1. AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTES..............................................................................................................................................6
2. ISAIAH'S CHRISTMAS CHILDREN: THE STUMP OF JESSE..............................................................................................11
3. CHRYSOSTOM ON THE SON OF GOD...............................................................................................................................18
4. THE MILLENIUM....................................................................................................................................................................20
5. AUGUST SUN..........................................................................................................................................................................30
6. ESCHATOLOGY AND THE STRUCTURE OF 1 THESSALONIANS...................................................................................31
7. THE NATIVITY........................................................................................................................................................................36
8. BOOK REVIEWS.....................................................................................................................................................................38
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In the spring of 2003, Rev. Brian Vos, pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church, Caledonia, Michigan, located the autobiographical sketch of Geerhardus Vos that follows. Appearing in a Dutch periodical in January 1933, Vos was responding to the editor's (Dr. Albertus Eekhof) request for four contributions: (1) an autobiographical sketch; (2) a photograph; (3) some of his poetry; (4) a contribution to the periodical.1 Eekhof was known personally to Vosin fact, they had met during Eekhof's visits to America (Vos's letter to Eekhof, October 28, 1932).
When Vos retired from Princeton Theological Seminary in the spring of 1932, he was recovering from severe, even life-threatening, illness. He summered in his mountain retreat at Roaring Branch, Pennsylvania, before embarking with his wife on the long, cross-country trip by car to Santa Ana, California. That journey consumed about two weeks in late September 1932. Wearied by the long road trip, still depleted by his springtime illness, Vos apologetically writes to Eekhof that he is finally able to fulfill the latter's requests.
When Eekhof printed the autobiographical sketch, he wrote his own introduction ("Prof. Dr. Geerhardus Vos") to the piece and featured the photograph that Vos had forwarded. The picture of Vos in profile portrays a nattily attired professor in a checkered formal or semi-formal jacket and bow tie. Vos
This autobiographical sketch is remarkable as much for what it does say as for what it does not. Here is the only personal reflection upon his life extantand that in a Dutch periodical from the Old World which he had abandoned more than a half century before. And yet, in this sketch, that half-century is virtually ignored. The magisterial career of the biblical theologian is barely mentioned and that only in the abbreviated summary at the end. The preoccupation of the sketch is with poetry. True, Vos had sent some of his own poems to Eekhof (perhaps in the spring of 1932)hence the emphasis on poetry. But why the de-emphasis on his theological career?
We remain in the dark about Vos's personal reflections on his Princeton career, his ecclesiastical life at Princeton (and beyond), even his family life. He shuts the door against our curiosity over the precise area in which he affects us as biblical theologians. To what may we attribute this diffidence, this anonymity? The answer is as elusive as what he omits from his autobiography. The informed reader will note that he even fails to list three of his published books: The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes (1886); The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (1903); Grace and Glory. Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (1922). He hides the full extent of his theological writing career even as he hides the full extent of his biography. Allowing for a genuine measure of reticence (something Vos attributes to his Oldreformed German pietistic roots; Letter to Eekhof, October 28, 1932), Vos's humble self-effacement only tantalizes us with the lines printed below. Tell us more, we cry. Let us see your mind, your heart, your persona as it interfaces with 1894 to 1932 (as you did in your 19th century letters to Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck and B.B. Warfield). But Vos veils himself, retreats from useven as he retreated from Princeton summer after summer to Roaring Branch.
Our forthcoming biography of Vos and annotated edition of more than 80 of his letters2 will attempt to pull back the veil on the enigmatic persona of Geerhardus Vos. But even then, he will in part continue to elude us, veiling his
James T. Dennison, Jr.
I was born in Heerenveen in Friesland on March 14, 1862. Both my parents came from Graafschap Bentheim,2 where there was great empathy with the religious movement involved with the "Secession" (Afscheiding). They remembered that a prohibition (based on the Napoleonic Code) against secret political gatherings was used to have the dragoons scatter the religious gatherings of small groups who stood in protest against the "Big Church" (Groote Kerk ) in Bentheim. My father's name was Jan Hendrik Vos, my mother's was Aaltje Beuker. More about the earlier ecclesiastical events in "the Graafschap" can be read in a small book published some time ago by my uncle, Rev. [Hendericus] Beuker, titled Tubantia.3
My father received his pastoral training in Kampen. He was pastor in Ulzen4 (in Bentheim), Heerenveen, Katwijk (Zuid Holland), Lutten aan de
2 Dutch Graafschap = German Grafschaft = English county = an area administered or governed by a count. Graafschap Bentheim shows on the map as a bulge in the border between the Netherlands and Germany that is surrounded on three sides by the Netherlands.
3 Tubantia refers to the eastern part of the province of Overijssel that is also known as Twente. It borders on Graafschap Bentheim, which was apparently also considered part of Tubantia. Today "Tubantia" appears to be used mostly as a name for a variety of sports clubs.
4 Common modern spelling Ulsen (German: Uelsen).
I received my education in the public schools in Katwijk, Lutten, Pernis, and later at the so-called "French School" in Schiedam. Immediately thereafter I received private tutoring from Rev. Engelbrecht in Spijkenisse (Zuid Holland). Rev. Engelbrecht had spent several years in South Africa (Cape Colony) as a teacher and was thus able to teach me French and English.
