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What are angels really like? (A brief sketch)

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If all we had to go on was pop culture, we’d think angels were gentle beings who can’t wait to give you a hug, a pat on the head, and possibly offer you a bagel with cream cheese. We’d have guardian angels watching over us, or deceased loved ones becoming angels. We’d have Michael Landon in Highway to Heaven, or Della Reese in Touched by an Angel.

Nothing like the Bible describes.

The Scriptures depict these created beings as something other than human—entities created distinctly from us. They are called “sons of God,” “holy ones,” “spirits,” “principalities,” and “powers.” They appear as messengers of God (which the meaning behind the word “angel” in Hebrew), acting as His agents throughout history by:

  • Guarding the gates of the garden (Gen. 3:24);
  • Giving visions to prophets like Ezekiel and Daniel;
  • Telling Zechariah that his son will be the forerunner to the Messiah, the rescuer and redeemer of God’s people (Luke 1:5-25);
  • Announcing to Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38);
  • Declaring Jesus’ resurrection on the third day (Luke 24:1-8); and
  • Showing John a vision of the final days and the glorious return of Christ (Rev. 22:8-9).

Angelic beings exist to bring God glory, and to carry out His plans and purposes. Though they often remain hidden, their existence reminds us that we live in a supernatural world. But what would you do if one actually revealed itself to you right now? Two things:

  1. You’d probably fall down in sheer terror; and
  2. You’d probably be tempted to worship at its feet.

How do I know this? Because this is what the Bible says people do (Rev. 22:8). If an angel came up to you right now and reveals its glory, you wouldn’t give it a hug: you would most likely wet yourself in terror. They are not cute and cuddly. They are not our loved ones in a new form. They are something other. And they are far more terrifying than we think.


Note: this post is part of an informal, periodic series exploring different theological concepts for another project I’m working on. As such, application is going to be limited. Hopefully the knowledge will be helpful. 

Authority in Christianity belongs to God

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The Christian principle of biblical authority means, on the one hand, that God purposes to direct the belief and behavior of his people through the revealed truth set forth in Holy Scripture; on the other hand it means that all our ideas about God should be measured, tested, and where necessary corrected and enlarged, by reference to biblical teaching. Authority as such is the right, claim, fitness, and by extension power, to control. Authority in Christianity belongs to God the Creator, who made us to know, love, and serve him, and his way of exercising his authority over us is by means of the truth and wisdom of his written Word. As from the human standpoint each biblical book was written to induce more consistent and wholehearted service of God, so from the divine standpoint the entire Bible has this purpose. And since the Father has now given the Son executive authority to rule the cosmos on his behalf (Matt. 28:18), Scripture now functions precisely as the instrument of Christ’s lordship over his followers. All Scripture is like Christ’s letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2–3) in this regard.

J.I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs

It’s not a cold—it’s cancer!

Sin is one of those subjects that is tough to do justice to.

Most of the time, we err on the side of minimizing it. We treat it as little more than a personal dysfunction or a character flaw. Even in our strongest language, we tend to speak of sin in terms of brokenness, of separation, but shy away from the darker picture Scripture paints for us. “Instead of interpreting our present-day sin in the light of a divinely revealed standard,” wrote H.J. Whitney, “we reduce this standard to a pale reflection of our own man-made standards.”[1. As cited in Iain D. Campbell’s The Doctrine of Sin]

In effect, we treat sin as if it were a cold instead of a cancer. 

Sin is alien, and intrusive. It is an invader in the created order, attacking, perverting, and twisting what is good into something other than it’s intended effect.

It distorts image bearers of God into rebels lying to the world about their Creator. It perverts notions of biblical submission and service between men and women into strife and servitude. It disrupts and destroys everything it touches.

When we remember to see sin in this way, it also changes how we deal with it. It reminds us that sin isn’t something to be managed, it’s something to be destroyed. It’s not something we can will away by being more awesome, but something we defeat by surrendering to the Holy Spirit who is at work within us.

