived it? Who made it? It cannot be an accident. Somebody had to make it, and the Bible tells us the Maker was Jesus Christ.

His Radiance

Third, we see Christ’s radiance, the brightness of the glory of God. And He is the radiance of His glory. Radiance (apaugasma, “to send forth light”) represents Jesus as the manifestation of God. He expresses God to us. No one can see God; no one ever will. The only radiance that reaches us from God is mediated to us from Jesus Christ. Just as the rays of the sun light and warm the earth, so Jesus Christ is the glorious light of God shining into the hearts of men. Just as the sun was never without and cannot be separated from its brightness, so God was never without and cannot be separated from the glory of Christ. Never was God without Him or He without God, and never in any way can He be separated from God. Yet the brightness of the sun is not the sun. Neither is Christ God in that sense. He is fully and absolutely God, yet is a distinct Person.

We would never be able to see or enjoy God’s light if we did not have Jesus to look at. Standing one day before the Temple, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory, and He can transmit that light into your life and my life, so that we, in turn, can radiate the glory of God. We live in a dark world. There is the darkness of injustice, of failure, privation, separation, disease, death, and of much else. There is the moral darkness of men blinded by their godless appetites and passions. Into this dark world God sent His glorious Light. Without the Son of God, there is only darkness.

The great tragedy, of course, is that most men do not want even to see, much less accept and live in, God’s light. Paul explains that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). God sent His light in the Person of Jesus Christ, that man might behold, accept, and radiate that light. But Satan has moved through this world to blind the minds of men and prevent the light of the glorious gospel from shining on them.

Those, however, who receive His light can say, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). That is what happens when God comes into your life.

The hymn writer said, “Come to the light. ‘Tis shining for thee. Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.” What a wonderful thing to realize that Jesus Christ, who is the full expression of God in human history, can come into our lives and give us light to see and to know God. His light, in fact, gives us life itself, spiritual life. And, His light gives us purpose, meaning, happiness, peace, joy, fellowship, everything—for all eternity.

His Being

Christ’s next excellency is His being. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature. Jesus Christ is the express image of God. Christ not only was God manifest, He was God in substance.

Exact representation translates the Greek term used for the impression made by a die or stamp on a seal. The design on the die is reproduced on the wax. Jesus Christ is the reproduction of God. He is the perfect, personal imprint of God in time and space. Colossians 1:15 gives a similar illustration of this incomprehensible truth: “He is the image of the invisible God.” The word “image” here is eikōn, from which we get icon. Eikōn means a precise copy, an exact reproduction, as in a fine sculpture or portrait. To call Christ the Eikōn of God means He is the exact reproduction of God. “For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).

His Administration

Also in Hebrews 1:3 is given the fifth of Christ’s excellencies, His administration, or sustenance. He upholds all things by the word of His power. Christ not only made all things and will someday inherit all things, but He holds them all together in the meanwhile. The Greek word for upholds means “to support, to maintain,” and it is used here in the present tense, implying continuous action. Everything in the universe is sustained right now by Jesus Christ.

We base our entire lives on the continuance, the constancy, of laws. When something such as an earthquake comes along and disrupts the normal condition or operation of things even a little, the consequences are often disastrous. Can you imagine what would happen if Jesus Christ relinquished His sustaining power over the laws of the universe? We would go out of existence. If He suspended the law of gravity only for a brief moment, we would all perish, in unimaginable ways.

If the physical laws varied, we would have an unbelievable mess. We could not exist. What we ate could turn to poison. We could not stay on the earth; we would drift out into space. We would get flooded by the oceans periodically. Countless other horrible things would happen, many of which we could not even guess.

Consider, for example, what instant destruction would happen if the earth’s rotation slowed down just a little. The sun has a surface temperature of 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit. If it were any closer to us we would burn up; if it were any farther away we would freeze. Our globe is tilted on an exact angle of 23 degrees, providing us with four seasons. If it were not so tilted, vapors from the oceans would move north and south and develop into monstrous continents of ice. If the moon did not retain its exact distance from the earth the ocean tides would inundate the land completely, twice a day. After the first flooding, of course, the others would not matter as far as we would be concerned. If the ocean floors were merely a few feet deeper than they are, the carbon dioxide and oxygen balance of the earth’s atmosphere would be completely upset, and no animal or plant life could exist. If the atmosphere did not remain at its present density, but thinned out even a little, many of the meteors which now harmlessly burn up when they hit the atmosphere would constantly bombard us. We would have to live underground or in meteor-proof buildings.

How does the universe stay in this kind of fantastically delicate balance? Jesus Christ sustains and monitors all its movements and inter-workings. Christ, the preeminent Power, maintains it all.

Things do not happen in our universe by accident. They did not happen that way in the beginning. They are not going to happen that way in the end, and they are not happening that way now. Jesus Christ is sustaining the universe. He is Himself the principle of cohesion. He is not like the deist’s “watchmaker” creator, who made the world, set it in motion, and has not bothered with it since. The universe is a cosmos instead of chaos, an ordered and reliable system instead of an erratic and unpredictable muddle, only because Jesus Christ upholds it.

Scientists who discover great and amazing truths are doing nothing but discovering a few of the laws that.Jesus Christ designed and uses to control the world. No scientist or mathematician, no astronomer or nuclear physicist, could do anything without the upholding power of Jesus Christ. The whole universe hangs on the arm of Jesus. His unsearchable wisdom and boundless power are manifested in governing the universe. And He does it by the word of His power, without effort. The key to the creation story in Genesis is in two words, “God said.” God spoke and it happened.

When I think about Christ’s power to uphold the universe, that truth goes right to my heart. We read in Philippians 1:6 the wonderful promise, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” When Christ begins a work in your heart, He holds onto it and sustains it all the way through. We can imagine Jude’s excitement when he wrote, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24–25). When your life is given to Jesus Christ, He holds it and sustains it and one day will take it into God’s very presence. A life, just as a universe, that is not sustained by Christ is chaos.

His Sacrifice

The sixth excellency of Christ is His sacrifice: When He had made purification of sins. What a tremendous statement!

The Bible says the wages of sin is death. Jesus Christ went to the cross, died our deserved death for us, and thereby took the penalty for our sin on Himself. If we will accept His death and believe that He died for us, He will free us from the penalty of sin and purify us from the stain of sin.

It was a wondrous work when Jesus Christ created the world. It is wondrous that He sustains the world. But a greater work than making and upholding the world is that of purging men of sin. In Hebrews 7:27 we are told that Jesus “does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” In the Old Testament the priests had to make sacrifice after sacrifice, for themselves and for the people. Jesus made but one sacrifice. He not only was the Priest, but also the Sacrifice. And because His sacrifice was pure, He can purify our sins—something that all the Old Testament sacrifices together could not do.

And not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? … but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb. 9:12–14, 26b)

Jesus Christ dealt with the sin problem once and for all. It had to be done. We could not communicate with God or enter into fellowship with Him unless sin was dealt with. So Christ went to the cross and bore the penalty of sin for all who would accept His sacrifice, believe in Him, and receive Him. Sin was purged, wiped out.

This truth must have seemed especially remarkable to those to whom the book of Hebrews was first written. The cross was a stumbling block to Jews, but the writer does not apologize for it. Instead, he shows it to be one of the seven excellent glories of Christ. His words are as straightforward as those of Peter: “[You know] that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).

We are all sinners. And either we pay the penalty for our own sin, which is eternal death, or we accept Jesus Christ’s payment for it in sacrificing Himself, for which we receive eternal life. If the desire of our heart is to receive Him as Savior, to believe in and to accept His sacrifice, our sins are washed away at that point. The Bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin (Heb. 9:22) and that “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Jesus came as the perfect Sacrifice. The man whose sins are forgiven has them forgiven only because of Jesus Christ. But the blood of Jesus Christ will never be applied to us unless by faith we receive Him into our lives.

Yet again, there are people who reject Him! Hebrews 10:26 warns, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” If we reject Jesus Christ there is nothing in the universe that can take away our sin, and we will die in it. Jesus said to such persons, “[You] shall die in your sin; where I am going you can never come” (John 8:21).

His Exaltation

The last of Christ’s excellencies mentioned in this passage is His exaltation. He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. The Majesty on high is God. The right hand is the power side. Jesus took His place at the right hand of God. The marvelous thing about this statement is that Jesus, the perfect High Priest, sat down. This is in great contrast to the priestly procedure under the Old Covenant. There were no seats in the Tabernacle or the Temple sanctuaries. The priest had no place to sit because God knew it would never be appropriate for him to sit. His responsibility was to sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice, over and over again. So the priests offered sacrifices daily—and never sat down. But Jesus offered one sacrifice, and said, “It is finished.” He then went and sat down with the Father. It was done. What could not be accomplished under the Old Covenant, even after centuries of sacrifices, was accomplished once by Jesus Christ for all time.

Jesus’ sitting down at His Father’s right hand signifies at least four things. They are, briefly:

First, He sat down as a sign of honor, “that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). To be seated at the right hand of the Father is honor indeed.

Second, He sat down as a sign of authority. “[He] is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22). He sat down as a ruler.

Third, He sat down to rest. His work was done. “But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).

Fourth, He sat down to intercede for us. “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:34). He is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for all of us who belong to Him.

Here we have God’s portrait of Jesus Christ. We have seen the preeminent Christ in all His offices. We have seen Him as prophet, the final spokesman for God. We have seen Him as priest, atoning and interceding. We have seen Him as King, controlling, sustaining, and seated on a throne. This is our Lord Jesus Christ.

A man who says that Jesus Christ is anything less than this is a fool and makes God out a liar. God says that His Son is preeminent in all things.

What does this mean to us? It means everything. To reject Him is to be shut out from His presence into an eternal hell. But to receive Jesus Christ is to enter into all that He is and has. There are no other choices.[4]


1–2a One of the chief glories of OT religion was its prophetic tradition. Israel lived not by human insight but by divine revelation as God “spoke through the prophets.” Our author has no wish to belittle this privilege, and he will quote from those same prophets later in the course of his argument. But now God has provided something even better. The prophets were many and varied, and their revelations came to the forefathers sporadically over a considerable period. But now their place has been taken by a single spokesman, whose message has been delivered once-for-all “in these last days” (lit., “at the end of these days,” echoing the OT formula “in the end of the days,” Ge 49:1; Isa 2:2; etc.). The period of preparation is over, and all that the prophets have looked forward to is now fulfilled in the single person of “a Son.” (The lack of article does not indicate one son among many but rather the true nature and status of this new spokesman as against his predecessors the prophets.) This title, which will form the backbone of Hebrews’ presentation of Jesus, is dramatically introduced in contrast with the mere messengers who have gone before and will immediately be filled out with a series of descriptive clauses that totally set him apart from all merely human representatives. Note that the name “Jesus” will not appear until 2:9, when the focus will be on the period of the human incarnation of the Son. In his essential nature he is better designated not by his human name but by a title that directly links him to God.