After my stay in his house I was enrolled at the gymnasium5 in Amsterdam;6 the rector was Kappeyne van de Coppello (the brother of the "minister"7 of that name). My most vivid memories are those connected with the instruction of Latin, taught at that time by Dr. Speyer (who later became professor of Sanskrit), and the teaching of W. Hofdijk8 in Dutch language and
6 Amsterdam did not begin its explosive growth until late in the nineteenth century, and it is likely (though I have not verified this) that in Vos's day there was only one gymnasium in the city.
7 Vos puts minister in quotation marks. This may be simply a pointer to the fact that he is using minister in a political rather than religious sense. An interesting speculation is that the quotation marks reflect Vos's negative opinion of Johannes Kappeyne van de Coppello, who was in Vos's view not a true minister (one who serves) in any sense. He was the liberal formateur of the coalition cabinet that served from 1877 until 1879. In this cabinet Kappeyne van de Coppello was Minister of the Interior. In that role he managed to get a new law on primary education passed, in spite of fierce opposition from confessional constituencies, which made the standards and requirements for the schools more stringent, but without any government support for the non-public schools. Petitions were signed by 305,000 Protestants (members of the Antirevolutionary party) and 164,000 Catholics, but to no avail. The coalition crumbled in 1879, when Vos was 17.
8 W. J. Hofdijk (1817-1888), poet, prose writer, and playwright. A modern evaluation says: "His plays, as well as other work, are romantic-historically inspired. His unbridled imagination, ambitions/aspirations, and lack of self-criticism kept him from truly unfold his poetic talents; nevertheless, his "Kennemer Balladen" (1850-1852) remain of importance as expressions of the Romantic Movement in the Netherlands."
In 1881 I graduated from the gymnasium in Amsterdam. It was the same year in which my family moved to America.
Apart from Hofdijk and his "Handbook of Dutch Literature",11 I was influenced most by the poetry of ten Kate12 and (from the past) by that of Jan Luiken.13 Da Costa14 also strongly spoke to me. I did not get to know Vondel15 and Bilderdijk16 well until later.
10 The phrase is difficult to translate exactly. The Dutch does not have "almost," but the addition keeps, I think, the phrase from becoming a literal command rather than what is intended: a sense of awe that would make kneeling a not inappropriate response.
11 Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche letterkunde (Amsterdam: Kraay, 1872).
12 J. L. L. ten Kate (1819-1889). "Ten Kate wrote poetry with too much ease, which made his oeuvre enormously large. He became a favorite target of Frederik van Eeden, who wrote a wickedly funny poem called "For J. J. L. ten Kate," in which he skewers ten Kate's easy flowing but often not very remarkable style. In another poem, "Predikantenlied" ("Pastors' Song"), van Eeden pokes fun at the many pastor-poets who were publishing at the time, often with little literary merit. Among the many pastor-poets he mentions and admonishes to quit their literary dilettantism, is also ten Kate. There is, however, one exception: Abraham Kuyper, whom is admonished topleasequit writing his newspaper articles, etc., and to take up poetry, clearly the lesser of two evils. Van Eeden did present an (apparently sincere) apology to ten Kate on the occasion of the latter's hundred birthday, at which point ten Kate had been dead for some thirty years."
13 Jan Luyken (1649-1712)
14 Isaac da Costa (1798-1860). Dutch poet and author who succeeded Willem Bilderdijk as one of the main leaders of the Reveil. His poetry is considered to be more personal, more deeply felt, and more honest than that of Bilderdijk (see below). A work that created much furor was Objections to the Spirit of the Age, a Romantic "manifesto" that does battle with the then-dominant rationalism, with neology and liberalism. Bilderdijk warmly endorsed the work.
15 Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679). Considered the great patriotic poet of the Netherlands.
16 Willem Bilderdijk (1756-1831). Foremost Dutch poet of his era, he became the father of the Reveil. He was "a classic exemplar of reactionary Romanticism who despised rationalists, utilitarians, and revolutionaries of every sort" (cf. James D. Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America, 10).
During my later stay in this country [America], I had great appreciation for Emerson's poetic side (less so for Longfellow, although he was then very much in vogue). Of the contemporary British poets, Tennyson and Swinburne were my ideal.
My career in education:
1881-1883: taught the introductory literary courses20 at the then still very small theological school of the (Dutch) Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan;
1888-1893: professor of systematic theology at the same seminary;
1893-1932: professor of biblical theology at the seminary of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in Princeton, New Jersey.
I spent the years from 1883 to 1893 as a student at Princeton Seminary (1883-1885) and at the above-mentioned universities in Berlin and Strasbourg (1885-1888).
In the area of theology I published two books (in English): The Self-Disclosure of Jesus (1926) and The Pauline Eschatology (1930).
My poetic output consists of the following collections:
18 Conrad Ferdinand Meier (1825-1898).
19 Robert (Rupert) Hammerling (1830-1889). Austrian poet who, as a supporter of Bismarck, strongly supported in his writings the unification of all Germans.
20 It is not clear whether this would be Dutch literature or biblical literature.
Spiegel der Natuur (Mirror of Nature, 1927)
Charis (Grace and Charm) (English verses, 1931)
Spiegel de Doods (Mirror of Death, 1932)
Many in the church throughout the centuries have found the prophets hard plowing. As a result, some have tended to avoid the prophetsto avoid them altogether. In the last century, a number of godly people committed to the Word of God, well-intentioned in themselves because of this phenomenon of avoiding the prophets, were attracted to Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism claimed that it would make the prophets intelligibleeasily accessible once more. This claim by the Dispensationalists continues to have great impact upon our present century.
