Is the Kenotic Heresy a ‘Wondrous Story’?

Is the Kenotic Heresy a ‘Wondrous Story’?

It occurred to me last night that ‘I Will Sing the Wondrous Story’, by Francis Rowley (1886), is explicitly kenotic in its Christology. Particularly in the following phrase appearing in the first verse, “How He left His home in glory for the cross of Calvary…”

What is kenosis? kenosis refers to the “emptying” of the Son regarding His incarnation. As far as it goes, the word is biblical in its verbal form, but it must be understood properly. When theologians refer to “kenotic theory,” however, they typically refer to a variety of erroneous interpretations of Scripture to the effect of the Son’s deity being changed, forfeited, or suspended upon the occasion of His incarnation.

Kenotic theory plays off the Greek term κενόω appearing in Philippians 2:7, “but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” Some translations render it more woodenly, “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (ESV) Kenoticists hold that the emptying here refers to either a conversion from or suspension of the Son’s divine nature at the point of His incarnation. Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, have always understood the kenosis of Philippians 2 as an “emptying” through assumption rather than an emptying or change of the divine nature.

Those who hold to some form of the kenotic theory believe the Son ceased being God to one extent or another at the point of incarnation. Sometimes, this is framed in terms of a partial suspension of divine attributes. In other words, instead of affirming a hypostatic union, where two natures—divine and human—unite in the one Person of the Son, they affirm a hypostatic transformation, where the Person of the Son transforms from divinity into humanity. We ought to affirm hypostatic union rather than hypostatic transformation, for the following reasons—

Why Is the Kenotic Theory Wrong?

First, God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is immutable. Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” If the divine Son converted or transformed from His divinity into His humanity, He would be mutable, changeable, and the doctrine of immutability would have to be denied. Instead, we want to say that the divine Person of the Son assumed another (human) nature. As Philippians 2 puts it, while “being in the form of God,” (v. 5) our Lord nevertheless took “the form of a bondservant.”

Second, this same God is omnipresent, which precludes locomotion, which is movement from one place to another. There is no place where God is not. The Psalmist rhetorically asks, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Ps. 139:7) That God the Son is omnipresent means that He did not have to move from heaven to earth to be on the earth. Rather, His Person was already “here,” being omnipresent. But that He would “condescend” to us, He assumed a nature relatable to our own, that is, He assumed a nature identical to our own, yet without sin. As Athanasius says in his notable work, On the Incarnation:

His body was for Him not a limitation, but an instrument, so that He was both in it and in all things, and outside all things, resting in the Father alone. At one and the same time–this is the wonder–as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father. (St. Athanasius, On The Incarnation (p. 19). Unknown. Kindle Edition. Emphasis added)

Third, the historical doctrine of the incarnation states that the Person of the Son, while remaining fully God, assumed the fullness of a human nature, “without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.” (2LBCF, 8.2) So, the Person of the Son is fully divine while also fully man. Again, Athanasius is helpful, “Not even His birth from a virgin, therefore, changed Him in any way, nor was He defiled by being in the body.”

Conclusion

So, how did the Son “get to the cross”? Not by leaving His place in glory nor by converting His divine nature into humanity, but while remaining fully divine He assumed another nature capable of change, locomotion, suffering, etc., that is, He assumed a human nature. And in this, His divine nature changes not one bit. Christ is one Person in whom are united two natures—divine and human. This is indeed a mystery, but it must be confessed.

Resources

Philippians 2:5-11
Romans 9:5
John 10:18

Reading God’s Sovereignty Non-Fatalistically

Reading God’s Sovereignty Non-Fatalistically

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

~ Matthew 6:10b ~

If we are not careful to understand the meaning of Scripture within the context of the whole counsel of God, our sin nature will take over, and we will use texts like this petition to justify our laziness. We will pray for the fulfillment of the will of God as if its unfolding and accomplishment takes place without reference to what we do. Imagine if a heart surgeon, standing over a patient’s open chest, stopped working and said to his medical staff, “Let’s pray and wait to see what the Lord does.” Imagine, for a moment, if our Lord, following His baptism and commencement of earthly ministry, said, “Time to stand back and watch My Father work.” 