2b–3a Seven arresting statements now fill out the unique status of “the Son” and make it unmistakably clear he is much more than a passing historical figure like the prophets. The first five statements focus on his relationship to God and to the created universe in such a way as to place him outside the natural order as its originator and sustainer. Two further clauses in v. 3b will then bring his historical work of redemption into focus, but first we are invited to contemplate the eternal glory of the Son since before the world was made.

Three clauses trace the role of the Son in relation to the universe, covering respectively its past, present, and future. It was “through” the Son that God made the universe in the past; in the present that same Son upholds everything “by his powerful word”; and the future destiny of the universe is understood also in relation to him who has been made the “heir of all things” (perhaps echoing Ps 2:8; cf. the quotation of Ps 2:7 that follows in v. 5). This is the same threefold relation to the creation, embracing all eternity, which is succinctly expressed in Paul’s formula in Romans 11:36: “from him and through him and to him are all things”; Paul was speaking there of God, not of Christ, but in Colossians 1:16–17 he says the same of Christ: “all things were created by him and for him …, and in him all things hold together.” The author of Hebrews, like Paul (and John in 1:1–3), has no hesitation in saying of Jesus what in Jewish orthodoxy was reserved for God the Creator.

The double clause that opens v. 3 describes the Son’s relation to God more directly and even more unequivocally, not now in his creative role but in his essential nature: he is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” He is, in other words, as in John 1:14, 18, God made visible. To see what God is like we must look at the Son. “Radiance” (apaugasma, GK 575) means literally the “outshining” (though it is sometimes also used of a “reflection”) of the glory that is God’s essential character, while “exact representation” translates the vivid Greek metaphor charaktēr, “imprint, stamp” (GK 5917), used, for instance, of the impression made on a coin, which exactly reproduces the design on the die. (The idea is the same as the more familiar phrase “the image of God.”) Again there is a close echo of Colossians 1:15, 19: “He is the image of the invisible God.… God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”

3b The glory of the Son consists not only in his eternal nature but also in his role in bringing salvation to human beings. The two clauses that conclude the description of the Son take up this theme and thus introduce two of the most prominent themes of the letter as a whole. First, he has “provided purification for sins.” The theme of the sacrificial work of Christ will come into focus especially in chs. 9–10 as the outworking of his office as our great high priest, where the author will emphasize that this work of purification is now fully complete. While at this point he does not yet spell out the means by which this “purification” has been achieved, his readers would be well aware that it must be through the shedding of blood (9:14, 22, etc.). The way is thus prepared for the paradoxical argument of ch. 2 that it is in his humiliation and death that the superior glory of the Son, as our perfect redeemer, is revealed.

But humiliation is followed by exaltation, and the author’s first allusion to Psalm 110:1 introduces the language of “sitting at the right hand,” which will echo through the letter (cf. 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). The Son, his earthly work complete, now occupies in heaven the place of highest authority next to God himself.

Such is the nature of the Son, who has now added to his unique creative work by coming into the world he made in order to bring the final and perfect revelation of God by making the true nature of the invisible God visible on the canvas of a human life, and by his redeeming work has fulfilled God’s purpose of salvation. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory” (Jn 1:14). Here is a work of God on a different level altogether from what the prophets could offer.[5]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2158). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 26–29). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 1–20). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 37–39). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 12 – WE CAN AFFORD TO BE CALM

For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

—2 Timothy 1:12

For the warmth of his heart the Christian has the love of God which is “shed abroad” by the Holy Ghost, while from his vantage point in the “heavenly places” he is able to look down calmly upon the excited happenings of men. In his flesh he may be a part of the human scene, but in his spirit he is far above it all and is never at any time too much moved by what he sees.

From the Word of God he learns the direction things are going and is thus able in God to see the end from the beginning and call the things that are not as though they were.

The life of the Christian is bound up in the sovereignty of God, i.e…. His full ability to carry out His plans to their triumphant conclusion. Since he is a part of God’s eternal purpose, he knows he must win at last, and he can afford to be calm even when the battle seems to be temporarily going against him.

The world has no such “blissful center” upon which to rest and is therefore constantly shifting about, greatly elated today, terribly cast down tomorrow and wildly excited the next day. TET041-042

Lord, thank You for the assurance that You are in control. In turbulent times, in uncertain days and in difficult circumstances, I will rest in You. Amen. [1]


1:12 It was because of his faithful performance of duty that Paul was suffering imprisonment and loneliness. He had not hesitated to declare the truth of God. No fears for personal safety had sealed his lips. Now that he had been arrested and jailed, he still had no regrets. He was not ashamed, and neither should Timothy be ashamed. Although Paul could not be confident as to his personal safety, he was completely confident as to the One whom he had believed. Though Rome might succeed in putting the apostle to death, men could not touch his Lord. Paul knew that the One whom he had trusted was able. Able to do what? Able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. Commentators are divided as to what Paul is referring to here. Some think that it is his soul’s salvation. Others understand this to refer to the gospel. In other words, although the Apostle Paul himself might be put to death, yet the gospel could not be hindered. The more men sought to oppose it, the more it would prosper.

Perhaps it is best to take the expression in its broadest sense. Paul was persuaded that his entire case was in the best of hands. Even as he faced death, he had no misgivings. Jesus Christ was his Almighty Lord, and with Him there could be no defeat or failure. There was nothing to worry about. Paul’s salvation was sure, and so was the ultimate success of his service for Christ here on earth.

That Day is a favorite expression of Paul. It refers to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and particularly to the Judgment Seat of Christ when service for Him will be brought into review and when the kindness of God will reward the faithfulness of men.[2]


12. Thus the trend of thought has returned to that of verse 8: Paul’s faithfulness to the gospel, as an example for Timothy. Accordingly, the second paragraph of the present section is very personal in character. Says the apostle: For this reason I am also suffering these things.

Because of the fulfilment of my assignment as an apostle of Jesus Christ I suffer here in this terrible Roman prison—a dismal underground dungeon with a hole in the ceiling for light and air—, with the prospect of execution as a criminal! But I am not ashamed. Though. Paul has been subjected to ignominy, he has not disgraced himself. Along with others, such as Joseph, Jeremiah, Daniel, John the Baptist, and Peter, he has joined the ranks of prisoners for the best cause. After all, the place of dishonor may be the place of highest honor. Was not Jesus crucified between two malefactors? and cf. 1 Peter 4:16!

The reason why Paul is not ashamed is stated in these memorable words: For I know him in whom I have placed my trust, and am convinced that he is able to guard with a view to that day that which I have entrusted to him.

Paul has once for all placed his trust in the sovereign God (see verses 8, 9 above). One might also translate with the A.V., “for I know whom I have believed,” i.e., I know God who revealed himself in his precious Son, “our Savior Christ Jesus” (verse 10). The apostle has become abidingly convinced of God’s infinite power, tender love, and absolute faithfulness.

Literally translated, the apostle says, “… and I am convinced that he is able to guard my deposit (τὴν παραθήκην μου) with a view to (or unto: εἰς) that day.” This leads to the question on which commentators are hopelessly divided: Just what is meant by my deposit? Is it “that deposit which he has entrusted to me,” or is it “that deposit which I have entrusted to him”? Or, putting it differently, Is it the gospel or is it myself and my complete salvation?

As I see it, the latter view deserves the preference, for the following reasons:

(1) Clearly, not Paul but God (in Christ) guards this deposit (“he is able to guard”). Hence, the view that it is the deposit which Paul has entrusted to God has probability on its side. In verse 14 (see on that verse) and also in 1 Tim. 6:20 it is not God but Timothy who must do the guarding. Hence, in that case it is the deposit which God has entrusted to (Paul and to) Timothy.

Now if verse 12 has to do with the deposit which Paul has entrusted to God, then the view that the reference is to my soul or my spirit or myself and my complete salvation has logic on its side. Here some commentators favor my soul; others, my salvation. But the difference is not very important: “myself and my complete salvation” includes both.

(2) The immediate context favors this interpretation. Paul has just written, “I know whom I have believed,” meaning, in the light of the clause which follows: “I know that this God in whom I have placed my confidence is dependable, and will certainly keep in perfect safety that which I have entrusted to him for safe-keeping and protection.”

(3) The words of verse 10 also support this view. The apostle has just referred to “life and incorruptibility.” But, as was noted in the explanation of verse 10, the believer does not fully receive this blessing until the day of Christ’s glorious Return. Hence, the idea of verse 12 is that this truly immortal life possessed even now in principle, and deposited with God for safe-keeping, will be returned to Paul more gloriously than ever on “that day,” the day of the great consummation (cf. verse 18 below; also 2 Tim. 4:8; then 2 Thess. 1:10).

(4) The idea of a treasure that is guarded by God is also found elsewhere; sometimes in a slightly different sense (1 Peter 1:4).

(5) Cf. the words of our Lord as he died on the cross (Luke 23:46; cf. Ps. 31:5; 1 Peter 4:19). Christ’s spirit, having been committed to the Father, is on the third day re-united with the body, now gloriously resurrected.

The arguments of those who defend the opposite view are answered in footnote.[3]


Realize Your Duty

for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. For this reason I also suffer these things, (1:11–12a)

To illustrate the next two means for guarding against being ashamed of Christ, Paul draws from his own life and ministry. The first of those two means is realizing one’s duty, about which Paul had the strongest personal conviction. Using the same words (In the Greek text) as he had in his first letter (1 Tim. 2:7), Paul reminded Timothy, I was appointed a preacher and an apostle.

The Greek egō (I) is in the emphatic position, strengthening the meaning to “I myself.” Was appointed refers, of course, to Paul’s divine commission, which he dramatically received on the Damascus Road, after which the Lord informed Ananias, a faithful disciple in Damascus, that Paul “is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). At least twice, Paul publicly testified to that calling, first on the steps of the Roman army barracks before a large crowd in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3–21) and, some years later, before the Roman governor Festus, King Agrippa, and his wife Bernice in Caesarea (Acts 26:2–23).

Saul, as Paul was known before his conversion, did not plan to become a Christian. When he first encountered Christ, he was the chief persecutor of the infant church (See Acts 8:1–9:2). Nor, after his conversion, was it his own plan, or any other human plan, for him to be a special ambassador for Jesus Christ. On the beach near Miletus, he reminded the elders from Ephesus that he had received his ministry solely “from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24; cf. Col. 1:25). In his first letter to the church at Corinth, he stated that truth in even stronger terms. “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of,” he said; “for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).

Paul first mentions his commission as a preacher, as a proclaimer, or herald, who officially and publicly announces a message on behalf of a ruler—in Paul’s case, the Lord Jesus Christ. He also was commissioned as an apostle “of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (2 Tim. 1:1; cf. 1 Tim. 1:1) and a teacher. Preacher emphasizes his function in ministry, apostle emphasizes his authority, and teacher emphasizes his interpreting the message he authoritatively proclaimed.

