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Friday, January 27, 2012

Who is the Bible Written To?-by Shannon Hammond

Who is the Bible written to? This probably seems an odd question to ask. Surely, the Bible was written to us who are studying it today. Generation after generation has interpreted the Bible as if it were written directly to them. Generation after generation has watched and waited for the signs, believing perhaps they are living in the last of days; in the days of vengeance in which all things which are written may be fulfilled. Indeed, wars, rumors of wars, famine, pestilence, and earthquakes never fail to stir up a fresh end-of-time frenzy. Even now we find ourselves on the very brink of December 21 2012, and some wonder: could this be the much anticipated end? Traditional Christianity will never leave this mindset until it recognizes the Bible was not written to us, but was left behind for us; so
that we might understand the beauty and grace of the age in which we live today. Much of this beloved book we call The Bible was written to the first century believers, pre AD 70, who were indeed living in the last days. This much is self evident in verses like the following:

Romans 1:7 “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called
to be saints…”

1 Cor 1:2 “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to
those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in
every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:”

2 Cor 1:1 “Paul, and apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of
God and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all
the saints who are in all Achaia:”

Galatians 1:1 “Paul, and apostle (not from men nor through
man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead),
and all the brethren who are with me. To the churches of Galatia:”

Ephesians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will
of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and faithful in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:1 “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus
Christ. To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Phillippi, with the
bishops and deacons.”

Colossians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will
of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ
who are in Colosse:”

1 Thess 1:1 “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the Church of
the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:”

2 Thess 1:1 “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the Church of
the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:”

1 Timothy 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the
commandment of God our Savior and the lord Jesus Christ our hope, To Timothy, a
true son in the faith:”

Philemon 1:1 “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy
our brother, To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved
Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:”

Revelation 1:4 “John, to the seven churches which are in
Asia:

At this point I would hope it is obvious these books were not written to us living today. Yet traditional Christianity reads, studies, and interprets scripture as if it were. In doing so, a grave misdeed is done to the Word of God. The student of sound mind upon recognizing this fact will allow his or her interpretation of the text to be guided by what the words meant to the original audience. What were their beliefs and when did they expect the fulfillment of the words contained within? This single thought should always be on the forefront of our minds, as we study eschatology. I cannot enough stress the importance of interpreting scripture in view of the relevance to the original audience. In doing so one can come to fully understand the beautiful message of the Bible.

I wake up thankful every day. I am thankful to the Lord for all He has done, for the knowledge that I do not now, nor will ever, live in the last days. I am thankful for the knowledge that we live in an age without end, and I am thankful for the peace and confidence I have in this life. I am thankful for our finished salvation, and that salvation is a gift of God, and not something we could ever achieve by our own works. How wonderful to know it is the faith of Christ that saves us. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

The fact of the matter is traditional Christianity has spent nearly 2,000 years earnestly seeking and looking toward the last day. Sadly, they seek that which has come and gone. In looking for the establishment of a physical kingdom here on earth, traditionalists miss the ever present spiritual reality. Traditional Christianity refuses to acknowledge the plain teaching of the Bible, in favor of the man made doctrines. Jesus’ teaching on His kingdom was very clear (John 18:36), “My kingdom is not of this world, if My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” Refer also to Matthew 26:50-53, “But Jesus said to him, “Friend, why have you come?” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” So you see, again it is made very clear, Jesus is not concerned with establishing a physical earthly kingdom.

So what exactly were, and when exactly did the last days occur? The last days were not about the close of time, or the end of the earth. The last days spoken of in the Bible were about the close of the old covenant, the Jewish dispensation. In the words of James Stuart Russell, “There was a fitness and fullness of time at which the old covenant was to be superseded by the new; the old and the new were permitted to subsist for a time together; the goodness and forbearance of God delaying the final stroke of judgment. Although, therefore, the great barriers to the introduction of all men, without distinction, into the privileges of the children of God were virtually removed by the death of Christ upon the cross, yet the formal and final demonstration that ‘the way into the holiest of all’ was not thrown open to all mankind, was not made until the whole framework of the Mosaic economy, with its ritual, and temple, and city, and people, was publicly and solemnly repudiated; and Judaism, with all that pertained to it, was for ever swept away.” (The Parousia, 1887)

Jesus Christ taught His second coming would be a first century event, “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Matt 23:34-39) Please keep in mind audience relevance. These things were to come upon the generation to which Jesus was speaking. Not some far off future generation, but that very generation.

