1. Reformed World View
The Torah tells us that God especially created man and woman to be a reflection of his image. However, none of us is a good likeness of his character, because we do not live our own lives just for God, but largely for ourselves. The way we view the world around us is our way, not God's way. So we live separated from God. Every area of our life is affected. Despite all our efforts to please God, we can't hide our selfishness and our sin from him. This is not what God desires for us. What is amazing is that God has done something about it.
God wants you to realize that you need him to really live. He has overcome our separation by sending his Son the Messiah to bridge the gap. Jesus died and then rose from the dead to overpower the selfishness and the sin that is in us. It doesn't matter how bad your life is. A Messiah who is still alive today has irresistible power. If you follow Jesus, he will lead you to be the person that God desires you to be. And God will never let you go, no matter what happens. When you die, he will raise you from the dead to live a perfect life forever.
We can be sure of these things because God explained it to us in human words we can understand. These words are recorded in God's book, the Bible, written over a period of 1500 years. The Bible consists of the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets (together called the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament), and the New Testament, originally written in Greek. Almost all the books of the Bible were written by Jewish believers.
At Rock of Israel, we want to help people mature spiritually and become the people that God intended them to be. Part of spiritual maturity involves understanding the way our minds, our will, and our emotions work, and understanding what God desires for us. The Reformed Worldview is a way of looking at all of life around us through the lens of God's word. This is much better than looking through our own dirty eyeglasses!
The message of the Messiah is simple, but at the same time, the Bible is a deep reservoir of truth. Believers through the ages who love God's word have given us helpful summaries of the Bible's teaching. We would particularly recommend to you three of these summaries: The Apostles Creed (second century), The Westminster Confession of Faith (from 1649), and The Heidelburg Catechism (1563).
At Rock of Israel, we endeavor to depend entirely on the power of our Father God, His Son Jesus, and His Holy Spirit. We follow the teaching of the Bible set forth in both the Old and New Testaments, and the Reformed system of doctrine.
Who is a true Jew? Well this is certainly a debated point and one that many in the Jewish community disagree on! Traditionally a Jew is anyone who has a Jewish mother. This has proved problematic, however, because now some branches of Judaism also recognize anyone of a Jewish father as Jewish! Also, in the Bible, lineage is traced through the father. Certainly lineage is one way to understand this question, and God has great interest in the descendants of his servant Abraham. But is there more?
I think the ultimate answer must be found in the writings of Moses and the prophets. Moses commanded Israel: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:5) He also exhorted the people that they must be circumcised in their hearts, not just their flesh. Being a true Jew has always meant loving the Creator and having your heart renewed and purified. There have always been those among the physical descendants of Abraham who were also the Israel of the Spirit in addition to being Israel by descent.
But also, at all times in Israel's history, Gentiles could embrace the covenant, be circumcised, and join in the worship of the true God. The prophets foresaw a time when Gentiles would join themselves to Israel. Abraham was promised that through his descendant blessing would come to all nations. The Messiah is that descendant. The prophet Isaiah wrote of Messiah:
So, in my understanding, all who worship the God of Israel truly in their hearts are Jewish in a spiritual sense. It is my prayer that both the physical descendants of Abraham and also those who follow the faith of Abraham will one day come together in love and unity before their Creator.
Every year a solemn commemoration is held at Shalom Memorial Park cemetery to remember the terrible event that started the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Ukraine. In September of 1941 in the city of Kiev, in the space of two short days, SS execution squads rounded up more than 100,000 people, half of them Jews, and machine-gunned them to death at a place called Babi Yar. Within months, 900,000 Soviet Jews were killed outright, without even the "benefit" of going to a concentration camp.
Multitudes from the Philadelphia and New York Russian Jewish community gather annually to remember Babi Yar with a program of prayer, poetry, song, and speeches by community leaders and rabbis. This year, my friend Fred Klett and I were invited not merely to be observers, but to participate in the memorial program.
The Jewish Holocaust is ever-present on the mind of Russian Jewish people. It is probably the biggest impediment that deters people from considering the good news of Messiah Jesus. How could there be good news from God if He let 6 million Jews die? The Bible shows us that such evil does not originate with God, but that it is the result of human sin. And God sent His Son to die for our sins and to transform the world with His love.
With more than one thousand onlookers, including rabbis, Fred and I pointed the way to this truth, Fred through song, and I through a short address in Ukrainian. I explained that I was formerly anti-Semitic, but that now I am a Christian believer in Jesus the Messiah. I then read the words of Psalm 107:18-20 about the goodness of God and the power of His word to save people.
Many came to me afterward to thank me for those words. Praise God that our presentations were broadcast on local Russian television! Please pray that many Russian Jews will stop and see who Jesus really is, and that through events like this one, we can engage the Russian Jewish people with the love of Jesus.
One thing that unites Jewish people around the world, whether they are religious or secular, are the Jewish holidays. But many do not realize that these holidays were mandated by God Himself in the Old Testament, or that they commemorate God's workings in history. For instance, in early fall comes Rosh Hashana, or Feast of Trumpets (see Leviticus 23:23, Numbers 29:1-6), and Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement (Lev.16). And late in the fall comes Hanukkah, or Feast of Dedication, which celebrates what God did to protect the Jewish people 165 years before Christ when their faith was threatened with annihilation by the Syrian-Greek king Antiochus -- a holiday which Jesus Himself celebrated (see John 10:22).
This past fall our fellowship had two special get-togethers with our Russian Jewish and American friends, to celebrate Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur, and later Hanukkah. Fred Klett, the director of CHAIM (Christians Announcing Israel's Messiah), was our host and teacher. About 40 people just fit into Fred's house - half and half between Russian and English speakers! We were blessed having some American Christians who've spent time in Russia or Ukraine. Our guests were amazed with Americans speaking a bit of Russian! So we had a wonderful time of food, music, fellowship, and praises to our Father God and Jesus His Son.
On both occasions, Fred gave a presentation on the significance of these Jewish holidays in God's plan of salvation for His people, both Jew and Gentile. He taught from both Old and New Testament. Yours truly helped translate into Russian. Another person who helped translate was N., a Jewish man whom I recently met at the Babi Yar holocaust memorial (mentioned in our last newsletter). N. kept saying over and over how amazing it was that the Jewish religion and Christianity had so much in common. He could not keep his enthusiasm to himself! We see that N. has a new-found desire to seek the true God.
Pray that N. and others will come to know our wonderful savior Jesus! Please also pray that our fellowship will find a regular meeting place in the Russian neighborhood that could accommodate dozens of friends, like N., who want to fellowship with us and learn about Jesus.
Can one be Covenantal in theology, that is, believe the New Covenant community is spiritually Israel and as such is already experiencing in this age the promises of the prophets to Israel, and yet still maintain in some way ethnic Israel is unique? Let us consider how the term "Israel" is used.
The word is used in many ways in the Scriptures, yet all the uses are interrelated. It means "He who has struggled with God". Ultimately, God is the one who has the right to answer the question as to who or what is Israel. He determines who or what is Israel, not man or men's traditions. Here is a provisional list of some of the uses of the word in the Scriptures.
There are then a number of possible Scriptural meanings of "Israel". But, is there a most ultimate meaning of the word Israel? There is -- it is the Messiah Himself (#10), for all the promises of God have their `yes' in Him (2 Cor. 1:20). Jesus is the ultimate seed of Abraham, (Gal. 3:16)
And if Messiah has the supreme right to the name Israel, then all who are in Him also have that right, since we are joint heirs with Him (Rom. 8:17) Indeed this is what Jesus gained in Redemption, "that the blessings given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles" (see Gal. 3:14). God can raise up sons of Abraham from the stones, if He wills. (Mt. 3:9) What else can Ephesians 2:11-22 mean? We are clearly told that Gentile Christians formerly had been excluded from citizenship in Israel (v. 12) and now, through the Messiah, are now fellow citizens (v. 19). If Gentile believers are no longer excluded from citizenship in Israel, that means they are included in citizenship in Israel. It's that simple. How can anyone deny that this is the clear and obvious meaning of the text?
But what of the Jewish people? If all who are in Jesus Christ are spiritually Israel, does that mean God has replaced the Jewish people with the Church and is finished with them? Of course not! There can be several meanings to the word "Israel" which can exist simultaneously, and there can be some overlapping of these meanings. The Christian church has a right to one of the connotations of the word "Israel". It has become an enlargement of and progression from "All Old Testament Believers" (#3), and it includes now, as it even included then, all who share in Israel's faith, both Jews and Gentiles. In essence then, the Church doesn't replace Israel, rather it expands Israel, that is the Believing Israel of #3 above.
Remember, Old Testament Israel (#3) included the physical descendants of Jacob (#2), but went beyond it and also included Gentiles (such as Ruth) who were willing to join themselves to the people of God. Today Gentiles who believe in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, have in essence converted to New Testament Judaism. This is what Christianity really is, New Covenant Judaism. It is the same today, in a sense, as it was in the Old Testament. All who believe become, in a sense, part of Israel, the Holy Congregation of the people of God. Both Jews and Gentiles relate to God on the basis of the same New Covenant. (The denial of this truth leads to one of two errors: one which seeks to bind again Jewish believers to the particulars of Mosaic Law, rather than to the moral principals of the Law which bind all believers today and the second which sees a separate way of salvation for the Jewish people.)
We must see the unity of the purpose of God, to glorify the Son. I contend that the Jewish people, the Messianic Jewish believers, the Church, and perhaps even the Modern state of Israel too, (numbers 2,7,8, and 9) will all be brought together under the Messiah, together with the whole earth (Col. 1:20; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; Eph. 1:22; Isaiah 11:9). Until the Jewish people return to Messiah, there is yet a certain incompleteness to Spiritual Israel (#8), the Church. Therefore the Jewish people should be of great importance to the Church, as indeed should be the whole missionary enterprise. The mission of the church must always include the preaching of the gospel to the Jewish people, indeed it begins there.
