Waiting for Judgment

I heard, and my body trembled / my lips quivered at the voice
Rottenness entereth into my bones / and I tremble in my place
Because I must wait quietly for the day of trouble / for the coming up of the people that invadeth us (Habakkuk 3:16).

All has been said. Now the waiting began.

Habakkuk acutely perceived the iniquity and injustice pervasive in Judah in the latter days of the monarchy and wanted to know why YHWH was doing nothing about it (Habakkuk 1:1-4). YHWH responded, making it clear that He was quite aware of the situation and had a most terrifying solution: He was raising up the Chaldeans to overrun and destroy Judah (Habakkuk 1:5-11). Habakkuk attempted to make good theological sense out of this response, asking YHWH how He could have a more wicked nation overrun a comparatively more righteous nation in light of His holiness (Habakkuk 1:12-2:1). YHWH responds by affirming the salvation of the righteous and the end of the arrogant and presumptuous by the very earthly realities in which they trust: as they overpower, so they will be overpowered; the wicked in Judah will be overpowered by the Chaldeans as they overpowered the less fortunate; the Chaldeans in turn will be overpowered by another empire, and so on (Habakkuk 2:2-17).

Opera del duomo (FI), donatello, abacuc (zuccone), 1423-1435 dettaglio 02

Habakkuk responds to YHWH’s declarations as promised (Habakkuk 2:1), yet in the form of a prayer-hymn (Habakkuk 3:1-19). Habakkuk trusted in YHWH because he had heard and believed in the great acts of salvation in Israel’s past: the Exodus, the wanderings in the Wilderness, the Conquest, YHWH’s constant deliverance of the kings (Habakkuk 3:1-15). From those acts of deliverance Habakkuk recognized both YHWH’s great power exercised in His anger and His ability and willingness to deliver His people even from the strongest of foes. Habakkuk was one who was righteous and lived by his faith; he did not doubt for a moment all the devastation about to come upon Judah along with the eventual humiliation of Babylon (Habakkuk 3:16-19). YHWH has decreed; it will take place.

We know that Habakkuk’s confidence is well-placed because we know how it all goes down. Within a few years or decades, depending on when Habakkuk prophesied, the Chaldeans would invade Judah, destroy Jerusalem and the Temple, and exile its inhabitants (586 BCE; 2 Kings 25:1-21). Forty-seven years later Babylon itself would be overrun by the Persians (539 BCE; cf. Daniel 5:25-31). Babylon would be destroyed and rebuilt by the Persians; when the Seleucid Macedonians decided to build a new capital at Ctesiphon up the river, Babylon lost importance and soon faded. By the time the Abbasid caliphs built their capital even further up the river at Baghdad, Babylon was a ruin, lost to the sand until European archaeologists who believed in the name of the God of Israel would excavate it. Yes, Babylon would humiliate Judah, but Babylon would suffer even greater humiliation. YHWH would vindicate His name.

While we know that, and Habakkuk has confidence in it, as Habakkuk puts down his stylus, such is all in the future. For the moment he must wait, and the expectation of terror leads to very physical, and visceral, consequences: Habakkuk’s body trembled, his lips quivered, rottenness entered his bones, and he trembled at the magnitude of what was about to take place (Habakkuk 3:16). Habakkuk knew the terrifying things the Chaldeans would do the people of God and the house of YHWH. It was not yet, but it would be, and soon. Perhaps Habakkuk lived to see the devastation; perhaps not. Regardless, the book of Habakkuk ends with this pregnant expectation: it is going to happen, it will be ugly, YHWH will be vindicated. But it is not yet. When it comes, it will come speedily; but it is not yet (Habakkuk 2:2-3).

As Christians we should be able to sympathize with Habakkuk. We ought to be acquainted with God’s great acts of salvation and judgment: Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, rose again, ascended to the Father, and was given all authority (Acts 2:14-36, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Jerusalem was visited again in judgment, this time by the Romans; the Temple was again destroyed, never to be rebuilt (Matthew 24:1-36). The Romans, in turn, would meet their end (Revelation 12:1-19:21). The promise has been made that Jesus will return as He ascended (Acts 1:9-11): all will rise from the dead, the judgment will take place, the righteous will spend eternity in the Lord’s presence, and the wicked will be given over to their desires in hell (Matthew 25:1-46, Acts 17:30-31, Romans 8:17-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-5:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Revelation 20:11-22:6). As Christians, we have every reason to maintain confidence that all these things will take place. Yet we find ourselves in the same position as Habakkuk: we are to wait quietly (2 Thessalonians 3:12). It is not delayed nor will it delay; God is exhibiting patience toward all so they can come to repentance (2 Peter 3:1-9). When it comes, it will come quickly; none will escape (2 Peter 3:10-13).

And so we Christians wait for the judgment. We must keep living by our faith and practice righteousness (Habakkuk 2:4, Matthew 24:42-25:13). It may be within a few years, decades, or perhaps centuries; we cannot know. But we can know that it will happen. The Lord will return. But we wait, as Habakkuk waited. Maranatha!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The God of the Living

On that day there came to him Sadducees, they that say that there is no resurrection: and they asked him, saying,
“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.’ Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first married and deceased, and having no seed left his wife unto his brother; in like manner the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And after them all, the woman died. In the resurrection therefore whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her.”
But Jesus answered and said unto them, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:23-32).

The Sadducees no doubt loved their “gotcha” question for all those who believed in resurrection. How could they expect to be thoroughly upstaged and humiliated by this Man from Galilee?

After Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph He threw down the gauntlet in Matthew 21:12-13, overthrowing the tables of the money-changers, uttering forth the same condemnation on the Second Temple as Jeremiah had done on the First (cf. Jeremiah 7:11). The Sadducees, named from Zadok the High Priest in the days of David (2 Samuel 8:17), were one of the three principal Jewish sects of the late Second Temple period; most of their number primarily included the priests and others who had a vested interest in the perpetuation of the Temple and the status quo. They were not many in number, but they had great wealth and prominence among the people. Jesus’ challenge to the Temple could not go unopposed; the Sadducees were going to put this Galilean in His place.

