Matt Postiff's Blog

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Posted by Matt Postiff August 6, 2018 under Theology 

Today's question:

If all Jews will be resurrected and enter the kingdom as Ezekiel 37:1-14 seems to indicate, then why should we evangelize Jews?

Before we dismiss the question on grounds that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again (which is true), we should pause and read Ezekiel 37:11-12. There, the Lord explains the vision in 37:1-10 about the dry bones. The bones represent the whole house of Israel, which will be resurrected from their graves, and they will be brought into the land of Israel. God will put His Spirit in them, and they will live (verse 14).

Does this mean that every Israelite who has ever lived will be blessed to enter the kingdom of Messiah and share in eternal life? If we couple this with Romans 11:25-27 and Zechariah 12:10-14, we might think we can make a case for the universal salvation of all Jews, regardless of their faith toward Messiah (or God, as they knew Him in the Old Testament). This all then sounds like there may be some kind of dual covenant salvation, with one way of salvation for Gentiles, and a different way for Jews.

Let me be clear that I do NOT believe like that.

I refer you to Ezekiel 20:33-38. When the Bible says that "and so all Israel will be saved," (Romans 11:25-27), the Ezekiel passage cautions us that this is not an "automatic pass" for all Jews. Verse 38 says, "I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD."

We can be certain of this: Paul is not saying that all Jews will be saved because of their Jewishness, regardless of their response to the Messiah. It is true that there will be a mass conversion of living Jews at the time of Christ's return, but evidently there will be some holdouts (rebels), who will be purged out of the nation as judgment for their unfaithfulness to God.

As for those Jewish people who die prior to the second coming, there is no second chance, post-mortem evangel, or "automatic pass" by which they will be resurrected to eternal life even though they rejected Jesus Christ. This is because they are not all Israel who are from Israel (Romans 9:6). That is to say, just because someone descends from Israel doesn't mean that they share the faith of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And since they don't have the faith, they don't share in eternal life. They don't share in real "Israel-ness" as God defines it, that is, as a combination of Jewishness and faithfulness.

So, there remains a great incentive to evangelize Jews, just as we need to evangelize Gentiles. All are under sin; all are guilty before God: both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 3:9).

Posted by Matt Postiff July 5, 2018 under Theology  Bible Texts 

Today's question comes from one of our young people:

Was Paul an apostle, and considered one of the twelve? How could he be if he did not see the Lord like the others?

I tried to keep the answer brief, so I didn't cite all the verses. But here it is: First, there were 12 apostles. But Judas was a bad apple, and wasn't genuine. So, after he betrayed the Lord, there were 11. Then after Jesus ascended to heaven, the 11 picked Matthias to become the new 12th apostle. He had been with them throughout Jesus' ministry and saw all the things they did.

Now, as for Paul, he definitely was an apostle (1 Timothy 2:7). But he is number 13. His selection was different than the others, because he saw the Lord on the road to Damascus after Jesus had already gone back to heaven (Acts 9:3-7, 17). He saw Jesus at other times too (Acts 22:18, probably also 2 Corinthians 12:4). He received the good news directly from the Lord (Galatians 1:12). His ministry was also somewhat unique, for God sent him to the Gentiles to preach Christ (Romans 11:13).

Posted by Matt Postiff June 28, 2018 under Theology  Bible Texts 

Last evening, Pastor John O'Dell taught our church family about the suffering of Christ on the cross from Matthew 27:45-46. The message was not recorded, but we captured the following points from his lesson. Christ's suffering on the cross...

  1. demonstrates the depth of God's love.
  2. demonstrates the vileness of sin.
  3. demonstrates the severity of God's judgment on sin.
  4. demonstrates the deceitfulness of the human heart, with regard to the people who witnessed His torture and suffering, yet were unmoved (Jeremiah 17:9).
  5. shows that believers will not be forsaken, because Jesus was forsaken for them.