It was for this reason, that is, his threefold divine calling, that he also [had to] suffer these things, a reference, in general, to his “suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (v. 8) and, in particular, to his loneliness (1:4) and his “imprisonment as a criminal” (2:7; cf. 1:8). He suffered because he faithfully preached the fullness of the gospel of salvation, because he proclaimed that truth with divine authority, and because he interpreted that Word with divine insight. Very often, the price of devotion to divine duty is affliction by the world.

These things also applied to the long list of afflictions Paul mentions in his second letter to the church at Corinth, in which, “in foolishness,” he boasted “according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 11:17–18). Speaking sarcastically about certain “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ, [who] disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (vv. 14–15), he asked rhetorically,

Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (vv. 23–27; cf. 6:4–10)

Faithful ministry in the Lord’s service is always bittersweet. It brings suffering and joy, disappointment and gratitude. It is like the little book representing judgment that John took “out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was in my mouth sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter” (Rev. 10:10).

But for Paul, as it should be for every believer, suffering was a small price to pay, because his joy always outweighed his suffering, and his satisfaction always outweighed his disappointments. “For to me, to live is Christ,” he rejoiced, “and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). “Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith,” he testified later in that letter, “I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (2:17). He gave similar testimony to believers at Colossae, saying, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (Which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24). The worst suffering we endure is not comparable to our future glory (Rom. 8:18).

Charles Spurgeon gave a vivid illustration of the overriding satisfaction that comes from selfless, godly service.

A man shall carry a bucket of water on his head and be very tired with the burden; but that same man when he dives into the sea shall have a thousand buckets on his head without perceiving their weight, because he is in the element and it entirely surrounds him. The duties of holiness are very irksome to men who are not in the element of holiness; but when once those men are cast into the element of grace, then they bear ten times more, and feel no weight, but are refreshed thereby with joy unspeakable.

Duty can bring the deepest pain or the highest joy. Spiritual duty unfulfilled brings untold dissatisfaction, regret, and anguish, no matter how easy unfaithfulness may be. On the other hand, spiritual duty fulfilled brings untold satisfaction and happiness, whatever the cost of faithfulness. The Christian who is obedient to his duty under the Lord can say with Peter, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God” (1 Peter 4:16).

Trust Your Security

but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. (1:12b)

Summing up his previous testimony, and again using his own experience, Paul gives a sixth means for guarding against being ashamed of Christ: trusting in spiritual security.

Paul was not ashamed of his Lord, for, he says, I know whom I have believed. Oida (Know) carries the idea of knowing with certainty. It is used frequently in the New Testament of God’s own knowing and of man’s knowing by direct revelation from God or by personal experience. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used that verb in assuring His hearers, “Your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:8). John repeatedly uses it of Jesus’ knowledge. He records that “He Himself [Jesus] knew what He was intending to do” (John 6:6), and that “Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him” (v. 64; cf. 8:14; 11:42; 13:11).

Whom refers either to God the Father (v. 8) or to Jesus Christ (vv. 9–10). In either case, the basic meaning is the same—Paul had firsthand, intimate, saving knowledge of God.

Pisteuō (I have believed) is in a perfect tense, indicating something that began in the past and has continuing results. As already pointed out, the object of Paul’s certain knowledge was not a thing, or even God’s truth, as important as that is, but rather God Himself. It was not Paul’s divinely revealed theology, but the One who revealed to him that theology, in whom he believed. He was, in John’s words, a spiritual father who had come to know the Eternal One (1 John 2:14).

I am convinced, he testifies, that He [God] is able [dunatos, lit., is powerful enough] to guard what I have entrusted to Him. Phulassō (To guard) was a military term used of a soldier on watch, who was accountable with his own life to protect that which was entrusted to his care. He was convinced not only by divine promises but also by God’s constant faithfulness, already exhibited to him in such measure that he could testify from personal encounters and experience. He asked rhetorically,

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35–39)

Paul trusted his absolute security in God. He had been through years of relentless temptations, trials and testings, opportunities and hardships. He had seen the power of God at work again and again, both in him and around him. He had seen the Lord save and heal and protect and guide and encourage (cf. 2 Tim. 4:14–18). He had encountered Christ personally on the Damascus Road and had been “caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.… And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself!” (2 Cor. 12:4, 7).

His confidence did not come from a creed or a theological system or a denomination or an ordination. It came solely from a close, unbroken relationship with God, to whom he unreservedly gave his life, going about his divine mission with no concern for his own welfare, safety, or life. Without the least reservation, all of those things were entrusted to Him until that day. His only “ambition, whether at home or absent, [was] to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9).

Later in the letter Paul identifies that day, saying, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). It is the day when believers will stand before the bēma, “the judgment seat of God” (Rom. 14:10), where “each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Cor. 3:13), in order “that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).

Like Peter, Paul knew with perfect certainty that he was “protected by the power of God through faith for a [completed] salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). He had utter confidence in Jesus’ promise regarding His sheep: “I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28–29). When our life belongs to Jesus Christ, nothing in this world, not even all the demons in hell or Satan himself, can touch us![4]


12 Paul’s gospel of salvation is worth it, for it is true (Quinn and Wacker, 603, note the recurrence of p sounds in the original: paschō … epaischynomai; pepisteuka kai pepeismai). Paul knows whom he has “believed” (pepisteuka [GK 4409], the perfect tense conveying a settled conviction), and he has full confidence (pepeismai [GK 4275], another perfect; NIV, “am convinced”) that God is “able” (dynatos, GK 1543; cf. Ro 4:21; 11:23) to preserve the deposit (parathēkē, GK 4146; cf. 1 Ti 6:20) he has “entrusted to him” (so both NIV and NASB; lit., “my deposit”; “to him” is not in the original) “for that day” (the final judgment and vindication triggered by Christ’s return; cf. Php 1:10).

That “deposit” is probably Paul’s own life (less likely the gospel; cf. Quinn and Wacker, 604–5). A similar expression of Paul’s confidence is found at 4:18. Thus the apostle’s identity consists in being a “herald [evangelist] and an apostle and a teacher” (v. 11). Paul is setting the example; Timothy must follow in his steps (cf. 3:10–12; see A. D. Clarke, “ ‘Be Imitators of Me’: Paul’s Model of Leadership,” TynBul 49 [1998]: 354–57). In the light of the proliferation of heretics and in the face of desertions, these exhortations take on an even more pressing urgency.[5]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2112). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, pp. 234–236). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 22–28). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Köstenberger, A. (2006). 2 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 570–571). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 11 – THE WICKEDNESS OF UNBELIEF: MAKING GOD A LIAR

…He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.

1 JOHN 5:10

True faith must always rest upon what God is, so it is of utmost importance that, to the limit of our comprehension, we know what He is.

The psalmist said: “They that know thy name will put their trust in Thee,” the name of God being the verbal expression of His character, and confidence always rises or falls with known character.

What the psalmist said was simply that they who know God to be the kind of God He is will put their confidence in Him! This is not a special virtue, but the normal direction any mind takes when confronted with the fact. We are so made that we trust good character and distrust its opposite, and that is why unbelief is so intensely wicked!

The character of God, then, is the Christian’s final ground of assurance and the solution of many, if not most, of his practical religious problems.

Though God dwells in the center of eternal mystery, there need be no uncertainty about how He will act in any situation covered by His promises. These promises are infallible predictions. God will always do what He has promised to do when His conditions are met. And His warnings are no less predictive: “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” (Ps. 1:5).

We cultivate our knowledge of God and at the same time cultivate our faith. Yet while so doing we look not at our faith but at Christ, its author and finisher![1]


5:10 When a man does accept His testimony concerning His Son, God seals the truth by giving the man the witness of the Spirit in himself. On the other hand, if a man disbelieves God, he makes Him a liar; because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. People think they can accept or reject God’s testimony concerning Christ, but John would have them know that to reject it is to accuse God of dishonesty.[2]


10. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.

Throughout the epistle John uses contrast and this text is no exception. First he states the positive and then the negative.

  • Positive

In verse 10, belief in the Son of God is central; it is part of the message John teaches in verses 1–12, namely, faith in Jesus as the Son of God. Believing, says John, is a continuous act. That is, faith is a lasting and active power that resides in the heart of the believer. Faith is the constant bond between the Son of God and the believer.

Note that John states specifically that faith is believing in the Son of God. The preposition in means that the believer puts full trust and confidence in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The believer has accepted the testimony (see John 3:33; Rom. 8:16) which God, through the Spirit, has given about his Son. And this testimony which comes to him through external witnesses is now lodged in his heart and has become an integral part of his spiritual life.

  • Negative

The second part of verse 10 is not a parallel of the first part. Instead of writing, “Anyone who does not believe in the Son of God,” John says, “Anyone who does not believe God.” He places the emphasis on God, who has given man testimony about his Son. Man, however, cannot accept this testimony merely for information. He does not have the freedom to take or leave it without obligation, for God gives him this testimony with royal authority. When man rejects God’s testimony, he has made and continues to make God a liar (compare 1:10). And this is a serious offense, because rejection of God’s Word constitutes deliberate unbelief.

John addressed the false teachers of his day, who said that they believed in God but rejected the birth and the death of his Son. John, however, addresses his word to anyone who rejects God’s testimony. That is, the unbeliever takes full responsibility for his choice. “Unbelief is not a misfortune to be pitied; it is a sin to be deplored.” The unbeliever’s sin lies first in his intentional refusal to believe God’s testimony about his Son and second, in his arrogant denial that the Father and the Son are one. Man cannot say that he has faith in God and at the same time reject God’s testimony about Jesus Christ.[3]


Divine and Human Testimony (vv. 9–10)

John has outlined the nature of the testimony of God the Father to Jesus and is about to go on to summarize that testimony in order to provide a proper ending to the letter. But before he goes on, he pauses to show why the divine testimony should be believed. There are two reasons: First, it is greater than human testimony, which all people accept, at least at times; and second, willful unbelief is sin.

Verse 8 has introduced one important legal maxim into John’s argument: the principle that a point of fact is to be established by the agreeing testimony of two or three witnesses. Here he introduces another: the principle of character in a witness. This is obviously an important principle in any system of law, but it was particularly important in Judaism where it took the form of a listing of those who were by reason of their professions or questionable actions unqualified to bear testimony. In this list are found thieves, shepherds (because they seem to have let their sheep graze on other people’s land), violent persons, and everyone suspected of financial dishonesty including tax collectors and customs officials. The talmudic tractate Pesachim 49b contains a passage indicating that the people of the land, the ʿam hāʾāreṣ or common folk, were also excluded.

This principle is illustrated in John 8:14, in which Jesus says, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.” Earlier, on the basis of the principle requiring two or three witnesses, Jesus had said that if he should bear witness to himself, his witness would not be acceptable (John 5:31). But here in John 8 he argues on the basis of the principle of character to say that if the witness of mere men is accepted, if corroborated by others, why should not his testimony be accepted for itself alone in that he is much more than a man? The rabbis rejected the testimony of unreliable men. They accepted the testimony of an upright man when substantiated by that of other upright men. Clearly they should accept the testimony of Jesus, who knows both his origins and his destiny, judges according to the truth and not after the flesh, as his opponents do, and works in perfect unity with God the Father.