If we’re not careful, the verbalization of our trust in the Lord’s will can be a veiled cloak to hide our slothfulness. If a person seriously trusts the Lord’s will, they will not only verbalize that trust through claims and prayer, they will live as if they actually trust that will, doing what is well pleasing in the sight of the Lord. The chronically overweight person is not in a place where he can “wait on the Lord.” He must pray and concur with that prayer in action for the sake of his own health.

As Christians living in this sinful world, navigating our own sins and the sins of others, we must offer this petition, “Your will be done,” understanding that it’s a petition demanding our action rather than our inaction. In other words, if we pray, “Your will be done,” and we have consistent theology, understanding ourselves to be part of that will, then of course we will live and act like we are part of that will. This is not a prayer encouraging us to “wait and see what happens.” This is a prayer that requires proactivity and initiative on our part if we are to be consistent. As Calvinists, we say, “Nothing escapes the will of God. It is comprehensive.” But the fatalist (hyper-Calvinist), ironically, seem to preclude themselves from the scope of God’s will. If we are included within the will of God, should we not see the importance of living consistently with the holiness and purity of that will?

If, indeed, this petition obligates us to action (and it does), we need to understand some specifics about that action—

Laziness Is Excluded

As was already shown, laziness is excluded by this prayer. People often invoke the will of the Lord to cover for their inactivity, their lack of desire to shoulder their responsibilities. But Proverbs 18:9 says that this kind of person is allied with Satan, “He who is slothful in his work Is a brother to him who is a great destroyer.”

We Must Apply God’s Means of Grace

This petition obligates the Christian to the application of God’s manifold grace in their lives. Professing Christians abound who claim to be spiritual people, full of grace, and walking in the light of Christ. Meanwhile, they’re either not part of a local church, or they’re not committed to a local church. But the local church is the predominant place in which the Christian life is lived, and where professions of faith are vindicated before the sight of the saints.

The local church is the high-point of the unfolding of God’s will in our lives. It is the high-point of our active obedience before God—hearing the preaching of the Word, growing the knowledge and wisdom of the Most High, administering and receiving the ordinances of the church, etc. It is the high-point of our passive obedience to God’s will in that the local church consists of the brothers and sisters with whom we suffer on this earth. They are our shoulders, pillars of support, and compassionate friends.

We Must Rest Entirely Upon God

This petition prays for the grace without which we cannot lift a single finger toward true obedience. It is a prayer that we would be  given the strength to obey. Our Lord says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) And far from encouraging a rampant passivity in which we neglect action, it encourages just the opposite. Our Lord obligates us to abide in Him on the basis that, apart from Him, we can do nothing.

This Petition Presupposes God Has Given Us the Grace to Obey

This petition presupposes that God has given strength to obey and that He will continue to supply it. In other words, we are not praying for a strength we haven’t yet received, but both hearts that seek to apply such strength and that God would continue to supply it on into the future.

Does Scripture Teach Divine Simplicity?

Does Scripture Teach Divine Simplicity?

The short answer? Yes. Absolutely.

The question is not whether Scripture actually uses the word “simplicity,” nor whether or not Scripture articulates the doctrine of divine simplicity as the Second London Baptist Confession (2.1) does. The question is whether or not the concept of divine simplicity is necessarily contained within the text. And to this question we are able to answer with a clear affirmation.

Some have claimed that either Scripture does not teach simplicity or that it does not teach the simplicity found through church history, from Augustine to the post-Reformed Puritans. Concerning this latter claim, the simplicity in question has been derogatorily labeled “hard simplicity,” or, “hyper simplicity,” in favor of a looser simplicity admitting of a distinction between God’s “simple” essence and the several properties or attributes that accrue to and describe that essence. Of course, the response offered to such “soft simplicity,” is that the divine essence would itself require properties distinguishing it for those other properties or attributes not identical to it. In other words, the essence would require some kind of composition in order for it to be distinguishable from the attributes.

In any event, the purpose of this article is to survey a few texts which appear to require divine simplicity, the strong kind. These texts require a necessary God, who does not depend on anything more basic than Himself to be Himself. All that is in God is God.

All Things Are Through Him (Romans 11:36)

Scripture nowhere uses the term “simplicity” in relation to God. However, the concept is most certainly present and is necessarily inferred from several passages. In Romans 11:36, Paul writes, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” This is a concluding statement that follows from a string of Old Testament citations in vv. 34-35, each of which were intended to emphasize the incomprehensibility of God stated in v. 33, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” Verse 34 asks, “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?” A statement influenced by Isaiah 40 and Job 36. Observe also v. 35, “Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?” Man can neither comprehend nor add to God.