Posted by Matt Postiff June 22, 2018 under Interpretation  Theology  Bible Texts 

How shall we interpret James 4:1-10? The entire book of James seems to be directed toward believers, at least generally so. But there is some very strong language in chapter 4 that seems to indicate readers who were heavy into sin, so much so that they might seem like unbelievers:

  • Wars
  • Fights
  • Desire for pleasure
  • Lust
  • Murder
  • Covet
  • Not asking God
  • Asking amiss
  • Spending on personal pleasures
  • Adulterers
  • Friendship with the world
  • Enmity with God
  • Spirit that yearns jealously
  • Proud
  • Sinners
  • Double-minded

This sounds suspiciously like the worldly wisdom mentioned in James 3:14-16. Where does this stuff come from? James identifies the source in verse 1: an internal heart problem where desires for pleasure are in control of the person's behavior.

Whether this is a description of a believer or not, none of this is good or acceptable. If a member of the church behaved consistently like this and without repentance, what would the church do? It would have to conclude that the person is not acting like a believer should act. It should then call the person to repent. The call would look something like this:

  • Submit to God
  • Resist the Devil
  • Draw near to God
  • Cleanse your hands
  • Purify your heart
  • Lament
  • Mourn
  • Weep
  • Turn laughter into mourning
  • Turn joy into gloom
  • Humble yourself before God

If the person responds properly with humble repentance, all will be well. If the person does not, then they are giving off strong evidence that they are not genuine in their profession of faith.

Posted by Matt Postiff June 7, 2018 under Theology 

A quick thought. I was just reading someone who said regarding the structure of the Bible, "There are two testaments; no one questions that."

And I won't question it. But I will ask a related question: When does the New Testament actually begin? The easy answer is "the book of Matthew." But of course, Matthew was written somewhat after the events it records were over. So maybe we should be more precise and say something like "at the incarnation."

But is even that answer correct? I don't think it is so simple. In Matthew 10:5-6, the Lord commissioned the disciples to take the kingdom-at-hand message to the house of Israel. He specifically told them not to go to Gentiles or Samaritans. This certainly doesn't sound New Testament-ish.

Matthew 11:13 says, "all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John [the Baptist]." I take it that Jesus is classifying John as an Old Testament prophet. He is the last of those prophets. He is certainly a transitional figure as he called the nation to be prepared for the coming one. But his close ties to the Old Testament and his prophetic calling for repentance supports the notion that the "New Testament" doesn't really start with the ministry of John.

In Matthew 23:2-3, Jesus said, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do." It is clear that Jesus is telling the people, even at this late date in His ministry, that they are responsible to keep the law of Moses and submit to the authority of even its errant administrators. This is not a New Testament mindset. I can't imagine Paul saying those same words in light of Romans 6 and the New Testament situation in which he existed.

So when did the New Testament begin? We might place it at the great "It is finished" recorded in John 19:30, or at the subsequent resurrection of Christ, or at the giving of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. Or, better yet, how about at Pentecost with the full coming of the Spirit's new ministry after the Lord's assigned "wait in Jerusalem" period was over (Acts 1:4-5; 2:1)? This birth of the church seems to mark the real starting point of the new era. We call that the New Testament era. We will leave for another time a discussion of precisely how the church relates to the New Covenant that gives our New Testament its name.

Posted by Matt Postiff June 4, 2018 under Interpretation  Kingdom of God 

Today's question:

What does it mean in Matthew 11:12 that the kingdom of heaven suffered violence, and the violent take it by force?

Here is the text from three modern English translations:

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matt. 11:12 NKJV)

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. (Matt. 11:12 NIV-2011)

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (Matt. 11:12 NIV-1984)

Initially, I find it interesting to note that the 2011 NIV changed the 1984 NIV translation, albeit with a footnote mentioning the earlier translation.

A careful study of three key words in the verse seem to me to be determinative that the NKJV and NIV-2011 are in fact correct.