Cough medicine doesn’t kill sin. We need chemo.

Killing sin is hard work. It causes a lot of pain. And sometimes, it seems like it’s going to kill us in the end. But, fighting sin is a life-or-death situation. “Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work,” wrote John Owen, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Luther and the Reformation: Free today from Ligonier Ministries

To celebrate Reformation Day, Ligonier Ministries is offering an audio-video download of R.C. Sproul’s 10-part teaching series, Luther and the Reformation, free.

Centuries after his death, Martin Luther is celebrated as an intellectual giant, a brave opponent of corruption, a shaper of culture, indeed, as one of the most significant figures in Western history. Many people, however, are unaware of the events of Luther’s life that led him to make a courageous stand for the gospel in the sixteenth century. In this series, R.C. Sproul provides a thorough introduction to the life and thought of Martin Luther. With an eye to the lessons we can learn today, Dr. Sproul traces the major events of Luther’s life and explores the gospel recovered by Luther and the other Protestant Reformers.

Here’s a look at part one:

(RSS readers: click through to see the video)

This special offers ends tonight at 11:59 EDT, so act quickly.

A perspective calling forth unqualified obedience

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We live in a day when we are being reminded again and again of our temporal privileges and responsibilities as Christians: we enjoy abundant life now, and we must remember to help the poor, seek justice for all, insist on integrity and demonstrate it ourselves. Such reminders are important, precisely because it is possible in a superficial sense to be heavenly minded yet morally and socially useless. At the same time, Christians must avoid identifying the goals of the kingdom of God with political, economic, or social goals; or, more accurately, such identification must never be exclusive. Just as the kingdom of Jesus Christ is not of this world (18:36), so also is it not restricted to this world. Our ultimate goal is not the transformation of society, as valuable as that may be. Our ultimate goal is pure worship in the unrestricted presence of God.

That perspective, and that perspective alone, is powerful enough to call forth our unqualified obedience. Such an eternal vantage point enables us to be more useful in our society than we would be otherwise; for, following an exalted Master, we learn something of service while walking in self-denial that eschews personal empire-building. Empire-building is so common a temptation for idealists that today’s revolutionaries commonly become tomorrow’s tyrants. The Christian has the potential to escape this snare, for his highest goal transcends the merely temporal. He magnifies integrity coupled with meekness because he recognizes that such graces are gifts from the Master who exemplified them.

D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus

How do we exercise dominion?

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People who know me (or at least follow me on Twitter), know I enjoy puttering around the kitchen. One of my favorite ways to unwind is to try out a new recipe—everything from stuffed French toast to braised rabbit—and see what the response is from my family. What’s funny is, for me, it’s not always what I wind up making that is the enjoyable part: it’s the feeling of power that comes from taking all these raw ingredients and making something really cool and almost always delicious.

Why do I have that feeling, aside from being easy to please? I think it’s, at least in part, because of how God has designed me—and humanity as a whole. You see, back at the beginning of creation, when God created the first man and woman, He declared He would make them in His image—“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,” God said (Genesis 1:26).

This idea of being made in God’s image has been the subject of much discussion within the Christian community over the centuries. It carries with it an understanding of the dignity of humanity, of being designed to function within relationships, of being wired to worship and serve our Creator.

But it also carries with it a responsibility: to “rule” or “have dominion” over the earth (Genesis 1:28).

If there’s one command that’s caused people to get in a tizzy, it’s this one. What does it mean to have dominion? Are we still called to do this? And, especially given that we’re living in a fallen world, how do we exercise dominion in a way that honors God? Read More about How do we exercise dominion?

5 books on a subject you’re probably scared to look at

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Most people get a bit freaked out when you start talking about eschatology, with visions of Left Behind and Kirk Cameron riding unicorns dance through there heads. (You’ll never get that image out of your head now, will you?)