The Sadducees accepted the legitimacy of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Since they found nothing explicitly in it regarding the resurrection of the dead, they rejected it; their views on this issue were one of the frequently disputed matters between them and the Pharisees, who believed in the legitimacy of the Prophets and the Writings and thus the resurrection of the dead as well (Matthew 22:23; cf. Acts 23:6-10). It is highly unlikely that this was the first time this “gotcha” scenario in Matthew 22:24-28 had been posed; it was quite likely a common question to a Pharisee or to someone else who believed in resurrection. The purpose of the question was to put Jesus in an awkward position, humiliate Him before the crowds, and cause Him to lose legitimacy.

The scenario is outlandish and to the extreme but one that nevertheless remains possible. The Sadducees focus on Moses’ legislation regarding levirate marriage in Deuteronomy 25:5-10: if a man dies without offspring to inherit his property, his widow shall marry a brother or a near kinsman so as to raise up offspring to inherit the dead man’s property. Therefore the Sadducees posit a family of seven brothers with extraordinarily bad luck: the first marries a woman, but dies before any offspring are born. The woman then marries the second brother with the same result; the same happens for brothers three through seven (Matthew 22:24-28). So they pose their “gotcha” question: if this resurrection of the dead is possible and true, to whom will this woman be married? To all seven brothers? Just the first? After all, they all had her as wife!

No doubt this question had caused great embarrassment and consternation to many Pharisees and others over the years, yet it rested on an assumption and presupposition that Jesus immediately exploits. The Sadducees presume that marriage would continue in the resurrection; Jesus declares it is not so (Matthew 22:29-30). In the resurrection there is no need for marriage; all who obtain the resurrection of life will share in fellowship with God and each other, and since they will never die, there is no need for further procreation (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Instead, those who share in the resurrection are like the angels who have no need to marry or procreate (Matthew 22:30).

Jesus then expertly turns the tables with a masterful piece of exegesis. The Sadducees intended to cause Him consternation, embarrassment, and thus humiliation before the crowd on account of their “gotcha” scenario; upon their own ground Jesus exposes their lack of understanding and faith in God’s Word and power. He does so by quoting Exodus 3:6 in which YHWH declares He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Exodus, as the second book in the Torah, was held as sacred by Jesus and the Sadducees alike. Jesus points out the implication of YHWH’s declaration: how can God “be” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob if those three patriarchs are dead? If they were no more, then YHWH was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thus Jesus declares that God is not the God of the dead but of the living; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still live and await the day of resurrection (Matthew 22:31-32). The crowd was astonished at this teaching (Matthew 22:33). The Sadducees were put to silence, having no ability to respond to what Jesus had declared (Matthew 22:34). It must have been a bitter pill to swallow; not only would every Pharisee and anyone else who believed in resurrection give a similar answer to their “gotcha” question, now they would also get called out on the basis of Exodus 3:6. Little wonder many of the scribes thought Jesus had answered well in Luke 20:39; they now had ammunition against the Sadducees!

We can gain much from this story. We see that outlandish scenarios are the desperate last stand of false doctrines; they frequently rest on assumptions and presuppositions that are easily challenged and undermine the legitimacy of the doctrinal position of the one posing it. We learn about the nature of the resurrection: there will be no marriage in the resurrection, nor will their be any need for procreation. While some may have great desire for sex in the resurrection, Matthew 22:30 suggests this is but wishful thinking. Greater glory and joy, after all, awaits us in the resurrection (Revelation 21:1-22:6). Jesus affirms the power of inference: it would be easy to miss the detail of God’s present standing as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to not automatically connect such with the resurrection. Jesus proves willing to rest His entire affirmation of the resurrection before the Sadducees on this inference since they all affirm the canonicity of Exodus.

Jesus proves willing to depend upon Exodus 3:6 to support His argument not because it is the only way to defend resurrection from the Torah but because of the great importance of the revelation of God in Exodus 3:6. God is revealing Himself for the first time to Moses; in Exodus 6:2-3 God reveals Himself to Moses as YHWH. YHWH is a nominal form derived from the Hebrew word for “to be,” thus, something akin to “Is-ness”, “Being,” “the Existent One,” and thus “the Eternal One.” As the Creator, Source, and Sustainer of life (Genesis 1:1-2:4, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3), YHWH is the God of life and thus of the living. God is not the God of the dead; in Sheol there is no remembrance of God or praise for Him (Psalm 6:5). If God is the God of the living, then He will give life to those whom He loves.

Exodus 3:6 therefore is not properly “proof” of the resurrection; instead, resurrection is perhaps the unexpected but absolutely the logical conclusion of the fact that God is the God of the living, that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If God is the God of the living, then those who stand before God must do so in life, and that is precisely what God has promised all people who serve the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16, 36, 6:40, 10:10, 11:25).

The Sadducees’ great error came long before they stood before Jesus with their “gotcha” question; it came when they did not properly understand the Scriptures, the power of God, or really the essential nature of God. God is YHWH; God is, and is thus the God of the living, not the dead. In God there is life; those who are in God will share in life, both spiritual life in Jesus and life in the resurrection on the final day. Let us put our trust in the YHWH, the God of the living, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and glorify Him in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Conformed to the Body of His Glory

[The Lord Jesus Christ] who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself (Philippians 3:21).