Then what of the promises to the Jewish people? Does the Church take over the promises in such a way as to exclude the Jewish people from them? No! The promises of God are still valid for the Jewish people, yet only experienced by those who believe. The coming of the Messiah and the concomitant salvation he brings can only be received by faith. This is the most ultimate and most sacred Hope of Israel! Unbelief and rejection of God and His Covenant means forfeiture of the promises which are part of the Covenant. This was the case in the Old Testament, and this is still the same today. God does not change. The promises have been expanded to include the all in the Church, even Gentiles, but this does not mean they are no longer for the Jewish people. But the Jewish people must come to Messiah Jesus to have access to them, they must rejoin the faith community of Spiritual Israel.
What of the promise of the Land? This is a sticky issue. The land promises are also expanded to include all believers. Jesus promised that "the meek shall inherit the earth" (compare Ps. 37:11), and in doing so he expanded the promise that God's people would inherit the land of Israel. Paul says that the promise to Abraham should be understood as to inheriting "the earth" (Romans 4:13). Does this contradict the idea that the Jewish people should specifically inherit the land of Israel? God has changed the order of things and brought the fulfillment of the promises to Israel in a glorious expanded way. The Temple in Jerusalem is no longer the center of the worship of the true God in all the earth. And therefore Israel as a geo-political entity is no longer the center of God's kingdom and blessing (John 4:21-24). Does this mean the Jewish people no longer have a right to the land? Does this aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant cease to be? The New Covenant promise is an expansion and fulfillment of the land promise, not a negation of it. Yet Israel is in the land in a state of unbelief, and belief and obedience were always the conditions for dwelling in the land. How can it be that the modern state of Israel exists, then? Perhaps God in His mercy has brought the people back in order to preserve them and also as a means of facilitating the hope of Romans 9-11 that the Jewish people should return to faith. The modern state of Israel can then be seen as part of the providential preservation of the Jewish people working toward the fulfillment of Romans 11. Certainly if the Jewish people are to be restored to faith as a people, one could argue that as a people they also need to dwell in a place. There are moral, historical, and political reasons arguing for Israel's right to exist, yet the Jewish people can in no way claim, while still in unbelief, any Biblical right to possession of the ancient borders. When they come to faith as a people again, so will the surrounding Gentile nations, and I believe in Messiah's peace all the current border issues can finally be settled. But most basically, the land promise is realized in the final state when all believers inherit the earth. If one fails to understand that the land Old Covenant land promises were the down payment on a renewed Earth, the restoration of Paradise lost, one is missing the most important meaning and purpose of the promised land. The ultimate experience of this promise certainly includes physical children of Abraham who believe, along with all other believers!
Is ethnic Israel still properly called Israel? Certainly no one would deny the name Israel to Jewish believers in Jesus. But what about those Jews who don't believe? Can they still truly be called Israel? Paul used this appellation of the Jewish people, even in unbelief. Romans 11:25 states, "Israel has experienced a hardening in part...", clearly using the name "Israel" to describe Jewish non-believers. Could it be that the continued existence of the Jewish people in spite of centuries of oppression and attempts at annihilation is a witness to God's faithfulness, sovereignty, and mercy?
We need to avoid errors in two extremes. Some would deny Gentile New Covenant believers the right given to Gentile Old Covenant believers (!), that is, the right to the name "Israel" and full and absolutely equal status as part of the people of God. These have claimed that the Church and Israel are two separate peoples of God and have nothing to do with each other. According to this view, God has two separate peoples and two separate plans. This view essentially denies full glory to Jesus and the gospel. In effect it says the salvation which has come in the Messiah is only a plan, not the plan and all who believe are not the recipients of all blessings, just some! (But see 1 Peter 1:3-12; Eph. 1:3!) Those of the other extreme have claimed that God is finished with the Jewish people as a people (though not as individuals) and say the Church has replaced the Jewish people and become the only true Israel. In such a theology the Jewish people themselves are denied any use of the name Israel!
Neither extreme is correct. The first extreme fails to see the centrality of Jesus in the meaning of Israel and the second fails to see the continuation of the Jewish people in the purpose of God as a people who are still heirs to the Covenants as taught by Romans 9:4 and 11:28-29. Good theology must be Biblical rather than a polemical overreaction to error.
We need to affirm the Biblical position that all believers are grafted in to the tree of Israel, whether they are natural or "wild" branches, and that God can, and will, graft in once again the natural branches, the Jewish people (Romans 11:11-24). Gentiles need to recognize that they have been grafted into Israel, and therefore have a certain kinship with the Jewish people. Jews are no less Jewish for believing in Jesus. Jews do not become Gentiles when they come to Jesus (quite the opposite!), rather all who trust in the Jewish Messiah and serve Him are part of that Spiritual tree rooted in the Patriarchs.
How do these Israels relate to one another? First, recognize there is a fundamental unity in the purpose of God. Spiritual Israel is the congregation of witness, the "Holy Priesthood and Royal Nation" (Compare Ex. 19:6 and 1 Peter 2:9) which brings the light of God and blessing of Abraham to the world. Those who follow the Messiah are part of this community, made up of both Jews and Gentiles. We must recognize that all glory goes to God and that all creation serves Him. This means that whatever our understanding of Israel, it must have the Glory of God at heart. Secondly, as the Rabbis have said, "the world was created for the sake of Messiah". Therefore Israel, too, is for the sake of Messiah. In the Messiah are found all who trust in Him, both in the Old and New Covenants (numbers 3, 7, and 8). The Israel of "All Believers" will only be fully realized when the fullness of both Jewish and Gentile believers comes and ethnic Israel is restored to faith. In order for God to be glorified the Messiah must be exalted. In order for Messiah to be exalted, His Body, All Believers, the Church, is being blessed and is prospering. In order for the church to fully prosper, the Jewish people must be restored to faith and join in the missionary enterprise (Romans 11:12). In order for them to be restored, they must, of course, be preserved. I would argue that in order for the Jewish people to be preserved, the Nation of Israel needed to be created and needs to exist. We must stand for the continued existence of the state of Israel and for a just expression of that existence.
The fate of ethnic Israel and Spiritual Israel, the Church, are bound up together. The church is to make Jewish evangelism a priority and must stand by the Jewish people for the glory of God. We must look with hope and expectation for the glorious day when the natural branches are grafted in and "all Israel will be saved." In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and the place of his rest will be glorious (Isaiah 11:10).
1. This is a provisional
statement written as part of a process of theological development. It is
tentative in nature and subject to further revision.
I am delighted to see representatives from so many evangelical groups participating in this conference on gospel ministry to Jews who have not acknowledged Jesus as Messiah. We should all be encouraged at witnessing such widespread, inter-denominational interest in this important topic. It is also encouraging to me that the organizers of this conference included my branch of the church, the Reformed tradition, within this discussion. I am convinced that the Calvinistic tradition has many things to learn in this area, and perhaps a few things to contribute to an inter-denominational forum like this one.
In this essay, we will look at four major Calvinistic doctrines which have implications for gospel ministry to non-Christian Jews. Several goals have shaped our treatment of these doctrines. First, we will focus only on longstanding doctrines on which the Reformed tradition has been relatively unified, rather than on my own personal views. Second, to insure that the perspectives here reflect some breadth of agreement, we will draw upon confessional resources, especially the Westminster Confession of Faith, rather than direct exegetical work with the Bible. Third, we will direct attention to some of the practical implications that each of these doctrines has for gospel ministry to Jews who do not follow Jesus as their Messiah.
At least four theological emphases within the Reformed tradition demand attention. First, we will review the doctrine of the Covenant of Grace. Second, we will touch on Calvinistic perspectives on the people of God. Third, the relationship of law and gospel will come under consideration. Fourth, the Reformed doctrine of eschatology will draw attention to several important issues.
The Covenant of Grace
The term “covenant” is so closely associated with Reformed theology that the words “covenant” and “reformed” are often used interchangeably. In many circles, “Reformed theology” is “covenant theology”; “covenant theology” is “Reformed theology.” This close association reflects the fact that a central feature of Reformed systematics is the doctrine of covenant.
We should note that Reformed covenant theology has undergone significant historical developments. Covenant did not dominate early Calvinistic thinking, but rose to prominence through the Reformed scholastics of the seventeenth century. Since then, however, covenant has played a formative role in nearly every corner of the tradition. In contemporary Calvinism significant adjustments have been made in the light of recent analyses of ancient Near Eastern texts, but covenant remains a central organizing feature of Reformed theology.
One of Reformed covenant theology's most important features is the idea of the covenant of grace outlined in the Westminster Confession. To understand this doctrine we must remember that the highly scholastic Westminster Assembly did not use the term “covenant” in precisely the same way that the Bible does. Rather, the term was used as a theological construct to designate the manner in which God reveals himself to humanity.
In this framework, God reveals himself in two covenants. The Westminster Assembly called the first covenant the “covenant of works” or “covenant of life.” This covenant describes the relationship between God and our first parents during their probation in Eden. The Assembly identified the second covenant between God and humanity as the “covenant of grace.” This covenant was made with Christ and governed divine-human relations from Genesis 3:15 to Christ's second coming. At times, this traditional vocabulary leads to confusion because many evangelical groups associate the “covenant of works” with Moses, and the “covenant of grace” with the New Testament. By contrast, the Reformed tradition limits the “covenant of works” to the time before the fall, and assigns the entire history of redemption, including both the Old and New Testaments, to the “covenant of grace.”
Despite the historical breadth of the covenant of grace, the Reformed tradition has always acknowledged differences between the Old Testament and New Testament periods. Yet, it has also insisted that both Testaments are substantially unified and differ only administratively. As the Westminster Assembly put it, the one covenant of grace “was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel,” but “there are not … two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.”
To be sure, this theological perspective raises many questions. What precisely is the difference between the “substance” and “administration” of a covenant? Are not “substance” and “administration” reciprocally related? Reformed theologians continue to explore these interesting questions, but we must set them aside in order to focus our discussion in a different direction.
Perhaps the most important implication of the covenant of grace is that there has always been only one way of salvation. The way of salvation in the Old Testament era was essentially the same as it is for Christians today. As the Westminster Confession put it, Old Testament believers looked to “the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation.” The divine purposes behind the religious arrangements of the Old Testament were “for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah.”
