Are You Ready for the Banquet?

People procrastinate, sometimes about vitally important matters. In this parable, Matthew 25:1–13, Jesus encourages, even commands, you to be prepared and to keep watch for his coming.

Beware of the folly of being unprepared. The kingdom of heaven will be like ten young women. There are details we do not know about first century weddings. Jesus’ focus is on the coming of the groom and on the wisdom or folly, respectively, of five of the bridesmaids. Apparently they attended the bride, and when the groom arrived to take her to his home for the wedding feast, accompanied the procession with their lights. Don’t read significance into details that are simply part of the story. (Don’t try to find specific meanings for the lamps, the oil, and the drowsing that the girls did.) This parable uses Biblical imagery. The messianic kingdom had been compared to a banquet, Isaiah 25. Jesus had told a parable of king giving a wedding feast, Matthew 22:1–14. Particularly in the prophets (see Hosea) the relationship between Israel and the Lord was compared to marriage. Thus it is not inappropriate for the Messiah to come as the bridegroom. See Ephesians 5:22–33; Revelation 21:1–2. Note the future tense with which Jesus introduces the parable. Five of the bridesmaids were ready, and five were foolishly unprepared. There are consequences for being unprepared. This is a parable, but central to its point is the truth that Jesus Christ is coming. He will appear. That truth cannot be jettisoned without discarding the faith itself. “It is all-important that we today confront ourselves with the implications for faith and hope of the sustained witness of the New Testament respecting the advent…. [I]f anything is integral to the New Testament, to the witness of our Lord, and to apostolic Christianity, it is the faith, as also the hope, that world history is moving to the grand climax of the believer’s assurance and expectation, the return of the exalted Saviour, the Lord of glory, to terminate this age and usher in the age to come, a return in all the majesty that is his as King of kings and Lord of lords. An adjustment of the gospel that discards this tenet of faith and hope is an abandonment of Christianity, and the proponents of it ought to have the candour to acknowledge that the relevance for which they contend is not a version of the Christian faith but its contradiction.” (Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 1, p. 90)

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As It Was in the Days of Noah

This past week someone rang my doorbell, asked to talk for a few minutes, and then tried to convince me that Christ is returning within a year. Plenty of others have made similar claims in the past. But Jesus, in Matthew 24:36–44, warns against that kind of speculation.

You don’t know when the Son of Man will return. No one but the Father knows the day or the hour. Avoid speculation. Many simply ignore Jesus’ warning against predicting the time of his return. Remember that he is still answering the questions of the disciples, v.3. Don’t get caught up in speculation. Jesus, as the incarnate Messiah, had limited knowledge. Notice the progressive force of his words: no one, not even the angels, nor the Son! As the truly human Savior, Jesus remained ignorant of some things. This may be hard to grasp, but is part of the mystery of the incarnation. Only the Father knows the time of Christ’s return. Jesus does not want you to focus on the when of his return. “The knowledge denied to men, angels and the Son is a knowledge specifically of ‘that day’ (the day of judgment) and of ‘the hour’ (the time of the coming of ‘that day’)…. The correct paraphrase, therefore, will have to read: 1. Men are informed of certain things. 2. Angels are informed about more things. 3. The Son, in virtue of His Messianic office, is informed about still more things; but this question of ‘that day’ and its hour has not been communicated even to Him as an item of official knowledge.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus, pages 167–168)

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With Power and Great Glory

It’s January 9, and unless you’re totally off the grid, you’ve been exposed to articles and blog posts telling you what to expect in 2022: Will the markets go up or down? What will be the significant changes in technology? What can we expect regarding COVID 19? Which football team will prevail? It wasn’t the beginning of the year, but Jesus’ disciples had questions for him about the future. Their question was complex, and the answer Jesus gives is challenging. But a crucial part of his answer focuses on himself, as you see in Matthew 24:30–31. And his answer affects how you live in 2022.

The sign of the Son of Man will appear. Don’t be deceived by other signs. The disciples asked for the sign of Christ’s coming and of the end of the age. Jesus had been speaking in the temple as he grieved over Jerusalem. As they left his disciples remarked on the building, verse 1. Jesus prophesied the total destruction of the temple. Then, leaving the temple, he sat with his disciples on the Mt. of Olives, opposite Jerusalem, probably with the temple in view. The disciples asked a compound question, one that was doubtless far more complex and multi-faceted than they realized, verse 3. Wars and rumors of wars, etc., are not evidence that the end is here, verse 6. You have probably had people suggest to you that the terrible state of the world must (or at least very likely) mean that Jesus is going to return very soon. Some might even give expression to the idea that things can’t get much worse. But Jesus explicitly warns against looking at those things as signs of his coming. Even false prophets will perform powerful signs, verse 24.

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Where Does God Live in 2022?

Where does God live? I would hardly dare ask that question, much less try to answer it — except that in Isaiah 57:15 God himself talks about where he dwells.

Where does God live? The high and lofty one is speaking. This is the language that God uses to identify himself as he speaks. There is one other place in the Old Testament where the words translated high and lofty are used together — in the vision of Isaiah’s call, Isaiah 6:1. Notice how the Lord’s train fills the temple. Listen to the cry of the seraphs. Isaiah responds with profound fear. He is aware of his sin and of the sin of his people. Here in Isaiah 57, the first part of the chapter focus on God’s judgment of the ungodly — with a brief note of hope in verse 13. In the last part of the chapter, the focus is on God’s deliverance of his people, concluding with a brief word of warning.

The holy one lives forever. God identifies himself as eternal. He never had a beginning. He will never have an end. Our puny minds struggle with that concept, because we are creatures of time. We all had a beginning. We do talk (because the Bible does) about our having eternal life. But we have eternal life in a different sense than God is eternal. God’s people have fellowship with him in this life and even death doesn’t end that. When believers die, we are with the Lord, and we look forward to the day of resurrection and beyond that, to life in the new heavens and earth, where there is no curse, no death, and where we live in fellowship with God without end. Similarly, those who reject God don’t make him disappear by their rejection. They too face death, and after it, the resurrection of the just and the unjust. The face an ongoing, unending eternity experiencing God’s wrath. Note the words of warning with which Isaiah 57 ends: “’There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” There are permanent consequences to how you respond to God in this life, and you do well to pay attention. Yet, in contrast to us, who have a beginning, followed by unending life, God is above time. He has no beginning and no end. He is incomprehsibly above us. Another way in which he makes that point in describing himself is to call himself holy. That’s why angels, carrying something of the glory of God when they are sent to appear to people, typically begin by saying, “Don’t be afraid!” “The heavens are the highest and most intimate shrine, where Jehovah dwells alone; hence the striking contrast, when over against this is set His condescension to the humble. The same association exists with Jehovah’s eternity. This likewise is something so specifically divine that it sets Him apart from all that is created and exists in time. In the passage just quoted God’s being enthroned forever and His holiness stand side by side.” (Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, pages 266–267)

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Joy to the World!

Joy to the world? But there are viruses, fighting, work challenges, illness, and death. Can you really sing “Joy to the World”? When you look at Psalm 98 on which it is based, the answer is, “Yes!”

Sing! Look back at God’s marvelous deeds. The first part of the Psalm looks back to what God had done. “Marvelous things” are not just any actions, but focus on the Exodus and the related miracles that the Lord performed as he led his people through the wilderness into the promised land. He emphasizes that it was not the might or wisdom of his people that delivered them, but his own right hand and holy arm. He has made his salvation known. Salvation is a broad enough term to include, positively, deliverance for his people, and, in contrast, victory over an oppressive enemy. However difficult your present situation, the Lord assures you that he was with you, his covenant people, in the past. He is the unchanging God, and thus you are assured that he is and will be with you.

Sing a new song! When the Lord performs new acts of salvation, his people respond with new songs of praise, Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5. The new work of salvation has its culmination in the coming of the One whom the angel told Joseph to name Jesus—for he will save his people from their sins. When John sees the Lion-Lamb in heaven, with his saving work accomplished, the Lord is praised with a new song. Notice how the work of delivering his people Israel broadens into a display of his work to the ends of the earth. “There are certain phrases and figures in the Psalter, which are connected with the idea of plan and continuity in the work of God and of its destination to arrive at a final goal. Most characteristic of these, because most Psalm-like, is the phrase ‘a new song.’ occurring five times.” (335–336) “The Psalmists know that the end is not flung upon the world out of the lap of chance, but that it proceeds with stately, unhastened, unretarded step from the council-chamber of God.” (337) “When the Psalmists make eschatology the anchor of salvation, this is not done in a self-centered spirit…. the Psalmist succeeds in forgetting his own woes for the woes of for the hopes of the people as a whole., But it is even more important to notice that he is able to forget them for the overwhelming thought of the glory of Jehovah. The gloria in excelsis which the Psalter sings arise not seldom from a veritable de profundis and, leaving behind the storm-clouds of its own distress, mounts before Jehovah in the serenity of a perfect praise.” (339) (Geerhardus Vos, Eschatology of the Psalter)

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