The centerpiece of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of the resurrection of all on the final day, has always been a stumbling block in culture. Among the Jews of the first century, some sects like the Sadducees denied the resurrection entirely, while those who did believe in the resurrection envisioned it only in terms of the last day (John 11:24, Acts 23:8). To the Greeks the resurrection was sheer folly (Acts 17:32): while the different philosophical schools among the Greeks had their many differences, all were agreed about the betterment of the soul than the flesh. Philosophers like Plato wished to leave the physical world behind; to them, to be raised from the dead would be more akin to “hell” than “heaven.” One thing was certain to them: the dead stay dead.

Ever since there have been many who have questioned and challenged the resurrection on various grounds, but one of the most pernicious challenges to the resurrection of Jesus involves its over-spiritualization. Many share many of the same doubts as the Greeks regarding the profit in the creation and yearn to live in a purely spiritual state. So it was among the Gnostics in the first and second centuries, suggesting the resurrection was already past, understood only in terms of spiritual enlightenment or regeneration (2 Timothy 2:16-18).

It is true that Paul does speak of baptism as a resurrection in Romans 6:3-7; the soul is dead in sin and is brought back to life in Christ through faith in conversion and discipleship. Yet Paul is quite clear that, for believers, the “spiritual resurrection” has already occurred (note the past tense in Romans 6:3-7), yet there remains a resurrection that has yet to take place (1 Corinthians 15:1-58).

We get some understanding about this resurrection from Paul’s exhortations to the Philippians. Paul has spoken about how he proved willing to consider all the credentials he obtained under the old covenant as garbage to know Christ and the power of His resurrection in order to obtain his own resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11). He insists that he has not yet obtained that resurrection (Philippians 3:12). At the end of this section he declares that our citizenship is in heaven, from which we await the Savior, the Lord Jesus, who will “fashion anew” (Greek metaschematisei, “change the figure of, transform”) the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of His glory (Philippians 3:20-21). This “fashion[ing] anew” and “conform[ity]” to the body of His glory is the bodily resurrection of the believer and his or her transformation for immortality!

We are not told much about Jesus and His resurrected body, but we do know that after He arose from the dead, death had no more power over Him, and he would die no more (Romans 6:8-9). He was recognizably Jesus, able to eat and no phantasm, yet different, able to walk through walls and be in different places at inhuman speeds, indicating transcendence of the space-time continuum (Luke 24:31-43, John 20:19-20). Paul speaks of the transformation in the resurrection of the corruptible and mortal body into an incorruptible and immortal body, the transformation of the body empowered by the breath of life to the body empowered by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:35-53). John assures us that even though we do not fully understand what we will be, we know we will be like Jesus on that day (1 John 3:1-3).

Paul, therefore, provides a message of hope for the Christian: Jesus will return one day, and through the power of God, He will raise our bodies from the dead and transform them so as to be just like His glorified, resurrected body. This is part of the ultimate redemption of the creation envisioned by Paul in Romans 8:17-25 and seen in a figure in Revelation 21:1-22:5: a place where futility, decay, corruption, death, violence, suffering, sin, and all evil are no more, where God dwells with man and provides him with eternal comfort and glory. This takes place when the new Jerusalem, the holy city, the Bride, the church, comes down from heaven (Revelation 21:1-4); this redemption is not the rejection and denial of the creation of God, but its restoration to the condition in which God intended it from the beginning, accomplished perhaps through fire (if 2 Peter 3:1-13 maintains primacy) but most assuredly through the power of God. God did not give up on His good creation when it suffered decay and corruption when sin and death entered it; He did not give up on humanity once they sinned against Him. Instead, in Christ, He makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelation 21:5). The old world of sin and death meets its end and the new world of righteousness and glory takes its place (Romans 8:18, 2 Peter 3:13); the old humble body is raised, transformed, and obtains the glory of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:35-53, Philippians 3:21). That will be the final victory over sin and death!

It would have been very easy for early Christians to minimize or spiritualize the resurrection; their message would have been much easier for the nations to accept that way. Yet even though the bodily resurrection was an embarrassment to the Greeks, the early Christians continued to insist on it, rather bearing the insult and shame of such a view rather than to conform to the popular opinion of the day. They knew that the ultimate hope of the Christian is not in the spiritual resurrection which can be obtained now by finding eternal life through trusting in and serving the Lord Jesus Christ; their ultimate hope was the resurrection and transformation of the body and the final victory over sin and death on the last day. Early Christians knew they already had the redemption of the soul, and adopted as children into the family of God (Romans 8:1-16), yet they hoped for the full adoption as children of God in the redemption of the body in the resurrection (Romans 8:17-25). The resurrection of the body was non-negotiable in their eyes, and for good reason: their hope was in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23); if we do not share in a resurrection like His, we will not be like Him! On the first day of the week after the Passover in 30 CE, the tomb was empty, and the disciples of Jesus saw Him in His resurrected body. They then proclaimed that the day would come when the tomb of believers will also be empty and they will be forever with the Lord in their resurrected, glorified bodies (John 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Philippians 3:21)! Yes, we must experience spiritual resurrection, and must do so quickly before the Lord returns. Yet we ought to look forward to the day of the resurrection of the body, as the early Christians did, looking forward to the transformation of the body toward conformity to the glorified body of Christ, when death will be finally vanquished once and for all! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Shutdown

For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

Early in the morning on 01 October 2013, all non-essential functions of the United States government shut down after no agreement could be made in Congress to continue to fund the government’s operations. Yet another showdown regarding the “debt ceiling” loomed large at the time as well, possibly putting the “full faith and credit” of the United States government at risk. Many people will lose income; many tasks will be left undone. Politicians, pundits, and American citizens argue and debate regarding the process, nature, and wisdom of these events and are concerned about the future.