No doubt, many aspects of this affirmation need to be clarified. How did the concept of the eschatological Messiah develop in the Old Testament? How much did Old Testament believers understand about Christ? While Reformed theologians may answer these questions differently, all agree that Christ was the implicit or explicit object of saving faith even in the Old Testament. His death and resurrection have always been the basis of salvation for all who believe.
The Calvinistic emphasis on one way of salvation in the one covenant of grace has at least two significant implications for gospel ministry to non-Christian Jews. In the first place, we may speak of the need to stress retrospective continuity. Evangelism of non-Christian Jews from a Reformed perspective should stress the continuities between Old Testament and New Testament faith. Because Gentiles have dominated in the church for so long, Christianity has transformed remarkably from its biblical roots. To be sure, some of these changes have resulted from encroachments of paganism, while others have rightly come about as the church has sought to “become all things to all people” as Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 9:22. Nevertheless, the distinctively Gentile flavor of most denominations often makes Christianity appear to be an entirely Gentile religion. This appearance, in turn, erects enormous barriers between the church and non-Christian Jews.
The manner in which Christians present the gospel can either ameliorate or exacerbate this unfortunate situation. Christian groups who have no doctrine that unifies the Testaments, like the covenant of grace, often run the risk of worsening the tension. Many feel free, if not compelled, to present Christianity in ways which focus on distinctively Gentile interests and needs. Reformed theology, however, can help resolve some of these tensions because it stresses the continuities between the Testaments. Because the Reformed tradition enthusiastically embraces the Old Testament's authority over the modern church, it can present Christ in ways which emphasize the Old Testament concerns that many Jewish communities still treasure so highly.
In the second place, we may also speak of the need for evangelism to stress prospective continuities between the Testaments. The unity of the covenant does not simply draw New Testament believers retrospectively toward Old Testament faith. It also presses those oriented toward Old Testament revelation to look prospectively toward Jesus and the New Testament. Unfortunately, so many Christian groups have characterized our day as a distinctly “Gentile age” that a number of evangelicals have tended to minimize the call for Jews to place their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. At times, these evangelicals come close to treating Old Testament Israelite faith and Christianity as different but equally legitimate ways to reach the same goal of salvation.
According to traditional Calvinism, nothing could be further from the truth. The unity of the covenant of grace portrays Christian faith as the unwavering focus and goal of the Old Testament. The faith structures of the Old Testament always anticipated Jesus. As the Westminster Assembly put it, they were “all fore-signifying Christ to come.” In this sense, God designed Old Testament faith to point to Jesus and the faith structures he and his apostles taught. To reject explicit commitment to Jesus of Nazareth, therefore, is to reject Old Testament faith itself. The Reformed concept of the unity of the covenant of grace makes evangelism of non-Christian Jewish communities an absolute necessity, whether those communities are faithful or unfaithful to Old Testament religion.
The People of God
A second Calvinistic outlook which has significant implications for our topic is the doctrine of the people of God. This doctrine addresses the relationship between Old Testament Jews and the New Testament church. Unfortunately, many evangelicals hold one of two common positions on this issue: 1) separation theology; or 2) replacement theology. As we will see, however, the Reformed tradition actually holds a third position.
In the first place, separation theology views Israel and the New Testament church as two relatively separate peoples of God. This viewpoint has become popular in recent decades through Scofieldian Dispensationalism, and continues to varying degrees in many contemporary expressions of Dispensationalism. In general, separation theology radically distinguishes the divine program for ethnic Israel from that of the New Testament church. Ethnic Israel often receives the designation of “the earthly people of God” because they are thought to be destined to receive the land of Canaan and to experience an earthly salvation in the millennium and beyond. The Gentiles of the New Testament church are frequently described as “the spiritual or heavenly people of God” because they are thought to be destined to receive the inheritance of an eternal heavenly existence. These Old Testament and New Testament promises continue alongside each other as largely independent programs.
In the second place, replacement theology holds that ethnic Israel has ceased to be special in the eyes of God. This outlook has dominated a number of denominations throughout the centuries. In this view, God has abrogated the special covenant status of ethnic Israel and replaced Israel with the Christian church. At times, this replacement is thought to be so categorical that Jews no longer have any special role whatsoever in the plan of God.
Sadly, it has been my experience that many Christians outside the Reformed tradition characterize the Calvinistic position as replacement theology. I suspect that this misperception stems largely from the strong rhetoric many Reformed theologians employ against the separation theology of Dispensationalism. It is important, however, to understand that the Reformed position differs from both separation and replacement theologies.
It is more accurate to describe the Reformed view on the people of God as “unity theology.” In this outlook, the New Testament church is one with Israel of the Old Testament. The promises to Israel are not abrogated, but extended and fulfilled through the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles in the New Testament community.
Reformed theologians have displayed their unity theology in a number of ways. For instance, Calvin's interpretation of Paul's statement in Romans 11:26 that “all Israel will be saved” points to this strong sense of unity. In Calvin's view, “all Israel” refers neither to believing Jews alone, nor to believers within the New Testament church alone. Instead, “all Israel” denotes the combined number of believing Jews and Gentiles from both the Old and New Testaments periods. As Calvin himself put it,
Whether or not Calvin's interpretation of this verse was correct, it set the course for a continuing posture of the Reformed tradition. In line with Calvin's view, it is common for Reformed theologians to speak of Israel as the church and the church as Israel. This interchangeability of terms points to the organic unity which Reformed theology understands to exist between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church. From the Reformed perspective, believing Gentiles have always been adopted into the family of Abraham by faith in Abraham's great Son. Gentile believers are made a part of Israel, and thus they inherit the promises given to Abraham alongside Jewish believers from both Testaments. There is neither separation nor replacement. Instead, the two have become one.
We may further explain this unity theology by drawing attention to several beliefs that characterize the doctrine of the church in the Reformed tradition. In the first place, we should note that the Reformed outlook on the invisible church makes absolutely no distinction between ethnic Israel and the church. The Westminster Confession defines the invisible church in this manner:
The full number of the elect from all ages and nations comprise the one invisible church. In this respect, absolutely no distinction exists between the believing Jews of the Old Testament era and the Christian Jews and Gentiles of the New Testament era. All the elect have equal status and utter unity in the invisible church.
In the second place, Reformed theology also stresses the unity between the visible communities of God's people in the Old and New Testaments. The Westminster Assembly defined the visible church as that community which
In this regard, however, the Westminster Confession notes one important distinction in a parenthetical comment within 25.2. It remarks that the during the New Testament period the visible church is “not confined to one nation, as before under the law [but] … consists of all those throughout the world that profess true religion.” The visible New Testament church simply extends the visible Old Testament church to all the nations of the earth. Even on the level of visible communities, Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church are not two separate peoples, existing alongside or in opposition to each other.
Third, the unity of the visible communities is also evident in the ways Reformed theology has taught that the New Testament visible church includes both believers and unbelievers, just as Old Testament Israel did. This outlook on the church differs from that of many groups who teach that the New Testament church consists only of true believers. In the Reformed tradition, Jeremiah's promise that “everyone will know the Lord” (Jer 31:34) in the New Covenant is not completed until the return of Christ. For this reason, at the present time membership in the visible church consists of believers and unbelievers, just as citizenship in Old Testament Israel consisted of believers and unbelievers.
Fourth, the unity of the visible Old and New Testament communities appears in the Calvinistic belief that the children of believers are part of the visible New Testament church. As the Westminster Assembly put it, the visible church consists of those who “profess the true religion … and … their children.” All Reformed paedo-baptists and a number of Reformed baptists believe that children within the New Testament church hold a status much like that of Israelite children in the Old Testament. They are the expected (though not guaranteed) heirs of the promises of grace. This biological dynamic rests on the conviction that the New Testament church is a continuation of Old Testament Israel.
Fifth, Reformed theology has emphasized the unity of Israel and the church by applying Old Testament remnant theology to the church. This connection appears in two ways. On the one hand, the threat of divine judgment stands over the New Testament church just as it stood over Old Testament Israel. Calvinism does not distinguish Old Testament Israel as under judgment and the New Testament church as under grace. The Westminster Assembly plainly stated, “Some [churches] have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.” As Old Testament Israel experienced divine judgment for flagrant apostasy, New Testament apostates will suffer divine wrath individually and corporately, temporally and eternally.
On the other hand, just as the Old Testament promised that a righteous remnant would continue even through Israel's darkest hours, so the Reformed tradition has affirmed that “nevertheless, there shall be always a church on earth, to worship God according to his will.” This application of Old Testament remnant theology points again to the Calvinistic belief in the unity of the people of God in both Testaments.
To be sure, Reformed unity theology raises questions that need to be explored further. For example, Reformed theologians still have not reached much consensus on the status of physical descendants of believers after multiple generations have passed with little or no evidence of saving faith. In this regard, non-Christian Jews today may have a status among God's people similar to non-Christian Gentiles who have distant Christian ancestors. One thing is clear to all in the Reformed tradition. Physical descent does not determine salvation. Yet, Paul's remarkably paradoxical statement in Romans 11:28 strongly suggests that a special status extends through multiple generations. Speaking of non-Christian Jews he says, "As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your [the Gentiles'] account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable." This passage asserts that a special status of some sort continues for Jews who are distant physical descendants of the Old Testament believers. Perhaps a similar status applies to Gentiles with Christian ancestry as well, but this issue remains to be explored more fully in the Reformed tradition. Despite a number of lingering uncertainties, Reformed theologians unquestionably affirm continuity between the visible people of God in both Testaments.
The Reformed perspective on the unity of God's people has at least two important implications for gospel ministry to Jewish communities. First, Gentiles must carry out evangelism of non-Christian Jews with a strong sense of indebtedness. Throughout the history of Christianity, Gentile Christians have evangelized Jewish communities with apparently little awareness of the gratitude they owe to ethnic Israel. Even when anti-Semitism has not dominated Gentile Christian attitudes, outreach to the lost in ethnic Israel has not differed noticeably from outreach to lost pagans. Yet, if the Reformed perspective is right, then Gentile Christians owe a tremendous debt to ethnic Israel because Gentile Christians practice a faith which they inherited from Jews. In this regard, we should be mindful of Paul's words to the Gentiles in Rome: “Do not boast over those branches [non-Christian Jews]. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you” (Romans 11:18). Calvinistic unity theology stresses the gratitude that every Gentile believer owes to ethnic Israel. Although we must not diminish the teachings of the New Testament that may offend non-Christian Jews, the practices of Gentile Christian evangelists should demonstrate the utmost appreciation for the ethnic Israel to whom they owe so much.