While many of us neglect studying this subject (primarily because of people talking about locusts being black hawk helicopters and such things), we all need to work out our understanding of the things yet to come.

Why? Because how we understand the world as it is—and how we relate to it—is as equally tied to our understanding of the last things as to our views on the first things. In light of that, I’ve compiled a list based in part on feedback provided by a few followers on Twitter to see what a few helpful resources to assist us in working toward a greater understanding of a difficult topic.


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A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium by Millard J. Erickson

In this fair, careful, and accessible study, leading evangelical theologian Millard Erickson provides an overview of various end-times perspectives. Pastors, students, and all those interested in end-times thought will find A Basic Guide to Eschatology an understandable, well-organized examination of the various viewpoints.

Each position Erickson examines includes (1) a brief overview, (2) its history, (3) a more thorough examination of its major concepts and of the arguments offered in support of them, and (4) an evaluation of both its positive and negative aspects. Previously published as Contemporary Options in Eschatology, this book contains an updated chapter that discusses new developments in dispensationalism.

Buy it at: Amazon


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A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times by Kim Riddlebarger

Amillennialism, dispensational premillennialism, historic premillennialism, postmillennialism, preterism. These are difficult words to pronounce and even harder concepts to understand. A Case for Amillennialism presents an accessible look at the crucial theological question of the millennium in the context of contemporary evangelicalism.

This study defends amillennialism as the historic Protestant understanding of the millennial age. Amillennarians believe that the millennium of Christ’s heavenly reign is a present reality, not a future hope to come after his return.

Recognizing that eschatology, the study of future things, is a complicated and controversial subject, Riddlebarger provides definitions of key terms and a helpful overview of various viewpoints. He examines related biblical topics as a backdrop to understanding the subject and discusses important passages of Scripture that bear upon the millennial age, including Daniel 9, Matthew 24, Romans 11, and Revelation 20.

Regardless of their stance, readers will find helpful insight as Riddlebarger evaluates the main problems facing each of the major millennial positions and cautions readers to be aware of the spiraling consequences of each view.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


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The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views edited by Robert G. Clouse

Since the first century, Christians have agreed that Christ will return. But since that time there have also been many disagreements. How will Christ return? When will he return? What sort of kingdom will he establish? What is the meaning of the millennium? These questions persist today.

Four major views on the millennium have had both a long history and a host of Christian adherents. In this book Robert G. Clouse brings together proponents of each view: George Eldon Ladd on historic premillenniallism, Herman A. Hoyt on dispensational premillennialism, Loraine Boettner on post-millennialism and Anthony A. Hoekema on amillennialism.

After each view is presented, proponents of the three competing views respond from their own perspectives. Here you’ll encounter a lively and productive debate among respected Christian scholars that will help you gain clearer and deeper understanding of the different ways the church approaches the meaning of the millennium.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


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Promise of the Future by Cornelius P. Venema

Though we can never, in our time-bound state, know the future in detail, God in his mercy has not left us in complete ignorance of what is to come. His revelation in Holy Scripture has cast a flood of light on what would otherwise remain an impenetrable mystery.

Even among those who accept the Bible’s authority, however, there has never been complete agreement on what Scripture teaches in this area.

This major new examination of biblical teaching on the future of the individual, of the church and of the universe as a whole will be useful both to theological students and to informed non-specialists. Ranging over the whole field, it interacts extensively with recent literature on disputed issues, such as the nature of the intermediate state, the millennium of Revelation 20 and the doctrine of eternal punishment, always seeking to answer the fundamental question: “What do the Scriptures clearly teach?” The Christ centered nature of biblical teaching on the future is emphasized, as is the importance of the church’s historic confessions for an understanding of eschatology. The chief note sounded is one of hope: “God’s people eagerly await Christ’s return because it promises the completion of God’s work of redemption… The future is bright because it is full of promise, the promise of God’s Word.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books (A study guide for this book is also available)


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The Bible and the Future by Anthony A. Hoekema

Writing from the perspective that the coming of God’s kingdom is both present and future, Hoekema covers the full range of eschatological topics in this comprehensive biblical exposition. The two major sections of the book deal with inaugurated eschatology (the “already”) and future eschatology (the “not yet”).