In v. 36, this distills into Paul’s conclusion that all things are “of Him and through Him and to Him…”[1] There are three prepositions used. The first is ἐκ which insinuates that all things with an origin find their origin “of” or “from” God. The second is διά, “through” or “by,” and indicates efficient causality. God is the Agent that has not only created but acts upon every patient through sustaining, disposing, and governing all of them. The third is εἰς and denotes final causality.

All things are “to” Him, that is, He is the goal and end (telos) of all things. But if all things are of Him, through Him, and to Him the inference that God cannot be the sum of His parts is apparently necessary. If God is the cause of all things, it follows that He is uncaused. But if God is uncaused, then He cannot be explained by that which is more basic than Himself, e.g., by parts. As James Dolezal writes, “If God should be composed of parts, then these parts would be before Him in being, even if not in time, and He would be rightly conceived of as existing from them or of them.”[2] John Gill sees Romans 11:36 as a statement of efficient causality and comprehensive providence.[3] John Calvin concludes, “The import of what is said is—That the whole order of nature would be strangely subverted, were not God, who is the beginning of all things, the end also.”[4] If all things are from Him, God must be “without body, parts, or passions,” to use the language of 2LBCF 2.1.

God Is One (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Another more principial text to marshaled in service of divine simplicity would be Deuteronomy 6:4, the doctrinal confession of national Israel. It reads, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” Naturally, the question becomes, “One what?” In this case, we are immediately brought to the question of being. What kind of being are we dealing with when we speak of this LORD that is one? In the strictest sense, no contingent creature can claim to be one.

Even the most basic creature is a constituent set of properties and components. But maybe the term for “one” isn’t being used in a strict sense. Perhaps it is only being used to distinguish the true God from other gods. It, no doubt, is purposed to such an end. But one wonders how the shema might distinguish the true God from false gods if, like the false gods, the true God also was a constituent set of properties or components. Instead of wood or stone, His constituent parts would be higher, more heavenly, and more unimaginable. But parts nonetheless. In other words, if the shema does not imply a simplicity of essential unity, the God it mentions is merely a greater creature, no more divine than a holy angel.

By Him Are All Things (Hebrews 2:10)

In Hebrews 2:10, a similar statement to that of Romans 11:36 appears, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” It is for or because of God that all things are. But if God was the sum of His parts, one would either need to deny the accuracy of Hebrews 2:10, or they would need to affirm the absurdity of God’s own self-causation. If all things are of God, then certainly those parts making God to be God, which themselves are not God, would also be of God.

Conclusion

It is not that Scripture uses the term “simplicity.” Nor is it that Scripture employs the philosophical terminology later used by Christians to expound upon this doctrine. Rather, the later philosophical language was brought into the service of articulating a core and necessary biblical truth. God is one. All things are through Him. He is through nothing other than Himself. God is not explained by a set of properties more basic than Himself. He is not who He is because of this or that attribute. He is. (Ex. 3:14) Simplicity, the hard kind, is nothing but the Bible consistently interpreted with regard to God and who Scripture has revealed Him to be.

Resources

[1] Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans – Galatians, vol. 11, (Grand Rapids: Zonderva, 2008), 181.

[2] James Dolezal, All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Theism, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 49.

[3] John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition on the Entire Bible-Book of Romans, (Graceworks Multimedia, Kindle Edition), Loc. 7181.

[4] John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, (Ravenio Books, Kindle Edition), 406.

Gary DeMar & 1 Thessalonians 4

Gary DeMar & 1 Thessalonians 4

Full disclosure, I have no interest in making a judgment about the state of Gary DeMar’s soul. I have no reference point on social media, nor do I care to. Declaring the state of souls is not my duty. But what I can say is this: 

It’s extremely concerning that a professing Christian tends not to answer questions about the bodily resurrection. It’s concerning that a single individual trusts himself enough to call into question (so easily it seems) the historical consensus of Christ’s people (this autonomy is endemic among these types it seems). And it’s also concerning that DeMar does all of this while maintaining a decently high profile influence over younger and/or more impressionable Christians.