The verb "suffers violence" is a passive verb that seems to follow BDAG's first definition, namely to inflict violence on, dominate; or, in the passive, to be afflicted with violence or to be dominated. The second semantic domain, "to gain an objective by force" seems only to fit in a triumphalist interpretation of the verse and the kingdom of God. The problem with this interpretation is that the kingdom of God is not, at Matthew 11, in triumphant mode. It is being rejected by many in the nation of Israel, and its leaders. By chapter 12, it is clear that the leaders want nothing to do with Jesus and His kingdom announcement; and in chapter 13, the Lord adopts the parable method of teaching in order to conceal truth from the unbelieving in his audiences.

The noun "violent" (really, "violent ones" or "violent men") is a fine translation, and most modern English versions render it this way. Unfortunately, this is a hapax, but given the negative things happening to the kingdom proclamation in Matthew at this point, the connotation is not good. Violent people are doing something bad to the kingdom.

The next verb, "take it" or "have been raiding it" fits this negative connotation. The verb is harpadzo, the same verb used for the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. It means to seize, steal, kidnap, snatch, to (attempt) to take control of something. Of course at the rapture, the snatching up of believers is a good thing. But it doesn't seem so here with the kingdom. The national leaders of Israel have been and will continue to attempt to shut up the kingdom of heaven to potential entrants (Matthew 23:13). They are, by their actions, effectively taking the kingdom away from the generation present during Jesus' public ministry. They would soon kill John the Baptist, and not long after, they would kill Jesus as well. The murder of John the Baptist puts him squarely in the line of prophets in the Old Testament, which often suffered similar fates at the hands of the rebellious houses of Israel and Judah throughout Old Testament history.

In addition to the above, it is important to consider that believers are not well described with words such as "violent" and "seize."

The parallel passage in Luke 16:16 presents somewhat of a difficulty for this view, but perhaps Jesus said something in addition to what Matthew 11:12 records. And I think it could be argued that instead of "everyone is pressing into it," a valid translation would be "everyone is (trying to) dominate it." It it obvious that not everyone is trying to enter the kingdom, for there are a large number of people who are rejecting Jesus' teachings. But neither is everyone trying to destroy the kingdom either. Perhaps pessimistically, I assume that there were more who were against Jesus and His kingdom than for it; in that case, everyone would be a bit of a hyperbole, meaning "basically everyone is against it."

For full disclosure, let us hear the opposing viewpoint from John MacArthur in his study Bible:

But the kingdom can never be subdued or opposed by human violence. Notice that where Matthew says, "the violent take it by force," Luke has "everyone is pressing into it" (Luke 16:16). So the sense of this verse may be rendered this way: "The kingdom presses ahead relentlessly, and only the relentless press their way into it." Thus again Christ is magnifying the difficulty of entering the kingdom..."

In response, I would say that the kingdom was in fact opposed by human violence. Humans killed its first messenger—John the Baptist. They also killed its second messenger—Jesus Christ. They did much the same to the apostles. This happened because God permitted it to be so for His own good purposes, not because it was out of His control. In the end the kingdom cannot be opposed, but along the way, it in fact has been opposed.

In addition, MacArthur lets Luke 16:16 control the interpretation of Matthew 11:12, whereas I advocate for the reverse.

In the big picture there is little difference in our theology of the kingdom, at least in its future manifestation, for I agree that the kingdom will eventually take over the whole earth--not in a postmillennial way, but suddenly when Christ returns. And the way of entry is narrow into this kingdom. We can learn this much from a synthesis of other Bible texts. I'm convinced that we don't learn it from Matthew 11:12.

Posted by Matt Postiff May 21, 2018 under Theology  Creation 

The simple, "Sunday school" answer to the question is, "God created all things." But this question is a little more particular than that:

We have heard that all three members of the Trinity were responsible for creating the universe. That seems to be the case in the Genesis account. But based on Colossians 1:16, it seems specifically only the Son of God, Jesus, created the world. So who created the universe?

In Genesis, the text says "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (1:1). The next verse adds, "And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (1:2). Verse 26 says, "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...'" The plural pronouns do tip our thinking in favor of the Trinity, even though the Son is not mentioned specifically here.

