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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. Dr. Spencer, last time we covered the nature of Christ’s sacrifice of atonement. His sacrifice paid the penalty we owe, it provided propitiation, it redeemed us from sin and it reconciled us to God. Are we ready to move on and discuss Christ’s functioning as our Priest?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are. As we have said, a priest is a mediator. And we are told in 1 Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. [1]

Marc Roby: That verse doesn’t, of course, negate the fact that there have been other mediators, like Moses. It simply means that there is one mediator, or priest, who is ultimate and continues forever.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And let me begin our examination of how Christ functions as our priest by looking at Question 25 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which asks, “How does Christ execute the office of a priest?” And the answer is, “Christ executes the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God; and in making continual intercession for us.”

This answer lists two ways in which Christ functions as our priest. And the first is that he once offered himself as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice. In other words, he provided atonement for our sins as we discussed last time.

Marc Roby: And it is very important that he did this once. The Old Testament sacrifices were performed over and over again.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important point. Jesus’ sacrifice was the only one that was truly able to meet our needs. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament provides an extensive explanation of the differences between the Old Testament sacrificial system and the sacrifice of Christ.

Marc Roby: And there are many differences. To begin with, Christ was both the priest who offered the sacrifice and the sacrifice itself!

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a very important difference. In the Old Testament, only the high priest could enter the holy of holies where the ark of the covenant was kept, and he could only do that one day a year, on Yom Kippur, which means the Day of Atonement. And we are told in Leviticus 16:3-6 how the high priest had to prepare for this. The high priest at this time was Aaron, Moses’ brother, and God gave the following instructions to him about the Day of Atonement: “This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household.”

Marc Roby: You get a very clear impression of how solemn this duty was.

Dr. Spencer: You absolutely do. It was the most important day of the year then, and it is still the most important day of the year for practicing Jews, although they no longer offer these sacrifices. But notice that Aaron began by offering a bull to make atonement for his own sin and the sin of his household. Aaron, along with every other high priest outside of Christ, was a sinner and could not atone for the sin of anyone.

In stark contrast, Jesus Christ is the perfect, sinless high priest. We are told about him in Hebrews 7:27, where we read, “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”

Marc Roby: That’s truly wonderful. Aaron had to first sacrifice for himself, and then, after he had atoned for his own sin, he sacrificed one of the two goats for the sins of the people and then released the other goat, called the scapegoat, into the wilderness, which symbolized the removal of the sins of the people. But these sacrifices had to be repeated every year.

Dr. Spencer: And we are told in Hebrews that all of these things were only a shadow of the reality. For example, in Hebrews 10:1-4 we read that “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Marc Roby: The logic of that argument is inescapable. If the offerings made by Aaron and his descendants had been efficacious, they would have stopped! We also see this word “shadow” in Hebrews 8:5 where we are told that Aaron and his descendants “serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.”

Dr. Spencer: The entire Old Testament sacrificial system pointed forward to Jesus Christ and the one, final efficacious sacrifice that would take away the sins of all of God’s people once and for all. In his commentary on the book of Hebrews, the Rev. P.G. Mathew wrote, “The time of shadow is over and the age of reality has come in Jesus Christ. It is foolish to yearn for symbols, vestments, incense, candles, gold, silver, Gothic structure, and the clergy-laity distinction. Away with such carnal things! We have a high priest seated in heaven who ministers in the heavenly, God-built sanctuary.”[2]

Marc Roby: What a glorious thought! Our high priest is seated in heaven and ministers there. And, of course, when Rev. Mathew talks about “symbols, vestments, incense” and so on he is referring to the Roman Catholic church and other churches that still hold to the idea of our needing human priests and rituals to communicate with God.

Dr. Spencer: And for those listeners who may not know, the Roman Catholic mass is a sacrifice! They believe that when the priest blesses the bread and the wine they actually become, in their essence, but not in their outward appearance, the body and blood of Christ, and that the Lord’s Supper is truly a sacrifice of Christ. And yet, we read Hebrews 7:27 a couple of minutes ago, which says that Christ “sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” In addition, in Hebrews 9:12 we are told that Christ “did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” And in Hebrews 9:28 we read that “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people”, and in Hebrews 10:10 we are told that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is about as clear as it can get. And we also read about Christ’s sacrificial death in Romans 6:10, which says that “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” And again, in 1 Peter 3:18 the apostle Peter tells us that “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

Dr. Spencer: That is an extremely important point. It is one of the fundamental errors of the Roman Catholic church. It isn’t as important as their unbiblical view of justification, but it is nonetheless a very serious error. The Lord’s Supper is a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice. It is an important and solemn event, but it is not a sacrifice. Jesus himself commanded us, in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, to “do this in remembrance of me.”