This particular episode highlights the challenges that come with earthly government. All of us find ourselves as citizens of some earthly government or another; Paul used his privileges as a Roman citizen to his advantage in proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 21:39-40, 22:23-30). Christians have an obligation to honor and respect earthly governments and their officers, obeying all regulations consistent with the purposes of God, and paying appropriate taxes (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17). Therefore, worldly government has its God-given purpose on earth, and we do well to respect that. Nevertheless, for generations, people have put too much confidence and emphasis on government, for good and for ill. The Israelites during the Second Temple period experienced persecution and oppression by pagan governments, but their solution always seemed to involve a Jewish government that would prove equally ruthless against the pagans. In various ways some have looked to earthly rulers to promote and maintain Christianity, from Constantine to almost the present day, leading to the Crusades and the Inquisition. Others are convinced that the Gospel should be advanced through government legislation, as if people will follow after God if the state requires it. Far too many expend a lot of time and energy into politics and political causes, imagining that they will find fulfillment in life by advancing some cause, however truly noble or ignoble, through political channels. For many the ultimate goal is the imposition of their particular views on politics and government to prevail at the expense of others; if they accomplish that, they will be satisfied.

Yet there is one trend that always proves true about any sort of human organization, be it government, corporations, non-profit organizations, and so on: they never can fully deliver on what is promised. They are filled with fallible people who often make mistakes; many are corrupted by the lust for power and money and serve themselves and their associates rather than seeking the welfare of all of their people. Even if one can find good rulers making good laws and seeking the welfare of their people, there is no guarantee that it will last: the next generation of leadership might prove corrupt. One legislator’s life work could be undone quickly by others in the future! Furthermore, in order to make everyone happy, decisions are made that most often make no one happy. Politics demands compromise; no one ever gets all of what they want; it gets messy and complicated, just as the shutdown illustrates. As human endeavors they can lead to some good but never can achieve the ultimate good. We were never supposed to put our faith in them as our saviors and redeemers (Psalms 20:7, 146:3).

In Jesus of Nazareth God invites us to find a higher calling and better citizenship, as Paul indicates in Philippians 3:20. Early Christians suffered all sorts of indignities, even unto death, because they declared that Jesus was truly the Lord, the Savior, the Son of God, and not Caesar (Revelation 13:1-10). On account of His death, resurrection, and ascension, God gave Jesus a Kingdom that would never end, and He would rule in righteousness, mercy, and justice (Daniel 2:44, 7:13-14, Revelation 19:11). Through the proclamation of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and ultimate return, the good news of the Gospel, all men and women are invited to submit to the lordship of Jesus the Christ, the King, and serve Him in His Kingdom, manifest on earth as His church, the congregation of the people of God, and obtain rescue and redemption from sin, death, and all evil (Acts 2:14-41, Romans 1:16, 8:1-15, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Colossians 1:13, 18). We have every reason for confidence in the Lord Jesus and in our service to Him; He has not failed in His promises and will not fail us. If we put His Kingdom and righteousness first, and serve Him, we build up treasure in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-34). It will not fade away or decay. It will not be corrupted by a later generation. It will not suffer a shutdown. It will continue to exist and accomplish the purposes of God who established it. And Jesus will gain the ultimate victory over sin, death, and evil, and all who are His will share in glory forevermore (Revelation 19:1-22:6)!

The United States government might experience a shutdown, but the Kingdom of God in Christ will never shut down. Jesus has shut down the powers of sin and death through His death and resurrection, and on the final day, all of the evil powers will find themselves shut down and condemned (Romans 8:1-23, Revelation 19:1-20:15). On that day Christians will experience glory beyond comprehension, and all their confidence in the Lord Jesus will be more than justified (Romans 8:17-18, Revelation 21:1-22:6). God’s power to save comes through the good news of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and return of the Lord Jesus Christ, not by the sword or by gun or by legislation or a non-profit organization or any other such thing. Let us put our trust in God in Christ, become citizens of the heavenly Kingdom, and in all service await the return of our Savior on the final day!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Longsuffering of the Lord

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

If after thirty years people were already asking, “where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4), how much more so after 1,980 years?

These days you might still hear the phrase, “slower than the second coming,” to describe someone or something that is not moving very quickly. That type of phrase says much about people’s attitudes toward the Lord’s return: it’s taking a very long time. It seems slow! To many it has become almost a joke. Many believers have come to experience “apocalyptic fervor burnout” on account of the continual drumming up of the expectation of the Lord’s imminent return only for time to continue on yet again. Some have come to discount the eventual return of Jesus completely; some suggest it happened in a “spiritual” way in the past, while others think of it as a relic of an earlier, more eschatologically-minded age. Even among those who do look forward to the day of the Lord’s return, it seems remote, something not highly likely to happen within our lifetimes. The Lord’s return, therefore, becomes a very abstract and almost academic matter.

The Apostles expected this kind of mockery and fatigue. Paul warns the Thessalonians about staying awake, ever ready and vigilant for His coming, as it will be like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10). Peter, in 2 Peter 3:1-14, also speaks directly regarding the expectation of the Lord’s return, especially in light of those who mock and deride the suggestion that the Lord would return. He wishes to remind such people about the great Flood of Genesis 6:9-8:22: it came with plenty of warning and yet happened suddenly (2 Peter 3:5-7).

Yet Peter’s very potent argument involves a challenge to our expectations: why do we think that the second coming is “slow” to happen? Why do we consider the 1,980 and counting years as a reason to doubt God’s faithfulness? Peter quotes Psalm 90:4 in 2 Peter 3:8 to underscore the challenge: to God a thousand years is as one day, and one day as a thousand years. God transcends the space-time continuum; time does not matter to God. A thousand years, which is a long time to humans, is likened to a very short time in God’s estimation (one day). And one day, which we consider a short amount of time, can yet be understood as a long time, a thousand years, in God’s sight. 1,980 years? Simultaneously like less than two days or as much as 723 million years. Time, therefore, is irrelevant when discussing God and what He is doing. Nevertheless, why is it that the Lord has yet to return?