But we of the Reformed faith have maintained that the prophets are
in fact penetrable apart from the schemes of the Dispensationalistthose
schemes which essentially and in the most superficial manner separate the Old
Testament from the New Testament, the law from the gospel, and, when it comes
to the prophets specifically, ethnic and territorial Israel from the church. At
base, the Dispensationalist refuses to allow the prophets' promises to ethnic
and territorial Israel to be fulfilled in the church. Thus the Dispensationalist
contends that all such promises in the prophets must have in view a future
literal fulfillment for the Jews in the geographical land of Palestine. It is for
this reason that Dispensationalists show great interest in the events in the
The Reformed faith historically has not been impressed by these things. At its best, it has insisted upon the essential unity of God's covenant as God's revelation moves from the older administration into the newer administration. The Reformed faith has insisted that the law and the prophets as a whole intentionally serve the gospel (Rom. 3:21). The implication, again made explicit by the New Testament, is that Israel finds her destiny in the church of Jesus Christ, not apart from it. Without uswithout the churchIsrael is not made perfect, to paraphrase words from the epistle to the Hebrews.
But having said this doesn't make our reading or our hearing of the prophets any easier. The prophets are truly full of complexities: difficult constructions and images; oblique historical and geographical references; rapid changes in mood and emotional direction. One moment the prophet is speaking about the most severe gloom and in the bat of an eye, in the next breath, he is speaking in the most startling fashion about the appearance and the importance of grace. But beyond these matters, the prophets are also full of what seems to be at times the most baffling audience shifts, so that we are not always clear about whom the prophet is speaking.
For example in what we read this morning, is it clear to you who is in view in Isaiah 10:33-34? Who are the boughs the Lord will lop off, the tall and lofty cut down and abased? Who is the thicket of the forest wasted by the ax? Who is this Lebanon felled by the Mighty One? Some like E. J. Young and Derek Kidner, building upon exegetes like J. A. Alexander, find here in these verses clear and unambiguous reference to the Assyrians. But others like the British critical scholar, A. S. Herbert, believe these verses refer to the Jews. He is uncertain as to whether they refer to the ten northern tribes or to the two southern tribes, but he appears to be convinced that they refer to the Jews. Who is right? Is E. J. Young right or is A. S. Herbert right?
Our immediate inclination of course is to side with Young, Kidner
and Alexander. After all, these individuals are Reformed in their orientation.
They are conservative and evangelical men and many of us have come to trust
them in their exegesis. Our theological prejudice is enough to move us to their
Herbert is obviously a theological and exegetical liberal, so why would we even bother with him? On the narrow issue of who is being addressed, Herbert may very well be rightor at least he may be, shall we say, more right than our stalwart conservative and Reformed friends. By this I mean that Herbert may be preserving something in verses 33-34 of Isaiah 10 that is completely lost from view in the exegesis of our tried and true friends.
Now admittedly, things do not look good for Herbert at first glance. In addition to the things already mentioned, Herbert seems to miss the obvious connection between verses 33 and 34, and verses previous in the chapter (vv. 15-19). Without question, these earlier verses (vv. 15-19) refer exclusively to Assyria. In fact, Assyria is specifically mentioned in verse 5, verse 12, and verse 24. In these earlier verses, specifically in verses 15-19, you will also note that we find mention made of an ax (v. 15); of thorns and briers (v. 17); of the forest and the trees of the forest (vv. 18-19). All of these elements are in their own way mentioned again in vv. 33-34. We conclude that if verses 15-19 are about the Assyrians, then verses 33 and 34 are about the Assyrians also. Both sets of passages, both sets of verses are using the same language and the same images. Things are not looking good for Mr. Herbert.
But secondly, influencing us against Herbert it would seem, we find
the flow of verses 25-32 in this tenth chapter also deciding against him.
These verses begin with a call upon Zion not to fear the threat of Assyria (vv.
25-27). And then, in the most dramatic way, these verses conclude with the
description of the progress of the invading army as it makes its way city by
city, village by village (that's the meaning of the listing of all the names)
through the territory of Benjamin. They are all Benjamite cities and villages en
route to Jerusalem which is now in viewin sight of the invading army, when
you come to verse 32. The natural reading, therefore, as you progress with
the chapter, is that the invading army is now pictured as the loped-off boughs,
the proud and vain cut down to size (v. 33), the thicket cleared by the ax,
However, as Herbert effectively points out, these last verses of chapter 10 provide a masterful introduction to the opening of chapter 11. The image of the wasted forest and the devastated land in those final verses of chapter 10 provide then the perfect setting for the appearance of the stem or the stump of Jesse out of which the shoot and branch springs (v. 1).
The picture is of the scorched earth in which Jesse's line is now but one of the felled trees. And from that stem, from that root, from that stump, that stump of a destroyed and dead tree, miraculously comes a living sprig and a vital branch. He is David's true and long-expected son, the final presentation of the child-figure in this section of Isaiah's prophecy.