This same approach is applied in 1 John 5, as John argues from our willingness to accept human testimony (which we all know is fallible) to our obligation to accept the testimony of God. Men and women accept the witness of other human beings every day of their lives. Otherwise they would not be able to sign a contract, write a check, pay a bill, buy a ticket, ride a bus, or do any of the other thousands of things that constitute daily living. Well, then, says John, why should they not believe God, whose word alone is absolutely trustworthy?

If a person does believe God, he has an internal assurance that what he has believed is trustworthy. This is the work of God’s Spirit, the testimonium internum Spiritus Sancti, as the Reformers termed it. It is in addition to the assurance provided on other grounds. On the other hand, if a person does not believe God, he makes him out to be a liar; for in this way he eloquently testifies to his belief that God cannot be trusted. Here the heinous nature of unbelief is evident, for, as Stott writes, “Unbelief is not a misfortune to be pitied; it is a sin to be deplored. Its sinfulness lies in the fact that it contradicts the word of the one true God and thus attributes falsehood to him.”[4]


10 This verse summarizes John’s remarks on water and blood in a test that demonstrates whether one has the true witness that proceeds from God. If anyone believes in the Son of God, then that person “has the witness within herself” (NIV, “has this testimony in his heart”). Negatively, one may also conclude that if someone does not believe God (i.e., does not accept God’s witness about the Son), then that person “has made [God] out to be a liar.” The similarity of the latter conclusion to 2:4 suggests that those who do not accept the Spirit’s witness about Jesus show that they are members of the world, just like those who deny that they have sinned. Since the Spirit, water, and blood represent a unified testimony, God’s testimony about Jesus is not distinct from John’s testimony, especially since the Spirit is the source of John’s testimony (4:6). To “believe in the Son of God,” then, means to accept John’s word that the human Jesus was God incarnate.

What does it mean for the believer to “have this testimony in his heart”? Many commentators conclude that John is speaking of an inner experience that comes from the Spirit. Those who take this position understand the “testimony” to be “an inward work of the Spirit in the believer which confirms outward kinds of experience. If a person believes in the Son of God, he experiences or develops an inner conviction that what he believes is verified in practice” (Grayston, 140). Barker, 352, believes that the “testimony” is “faith itself” and a subsequent “forgiveness of sins and inward establishment of the love of God,” both of which are gifts given by the Spirit in the move from “believing” to “receiving” (cf. Stott, 82). While this view is reasonable, it seems to suggest that John’s witness about Jesus requires a special work of God to become credible—the very point John has attempted to refute in vv. 7–9 by stressing the harmony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Other commentators have sought to explain v. 10 in more natural terms. Marshall, 241, argues that this verse simply indicates that “to believe in the Son of God is to accept and keep God’s testimony,” while rejecting the Son means rejecting God as a liar. “It is inconsistent to profess belief in God, as John’s opponents did, and yet to disbelieve what God has said.” This reading limits God’s “testimony” to the inspired, prophetic preaching of the church, which preserved and propagated the true witness about Jesus.

As a third possibility, v. 10 may have both the natural and supernatural dimensions of faith in mind. Perhaps John does not distinguish these aspects of faith to the degree that they are distinguished in modern Christian theology. The most immediate parallel to the thought of v. 10 appears in 2:20–21, 27. The “testimony of God” here seems equivalent to the “anointing” mentioned in that passage, and both terms probably refer primarily to the orthodox belief in Jesus’ literal, sacrificial death (see comment at 2:20–21). At the same time, John’s dualism complicates the process by which this testimony may be accepted. Dodd, 131–33, points out that 1 John 5:6–12 closely parallels John 5:19–47, both in its language and in its appeal to the same dualistic framework. In John 5 Jesus discusses the value of different types of “testimony” about himself, including John the Baptist’s witness, the Scriptures, and the power God has given him to do signs. The Jews cannot accept this overwhelming evidence, however, because God’s word does not “dwell in you” (5:38). It would therefore be against their nature to believe in Jesus, no matter how strong the testimony. Similarly, although John’s Christology is supported both by God’s actions in the life of Jesus and by the Spirit’s continuing testimony in the church’s prophecy, the Antichrists cannot believe because God’s word is not in them. They therefore must belong to the same category as the Jews and the world. Those who do accept John’s witness, on the other hand, automatically demonstrate that they have God’s testimony in themselves, i.e., that they are in the same category as God (see Jn 6:44; 10:3–4). This would suggest that the initial act of faith, crossing over from the sphere of darkness to the sphere of light, is based on obvious public facts but also has a supernatural dimension. Unfortunately, John does not describe the mechanisms of this transformation as carefully as modern theologians might wish.[5]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2324). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 356–357). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Boice, J. M. (2004). The Epistles of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 134–135). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 495–496). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 11 – COMPROMISE IS COSTLY

I pray…that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.

John 17:15

Christianity today is so entangled with this present world that millions never guess how radically they have missed the New Testament pattern.

Compromise is everywhere—but actually no real union between the world and the Church is possible. When the Church joins up with the world, it is the true Church no longer but only a pitiful hybrid thing, an object of smiling contempt to the world, and an abomination to the Lord!

Nothing could be clearer than the pronouncements of the Scriptures on the Christian’s relation to the world. The confusion which gathers around this matter results from the unwillingness of professing Christians to take the Word of the Lord seriously.

This whole thing is spiritual in its essence. A Christian is what he is not by ecclesiastical manipulation but by the new birth. He is a Christian because of a Spirit which dwells in him. Only that which is born by the Spirit is spirit, no matter how many church dignitaries work on it!

Lord, I pray that the leaders in my church will stand firmly on biblical principles when faced with social and political issues of moral importance.[1]


17:15 The Lord did not pray that the Father should take believers home to heaven immediately. They must be left here to grow in grace and to witness for Christ. But Christ’s prayer was that they might be kept from the evil one. Not escape, but preservation.[2]


15. I do not make request that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one.

For the verb to make request see on 11:22. On the surface, one might have expected that the mention of the intense hatred which the disciples would have to endure from the side of the world would have been followed by a request that the Father remove them from the world. Yet, Jesus refuses to make this request. The reason is that the disciples have a task to perform. The nature of that task is not clearly indicated here, not even in verse 18, unless we take that passage in connection with all that precedes it. It was, however, clearly indicated in 15:27: “And you must also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning” (see on that verse). Naturally, therefore, Jesus cannot now pray that the witnesses be removed!

What he does request is this, that the Father keep the disciples from the evil one, or from evil. Both translations are possible. We prefer the former, for the following reasons:

(1) Again and again, during this night, Jesus has spoken about Satan, the prince of this world (12:31; 13:27; 14:30; 16:11): that he would be cast out; that he had entered into Judas; that he was on his way; and that he had been judged. Judas had fallen a prey to the evil one. Why, then, is it unreasonable to suppose that Jesus would pray that the others might be protected against the wiles of Satan?

(2) 1 John 5:18 is, to a certain extent, a parallel passage. Here the keeping has as its result, that the evil one does not touch the man who is born of God.

(3) It is almost impossible to suppose that Jesus, in speaking of keeping his (and the Father’s) own, was not thinking of the allegory of the shepherd watching over and guarding his sheep. Hence, 10:29 (“and no one is able to snatch it out of the hand of the Father”) occurs to the mind immediately. Now the enemy referred to in 10:29 is definitely personal; it is not just evil in general, but Satan, the false prophet, the persecutor, etc. Hence, also here in 17:15 we think of the evil one, Satan.

(4) The fact that back of all sinister influences stands Satan himself, so that it is especially against him that the believer needs protection is the prevailing New Testament view (both in the teaching of Jesus and in that of the apostles); see in addition to the passages listed under (1) and (2) above, also: Matt. 4:1; 13:19, 38, 39; John 8:44; 13:2; Acts 5:3; 2 Cor. 12:7; Eph. 2:2; 4:27; 6:11, 12; 1 Thess. 2:18; Jas. 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8; Rev. 12:3; 20:2.[3]


15 In the OT we find that Moses, Elijah, and Jonah all prayed that they might die (Nu 11:15; 1 Ki 19:4; Jnh 4:3, 8)—better to be taken “out of the world,” so they thought, than to suffer any longer for what appears to be a lost cause. But God does not remove his servants from the world; it is the specific arena of their ministry. The message of redemption serves no purpose apart from those who need to hear it. It is less important that we “hear the old, old story” yet again than it is that we share it with those who have never heard. While a hostile world may not be the most receptive audience, they are the ones who need to hear the message.

Jesus prays that his disciples be protected “from the evil one.” Tou ponērou (GK 4505) could be taken as neuter and translated “evil” (so KJV), but it is better to take it as masculine and translate “the evil one” (cf. 1 Jn 2:13; 3:12; 5:18). To be protected ek (“out of”) the evil one assumes that believers are in danger of falling into the grasp of Satan. One of contemporary Christianity’s most serious failings is that it seems to proceed oblivious to Satan’s opposition to God’s work in the world. While believers regularly recite the Lord’s Prayer with its petition to “deliver us from the evil one” (Mt 6:13), life seems to go on as though all such phrases are just nostalgic reminders of an earlier period in which people believed in demonic beings.[4]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1557). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 2, p. 360). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 604). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 11 – NO ACCIDENTS WITH GOD

Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.

—Job 12:9-10

You may say, “God means well, and He has power and authority, but some unforeseen circumstance may derail His plans.” But for God there are no unforeseen circumstances! When you start out on a walk down the block, a black cat may run in front of you; a policeman may call you aside; you may drop dead; a car may run up on the sidewalk and break your leg. You never can tell. Unforeseen circumstances are everywhere around you and me—but the Sovereign God knows nothing about unforeseen circumstances. He has seen the end from the beginning…. So there can be no unforeseen circumstances.

There are also no accidents in God’s eyes, because God’s wisdom prevents an accident. You may be driving down the highway at forty miles an hour. A tire blows and you turn over in the ditch. Somebody didn’t make that tire quite right and it didn’t hang together…. But God Almighty’s wisdom never has a blowout. God Almighty knows what He’s doing; He’s utterly wise and there can be no accident. AOGII159-160

Because with You there are no unforeseen circumstances, Lord, I’ll leave my prayer time in complete peace. Because with You there are no accidents, I’ll meet this day with bold confidence. Amen. [1]


12:7–12 Even the world of nature—the beasts and the birds and the fish—shows God’s arbitrariness in destroying some and protecting others. If Job’s critics tested words as carefully as they tasted food, they would agree with the ancients, who uniformly agreed with what Job had said.[2]


12:7–10 All these elements (animals, birds, earth, and fish) of creation are called as illustrations that the violent prosper and live securely (v. 6). God made it so that the more vicious survive.[3]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 523). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Job 12:7–10). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

JUNE 10 – SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY: THE WORD AND THE TESTIMONY

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies….