In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter makes it clear that it is not a matter of time. God is not slow; the return of Jesus is not “delayed”; the Lord’s return should not be used by us as a marker for someone or something’s lack of speed. Instead, He is patient, “longsuffering” toward us, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Peter will go on to warn everyone that just as the Flood came upon people quickly, so Jesus will come like a thief in the night, and that is a good warning to heed: when the Lord returns, it will be very fast, and there will not be time for any more second chances (2 Peter 3:10). In light of all this, believers should live holy lives, waiting earnestly for the day of God, ever prepared and vigilant whether He comes or not (2 Peter 3:11-14). And then he encourages believers to consider the longsuffering of the Lord as salvation (2 Peter 3:15).

It is for our benefit, then, that the Lord has yet to return. We can certainly personalize this truth: if you are a believer in Christ, and have submitted to the Lord through belief, confession, repentance, and baptism, and walk with the Lord as His follower, when did you come to that faith and obtain your salvation? Now ask yourself: what would my fate have been if the Lord had returned the day before? God facilitated your salvation through His patience; why now would you impose on that patience? Perhaps today is the “day before” or the “day of” the obtaining of salvation for another, and that person has as much a right and access to God’s patience as you.

The Lord, therefore, has been longsuffering toward the world for 1,980 years. It is good for us to consider the longsuffering of Jesus toward us: how many times have we grieved Him because of our sins, weaknesses, and immaturity? What if the Lord were not as patient and longsuffering toward us as He is? What would our fate be? And, God forbid, what if the Lord was as patient with us as we are with our fellow human beings? If God were only as patient as we are, the world would have ended a very long time ago!

Peter well defines the longsuffering of the Lord as salvation: if the Lord were not patient with the creation, we might never have enjoyed the opportunity to live, or, in a darker light, perhaps would live in sin and be condemned before we might have turned in repentance back to the Living God. God’s longsuffering has allowed for our rescue, and how many times do we continue to depend on the longsuffering of God as we seek to grow in maturity? As it is with us, so it is with others. The world continues because the Lord is showing longsuffering toward them as well. As God has been patient with us, and that patience allows for our salvation, so we do well to be patient with others, both within and without the household of faith. We needed some time and wherewithal to recognize our challenges and to come to the Lord for healing; so do others. We have needed our time to grow in the faith and come to understand many of its precepts in greater clarity and understanding; so do others. We may have gotten further on the path of Jesus than others, but just as we needed to cross that terrain, so do they, and we do well to seek to truly build them up and strengthen them through that process just as we were, or at least should have been, built up and strengthened at that stage ourselves.

God is faithful to His promises. Jesus will return. Until then, let us not think of Jesus as slow or delayed; let us recognize that God is patient and longsuffering toward us, and be thankful that we have been able to obtain salvation through that patience of God. Let us account the longsuffering of God as salvation and praise and glorify Him in Christ in all things!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Outer Darkness

“And cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

Darkness is not what it used to be. For thousands of years, once the sun set, most light was gone. The moon might provide some light; perhaps one could use a few candles, oil lamps, a fire, or some such thing to provide some light and heat. Otherwise there would be all-encompassing darkness, the absence of light. These days it is hard to find places where such darkness can be experienced: we have light everywhere and seemingly at all times. This makes it more difficult to imagine just how truly “dark” darkness is.

There is a reason that “darkness,” throughout time and in different cultures, represents something painful, distressing, unknown, fearful, or something that causes apprehension. Light is almost never associated with evil or anything negative; darkness seems synonymous with such things. We have a built-in understanding that there is not much good in “dark,” and plenty of which to be afraid and which we do well to avoid.

Jesus understands these things; He knows how God is light, source of all that is good and holy (John 1:4-5). In God there is light and no darkness at all: nothing evil, carnal, leading to misery and despair (1 John 1:5). If God is light, then those who follow after God should be in the light (1 John 1:7); this means that darkness, as the absence of light, is an image for all of that which is apart from and hostile to God (John 1:5, 1 John 1:6). To be in darkness, therefore, is not good; how much worse, then, would it be to find oneself in the “outer” darkness?

Jesus speaks of this “outer darkness” three times in Matthew’s Gospel: Matthew 8:12, Matthew 22:13, and Matthew 25:30. Each instance involves a person or a group of people who have incurred God’s displeasure; each time Jesus says that there “weeping and gnashing of teeth” takes place. What is this “outer darkness”?

Jesus never comes out and explicitly identifies what or where this “outer darkness” is. We gain a clue from the description of weeping and gnashing of teeth: in Matthew 13:42, 50, Jesus says that those who cause stumbling, those that do iniquity, and the wicked will be cast into the furnace of fire after the Judgment, and “there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”

On a literal level, this makes no sense: fire provides light, and we would expect no light in the “outer darkness.” Then again, the very idea of “outer darkness” seems strange on a literal level! All of this is for good reason; Jesus is not speaking literally. He is using different images to express the same terrible fate: the place we call hell!

When we think of “hell,” we normally associate it with a fiery furnace or some such thing where the disobedient and condemned suffer. These images in Matthew 13:42, 50 certainly suggest such a thing, but we must be careful about literalizing the idea. After all, Jesus speaks of the “outer darkness” as well as the “fiery furnace.” They are both illustrations!

Jesus does well to describe hell in terms of the “outer darkness” for the reasons we’ve already described: darkness is the absence of light, and if God is light, then darkness is the absence of God. We find far too many people presently living in darkness (cf. John 1:4-5, 9-10, 12:46), already in a sense separated from God. At death that separation becomes more acute: they will find themselves, by their own choice, in the “outer darkness,” a representation of full and complete separation from God the Creator, the Source of Light and Life.