But had we not said, in keeping with the Reformed and conservative exegesis of those last verses of chapter 10, that the forest and growth laid waste by the Lord in those verses are the Assyrians? How is it then that we have the picture of Judah as you begin chapter 11 as laid waste, as a broken and dead tree out of which a living sprig sprouts?
In answer to this question, we discover that Herbert after all does have something to tell us. Not because we would follow him in all of his liberal reasoning or embrace him in his attitudes about the construction of the text, but because he is laying hold of something here that is even more important than he knows. In fact, if we investigate the figure of the scorched earth, the wasted forest and the solitary tree trunk in the previous chapters of Isaiah, the results are very, very interesting. For instance in chapter 2, the language in verses 5-11 is directed against the Jews for their arrogance and vanity. These words easily slip into language about universal indictment in verses 12-22. There is a day of reckoning coming says the Lord, not just for Israel, but for the world as a wholeall who are lifted up and proud (v. 12), all the cedars of Lebanon, all the oaks of Bashan (v. 13). This is the language of trees, the language of the forest anticipating the language we read later on in chapters 10 and 11.
As we move along, what do we make of Isaiah 9:18-21? Here the ten northern tribes of Israel, capital Samaria, are spoken about in language anticipating our passage. The wickedness of the ten northern tribes brings about burning, we are told. These tribes are like the thicket of the forests set ablaze (v. 18). The Lord's fury consumes the land; the people themselves are fuel for the fire (v. 19).
The language is compounding; it is mounting as you move through these early chapters of Isaiah. We return then to Isaiah 10 and 11, and the prophet's play on language achieves its end as we are led to these chapters by what has preceded. Yes, to be sure, now Assyria will be laid waste! But such judgment is not irrespective of the devastation that is coming upon God's own peoplea devastation that comes upon Israel and Samaria to the north and then upon Judah and Jerusalem to the south. The fluidity of the prophet's words here ultimately plays off of a universal judgmentnot one in which Israel is destroyed, but Judah is spared; not one in which Jews are laid waste, but their enemies and the nations escape untouched. No, the prophet's baffling audience shift moves from the tirade against Assyria in the opening verses of that tenth chapter imperceptibly into a general condemnation that includes Judah by the concluding verses (vv. 33-34). And why? Why is this the movement for the prophet? Because such a baffling shift of audience, like the rapid-fire mood shifts from wrath to mercy in the prophets, in the final analysis preaches the gospel. And Isaiah, like all of the prophets and the law as well, serves the gospel.
How difficult it was for the Jews of Isaiah's day to hear it, to understand it, to grasp it. How difficult it was in the days of Jesus Christ, for those who were even in his presence to grasp it. How difficult it remains for the church of Jesus Christ even into the present time to grasp it. For in preaching the gospel of sovereign grace, Paul is confronted by those who would deny that grace and preach something else altogethera message that would leave some in a privileged position as if they had a righteousness all their own, built up in themselves by their works and an inherent merit. Seven hundred years before the coming of Christ, Isaiah was preaching the gospel.
And as you consider those statements by the apostle Paulif you look at them in isolation, they are in fact quite devastating, are they not? Every mouth may be stopped and all the world become guilty before God; all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. But as you know in the same context, Paul is being true to the same gospel that he has embraced. He does not leave us without hope even in light of universal condemnation. For he preaches the gospel and speaks to us about being justified freely by God's grace (how else could it be?) through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), the Savior of not only the Jews but the Gentiles as well (as Romans 3:29 implies).
But you know this one whom Paul identifies as Christ Jesus, the very one who met him on the Damascus road, is the one Isaiah calls the rod out of Jesse's stemthe branch growing out of Jesse's root (11:1). And he it is who brings the universal reign of righteousness and peacehe alone. And by him, all the earth is made full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (11:9).
I said the child of 11:1 is the last child. That isn't exactly correct. The last child appears in verse 6 of the eleventh chapter"And a little child shall lead them." "The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra; the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den" (v. 8). We children all are brought into the kingdom. We children all in manifest demonstration of our own weakness and need and utter dependence are brought into the kingdom. Are you among the children?
Here again (Gal. 1:1) is a plain confutation of the heretics, who say that John in the opening of his Gospel, where he says "the Word was God," used the word 'God' without the article, to imply an inferiority in the Son's Godhead; and that Paul, where he says that the Son was "in the form of God," did not mean the Father, because the word 'God' is without the article. And it is in no indulgent mood toward them that he calls God, "Father," but by way of severe rebuke, and suggestion of the source whence they became sons, for the honor was vouchsafed to them not through the Law, but through the washing of regeneration. Thus everywhere, even in his exordium, he scatters traces of the goodness of God, and we may conceive him speaking thus: "O ye who were lately slaves, enemies and aliens, what right have ye suddenly acquired to call God your Father? it was not the Law which conferred upon you this relationship; why do ye therefore desert Him who brought you so near to God, and return to your tutor (cf. Gal. 3:24, 25)?
Ver 4. "Who gave himself for our sins" (Gal. 1:4).
Thus it appears, that the ministry which He undertook was free and uncompelled; that He was delivered up by Himself, not by another. Let not therefore the words of John, "that the Father gave His only-begotten Son" (Jn. 3:16) for us, lead you to derogate from the dignity of the Only-begotten, or to infer therefrom that He is only human. For the Father is said to have given Him, not as implying that the Son's ministry was a servile one, but to teach us that it seemed good to the Father, as Paul too has shown in the immediate context: "according to the will of our God, and Father." He says not "by the command," but "according to the will," for inasmuch as there is an unity of will in the Father and the Son, that which the Son wills, the Father wills also.
