Losing the Legacy of Orthodoxy

Losing the Legacy of Orthodoxy

In the face of rampant cultural and philosophical sophistry, Paul concludes his first letter to Timothy by writing, “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.” (1 Tim. 6:20-21) The ESV calls it “the good deposit.” This “good deposit” is nothing less than the gospel itself, the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament, the full exposition of the types and shadows revealed in the Old. In 2 Timothy 1:13-14, Paul further clarifies what he means, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”

Over the past three years, I’ve grown increasingly concerned that the movement against social justice has itself become a social justice movement covered in Christian bumper stickers. Liberal churches and organizations are typically marked by a forfeiture of the “good deposit” in favor of political and social change. And while the anti-social justice movement credits the gospel as being the wind behind its sails, it’s actually just arguing and pushing for nothing more than natural political and social goods. Whereas pagans or Christians can fight for these natural political and social goods, and have throughout history, we have to be careful to distinguish the gospel from positive upticks in political and social ethics. Otherwise, we lose the legacy of a distinctly Christian orthodoxy within which alone is found the gospel of man’s reconciliation to a holy God through the blood and righteousness of the incarnate Son.

Defining the Issue

A brief definition of my protest is this: The kingdom is not the presence nor expansion of natural goods. While the kingdom of grace perfects nature, the improvement of nature isn’t necessarily indicative of the presence of the kingdom of God. There is something about the kingdom of God that further distinguishes it from common goods. My concern can be found in the words of Joel Webbon, founder and host at Right Response Ministries and pastor to Covenant Bible Church in Georgetown, Texas. In a podcast titled, ‘Christian Stir-Fry | 3 Spheres, 2 Kingdoms, 1 King’, he says:

If we cure cancer right um if you know all these things are pushing back the kingdom of darkness, but it’s not just um because someone got saved. And so Joe Boot says like the church and the kingdom are not synonymous. There’s massive overlap, but they’re not a one-to-one ratio synonymous. The church only numerically grows one way: conversion. But the kingdom of God grows every time the good, the true, and the beautiful—those things which align with the law of God and the gospel of God—are furthered and pressed forward in any sphere of human society. And so nobody could get saved and (now I believe it would lend towards salvation), but initially, no one could actually get saved, so the church did not numerically grow, um but a good law was passed—the kingdom is advancing and the kingdom advancing in these other spheres in all of life, it lends towards um the advancement of the church.[1]

Webbon lists a few things that he believes indicate an expansion of the kingdom of God: (1) curing cancer, (2) when the good, true, and beautiful are furthered in any societal sphere, (3) the passing of a good law.

This concerns me, for the simple reason that none of these things require the preaching or the proliferation of the “good deposit” mentioned above. That’s the issue.

Responding to the Issue

All of the stuff Webbon cites as indications of the kingdom’s expansion happens or can conceivably happen in a society that’s never even heard the gospel before. So even if the gospel is credited with affecting these changes, these changes aren’t distinct to the gospel, and may occur without the gospel as well as with it. That is to say, if these things are gospel benefits, but can also occur apart from the gospel, it follows that these gospel benefits are available to the natural man as well as to the Christian. It’s a lurking universalism that arbitrarily excludes other gospel benefits such as justification, sanctification, and glory.

In fact, if Webbon’s words were consistently applied to world history, the Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires were break-throughs of the kingdom of God because, as Webbon says, “the kingdom of God grows every time the good, the true, and the beautiful… are furthered and pressed forward in any sphere of human society.” And those empires, in spite of their rampant paganism, had objectively just laws, objectively beautiful art, and objectively beautiful architecture, along with a healthy and objectively true understanding of the physical form of the human body.

In an earlier part of the podcast, Webbon speaks with Brian Sauve about two-kingdom theology. During the interchange, Sauve takes issue with the notion of the “common kingdom,” (as opposed to the redemptive kingdom) when he says:

The problem is that as soon as you take that common kingdom and say it’s not ruled by Scripture, and christians aren’t necessarily, therefore, going to have a leavening effect on any of it, you’ve actually just divorced the transformational effect of christianity from everything outside of the four walls of the church.

But the design of common/redemptive kingdom semantics is the preservation of the redemptive kingdom, and with it, the preservation of the gospel that alone produces it. Furthermore, two-kingdom adherents do not and have never claimed “christians aren’t necessarily, therefore, going to have a leavening effect on any of it…” The design of two-kingdom theology is to observe the distinction, not separation, between nature on the one hand and grace on the other. If nature is lifted by grace, that’s all well and good. But if grace is collapsed into nature, we’ve lost the gospel. And this collapse is what is at least implied by Webbon’s words above. Anything that happens in the natural world which is true, good, and beautiful is an effect of the gospel even if the gospel isn’t present.