2 PETER 2:1

Whatever it may be in our Christian experience that originates outside the Scriptures should, for that very reason, be suspect until it can be shown to be in accord with them.

If it should be found to be contrary to the Word of revealed truth no true Christian will accept it as being from God. However high the emotional content, no experience can be proved to be genuine unless we can find chapter and verse authority for it in the Scriptures. “To the word and to the testimony” must always be the last and final proof.

Whatever is new or singular should also be viewed with caution until it can furnish scriptural proof of its validity. Throughout the twentieth century quite a number of unscriptural notions have gained acceptance among Christians by claiming that they were among truths that were to be revealed in the last days.

The truth is that the Bible does not teach that there will be new light and advanced spiritual experiences in the latter days; it teaches the exact opposite! Nothing in Daniel or the New Testament epistles can be tortured into advocating the idea that we of the end of the Christian era shall enjoy light that was not known at its beginning.

Beware of any man who claims to be wiser than the apostles or holier than the martyrs of the Early Church. The best way to deal with him is to rise and leave his presence![1]


2:1 At the close of chapter 1 Peter referred to the prophets of the OT as men who spoke, not by their own will, but as moved by the Holy Spirit. Now he mentions that in addition to the true prophets in the OT period, there were also false prophets. And just as there will be bona fide teachers in the Christian era, there will be false teachers as well.

These false teachers take their place inside the church. They pose as ministers of the gospel. This is what makes the peril so great. If they came right out and said they were atheists or agnostics, people would be on guard. But they are masters of deception. They carry the Bible and use orthodox expressions—though using them to mean something entirely different. The president of a liberal theological seminary acknowledged the strategy as follows:

Churches often change convictions without formally renouncing views to which they were previously committed, and their theologians usually find ways of preserving continuity with the past through re-interpretations.

W. A. Criswell describes the false teacher as follows:

… a suave, affable, personable, scholarly man who claims to be the friend of Christ. He preaches in the pulpit, he writes learned books, he publishes articles in the religious magazines. He attacks Christianity from within. He makes the church and the school a lodging place for every unclean and hateful bird. He leavens the meal with the doctrine of the Sadducees.

Where are these false teachers found? To mention perhaps the most obvious places, they are found in:

Liberal and Neo-Orthodox Protestantism

Liberal Roman Catholicism

Unitarianism and Universalism

Russellism (Jehovah’s Witnesses)

Mormonism

Christian Science

Unity School of Christianity

Christadelphianism

Armstrongism (The “Radio Church of God”)

While professing to be ministers of righteousness, they secretly bring in soul-destroying heresies alongside true Bible doctrine. It is a deliberately deceptive mixture of the false and the true. Primarily, they peddle a system of denials. Here are some of the denials which can be found among certain of the groups listed above:

They deny the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, and His death as a Substitute for sinners. They are especially vehement in their denial of the value of His shed blood. They deny His bodily resurrection, eternal punishment, salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the reality of miracles in the Bible.

Other false teachings common today are:

The Kenosis theory—the heresy that Christ emptied Himself of the attributes of deity. This means that He could sin, make mistakes, etc.

The “God is dead” fantasy, evolution, universal salvation, purgatory, prayers for the dead, etc.

The ultimate sin of false teachers is that they even deny the Master who bought them. While they may say nice things about Jesus, refer to His “divinity,” His lofty ethics, His superb example, they fail to confess Him as God and as unique Savior.

Nels Ferré wrote, “Jesus never was or became God … To call Jesus God is to substitute an idol for Incarnation.”

Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy agreed:

I am frank to confess that the statement (that Christ is God) does not please me and it seems far from satisfactory. I would much prefer to have it say that God was in Christ, for I believe that the testimony of the New Testament taken as a whole is against the doctrine of the deity of Jesus, although I think it bears overwhelming witness to the divinity of Jesus.

In this and in many other ways, false teachers deny the Lord who bought them. Here we should pause to remind ourselves that while these false teachers to whom Peter refers had been bought by the Lord, they had never been redeemed. The NT distinguishes between purchase and redemption. All are purchased but not all are redeemed. Redemption applies only to those who receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, availing themselves of the value of His shed blood (1 Pet. 1:18, 19).

In Matthew 13:44 the Lord Jesus is pictured as a man who sold all He had to buy a field. In verse 38 of that same chapter, the field is distinctly said to be the world. So by His death on the cross, the Lord bought the world and all who are in it. But He did not redeem the whole world. While His work was sufficient for the redemption of all mankind, it is only effective for those who repent, believe, and accept Him.

The fact that these false teachers were never truly born again is indicated by their destiny. They bring on themselves swift destruction. Their doom is eternal punishment in the lake of fire.[2]


Destructive Heresies

2:1

The topic Peter discusses in this chapter appears to be opposite from the theme he develops in the previous chapter. In chapter 1, Peter hints at the pernicious influence of false teachers when he assures the readers that the apostles had not followed “cleverly invented stories” (v. 16). He implies that these stories, perpetrated by teachers who opposed Christ, were circulating within the broader Christian community.

When we consider the false teachings that the early church faced, we can understand Peter’s desire to encourage the believers to be strong in their spiritual lives. Peter provides all the necessary ammunition for the Christians so that they may successfully oppose the false teachers and defeat their purposes. He alerts the Christians to the war they must fight and equips them with spiritual armor to resist and dispel the anti-Christian forces.

For Peter, the time has come to depict these enemies of Jesus Christ. In the first three verses of this chapter he portrays the objectives of these false teachers (v. 1), shows the intended result of their activities (vv. 2–3a), and mentions their impending condemnation and destruction (v. 3b).

1a. But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.

Peter marks the contrast between chapters 1 and 2 with the word but. He introduces a new subject that is familiar to anyone who knows the history of Israel. By mentioning the term false prophets, Peter is able to call to mind the spiritual struggle in which Israel was engaged in earlier years. While true prophets conveyed God’s Word to the people of Israel (see 1:19), false prophets introduced their own inventions. Here are a few instances in which God reveals his opposition to false prophets:

  1. He instructs the people of Israel to put to death a prophet who preaches rebellion against the Lord God (Deut. 13:5; also see 18:20).
  2. He compares the false prophets to Sodom because they “commit adultery and live a lie” (Jer. 23:14; also see 6:13).
  3. Among the people upon whom God pours out his wrath are the prophets who utter “false visions and lying divinations” (Ezek. 22:28).

These prophets were false for two reasons: because of their message and their claim to the prophetic office. God condemned them for the lie they taught and lived. Furthermore, they were residing among God’s people with the purpose of leading them astray.

Just as there were false prophets in Israel, Peter writes, so “there will be false teachers among you.” Notice that he uses the future tense to warn the people about the coming of false teachers. He is aware of their presence and knows that others will come. He is saying that the believers in the Christian era can expect just as many false teachers as God’s people encountered in Old Testament times. Peter repeats the warning Jesus gave in the discourse on the signs of the time: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matt. 24:4–5). This is an apostolic warning; Paul, John, and Jude also utter this same warning.

1b. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

Mark the following questions:

  1. What is the objective of these teachers? Peter uncovers their practices and motives when he reveals that these false teachers “will secretly introduce destructive heresies.” Furtively and unlawfully, they enter the Christian community to disseminate their heresies. In the parallel account, Jude has virtually the same wording: “Certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you” (v. 4).
  2. What are heresies? The word heresies derives from the Greek verb which signifies to take something for one’s self, to choose, or to prefer. It refers to a chosen course of thought or action that an individual takes or that a group of people adopts as an article of faith or way of life. The inevitable result is the act of separation which gives the term heresy an unfavorable connotation. Thus, the Pharisees separated themselves from the Jewish people, and the Christians were known as a sect (Acts 24:5, 14; 28:22). In the early church, Paul instructs Titus to “warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him” (Titus 3:10; and see Matt. 18:15–17; 2 John 10).
  3. What is the result? Peter leaves no doubt that he uses the term heresy in a negative sense, for he says that false teachers “will secretly introduce destructive heresies.” The literal reading is, “heresies of [for] destruction.” The false teachers, then, slyly entered the Christian community with doctrines designed to destroy the spiritual and moral lives of the Christians. The term destruction occurs twice in the last part of this verse. Peter writes that these teachers, because of their anti-Christian activities, bring “swift destruction on themselves.” By furtively entering the church for the purpose of destroying its members with false doctrines, these teachers destroy themselves. Indeed, they are on a suicidal mission.
  4. Were the false teachers former members of the church? The answer to the question must be affirmative. Peter writes that these teachers are “even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.” Note that Peter emphatically adds the word even. In addition to subverting the believers, these teachers continue to say that they have nothing to do with the sovereign Lord, who bought them. The expression sovereign Lord applies equally to God (Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; Rev. 6:10) and Christ (Jude 4). To Jesus has been given all authority and power in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). In the Greek, the word is despotēs, from which we have the derivative despot. It is closely connected with the verb to buy. In the New Testament, this Greek verb occurs twenty-five times in a commercial setting, “but on five other occasions it describes the ‘buying’ of Christians. This clearly reflects the contemporary terminology of the slave-market” (see 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; 2 Peter 2:1; Rev. 5:9; 14:3 [redeemed]). With his blood Christ has bought his people that they may do his will. But these false teachers who refuse to obey him demonstrate the height of insolence toward the sovereign Lord.

Just as a master has bought slaves from whom he expects obedience, so Jesus as sovereign Lord has bought his servants and demands obedience. But instead of obeying Jesus, these servants continue to reject him (compare Heb. 10:29). They are “apostate Christians who have disowned their Master.” In due time, therefore, Jesus will swiftly destroy them.[3]


Their Sphere

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, (2:1a)

Having just discussed the sure word of truth (1:19–21), Peter now shifts his focus to the deceptive words of false prophets (chapter 2). The coordinate conjunction but marks this contrasting transition. Through genuine prophets, God has spoken the truth to His people, but, through false prophets, Satan has always tried to obscure or contaminate God’s message. As servants of the Deceiver, false prophets propagate lies and falsehood in their systematic attack on the truth.

Throughout history, these spiritual mercenaries have always plagued God’s flock. Even in Old Testament times they arose among the people of Israel, spreading their deceptions and causing devastation (1 Kings 22:1–28; Jer. 5:30–31; 6:13–15; 23:14–16, 21, 25–27; 28:1–17; Ezek. 13:1–7, 15–19). That Old Testament Israel is in view here is evidenced both by Peter’s terminology (cf. Matt. 2:4; Luke 22:66; Acts 7:17; 13:17; 26:17, 23, where similar usages of the people clearly refer to the Jewish people) and his Old Testament illustrations (Noah—2:5; Sodom and Gomorrah—2:6; Lot—2:7; and Balaam—2:15).