Colossians 1:16 focuses specifically upon the Son when it says, "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth..." Hebrews 1:10 quotes the Father speaking to the Son and saying, "You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands." John 1:3 is also speaking of the Word-made-flesh, Jesus, and it says, "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made."

To add even some more complexity to the question, Psalm 104:30 attributes a creative role to the Holy Spirit: "You send forth Your Spirit, they are created..."

So who created? The theological resolution is that in all their activity, the Trinity perfectly and harmoniously accomplishes the work that the Triune God does. They together as One plan, decree, create, guide, and sustain all things.

Now, this does not mean that all three of their fingers pressed the "create button" at the same moment. Each member of the Triune God does a particular part or function of the overall task. The preposition through in John 1:3 helps us understand this. It was through the Lord Jesus Christ that God created all things. Said another way, God (the Father) created all things but did so through the agency of the Son. Similar wording is found in Col. 1:16: by Him all things were created.

So there is no contradiction or confusion here. All the members of the Trinity were involved in the creation of the universe, each in their own role. We could think of it in terms of a delegated role. The President did such-and-such thing in international affairs, but it may have been actually accomplished through one of his ambassadors, rather than an act that he himself did.

This is like how God creates new spiritual life in a person who becomes a believer. The Father draws (John 6:44); the Spirit gives life (John 6:63); the Son also gives life (John 5:21). The Father foreknows and chooses (1 Peter 1:1); the Spirit washes and regenerates (Titus 3:5-6); and the Son bears our sin in His body (1 Peter 2:24).

Posted by Matt Postiff May 7, 2018 under General  Interpretation  Theology 

Today's question:

I have heard that there is a chronological Bible in a number of versions. I know little about it. What do you think about a chronological Bible vs the "regular" one? I am concerned about the change. Should I be?

And my response:

I don't own a chronological Bible, but I don't have a problem with the idea of a chronological Bible.

What is a chronological Bible? It presents the contents of the Bible in the order in which the events occurred. So, after you read a certain portion of Acts 20, then you would read Romans, because that's when Paul wrote Romans. Or, since Isaiah ministered to such and such Israelite kings, you would place his prophecies during the narrative of those kings in Kings and Chronicles.

Such a Bible can be helpful to put together the Bible's history, which is important for us to understand things properly. After all, we believe in a *historical*, grammatical, literal principle of interpretation. So, we need to get the history right.

The order of books in the Bible is not inspired. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible's order of books is different than the English Bible's order. I don't lose any sleep over that issue, but it is interesting to know that fact and why.

I have a slight concern if a particular chronological Bible splits a book in pieces and rearranges those pieces into various locations. The reason for the concern is that the Holy Spirit superintended the authors to write the books in a certain order. Splitting sections may have an important contextual impact on the study of certain sections.

As long as the chronological Bible is a supplemental tool in your "study tool box," we need not worry about the above concern.

You don't need a special chronological Bible. You can find a chronological reading schedule and just read your regular Bible in a different order than you normally do.

Posted by Matt Postiff April 28, 2018 under Theology  Eschatology 

Editor's note: I hesitate to attribute words to God, but I mean for this fictional genre to communicate biblical truth in a dire situation. My hope is that someone who is deceived about their own state of grace may read it and be caught up short, and by this means be able to escape their self-deception.

Imagine you are standing before the Lord just after you have breathed your last on earth. You've left behind your family and friends and are standing alone with the Lord.

"Hello. So...why are you here?", He asks.

"I just died, I guess. I think its time for my judgment. I want to come into heaven. There are people there that I want to see."

The Lord replies, "OK. I've been watching you and pondering your case for a long while."

"You have? I thought..."

"Yes, I know what you have been thinking. About believing in Jesus and all that."

"I do!"

The Lord continued, "Indeed, you did believe in Him, after a fashion. But what bothers me is the fruit of your life. It seems to deny that you really knew Jesus."

Anxiety rising, you ask, "What do you mean, Lord? I did a lot of stuff at church, wrote stuff about you, listened to Christian music a lot, and other things."