Second, the Reformed tradition also reminds us that the visible Christian church has no claim to moral superiority over ethnic Israel. Throughout its history, Gentile Christians have frequently disdained Jews as “covenant breakers,” “God haters” and “Christ killers.” Most of the time, this treatment of ethnic Israel has been coupled with the belief that the Christian church is of a higher moral character. According to the Reformed doctrine of the visible church, however, the New Testament church also contains much impurity. Such terms as “covenant breakers,” “Christ killers” and “God haters” may be applied as readily (if not more readily) to the visible Church as to ethnic Israel. In Romans 11:18-21 the apostle Paul warned Gentile Christians of his day not to “act arrogantly” toward unbelieving Jews under divine judgment because apostasy and divine judgment were possibilities for the Gentile visible church as well. Judgment can come upon them as “unnatural branches” as it came upon the “natural branches” of Old Testament Israel. As history has demonstrated repeatedly, Paul's warning has become reality. It is a matter of record that the predominantly Gentile church has repeatedly turned from covenant fidelity and has suffered the judgment of God for these apostasies. For this reason, evangelism of non-Christian Jews must be carried out with a high degree of humility. We must always be ready to admit the enormous failures of the Christian church.
Law and Gospel
The Reformed tradition has also espoused an outlook on law and gospel that should inform gospel ministry to Jews without Christ. In Reformed confessions and catechisms, the terms “law” and “gospel” commonly distinguish the Old Testament from the New Testament, but it is important to see that this distinction is by no means absolute. In the Calvinistic perspective, the gospel of Christ held an essential a place in the law of Moses, and Mosaic law plays a central and positive role in the age of the gospel. law and gospel are not in opposition, but are two harmonious dimensions of life under the mercy of God in both Testaments.
In this respect, important differences arise between the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. Put simply, in contrast with Reformed theology the Lutheran Church has exhibited a largely negative assessment of the law. It is well known that Luther's catechisms and sermons on the law primarily focused on the usus pedigogicus, the law as an instrument of sin leading to belief in Christ. The usus civilus, law as restraining sin, also received attention quite early. Luther himself, however, never formally established a place for the third use of the law as a moral guide for believers (usus normativus). Given Luther's personal religious history, his orientation is not surprising. It was not until the Melancthonian Formula of Concord (1577-1580) that the Lutheran tradition formally affirmed the tertius usus legis (“third use of the law”), the law as moral guide for followers of Christ. Still, the third use of the law has not held a strong position in Lutheran theology. Luther's negative assessment of the law continues to characterize the Lutheran tradition in this regard.
Calvinism, however, has taken a very different approach. In Calvin's commentary on the seventh chapter of Romans, he argued that the law as moral guide was actually the primary use of the law. This position led Calvin to a much more positive assessment. Commenting on Romans 7:10 Calvin said,
From Calvin's viewpoint, the law of Moses reflected the moral nature of God and was designed in the first place to show humanity the path to life. The law increased sin and led to death only because of humanity's fall into sin. For this reason, Calvin stressed the law as a gracious gift from God. It is a blessing even for Christian believers, and guides them in the way of grateful living before God. In a word, Calvin was much more positive than Luther in his assessment of the Mosaic law as a guide for Christians. This more positive outlook has characterized Reformed theology throughout the centuries.
The Westminster Confession devoted an entire chapter to the subject: “Of the Law of God.” First, the Westminster Assembly declared that the moral structures of God's law actually preceded Moses. As the first and second paragraphs of chapter nineteen declare, “God gave to Adam a law” and this same law was “delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in Ten Commandments.” In this view, it was never morally acceptable to steal, break Sabbath, dishonor parents, etc. These laws were codified in the days of Moses, but had already “bound [Adam] and all his posterity.”
Beyond this, in the Calvinistic outlook God added two features to this pre-existing moral law through the ministry of Moses. On the one hand, in the language of Westminster, God ordained for Israel “as a church under age, ceremonial laws.” On the other hand, he gave to Israel “as a body politic … sundry judicial laws.” Undoubtedly, establishing sharp divisions between moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws is problematic. Countless theologians within and without the Reformed tradition have challenged the value of these categories. Nevertheless, even operating with this threefold division, the Reformed tradition has affirmed the moral relevance of all aspects of Mosaic law. As the Westminster Assembly put it, the moral law is “binding in all times and circumstances what ever it says.” Even though the ceremonies of the Old Testament, such as sacrifice and temple worship, are not to be performed by New Testament believers, they are not irrelevant because they “prefigur[ed] Christ” and “[held] forth divers instruction of moral duties.” Moreover, even the judicial laws maintain relevance for the New Testament period as far as “the general equity thereof may require.”
It is not surprising, then that Reformed theologians have emphasized that followers of Christ benefit tremendously from attention to the law of God. In fact, the Westminster Confession devoted the overwhelming majority of its attention to the law of God to positive declarations of its usefulness and value for life in the New Testament period. Consider the following sample:
As this passage makes clear, from a Reformed perspective the law of God is “of great use” to believers and unbelievers alike even in our day.
If this confessional statement does not make the point clear, the positive outlook on Mosaic law in the Reformed tradition should be evident in various Calvinistic political experiments. For example, the social structures of Calvin's Geneva, the Puritans' England, and the Puritan colonies of America demonstrate how prone Reformed theologians are to view the Mosaic law as a positive resource for guiding moral and political life. Even in our own day, it is not uncommon to hear Calvinists, often known as “theonomists” or “reconstructionists,” enthusiastically recommending that contemporary civil governments enforce Old Testament judicial laws as much as possible. To be sure, Reformed theologians disagree about the details of these views, but the propensity of the Reformed tradition to emphasize the third use of the law appears throughout its history.
What are some implications of this focus of Reformed theology for gospel ministry to non-Christian Jews? At least one important implication comes to mind. Evangelism guided by Reformed theology insists that the law of Moses remains God's law for his people today. Contrary to many Christian traditions, Reformed theology does not present Christianity as opposed to the guidance of Mosaic law. Christian traditions that tend toward antinomianism often require Jewish converts to abandon their traditions such as Sabbath-keeping, annual Feasts, and dietary observances. In effect, these converts are told that they must live as Gentiles to demonstrate loyalty to their Jewish Messiah Jesus.
Happily, in recent years a number of Christian Jewish congregations have resisted this widespread antinomianism. These churches endorse practices which many Gentile Christians are likely to consider contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. Yet, the members of these congregations see themselves as coming to completion or fulfillment as Jews when they receive Jesus as the Messiah. They see no need to abandon all biblical or biblically based post-biblical traditions.
As might be expected, the existence of these Jewish Christian communities has raised tensions in the broader Christian church. Their beliefs and practices are so different from those of typical Gentile churches that many Gentiles view these congregations as unusual to say the least. On occasion, these Christian Jewish churches react with an attitude of superiority over their Gentile brothers and sisters. It would appear that we are not far from the ethnic tensions that severely divided the first-century church. This disharmony compels us to examine more closely how we should relate the law of Moses to life in Christ.
The positive Reformed outlook on Old Testament law can greatly mollify these divisions. Reformed theology finds all Mosaic law valuable for Christian living, and promotes open attitudes toward Jewish Christians who wish to preserve their distinctively Jewish practices. Just as the book of Acts indicates that the apostles did not forsake all of their Jewish traditions as they followed Christ, so Reformed evangelism today should not discount many of the practices of contemporary Jewish Christian congregations.
To be sure, disagreements will arise over how biblical and post-biblical Jewish traditions should be applied today. It is unlikely that full agreement will ever be reached on these matters. Yet, the Reformed emphasis on the law as a moral guide for believers should at least help us clarify where the crucial issues lie. From the vantage point of Reformed theology, there is no problem for Jewish Christians to explore the applications of Old Testament laws to life today. In fact, this exploration should be applauded and pursued by Gentiles as well.
The Reformed outlook on Old Testament law also clarifies the nature of Jewish conversion to Christianity. On the one hand, to be a Jewish Christian does not mean lessening one's pursuit of obedience to the law of Moses. On the contrary, it implies a new empowerment from the Holy Spirit to fulfill the requirements of the law under the Lordship of Christ. Even those post-biblical Jewish traditions which aid in the process of sanctification are acceptable in principle. In a word, Reformed evangelists should be clear that Jews do not have to become Gentiles in order to follow Jesus.
At the same time, Reformed theology encourages Christian Jews to remember that all traditional practices must be reinterpreted and modified in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ. For instance, it may be acceptable to maintain a Kosher diet for reasons of health or tradition, but to do so in order to separate oneself from Gentile Christians contradicts New Testament teaching on the unity of the church. Similarly, celebrating the Passover may in fact be quite beneficial, but to sacrifice a lamb as part of that celebration insults the sufficiency of Christ's atonement. While the Reformed tradition does not ask Jews to forgo their Jewishness in order to follow Christ, it does insist that their Jewishness be completely defined by Christ. Moreover, while in principle Jews need not live like Gentiles in order to be Christian, they must at times be willing to accommodate themselves to Gentiles for the sake of the gospel.
Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon Jewish and Gentile Christians alike to pursue obedience to God's law together. The question before Reformed churches is not whether the law of Moses applies to the Christian life, but how. To neglect the law of Moses is to neglect the moral perspectives of Jesus himself, who insisted that “anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). Our task is to discern how to observe the Mosaic law in the New Testament era. Should these observances be the same for Gentiles and Jews? To what degree should cultural and personal variations be permitted?
In all events, it should be clear from a Reformed perspective that evangelism of non-Christian Jews should never give the false impression that loyalty to Moses precludes love for Christ. On the contrary, Christian evangelism should affirm that wholehearted devotion to Christ expresses itself in wholehearted devotion to Mosaic law.