But, let’s get back to discussing the priestly office of Christ.

Marc Roby: I do think we’ve strayed off topic a bit, although it was an important diversion.

Dr. Spencer: It definitely is important. We have made the point that Christ is our final, unique, high Priest. The book of Hebrews spends a great deal of time explaining the many ways in which the priesthood of Christ is unique. He was, as we have already shown, sinless and did not need to sacrifice for himself. But he was also unique in that he was not a Levite like Aaron and all of the other Old Testament priests. In his human nature Christ was a descendant of Judah, one of Levi’s brothers.

Marc Roby: And so, in Hebrews 7:14 we read that “it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.”

Dr. Spencer: In fact, that whole section of Hebrews labors to make the distinction between the Levitical priesthood and Christ. In Hebrews 7:11 we are told that “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?”

Marc Roby: And this Melchizedek that the writer of Hebrews refers to is an enigmatic figure in the Old Testament. In fact, he is only mentioned twice. The first reference is in Genesis 14 where we read about Abraham’s nephew Lot being taken captive and Abraham rescuing him along with many other people. Abraham was still called Abram at this point in time and as they returned from the battle, we are told in Genesis 14:18-19 that “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram”.

Dr. Spencer: As you said, that is an enigmatic passage. And Melchizedek is only mentioned one other time in the Old Testament. In Psalm 110, which was recognized as Messianic even by the Jews before the time of Christ,[3] we see Jehovah speaking to the Messiah and in Verse 4 we are told that Jehovah, “has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’”

Marc Roby: And it is only in the book of Hebrews that we find an explanation of what this means.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We learn more about Melchizedek in Hebrews Chapter 7. In Verse 3 we are told that “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” And then, in Verses 6 and 7 we’re told that he was greater than Abraham! We are also told, in Verse 12, that “when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” And then the verse we read from Psalm 110 is quoted twice in making the point that Jesus is the one who is “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Then, in Verse 22, we are told that “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.”

Marc Roby: Well, I don’t think that this clears up all of the mystery, but it certainly makes clear that God was doing something new when he sent Jesus Christ. The old sacrificial system was fulfilled and the priesthood became unnecessary because Jesus came as the final high priest, and he offered the only efficacious sacrifice for his people, himself!

Dr. Spencer: And that is the second thing that is unique about Christ’s priestly service. He didn’t offer some animal, he offered himself as the sacrifice. We read in Hebrews 10:4 that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” And then, a few verses later in Hebrews 10:12-14, we read that “when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

Marc Roby: What a great picture that is! Jesus sat down because his work of redemption was finished.

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful fact to meditate on. Our salvation is certain. The work is finished and the war, if you will, has already been won. We have to do our part, but there is no uncertainty about the outcome. God has more work to do in each one of us, but Christ has finished his work of redemption.

Marc Roby: But that does not mean that he is done acting as our high priest.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. In Hebrews 7:24-25 we are told that “because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” And that takes us to the second part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s statement about how Christ executes the office of a priest.

Marc Roby: And to help us all remember, the answer to Question 25 says that “Christ executes the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God; and in making continual intercession for us.”

Dr. Spencer: And while the first part of that answer is certainly the most important because without the sacrifice of Christ we cannot be saved, the second part is also important. Wayne Grudem argues persuasively that Christ’s intercession does not just mean that he remains in the Father’s presence as a reminder that he has paid the penalty we owe.[4] His intercession is much more active than that. The Greek word speaks of petitioning or pleading the case of another person. The same Greek word is also used in Romans 8:34 where Paul writes, “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” No one can condemn us before God. Not because we are not, in ourselves, guilty of any offense, but because Jesus Christ has paid the penalty and is actively petitioning the Father on our behalf.

Marc Roby: Now, we must again guard against any notion that the Father is somehow reluctant in granting the petitions however. It isn’t that the Father doesn’t love us or that he wants to do us harm and Jesus has to try and change his mind.

Dr. Spencer: No, of course that isn’t the case. We made the point last week that it is God the Father who so loved the world that he gave his only Son to save his people. But, in God’s glorious plan of salvation it is Jesus Christ who is the only mediator between God and men. He is the unique God-man. And we should be immensely grateful that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – loved us enough to save us and provide for us in this way.