The next logical step is to ask, “Why do we need the gospel unto salvation if its effects are produced by the passing of good laws and pretty pictures?” If the kingdom of God’s gospel may be expanded without anything occurring distinct to what Christ has purchased on the cross, then the kingdom of God, along with its gospel, has been made common. Hence the need to distinguish carefully between the common and redemptive kingdoms.

Natural & Supernatural Revelation

Joe Boot, in his book Mission of God, takes issue with the secular/sacred distinction, counting it a type of dualism that results in the removal of Christianity from society. And this is, no doubt, a concern for Webbon and Sauve as well. Christ’s universal Lordship is suggested as an alternative. Boot writes:

Because we have increasingly done what [Abraham] Kuyper decries, and separated life into two parts or storeys, the sacred and secular, personal and public, spiritual and immaterial, one part for ourselves and the other for God, the ‘toleration’ of sin in the ‘lower storey’ (an alleged sphere outside God’s direct moral authority for ourselves) has become a practical virtue.[2]

While I can agree with Boot that “secular” is not the best term given our modern vocabulary, it is a term used to some advantage throughout history. For example, the Second London Baptist Confession states that ministers of the gospel should be enabled to minister “without being themselves entangled in secular affairs…” (26.10) William Bates, an English Presbyterian minister in the 17th century, says, “Now when secular interest outweighs duty, when apparent danger induces to deny the truth of Christ; how terrible and unavoidable will be the punishment of that disloyalty?”[3] One wonders how the fear of danger drives the current reactionary impulse toward blending secular and sacred together, and whether Bates’ ominous observation is actually prophetic of our own day. Is the gospel being lost in this movement represented by Webbon and others? Are we losing the legacy of orthodoxy?

The term “secular” is not historically associated with licentiousness, as Boot thinks of the term. It was, rather, useful in distinguishing the ways, means, and circumstances in which God deals uniquely with His people from the ways, means, and circumstances by which He governs the natural world at large. There is a distinction between these two things. And if that distinction is blurred, then God’s unique dealings with His people, through the gospel, will be swallowed up by concerns over the natural world. As Bates puts it, the “secular interests outweigh” our actual duties as God’s blood-bought people.

However, the importance of this may be more readily seen if we distinguish along revelatory and theological lines. Natural revelation is the revelation of God and His will through the medium of the natural world and in the consciences of all men. (Rom. 1:18-20; 2:14) Supernatural revelation is that revelation of God and His will through the Scriptures. The Scriptures, while assuming and repeating much of what is found in nature, offers revelation of God and His will that reaches beyond what’s available through mere creation. Natural and supernatural theologies correspond to these two types of revelation, describing the kind of knowledge man has of God derived from the two natural and supernatural revelatory sources, respectively.

What is revealed through nature is God’s. What is revealed through Scripture is God’s. In other words, what is secular is God’s, and what is sacred is God’s. Still, in other words, what is “common kingdom” is God’s, and what is “redemptive kingdom” is God’s. See the correspondence? The distinction is not nature versus God. The distinction is nature and supernature representing two distinct modes of revelation, from which man knows God naturally and supernaturally, corresponding to two distinct, yet complimentary, ways in which God governs the world.

All things are God’s, “Now all things are of God.” (2 Cor. 5:18) But all things must be distinguished. Natural law and positive law are God’s—but they must be distinguished. Preambles and articles of the faith are God’s—but they must be distinguished. The world and all its goods common to all people and the kingdom of God both belong to God—but those two things must be distinguished. Civil improvement and the distinct effects of the gospel to establish God’s kingdom and thereby redeem man both belong to God—but they must be distinguished, lest we lose the latter within the former.

Conclusion

To be clear, I’m not accusing any of the men I mention above of heresy or believing a false gospel unto their own destruction. I think many of these men love Christ, and desire the proliferation of the true gospel throughout the world. However, I am concerned with the inevitable, and often inadvertent, progress of these types of things. If we’re looking for political and social improvement, that’s what we will work for. But working for political and social improvement doesn’t at all require gospel ministry, not the kind of improvement mentioned by Webbon, that is. And that’s a big part of my concern. We will begin to let the sword of the gospel drag on the ground as we hold high the prospect of civil goods. Civil goods believed to be indicative of “kingdom advancement.” And if civil goods are kingdom advancement, and kingdom advancement is the goal of Christian evangelism, then what need is there for the gospel at all?

Resources

[1]  I’ve slightly edited this quote for readability, but have changed as little as possible. The original can be heard by clicking this time-stamped link: https://youtu.be/24zjrzVAFvU?t=449

[2] Joe Boot, Mission of God, (London: Wilberforce Publications, 2016), 79.