"Then Jesus went outside and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down. Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:1-4)

My short synopsis on Jesus answer is this: false prophets, false christs, nation rising against nation, abomination of desolation, those in Judea fleeing to the mountains, great tribulation, and the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory. Then in verse 34 Christ says, "Assuredly, I say to you, THIS GENERATION will by no means pass away till all these things take place." I think I am safe to say no one from the generation to which Jesus spoke is still alive today. I believe Jesus came just as He said He would. Praise the Lord! We indeed have a God we can be confident in, a God who perfectly keeps His promises. The fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, as recorded by the historian Josephus, perfectly fulfilled all Jesus foretold, in the proper generation, confirming the scriptures as true and correct. What is not correct is traditional Christianities understanding of scripture.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Law of Love

Did the Law Really Pass Away ( expire ) at the Cross?

The problem, as I, and most Christians see it, with the whole notion of universal salvation, the idea that everyone is 'saved', no matter how they live their lives, is that it removes our responsibility, not only to respond to the Gospel, the Law of Love, but, as I was involved in a discussion with some universalists lately, that it relegates Love to a warm feeling, and even a commitment, of sorts, thumbing their noses in the face of such statements as Paul's in his letter to the Romans; 'love is the fulfillment of the law' ( Romans 13:10 )!

Jesus Himself told His listeners, 'Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill' ( Matthew 5:17 ). Much of the confusion, I believe, comes from our modern definition of 'fulfilled' ( 'prophecy' is another such ). The archaic definition given by the online Merriam-Websters dictionary, is simply 'to make full', but a more modern definition is, 'to bring to an end'. In the context of Jesus' words above, especially about not coming to destroy; we should be able to clearly see that He came to fill up up, or establish the Law, not to bring it to an end! You may hear the phrase a lot, 'the law passed away at the cross', I mean, Jesus Himself 'nailed it to the cross' ( Colossians 2:14 ), right? Well, true enough, but besides the fact that we must take into account the context of Paul's words; let's also look very carefully at how Paul phrased this statement! We know from history, that Jesus was nailed to the cross on Calvary, where He bore the sins of His people, but notice how Paul turns this phrase to say that it was the law that was nailed to the cross, and that it was Jesus who nailed it there!

It is often said ( speaking of catch-phrases ); 'it's all about Christ', and indeed it was ( and is ), but as I've said before; I'm not sure that any of us, and especially modern American Christians, really 'get' the full impact of that statement! When Jesus was finally and fully revealed to be the Christ of God, in fact, God Himself, when He came 'in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ' ( II Thessalonians 1:8 ), He showed, not only that He was God Himself, for we can read in the Hebrew Scriptures that it was God who revealed Himself in that way ( Lamentations 2:3, etc. ), but He was the fulfillment of all of biblical history, for 'these are they which testify of Me', as He told the Pharisees, as recorded in John 5:39. He was, in fact the culmination, 'the beginning and the end', of biblical, eschatological history, but, just because He is that, doesn't mean that history, or the bible itself, is no more; it just means that Jesus brought in the fulness of it!