"For our sins," says the Apostle; we had pierced ourselves with ten thousand evils, and had deserved the gravest punishment; and the Law not only did not deliver us, but it even condemned us, making sin more manifest, without the power to release us from it, or to stay the anger of God. But the Son of God made this impossibility possible for he remitted our sins, He restored us from enmity to the condition of friends, He freely bestowed on us numberless other blessings.
William Hendriksen got it right when he entitled his masterful commentary on the book of Revelation More Than Conquerors.1 Indeed, the book of Revelation has as its main theme the victory of Christ and the Church.2 How beautifully Revelation 20:1-10 spells out that victory. The passage begins with the binding of Satan at the first coming of Christ (vv. 1-3). The passage concludes with the loosing of Satan just prior to the second coming of Christ (vv. 7-10). In between the binding of Satan at the first coming of Christ and the loosing of Satan just prior to the return of Christ, the passage describes the present reign of the saints in Christ (vv. 4-6).
Verses 1-3 record the binding of Satan: "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while."
2 Ibid., p. 185.
The gospels spell it out for us. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus comes as the King who brings his Kingdom. After his baptism, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. In the first temptation, the devil tempts Jesus to turn the stones into bread; and Jesus answers, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). In the second temptation, the devil tempts Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple; and Jesus responds, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God" (Matthew 4:7). And then, in the third temptation, the devil puts deceit behind him; he takes Jesus up on an exceedingly high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to him, 'All these things I will give you if you will fall down and worship me'" (Matthew 4:9). Satan tempts Jesus with the greatest temptation he can muster. He offers to him a Satanically controlled Messiahship.3 He is saying to Jesus, "be my messiah, and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world." "I will give you the crown without the cross." "I will give you glory without suffering." "I will give you the kingdoms of the world and their glory." How does Jesus respond? "Away with you Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve" (Matthew 4:9-10). It is only after withstanding the temptations of the devil that Jesus then goes forth a few verses later to proclaim: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).
In Mark's gospel it is the same. Only after withstanding the temptations of the devil in the wilderness does Jesus go forth to proclaim, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15).
Luke makes it clear in Luke 10:17-18. Jesus has sent out the seventy; and they return to him with joy saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in
Though Jesus begins to bind Satan during his earthly ministry, the great binding of Satan occurs at the cross. John, the fourth evangelist (and writer of Revelation), sets before us the glory of Christ at the cross. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14). Only days before his death, Jesus speaks of the hour of his death as the hour of his glorification (John 12:23)the hour that ushers in the judgment of this world (John 12:31)the hour that casts out the ruler of this world (John 12:31). Jesus binds Satan at the cross.
Jesus' incarnationhis first comingis the inauguration of the millennium. With Christ's first coming, Satan is bound.
But what exactly is the nature of that binding? Is Satan so bound that he is rendered completely and utterly powerless? Revelation 20:3 gives the answer: he is bound "so that he should deceive the nations no more." Satan cannot deceive the nations. Christ is powerful to take the captives of Satan right out of his clutches, and Satan can do nothing to prevent it (cf. John 12:31-32)! The hour of Jesus' death is the hour of Jesus' glorificationthe hour in which he draws all peoples to himself (John 12:32). Satan is powerless to prevent Christ from drawing all peoples to himselfmen and women of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.
Because he has bound Satan, Christ now plunders the house of Satan!
Do you see what is in view in your redemption, beloved of the Lord Jesus
Christ? Your redemption is pictured to you here in terms of your great God and
Savior, Jesus Christ, reaching down into the pit of hell itself, rescuing you
from the clutches of Satan, and raising you up to seat you in heavenly places!
He has translated you out of darkness into the kingdom of light! He has
transformed you out of the realm of the dead into the kingdom of life abundant!
He has taken you, born children of wrath, and adopted you as children of
Verses 1-3, then, speak of the inauguration of the millennium. Satan is bound for a thousand years at the first coming of Christ. Verses 1-3, however, also hint at the end of the millennium. "After these things he must be released for a little while." Verse 3 alludes to Satan's "little season." Verse 3 alludes to the loosing of Satan. That loosing of Satanthat little season of Satanis described for us in verses 7-10.
When the thousand years are completed Satan shall be released for his little season. Verses 7-10 speak of that little season. "Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city."
Verses 7-10 set before us the loosing of Satan. Even as we asked the question as to when the binding of Satan occurred, so now we ask the question when will the loosing of Satan occur? Our text tells us that the loosing of Satan will occur at the end of the thousand yearsat the end of the millennium. Satan shall be loosed at the end of the millennium, just prior to the second coming of Christ.
Do you see where that leads you in terms of the millennium? Satan was bound at the beginning of the millennium, at Christ's first coming. Satan will be loosed at the end of the millennium, just prior to Christ's second coming. The millennium, then, spans that entire time period between Christ's first coming and his second coming. Be not mistaken! The millennium is not to be construed in terms of some literal thousand year reign in the literal nation of Israel in the literal city of Jerusalem! The millennium is now! You are in it!