Even during Jesus’ ministry, false prophets were still a serious problem for the Jewish people (Matt. 7:15–20). For that matter, the entire religious establishment was corrupt, with the Pharisees providing the quintessential example of false religion. Here is Christ’s indictment of those spiritual pretenders:

But the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places. Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.” One of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.” But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs. For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.’ Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:39–52; cf. 12:1; Matt. 23:13–36; Mark 12:38–40)

Just as he knew false prophets had assaulted Israel, Peter understood that there will also be false teachers among the church. Years before, Jesus had predicted that in the last days the church would have to endure a variety of false teachers: “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many” (Matt. 24:4–5; cf. vv. 11, 24).

In a similar vein, Paul warned Timothy:

Preach the word.… For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim. 4:2–4; cf. Acts 15:24; 20:29–30; Rom. 16:17–18; Gal. 1:6–9; 1 Tim. 4:1–3; 2 Tim. 3:1–9; Jude 4, 12–13)

False teachers arise when the church begins to embrace the worldly culture around it. As a result, congregations no longer desire to “endure [hold to] sound [healthy] doctrine.” God-centered worship and preaching is replaced by man-centered antics and entertainment. A biblical emphasis on sin, repentance, and holiness is replaced by an emphasis on self-esteem and felt needs. People look for teachers who proclaim only pleasant, positive ideas “in accordance to their own desires” because they want “to have their ears tickled.” As a result, these popular teachers (whom “they will accumulate for themselves”) will “turn” the minds of the people from the truth, leaving them vulnerable to Satan’s deceptive influence.

The warning from Scripture is clear: false teachers will arise in the church. In fact, the church is one of Satan’s primary spheres of operation. For that reason, the true shepherd must continually be on guard—constantly studying, proclaiming, and defending the truth, “so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9b).

Their Secrecy

who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, (2:1b)

False teachers are never honest and straightforward about their operations. After all, the church would never embrace them if their schemes were unmasked. Instead, they secretly and deceptively enter the church, posing as pastors, teachers, and evangelists. That is why Jude describes them as “certain persons [who] have crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4). The verb “to creep in” (pareisduō) means to “slip in without being seen,” or “to sneak in under false pretenses.” The term refers to a clever defendant attempting to fool a judge, or a criminal secretly returning to a place from which he was banished.

Posing as true shepherds, false teachers introduce destructive heresies (or literally, “heresies of destruction”). Destructive (apōleias) means “utter ruin” and speaks of the final and eternal condemnation of the wicked. In this context, the term indicates that the antics of these men have disastrous eternal consequences, both for them and their followers. That this Greek word has the sense of damnation can be seen by its use to describe those who go through the wide gate in Matthew 7:13, its use to describe the fate of Judas in John 17:12, its application to unbelievers’ doom in Romans 9:22, its use to describe the judgment of the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and its use by Peter in 3:7 of this letter to describe the destruction of the ungodly. Peter marked those heresies as contrary to the gospel—they damn rather than save.

The term heresies (haireseis) denotes “an opinion, especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects” (W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 4 vols. [London: Oliphants, 1940; reprint, Chicago: Moody, 1985], 2:203). By using this word, Peter indicated that those false teachers had exchanged the truth of God’s Word for their own self-styled opinions. As a result, they distorted the truth to their own ends, convincing the gullible to believe their lies. Their teaching, then, was nothing more than a religious counterfeit—a pseudo-Christian knockoff. While haireseis can simply refer to a sect or division (Acts 24:14; cf. 5:17; 15:5; 24:5; 26:5; 28:22; 1 Cor. 11:19), here it refers to the worst kind of deviation and deception—teaching that claims to be biblical but is actually the very opposite.

False teachers do not always openly oppose the gospel. Some claim to believe it, to have the true interpretation of it; but in truth they misrepresent it, or offer a shallow, inadequate message that cannot save. Because their teaching is as lethal as it is subtle, the self-styled opinions of false teachers can damn the souls of unsuspecting, professed believers (cf. Matt. 13:20–22, 36–42, 47–50). Unless they repent, believe the truth, and turn to Christ, those who embrace these heretical doctrines will be eternally lost.

Their Sacrilege

even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2:1c)

The conjunction even underscores the unthinkable magnitude of the false teachers’ arrogance—a pride that evidenced itself by denying the Master. Denying is a strong term meaning “to refuse,” “to be unwilling,” or “to firmly say no.” The same verb appears in Hebrews 11:24 to describe Moses’ refusal to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Here in this passage, Peter used the present tense participle (arnoumenoi) to denote a habitual pattern of refusal, indicating that false teachers characteristically reject divine authority (cf. Jude 8).

Master (despotēs, from which the English despot derives) means “sovereign,” “ruler,” or “lord.” The word appears ten times in the New Testament and always refers to one who has supreme authority. In four occurrences (1 Tim. 6:1, 2; Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18) it refers to the master of a household or estate, who has full authority over all the servants. Here and in the other five occurrences (Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; 2 Tim. 2:21; Jude 4; Rev. 6:10) it directly refers to Christ or God.

Thus for Peter the supreme sacrilege of false teachers is that they deny the sovereign lordship of Jesus Christ. Granted, they may not outwardly deny Christ’s deity, atonement, resurrection, or second coming. But internally, they adamantly refuse to submit their lives to His sovereign rule (Prov. 19:3; cf. Ex. 5:2; Neh. 9:17). As a result, their immoral and rebellious lifestyles will inevitably give them away.

The phrase who bought them fits Peter’s analogy perfectly. He is alluding to the master of a house who would purchase slaves and put them in charge of various household tasks. Because they were now regarded as the master’s personal property, they owed their complete allegiance to him. While false teachers maintain that they are part of Christ’s household, they deny such professions through their actions—refusing to become servants under His authority. Bought (agorazō) means “to purchase,” or “to redeem out of the marketplace,” and in this context is parallel to Deuteronomy 32:5–6 (cf. Zeph. 1:4–6). The false teachers of Peter’s day claimed Christ as their Redeemer, yet they refused to accept His sovereign lordship, thus revealing their true character as unregenerate enemies of biblical truth.

Many take this statement the Master who bought them to mean that Christ actually has purchased redemption in full for all people, even for false teachers. It is commonly thought that Christ died to pay in full the penalty for everyone’s sins, whether they ever believe or not. The popular notion is that God loves everyone, wants everyone saved, so Christ died for everyone.

This means His death was a potential sacrifice or atonement that becomes an actual atonement when a sinner repents and believes the gospel. Evangelism, according to this view, is convincing sinners to receive what has already been done for them. All can believe and be saved if they will, since no one is excluded in the atonement.

This viewpoint, if taken to its logical conclusion, has hell full of people whose salvation was purchased by Christ on the cross. Therefore the lake of fire is filled with those damned people whose sin Christ fully atoned for by bearing their punishment under God’s wrath.

Heaven will be populated by people who had the same atonement provided for them, but they are there because they received it. Christ, in this view, died on the cross for the damned in hell the same as He did for the redeemed in heaven. The only difference between the redeemed’s fate and that of the damned is the sinner’s choice.

This perspective says that the Lord Jesus Christ died to make salvation possible, not actual. He did not absolutely purchase salvation for anyone. He only removed a barrier for everyone, which merely makes salvation potential. The sinner ultimately determines the nature of the atonement and its application by what he does. According to this perspective, when Jesus cried, “It is finished,” it really should be rendered, “It is stated.”

Of course, the preceding interpretational difficulties and fallacies arising from this view stem from the misunderstanding of two very important biblical teachings: the doctrine of absolute inability (often called total depravity) and the doctrine of the atonement itself.

Rightly understood, the doctrine of absolute inability says that all people are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), alienated from the life of God (Rom. 1:21–22), doing only evil from terminally deceitful hearts (cf. Jer. 17:9), incapable of understanding the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14), blinded by love of sin, further blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), desiring only the will of their father the devil, unable to seek God, and unwilling to repent (cf. Rom. 3:10–23). So how is the sinner going to make the right choice to activate the atonement on his behalf?

Clearly, salvation is solely from God (cf. Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9)—He must give light, life, sight, understanding, repentance, and faith (John 1:12–13; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 2:8–9). Salvation comes to the sinner from God, by His will and power. Since that is true, and based on the doctrine of sovereign election (1 Peter 1:1–3; 2 Peter 1:3; cf. Rom. 8:26–30; 9:14–22; Eph. 1:3–6), God determined the extent of the atonement.

For whom did Christ die? He died for all who would believe because they were chosen, called, justified, and granted repentance and faith by the Father. The atonement is limited to those who believe, who are the elect of God. Any believer who does not believe in universal salvation knows Christ’s atonement is limited (cf. Matt. 7:13; 8:12; 10:28; 22:13; 25:46; Mark 9:43, 49; John 3:17–18; 8:24; 2 Thess. 1:7–9). Anyone who rejects the notion that the whole human race will be saved believes necessarily in a limited atonement—either limited by the sinner who is sovereign, or by God who is sovereign.

One should forget the idea of an unlimited atonement. If he asserts that sinners have the power to limit its application, then the atonement by its nature is limited in actual power and effectiveness. With that understanding, it is less than a real atonement and is, in fact, merely potential and restricted by the volitions of fallen human beings. But in truth, only God can set the atonement’s limits, which extend to every believing sinner without distinction.

Adherents to the unlimited view must affirm that Christ actually atoned for no one in particular but potentially for everyone without exception. Whatever He did on the cross was not a full and complete payment for sin, because sinners for whom He died are still damned. Hell is full of people whose sins were paid for by Christ—sin paid for, yet punished forever.

Of course, such thinking is completely unacceptable. God limits the atonement to the elect, for whom it was not a potential but an actual and real satisfaction for sin. God provided the sacrifice in His Son, which actually paid for the sins of all who would ever believe, the ones chosen by Him for salvation (cf. Matt. 1:21; John 10:11, 27–28; Eph. 5:25–26).

Charles Spurgeon once gave a pointedly accurate and convincing perspective on the argument about the extent of the atonement:

We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it; we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question—Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer, “No.” They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, “No, Christ has died that any man may be saved if”—and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as infallibly to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.” We say that Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it. (Cited by J. I. Packer, “Introductory Essay,” in John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ [n.p., n.d.; reprint, London: Banner of Truth, 1959], 14.)

Contemporary writer David Clotfelter adds these observations:

From the Calvinist point of view, it is Arminianism that presents logical impossibilities. Arminianism tells us that Jesus died for multitudes that will never be saved, including millions who never so much as heard of Him. It tells us that in the case of those who are lost, the death of Jesus, represented in Scripture as an act whereby He took upon Himself the punishment that should have been ours (Isa. 53:5), was ineffective. Christ has suffered once for their sins, but they will now have to suffer for those same sins in hell.

The Arminian atonement has the initial appearance of being very generous, but the more closely we look at it, the less we are impressed. Does it guarantee the salvation of any person? No. Does it guarantee that those for whom Christ died will have the opportunity to hear of Him and respond to Him? No. Does it in any way remove or even lessen the sufferings of the lost? No. In reality, the Arminian atonement does not atone. It merely clears the way for God to accept those who are able to lift themselves by their own bootstraps. The Calvinist does not believe that any fallen person has such power, and so he views the Arminian atonement as unsuited to the salvation of sinners and insulting to Christ. (Sinners in the Hands of a Good God [Chicago: Moody, 2004], 165; emphasis in original)

Therefore, false teachers’ sins were not paid for in the atonement of Christ.