The Reformed perspective on eschatology also provides significant guidance for evangelizing non-Christian Jews. Unfortunately, the terms “Reformed” and “eschatology” do not go together in the minds of many Christians. Most evangelicals have difficulty believing that Reformed theology has much to say about eschatology. There are at least two reasons for this misperception. First, unlike many contemporary evangelical groups, Reformed theologians seldom give themselves to sketching out particular end-time scenarios. We have remained largely skeptical of proposed dates and sequences of events. Second, Reformed ecclesiastical bodies have normally allowed a wide variety of views among their members and officers. Reformed confessions and catechisms do not endorse particular positions on questions that preoccupy many evangelical groups. They simply affirm basic beliefs such as the return of Christ in glory, the resurrection of the dead, judgment, and the final new creation.
Despite this variety, it is fair to say that the Reformed tradition has largely been divided between amillennial and postmillennial eschatologies. On occasion, premillennial Reformed theologians have appeared, but this position has not been widespread. For this reason, we will concentrate our attention on the eschatological hopes of Reformed theologians who endorsed amillennial or postmillennial positions.
The Reformed tradition has typically affirmed a very important eschatological role for ethnic Israel in at least two ways. In the first place, Calvinists have strongly affirmed that the land promises to Israel will be fulfilled when redeemed Israel possesses the entire earth. Many evangelicals assume that only premillennial eschatology affirms the abiding validity of Israel's land promises. In this view, to deny the premillennial return of Christ is to deny God's faithfulness to his earthly promises and to replace them with spiritual blessings. We should point out, however, that neither Reformed amillennial nor postmillennial eschatologies suggest that the earthly promises to Israel's patriarchs have failed. On the contrary, Reformed eschatology sees the fulfillment of Israel's land promises on a grand scale. It is true that amillennialism and post-millennialism do not typically make much of the recent establishment of the state of Israel. Nor do they believe in a thousand year reign to follow Christ's appearance. Instead, the land of Canaan was a mere foretaste, a first step toward total world dominion by the people of God. Reformed theology has looked to the eschatological new heavens and new earth as the fulfillment of Israel's hopes of a land. In the new creation, redeemed Jews and ingrafted Gentiles will possess the entire new earth, the geographical center of which will be the land of Canaan and the New Jerusalem.
In the second place, Reformed theologians have dealt very seriously with the implications of Paul's paradoxical statement regarding Israel in Romans 11:28-29: “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.” As a result, Reformed theology has been united in maintaining a hope for the redemption of ethnic Israel.
This hope has taken two basic forms. On the one hand, some Reformed theologians have argued that Paul simply assured his readers that the Jews have not been cut off entirely from the grace of God. For this reason, the church will always have Christian Jews among it numbers. On the other hand, other Reformed theologians have understood Romans 11 to teach that there will be a large scale conversion of Jews before the Second Coming. For example, the answer to Westminster Larger Catechism question 191 states that in the second petition of the Lord's Prayer (“Thy kingdom come”), we should pray among other things that “the Jews [may be] called.” This too is the opinion expressed in the marginal notes on Romans 11:26 in the Geneva Bible. Other well-known theologians have taken this position as well. For example, Charles Hodge wrote, “The second great event, which, according to the common faith of the church, is to precede the second advent of Christ, is the national conversion of the Jews.”
This future hope for the widespread conversion of ethnic Israel has followed two basic patterns in Reformed theology. On the one hand, postmillennialists often look upon this event as the final stage of the Christ's victorious church. The gospel goes forth to all the world, and ethnic Israel joins in the worldwide redemption which ushers in the return of Christ. On the other hand, amillennialists tend to understand ethnic Israel's eschatological conversion as a divine response to Gentile apostasy, not as a great climax of the gospel's victory over the world.
Despite these differences, one common element appears in the Reformed tradition on the future conversion of ethnic Israel: any large scale Jewish conversion must come through the preaching of the gospel. This position strongly opposes any eschatology that provides ethnic Israel with an alternative avenue of salvation. The Reformed vision of Israel's future absolutely dismisses the popular notion that non-Christian Jews will have the opportunity to believe in Christ when they see him coming in glory. When Christ appears in glory, it will be too late for unrepentant Gentiles and Jews alike. The Divine Warrior will strike out in judgment against the rebellious nations of the earth as well as apostates in Israel.
What are the implications of Reformed eschatology for gospel ministry to non-Christian Jews? At least two concerns come to the foreground. In the first place, the Reformed outlook draws attention to the kind of hope we offer to non-Christian Jews in the gospel of Christ. The Christian faith points to the fulfillment of Israel's hopes for earthly victory and prosperity. From the time of the exile of Israel and Judah until now, the persecution and suffering of the righteous in Israel has created severe theological and physical crises. The laments have risen heavenward throughout the millennia. What has happened to the promises to the patriarchs? Has God forgotten his promise to give Israel victory over the nations that have persecuted her? When will God bring justice and victory for his people? These hopes are concrete, physical and earthly, but they often seem foreign to the Christian gospel. From the Reformed perspective, however, these earthly hopes are nothing other than the inheritance we have been promised in Jesus.
The Christian gospel is the proclamation that these very real, corporeal, earthly hopes are fulfilled through the work of Christ. We announce that in Jesus we have the inauguration of that Kingdom. Already the stronghold of evil has been broken through the death and resurrection of Christ. In the ongoing work of the Spirit today, we see different aspects of this eschatological vision fulfilled throughout the world. Moreover, every hope of the faithful remnant of Israel will come to complete fruition in the return of Christ.
From the Reformed perspective, the Christian gospel which we announce to Gentile and Jew alike does not promise an individual salvation of eternal heavenly bliss. Instead, the Christian gospel announces that the earthly hopes of God's people Israel will become a never-ending historical reality on the new earth at Christ's return. At that time, the enemies of God's people will be destroyed, the earth will be renewed, and God's people will inherit the earth. This focus of the Christian gospel is often lost from contemporary evangelism, but it must be reaffirmed in the strongest terms, especially in ministry to non-Christian Jews.
A second implication of Reformed eschatology recalls that the Reformed tradition insists that like Gentiles, Jews can only experience the future glory of the Kingdom of God by receiving the gospel of Christ now. As a result, we have an urgent responsibility to bring the gospel to Jewish communities. Our hearts should break over the condition of Jews who live apart from their Messiah. Our love and high regard for the people who received God's irrevocable call should stir our hearts to bring them the good news of Christ so that they might be rescued from the coming judgment.
Moreover, whether we believe that there will be a large scale conversion of Jews to Christ or not, focusing evangelistic attention on Jewish communities is our eschatological responsibility. Evangelical organizations frequently focus on Jesus' words that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). As a result, they work diligently to spread the gospel to every identifiable Gentile people group. Of course, we should applaud these efforts. But when this focus on Gentiles entirely displaces evangelistic concern for ethnic Israel, we have gone too far. Insofar as we our eschatology leads us to expect our age to include the conversion of Jews, we are responsible not just to reach the Gentile world for Christ, but to reach Israel as well.
I began this paper by suggesting that the Reformed tradition has a lot to learn and some things to contribute to shaping gospel ministry to non-Christian Jews. This paper is a call for Reformed churches to reconsider their commitments to this task. Our tradition has been so oriented toward the Gentile world that we have often failed to seek the lost in Israel. It is time for us to follow through with the implications of Reformed theology by reaffirming and applying our commitments to this ministry opportunity. At the same time, it would appear that Reformed theology also has perspectives that can contribute to reassessments within other traditions. The unity of the Testaments in the covenant of grace, the one people of God, the harmony of law and gospel, and the eschatological vision of Israel's future offer outlooks that may enhance the efforts of other branches of the church as well. In all events, every Christian tradition should search deeply within itself and interact with other theological perspectives to find every legitimate and effective way to bring the gospel of Christ to those Jews who still have not found their Messiah.
"Overture on Jewish Evangelism"
1. Much thanks belongs to Ra McLaughlin, webmaster and editor for Third Millennium Ministries, for his editorial work with this manuscript.
2. The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) with some modifications is the official doctrinal standard of many Reformed and Presbyterian denominations. It therefore adequately represents some of the central features of the Reformed theological system.
3. It should be noted that these and related topics appear in a number of important writings by Reformed theologians. See for instance: Hoekema, Anthony A. The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979. Holwerda, David E. Jesus and Israel — One Covenant or Two? Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. Berkouwer, G.C. The Church. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. Berkouwer, G.C. Faith and Sanctification. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952. Berkouwer, G.C. The Return of Christ. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972. Murray, Iain H. The Puritan Hope. London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1971. Murray, John. The Covenant of Grace. London: Tyndale Press, 1954. Gospel ministry to non-Christian Jews has come under consideration in the declarations of Presbyterian churches in the United States in recent years. See Appendix.
4. For a summary of covenant in Reformed theology see: Vos, Geerhardus. Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980, pp. 234-267.
5. Robertson, O.
Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed
Publishing Co., 1980, pp. 201-227. Kline, Meredith G. Treaty of the Great
King. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1963; The Structure
of Biblical Authority. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1997; Kingdom
Prologue. S. Hamilton: M.G. Kline, 1993.
7. WCF 7.2; 19.1; WLC 30
8. WLC 20; WSC 12
9. WCF 7.5
10. WCF 7.6
11. WCF 7.5
12. WCF 7.5
13. WCF 7.5
14. Calvin, John. Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993, pp. 437.
15. Clowney, Edmund P. The Church. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995, pp. 42-44. Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993, vol. 3, pp. 548-552.
16. WCF 25.1
17. WCF 25.2
18. Compare London Baptist Confession (1689) 26.2.
19. WCF 25.2
20. WCF 25.5
21. WCF 25.5
22. WCF 7.5; 20.1; 25.2
23. Formula of Concord, Article 6.
24. Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1966, pp. 614-615. Spitz, Lewis W., and Wenzel Lohff, eds. Discord, Dialogue, and Concord. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977, pp. 93-94.
25. Calvin, John. Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993, p. 256.
26. Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.7.4; 2.7.7.
27. The Heidelberg Catechism reflects Calvin's perspective when it sets the Ten Commandments under the rubric of “Of Gratitude” or “Of Thankfulness” (questions 92-115).
28. WCF 19.1
29. WCF 19.2
30. WCF 19.1. In this way, the Reformed perspective on Mosaic law is similar to rabbinical declarations of the eternality of Torah (see Pirqe Abot 1.2; 3.23).