[3] William Bates, The Whole Works of the Rev. William Bates, ed. W. Farmer, vol. 2 (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1990), 247–251.

Israel or Christ? Who Is God’s “Firstborn”?

Israel or Christ? Who Is God’s “Firstborn”?

The obvious answer to the question for any Bible-believing Christian is, “Jesus!” And while that is true, the answer could potentially be otherwise, which raises another question: How can there be more than one firstborn? A legitimate question in its own right. After all, politico-national Israel is also called the “firstborn” son of God in Exodus 4:22, “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Israel is My son, My firstborn.”’” Are there two firstborn sons? It would appear so. The question, therefore, is, In what sense(s) are either really ‘firstborn’?

The law of identity tells us that a thing cannot be what it is and yet another thing at the same time and in the same relationship. A door cannot be an elephant at the same time and in the same relationship. Could a door turn into an elephant? It would be highly unlikely, but at least framing the door-elephant situation in terms of transformation wouldn’t necessarily violate the law of identity since the door may become the elephant but would not be the elephant at the same time and in the same relationship. Can Israel and Christ both be the “firstborn son” at the same time and in the same relationship or sense? No. Otherwise, all reasoning, biblical and otherwise, would collapse upon the hypothesis that the law of identity does not hold. We would essentially be granting that anything could be anything. In such a case the very concept of “rationality” would explode into nonsense. “Coherence” itself would become ridiculous. To grant the violation of the formal laws of logic is to grant the reality, possibility, existence, and non-existence of everything and yet nothing at once. A foolish prospect to be sure.

So, what should we think about the relationship of Israel to Christ? If they are both called “firstborn” sons of God, in what sense is it so?

An Analytical Truth

An analytical statement occurs when the subject necessarily and definitionally entails its predicate. “All bachelors are unmarried men,” is the most popular example of an analytical statement. A bachelor just is an unmarried man. Likewise, “the firstborn son is primary in the order of filial relation,” is an analytical statement. To be “firstborn son” just is to be “primary in the order of filial relation.”

The Hebrew term used for “firstborn” in Exodus 4:22 is בָּכַר and means “firstborn” or “eldest” offspring. Jesus is likewise called the firstborn in Romans 8:29, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” The term πρωτότοκος, or “firstborn,” is the Greek equivalent to the aforementioned Hebrew term. These terms substantially carry the same meaning. And so, beyond the shadow of any doubt, we can affirm that both politico-national Israel and Christ are called “firstborn.”

It is important, therefore, to discover in what sense both can be “firstborn” given that to be “firstborn” just is “to be first in the order of filial relation. There can only be one. If both were “firstborn” at the same time and in the same sense, then a logical contradiction would appear in the pages of holy writ. And we can’t have that! To be “firstborn” just is to be “first in order of filiation.” So, who is really first? Israel or Christ? How should we overcome this dilemma?

An Important Qualification

Before we travel any further, I would like to avoid the risk of confusing the divine and human natures of Christ. There are two senses in which the Son of God is “firstborn.” Romans 8:29 calls Christ the “firstborn among many brethren.” And in Colossians 1:15, we read, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Romans 8:29 seems to link His “firstborn-ness” to His human nature in relation to the resurrection whereas Colossians 1:15 appears to link His “firstborn-ness” to His begottenness of the Father, which serves as a reference to the eternal relation of origin—of Son from the Father (cf. Jn. 1:18).

Our Lord, according to His divinity, is not “firstborn” in the sense of coming into existence, but only in the sense of eternal generation. According to His human nature, however, our Lord is a creature, born into this world through the womb of His virgin mother by the power of the Holy Spirit. These two natures, divine and human, are ineffably united in His Person “without conversion, composition, or confusion (2LBCF, 8.2).”

In this article, I speak about “firstborn” as it relates to Christ. And when I do this, I refer to both senses—that He is begotten before all ages, consubstantial with the Father according to His deity, but also that He is firstborn by special creation of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin by incarnation and then firstborn from the dead through His resurrection. These taken together signify Christ’s ultimate, true status as the firstborn of God the Father.

We might add at this point that if this consideration establishes Christ as the firstborn, we are then left wondering in what sense Israel was or is God’s firstborn son according to Exodus 4:22.

A Proposed Solution to the Dilemma

Remember the dilemma: Both politico-national Israel and Christ are called God’s “firstborn son.” But, as we’ve seen, the notion of “firstborn son” is analytical. There can only be one at the same time and in the same relationship. How do we break the tie?