Marc Roby: We see a glorious example of Christ’s intercessory prayer for his people in the case of the apostle Peter. In Luke 22:31-32 Jesus told Peter, who was also known by the name Simon, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful example. Note that Christ doesn’t say “And if you turn back”! He knew his prayer was effectual and so he said, “And when you have turned back”. And we all know the story. Peter did deny Christ three times, but he repented and Christ restored him.

Marc Roby: And he also learned a valuable lesson to not rely on his own strength.

Dr. Spencer: That is a lesson we all need to learn. If we try to serve God in our own strength, we too will fail. As Christ told us in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Marc Roby: And, praise God, the converse is also true! Paul tells us in Philippians 4:13 that “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we must remember that we need God always. Not just at the point of paying the penalty for our sins, but day by day and moment by moment we need him to help us live holy lives. And Jesus Christ is our faithful high priest, able and willing to help us every step of the way. He promised us, in Matthew 28:20, that “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Marc Roby: And that is a great place to end today. Let me take this opportunity remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will answer as best we can.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] P.G. Mathew, Muscular Christianity, Grace and Glory Ministries, 2010, pg. 174

[3] E.g., see the study note on Psalm 110 in the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Zondervan, 2003, pg. 926

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 627 (incl. fn 4)

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. In our last session we presented three reasons the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is theologically significant. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like begin by quoting the answer to Question 16 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Marc Roby: Okay. That question asks, “Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?”

Dr. Spencer: And the answer is, “The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.”

Now as with all of the Westminster documents, this is a very carefully worded doctrinal statement about original sin. And I’d like to point out the importance of three words – by ordinary generation. The statement says that all mankind, descending from Adam by ordinary generation, fell with him. Those three words are very important because they exclude Jesus Christ. He was not represented by Adam and did not, therefore, inherit his guilt or sinful nature.

This illustrates the point we discussed last week that the virgin birth is theologically significant because it shows us how Jesus can be fully human and yet be without sin. He is unique and his conception was unique.

Marc Roby: Of course, the Roman Catholic doctrine of immaculate conception claims that the conception of Jesus’ mother, Mary, was also unique. They claim that she was born without sin and lived without sin.

Dr. Spencer: And that doctrine is problematic on two grounds. First, and most importantly, it isn’t biblical. There isn’t the slightest hint anywhere in the Bible that Mary was born without a sinful nature and without inheriting the guilt of Adam. That alone should settle the matter. Secondly, the doctrine doesn’t solve the problem it was created to solve. As we pointed out last week, there is a question left unanswered by the Bible, which is why Jesus didn’t inherit a sinful nature from his mother.

Marc Roby: And the doctrine of immaculate conception tries to solve that by saying that Mary was sinless.

Dr. Spencer: Right. But that just pushes the problem back one generation and makes it a more difficult problem.

Marc Roby: Why does it make the problem more difficult?

Dr. Spencer: Well, because now the question becomes, “How on earth could Mary be conceived by a sinful mother and a sinful father and yet not be sinful?”! Jesus had a sinful mother, but he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, so it is a very different and less problematic situation.

The sinless nature of Christ is an important point theologically and we would expect the Bible to deal with it. And it does by speaking of the virgin birth. It doesn’t answer every question we can ask, but it does deal with the issue. The doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary makes the problem far more difficult and is completely without biblical warrant. If it were true, we should reasonably expect the Bible to make it clear, not remain silent about it. All true Christians should reject it and the worship of Mary to which it leads.

Marc Roby: We should, though, hold Mary in high regard. In Luke 1:28 we are told that when the angel Gabriel came to tell her that she was going to have a child, he greeted her by saying, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s quite true. Mary was favored by God and she was the mother of our Lord. We should hold her in very high regard. She was a godly and righteous woman in a relative sense, along with many other people in the history of the church, but she was also a sinner who needed a Savior herself. The Greek word translated as “favored” in Luke 1:28 is used to refer to all Christians in Ephesians 1:6, which says that God “blessed us in the Beloved.” The word translated as “blessed” in that verse is the same Greek word as is translated “favored” in Luke 1:28.

Marc Roby: And, indeed, all true Christians are blessed, or favored, by God. We deserve hell, but have been given heaven instead as a gracious gift.

Dr. Spencer: And every single human being who has ever lived or ever will live needs a Savior, with the sole exception of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the unique God-man, who was born without sin.