31. WCF 19.3
32. WCF 19.4
33. WCF 19.5
34. WCF 19.3
35. WCF 19.4
36. WCF 19.6
37. See Barker, William S., and W. Robert Godfrey, eds. Theonomy — A Reformed Critique. Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1990.
38. Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:21,25,42; 18:18; 21:20-26; 22:17; 23:4-5; 24:10-18; 25:8.
39. Acts 10:1–11:18; Gal. 2:11-21; Eph. 2:11-22
40. 1 Cor. 9:20-22; Gal. 2:11-21
41. Calvin, John. Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993, pp. 298-299. Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960, 2.11.2, pp. 451-452.
42. Holwerda, David E. Jesus and Israel — One Covenant or Two? Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995, pp. 153-154,168-175.
43. See Hoekema, Anthony A. The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, pp.143-147; Murray, Iain H. The Puritan Hope. London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1971, pp. 48-49, 61-65.
44. Murray, Iain H. The Puritan Hope. London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971, p. 41
45. Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993, vol. 3, p. 805. See similar sentiments in: Owen, John. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Second Edition, vol. 1, Edinburgh, 1812, pp. 443-444 and 454-455; Murray, John. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1984, vol. I, p. 28 and vol. II pp. xiv-xv and 76-101; Vos, Geerhardus. Biblical Theology, Old and New Testaments. Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1948, Tenth Printing, p. 79; The Pauline Eschatology. Baker Book House, 1979, p. 88; Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos. ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co. 1980, p. 35; Edwards, Jonathan. The Works of Jonathan Edwards. vol. 1, Banner of Truth Trust, 1976, p. 607; Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary. vol.6, MacDonald Publishing Company, pp. 448-453, as cited by CHAIM [http://www.chaim.org].
46. Berkouwer, G.C. The Return of Christ. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972, 323-358. 47. Hoekema, Anthony A. The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979. 48. As cited by CHAIM [http://www.chaim.org/ga.htm]
How in this nuclear age should we think of Satan? Has the tremendous progress made in recent years by scientific discoveries affected the views of people? Yes! Without a doubt belief in devils has for some time been undergoing a more or less complete eclipse in the minds of people. Marrou writes,
Belief in the Devil has, therefore, suffered a "regression". For many people Satan is simply a personification of Evil, a figure of speech, a prosopopoeia. When we think of combating "evil", we imagine fighting certain abstractions like ignorance, fear, greed, corruption, and the human institutions in which they breed. But these abstractions, though they seem very real to us, are only static adversaries. We no longer focus on those other adversaries - the intelligent, cunning, spiteful enemies eager who are out to destroy us. To overcome them we must call on God for help.
Under the pretext of "realism" that enables us to refuse acceptance of what we think of as old-fashioned prejudices, we are forsaking authentic realism. We are oblivious to the divinely planned gigantic struggle between the righteous and the wicked, and take no active part in it. And so we deny ourselves a clear understanding of how sin came into the world and why it is that sin is all around us and is so pervasive within us - the concept of "original" sin. We no longer connect sin with Satan's temptation of Eve. The whole spiritual combat loses its clear outline in the gray shadows of a theoretical argument between our abstract moral principles and our unthinking instincts.
What a distance lies between modern thought and that of the Apostle Paul in the Bible! "It is not against flesh and blood that we enter the lists; we have to do with princedoms and powers, with those who have mastery of the world in these dark days, with malign influences in an order higher than ours" (Ephesians 6:12).
What way does true realism lie? Marrou writes, "When the Fathers of the Church affirmed the existence of angels and devils and put forth opinions on their nature, they were not merely setting down an act of faith but contributing to a science based on reason and experience."
Within the last century, Satanism has assumed a new shape. Documented accounts of demonic possession, even public awareness of overt worship of Satan are giving way to a new Satanism, which is man's emulation of Satan's revolt. Modern Satanism lies in the neglect of God's rights, the denial of his name, the theoretical or practical negation of his existence and authority, in man's determination to arrange his life apart from God and without God.
Satan is quite prepared for men and women to deny him, provided that they also deny God! He who, as the expression goes, "believes in neither God nor the Devil", is just the person for him. This rebellion on the part of mankind is a second version of the angels' revolt. Satan has found imitators. They are numerous at the present time. And, like him, these "limbs of Satan" take up strategic positions, as we shall see.
The Fall of the Angels
If you ask a theologian the question which forms the subject of this book: who is Satan? he will doubtless answer: Satan is the Commander-in-chief of the fallen angels.
Why should we believe in the existence of Satan and his army of demons? There are those with doubts on the whole matter, and others who never raise the question of Satan's existence lest they be obliged to come to a decision about it. Yet we must face problems boldly and come to a reasonable and sound conclusion about them.
"God is the Creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual and corporeal, and by his almighty power from nothing, at the beginning of time, he made both creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angels and the world. Then he made the human creature, composed of a spirit and a body combined."
This definition is a dogmatic one which should be acceptable to all true Christian and Messianic churches. Definitions given by the Church are always necessarily based upon divine revelation. Thus we expect to find definitive information concerning angels and devils in the Bible, which is inspired by God. And this is what we find. The Holy Scriptures are full of trustworthy evidence on this matter.
God first created the spiritual (the angels) and the corporeal (the world), then he made man of spirit and body combined. We deduce from the Biblical record that the angels, whom God created before man, were capable of love or hatred. They may well have been witnesses to the creation of the physical. They would have seen that in the Son of God all things took their being (Colossians 1:15-16).
The angels then played the significant roles in the cosmic struggle between Good & Evil. Since we are also participants in this struggle, we ought to reflect on how it began.
The triumph of God's creation was the creation of free things. Initially there existed a moral order which was a source of dignity, beauty, and eternal beatitude to those embracing it, before the fall of any of the creatures. Angels were also created with free will. They were not forced to love God under compulsion. However, they were capable of falling. God set them a trial of love, similar to his later testing of Adam and Eve, before he granted celestial beatitude to the good angels. Having passed the test, the good angels were raised to a supernatural state of beatific vision of God, and entered into eternal happiness grounded in freedom and choice.
But then a fearsome battle ensued between the good angels, led by the archangel Michael, and those angels who opposed God. This is alluded to in Revelation 12:7-12. Satan and his followers rebelled, incited by pride in their own self-perfection. Their ultimate ambition was to become gods themselves.
This sin of the angels was unforgivable. God could not arrange for its atonement. Their sin was judged to be all the more culpable because their nature was sublime compared to ours. Angelic intelligence is evidently intuitive, operating immediately by inspirations, with no need to reconsider things. That means an angel is incapable of repentance. To put it another way, the angelic spirit can see in a flash both for and against before making a choice. Consequently the angelic will is not capable metaphysically to retract that choice.
Among mankind, the unbeliever after death is also in such a state of final impenitence. He is a human soul fixed in its state, incapable of retracting hatred, and so he becomes subject to the laws applying to pure spirits.
The Tempter and the Accuser
God created interdependence between the different parts of creation. As vegetables, animals and minerals are involved with our physical bodies, so angels and demons are involved with our souls. But the difference is categorical. The involvement of angels and devils at the very beginning of human affairs directly impacted the physical unity of the cosmos and the moral unity of the spirit universe.
Though God banished Satan from heaven, he did not banish him from creation. An old Christian proverb says "the devil carries stone". This means that the Devil himself can serve God's purposes! According to Augustine, God uses him to take good from evil.
After the fall of Satan, God allowed him to play his chosen role of Tempter, permitting him to seduce the greatest number of angels into rebellion. The new humanity, Adam and Eve, also required a trial befitting its strength, and so God used Satan once again. The garden of Eden was necessarily to become a battlefield in the continuing struggle between Good and Evil. However, Satan was unaware of the magnificence of God's divine plan, which involved his ultimate defeat at the hands of the Messiah, and the redemption of believing humanity by the blood of this Messiah.
How did the Devil participate in the test that God set before Adam and Eve? Satan's approach is summarized in his words to Eve: "You will be like God, knowing good and evil!" To possess all the light, you must also possess all the darkness! To "know life", you must have abused it! To attain truth, you must have experienced error!
How shall Eve reply? The most alluring temptation could not in and of itself deprive her of her freedom. Jesus was to show later how we must answer Satan. But "the woman saw that the fruit was good to eat and pleasant to look at, and took from the tree and ate it, and gave some to her husband, and he ate with her" (Genesis 3:1-6).
The temptation of Eve by Satan in the earthly paradise is one of the most significant factors in the whole of our spiritual history. The whole Biblical religion proclaims that Satan was anything but a fable, a myth or a tissue of allegories. Jesus was to say to his enemies, those Jews who did not believe in him: "You belong to your father, the devil. He from the first, was a murderer. When he utters falsehood, he is only uttering what is natural to him; he is all false, and it was he who gave falsehood its birth!" (John 8:44).
A murderer from the first and the Father of lies! Such is the answer given by the facts to the question asked in this book: Who is Satan? It is he, literally, who put us to death, who introduced death into the history of mankind. Satan is the great protagonist in the human adventure. If Adam and Eve had their responsibility in this drama, Satan's was far heavier. He is the accomplice if not the direct inspirer of all human crimes, and the instigator of all that is evil in our cultures and civilization.
Yet he was also an opportunity for moral victories on the part of believers. This is evident in the Book of Job. There we see clearly portrayed the problem of trial, the problem of suffering, the origin of evil, the greatness of God, and the sovereign justice that is in him. We see a foreshadowing of the Gospel - the drama of the Suffering of the Righteous one and the agony of the Cross.
In the book of Job, Satan appears as one of the authors of suffering. But notice that God allows it. Satan inflicts it with God's permission. He inflicts it to drive man to despair and to blasphemy, while God permits it to test the degree of our faith, our confidence, our fidelity and our love.
Remember that the Devil is no more than a creature of God, and by no means an independent and rival principle to God. As Gregory the Great reminds us, even though Satan lost the beatitude of heaven, he nevertheless kept his nature which was like that of the angels.