Satan has been bound at the first coming of Christ, but he shall be
loosed just prior to the second coming of Christ. This means that we live in that
If Satan is yet to be loosed, what is the nature of that loosing? Revelation 20:7-8 answers the question. Satan is loosed that he "might go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city." Satan is loosed that he might go forthunrestrained, unboundto gather his troops for the great battle.
The battle in view here is the same battle that is depicted in Revelation 19:19, "And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him who sat on the horse and against his army." That same battle is also in view in Revelation 16:16, "And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armagedon." It is the same battle that is depicted in each of these passages. The battle of Revelation 16:16, 19:19 and 20:7-8 is one and the same battle. In the original Greek, each of these passages speaks of the battle. A careful exegesis of each of these passages will find that all of them draw upon the language and the imagery of Ezekiel 38-39.4 We are dealing with one battle, and that battle is the final spiritual conflict between the world and the church. The world is deceived by the devil and brings its final spiritual assault upon the church. It is the world's final, furious, hate-filled, hell-incited onslaught against the church. That is what is in view in this final battle described in these three passages.
Now why would the Lord allow Satan to be loosed for such a battle? Why would he take off the reigns? Why would he loose Satan from his chain? Why would he allow Satan to ascend out of that bottomless pit in which he is now sealed? Why would he allow Satan and his minions to surround the church?
The answer is clear: "And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire
The loosing of Satan at the end of the millennium, then, does not call into question your security in Christ. That final battle does not jeopardize your standing in Christ. You need not put your hope in some pre-tribulation rapture! Such falsehoods must be left behind! Nor do we need to put our hope in some "golden age"! Such hopes are little more than Jewish dreams! Our hope is in the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13; Revelation 22:20)! Our hope is in Christ!
Our hope is in the Christ who holds us in his hands. Though the people of God are even now subject to the attacks of the evil one, and will be increasingly subject to those attacks, and though the people of God at the end of the millennium will be surrounded by Satan and his minions, God will not allow his own to be snatched out of his hand. Though the church will be surrounded by the world, Christ will not allow the gates of hell to prevail against his church. Satan is loosed, he gathers his armies, he lays siege upon the beloved city; he makes his final assault, but that for one reason: that God might devour him! The saints of God are untouched! No onenot even Satan loosed in all his furyis able to touch the saints of God who are held in God's hand.
Now do you understand the beauty and brilliance of verses 4-6? "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did
If verses 1-3 describe the beginning of the millennium with the first coming of Christ, and if verses 7-10 describe the end of the millennium just prior to the second coming of Christ, then verses 4-6 describe the millennium as that time period between the first and second comings of Christ. Verses 4-6 describe for us the history of the church as she lives between the incarnation of Christ and his coming in glory. Verses 4-6 describe the history of the church in the world between those comings. Verses 4-6 describe our history. Verses 4-6 describe your story!
And what is your story? You live and reign with Christeven now! That is to say, the saints live and reign with Christ during the millennium. Or to put it even more clearly, the saints live and reign with Christ from the time of his first coming to the time of his coming on the clouds of glory. You live and reign with Christ even now!
Let me set before you one more question in terms of verses 4-6, a most important question: who does John have in view in verses 4-6? Most commentators maintain that the saints who live and reign with Christ are only those martyred saintsthose who have been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the Word of God (verse 4). William Hendriksen pushes you a bit further. He argues in his commentary that not only the martyred saints are in view here, but all those who have died in the faith.6 In other words, not only the martyrs live and reign with Christ, but also all those who have died in the faiththey too live and reign with Christ. On the view of most commentators, and even on the view of such a great scholar as Hendriksen, the prerequisite to living and reigning with Christ is either martyrdom or death in the faith! You must either be a martyr to live and reign with Christ or you must die in the faith to live and reign with Christ.
But, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ, John would push you still further. Though John is certainly speaking of the comfort that is ours even in death,
Do not let the mention of the martyrs fool you into thinking that these verses have nothing to do with you! Why, then, does John use the terminology of martyrdom? He uses it for this reason: to impress upon you the nature of your victory in Christ. So secure are you in Christ, that even as you are persecuted, perhaps even called to lay down your life in conformity to the Lamb who was slain, you are secure in that Lamb! You are held in the hollow of Christ's hand. Satan cannot snatch you away. Even now you live and reign with Christ. O Church of Jesus Christ, nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christnot persecution, not martyrdom, not even death!
Revelation 20:4-6 is but another way of expressing what Paul writes in Romans 8:35-39: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.' Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
How can Paul write the words of Romans 8:35-39? Because of what
he writes in Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation for
those who are in Christ Jesus." Paul pens the words at the end of Romans 8 on
the basis of the words at the beginning of Romans 8. Final judgment has
intruded into time and history at the cross of Jesus Christ, condemning him in
our place, so that there is therefore NOW no condemnation for those in who are
We find the same connection in Revelation 20:4-6. How can John write the words of Revelation 20:4-6? Because of what he writes in Revelation 20:4, "I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them." On the basis of Daniel 7:22, the verse may be rendered, "Judgment was given on their behalf."7 Beloved saints of Christ Jesus, you have already been judgedand that in Christ. No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Your final judgment has been rendered at the cross! My sinO the bliss of this glorious thought my sin not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord,O my soul! And it is because of that fact that we sing with joy, O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend. Even so, it is well with my soul. For even then I shall continue to be held in the hands of the Savior in whom I already now live.