Contrary to what some Christians believe today, people who reject Christ’s lordship are not merely to be designated as second-class Christians (as believers but not disciples). Instead, those who reject Christ’s sovereign lordship will face swift destruction if they do not repent from such rebellion (cf. Heb. 10:25–31). Swift (tachinos) means “quick,” or “imminent,” and destruction (apōleia) refers to perdition or eternal damnation in hell (cf. Matt. 7:13; John 17:12; 2 Thess. 2:3). This horrible fate, coming either at death or at Christ’s return (John 12:48; 2 Thess. 1:7–10) awaits false teachers and all who follow their unrepentant path.[4]


1 In the present argument, the writer does not designate his adversaries as “false prophets”; rather, the term pseudoprophētai (GK 6021) is applied to deceivers who arose “among the people,” i.e., Israel of old. What the text does say is that “there will be false teachers among you.” The verbal tense is important, for it suggests that the Christian community will need to be on guard in the future.

Against the tendency of traditional scholarship to locate 2 Peter in the early or mid-second century, this description fits well in a mid-sixties scenario in the first century. Ethical lapse has visited the church as it seeks to take root in Gentile culture. Such occurs long before the noted (Gnostic) heretical schools of the second century are established. The appearance her of the term haireseis (GK 146), from which we derive the word “heresy,” has further fed the misconception that 2 Peter mirrors a late date—a date in which heresy is already widespread. However, Paul, writing in about the year AD 55, also uses the term in the sense of “factions” or “divisions” (1 Co 11:18). The phrase “destructive heresies” can be understood in the sense that the opinions or teachings of Peter’s opponents lead ultimately to their own ruin (so Bauckham, 239–40).

The slave-market metaphor, also in 2:19, is employed in v. 1: “even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” (cf. Jude 4, where the same language is used of Jude’s opponents). What sort of denial might this be? As with Jude’s adversaries, these people have apparently made a confession of faith at one time and now have departed from the faith. The denial, as Green, 107, observes, is primarily ethical and not intellectual in nature. The slave metaphor, reappearing in 2:19, confirms this suspicion.[5]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2294–2295). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 280–282). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2005). 2 Peter and Jude (pp. 69–76). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[5] Charles, D. J. (2006). 2 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 396–397). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 10 – FALSE PRETENDERS

When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Matthew 19:22

All persons who are alienated from God and outside of Christ are part and parcel of a mighty deception!

They are called upon to pretend that they can have peace of mind within and that they can be relatively happy and make a big success of their human lives if they have youth and wealth and morality and high position.

In that sense of what is going on all around us, David never had to apologize for writing that “every man is a liar!” (see Psalm 116:11). The whole human concept of success and happiness and inner peace, based upon who we are and what we have, is completely false.

The rich young ruler who came to question Jesus had wealth, morality, position and youth. But his very first question gave the clue to his own inner emptiness of life: “What good thing should I do, that I may have eternal life?” (see Luke 18:18).

He knew very well that there is not a person alive who has eternal youth or eternal position or eternal righteousness. So, like every other man, he had to make a choice!

Lord, make me sensitive to those within my sphere of influence whose goals for success and happiness are based on a faulty foundation. I pray for these people, Lord, that their eyes may be opened to the truth and that they will fully repent.[1]


22. But when the young man heard this word he went away sorrowful, for he had much property. He was “sorrowful” (cf. 14:9; 17:23; 18:31; 26:22, 37). “His countenance fell” (Mark 10:22; cf. Gen. 4:6). Placed before the choice of either surrendering to Jesus or clinging to his material wealth he chooses the latter.

The demand which Jesus had made on this bewildered man was suited to his particular circumstances and state of mind. The Lord does not ask every rich person—for example Abraham (Gen. 13:2), or Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57)—to do exactly this same thing. There are those opulent individuals who, speaking by and large, are living for themselves. What they contribute to the cause of others is wholly out of proportion to what they keep for themselves. There are other wealthy persons, however, who are willing to go all out in helping others, including even the ungenerous (Gen. 13:7–11; 14:14); and who, motivated by gratitude, are constantly building altars and bringing offerings to God (Gen. 12:8; 13:18; 15:10–12; 22:13).

According to Scripture two men were asked to make a sacrifice. The one was Abraham (Gen. 22:1, 2); the other, the rich young ruler. The sacrifice Abraham was asked to make was by far the most enormous. By means of his willingness to make the sacrifice Abraham proved the genuine character of his faith. He “believed in Jehovah, and he reckoned it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; cf. James 2:21–23). The rich young ruler, though asked to make a much smaller but still considerable sacrifice, refused, thereby proving that he did not have the faith whereby salvation is accepted as God’s free gift. Abraham placed his trust in God; the young man, in his riches. That was the difference. See 1 Tim. 6:17.[2]


The Response to Jesus

The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property. (19:20–22)

The man’s response-“All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”-was probably sincere but it was far from true. Like most of the scribes and Pharisees, he was convinced in his own mind that he had kept all of God’s law. He told Jesus, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up” (Mark 10:20). Because the commandments concerning attitudes toward God were just as familiar to the mart as the one’s Jesus quoted, he obviously thought he had fulfilled those as well. His view of the law was completely superficial, external, and man-oriented. Because he had not committed physical adultery or murder, because he was not a liar or a thief, and because he did not blaspheme the Lord’s name or worship idols, he looked on himself as being virtually perfect in God’s eyes.

By asking, “What am I still lacking?” he implied that there either must have been a commandment of which he had never heard or that something in addition to keeping the law was required to obtain eternal life. It simply did not occur to him that he fell short in obedience to any part of God’s known law. Because his outward, humanly observed life was upright and religious, he never suspected that his inner, divinely observed life was “full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27). He would not admit to himself that lust is a form of adultery that hate is a form of murder, or that swearing by anything in heaven or on earth is a form of taking the Lord’s name in vain (Matt. 5:22, 28, 34–35). And it certainly never occurred to him that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, … has become guilty of all” (James 2:10).

Like most of his Jewish contemporaries, he totally failed to see that the Mosaic commands were not given as means for humanly achieving God’s standard of righteousness but were given as pictures of His righteousness. The law was also given to show men how impossible it is for them to live up to His standards of righteousness in their own power. Obedience to the law is always imperfect because the human heart is imperfect.

One of sin’s greatest curses is the spiritual and moral blindness it produces. It would not seem to require special revelation from God for men to realize that even the commandments concerning their relationship to other men are impossible to keep perfectly. What truly honest person would claim he has never told a single falsehood of any sort, never coveted anything that belongs to someone else, and always treated his parents with respect and honor-much less that he had always loved his neighbors as much as he loved himself? But one of Satan’s chief strategies is to blind sinners to their sin; and because pride is at the heart of all sin, there is a natural inclination toward self-deceit. And nothing is more effective in producing self-deceit than works righteousness, which is the basis of every man-made religion, including the God-given but humanly corrupted religion of first-century Judaism.

The young ruler was aware of what he did not have and needed to receive, namely eternal life. But he was not willing to admit what he did have and needed to be rid of, namely sin. He had too much spiritual pride to acknowledge that he was sinful by nature and that his whole life fell short of God’s holiness and was an offense to Him. His desire for eternal life was centered entirely in his own felt needs and longings.

He had no hatred for sins that needed forgiving and no admission of a heart that needed cleansing. He was therefore not looking for what God needed to do for him but for what he still needed to do for God. Like most Jews of his day, and like most people in all times and cultures, he believed his destiny was in his own hands and that if his lot were to improve it would have to be by his own efforts. All he wanted from Jesus was another commandment, another formula, another rite or ceremony by which he could complete his religious obligations and make himself acceptable to God.

But salvation is for people who despair of their own efforts, who realize that, in themselves and by themselves, they are hopelessly sinful and incapable of improving. Salvation is for those who see themselves as living violations of His holiness and who confess and turn from their sin and throw themselves on God’s mercy. It is for those who recognize they have absolutely nothing good to give God, that anything good they receive or accomplish can be only by His sovereign, gracious provision in Jesus Christ.

Paul spends three full chapters of Romans declaring the sinfulness of man before he ever discusses the way of salvation. John 1:17 declares, “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” Law always precedes grace; it is the tutor that leads to Christ (Gal. 3:24).

Jesus took the focus off the young man’s felt religious and psychological needs and placed it on God. He tried to show the man that the real problem in his life was not his feeling of emptiness and incompleteness, legitimate and important as those feelings were. His great problem, from which those felt needs arose, was his separation from God and his total inability to reconcile himself with God. Scripture says, “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11 KJV). In himself this man not only fell far short of God’s righteous standards but was, in fact, an enemy of God and under His wrath (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:3). And God will not save those who try to come to Him harboring sin.

Evangelism or personal witnessing that does not confront people with their utter sinfulness and helplessness is not faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ, no matter how much His name and His Word may be invoked. A profession of Christ that does not include confession and repentance of sin does not bring salvation, no matter how much pleasant emotion may result. To tell an unbeliever that God has a wonderful plan for his life can be seriously misleading. If the unbeliever turns to Christ and is saved, God does indeed have a wonderful plan for him. But if he does not turn to Christ, God’s only plan for him is damnation. In the same way it is misleading and dangerous to tell an unbeliever only that God loves him, without telling him that, in spite of that love, he is under God’s wrath and sentenced to hell.

God’s grace cannot be faithfully preached to unbelievers until His law is preached and man’s corrupt nature is exposed. It is impossible for a person to fully realize his need for God’s grace until he sees how terribly he has failed the standards of God’s law It is impossible for him to realize his need for mercy until he realizes the magnitude of his guilt. As Samuel Bolton wisely commented, “When you see that men have been wounded by the law, then it is time to pour in the gospel oil.”

Instead of being wounded by the law, however, the rich young ruler was self-satisfied in regard to the law. He diligently sought eternal life, but he sought it on his own terms and in his own power. He would not confess his sin and admit his spiritual poverty. Confession of sin and repentance from sin are utterly essential to salvation. John the Baptist began his ministry preaching repentance (Matt. 3:2), Jesus began His ministry preaching repentance (4:17), and both Peter and Paul began their ministries preaching repentance (Acts 2:38; 26:20). Peter even used repentance as a synonym for salvation when he wrote that “the Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

True conviction, confession, and repentance of sin are as much a work of the Holy Spirit as any other part of salvation (John 6:44; 16:8–9). They are divine works of grace, not pre-salvation works of human effort. But just as receiving Christ as Lord and Savior demands the action of the believer’s will, so do confession and repentance. It is not that an unbeliever must understand everything about confession, repentance, or any other aspect of salvation. A person can genuinely receive Christ as Lord and Savior with very little knowledge about Him and the gospel. But genuine belief is characterized by willingness to do whatever the Lord requires, just as unbelief is characterized by unwillingness to do whatever He requires.