DeMar won’t say much. But what he has said bears some informational content. And that informational content is worth engaging, if not for the benefit of changing his mind, then for the prospective benefit of onlookers.

Again, to qualify, I am not leveling a judgment against DeMar’s soul. He may very well be a Christian. But inquiring minds have concerns. Pastoral concerns. Concerns for the flock. So, without any further ado, let’s get underway.

What DeMar Has Said

Recently, on social media, I’ve posted two closely related statements issued by DeMar on a not-so-old podcast episode published by the ‘The Burros of Berea’. It’s found in episode #77, starting around the 1:29:00 mark. In this section of the podcast, DeMar is asked about what he believes will happen when he dies. He answers as follows, “I believe that when you die, you go to be with the Lord. And you get a new body at that time, a spiritual body.” Soon after, he follows up with a reference to 1 Thessalonians 4, saying, “[The bodily resurrection] doesn’t make sense with 1 Thessalonians 4 because you have to assume that the ‘dead’ there refer to dead bodies rather than ‘the dead’, ‘dead people’.”

More recently, I reproduced these two statements on Facebook in response to this post. After being asked to clarify those statements, DeMar replied, “I believe is [sic] a viable interpretation.” And when asked what that meant, he simply doubled down, “It’s a viable interpretation.” Assuming he’s referring to 1 Thessalonians 4, and that it may be suggestive of a spiritual (rather than a future bodily) resurrection, I issue the following response—

Is Omitting a Future, Bodily Resurrection from 1 Thessalonians 4 a “Viable Interpretation”?

The short answer? No.

I could appeal to the historical interpretation of the text, which would be a worthwhile pursuit. But I believe 1 Thessalonians 4 is clear enough to be interpreted at face value. But first, let’s look at a few other texts that clearly support the traditional notion of a future bodily resurrection.

In the Second London Confession, we read, “At the last day, such of the saints as are found alive, shall not sleep, but be changed; and all the dead shall be raised up with the selfsame bodies, and none other…” (31.2) This doctrine is grounded in a reality Christ has already inherited following the completion of His work. Paragraph 3 makes this plain when it explains the reason for our future resurrection, “the bodies of the just, [are raised] by his Spirit, unto honour, and [are] made conformable to his own glorious body.” The same language is found in the Westminster Standards.

The 17th century Particular Baptist and Westminster divines grounded the believer’s resurrection in Christ’s resurrection because Christ’s resurrection is the pattern of our hope. In other words, given our union with Christ, what He earned as Mediator becomes ours. In Romans 6:5, Paul writes, “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection…” In vv. 8-9, he goes on, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him…” The phrase, “we shall also live,” cannot refer to regeneration, nor can it refer to the reception of a body other than the “selfsame” body we presently inherit. This for two reasons: (1) the phrase is in the future tense, which precludes a reference to regeneration; and (2) v. 5 makes it clear that our resurrection is like unto Christ’s. And if His selfsame body did not remain in the earth, then neither shall ours.

Speaking of ungodly teachers, Paul writes to Timothy, “And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.” (2 Tim. 2:17-18) This passage precludes a full preterist reading of the bodily resurrection. Furthermore, it cannot refer to a subjective, spiritual resurrection—as if each dying person receives a glorified spiritual body at their death. Paul is clear, the resurrection hasn’t happened yet. And to suggest that it has tends to overthrow the Christian faith!

One more passage before we get to 1 Thessalonians 4… 

In 1 Peter 1:3, the apostle writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” It may seem like a routine apostolic greeting, but let’s think through the language by means of a logical process:

Step 1: Did Christ die? Yes. That much is implied in the text itself, and no professing Christian doubts it. It’s relatively uncontroversial.

Step 2: Did His soul die? No. Why? Because Jesus Himself makes that clear when he issues a promise to the thief on the cross, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Lk. 23:43) And in Luke 23:46, He says, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’”

Step 3: If our Lord perished, but His soul didn’t die, what was raised from the dead? It was His selfsame body. Hence, the women discovered an empty tomb. (Lk. 24:22-23)

Death is the departure of the soul from the body. That is the traditional-philosophical definition of death, and it is also the biblical understanding. The soul is immortal. The body is not, at least not until the resurrection of the body when we “are clothed with immortality.”