"I know that too," God replied in a very kind voice. "But there are other things you aren't mentioning. Let me take one area, as an example. Forgiveness has been a tough thing for you, hasn't it? I watched how you treated your spouse and kids. When you did something wrong, you were grateful for their forgiveness because it meant things could go on normally and without much interruption. But when they did something wrong, you were highly critical of them. Not always to their face, mind you. Sometimes it was just in your heart, or in your journal. And sometimes you were right about how wrong they had been."

"But sometimes," He went on, "when they came to you with an apology, asking forgiveness, you didn't listen. Your spouse might have apologized for days afterward. They did that because they were stricken in conscience that they had done wrong. But it didn't matter to you. You said that they shouldn't have wronged you in the first place. It was too late to apologize. And, you complained that they were picking and choosing what to apologize for. You refused to forgive them."

"I admit that. Because they were inconsistent! Their inconsistency just made me mad! It was like they were using me."

"I understand that completely. I see a lot of inconsistency in your life, and it is not pleasing to me either. I sometimes wonder if people who say they believe in Jesus are just using Me."

"But I did believe in Jesus."

"I know you did, but remember, I said that you believed after a fashion. I meant that you believed in a certain kind of way. You knew the fact of who Jesus is and what He did, but there was a key thing missing."

Your anxiety level spiked. "I do believe, Lord. And I'm sorry for not being forgiving like I should have been."

The Lord spoke very directly, "I know that you are trying now to make this right, but it's too late. The damage has been done. I sense that you are just saying you are sorry, but if you really meant it, you would have been sorry back then for your lack of forgiveness toward your family, and you would have changed your behavior in your life long before now. I can tell you are not truly repentant because of what your sin did to Me; nor are you repentant for what the sin did to them. Since I know your heart, it is evident that you are regretful for what the sin is now doing to you. That's not true repentance, which is part of what real faith in Jesus is all about."

Continuing, He said, "Do you remember the parable of the unforgiving servant? What Jesus was trying to teach you was that if you had truly experienced My vast forgiveness toward you, you would be able to forgive others. The fact that you did not extend forgiveness to your penitent family members shows that you didn't understand the whole concept of forgiveness. Unfortunately, you have been very deceived."

Posted by Matt Postiff April 17, 2018 under Society  Gospel 

I was speaking with an elderly Christian lady on Sunday afternoon. She is more than 90 years old. When we spoke about a certain person's Christian salvation story, she expressed the idea using "coming out" language. This person "really came out for the Lord." This struck me as a bit curious given the baggage of that phrase today, but I said nothing about it to her in our conversation.

Afterward, I pondered some more. Obviously, she comes from a generation where "coming out" had nothing to do with the sexual revolution that is going on in the most recent generation. Today, the phrase "come out" refers to an act or time in a person's life where they express that they do not conform to the "assumed" (hetero-) sexual behavior or (birth) gender.

My elderly friend used "coming out" language to refer to someone turning from sin and living for Christ, with even the implication of "coming out" to the church instead of keeping a distance from the church. The connotation was that someone really took a stand for Christ, and became an outspoken Christian.

The LGBTQ movement has borrowed this terminology to express the conversion or change that they feel as they express their behavior and preferences to the world outside of themselves. It is a religious experience for them.

I wondered further if this has implications for "conversion therapy" that has become a hot-button issue these days. If someone "comes out" gay, then should they not also be able to "come out" from their prior "coming out"? In other words, I would think that they should be able to come out as a Christian, and thus leave behind their conformity to the gay or trans lifestyle. Maybe we should call it "deconversion" therapy.

No doubt, some will argue that "coming out" as gay or transgender is simply making a statement as to what the person always has been, so it is not as much a conversion as it is a realization or open expression. I understand the difference. Christian "coming out" is not "expressing what I always have been," for no one starts out life as a true Christian. Christian conversion is miraculous; it is deeply transformative. It is very different than "coming out" as it is used today.

Posted by Matt Postiff April 17, 2018 under Bible Texts  Family 

I taught on the subject of divorce from Mark 10 and related passages this past weekend. I was struck how some of the strongest encouragement to me after the message came from several individuals in our assembly who have experienced divorce, and some of those have been remarried.

I take a very conservative stance on divorce and remarriage. These people were not in the least put off by my teaching, but were 100% in agreement. (I'm sure there were others who weren't--but I did not hear from them!)

One point I take from this is that you can have people in your church who have experienced the horrors of divorce, but that doesn't mean you have to tiptoe around the subject. You know how it is--when you get to Mark 10 or Matthew 19 or 1 Corinthians 7 in your expositional series, you are tempted to skip those sections, or talk in a very milquetoast way. Look—divorce is wrong. Preach against it.

Posted by Matt Postiff April 9, 2018 under Society  Sanctification 

The Christian teaching of submission is very difficult for most people to swallow—even Christians. This is especially so when it has to do with the relationship of wives to their husbands. I recently thought of a way to explain submission that may help you see if you want to follow the Lord in this matter, or if you are not a believer and want to understand better the idea of Christian submission. It is not the Neanderthal, patriarchal thing that you think it is!

In Scripture, the idea is not that an outside person causes you to submit. Instead, the idea is that you subordinate yourself—and gladly so—in obedience to God’s instruction. Submission to an authority figure is an act of obedience to God, which shows love for God and, in turn, appreciation for the authority figure and his/her office. Insubordination is a sin against God, and shows no appreciation for the authority.

It is this way for citizens and their government, or children and their parents and teachers. Those cases are in a sense “easy” because they have to do with relationships where the power distribution is lopsided. The government can put you in jail, and your parents and teachers are, at least early on, much bigger than you are!

But what about situations where the submitting party and the authority party are, roughly speaking, peers—like two adults in the workplace or in marriage?

Let’s think about the example of a workplace. Let us suppose that a conscientious woman employee has a boss who is a nice man. Notice how her submission operates. He asks her to do X, Y, and Z, and she happily jumps into working on those tasks. She doesn’t complain all day about it. She completes the tasks, and then asks for more!

Now, you may object that she doesn’t have much choice because he holds the power of the paycheck over her head. True…except that she can quit and, in many cases in a good economy, get another job without much trouble. But let’s assume further that she is not working just for the money. She is more principled than that, and her work situation is a happy one.

She cheerfully submits herself to her boss. She wants to be helpful, and indeed likes the feeling of being helpful. It makes her feel useful and fulfilled when she submits to her boss. She does so for the good of the company, so that the company can succeed and grow and be even better than it was before she came. She may work to exhaustion many hours per week to carry out this submission fully.

But let us also assume that this same woman has some marital problems at home, though her husband is generally a nice guy. What’s different at 5pm when she goes home? What happened on the commute home that changed her cheerful and fulfilled-by-submission disposition to one that is hard and implacable? Does her happy submission stop because “it’s just her husband” that is asking her to do X, Y, or Z? Does she happily submit to his requests or directives? If not, what’s the difference between work and home? Why can she submit at work, but cannot seem to bring herself to do so at home?

Why is it that wives don’t want to submit to their husbands, but they will submit to their female or male boss every day of the week? They sometimes even do so when the boss has requests that are unreasonable or a waste of time or doesn’t provide the best tools for the job, or whatever other non-ideal circumstances you can think of (kind of like an imperfect husband would be).

I have a partial answer. The flesh and its allies, the world and Satan, have some clever tricks up their sleeves. They can deceive us into being happily submissive to earn the paycheck at work, in a job that we could quit anytime. But they turn around and try to destroy our marriage by making us insubordinate at home in a relationship that we promised (with “vows”) to uphold with all of our might at the wedding ceremony. The important relationship—marriage—is subject to destruction, and the optional relationship—work—is upheld as sacrosanct.

Dear friends, beware of the rebellious spirit in your heart that causes this strange situation.

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