The Law

Having established that the Law is in effect, and by this, we mean the 'law of love' ( as it is often called ) that Jesus spoke of in summation of the ten commandments that God gave through Moses. In this summation, Jesus told His audience, 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind', and 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'; on these, He said, 'hang all the Law and the Prophets'. The question might now be asked; 'do we still have the law and the prophets?' Some would no doubt object to this line of questioning, responding quickly that we do not, for they passed away with the coming of Christ ( whether you believe it was at the cross or in AD70 ). One has only to remember the covenantal context of Scripture, that it is a record of God's dealings with His covenant people, which people we are, to see that, while it is true that we no longer labor under the yoke of the Mosaic Covenant, or suffer under the sin and the death of Adam, these Scriptures are there for our instruction in righteousness, and thus are very applicable to us today: as they reaped the consequences, good or bad, of their actions under the first covenant, so also under the New. No more must we suffer separation from a just and holy God because of the sin of Adam, but we still, when we disobey His Word, and commit acts of disobedience against His Law, suffer the natural consequences of those actions. As Paul wrote, 'whatever a man sows, that he will also reap'!

Here's another question, and one which those who profess a belief in universal salvation would quickly disavow; must we keep the Law in order to be saved? Clarification seems to be the order of the day here ; how is the Law to be kept under the New Covenant, we've basically covered what is meant by, 'the Law', under the New Covenant, but what does it mean to be 'saved', under the New Covenant? I have discussed, in previous articles, what, from my understanding, most modern American Christians mean by the phrase 'to get saved', or even, using biblical language, which some Christians still do, to 'Be saved from this perverse generation', in total disregard, of course, for the covenantal and historical context of Peter's statement, and the relevance that his words would have held for those to whom he spoke.

Obviously, then; the term 'saved' really does not hold quite the same connotation for the people of God today, as it did under that first covenant, for they were being saved from the sin and the death of Adam, whereas we ( post-AD70 ) were not born under that curse, but were born into the life and freedom of the New. Here is where we could get into a sticky situation, because if we are all born into the lively freedom of the New Covenant, wouldn't that technically mean, in that sense, that all are ( have been ) 'saved'?



Universal Salvation, or Universal Reconciliation?

Most of us are probably more or less familiar with all the proof-texts that universalists like to pull out to prove that Christ died for all, as He is 'the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe' ( I Timothy 4:10 ). Once taken, read, and understood in the above-mentioned contexts, much of the confusion, if not all, can be cleared up, when it is understood what the Gospel writers had in mind when they used such terms as 'all', or 'any' ( (II Peter 3:9 ). Here again, though, within the covenantal context of these words; can we truly say that they are not at all applicable to us?

Are all men saved? That is questionable, and in the sense that we bandy the word about, today, the sense of a decision that men and women ( yes, children too ) make, a decision to 'follow Christ in the waters of baptism', and to 'deny himself, and take up his cross daily'; I believe the answer would definitely be a resounding 'No'! There is no question that there is a decision to be made, and that we must agree with, we must keep the terms of God's Covenant in order to receive the blessings ( salvation? ) of that Covenant, but even though some do not obey the Covenant, and thus do not reap the blessings, but rather the cursings ( yes, I said 'cursings'! ) of the Covenant; I believe that all men are, by virtue of their very birth, born into covenant with their Creator!

It could be said, then, in that sense, that all men have been saved, as biblical salvation was from the sin and the death of Adam, but that all men, though they have been reconciled, have not yet reconciled themselves, for whatever reason, with that reconciliation. Some might call this position 'middle knowledge', though it is no doubt better, and more aptly described elsewhere. The Scriptures, Paul in particular, tell us that we are 'God’s fellow workers' ( I Corinthians 3:9 ), as N. T. Wright put it so well, 'He has enlisted us to act as His stewards in the project of creation'. We do not 'save' ourselves, nor are we predestined for an eternity in 'heaven' or 'hell'; the choice, as I've written before, is up to us: will we live our lives according to the 'Law of Love', keeping, observing that Law, not only in our inmost of  'hearts', but shining forth that Love through our actions, and reaping the benefits of our obedience, or will we disregard that Law, not keeping Him or His Words, and reap the natural consequences of our sowing?

May we ever make the right choice, keeping the Law of God, and sharing His Love with all we come in contact with, living and working in covenant community to make this world, which is after all 'Our Father's World', to live up to it's reputation!

Charles Haddon Shank


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