Okay, now for 1 Thessalonians 4…

Is DeMar’s suggestion that it does not speak of a future bodily resurrection “viable”?

Let’s look at the evidence.

A partial-tending-full preterist could easily throw a gloss of 1 Thessalonians 4 into his paradigm with a measure of success if it weren’t for the details. In v. 14, for example, we read, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” Now, this statement may not be as well attended as the following vv. 15-18 (because those often seem eschatologically juicier). But v. 14 seems to obviate a full-preterist reading. Look closely at the language. As with Romans 6, Paul grounds the resurrection in Christ’s resurrection, which was the resurrection of His selfsame body unto a glorious estate. Strengthening this suggestion are the words, “even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” That small phrase, “even so,” could be rendered, “also in this way,” or, “so too, in this way…” And this makes for an overall reading as follows, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so too, in this way God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” Lexically, the term used here for “in this way” (οὕτω) means “in the manner spoken of.” 

Conclusion? In the same manner Christ was raised, those asleep in Jesus shall be raised also. If Christ’s selfsame body was raised (the tomb was empty), so too shall our selfsame bodies be raised (all our “tombs” shall be empty like His was). But this can only be the case if (1) the resurrection is future, and (2) if it entails the reception of the same, albeit glorified, bodies we currently possess.

As a bonus consideration, v. 16 reads, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” While some preterists may want to relegate this to a past event, 1 Corinthians 15 corroborates a futurist reading of this text, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (v. 52) Paul places himself among those who “shall be changed,” by using the first person plural, “we.”

Conclusion

I believe there to be plenty of evidence that demonstrates a future bodily resurrection (the orthodox position), and that it consists in the resurrection of our selfsame bodies in the manner of Christ’s own resurrection. Much more could be said. My concern rests with those who will be influenced by DeMar or by those with similar platforms and beliefs to his own. My prayer is that my engagement doesn’t come off as an exercise in heresy hunting, but that my tone is perceivably pastoral and irenic.

May the Lord get the glory.

Will the Christian Ever Stop Working?

Will the Christian Ever Stop Working?

What is our blessed hope? To what do we look as we anticipate this life giving way to the next? Paul asks a similar question in 1 Thessalonians 2:19, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing?” His answer is stunningly brief, “Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” Paul shifts our attention to the presence of God at the great coming of God, in which we ought to rejoice. He does not labor to characterize the world to come in similar terms to what we now experience. Instead, he understands the world to come to consist in the greatest good, the summum bonum, or the beatific presence of God.

Because of modern assumptions, many are not satisfied that the only object of our attention in glory will be God Himself. We’ve been taught to make this present world a template for understanding the next. Instead, we ought to understand the world to come as that upon which this present is based. The present world is but a type of the one to come. The world to come, not the world that is, is the pattern. Moses didn’t see the tabernacle on Mt. Sinai. He saw the ultimate pattern (τύπος) upon which it was based and the end to which it aimed. The tabernacle itself is but a shadow pointing to the end, a construct vaguely approximating what Moses saw on the mountain. (Heb. 8:5)

Understanding the Initial Goal of Man’s Work

Unwittingly, Christians often make the assumption, implicitly or explicitly, that the work of redemption was intended to restore man to a Garden of Eden situation, and that nearly everything about the pre-lapse life will characterize life in glory. Another assumption is that a man’s material body is only good for exercising leadership and work—two situational principles related to the cares of this present order. There simply can be no other end for man, it is thought, but to live like we live now, albeit with some accidental changes between our present condition and the state of glory, e.g. we will rule and work without sin.

Both of these assumptions, however, seem to fall short of a robust biblical understanding of individual eschatology. But how did we arrive here? Why have most of us come to assume that glory will not consist in rest, but in a continuance of labor similar to what we currently experience? As Dr. Richard Barcellos might say, We got the garden wrong. So, how might getting the Garden right inform our understanding of work in relation to man’s blessed end? 