First, it would be helpful to state at the outset that there is no tie. Israel and Christ are not in competition for first place. Rather, politico-national Israel is an historical institution whose divinely-appointed purpose was to reveal the true firstborn Son of God to the Old Testament elect saints. I do not merely mean that Israel is the earthly origin of divine revelation concerning Christ. That much is trivially true (Rom. 3:2). I rather mean that Israel itself is an historical institution that types forth Christ through its mission and movement. This is, perhaps, most clearly seen in the purposeful parallels between Jesus’ wilderness temptation in Matthew 4:1-11 and Israel’s wilderness temptation recounted in Deuteronomy 6-8. It is also made quite clear in Matthew’s record of Christ’s own exodus from Egypt where Hosea 11:1, a text about national Israel, is said to have been fulfilled in Jesus’ return to Israel (cf. Matt. 2:15).

This is the sum and substance of typology. A type is a person, place, institution, or event that figures another and greater person, place, institution, or event. Examples include the first Adam as he types forth the last Adam (Rom. 5:14), Israel as the land of rest as it types forth glory as the land of rest (Heb. 4), David as king as he types forth Christ as king (Ps. 110:1; Matt. 2:45), etc. The type is the thing that reveals, the antitype is the thing that is revealed. Adam is the type, Christ is the antitype; David is the type, Christ is the antitype, and so on.

But wait, there’s more!

It’s not altogether uncommon for the type to bear the names or titles of the antitypes to which they look. For example, Jesus is the King, but David is still yet a king. Jesus is the prince of peace, though Melchizedek is called the king of Salem (or the king of peace). Therefore, when politico-national Israel is called the “firstborn” in Exodus 4:22, it is actually bearing the filial title of the antitype to which it looks—the Lord Jesus. This especially becomes clear in the way in which Christ recapitulates the acts of Israel in His baptism, wilderness wandering, and wilderness testing. These three basic acts repeat Israel’s passage through the red sea, wilderness wandering, and wilderness testing. What is more, Christ successfully thwarted Satan’s agenda whilst Old Testament Israel failed time and time again.

Politico-national Israel, then, is the type of its other and greater antitype, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the true and only firstborn Son of God. Israel’s purpose was revelatory in nature. Israel revealed something of what Christ would do, but it also revealed man’s desperate need for Christ through its failure to attain that to which it was called—obedience and the land of rest promised as a result. Israel failed in its obedience. Christ succeeds. He is the new and greater Israel, the firstborn Son of God.

Conclusion

Typology is a valuable tool in the Bible-reader’s toolbox because it gives us a category to understand the way in which an all-sovereign God uses history itself for His own revelatory purposes. Scripture is not a document among other human-authored documents, like Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey. As great as both those works are, they cannot touch Scripture. Scripture is the sovereignly-inspired record of sovereignly-affected events in history established by an all-sovereign God. God uses things to signify other and greater things. In this case, God has chosen the physical descendants of Abraham to reveal and signify our great need for Christ and what Christ would do. They further typed forth a people not born of genealogical descent, but by the Holy Spirit of God.

God has not only worked in history, but has molded history itself to reveal yet more glorious historical developments. Israel of old, as sinful as it was, has been employed under divine providence to reveal something of our Savior and what He would accomplish on behalf of the entirety of God’s elect.

7 Biblical Reasons for a Figurative Reading of Ezekiel 40-48

7 Biblical Reasons for a Figurative Reading of Ezekiel 40-48

Some, particularly of the dispensational persuasion, take the temple and the accompanying sacrifices revealed in Ezekiel 40-48 as a literal temple and sacrificial system which will be established at the time of the future millennium. My goal is to show how this understanding of Ezekiel 40ff cannot coexist with what is clearly set down in Hebrews 10. And my presupposition is that the epistle to the Hebrews should interpret the related texts of Ezekiel 40ff for us. The New Testament is, after all, an inspired commentary on the Old. I want to also note something about the language of literal interpretation. Much has been made of the literal or the normative interpretive method. Every text, it is thought, must be interpreted literally.

Instead, I propose that the Bible often communicates literal truths through other-than-literal means. For example, the shadows of the animal sacrifices. Were the shadows literal atoning sacrifices? Absolutely not. They did not literally atone for sin. They were typological sacrifices. Yet, is the literal atoning Sacrifice of Christ revealed by means of them? Absolutely! Another example is found in the New Testament, when the church is called a temple. “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are (1 Cor. 3:17).” Does this mean that the church is a literal brick and mortar temple? No. But is this text true and thus literal? Absolutely. There is a literal meaning here communicated through figurative means. All the Bible is literal, but the means through which it communicates literal truths are not always literal, i.e. biblical metaphors always communicate literal (real) things, even though the metaphors themselves are not literal.

In many cases, God uses literal things to signify greater literal things, and this we call typology, e.g. David and Goliath, the temple, the priesthood, Solomon’s wisdom, etc. But in other cases, God will use literary word-pictures, usually given in visions or dreams, to signify literal things, e.g. Ezekiel’s temple, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:24-45), etc.