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


What are some other books you’d recommend on this subject? Leave your recommendation in the comments.

Are we both “old” and “new” at the same time?

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It’s one of the perennial problems of the Christian life:

I’m supposed to be a new person, but I don’t really feel like it. My struggles are still there. I keep sinning even when I don’t want to—am I doing something wrong?

This is a problem I’ve dealt with for pretty much my entire life as a Christian, and I don’t expect to stop having days when I go to bed thinking, “man, I really blew it today…” (Not that I want to do this, mind you; I just expect it.)

What’s the deal with this tension that we’re dealing with—one Paul arguably describes in Romans 7:19-20:

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

and again in Galatians 5:17:

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

Some look at the struggle as being not unlike that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a view Anthony Hoekema describes when he writes:

At times the old self is in control, but at other times the new self is in the saddle; the struggle of life, according to this view is the struggle between these two aspects of the believer’s being. (Saved by Grace, 209)

While appealing, this “internal dualism”—where there are two persons at war with one another in the same person—doesn’t quite give us the best view of our ongoing struggle with sin.

Hoekema points out that Paul describes the “old self” as being definitively put to death on the cross—and in sanctification, we are progressively becoming more and more our “new selves.” Therefore, the believer who is easily discouraged by the continued persistence of sin (or the return of behaviors you thought you’d long since put to death), need not lose heart

A believer deeply conscious of his or her shortcomings does not need to say, Because I am still a sinner I cannot consider myself a new person. Rather, he or she should say, I am a new person, but I still have a lot of growing to do. (Saved by Grace, 213)

Do not  be discouraged, Christian. The old self has indeed been put to death. We may have a lot of growing to do, but the new has surely come. Rejoice and do not lose heart.

Did Jesus REALLY have to rise again?

Some things are harder to believe than others. Believing that Jesus was a bona fide historical figure… few, if any, seriously doubt there really was a Jesus of Nazareth who preached a message of repentance and reconciliation with God and was later crucified (even if many attempt to redefine the purpose of these events).

Then, there’s the resurrection…

For a lot of people, this is far more difficult an idea to swallow, particularly those of us who were raised on a steady diet of empirical naturalism.

The idea that Jesus was crucified—we can accept that. But that He rose again? That’s a bit much, isn’t it? Surely it had to have been made up.

Three alternatives to the resurrection

Because we don’t have a category for the supernatural, we look for alternative explanations—and there are a LOT of alternatives floating around regarding the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, there’s a lot of consistency between them, with the majority being variations on one of three options:

1. The disciples made it up.

The most common version of this theory suggests the early disciples stole Jesus’ body from the tomb in order to perpetuate the notion that Jesus really did rise again… but the disciples knew full well He was dead.

The earliest version of this is actually found in Matthew 28:11-15, where we read:

…some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (emphasis mine)

The “conspiracy” theory, while among the oldest alternatives to the resurrection, is also among the easiest to debunk as even a casual observer will recognize there are more holes in this plot than in a Michael Bay movie.

How would a small group of fishermen overpower Roman soldiers? The guards came to the priests to tell them what happened—doesn’t this suggest the tomb actually was empty? And considering the sincerity of the disciples in the face of horrific persecution, do you really think they could have kept up a conspiracy like that to the grave—especially considering they didn’t seem to have enough wits about them to get the basics of what Jesus was teaching them most of the time?

2. Mass hallucinations.

This one attempts to explain Jesus appearing to multitudes of men and women as wishful thinking. The grief stricken disciples were so overcome that they began to “see” Him… but He didn’t really rise from the grave. At best, He “lived on in their hearts”—Jesus had a metaphorical or spiritual resurrection, but the real Jesus was surely rotting in a grave somewhere. This is where notable figures such as John Dominic Crossan and the Bahá’ís.