Most importantly, it is the Garden-narrative that first introduces the purpose of man’s work. Genesis 2:15 says, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden to tend and keep it.” Man’s work (tending) is his maintenance and expansion of the garden to the four-corners of the earth. Barcellos writes, “[Adam] started his task in the garden of Eden, which, as we have seen, was the earth’s first localized temple. Adam was commissioned to expand that Edenic temple to the four corners of the earth.”[1]

Sometimes the toil of our present work is associated with the effects of sin following the fall. However, even before the fall there was a certain toil associated with man’s labor as the term for “tend” (עָבַד) indicates.[2] This is not a sinful toil, nor a toil caused by sin. This toil is not associated with a curse. But it is associated with the expectation of a goal to be met through work—the anticipation of something other and greater than a life characterized by labor. In other words, there is something more desirable than work to which work tends. And in this case, Adam’s work served Adam’s eschatology. So, to suggest man’s present work is a necessary feature of man as man is inaccurate. Work was instituted for a definite end. It has a final cause or goal. It presupposes completion, and it begs the prospect of rest. For the first Adam, the goal of his work was the attainment of a secure situation with God—a security no longer available through our work, but only through the work of the second Adam.

Some dispute the notion that the first Adam had an eschatology at all. However, the two trees in the middle of the garden, the charge to tend and keep the garden, and the raw materials covering the earth (presumably for the first Adam’s use) beg to differ. The tree of life is associated with man’s bliss and security in a state of incorruption, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Rev. 2:7) And, “In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Rev. 22:2) And once more, “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” (Rev. 22:14)

Given the purpose of the tree of life, we may conclude that the first Adam’s eating of the tree of life would have resulted in a similar situation to that of the saints seen in Revelation. Implied in Genesis 1-2 is Adam’s task to tend (work) and guard (keep) the Garden. Given the resources available beyond the Garden and his charge to “fill the earth,” Adam was tasked with not only caring for but also expanding the Garden. (Gen. 1:28; 2:10-14) 

Adam’s task to “keep” the garden was one of guardianship, presumably from the serpent—a task he failed to complete. All indicators point toward the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as a judgment tree at which Adam should have judged and executed Satan, i.e. it does not appear on the new earth since judgment is completed at the consummation. It was the tree upon which Satan should have been crucified. Instead, we formed allegiance with Satan and now deserve to be crucified on that same tree. However, Christ is crucified or cursed on our behalf, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree…” (Gal. 3:13)

Work, as a creational principle, was intended for the attainment of an eschatological end. And whereas Genesis 3 introduces man’s fall and the curse, the initial purpose of man’s work necessarily changes. No longer can it attain an eschatological end. The covenant of works has been broken. Work remains, but it is ineffectual to reach its initial purpose described by the state of innocence. For Christians, this work is no longer eschatological in the sense of obtaining some end. But it is both dutiful and helpful—it is commanded and it is instrumental in our sanctification. (Rom. 8:13) It characterizes the pilgrim’s way.

The Present Goal of Man’s Work & Whether That Goal Is Ever Reached

Work, for it to be meaningful, must continue to have a purpose. This purpose must be both proximate and remote. There are numerous goals we have in our work. These numerous goals are proximate, because each is immediately achieved by the completion of a task. I might boil an egg so as to enjoy eating it afterwards. But what is the remote purpose of work as a concept? What is the ultimate purpose of work per se? Most basically, our work no longer procures our eschatology. Christ alone is efficient and sufficient for this. Instead, our present work is an expression of the grace of God in our lives. For the Christian, work is an outworking of his gratis toward God for God’s unilateral accomplishment and application of redemption. For the Christian, this is true for both secular and sacred work (worship). Secular work consists in natural tasks common to all men. Sacred work consists in positively commanded tasks unique to the Christian faith. Both are performed to the glory of God as an outworking of the grace of God, not as an effort on man’s part to attain glory.

To qualify, we might say our grace-given work leads to glory only in a consequential sense. That is, upon the hypothesis of God’s grace, the necessary consequence is man’s work which characterizes man’s path to glory. A man who does not work does not reach glory. But that is not because he failed to work. It’s because he evidently does not possess the grace of God necessary for glory which inevitably produces work in the believer to one extent or another. Thus, work continues to be eschatologically significant but not eschatologically efficient. Hence, Paul writes, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.” (Rom. 3:27) Can we boast in our works in the end? Of course not. Why? Because the justification that explains our arrival at glory at long last isn’t conditioned at all upon our works, “for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Gal. 2:16)

Work, then, is now an expression of Christ in us. But what stage of Christ’s incarnate life is currently shown through us? It would obviously have to be the stage where He dwelt amongst us and demonstrated for us how to live unto the Father of lights. Peter seems to place the example of Christ concomitantly with His humiliation when he writes, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps…” (1 Pet. 2:21) But if Christ’s incarnate work is our template, then it should follow that Christ’s incarnate rest, which He received upon the completion of His work, will also be ours. In other words, if Christ is our pattern, His earthly life is to be our earthly life, and His heavenly rest is to be our heavenly rest. So, the author of Hebrews writes, “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” (Heb. 4:11)

The present goal of our work, then, is to imitate Christ by the grace of God in us. And this means we shall also imitate the end of Christ’s work which is His rest.