In Ezekiel 40-48, there are several things mentioned which, if taken literally in themselves, will create great conflict with the New Testament, and will end up destroying the gospel altogether if consistently followed through. I want to survey some of the many things mentioned in Ezekiel 40ff which requires us to see it describing a figurative temple, which I believe to be the revelation of Christ and His people (but that’s another article). The following are reasons why Ezekiel 40-48 cannot, in no wise, be taken for a literal, future, brick and mortar temple—

Sin Offerings

“In the vestibule of the gateway were two tables on this side and two tables on that side, on which to slay the burnt offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering (Ezek. 40:39).” Also see Ezekiel 46. However, Hebrews 10:18 tells us, “Now where there is remission of [sins], there is no longer an offering for sin.” One could make the argument that the “sin offerings” described in Ezekiel 40 are not actually offered for sins, but are only typological. However, that’s exactly what the Old Testament sacrifices were—typological. Hebrews 10:18 is telling us that typological sacrifices no longer exist since the fulfillment of those sacrifices are found in Christ Jesus.

The Levitical Priesthood

“The chamber which faces north is for the priests who have charge of the altar; these are the sons of Zadok, from the sons of Levi, who come near the LORD to minister to Him (Ezek. 40:46).” The majority of the epistle to the Hebrews has thus far belaboured the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Levitical priesthood. And it tells us, “We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man (Heb. 8:1-2).” If Ezekiel 40ff were taken literally, then it follows the Levitical priesthood is to be reestablished, even though we have a better priest in Christ.

Animal Blood of Consecration

“You shall take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar, on the four corners of the ledge, and on the rim around it; thus you shall cleanse it and make atonement for it (Ezek. 43:20).” Thus, the altar in the Ezeklian temple, if taken literally, is consecrated by animal blood, something Hebrews expressly tells us is but a copy of the heavenly things. Christ came, “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12).” Was His blood not enough?

Fleshly Temple Restrictions

“No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary, including any foreigner who is among the children of Israel (Ezek. 44:9).” To enter the temple sanctuary, circumcision in the flesh is required. But, according to Acts 15:10, James calles circumcision a “yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” And in v. 11, asserts that salvation will take place in the same manner for all who are in Christ, no matter Jew or Gentile. If some are circumcised and others are not, this being a gospel necessity for some people but not others, then salvation is different for some than it is for others, i.e. not in the same manner.

The Ceremonial Feast Days

“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall observe the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten. And on that day the prince shall prepare for himself and for all the people of the land a bull for a sin offering (Ezek. 45:21-22).” The feast days, however, in the New Covenant, are abolished, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths (Col. 2:16).” And, if one were to say, “It’s only the Gentiles who are not to be judged, but the Jews will still keep these ordinances as a matter of conscience,” then they deny what comes after this text, that the new man—which all who are in Christ have put on—is “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all (Col. 3:11).”

The Old Testament Sabbath

“The gateway of the inner court that faces toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the Sabbath it shall be opened, and on the day of the New Moon it shall be opened (Ezek. 46:1).” The Sabbath has been changed in the New Covenant, “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change in the law (Heb. 7:12).” But this Old Testament Sabbath, where the people work in order to rest, has been abolished as we learn in Colossians 2:16 and in Hebrews 4.

The Living Water

“And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes (Ezek. 47:9).” The living water which comes from the right side of the temple must be figurative. For Christ has declared Himself to be the living water, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water (Jn. 4:10).” And because the people of God are the temple of God, it is from their hearts the living water flows, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (Jn. 7:38).” In John 4:13-14, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” How does one receive the living water? John 6:35 tells us, “He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

The King & His Throne

The King & His Throne

It was May 14, 1948, just a few years after the end of the war, when David Ben-Gurion declared Palestine to be an Israeli nation-state. Then U. S. President, Harry Truman, joined Ben-Gurion in recognizing Israel’s sovereignty. Since that time, discussion surrounding the biblical significance of the reconstitution of “Israel” has erupted. Trying to describe the extent to which this geo-political development has been shoved into biblical interpretation would perhaps be the understatement of the millennium (pun intended). Political Zionism has been fused with Christian theology in a sometimes unhealthy and, I would argue, an altogether wrong way.

The advent of the political nation of Israel spurred an immediate materialism in terms of what Jesus’ kingdom actually was/is. What do I mean? I mean that Christ’s kingdom, as well as His kingship, became nigh entirely visible, which meant that it could in no wise obtain at present. Christ is not yet king because He does not yet rule in Israel. Dwight Pentecost writes:

David’s son, the Lord Jesus Christ, must return to the earth, bodily and literally, in order to reign over David’s covenanted kingdom. The allegation that Christ is seated on the Father’s throne reigning over a spiritual kingdom, the church, simply does not fulfill the promises of the covenant … A literal earthly kingdom must be constituted over which the returned Messiah reigns (Things to Come, pp. 114,115).