It will not be pleasant there, for it is a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Such are the responses to suffering and pain! We must be careful to not allow our imaginations to get the better of us; what the condemned experience and why it leads to weeping and gnashing of teeth is not specified, and much damage has been done by believers who seemingly gleefully describe the sorts of tortures and miseries they imagine await the condemned. No one should feel any joy on account of the existence of the outer darkness or that anyone will dwell there.

Perhaps the greatest surprise about the “outer darkness” are those whom Jesus says are going there. In Matthew 8:10-12, He says that it will be the “sons of the kingdom” who will be cast there, and by that He means those participants in the covenant between God and Israel who were not truly faithful to God. In Matthew 22:9-13, the one cast into the outer darkness was a man invited to the wedding feast without wearing the appropriate garment, understood as one supplied by the one providing the feast. Finally, in Matthew 25:24-30, it is the servant of the Master who was given the one talent and who buried it who is cast into the “outer darkness.”

In all of these examples, it is not pagan unbelievers or loose sinners who are cast into the “outer darkness”; they are people who believe in God, even many who will believe in Jesus as the Christ! Jesus speaks of the “outer darkness” as a way to warn believers against complacency and self-satisfaction. Whoever thinks that merely because they mentally accept the idea that Jesus is the Christ means they will automatically be saved will be sorely disappointed. Whoever feels that since they were raised in a Christian environment and by virtue of their lineage and cultural identity they will enter the resurrection of life will find themselves far from God. Whoever believes that others should work in the vineyard of the Lord but feel they are exempt will receive the censure of Jesus and eternity in the outer darkness!

Such does not mean that pagan unbelievers or loose sinners are off the hook; as we have seen in Matthew 13:42, 50, other passages address the condemnation awaiting others who are disobedient to God. Nevertheless, Jesus’ warning is appropriate. Yes, God is the light; God is the source of good things. We all want to identify with the light and to receive those blessings. But if we want to be in the light, we must walk in the light (1 John 1:7): we need to follow after Jesus, conforming our thoughts, attitudes, and actions to His. If we are not conforming our thoughts, attitudes, and actions (all three; not just one or two) to those of Jesus, the truth is not in us; we’re deceiving ourselves, confident of our presence in the light even though we walk in darkness. If we are found in the darkness on the day of Judgment, we will find ourselves permanently in the outer darkness!

What a terrible fate to go into the outer darkness! It is not something we should wish on ourselves, our loved ones, or even our worst enemies. Thankfully, no one is forced to go to the outer darkness; we all have the opportunity to leave the darkness and share in the light of God in Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:8). Let us heed the Savior’s warning and seek to walk in the light as He is the light!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Source of Our Hope

If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable (1 Corinthians 15:19).

The Greeks told the story of Pandora, the first woman on earth. She was given a box (really, a jar) and told not to open it. But she became curious, and opened the box. Immediately came forth all sorts of evil that quickly spread all over the world. She quickly closed the box, leaving only one thing left in it: hope.

While the story of Pandora and her box is mythical, there are good reasons why it is told: there are plenty of evils in this life, and they provide all sorts of misery. People get sick. People get hurt. Things fall apart or decay. People die. These things are all distressing and sad, and to what do we look to ease the pain? Hope.

But is that hope a good thing? In the myth of Pandora’s box, it may or may not be. Maybe hope is seen as something that helps people; but one could also interpret hope in that story as another evil imposed upon men by the gods. If there is nothing better than this life, with a dreadful underworld awaiting us, hope is cruel. It gives the pretense of better days without ever being able to truly deliver.

So it is with all hope in this life. If this life is all there is, there is no good reason for hope: evil persists in the world and will continue to persist no matter what. People do bad things to one another. We can try to improve our lot, but we are still all going to die. There are good reasons why Ecclesiastes seems depressing: it looks at things only in terms of life “under the sun.” And if it is true that there is nothing beyond this life, then the most pitiable people are Christians, because they expended their entire lives in this most foolish hope that something better awaited them. They experienced all sorts of deprivations and sufferings, and all for nothing!

The sad reality is that any and all hope based in this world will fail. If there is nothing beyond this life, there really is no good reason for hope at all. How depressing! How intolerable!

Yet, as Paul goes on to declare, Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We have reason to hope, but this is not a hope based in the way this world currently works. Our hope must be rooted in Jesus Christ and His Kingdom which represents the expectation of a new and better world, one in which righteousness dwells (cf. 2 Peter 3:11-13). We might presently be subject to death and decay, but the day is coming when we will overcome such in the resurrection (Romans 8:18-25). That is hope indeed!

Many view this hope in escapist terms, assuming that the hope of the resurrection does not really change anything about life now. Such could not be further from the truth; our lives in Christ and the lives we are to live as conformed in His image are grounded in the hope of the resurrection (Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21). We can live our lives in this world the way God would have us live them precisely because we have hope for better days; if we somehow think we are just sitting around and waiting to get our ticket punched, we will find ourselves terribly disappointed on that final day (Matthew 7:21-23)!

This is why Jesus’ resurrection is so utterly critical: without it, there is no reason for hope. Without the resurrection, life is that meaningless trudge through pain and misery envisioned by the Greeks. Without the resurrection, we are lost in our sin without hope.

Little wonder, then, that Paul constantly emphasizes how we must be rooted in Christ and live for Christ (Romans 8:29, Colossians 2:6-7). He is the source of hope; through His resurrection, we have confidence that life is not meaningless and life is worth living. The reality of pain and misery is still there, but it need not define us or lead us to despair. We can overcome through Jesus in the resurrection. The resurrection changes everything. Let us praise God for Jesus and the resurrection and be sustained by our hope for the better world to come!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Time and God

But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8).

To say that we live in a fast-paced world might be one of the greatest understatements of the age. Technological advances allow us to get things done more quickly and efficiently than ever; communication can happen instantaneously. We now expect things to be done already; we have very little patience to wait for anything that we feel takes too long. A package may take a week to ship; a website might require a few additional seconds to load; we chafe and chomp at the bit, wanting to have it or to see it already.