The End of Work?

We’ve all heard the popular phrase “mission accomplished.” 

A mission is a work with a definite goal. When that goal is reached, the mission concludes. If we view all present Christian work in this way, it becomes clear to us that work should have a definite goal, and therefore a point at which it concludes. This goal is rest. As seen in Hebrews 4:11, diligence (work) ends in rest (glory). Rest is the opposite of work, as is demonstrated throughout the Scripture repletely. 

First, in Genesis 2:2, God rests from all His works. There, rest is seen as the opposite of work. In some sense, God continued to work because that first rest was but typical of the finished work of the new creation, which ended in the Son’s incarnation and sufferings, and His entering into glory through resurrection and ascension. (Jn. 5:17)

Second, in Matthew 11:28, our Lord says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Again, rest is here the opposite of labor. In this text, labor should be understood as work per se. And though it is affected by sin, the first mention of labor is not particularly negative, but refers to man’s creational task. The second mention, “heavy laden” refers to the effects of sin upon us—both our own sin and the sins of others, along with our misery.

Third, in Matthew 26:45, Jesus rebukes His disciples for “resting” at an improper time. Their time of rest had not yet come, the Son of Man was being betrayed. He says, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.” Again, diligence, which the disciples ought to have had, is seen as opposite to rest. The term for “rest” (ἀναπαύω) used in this text is the same as that which is used in Matthew 11:28, where our Lord speaks of rest eschatologically and positively.

Fourth, if by “rest” was only meant relief from the effects of sin such that work would go on infinitely into future glory, then the term for “relief” (ἄνεσις) would probably be employed instead of ἀναπαύω, as in 2 Thessalonians 1:7, where “rest” is put for “relief” from affliction in the English—“and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels…”

Fifth, in Revelation 14:13, we read, “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’” Here, the term for “rest” is that proper term for “rest,” or the peace and solace we receive when our works are finished (ἀναπαύω). And it should be noticed that these works and labors are good works and labors, the nature of which began in the garden. But they are concluded when we “die in the Lord.”

Some have ventured to suggest that creational work is a necessary property of man’s nature. Work is a necessity of man’s nature. Since he was created with it he must do it, or so it is sometimes assumed. As the sun must shine to be the sun, so too must the man work to be a man. However, seeing as how work is always an operation explained by man’s will, it cannot be a necessity of nature. A man may still be a man, though he does not work—or though he rests. Work is an accident of man’s nature instituted in the beginning for a positive purpose. It does not make man man. It is a potency in man. But a potency need not be necessarily actualized.

Furthermore, some would like to suggest that man’s work does not have a definite end, but that work proceeds ad infinitum cycling through countless different goals indefinitely. This is absurd. As Thomas Aquinas says, “if there were no last end, nothing would be desired, nor would any action have its term, nor would the intention of the agent be at rest; while if there is no first thing among those that are ordained to the end, none would begin to work at anything, and counsel would have no term, but would continue indefinitely.” (ST.I-II.Q1.A4.Obj2)

In other words, a linear progress of work meeting goals ad infinitum would not allow any one goal to be reached. Consider an infinite succession of moments. How could we ever reach this moment if an infinite number of moments preceded it? Furthermore, there would be no such thing as a superior goal, or a goal that is more desirable than the others.

Conclusion

Work and rest is a staple of the biblical-redemptive narrative. Work must be understood as that which leads to rest, and rest must be understood as the final end of work to which we look. If this was not the case, Christ’s work is never complete, our work is never complete, and true rest is never reached. Furthermore, if work is a necessity of man’s nature from man’s creational constitution, then it loses all its eschatological significance. The parallelism between the two Adams falls into question. Does the second Adam bring to an end what the first Adam did not and then some? If work doesn’t lead to rest, then how are we to understand the finished work of Christ as it typologically parallels the work that the first Adam was initially charged to complete but yet fell short of that completion?