For Pentecost, Christ has a non-literal (?) kingdom now, and will have a literal kingdom later. There is an implied reduction going on here between the Father’s kingdom, i.e. throne, on the one hand, and the Son’s (Davidic) kingdom on the other. And there is a distinction made in places like Revelation 3:21, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Christ’s throne, it is imagined, will be the throne established in political Israel, and the Father’s throne is the heavenly throne.

Some Clarity

It is fair to say Christ’s throne and the Father’s throne are distinguishable along the lines Revelation 3:21 distinguishes them. I believe it is also fair to understand a future element in the throne of Christ. The promise to the saints, after all, is, “I will grant the overcomers to sit with Me on My throne.” But to relegate the throne of Christ to some material and geographical thing is, in my estimation, to devalue the concept. Moreover, to make the throne of Christ entirely future neglects other texts found in Scripture which speaks to Christ’s throne. For example, “To the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom (Heb. 1:8).’” This is Christ’s throne being spoken of here. This is confirmed by looking at Psalm 45:6, 7, from whence Hebrews 1:8 is taken— “You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” This throne, scepter, and kingdom are each part of a coextensive unit which came as a result of Christ’s finished work. Christ was victorious at His first coming, “Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than your companions.”

In John 1:49, Nathaniel declares Jesus to be the King of Israel. And in 12:13, on Palm Sunday, Jesus is announced, “The King of Israel!” In Matthew 2:2, the Wise Men came, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” In Zechariah 9:9, we read, “your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” This prophecy was fulfilled in Matthew 21, where Jesus is consciously declaring Himself to be King through His very intentional fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. When the Pharisees told Him to rebuke the disciples for declaring His royalty, He responded, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out,” signifying His kingship over, not only Israel, but all creation (Rom. 4:13).

The Good Confession

There are several places where Christ’s past, present, and future kingship are asserted. Yet one of the most striking places, perhaps one of the places less thought of as a “kingship” text, is 1 Timothy 6:13, “I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate.” In v. 12, Timothy is said to have also confessed the good confession. It’s not immediately clear what these two confessions are. Assumedly, they are the same confession, or at least, what Timothy confessed was something first confessed by Christ. Timothy, then, followed in Christ’s footsteps by making this same confession.

Paul gives us a hint as to where to find this good confession. He says Jesus witnessed it “before Pontius Pilate.” And he hints at the confession’s identity in v. 15, “which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” Not only does Paul clearly understand Jesus as a King presently, and presently ruling, i.e. “only Potentate,” but he is also referencing a place wherein Jesus declared Himself to actually and presently be King. In John 18:37, we read:

Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

What was the “good confession” Christ made before Pontius Pilate? It was nothing less than His kingship. In fact, Jesus goes further by saying, “For this cause I was born.” And, of course, this cause was declared in Luke 1:32 by the angel Gabriel, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” It is stated once more in Acts 2:30, “Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne.”

Conclusion

I am perfectly fine with understanding a future, or consummative significance to Christ’s inherited throne, i.e. the throne of David. But what many in dispensational circles have done is move any and all of Christ’s kingly reality into the future—to the harm of the text of Scripture I might add. Instead, I think we should understand Christ’s kingship as having been inaugurated at His first coming, especially with the fulfillment of His work. Yet, we await the consummation, or completion, of that kingship upon His return.

I also do not see the need to locate Christ’s kingly rule in a political nation established through carnal means and built up by the hands of men. In fact, I believe that degrades the glory of Christ, and it also misunderstands the function of typology, e.g. that found in 2 Samuel 7 and elsewhere. Christ does not have to possess the throne of His father David as David possessed it. In fact, if David and His throne were typological of Christ and His throne, and they were, then the type necessitates Christ actually inherit something other and greater than what David had. Just as Christ hasn’t merely merited a return to the garden state, but something greater, so too Christ has merited a greater throne toward which David’s throne in historical Israel could only look.

Slaying the Nephilim

Slaying the Nephilim

This is a part 2 of 2 in my miniseries on giants.