Do you see what John has done here in Revelation 20:1-10? He has told you that you live in the millenniumyou are in it. He has told you that you are secure in Christyour salvation has been accomplished in Christ; nothing in all of creation, nothing above, nothing below can change that! What John has done is lifted up your eyes to the heavens. Even as you live here in the midst of this world, he has shown you the reality of your life hidden with Christ in God. He has shown you the nature of your victory in Christ!
The book of Revelation has as its main theme the victory of Christ and the Churchyour victory in Christ. Hendriksen got it right when he entitled his masterful commentary on the book of Revelation More Than Conquerors. Indeed, we are more than conquerors in Christ!
This is Amillennialism, and it is the eschatology that puts meat on your
Trinity United Reformed Church
Charles G. Dennison
The fire perceived
not the fire seen
wedged by clouds,
a simple sliver removed;
not the heat
nor filmy air
for the moon and stars.
Lightning precedes thunder
and deceives the eye
even when the sky is clear;
to currents arching over us,
but we despair
of rain, relief
and our salvation.
The two worlds of ThessalonicaHellenistic legacy, Roman supremacywere one: one coherent Graeco-Roman world with a cultural symbolism anchored in political, religious and social paganism. The coherence of this pagan status quo was turned upside down by the preaching of the apostle Paul between 50-52 A.D. The power structures of that pagan world were turned upside down; the religious ethos of that pagan world was turned upside down; the social fabric of that pagan world was turned upside down. Not in any insidious or violently revolutionary manner, rather the world which Paul proclaimed in the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 17:3) was the comingthe appearancethe parousiaof a new world, a different world, an eschatological world.
The antithesis between the world Paul proclaimed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ produced a clash of values virtually immediately in Thessalonica. Graeco-Roman politarchs ("city authorities") responding from their side of the antithesis reduced the eschatological world of Paul to their own political horizontalism. In their view, no other world was possible save Caesar's. Paul's evident display of life in two worldseschatological and temporal (even as his citizenship is in heaven and Rome)was incomprehensible to them; incomprehensible and threatening (Acts 17:6, 7).
Thessalonian idolaters responded from their side of the antithesis reducing the eschatological world of the invisible God of Paul to their own pious and concrete horizontalism. In their view, no other world save that of the pantheon was possible. Paul's eschatological God and Savior was incomprehensible to them; incomprehensible and threatening (cf. 1 Thess. 1:9).
The clash of the two worldsGraeco-Roman-Jewish and Christiangenerated "tribulation" (1:6), "opposition" or "conflict" (2:2), "suffering" (2:14), "affliction" (3:3, 4), perhaps even death (4:13, where those who have fallen asleep may be dead on account of tribulation, conflict, suffering, affliction).
The antithesis brings suffering to the Thessalonian Christians as it brings suffering to the apostle. The narrative world of the apostle becomes mirrored in the narrative world of the Thessalonian Christians. They are identified with the eschatological world of Christ's death and resurrection (note 1:10; 4:14; 5:9, 10) even as Paul is identified with that world. The emphatic joint participation of both the apostle and the believers at Thessalonica in the kingdom of glory (2:12) is underscored over and over in this letter by the relational personal pronouns "us" and "you" (with plural variants "we" and "you"). Throughout this epistle, Paul draws his readers into relationship with himself: "you became imitators of us" (1:6); "you abound in love for one another as we also do for you" (3:12); "you are sons of light . . . [as] we are not of the darkness" (5:5).
Paul's method is to draw the Thessalonian Christians into his own
world in an intimate union with the crucified and risen Jesus. The
This letter has been associated with the eschatological message of the apostle, usually because of 4:13-18 which treats the sequence of the parousia. But there are eschatological markers sprinkled throughout this epistle, not restricted to chapter 4 alone. In fact, eschatological markers structure the entire epistle.
As we come to the conclusion of Paul's epistolary thanksgiving (1:2-10), we are brought into immediate relationship with present deliverance from eschatological wrath ("Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come," v. 10). The first major unit of the epistle is capped with an eschatological marker.
2:1-12 is the next section of the epistle and here we find another concluding eschatological marker: "God calls you into his own kingdom and glory (doxos, Greek)" (v. 12). A doxological kingdom is an eschatological kingdom.
2:13-20 contains an eschatological antithesisa mirror of anti-eschatology ("wrath to the uttermost," v. 16)which is the reverse of eschatological parousia ("the presence of the Lord Jesus at his coming/parousia," v. 19). The church is the antithesis of the Jewish establishment. In the eschatological worldglory, joy, the crown of exultation! In the anti-eschatological worldenmity, wrath, filling up the measure of sin! Note: this section contains the first of four mentions of the parousia of the Lord Jesus (2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23).
3:1-13 is the next unit capped with an eschatological marker (v. 13). The biographical narrative here reinforces my previous point, i.e., that Paul's narrative world overlaps the narrative world of the Thessalonian Christians. The sending of Timothy (3:2) is the sending of Paul himselfeven as the advent of Christ is the advent of God himself.
If the mirror of the anti-eschatological paradigm is valid in 2:13-20, then it is valid in 4:13-18 as well. The canard that Paul has no eschatology of the damned is absurd given the language, imagery and context of First Thessalonians.