In another attempt to make the self-satisfied young ruler face his true spiritual condition, Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” In this context, complete is used as a synonym for salvation, as it frequently is in the book of Hebrews, where the same basic Greek word is translated “perfect” (see 7:19; 10:1, 14; 12:23). Jesus was saying, “If you truly desire eternal life, prove your sincerity by selling your possessions and giving what you have to the poor.” If he truly lived up to the Mosaic command to love his neighbor as himself, he would be willing to do what Jesus now commanded. His willingness to obey that command would not merit salvation but it would be evidence that he desired salvation above everything else, as a priceless treasure or a pearl of great value for which no sacrifice could be too great (see Matt. 13:44–46).

The ultimate test was whether or not the man was willing to obey the Lord. The real issue Jesus presented was, “Will you do what I ask, no matter what? Who will be Lord in your life, you or Me?” That hit a sensitive nerve. Jesus demands to be Lord, sovereign over all. There was no better way to find out if the man was ready to accept Christ’s sovereignty than to ask him to give up his riches. The Lord challenged his wealth to force him to admit what was most valuable to him-Jesus Christ and eternal life or his money and possessions. The latter was clearly the man’s priority, and therefore for him salvation was forfeited.

The first part of Jesus’ command was quite capable of being obeyed in the man’s own power. But he refused to comply with it, not because he could not but because he would not. He not only failed to keep God’s impossible commands but failed to keep this one that was easily possible, proving conclusively that he really did not want to do God’s perfect will and be spiritually complete.

Mark tells us that as He gave the man that command, “Jesus felt a love for him” (10:21). The Lord must have felt for him as He did for Jerusalem as He looked out over that great city and cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it” (Luke 13:34). Jesus was approaching the time when He would shed His own blood for the sins of the rich young ruler, and for the sins of Jerusalem and of the whole world. But as much as He loved the man and desired for him not to perish, He could not save him while he refused to admit he was lost. The Lord can do nothing with a life that is not surrendered to Him, except to condemn it.

It is possible the man did not even hear Jesus say, “Come, follow Me.” He was so dismayed by the command to sell his possessions and give to the poor that Jesus’ call to discipleship did not register on his conscious mind. His call to discipleship always falls on deaf ears when there is unwillingness to give up everything for Him (see Matt. 8:19–22).

The young man did not want Jesus either as Savior or as Lord. He was not willing to give Him his sins to be forgiven or his life to be ruled. Therefore when he heard Jesus’ statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property. Contrary to his own self-assessment, he did not live up to any of God’s law, but he was especially guilty in the area of materialism. The property he thought he owned really owned him, and he would rather be its servant than Jesus’.

He went away grieved because, although he came to Jesus for eternal life, he left without it. He did not desire it above the possessions of his present life. He wanted to gain salvation, but not as much as he wanted to keep his property.

Zaccheus was also a wealthy man. But when Jesus called him, “he hurried and came down, and received Him gladly.” Spontaneously he volunteered to do essentially what Jesus commanded the rich young ruler to do. “Half of my possessions I will give to the poor,” Zaccheus said, “and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”Jesus then told him, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:5–9). Zaccheus was not saved because of his new-found generosity. Rather his new-found generosity was evidence that he was truly saved. As implied in the next verse, Zaccheus was saved because he confessed he was lost (v. 10).

Although every sin must be forsaken for Christ’s sake, there is often a certain sin or group of sins that a person finds particularly difficult to give up. For that young man it was love of his wealth and the prestige associated with it. Willingness to give up his property would not have saved him, but it would have revealed a heart that under the convicting work of the Holy Spirit was ready for salvation.

When Jesus declared, “No one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33), He was not referring only to material possessions. For some people the supreme obstacle to salvation might be a career, an unsaved boyfriend or girlfriend, or some cherished sin. Many people who are materially destitute are just as far from the kingdom as the rich young ruler. Yet they must be willing to give up whatever they do possess, even if all they have left is pride, if they would be saved.

Salvation involves a commitment to forsake sin and to follow Jesus Christ at all costs. He will take disciples on no other terms. A person who does not “confess with [his] mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in [his] heart that God raised Him from the dead,” cannot be saved, “for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Rom. 10:9–10).[3]


21–22 Many have taken these verses to indicate a two-tier ethic. Some disciples find eternal life, and others go further and become perfect by adopting a more compassionate stance (e.g., Harrington; NIDNTT, 2:63). But G. Barth (“Matthew’s Understanding of the Law,” 95ff.) convincingly disproves this exegesis. In particular the young man’s question in v. 20, “What do I still lack?” clearly refers to gaining eternal life (v. 17), and Jesus’ answer in v. 21 must be understood as answering the question. A two-tier Christianity is implicitly contradicted by 23:8–12, and the same word (“perfect”) is applied to all of Jesus’ disciples in 5:48. Matthew shows no strong tendency toward asceticism. Therefore, the basic thrust of v. 21 is not “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” but “Come, follow me.”

What the word “perfection” suggests here is what it commonly means in the OT—undivided loyalty and full-hearted obedience. This young man could not face that. He was willing to discipline himself to observe all the outward stipulations and even perform supererogatory works, but because of his wealth, he had a divided heart. His money was competing with God, and what Jesus everywhere demands as a condition for eternal life is absolute, radical discipleship. This entails the surrender of self. “Keeping the individual commandments is no substitute for the readiness for self-surrender to the absolute claim of God imposed through the call of the gospel. Jesus’ summons in this context means that true obedience to the Law is rendered ultimately in discipleship” (Lane, Mark, 367). Warren Carter (Households and Discipleship: A Study in Matthew 19–20 [JSNTSup 103; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1994]) has an excellent discussion on how wealth was viewed in the ancient world (pp. 127–43) but badly misses the point when he assumes that this young man’s wealth was gained by oppression (p. 388). There is not a hint of that in the text.

Formally, of course, Jesus’ demand in v. 21 goes beyond anything in OT law (cf. Banks, Jesus and the Law, 163). Equally remarkable is the fact that the focus on God’s will (vv. 17–19) should culminate in following Jesus. The explanation of this is that Jesus is prophesied by the OT. The will of God as revealed in Scripture looks forward to the coming of Messiah (see comments at 2:15; 5:17–20; 11:11–13). Absolute allegiance to him, with the humility of a child, is essential to salvation. The condition Jesus now imposes not only reveals the man’s attachment to money but shows that all his formal compliance with the law is worthless because none of it entails absolute self-surrender. What the man needs is the triumph of grace, for as the next verses show, entering the kingdom of heaven is impossible for him (v. 26). God, with whom all things are possible, must work. The parable in 20:1–16 directly speaks to this issue. But the young man is deaf to it. He leaves because if a choice must be made between money and Jesus, money wins (cf. 6:24).[4]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 726–727). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 19:17–20). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 478–479). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 10 – FREEWILL VERSUS SOVEREIGNTY

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

—Joshua 24:15

The matter of man’s free will versus God’s sovereignty can be explained in this way: God’s sovereignty means that He is in control of everything, that He planned everything from the beginning. Man’s free will means that he can, anytime he wants, make most any choice he pleases (within his human limitations, of course). Man’s free will can apparently defy the purposes of God and will against the will of God. Now how do we resolve this seeming contradiction?…

Here is what I see: God Almighty is sovereign, free to do as He pleases. Among the things He is pleased to do is give me freedom to do what I please. And when I do what I please, I am fulfilling the will of God, not controverting it, for God in His sovereignty has sovereignly given me freedom to make a free choice.

Even if the choice I make is not the one God would have made for me, His sovereignty is fulfilled in my making the choice. And I can make the choice because the great sovereign God, who is completely free, said to me, “In my sovereign freedom I bestow a little bit of freedom on you. Now ‘choose you this day whom ye will serve’ (Joshua 24:15).” AOGII149-150

May I use my free will wisely, Lord, and choose wisely whom I will serve. May I be in complete submission to Your will. Amen. [1]


24:15 The choice here was not between the Lord and idols: Joshua assumed that the people had already decided against serving God. So he challenged them to choose between the gods which their ancestors had served in Mesopotamia and the gods of the Amorites that they had found in Canaan. Joshua’s noble decision for himself and his household has been an inspiration to succeeding generations of believers: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”[2]


14–15 Joshua instructs them to “serve him with all faithfulness [with integrity and truth] … serve the Lord … [and] choose … whom they will serve” (vv. 14–15). The choices are few—Israel will either serve Yahweh or the gods of the nations. Joshua links his discourse with the first portion of the historical prologue. He commands the Israelites to throw away the gods of their forefathers (Terah and Abraham) as well as the gods of the Egyptians. There is no direct textual evidence that Israel brought Mesopotamian and Egyptian gods with them. The “gods of their forefathers” may foreshadow the “gods of the Canaanites” Israel will soon encounter in the land.[3]


24:15 choose … today whom you will serve. Joshua’s fatherly model (reminiscent of Abraham’s, Ge 18:19) was for himself and his family to serve the Lord, not false gods. He called others in Israel to this, and they committed themselves to serve the Lord also (vv. 21, 24).[4]


24:15 choose this day whom you will serve. Joshua has urged the people to serve the Lord alone, and to put away the false gods (v. 14). Now he makes his admonition even sharper: if it is evil in their eyes to serve the Lord (i.e., if they prefer not to be loyal to the one true God, the Lord alone), then they must choose between two different categories of false gods: (1) their ancestral gods from Mesopotamia, or (2) the gods worshiped by the peoples they have dispossessed in Canaan. Joshua exercises leadership by example, committing himself and his household to serving the Lord. The people’s response was to decisively reject false gods and to serve “the Lord our God” (vv. 16–17)—which Israel did “all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua” (v. 31), but which Israel failed to do in subsequent generations, as is tragically evidenced in the book of Judges.

24:15 God must be served with exclusive loyalty (Deut. 5:7), prefiguring the exclusivity of commitment to Christ as the one way of salvation (Matt. 6:24; 10:34–39; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 10:21–22).[5]


24:15 the gods that your ancestors served Shechem was the place at which Jacob had earlier buried the gods that his wives and concubines had brought from Haran (Gen 35:2–4). See Josh 24:14.

the Amorites Here “Amorites” refers generally to the Canaanites. Often refers to the Transjordan region (the territory of Og and Sihon; see vv. 12; Num 21; Deut 2–3).

as for me and my household Joshua and his extended family.[6]


24:15 choose this day whom you will serve. With irony Joshua presents the alternatives that are available if the Israelites reject the Lord. The choice is between the gods Abraham left behind (vv. 2, 3) and the gods of the dispossessed Amorites (vv. 12; 2:10 note).

me and my house. See 6:25; 7:24; Acts 16:15.[7]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 256–257). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Dallaire, H. M. (2012). Joshua. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Numbers–Ruth (Revised Edition) (Vol. 2, p. 1039). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Jos 24:15). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 430). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Jos 24:15). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[7] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (pp. 346–347). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.