In the last post, I focused on the immediate or historical sense of Genesis 6:4. In this post, I will look at the redemptive nature of the giant theme, which only just begins in Genesis 6:4, and then make application to our present day situation as Christians. Before I begin, let me first answer the charge of an “allegorical” or “spiritual interpretation” of the text, which is bound to be leveled at this post by some—

There is a difference between an unbridled and undisciplined or subjective allegorical interpretation of the text, where any conclusion goes on the one hand; and a historical text which lends itself to a deeper meaning or fuller sense on the other. Typology is like the latter. A type is often a historical person which looks past itself to something other and greater, the antitype. It is, in that sense, a historical substance being used by God as an allegory to teach something other and greater than itself. The New Testament authors assumed this manifold sense of Scripture when engaging Old Testament texts such as Psalm 110, 2 Samuel 7:14, and Hosea 11:1—Hebrews 1 making heavy use of the former two, and Matthew 2:15 making use of the latter. The scope of this article will not allow me to delve into a full-orbed defense of things like the historical-grammatical hermeneutic or the sensus plenior (fuller sense) of the text. These things will largely be assumed henceforth.

The assumption which will drive the following work is as follows: Every text of the Old Testament is applicable to the New Testament believer. I take this to be the meaning of Paul’s maxim set forth as such, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Rom. 15:4).”

Suffice it to say, I’m not doing anything different than what the apostles did in their interpretive work. Nor am I deviating from the hermeneutic utilized by our Baptist forerunners. I only hope to be consistent with their method.

Recapitulation of Previous Article

So that no one is lost, and so my last article is rightly understood—in it, I took the position that the giants were a people group. The sons of God were men, perhaps from Cain’s seed. The daughters of men were probably descended from Seth’s righteous line. Some understand the sons of God who mated with the human women to be angelic beings. I argued against this on the basis of Genesis 1. Each living thing begets its kind according to the creation narrative. It, therefore, would be non-sensical to suggest angels could produce human offspring, which no doubt occurred, i.e. the men of renown. The sons of God “married” the daughters of men and produced the men of renown who took on the wicked properties of the giants who were then living.

Some other reasons the sons of God and the Nephilim must be human—angels, per Matthew 22 do not marry. Dr. Peter Gentry discards this reason on the basis that only angels “in heaven” are said to not marry. Restriction on marriage, therefore, does not apply to those angels who have left. However, he continues to be faced with the rule set down in Genesis 1. Even if fallen angels could procreate, they would only be able to do so according to their kind.

Some would opine angels, while not able to marry, can nevertheless procreate, much like animals procreate yet never marry. However, exclusively spiritual substances cannot, by definition, procreate. Procreation is germane to bodies, not spirits. To suggest spirits procreate would be to suggest spirits are embodied beings.

Tracing the Giant Theme

Genesis 6:4 is the only place the term Nephilim is used until we get to Numbers 13:33. It is no mystery that the giants and the men of renown—who eventually joined with them in their folly—played a causal role in the judgment of God through the great flood. It is, after all, v. 4 which sets up vv. 5-8, culminating in God’s announcement of judgment, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them. (v. 7)” The giants were evil and God judged their wickedness, which apparently had spread to all mankind by Noah’s day.

As mentioned above, we once again encounter the giants in Numbers 13:33, where the same term is used, Nephilim. The scene is one of anticipation and fear. The Lord has just instructed Moses to send out spies to perform reconnaissance on the land of Canaan. “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them (Num. 13:2).” In v. 22, the text notes “the descendants of Anak, were there.” In v. 31, after the spies returned, and after Caleb expressed desire to press forward with the conquest, the spies respond, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” And then in v. 33, we see the reason for the hesitancy, “There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

The people of Anak were historically tall men and, at the time, inhabited Philistia, which is the homeland of the Philistines—what is now modern Palestine.[1] The connection between Anak, the giants, and Philistia lends itself to a further connection between the Nephilim and Goliath. His stature is described in 1 Samuel 17:4, “Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.” Goliath was, no doubt, a Philistine. And though he is never explicitly called Nephilim, the connection is made naturally based on his nation of origin and his recorded stature. First Chronicles 20:6 makes yet another connection, though using the term Rapha for giant, instead of Nephilim, “Again there was war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature who had twenty-four fingers and toes, six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot; and he also was descended from the giants.”

Goliath, then, is a descendant of the Nephilim, or at least a descendant of the sons of God who procreated with the daughters of men in Genesis 6:4. The David/Goliath narrative is the climactic head of the giant theme in the Old Testament. The giants had been a problematic force for the people of God since the days of the flood. And here, represented by David, the people of God win a decisive battle against the tyrannical Philistines and their oppressive, secret weapon, a giant.

Moving from the Historical to the Fuller Sense

Now that we’ve seen some thematic development of the giants, it’s time to tie the giants in with the broader redemptive narrative. In accordance with the Romans 15:4 maxim, what do these giants mean for us? If the giant theme appears in Scripture for our redemptive benefit, what is that benefit?