Again, the problems here are numerous. Hallucinations tend to be the product of a single mind, not a shared event. Secondly, if the disciples were all having a shared hallucination but Jesus’ body was still in its tomb (the location of which was known at the time), why not just bring out the body? Thirdly, as author and UK church leader Adrian Warnock (who is a psychiatrist by training) notes, hallucinations tend to make one weak, rather than embolden. To suggest that hallucinations drove the disciples to boldly preach the gospel throughout the Roman Empire “is completely inconsistent with the results of hallucinations as described in any medical textbook” (Raised with Christ, 51).

3. Jesus didn’t really die on the cross.

This one is best known as the “swoon” theory. The gist of this is that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, but was only badly injured. One should note, however, that it was a cross, not a fainting couch.

It’s helpful (and necessary) to remember the events leading up to the crucifixion, as well as what happened during it:

  • Jesus was beaten multiple times;
  • His hands and feet were pierced with spikes; and
  • He was stabbed through the side with a spear.

He was then examined by an expert, declared dead, wrapped in burial clothes, laid in a tomb and left for multiple days. Even if on the off chance He somehow survived and was only very badly injured, He surely would have died due to lack of medical assistance while in the tomb.

Then, after all that, Jesus goes for a seven mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Looking at a brief survey of the evidence, one can agree with Matt Chandler’s assessment of this theory: “Only an idiot could believe that.”

The heart of the matter

When we look at the alternatives, the only compelling option that remains is the truth that Jesus really did rise from the dead—and this is the great hope of the Christian faith.

It’s not enough that Jesus died on the cross. All the promises of the Bible hinge on His resurrection:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only,we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:12-19, emphasis mine)

Yes, Jesus really did have to rise again

Everything hinges on the resurrection. If Jesus is not alive, then we don’t really have a message to preach. We might have a good example, but not a great Savior. Adrian Warnock, again, summarizes our need well:

Without the resurrection we would still be in our sins. Without the resurrection we are lost and there is no hope! There is no salvation without a living Jesus. We need the resurrection to have its power-generating effect inside of us if we are to be born again. We really are “saved by his life” (Romans 5:10). (Raised with Christ, 67)

And this is the good news of Easter—not just that Jesus died, but Jesus really did rise again. He is, right now, at the right hand of the Father, interceding on behalf of those who believe in Him. And He really is coming again one day soon to bring a final end to sin, suffering and death and usher in His perfect Kingdom.

Did Jesus REALLY have to die? (part two)

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The message of the cross is far and away the most offensive message humanity will ever hear. It offends us to the very core of our being.

We want something palatable, friendly. Inoffensive.

Surely any God who would do something as awful as punish an innocent man for the crimes of another is a fabrication.

Such a God is nothing less than a moral monster, the perpetrator of divine child abuse, some claim.

And yet, this is the testimony of Scripture:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23-24).

Paul calls the cross a stumbling block to those enamored with power and worldly wisdom. It is “folly to those who are perishing,” he writes, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Is it any wonder, then, that so many—even professing Christians—balk at Christ’s death on the cross?

Did it have to be this way?

The question we must answer in looking at the events of Jesus’ death is a relatively simple one:

Did it really have to be this way? Did Jesus really have to die on the cross in order for God to forgive us?

Yes, it really did have to be this way.

That’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s true. As I briefly explained in yesterday’s post, throughout history the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection were hinted at and foreshadowed.

Even if we do acknowledge that there’s something wrong with humanity, God could make things right without having to kill Jesus, or so we’d like to think. If nothing is impossible for Him, then surely He could forgive us easily enough.

And if He doesn’t, then He’s being supremely unloving, isn’t He? Read More about Did Jesus REALLY have to die? (part two)