Satan means "adversary", or "accuser". He invited himself to bring afflictions on Job by first accusing him before God. Satan cynically describes Job's dealings with God by saying that Job doesn't really love God, he merely fears him, so that he can be protected by him. Thus Job has nothing to lose! So Satan challenges not only Job, but the entire human relationship of faith with God.
The book of Job raises the problem of the suffering of the just. We can solve this problem in our New Testament age by the contemplation of the Messiah's suffering on the cross, and by our association with his redemption, which is the pledge of future glory.
But Job belongs to the Old Testament. He cannot know this answer which is the only complete one. He has, it seems, the greater merit for not abandoning his pure monotheism, his deep filial piety towards the Creator and the power of his hope in him.
The Book of Job is but a stage in the revelation of the ways of God. The magnificence of the world in which God has established us should suffice to reveal to us his sovereign wisdom. It leads us to a perfect submission and to a total surrender into his hands. Job's victory is an example of the triumphs man can win over Satan's malice.
Satan is far from always emerging victorious. He was beaten back the first time by Michael and his angels. He was defeated irreversibly by Jesus Christ. And he will be finally conquered, according to the book of Revelation, at the end of time.
Whether his role is Tempter or Accuser, in Satan we have a being who does not love us, who is jealous of us, who would like to drag us to destruction with him, who does not hesitate to lie or to inflict the most dreadful calamities upon us in order to achieve his purposes. In short, Satan is someone who revels in doing harm to us. He is a murderer from the first. He is the Father of lies whom Jesus Christ denounced.
That such a figure is constantly at work among men is what helps to explain why the history of mankind should be so full of troubles, disturbance, unrest and bloodshed, and so inhuman most of the time. No wild animal has shown itself to be more ferocious than man! This is all largely due to Satan's activity among us.
Satan and the Messiah
So far we have recounted several events in the gigantic struggle between Good and Evil: the battle between Lucifer (one of Satan's names) and Michael, the battle between the good angels and the devils, the casting off of the rebels, and the temptation of Eve and Adam in the garden of Eden.
Satan played a decisive role both in the fall of Adam and Eve and in the life and death of Jesus Christ. He who had been a murderer from the first reached the very peak of his triumphs with deicide. But that became the signal for his defeat and the decline of his dominion.
John, of all the evangelists, clearly identifies sin with the work of the Devil. "If the Son of God was revealed to us, it was so that he might undo what the devil has done" (1 John 3:8). The whole Christian problem consists in escaping the grasp of the Evil One, and to belong only to God. God's solution to this problem was to send his Son Jesus Christ to our world to directly confront Satan.
At the outset of his ministry, Jesus encountered Satan in a great struggle we call the Temptation of Jesus. This temptation was followed by persecutions at the hands of Christ's enemies, who did not hesitate to term him "a votary of Beelzebub" (another of Satan's names). In itself that accusation is indicative of the diabolical psychology, for it is worthy of the "Father of lies". By recounting these events to his apostles afterwards, Jesus surely wished to stress the fact that the whole of his life was to be a struggle with, and victory over, Satan.
Three times in the gospel of John, Jesus calls Satan "the prince of this world". But it is a "principality" that Jesus does not accept. He rejects it and he has come to fight and destroy it.
It is not from the lips of Jesus that we shall find words expressing doubt concerning Satan's power, as we hear so often nowadays, or concerning his very existence. How can people possibly doubt that Satan exists and still exists, or that his power in the world is enormous, or that everything that the genius of man has invented for the purpose of killing, from Cain's cudgel to the hydrogen bomb, is a product of hell? He is also behind all the vice of this world, which kills even more people that war!
The devil has, up to a certain point, rights over men. Willful sin has made them slaves of Satan. But over Jesus he has no rights! Having no rights over Christ, Satan could put him to death only by iniquitous judges and by relentless executioners, who served as his instruments.
It is ironic to notice that, by so relentlessly targeting Christ and bringing him to his death, Satan involuntarily contributes the most magnificent homage to God that any creature can possibly pay to the Creator! Whether the Devil likes it or not, his crime is a source of ineffable glory for God.
Christ's confrontation with the Evil one resulted in the redemption of believing humanity. Let us look more closely into the concept of redemption. Literally speaking, this word means "buying back". Adam and Eve had sold themselves and all their posterity to the Devil. Satan had so become "the Prince of this world". God had allowed Satan to take possession of his prey, but within certain narrow limits.
Jesus was the only one who could say, "He has no hold over me!" God the Father charged him to dispossess humanity from Satan. Christ gave his blood as the price for our souls, as a ransom to compensate Satan for his rights. He paid for our redemption.
Remember also Satan's influence in the cases of possession which are so frequent in the Gospels. Almost all the peoples of the world have believed in possession. The pagans believed that there were men and women amongst them in whose bodies the "gods" lived in, or at least, spoke through them and prophesied. We are right to consider all these soothsayers and pythonesses as possessed of the devil. That is just how the Fathers of the Church considered them.
Jesus also dealt with many cases of possession. Not for an instant did he doubt the reality of possession! Jesus made a clear distinction between possession and disease. Catherinet states, "The attitude of Jesus in the presence of the possessed does not allow us to think that in acting and speaking as he did he was merely accommodating himself to the ignorance and prejudices of his contemporaries."
It is very possible that these cases of possession happened with unusual frequency around the person of Jesus. The personal combination of divine and human nature in Jesus had as its counterpart, with divine permission, increased manifestations of diabolical power. The incarnation of the Word was thus answered by Satan with diabolical incarnations that were grotesque caricatures.
The Church, after Jesus, also did not doubt in the reality of possession. In the early Church there existed a special order of clergy known as exorcists. Their ministry over the centuries is well documented. Today we can say that if its true that there are no longer any cases of possession, it is thanks to the goodness of God and the blood of Jesus Christ.
Up until the coming of Jesus, Satan had dominated the world almost as supreme master. But an overthrow has taken place, which Jesus described when he told his disciples: "I have given you power over all the power of the enemy!" There can now be no doubt over these three points:
The Kingdom of Satan
The Apostle Paul's powerful genius, inspired by God, strongly contrasts the realm of sin with the realm of grace. When Augustine sees the whole history of the world concentrated in the struggle between two Cities, what he is doing is following Paul's interpretation. But for Paul, sin is not - as it is for many of us - an abstraction. The realm of sin is the very real realm of Satan. In our daily struggle against sin we are struggling against Satan. Throughout the centuries the essential war has always been between the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God. It is the only war whose stake is eternal.
How can we conceive of the kingdom of Satan? In space the realm of Satan is our world; in time, it is the time in which we live. When Jesus called Satan "the Prince of this world", that is just what he meant. The maxims of the world, the customs of the world, the way of living of the world - all present to the eyes of Christ something Satanic. Paul captures this understanding by calling Satan not only the "Prince of this world", but also "the god of this world"!
Many may be astonished that we have not begun by saying "the kingdom of Satan is hell". Yes, the kingdom of Satan is indeed hell, but Satan received God's permission to recruit his subjects from our world, which he claims as an extension of his kingdom.
The Apostle John writes to "the angel of Smyrna", that is, the bishop of that city, that he has to fight "the synagogue of Satan". He sees in Philadelphia another "synagogue of Satan". These synagogues, in both cases, were formed of those non-Messianic Jews who did not follow Christ, but instead were opposed to the gospel.
How could such beauty, such purity, such gentleness in Christ's Gospel have failed to stir men deeply and win their hearts? An important factor is that Satan is always there. He has powerful strings to pull in the depths of the human soul, to prevent people from following the only doctrine of salvation which would ever shine for them. He wants to win the struggle between life and death.
Make no mistake, in the realm of death it is Satan who is master! He drives people to their death. Sin and death are his domain. One leads to the other. Nor is it only the death of the body that interests him. It is much more. He aspires to the death of our souls, which is the second death. He triumphs when he leads men's spirits to the denial of the spirit. So he gathers all the doubters, the unbelievers, the mistrustful, those engulfed in matter, and he draws them away from the influences and from the light of the Gospel. He rules over his captives absolutely. He becomes their "god" in their lives, and he is a god of darkness and lies.
Our textbooks of moral theology give abstract rules, logical definitions, reasoned-out theories, and aphorisms of commonplace wisdom. Their premise is that of Socrates, that it is enough to know to be able to do. All evil comes from ignorance. "He who opens a school, closes a prison."
But these text-books are very far removed from the reality of our actual conflict. Much more profound is Paul's perception! He knows that we are "sold into the slavery of sin". He explains:
"My own actions bewilder me; what I do is not what I wish to do, but something which I hate.... My action does not come from me, but from the sinful principle that dwells in me.... So I am handed over as a captive to that disposition towards sin which my lower self contains. Pitiable creature that I am, who is to set me free from a nature that is doomed to death? Nothing else than the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 7:14-25).
Anyone familiar with Paul's ideas knows that behind the sin, there is someone who drives us to it, who rejoices in our fall, and who participates in our degradation. "It is not against flesh and blood, we have to do with princedoms and powers, with those who have mastery of the world in these dark days, with malign influences in an order higher than ours (Ephesians 6:11-12).
When we speak of Satan, it really does mean a person. But Satan is not alone. He has a whole hierarchy behind him. Lucifer carried with him in his revolt angels belonging, doubtless, to all the rungs of the angelic ladder. All these fallen angels are "spirits of malice". There are some among them who were princedoms and powers among the angels. But by their fall, the princedoms and powers in question have not lost all their natural power.
Our moral conflicts, therefore, are not fought in the abstract, but against tough and very personal adversaries. The struggle is a desperate one, against one who "goes about roaring like a lion, to find his prey", and his followers.
"But you, grounded in the faith, must face him boldly!" We should not fear them if we rely on Christ instead of on our own strength. We can and must challenge them boldly in the name of our faith.
In the New Testament, we see Satan and his angels spread out across the earth and sky, but never in hell. And yet we find it almost impossible not to visualize them amidst the flames of hell. We have in our minds words of Christ like these regarding the last judgment: "Go far from me, you who are accursed, into that eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!"
Have the demons, therefore, the gift of ubiquity? Can they be in hell and on earth at the same time?