Instead, I suggest we understand glory to consist in beatitude, where we behold God without sin. This beatitude is sufficient for us. God is enough for us. And thus, we rest. There is no more working for an end. For the end has been reached. Paul understands the world to come to consist in the greatest good, the summum bonum, or the beatific presence of God. In this consists our rest, our happiness, and the consummation of our ultimate end, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” (Cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1)

Resources

[1] Richard Barcellos, Getting the Garden Right, (Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2017), 155.

[2] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 712.

The Divine Dominion

The Divine Dominion

Power, as a divine attribute, leads us to consider the administration of it in God’s sovereign dominion. There are basically three ways in which God exercises or has exercised sovereign dominion over the created economy. We may as well call these “the three modes of His kingdom” or modes of His sovereign rule. First, through nature, God rules and reigns over the kingdom of creation, or what some have called “the common kingdom.” Second, through the typological-redemptive kingdom of Israel as revealed in the Old Testament. Third, through the kingdom of His grace which especially terminates upon His church, that is, God rules His church in a distinct way from that of Old Testament Israel and also the common kingdom.

Examining the Three Modes of Kingdom Rule

First, there is the kingdom of creation is God’s administration of His sovereign might through not only creation but also the providential ruling of all creation. In Isaiah 66:1, the LORD says, “Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool.” In psalm 103:19, we read, “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.” The kingdom of creation is God’s universal rule over the entirety of the natural world. The Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have an unlimited and unqualified rule over all the universe. It’s within this kingdom where we find the laws of nature, every society and culture of man, every civil institution, and every king and prince whom God is pleased to either establish or destroy.

This kingdom of creation is administered through covenants—the creational covenant between God and Adam, and following its violation, the second creational covenant which God made with Noah. The covenant of creation made in the garden, sometimes called a covenant of life or covenant of works, is mentioned in Hosea 6:7, where we read, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; There they dealt treacherously with Me.” Rashi, the Jewish Rabbi and Old Testament commentator of the middle ages agrees that this term, commonly translated “man” in English, ought to be translated to the proper name, “Adam.” Following the violation of this covenant, and proceeding the flood, God was pleased to make yet another covenant, this time with Noah, where He would regulate the world by civil justice on account of sin.

In addition to this kingdom of creation, which is nothing less than the administration of God’s sovereign might over all things, the Lord has been pleased to establish kingdoms within this kingdom. Not only are all the kings of the earth established under the creational kingdom, but on account of God’s special purpose, He establishes particular kingdoms through which He accomplishes His redemptive purpose in a very explicit way. And this brings us to the second way in which God has exercised His sovereign rule.

Second, there is the typological-redemptive kingdom of Israel, which came through the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants. Israel is God’s Old Testament nation, located right in the midst of the pagan world. And the purpose of His rule in and through that kingdom was chiefly the preservation of the Seed of the woman, the Lord Jesus Christ. Genesis 49:10 says, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.”

Third, God rules through His special grace the “kingdom of the Son of His love,” established in the blood of Christ. Colossians 1:13 states, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love…” And this is the kingdom wherein the Beatitudes we are promised as an inheritance, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3) And in Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God.” This is the kingdom mentioned in Matthew 12:28, when Jesus says, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Speaking to the religious elite, who rejected the “chief cornerstone,” Jesus says, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” (Matt. 21:43)

Conclusion

The purpose of this survey is to give an example of how our Lord administers His sovereign dominion in a multifaceted way: through creation, through Israel, and through the church. These are three domains, or three kingdoms. Interestingly enough, this doctrine of God’s sovereignty actually informs our political theology as Baptists. Whereas the kingdom of Israel is no more, there being only the kingdom of creation and the kingdom of the Son manifest in the church, we have two domains wherein God rules—two kingdoms.

When it comes to the kingdom of creation, God rules through prescripts (natural law) and providence. When it comes to Israel, God ruled through prescripts (natural + positive laws) and special providence. When it comes to the kingdom of grace, God rules through the incarnate Son, the Son’s law of love, and special, gracious providence, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…” (Phil. 1:6)