The giants were obviously formidable opponents for Israel, and they would have occupied a significant space in the Israelite mind. This is probably part of the reason Moses, in Genesis 6:4, doesn’t pain himself specifying details about the Nephilim. His audience would have been well-acquainted with them. Israel’s familiarity with the giants is not a kindred one. The giants always played the role of a major obstacle, standing between the people and the consummation of covenant promise. This is most clearly seen in Numbers 13:33, with the spies’ fearful and hesitant reaction at the sight of the Nephilim. Every time the Nephilim are mentioned, which is admittedly few and far between, they represent a threat to the purposes of God. In Genesis 6:4, they are tyrannical instigators and were one of the reasons for the flood judgment. In Numbers 13:33, they stood between Israel and the attainment of the land of promise.

The giant as obstacles before God’s people becomes redemptively significant, because the historical development of Israel’s place within the overall biblical narrative lends itself to a typological association between herself and Christ. In Matthew 2:15, the apostle quotes a text about Israel in Hosea 11:1, but applies it directly to Jesus as He and his parents were to return from their flight to Egypt after the death of Herod (Matt. 2:13-15, 19-21). Other themes in Matthew tie Israel and Jesus together into a typological relationship—the mass genocide of infants, the temptation in the wilderness, and even the situational context of the Sermon on the Mount to name a few. These and other situations are situations Israel and Christ share.

Israel, because of sin, was unable to defeat her enemies. She failed to expel them from the land of promise. Thus, the people hoped for someone who would finally subdue their enemies. God had indeed promised to do so in places like Hosea 2:18, “Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, To make them lie down safely.” Notice in Hosea, the twofold promise of defeated enemies and subsequent peace has a global, not local, scope. Isaiah 2 and Ezekiel 39 contain similar divine promises to subdue Israel’s enemies, not to mention the promise of Messianic dominion given in Psalm 110. And as we know, this global achievement of peace is brought by Christ alone (Matt. 5:5; Is. 6:3).

The giants were key in the development of Israel’s obstacle between her and her rest, and though the giant theme itself becomes less of an explicit factor as the Old Testament progresses, it sets an early tone for Israel’s burden—defeat the giants, inhabit the land; fail to defeat the giants, fail to properly inhabit the land. As we know, because of Israel’s disobedience, while Nephilim are less mentioned later on in the Old Testament, Philistia is a constant adversary of Israel’s enjoyment of peace. The antagonism of Philistia is made plain in the narrative of David and Goliath.

Here, another obvious typological relationship arises. Christ is the other and greater David. In Ezekiel 37, the renewed and restored kingdom of David is prophesied. “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them (v. 24).” We know this king isn’t going to be the literal David, because the true king is the Lord Jesus Christ, and this becomes all the more clear in the New Testament (Rev. 19:19). Christ is called the only sovereign in 1 Timothy 6:15. This is further strengthened by the eternality of “David’s” future rule. “They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever (Ezek. 37:25).”

Israel is a type of Christ. David is a type of Christ. Christ is the other and greater version of both. But what about the giants? Is it possible to make an appropriate typological connection between them and a more perennial adversary such as sin or death? I think so. Remember, the land promise entailed rest from enemies, “The LORD gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers (Jos. 21:44).” But the rest from temporal, political foes only looked forward to an eternal rest from the perennial adversaries of sin, death, and Satan. This becomes abundantly clear in Hebrews 4, where true rest is fulfilled in Christ, “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His (Heb. 4:10).”

There is then a direct typological connection between the penultimate giants, Philistines, etc., and the ultimate, perennial enemies of sin, death, and devil. In the earlier conquest narrative, giants were the preeminent obstacles in attaining a full-fledged enjoyment of the land rest, itself being only typical. So too, sin, death, and the devil must be defeated if God’s people are to enter ultimate and eternal rest. Giants and the Philistines would eventually give way to other adversaries that would essentially share the same typological purpose, to point toward the real enemy of sin and its birthchild, death (Jas. 1:15).

Conclusion

All things considered, there is ample application to be made from the historical account of giants. They were enemies of God’s people and enemies of God Himself. The people of God today have a similar yet more dreadful enemy which, unlike the giants of old, cannot be defeated by the sword. These ultimate and seemingly-invincible giants must be destroyed by God the Father, through the death of God the Son, and the application of that death by the ministry of God the Spirit.

Therefore, giants remain to this day. But they are even stronger than the descendants of Anak. We need someone to go before us and sign their death certificates. And Christ has done just that. Now, having grace sealed to us in the blood of Christ and continually poured out upon us by the Spirit, we can slay these giants (Rom. 8:13). But we do not slay them by the conventional means of warfare, we slay them through the due use of means appointed for the people of God within the context of the local church (Acts 2:42). We fight them and claim victory by Word and Spirit. And we shall not be put to shame. For Christ has inaugurated the death of death in His death, and we now look forward to the consummation of that decisive victory, which will ultimately prevail in the resurrection of the saints.

Resources

[1] Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 814). Oxford: Clarendon Press.