Meanwhile, Jesus died, was raised in power, and ascended on high almost two thousand years ago. For two thousand years we have been waiting for His return and for the consummation of all things (cf. Romans 8:17-24, 2 Peter 3:1-14). And to think that even within a hundred years of Jesus’ death people were scoffing, wondering when He would return (2 Peter 3:4)!

Peter wants to encourage Christians regarding this dilemma: why is God taking so long to accomplish His purposes? But before he can provide an answer, he must first establish the proper perspective on all of these matters.

Peter declares that one day is as a thousand years to God, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8). It has been tempting for people to emphasize one half of this verse over the other half, suggesting that one “Biblical day” is really a thousand year period; from the second century until today people attempt to hypothesize how much longer we will be around on the earth based on this suggestion. But Peter’s statement is not that one day is a thousand years, or, for that matter, that a thousand years is one day. Peter uses a simile: to God, a thousand years is like a day; a day is like a thousand years.

Such a statement, on its surface, seems ridiculous. It is ridiculous only when one seeks to literalize the statements or try to use the statements to make some declaration about the nature of time in the Bible. Peter is not providing a cipher with which one can unlock the numerological mysteries of the Bible; instead, he uses a simile to communicate how God transcends time. A day, a thousand years; it does not matter with God. God is above time, eternal in nature, from everlasting to everlasting (Romans 16:26, Psalm 41:13).

Therefore, even though we are bound by the constraints of time, spending our few decades up to perhaps a century on the earth, we should not impose such constraints upon God. Sure, to humans, two thousand years seems like a long time; yet, on the divine scale, one could compare it to two days. Then again, humans believe that two days is a short period of time; yet, on the divine scale, one can compare it to two thousand years! God cannot be so easily compressed and fit into the boxes that dictate our existence!

Peter says this in order for us to take comfort and be encouraged. The fact that two thousand years have transpired between the momentous events of the first century and the present day does not mean that God has neglected or abandoned us. It does not mean that God is slow as humans would consider slowness. Time is meaningless to Him; He has His purposes, He is carrying them out, and when His purpose has been fully accomplished to His satisfaction, the end will come and we will understand better.

God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan; 500 or so years later, they obtained it (Genesis 17:1-14, Joshua). God promised Israel through Moses that He would raise up a prophet like Moses for the people; 1,450 years later, Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the promise (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). When God cursed mankind, He provided the promise of the One who would bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15); it took no less than 4,500 years before Jesus’ death and resurrection allowed anyone to be freed from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-4). God will do what God does according to His purposes, and He is not limited to our time-frame or our scale of time. Let us therefore be patient and maintain our trust in God and His purposes for us in Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Blessed Are the Meek

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

The meek rarely, if ever, get good press, if they get any press at all. In fact, being meek or part of “the meek” is often like being part of a running joke.

There are reasons for that. The meek are people who are more quiet and gentle. They may have internal (or even external!) strength, but they keep it under control. They are reckoned as “mild” people. As such, they are easily forgotten and passed over. It is always easier to just hear the shouting voices and to deal with the loud mouths, along with those who lash out and act out according to their whims and desires. It is much easier to forget about those people who are more reasonable and who maintain their composure. And, as tyrants know, they are a lot easier to oppress as well!

But Jesus does not make a joke out of the meek– He will, in fact, later identify with them (Matthew 11:29). He declares them blessed– happy and fortunate (Matthew 5:5). He can do so because of their ultimate end– they inherit the earth (or land, Matthew 5:5).

Much ink has been spilled and not a few false doctrines have been advanced on the basis of the meek “inheriting the earth.” Suffice it to say that Jesus is evoking, if not quoting, Psalm 37:11, and much regarding the “beatitudes” is quite practical and earthy. Jesus is as much challenging the standard worldview about our time on the earth as He is pointing to some later spiritual reality; if this is not clear from Matthew 5:3-9, it is much more so in a later retelling in Luke 6:20-26. We are not wise to build our eschatological views primarily on what Jesus says in Matthew 5:5.

Nevertheless, why is inheriting the earth the reason for the blessed state of the meek? It speaks to the ultimate value in meekness– there is strength there, but it does not have to be flexed and used. The meek are more than happy to remain under the radar, so to speak– loud mouths may, for a time, advance in life, but if they run afoul of authority, we all know their end. Meanwhile the meek are able to continue their existence, reproduce, and maintain their existence on earth. Moderation and self-control pay off in the end.

Even though we do well to understand the verse in terms of the physical in its context, we can certainly make spiritual applications. There is great value in sensibility, maintaining strength under control, and not feeling compelled to loudly advance oneself. Jesus Himself is meek in heart, and we are called upon to follow His example (Matthew 11:29, 1 John 2:6).

The world does not lack loud people aggressively trying to advance their own agendas; it never has, it never will. In such an environment, those who have no less conviction but maintain moderation and self-control are easily passed over but are no less valuable or important. Meekness has never been really considered a virtue in the world, let alone a mark of manliness; yet in the Kingdom of God, those who are meek are greatly treasured and honored. Let us work to develop a spirit of meekness, and inherit the Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Dragnet

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach; and they sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but the bad they cast away. So shall it be in the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the righteous, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:47-50).

As Jesus is preaching and teaching in Galilee near the Sea of Galilee, it is all but expected that He would use some kind of image from the fishing industry in His parables. And as Matthew finishes the presentation of a good number of Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13, we have a fishing parable to show us the significant consequences that will come on the basis of what we will do or not do with Jesus and His Kingdom.