The answer is complex. It begins with the answer that the demon named Legion gave to Christ: "Hast thou come here to torment us before the appointed time?" It is only at the end of time, after the universal judgment, that Satan will lose the title of Prince of this world, and become merely the Prince of hell. But until "the end of time" the demons prowl over the earth. The Gospel shows them wandering through desert places, but all the time they are among us and all around us.
Paul places them in the world, in the darkness, or even in the lower parts of the celestial regions. This entire army of beings are hostile to mankind and are led by Satan as their chief. The apostle speaks of this "prince whose domain is in the lower air, that spirit whose influence is still at work among the unbelievers" (Ephesians 2:2).
Why is Satan called here "the prince whose domain is in the lower air"? Paul, doubtless, wishes to give us to understand that the demons are lying in wait all around us, ready to devour us, and against whom we can defend ourselves only by faith, and by watching and praying.
The present time is for Satan and the bad angels a period of provisional remission as far as punishment in hell is concerned. This time of remission does not prevent them from suffering now the pain of losing their sight of God. But this auxiliary penalty, called "the pain of sense", is a sort of partial spiritual captivity until the end of the world.
In Revelation, John speaks of a certain reduction in Satan's power, after the coming of Christ, followed by a temporary renewal of his power of seduction, and finally the utter overthrowing of his dominion:
What madness indeed to consider oneself on a level with God, to prefer oneself to God! Yet that was Satan's sin. When men glorify the delights of total liberty and the absolute right of human instinct to develop without restraint, it is nothing less than Satanism. It is the present-day attitude which revels in knowledge and technical skill, claiming to be sufficient to itself and to humanity and despising all the lofty aspirations which Christ brought into the world.
Satanism today consists in expecting everything of science and technical skill and nothing of God, in selling one's share of Paradise for the mess of pottage of material comfort. The militant atheism of many modern day writers, the hatred of God in present-day communism, the laicization which banishes God from schools and law courts, are a revolt against God, in imitation of Satan.
People sometimes quote this saying of the somber Jacob Boehme, theosophist of the seventeenth century (1575-1624): "The devil is nature's cook, without him life would be a bowl of tasteless gruel." It seems that most modern artists and writers share this opinion. Their marked taste for filth, their determination to strip man of any lofty ideal, their contempt in dismissing all morality, prove that they are in their element when painting abject vice, and that they can count on their viewers and readers to accept the foulest and most pornographic descriptions. So-called experts are careful to sing the praises of only the vilest productions. There can be no doubt that this is all done "under the sign of Satan".
And Satan has no need to make a personal appearance in our days. He is only too well served by those who profess to believe no longer in his existence or his activity. As Baudelaire said, "The devil's first trick is his incognito." He is the Father of lies, and there is no more deadly lie than the refusal to recognize his presence here in the very heart of human affairs.
In contrast, John, the peerless prophet of Revelation, described a true vision of the last days of the world:
John saw the essential features of our age that precedes this total renewal of all things, when he wrote:
For now there will be the two Cities that Augustine saw. But God is not dead or dying! He has nothing to fear from the paltry "Satans" that hover above our heads, here in the midst of mankind. He will have the last word. John gives us these words of Christ:
(Abridged from Who is the Devil? by Nicolas Corte, Hawthorne Books, New York, 1958)
How do you bring the gospel in depth to people who know little about the Bible story? This is great challenge for all true Christians in these post-modern times. Maybe we at Rock of Israel can help. We are a Messianic ministry reaching out to the Russian Jewish immigrant community of Philadelphia with the love of Jesus.
A lot of immigrants don't know much about the Bible. Many Russian Jews don't even know who King David was! When we meet such folks for the first time, and show them our sinfulness and our need for a savior, they find it interesting. But, like most post-modern people, they do not have any sense that God is completely holy - that He utterly despises sin and will not tolerate it at all.
Some are intrigued enough to want to hear more. They come out to our Bible study group, led by Fred Klett of the CHAIM ministry. We have been doing an evangelistic study for several years, going verse by verse through Matthew and Hebrews. This is an inductive study, where Fred engages us with interesting questions about the text. Almost always we get an interesting two-way discussion going, in both English and Russian! It's amazing that every Bible passage somehow points to God's plan for rescuing us from the grip of death, and that Jesus His Son is at the center of this plan.
Recently I came across another powerful way to tell the gospel story. Its called chronological storying. You use a dozen or less stories to provide an overview of the Bible, in the end leading to a gospel presentation and a call to commitment. The idea is to tell the story of Messiah the way people learned it through history: creation, the fall, the flood, Abraham the father of faith, the Passover and the Ten Commandments, the history of the Temple, how the Prophets called people to holiness and again emphasized their need for a savior, and finally, the coming of Jesus Christ. There is a fantastic book that shows you how to lead a Bible study like this. Its called "Storyteller's Bible Study for Internationals" (a better subtitle would be "for Post-Moderns") by Bill Perry, available from http://www.multilanguage.com. We have begun a small group using this approach. Week to week the suspense builds about the Promised One who will come to set us right with God. People are eager to come back to hear how the story continues! Please pray for our group, that the gospel would take firm root in their lives.
On another note, the meeting place that was promised to us is no longer available. Please pray that we could find a comfortable home or a large apartment in the Russian Jewish neighborhood, that would let us meet with 25 or more people on a regular basis.
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The city we live in is one of the oldest in our country. William Penn came to America and started Philadelphia in 1681 to be the "City of Brotherly Love." Too bad that today many people see Philadelphia as a place to avoid. We take a different view. We are Rock of Israel, a Messianic ministry reaching out to the Russian Jewish immigrant community of Philadelphia with the love of Jesus.
William Penn was a follower of Jesus. He had a concrete vision of God's kingdom come from heaven to people living on earth. This vision was not his, but came from the words of Jesus, "The time has come. The kingdom of heaven is near" (Mark 1:15). The Son of God came to this planet to inaugurate this kingdom, and His Holy Spirit is still among us.
That sounds like pretty holy stuff, you say. But what does it really amount to? I think its this - you don't have to live your life worrying about "number one" (you!) as your first priority - you can live here as if you are already going to live forever (which you will, if you trust in Jesus!). And if you live forever, you can do unselfish things that you wouldn't normally do. Like get to know immigrants, single parents, and neglected kids (the Bible talks about strangers, widows, and orphans) and helping them out. Like building bridges of compassion between people with a history of not getting along, for example, Jews and non-Jews. Like helping people grow spiritually by hooking them up with Jesus the King.
There is a growing number of believers in Philadelphia who are catching this kingdom vision. One group has formed something new called CityNet Ministries Inc. (They're so serious about this they got themselves officially incorporated!) These are folks from 6 different PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) and OPC (Orthodox Pres) churches. They want to see more congregations in Philadelphia that will put out the good news of Messiah. These people believe that entire communities, like the Russian Jews of Northeast Philadelphia, can become totally different when the amazing message of Jesus comes to rest in their midst.
We at Rock of Israel know we need the prayers and the help of God's people to move into the Russian Jewish field. And CityNet is one of the first groups to offer substantial help. The pastors of the CityNet churches are already helping with prayer and encouragement, for myself and my friend Ilya Lizorkin, our future Russian speaking pastor. We look forward to working with leaders and gifted believers from the CityNet churches. There will be opportunities for one-on-one Bible studies with Russian Jews, music outreach, helping immigrants adjust to life in America, and learning about Russian Jewish culture, history, and language. Please pray that God will raise up fearless people to share in the job He is giving us, to advance His kingdom!
What Important portion of the Jewish Bible is not read in the Synagogue.
At Sabbath services throughout the world, usually in September, an important section of Scripture is not be read from the Haftorah (selections from the books of the Prophets). At the prior Sabbath service, the prophet Isaiah chapter 51:12 will be read, and at the next Sabbath service Isaiah 54:1-10 will be read. The section not read is Isaiah 52:13-53:12 It will not be read at Sabbath services this year or any year.
The Rabbis have chosen to ignore these verses, in spite of the fact that previous generations of Rabbis believed they gave a picture of the promised Messiah. Take the time to read what verses. From ‘The Holy Scriptures,’ Published by the Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955 edition.
The historic Rabbinical view of these verses
For centuries, the Rabbis taught and believed that these verses referred to the Messiah. The Targam (Jewish paraphrase of the Scriptures) of Jonathan ben Uziel, written in the 2nd century C.E., reprinted by Oxford at the Clarendon Press in 1953 and titled The Targam of Isaiah, translates Isaiah 52:13: ‘Behold, my servant, the Messiah, shall prosper; he shall be exalted, and increase, and be very strong.”
Rabbi Mosheh el Sheikh, Commonly known as Alshech, Chief Rabbi of Safed in the 16th Century. He wrote in his commentaries on the earlier prophets, concerning Isaiah 53, “Our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of King Messiah, and we shall also adhere to the same view” Also Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin of Cordova and Toledo, Spain, wrote in the 14th Century C.E., “I am pleased to interpret the passage in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis of the King Messiah.”
The historic Rabbinic
understanding challenged by Rashi in the 12th century.
Rabbi Kimchi gives us an
explanation. He embraced Rashi’s teachings, admitted that Rashi wrote
controversially “in answer to the heretics.” The heretics were Messianic
Jews and Gentile Christians who believed that these verses were fulfilled by
Jesus. Rashi and Kimchi abandoned the grammatically correct understanding of
the Hebrew text as a way of opposing these people. Is it any wonder that
Rabbis who were faithful to the Scriptures disputed Rashi and Kimchi? Rabbi
Naphtali Ben Asher Altschuler (late 16th to early 17th century CE) wrote
this: “I am surprised that Rashi and David Kimchi have, with the Targam, not
also applied them (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) to the Messiah.”
A Summary of Isaiah 52:13-15
A Summary of Isaiah 53:1-12
Of whom does Isaiah 52:13-53:12 speak?
Why isn’t this important
section of Scripture read in the Synagogue? if Rashi’s view is correct why
avoid these verses? Could it be they are afraid you might see the one who
has fulfilled them?
What does all of this mean?
Are you seeking the truth about God and His Messiah?
Call Ron Elkin at (215) 843-1764 to discuss this and other Messianic prophecies. You owe it to yourself to examine the Scriptures; there are eternal consequences to your decision.