The thorough implications of the resurrection of Christ had not been applied by the Thessalonians to those brothers and sisters already in the grave. If the resurrection of Christ would benefit those alive at his parousia, what about those already asleep in Jesus at that time? If we begin with v. 17 ("thus we shall always/ever be with the Lord"), we realize Paul is inserting no provisional resurrection-kingdom between the present and future aspect of the interadventual age. Whether asleep in Jesus or alive at his parousia, we will ever be with the Lord body and soul. Jesus' bodily resurrection is the guarantee of the bodily resurrection of those asleep in Jesus and the bodily resurrection of those alive at his appearing. Note that the Jesus who comes again is the Jesus who has already entered glory by resurrection of the body. Hence v. 14 is definitive for the mode of bodily resurrection attendant upon Christ's parousiait is bodily resurrection in conformity to the glory of Christ's very own resurrection body. The resurrection which Paul describes here for the edification of the Thessalonian Christians is the resurrection unto gloryeverlasting glory ("always/ever with the Lord"; cf. 5:10).
The eschatological vector is definitive for Paul's remarks to the Thessalonian Christians. Because death is past for Christ; because the wrath of God is past for Christ; because agony, travail and darkness is past for Christ, the eschatological antithesis is present for the Thessalonian Christians. Life eternal not death; salvation not wrath; light not darkness; peace and joy not birth pangs of sorrow.
This eschatological world stands over against the political, religious and cultural agendas of this world. Paul is content with rejection, ejection, suffering and affliction because Paul is content with Christ. His life is even now as it will be at the appearing of the Lord Jesus with the glory of the risen Son added.
The narrative story of the apostle is the foil for the narrative story of the Thessalonian Christians. His storytheir story. Both storiesChrist's story. Your storythis story.
Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)
Peace? and to all the world? sure, One
And He the Prince of Peace, hath none.
He travels to be born, and then
Is born to travel more again.
Poor Galilee! thou canst not be
The place for His nativity.
His restless mother's called away,
And not delivered till she pay.
A tax? 'tis so still! we can see
The church thrive in her misery;
And like her Head at Bethlem, rise
When she, oppressed with troubles, lies.
Rise? should all fall, we cannot be
In more extremities than He.
Great Type of passions! come what will,
Thy grief exceeds all copies still.
Thou cam'st from heaven to earth, that we
Might go from earth to heaven with Thee.
And though Thou foundest no welcome here,
Thou didst provide us mansions there.
A stable was Thy court, and when
Men turned to beasts, beasts would be men.
They were Thy courtiers, others none;
John A. McGuckin, The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. 367 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-664-22396-6. $39.95.
The quandary facing the beginning student of Patristics (in the West, Early Church History from Clement of Rome to Isidore of Seville [ 632 A.D.] and, in the East, from Clement to John of Damascus [ ca. 754 A.D.]) is to find an affordable handbook to the Fathers that is comprehensive, current and not out-of-print. The older Roman Catholic standard by Bardenhewer, though useful, is dated (1894, German edition; 1908, English translation). The handy Altaner, Patrology (1958), is out-of-print and nearly fifty years old. Much has happened in Patristics in the last half centuryas those who know and read the literature realize. Two German scholars (Döpp and Geerlings) assayed to update Altaner and in 2001 released Dictionary of Early Christian Literature (Crossroad, $75). The revision is more severely biased than its predecessorparticularly against the historic orthodoxies of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant communions. In this era of revisionism, we are not surprised at this. The ghost of Walter Bauer and his 'trajectories' school is alive and well; these 'scholars' argue that 'orthodoxy' is the story written by the winners in church history. Bauer's disciples are out to write the (new) story of the losers! Yet it is sad to see the solid Altaner abused with such jaundiced presuppositions. Ironically (or perhaps intentionally?), McGuckin omits the updated Altaner from his list of resources.
Now comes the Leibnitzian solution to this dilemma. John McGuckin's Handbook is compact, affordable, thorough, up-to-date and (best of all) available. This makes it a winner on all counts (orthodoxy included!, see his article on the "Trinity"), especially for the beginning student who needs at hand a summary of Athanasius, Gregory Thaumaturgos, etc. But the busy pastor, interested in an affordable refresher survey, will also find McGuckin a boon. Advanced students may be slightly disappointed (some of the bibliographies are dated), but there is enough here to steer them in the right direction for further research.
McGuckin has provided articles from "Abortion" to "Women, Early Christian". In between, we have the standard canon: Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, Arius, Nicene, Constantine, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory Nyssa, Chrysostom, Nestorius, Cyril of Alexandria, etc. We also have a few unfamiliar entries: Apophaticism, Benedict of Nursia, Cyril of Scythopolis, Ibas of Edessa, John Moschus, Melania the Elder, Nitria, Romanos the Melodist, Theodotus the Cobbler. Each entry is clearly written and supplemented by a brief bibliography. The whole is adequately introduced by a "Preface" which is followed by a neat "Thematic Guide".
However, there are blunders. "Over the last century the origins of
the Gnostic movement have been much studied, and its pre-Christian roots
are now generally admitted" (p. 147). Edwin Yamauchi and Hans-Josef
With awareness of McGuckin's Eastern bias (he is, after all, a priest of the Orthodox Church), this is now the single volume of choice for an overview and introduction to the Patristic period. No academic library should be without it. No seminary course in Patristics or Early Church History should consider it an optional purchase.
James T. Dennison, Jr.