We find that parallelism among the parables is maintained in Matthew 13. The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23) stands at the fore of the parables, perhaps understood as the parable of parables. We then find the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43), which is parallel to the Parable of the Dragnet we are considering (Matthew 13:47-50). The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32) and the Parable of the Leaven (Matthew 13:33) are paired together and are parallel, as are the Parables of the Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:44-46).

The dragnet is a time-honored fishing technique, one that would be well known to Peter, Andrew, James, and John (cf. Luke 5:1-11). A large net is lowered into the water and pulled along, catching within it anything that gets in its way. When full– or whenever desired– the net is pulled back up into the boat and its contents emptied out. Ideally, one would have made a good catch of fish that could fetch a nice income from the marketplace. Regardless, many things will get caught in the net that are not desired– smaller fish, perhaps some other creatures, and the like, and those are best cast back into the water or as refuse.

So we have the Parable of the Dragnet: the fish are people, the net is the Kingdom and its upcoming day of Judgment, and the fishermen are the angels. Those who are worthy shall be kept; all others shall be reckoned as refuse, cast into the hell described as the “furnace of fire,” where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:47-50). As it was with wheat and weeds, so now it is with fish: some will be preserved, and others will be burned with fire.

Therefore, we see that the basic message of the Parable of the Dragnet is the same as the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. Yet there are some differences in detail and explanation, and then there is the question of placement.

There is a qualitative difference between wheat and weeds: they are different types of plants. Fish, however, are fish; we are not given the impression that the “good fish” are one species of fish, and the “bad fish” are another species, but that the fish might very well be of the same species but of different quality. In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the “tares” are to be harvested first; the Parable of the Dragnet vividly describes the separating of the good fish from the bad fish. The tares are to be burned; the bad fish are “cast away.”

We should not press these distinctions in detail too far; we must remember that these are images designed to help us understand the spiritual reality behind the image, and not to get too enamored with the images themselves. Nevertheless, Jesus is not simply repeating Himself with the Parable of the Dragnet.

The fact that the fish are not really described has significance. It is not as if people are inherently divided into different classes, with one group of people who begin well, remain well, and end well, and another group of people who begin as refuse, remain as refuse, and end as refuse. Just as the fish are fish, so people are people. There is no distinction made between people based upon their birth, class, ethnicity, gender, or any other similar measure (Galatians 3:28). Put another way, God does not show partiality toward some and not others (Romans 2:11). No one is irrevocably destined to be a “weed” or a “bad fish.” Instead, in this parable, the distinction is based on the value of each fish, which in the spiritual reality can be understood as the character of each person. Is our character bad, evil, and natural, or does our character have Jesus and His Kingdom impressed upon it (cf. Romans 8:1-11)? The Judgment is not based in who we are; it is based on what we have become and what we have done (Romans 2:5-11)!

The day of Judgment will come at once for everyone– it will not be that the wicked go before the righteous, or vice versa (Matthew 25:1-46). The sorting does not happen in this life; it will happen on the day of resurrection when Jesus is glorified in His Kingdom (1 Corinthians 15).

There is also some significance to the idea of the wicked as refuse– as something thrown away as no good. On the spiritual level, there is no distinction between the “tares” and the “bad fish”: Matthew 13:42 and 13:50 are precisely the same. Nevertheless, in the parables themselves, the tares were destined for fire (Matthew 13:30). The bad fish are to be thrown away (Matthew 13:48). This “casting away,” what is done to garbage, evokes the Valley of Hinnom as a place where garbage was collected and burnt, and the “inspiration” behind Gehenna as hell (Matthew 5:22, 29-30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33). Just as people would take garbage to the Valley of Hinnom to be burned, since it had no use, those who have not served God and who remained evil and in rebellion will be taken to hell– Gehenna– for burning, since they were no good and provided no profit.

In that “furnace of fire” there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, images of great suffering and torment otherwise associated with the “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30). Thus we see all kinds of images of hell brought together: the fiery furnace, the place for refuse, a place of suffering, separated far from God and the righteous with Him.

Yet one question remains: if the other parallel parables came right next to each other, why does the separation exist between the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares and the Parable of the Dragnet?

Perhaps this was just the order Jesus used, and there was not much thought put into it. Such, however, is highly unlikely; Jesus is very deliberate with His words and how He presents His message of the Kingdom.

Perhaps the Parable of the Dragnet is designed to be some sort of conclusion; its ultimate message, however, is quite consistent with the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, even ending on the same note (Matthew 13:42, 50).

Yet if we look in more detail at the presentation, we see a type of order. The Parable of the Wheat and Tares is presented (Matthew 13:24-30), but its explanation comes only after the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven (Matthew 13:31-43). We then see the Parables of the Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:44-46), and then we have the Parable of the Dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50).

What could this mean? It seems as if there is a deliberate “sandwiching” of the parable sets, with the Parable of the Wheat and Tares and the Parable of the Dragnet providing the overall structure. Perhaps we are to understand these parables as representing some kind of structure within the Kingdom: the righteous and the wicked will remain together until the end of time. The Kingdom will start small and grow large; the Kingdom is worth more than anything else, and therefore costs more than anything else. Not everyone will appreciate the growth of the Kingdom. Not everyone will appreciate its value, and even more will not want to pay the cost. Yet, in the end, God is going to separate people based on whether they participated in Jesus’ Kingdom as His servants.

Let us not miss the force of this parable and the way that the parables are laid out in Matthew 13. The message of the Kingdom goes out to all sorts of people, many of whom hear, many of whom fall away. We must understand that the Kingdom starts with humble beginnings, and that just as the Kingdom is of supreme value, so there is great cost involved in obtaining the Kingdom. We must persevere and obey, for we know that the day is coming when God will judge everyone, and those who serve Christ in His Kingdom will be redeemed and honored, while those who did not serve Him will be bound up, cast off as refuse, and burned in eternal suffering. There can be no sitting on the fence; let us make our decision and follow after our Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry