Teaching the Book of Revelation to College Students

Bible Study,Scripture | Posted by: Editors

By Kyle Mercer, Director of College Ministry

Editor’s Note: Kyle Mercer serves as Director of College Ministry at FBC Durham. Earlier this year, he led his college Bible for Life class through a study of Revelation.

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Kyle Mercer, Director of College Ministry

I don’t have any hard data, but I would suspect that the Book of Revelation is probably the book of the Bible people are most curious about. Yes, David Plotz at Slate thinks that Ruth or maybe Job is the most popular book of the Bible, but I’m not really buying that. At the same time, I also know that many pastors don’t want to teach Revelation, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

So why do many pastors and teachers want to stay away from this apocalyptic book? Most likely because when we think of Revelation, we tend to think of seven-headed dragons, creatures with tons of eyes, and let’s be honest … weird people who study it. In my experience—and I know I’m generalizing—the type of people who have been most interested in Revelation seem really strange to me. They seem way too excited about millennial charts, about Israel becoming a nation in 1948, and about current world leaders. Of course, not helping their reputation in my mind are the widely publicized false teachings of Harold Camping and others, who have wrongly predicted exact dates for the world’s end and the return of Christ.

Now, I’m not saying that none of those things are important or relevant. I’m just saying that they weren’t my focus when I recently taught Revelation to college students and young adults at my local church. Instead, as I taught through the text, there were certain themes and ideas that I hoped to communicate and help people see as I taught through what Michael Wilcock has called, “God’s picture book.”

And, as I did this, there were four major ideas that I returned to again and again, and I found each one very helpful in my Bible study setting. So, I simply wanted to share these with you, and I hope that highlighting these very basic themes and ideas might be helpful for your own study.

1. The Clarity of Scripture
 

The first thing I wanted to emphasize to our college students as we were studying this difficult book is the clarity of Scripture. As evangelicals, we believe not only that the Bible is God’s authoritative and inerrant Word, but that God in his kindness has also given us a clear Word. It may take some hard work—and a commentary or two—but we can come to understand Revelation to the extent to which God has intended for us.

God gave us his Word to be useful for those who have received it, and he desires for it to be understood. What that meant for our college Bible study is that I wanted to show that Revelation is not—at least in my opinion—meant to be read under a microscope so much as it’s meant to be seen through a telescopic lens. What I mean by that is that Revelation was given to us in order to give us insight into the big picture ideas of God’s glory, Christ’s exaltation, the salvation of sinners, and the destruction of Satan, sin and death forever. And so, if any study of the Book of Revelation focuses so much on something other than these key themes, then I have to question whether it’s a legitimate study of the book as God intended it.

2. The Devil is a Real and Active Person
 

Another idea that I have found important to emphasize from studying Revelation with college students is the constant reminder that the devil is a real and active person. When Jesus addresses the seven churches in Revelation 1–3, Satan is mentioned in four of the letters! This has got to be an important reminder for us today, because so often people like to think of the world as a closed system, believing that all their problems, struggles and sins can simply be explained in human or natural terms.

Even in evangelical circles, it seems to me that we often speak more about struggles that we have with the flesh and the world, but more rarely do I hear people discussing the fact that Satan has a real and active role in opposing God and his church. In just a quick tour of the letters in Revelation, we see that the Apostle John sees the church’s enemies as a “synagogue of Satan” (2:9, 3:9), and that they are ministering as where Satan’s throne dwells (2:13). One of my desires, then, in teaching Revelation is that we would be challenged to be more aware of Satan and his tactics, which I think will help us better be prepared to stand against his schemes (Eph 6:11).

3. Living with an Eternal Perspective
 

The third truth I tried to communicate to college students in our study is that we must live with an eternal perspective. Jesus speaks to us in Revelation as the one from eternity past who will live forever (1:18). When Jesus speaks to the seven churches, he ends each one with a promise of eternal life for those who are faithful, giving us images of eating forever from the tree of life, receiving a crown, and judging the world together with Christ.

As the book goes on, we are given glimpses into the throne room of God (chapter 4), the final marriage supper (chapter 19), the final judgment (chapter 20), and the New Heavens and New Earth (chapter 21). All of these pictures that God has given us in this book are meant to cause us to long for Christ and his Kingdom, and to hate all remaining ungodliness and wickedness that we see in ourselves.

The awful and breathtaking pictures of the Great White Throne and the Lake of Fire should make us all the more thankful for Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, and they should also humble us and make us joyful that we’ve been forgiven and spared from all that we deserved. Apart from Christ, we too would be asking for rocks to crush our heads (6:16), and we too would die the dreadful second death (21:8).

4. The Greatness and Glory of Jesus Christ
 

The last major idea of Revelation that I’ll mention is the most important one: that we should see in this book how great and glorious Jesus Christ is. The Book of Revelation has as high a view of Christology as any other book in the Bible. Revelation is the only book in the Bible (apart from the account of the transfiguration) where we get a physical description of Jesus Christ in the fullness of his glory. It’s an amazing description, from his hair to his eyes, feet and clothing—each description filled with rich imagery that’s grounded in the Old Testament that should make us all, like John, want to fall down as though dead before Jesus.

As Jesus speaks to the churches, he comforts them by reminding them of who he is and what he has done. Again and again, the text focuses on his victory over death and the promise that he lives forever. And, Revelation ends with yet another glorious picture, this time of Christ returning to earth to judge the living and the dead, and to establish his kingdom forever.

I have found over the years that when students have a big view of Christ, everything else in their lives are better ordered as they should. It is when their view of Christ diminishes and is small that sin begins to look appetizing, witnessing seems impossible, and suffering seems overwhelming.

So those are a few of my thoughts about studying Revelation with college students. I have found that by focusing on these themes that it helped center us. The book is, after all, a revelation of Jesus Christ, meaning that it is both from him, for him, and about him. And, when Jesus ceases to be front and center in our thoughts and interpretation of this final book, I think that’s when all we are left with are weird images, charts, and timetables.

What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: Conclusion

Scripture | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

Christ’s view of Scripture should be our own view of Scripture. That has been my argument in this series. We live in a world and culture where Scripture is scrutinized and dissected—and not only by Spirit-filled Christians, who are zealous to know and understand it—but also by educated, influential unbelievers, who wish to undermine and tear down the influence of Scripture.

There is no doubt in my mind that Scripture is able to withstand any and all attacks that are made against it. It’s not difficult for God to preserve, disseminate, and exalt his Word. Still, we know that some Christians have questioned their faith due to the attacks made against Scripture in our day. That is a sad reality, but it’s one that can be combated forcefully by one simple consideration: what does Christ think about the Scripture?

So in this series, we’ve seen that Christ’s view of Scripture never wavered. In the Gospels, we see Jesus as one who had an exalted view of Scripture, as one who staked his life (and his resurrection!) on the accuracy, truthfulness, and authority of Scripture. Since Jesus is the Savior and Son of God we proclaim and hold on to, it makes sense that whatever Christ’s view of Scripture is, that should be our view as well. Briefly, I want to cover just one more aspect of Christ’s high view of Scripture: Christ was condemned because of one quotation of Scripture.

1. One Quotation of Scripture—and Christ Was Condemned
 

Upon Christ’s betrayal and arrest, he was taken before the Sanhedrin to face charges of blasphemy. Because Jesus was a sinless man, the authorities attempted to get their verdict by using the false testimony of several “eye witnesses.” But whenever they bore false witness against Christ, they couldn’t get their stories to agree.

So that’s where Jesus’ confrontation with the high priest starts:

“Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:60–64)

In Mark’s account, Christ answered the high priest’s question very dramatically, using the name of God given to Moses at the burning bush: “I am.” And then, in order to help them see the truth of the incarnation from Scripture, he quotes the “Son of Man” vision from Daniel 7. In that vision, Daniel saw “one like a Son of Man” coming into the presence of God (the “Ancient of Days”) and being worshiped by all the peoples of the earth.

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Dan 7:13–14)

This vision is astonishing because the “Son of Man” is clearly human, yet he is given divine privileges: glory and worship. He comes on the clouds of heaven right into the presence of Almighty God. Who is this “Son of Man” in Daniel 7? This can only be Jesus Christ, and it was for this reason that “Son of Man” was Christ’s favorite title for himself.

At that key moment of Jesus’ life, he “proved” his deity and humanity by the key passage of Scripture in the Bible given for that purpose: Daniel 7. But he also knows that his accusers will not accept this proof and that it will actually be instrumental in his own death. All of it was happening according to the eternal plan of God for the death of Christ and the salvation of sinners all over the world.

And Jesus’ quotation of Scripture at that key moment was central to it all: “And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

2. Conclusion
 

In this study, we have looked at ten different themes of Jesus’ view of Scripture:

Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture
Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture
Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority and Permanence of Scripture
Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment By All Scripture
Christ Staked His Life on Even Obscure Details in Scripture
Christ Proved His Deity by a Single Word of Scripture
Christ Proved the Resurrection by a Single Verb Tense in Scripture
Christ Instilled Passion about Scripture in the Hearts of His Disciples
Christ Taught “What Scripture Says, God Says”
Christ was Condemned Because of One Quotation of Scripture

Therefore, why should an Christian be intimidated by some supposed “expert” who questions Scripture? Even if they have three PhDs and are well-known in their field—even if they are arrogant, humorous, winsome, and persuasive—even if they bring up unanswerable minutiae from the genealogies or other details you haven’t thought about. Christ’s view of Scripture, as we have seen, is this: it is the very word of God, perfect in every way, and a sure and reliable guide to eternal life through faith in him.

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What Scripture Says, God Says

Scripture | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

Sometimes people have a tendency to think that prose text in narrative is just the work of the human author, but that only the actual quotations of God or of Christ are truly the words of God. That is perhaps seen in the mentality behind the “red-letter” editions of the Bible, in which the words of Jesus are printed in red, and all the other words are in black.

I’m certain, however, that Jesus would not have supported such a distinction. In his mindset, “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16), and even the most obscure parts of a historical narrative are equally the words of God—just as much so as the direct quotations following the formula: “Thus says the Lord …”

This is proven in the teaching of Christ in Matthew 19, where he teaches about divorce. There, the Pharisees come to Jesus to try to trap him with his teaching on divorce. They just want to kill him, and so they try to ensnare him just as John the Baptist was ensnared by preaching against Herod’s divorce and remarriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife.

In that chapter, Jesus makes this clear statement about divorce:

“’Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’” (Matt 19:4–6).

The simple point here is not so much Jesus’ views on divorce—as important as they are. Rather, it is a simple point Christ is making about Scripture. In his answer to the Pharisees, Jesus says the Creator does two things: (1) he makes them male and female; and (2) he makes a vital statement about them: “For this reason man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” The fact that the Creator does both these things is proven by the words “and said” underlined above.

What makes this important for our study is that, if you go back to Genesis 2:24, the quotation Jesus is citing, it is not ascribed to God the Creator at all. It does not say, “And the Creator said, ‘For this reason …’” It is merely a part of the Old Testament narrative that Moses wrote. But that doesn’t matter! If it is in the Bible, God said it! As Augustine put it, “What Scripture says, God says” (De adulterinis coniugiis ad Pollentium 1b). This means, then, in the mind of Christ, even the smallest narrative passages are the very words of God. And we should think that way about all the words of Scripture as well.

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Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture; (4) Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture; (5) Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment  by All Scripture; (6) Christ Staked His Life on the Word of God; (7) Christ Proved His Deity By a Single Word of Scripture; (8) Christ Proved the Resurrection by a Single Verb Tense in Scripture; and (9) Christ Instilled Passion for the Scriptures in His Followers.

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Christ Instilled Passion for the Scriptures in His Followers

Scripture | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

We can also see Christ’s view of the Bible in how he instilled passion about and for the Scripture in the hearts of his disciples, especially after his resurrection. Luke 24 show this more clearly than any other place. On the morning of Christ’s resurrection, two dejected and bewildered disciples were walking on the Road to Emmaus. Suddenly, a stranger came up alongside them and began walking with them. I’ve cut and pasted the account for you here:

“As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’

“They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.’

“He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:15–32)

In this account, we see Jesus seeking one goal: to minister hope in the resurrection in the hearts of his downcast disciples by means of the Scripture. It is actually even more powerful an incident because they didn’t know it was Jesus. For then it was merely the truth he showed them in the Scriptures that caused their hearts to inflame with faith, joy, love and passion.

Thus, it is that all of us can have hearts “burning within us” while Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, “opens the Scriptures to us.” Jesus desires to kindle that same flame inside your heart and mine today!

So also, later in Luke 24, he has the same goal with his apostles. He appeared to them in the upper room, and gave them many convincing proofs that he was alive. He showed them his wounds, spoke to them, and ate a piece of broiled fish in their presence. But especially he taught them the Scriptures.

“He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” (Luke 24:44–48)

Christ focused on the Scripture as the perfect supplement to the physical evidence of his bodily presence. He had the power to do something in their clouded minds, opening their minds to enable them to understand the Scripture. He wants to do the same thing in your mind and that of each of his children today around the world.

Jesus’ zeal, then, to minister the Scripture to his disciples after his resurrection is great evidence of his perfectly high view of Scripture.

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Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture; (4)Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture; (5) Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment  by All Scripture; (6) Christ Staked His Life on the Word of God; (7) Christ Proved His Deity By a Single Word of Scripture; and (8) Christ Proved the Resurrection by a Single Verb Tense in Scripture.

Christ Proved the Resurrection by a Single Verb Tense in Scripture

Scripture | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

In my last post on Christ’s view of Scripture, we saw how Christ proved his deity by a single word in Psalm 110, “adonai.” In like manner, Jesus proved the resurrection from the dead by a single verb tense in a famous passage of Scripture. The Sadducees, a group of religious experts during the time of Jesus who denied the resurrection from the dead, came to Jesus with a test case in an effort to prove that there can be no resurrection. After dealing with their ridiculous example, Jesus proves the resurrection from the account of the burning bush and Moses’ call:

“But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matt 22:31–32).

Notice how powerfully Jesus applies ancient Scripture to his contemporary audience: “Have you not read what God said to you.” Amazing! Even though it was God speaking to Moses in the original event, when Moses sat down to write about that event, it was God timelessly speaking to every generation who would read that account. So, it is for us in the twenty-first century: we are reading what God has said to us!

Also, notice how subtly Christ proves the resurrection by the verb clause: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”—not, “I was …” God is not the God of the dead but of the living. That means that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then, are alive apart from the body, awaiting the resurrection, kept alive in God’s presence until the time for the resurrection comes.

Christ’s whole proof of the resurrection in this account amazingly rests on one single present tense verb.

As I have stated in previous posts:

Premise 1: What Jesus believes should be what Christians believe;
Premise 2: Christ’s view of Scripture is that it is the perfect Word of God;
Conclusion: Therefore, all Christians should have the same view of Scripture as Christ’s

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Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture; (4)Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture; (5) Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment  by All Scripture; (6) Christ Staked His Life on the Word of God; and (7) Christ Proved His Deity By a Single Word of Scripture.

Christ Proved His Deity By a Single Word of Scripture

Scripture | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

On the doctrine of Christ, orthodox Christians have always believed the Scripture teaches the full humanity and deity of Jesus Christ. In this post, we’ll consider how Jesus sought to prove his deity by a single word of Scripture, which will again demonstrate Jesus’ high view of Scripture.

One of the common titles for the Messiah was “the Son of David,” since, as expected, the Messiah would fulfill the covenant made with David in 2 Samuel 7, which is also referred to in Isaiah 9:7. Many times in the Gospels, Jesus is referred to as the Son of David. As a matter of fact, this is demonstrated even in the very first verse of the New Testament: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1).

Yet, Jesus knew that the Jews of his day were missing a key link when they were looking for the Messiah to be the Son of David: i.e., they were missing the deity of Christ, the fact that the Messiah would also be the Son of God. They missed the incarnation, that the “word became flesh” (John 1:1), and they considered such a concept to be blasphemous in the extreme. Therefore, in order to reach them, Christ had to use the Scriptures to prove that the Messiah would be greater than David, thus opening their minds to accept the deity and the humanity of Christ. In order to do it, Christ reached for a single Hebrew word in Psalm 110. Here’s the exchange he had with the Pharisees in Matthew 22:

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “The Son of David,” they replied. He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Vv 41–46)

The following are the key ingredients to the point Christ is making:

First, David wrote Psalm 110, or else the argument would fail.

Second, David was “speaking by the Spirit.” This is the essence of the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. David spoke, but he did so “by the Spirit,” thus preserving Psalm 110 from human error.

Third, in Hebrew thinking, a son is normally never considered greater than his father. The Ten Commandments ensure this in some since, for all sons must honor their fathers. The kingly line functions in this way as well—as long as the father is still alive, he is king; only after the father dies can the son become king in his father’s place.

Fourth, David was writing about the Messiah, the one who would reign on David’s throne forever.

These four key ingredients add up to one unsolvable problem for the Jews: i.e., why did David call his own son “Lord”? In Psalm 110:1, David wrote that very thing: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’”

The expression “my Lord” is the one that causes all the trouble. It blows the circuits of the Pharisees’ minds, for the Messiah was at the same time the “Son of David” and David’s “Lord.” We Christians solve the problem by accepting the mystery of the incarnation—that Christ was at the same time God and man, at the same time the Son of David and the Son of God. This is the very thing the angel said to Mary, Jesus’ mother in Luke 1:31–32: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.” You see, “Son of the Most High” and “his father David” are mentioned together in the same sentence of Jesus. Jesus was to be both Son of God and Son of David. Since he was the Son of God, David will call him “my Lord.”

In the Hebrew, the expression “my Lord” in Psalm 110:1 is “adonai,” a single Hebrew word. By the weight of that single word, Jesus silenced his enemies with a conundrum that unbelieving Jews have not solved in twenty centuries, and never will solve until they recognize the truth of the incarnation. That is why none of Jesus’ enemies could answer his simple question: “If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

Jesus’ use of a single Hebrew word to prove his deity shows his perfectly high view of Scripture, and we, his followers, should have a similarly high view of Scripture.

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Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture; (4)Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture; (5) Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment  by All Scripture; and (6) Christ Staked His Life on the Word of God.

Christ Staked His Life on the Word of God

Scripture | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

You know what, Scripture makes it plain that Christ staked his life on the Word of God. But how about this?: even more, Christ staked his life on even obscure details in Scripture. Some scholars have occasionally accused conservative Christians of being too detail-minded about Scripture, too focused on the minutia. Now, it’s no doubt that such a thing can happen, as Jesus’ strong attack on the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Matthew 23 proves. In that text, Jesus charges,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matt 23:23–24).

Very strong words. When Jesus said in verse 24 that they “strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel,” his charge is that they have been so focused on tiny details of Scripture that they completely missed the bigger picture. Some scribes in Jesus’ time, for example, were given astonishing assignments, like counting the number of letters in a book of the Bible and marking the middle letter. That kind of time-consuming frivolity is surely not the reason Scripture was given by God to people. A modern day equivalent might be seen in Grant Jeffrey’s book The Mysterious Bible Codes, in which computer analysis of letter intervals in the Hebrew text reveals the Hebrew names for Hitler, Eichmann, and Auschwitz.

However, just because Jesus wouldn’t have supported counting letters for bizarre statistics and findings like that, that doesn’t mean he would have supported any of God’s letters dropping out from the text. Letters make up words, words make up sentences, sentences make up paragraphs, and these paragraphs were given by God to transform our minds. The One who constructed this massive, amazing universe out of tiny atoms knows the significance of single letters.

And that’s what we get from Jesus in Matthew 5: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will be any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (vv 18–19).

The NIV translation “smallest letter” and “least stroke of a pen” might better be understood literally as “jot and tittle” (or “iota and dot”). The “jot” is the translation of the Greek word “iota,” which is how the Hebrew letter “yodh” is translated. And the “yodh” looks much like a tiny apostrophe. The “tittle” is the serif or little hook-like projection at the end of a Hebrew letter—a small stroke of a pen that may distinguish one letter from another. Jesus says all of those pen strokes will be preserved by the power of God until the end of the world.

No one can then argue that Jesus didn’t think details were important. As a matter of fact, three straight examples will show that Jesus though every part of Scripture was equally the Word of God—from the most obscure (Psalm 82) to the smallest (one word in Psalm 110) to the details (one verb tense in Exodus 3:6). In this post, we’ll deal with the most obscure—Psalm 82. In two later posts, we’ll deal with the others.

In John 10, after Jesus made his extraordinary claim to deity—“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30)—the Jews then picked up stones to try to kill him. Jesus’ life was being threatened, and he was under immense pressure. What did he reach for to save his life? Nothing more (or less) than Psalm 82. Now, Psalm 82 is not one of the most famous psalms in the Bible. Psalm 23 is probably that. Others, like Psalms 1, 8, 22, 24, 27, 32, 37, 51, 84, 100, 103, 119, and 139 have some very well-known passages in them. Very few people have ever considered Psalm 82 their favorite Psalm. It’s truly obscure, yet it’s truly part of inspired Scripture. Jesus, in the midst of the threat of stoning, reaches for a passage from Psalm 82 to save his life.

The text states, “And again, the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? When then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?’” (John 10:31–36).

When Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 for his defense (“I said you are gods”), he is seeking to save his life from stoning. Yet it was about this Scripture that Jesus said what we quoted in an earlier post: “Scripture cannot be broken.” The argumentation is somewhat difficult to follow, but Leon Morris explains it like this: “His argument runs not ‘Psalm 82 speaks of men as gods; therefore I in common with other men may use the term of myself.’; but rather, ‘If in any sense the Psalm may apply the term to men, then how much more may it be applied to him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world’” (The Gospel According to John, NICNT, 527–28).

Whether we can follow Jesus’ argument or not, it’s still astonishing that—at such an incredibly tense moment, with his life hanging in the balance—Jesus reaches for a single phrase in an obscure psalm, saying of that single phrase, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” How, then, can Jesus’ view of the perfection of all Scripture be any clearer?

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Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture; (4)Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture; and (5) Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment  by All Scripture.

Image credit: searchthebible.com

Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment by All Scripture

Scripture | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

In any treatment of Christ’s view of the Bible, we should also consider his actions in obedience to what it says. We dealt with one aspect of this in an earlier post: “Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture.” Here, we’ll consider how Christ’s sinless life was lived moment by moment in obedience to the Word of God, and how that was absolutely essential.

As I have stated in previous posts, my basic persuasive argument in this series goes like this:

Premise 1: What Jesus believes should be what Christians believe;
Premise 2: Christ’s view of Scripture is that it is the perfect Word of God;
Conclusion: Therefore, all Christians should have the same view of Scripture as Christ’s

Hills in the Judean Desert

Central to Christianity is our firm belief that Jesus was without sin his entire life. In fact, it was absolutely essential to Christ’s ministry that he live a perfect, sinless life—so that he could stand in our place as our perfect, spotless Lamb without blemish. Were Christ tainted with sin even in the least, he would be disqualified from being our Savior. Yet this is what the wicked tempter, Satan, tried to accomplish. If Satan could somehow successfully tempt Christ and get him to sin, Jesus couldn’t be our substitute and Savior.

Jesus’ sinless life is exemplified in his resistance to the temptations from the devil while Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days. These days—and Jesus’ obedience to the Father in the face of the devil’s temptations—were essential to Christ’s mission on earth. What is important for our present consideration is not only that Christ remained sinless in the face of Satan’s attacks, but that he defeated each of the devil’s temptations by quoting Scripture.

We see this point established at the very onset of the wilderness temptations: “And the tempter came and said to [Jesus], ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt 4:3–4).

In his response to Satan’s temptation, Christ proves the immeasurable power of the written Word of God in resisting temptation and in causing the devil to flee. In doing so, Christ is not only our King, he’s also our example. No doubt Christ could’ve pulled rank on the devil. He could’ve countered, “I am the King of kings, the eternal Son of God. You cannot compel me to do anything I don’t want to do.” That would have been true, right, and appropriate for him to personally respond to the devil that way. But it wouldn’t have been nearly so beneficial for us. We are besieged daily by temptations and tests from the devil’s evil regime, and, if we are to stand and fight successfully, we must know how to wield the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” spoken of in Ephesians 6:17.

In Matthew 4, Christ answers all three representative temptations with the same introduction: literally, “It stands written.” There is a sense of absolute finality to Christ’s quotation of Scripture in every case.

Even more, in the first temptation, Christ shows his view of Scripture at a deeper level: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). The scriptural quote is from Deuteronomy 8:3, the passage about manna. There, according to Moses, before any Scripture had been written, God tested the Israelites to see if they would follow his every command. They were trained to listen to God’s words, to cling to them as if they were life itself. They were taught that it was not the manna per se that was keeping them alive in the desert, but God’s word by which the manna had come. They were being trained to look to God’s mouth for their every command, and their life.

Now that we have the Scripture, Jesus points the way to a life of constant holiness, of resisting temptation. We are to live moment by moment by the Word of God. And, we are to cherish every word from God, every command, promise, warning, history lesson, poem, prophecy, and epistle. Jesus’ perfect high view of Scripture can be found in this one quotation of Deuteronomy 8:3. And so we also should know that we live, exist, stay alive, and live holy and pleasing lives to the Lord, only by eating “every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

In recent years, attacks on the Old Testament have continued by Liberal scholars, and that includes their critical analysis of texts from the book that Jesus quoted from in the wilderness temptation: Deuteronomy. One of the more famous attacks on the Pentateuch by scholars still taught in universities and seminaries is the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis, a theory which calls into question the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy in particular). This so-called JEDP theory of collaborative authorship and questionable authority of the Pentateuch supplanted for decades at least thirty-five centuries of Judeo-Christian tradition. But you know what, if Satan had wanted to question the authority of Deuteronomy, the desert encounter with Jesus would have been a prime time to do it. Instead, Satan moved on with a second temptation, quoting Scripture that time himself. In other words, there would have been no point in trying to refute Christ’s view of the inspiration and authority of the Bible. It’s well established in Scripture. Christ believed it, and so should we.

So after the second, and then the third temptation the devil hurled toward Christ, our Savior refuted each temptation by the Word of God. And he continued to daily live by “every word … from the mouth of God.” As he declares in John 8:29, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” And by using a powerful technique (i.e., “It is written”), Christ leaves us a pattern of holiness to follow. Christ’s pattern of fighting temptation thus reveals his perfect view of, and attitude toward, Scripture.

Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture; and (4) Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture

Image credit: Hills in the Judean Wilderness.

Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture

Scripture | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

This is now the fourth post in our series on Christ’s view of the Scripture. I hope this series has been helpful so far. The basic purpose of these posts has been: (1) to encourage faithful Christians to remain committed to the Bible despite the world’s attacks; and (2) to provide helpful medicine to any Christians who feel harassed by doubt due to Liberal attacks on the Bible. My basic persuasive argument has gone like this:

Premise 1: What Jesus believes should be what Christians believe;
Premise 2: Christ’s view of Scripture is that it is the perfect Word of God;
Conclusion: Therefore, all Christians should have the same view of Scripture as Christ’s

In what ways did Christ teach that Scripture’s nature is unbreakable? In the midst of Jesus’ claim that he and the Father are one, Jesus makes the statement that the “Scripture cannot be broken” in John 10:35. Quite literally, Jesus means that it is impossible to destroy the Scripture. Created man can try his hardest to destroy the Word of God, but he will fail. That is an important and encouraging truth in the face of the world’s attacks against the Bible, and it can help Christians withstand and combat the devilish claims that are made in an effort to undermine its authority.Here in today’s post, I want to show that Christ believed and taught the unbreakable authority and permanence of Scripture. This gets to the heart of Christ’s understanding of the nature of Scripture.

In addition, Jesus taught extensively on the permanence of Scripture’s authority. Sometimes Liberal Christians try to claim that the Bible’s historical interpretation or intent is something that needs to be left behind as culture and society has progressed beyond the primitiveness of the ancient world. But Jesus totally disagrees with such arrogant reasoning. In Matthew 5, Jesus declares to his listeners, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:18–19). In this confident statement, Jesus is claiming that Scripture will outlive heaven and earth. And, the inference he makes as a result of the reality of the lasting permanence of Scripture’s authority is that those who “relax one of the least of these commandments” are doing violence to the Scripture, and will suffer consequences for their mistaken relaxing of its authority in their application of its commands. Conversely, those who continue to submit to the authoritative commands of Scripture “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

In Matthew 24, Jesus makes a similar statement—not about Scripture in general—but about his own words as Scripture, thus linking his own views of Scripture to the future New Testament writings as well. As he taught concerning the lesson of the fig tree, he says this to his disciples: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt 24:35).

Not only that, Christ also showed the authority of the Old Testament when he resolved difficulty after difficulty by resorting to scriptural arguments. For example, when the Pharisees questions him about divorce, he answered them, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 19:4–6). So, Christ’s response to their questioning was to ask them if they have ever read the authoritative teaching of Genesis 2 on the topic.

In a similar encounter with the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, Jesus responds to their question with this statement in Matthew 22: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt 22:29–32). In other words, in every matter that came to Christ, he sought to answer by Scripture—day after day. For Christ, the authority of Scripture was final, and settled all controversies. And, as that was Christ’s attitude toward the Scripture, so it should be ours.

Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; and (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture.

Image credit: Authority.

Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture

Scripture | Posted by: Editors

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

This is the third in my series of posts on Christ’s attitude toward the Bible. If you would like to read—or re-read—the other two posts, here are the links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?; and (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture. In today’s post, we’ll observe Christ’s attitude toward the perfect and trustworthy Word of God in how he taught that his own life fulfilled Scripture.

Let’s start with the Old Testament. Christ’s entire life was covered by Old Testament prophecy. From his miraculous birth from the Virgin Mary (Isa 7:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) as the Son of David (2 Sam 7:12–13; Isa 9:7), through his atoning death on the cross (Ps 22:16; Isa 53) and his resurrection on the third day (Ps 16:10), Christ was the fulfillment of the Prophets. In fact, there is such a close relationship between Christ and Scripture that the Apostle John calls Christ “the Word” in John 1:1.

Remains of a Synagogue in Capernaum

Many books on Christian apologetics list the prophecies Christ fulfilled in great detail. For example, Josh McDowell’s well-known book The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict lists sixty-one prophecies Christ fulfilled from his birth to his death (pages 168–192 in the 1999 edition). Along with that are numerous types (pictures of Christ in the Old Testament, like Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, and the whole animal sacrificial system). The theme of promise-fulfillment is a major one throughout the entire New Testament.

Not counting Christ’s own statements, Matthew states ten times that something took place in Christ’s life to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: the incarnation (Matt 1:22), the flight to and from Egypt (2:15), the slaughter of the innocent babies (2:17), Christ’s residence in Nazareth (2:23), Christ’s residence and ministry in Capernaum (4:14), Christ’s healing ministry (8:1712:17), Christ’s use of parables (13:35), Christ’s triumphal entry on a donkey (21:4), Judas’ betrayal for thirty pieces of silver, and the use of the silver to buy the Potter’s Field (27:9).

The close connection between Christ and the Old Testament prophecies is thus a major theme of the apostolic message that makes up the New Testament. What concerns us here, though, is Christ’s own view of this matter. I’m convinced that the apostles learned this theme from the Master himself, Jesus. Christ openly taught throughout his ministry that he was born, lived, would die, and be raised to life, all in fulfillment of the Scriptures. He began his public ministry in incredibly dramatic fashion in Nazareth. On a Sabbath in the synagogue, in front of neighbors who had seen him grow up from childhood, Jesus claimed openly to be the Messiah in fulfillment of a prophecy of Isaiah that, at the time, was seven hundred years old:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16–21)

This is an astounding claim. But it is one Jesus would make again and again in his teachings. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, he made this claim: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). Even more dramatic was the claim he made directly to his hostile enemies in John 5: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40). And again: “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:45–47).

It is hard to overstate just how astonishing this claim must have been to Jesus’ contemporaries. The Jewish leaders made a constant study of the written word of God their primary calling in life. Jesus claimed that the very scriptures they were studying every day testified about him. Even more directly, a moment later he claimed that Moses, who lived fifteen centuries before Christ, wrote about Jesus of Nazareth!

Jesus’ claim to be the fulfillment of ancient prophecies reaches its climax when Jesus spoke about his death and resurrection. Indeed, the majority of the detailed prophecies about the life of Christ recorded in McDowell’s New Evidence that Demands a Verdict focus on the last week of Christ’s life, and his subsequent death and resurrection: thirty-one out of sixty-one (e.g., see  Luke 18:31–3322:36–3724:25–27). 

Greek New Testament

Jesus also identified details of his suffering and death as they were happening and linked them to Scripture. For example, he said, “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me’” (John 3:18). And, in John 17 he prayed to his Father, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled” (17:12).

This all culminates in Christ’s actual statements from the cross, three of which are made as in direct connection with Scripture:

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46; this is a direct quotation of Psalm 22, which clearly predicts the crucifixion. It is almost as though Christ were pleading with the human race to read Psalm 22 and see his crucifixion predicted there, so that we would believe and be saved).

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last (Luke 23:46; a direct quotation of Psalm 31:5).

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:28–30; a direct fulfillment of Psalm 69:21).

In Franco Zeffirelli’s excellent miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus’ bitter enemies stand near the cross to mock Him. They all believe that he is a great imposter and deceiver. When Jesus cries out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”), his enemies say, “He’s calling Elijah.”  But one of the more astute enemies gets a strange look on his face. “No, he’s not. He’s quoting the Scripture. Even now, hanging on the cross, he’s quoting the Scripture.”  It makes this Jewish leader wonder: what kind of man, condemned to die, would keep up the charade right to the end?

But it was no charade. Scripture covered Jesus’ life from birth to death. He was born, lived, ministered, taught, was opposed, arrested, condemned, and crucified, all in fulfillment of Scripture. And on the third day, he rose again, in fulfillment of Scripture. If Scripture is, therefore, not the inspired word of God, why did Jesus stake so much of his claim on it?

Image credits: (1) Wikipedia; (2) image of an opened Greek New Testament.