We are told explicitly that Jesus was sinless in the book of Hebrews. In Hebrews 4:14 we are told that “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God”, and then in the next verse, Hebrews 4:15, we are told that this high priest “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

Marc Roby: And he had to be perfect in order to be an acceptable sacrifice. This requirement goes back to the book of Exodus, when God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt.

On the night an angel was going to go through Egypt and kill the firstborn of every man and animal, the Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle the blood on the doorframe of their house so that the angel would pass over their home and not kill the firstborn. In Exodus 12:5 we read that Moses commanded them, “The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.”

Dr. Spencer: And we know that this foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ. In John 1:29 we are told that when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And in 1 Peter 1:18-19 we read, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” And in Hebrews 9:26 we are told that Christ “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

Marc Roby: You know, no matter how many times you read or think about the sacrifice of Christ, it is astounding each and every time.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, this is the heart of the gospel, which is absolutely amazing. We made the point before that God had to become man in order to pay for our sin. Our sin is against an infinite God and the penalty therefore is infinite; more than any mere man can pay. Therefore, Jesus had to be fully God for his sacrifice to have sufficient value. But he also had to be man because it was man who sinned and therefore had to pay the price. But the man Jesus had to be a perfect, sinless sacrifice.

Marc Roby: And he clearly was a perfect, sinless sacrifice. What else do you want to say about the human nature of Christ?

Dr. Spencer: We should note that the Bible is clear that Jesus had a real physical body just like you and me and all of our listeners. He was born just like us, had to grow and learn how to walk and talk just like us. He became thirsty and hungry and tired just as we do. There are many places in the New Testament where this is clear, but let me just share a couple. In Matthew 4:2 we are told that “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

Marc Roby: I would call that a huge understatement. He must have been famished.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, just like any man would be. One time when Jesus was walking through Samaria, we read in John 4:6 that “Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” So he also got tired just like we do.

And in Luke 2:52 we read that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Now, not all people grow in favor with God and men, but all healthy people do grow in wisdom and stature as they grow up.

Marc Roby: It is a bit puzzling that Jesus, being God and man, could grow in wisdom though.

Dr. Spencer: That idea can be troubling to people. But when we say that Jesus Christ has two natures, one human and one divine, we must also mean that he had a human mind and spirit. After all, that’s what makes us who we are. We discussed this at length in Sessions 103 through 105, but we have both a material and an immaterial part; a body and a soul, or spirit. God is pure spirit, but Jesus Christ is not just a human body with a divine spirit, he is truly human and divine. The two natures are distinct. He is not a mixture of human and divine, he is both natures in one person.

Marc Roby: Now, that is truly impossible to understand.

Dr. Spencer: It is impossible to understand fully. But as I noted last week, we can have a correct understanding of something we don’t understand fully. And the dual nature of Christ is a clear teaching of the Bible, which is our ultimate standard for truth. The only fundamental difference between his human spirit and ours is that his is, and always has been, sinless.

Marc Roby: And the fact that he has a true, finite, human spirit explains how he could grow in wisdom. When we discussed the material and immaterial parts of man in Session 114 you made the point that the spirit is the seat of our intellect, emotions and personality.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And so, in his humanity, Jesus learned new things throughout life just as we do, even though in his deity he was, and is, omniscient. We see this in Mark 13:32 where Jesus spoke about his second coming and said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Marc Roby: That’s amazing. Jesus himself, in his humanity, didn’t know when he would come again.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is great mystery here of course. We are not told how Jesus’ divine nature interacts with his human nature. There were clearly times when things were communicated to his human nature by either his own divine nature or by the Holy Spirit, but we aren’t told exactly how that took place, we just see the effects.

Marc Roby: I assume you’re speaking about when Jesus knew what people were thinking and things like that.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Look at Mark 2 for example. We read about Jesus healing a paralytic. But the first thing he did was say to the man, in Mark 2:5, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” And some of the people there were thinking to themselves that Jesus was blaspheming by doing this because only God can forgive sins. And we are then told in Mark 2:8 that “Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things?’”

Marc Roby: That’s a great example. Jesus “knew in his spirit” what they were thinking, but we are not told exactly how his human spirit obtained this information.

Dr. Spencer: As I said, there is great mystery here. But, as we expect, there are no logical contradictions because this is a clear teaching of the Word of God, which is infallibly true. We also see that Jesus had a human spirit because he had a full range of human emotions.

Marc Roby: Although, given how often our sinful natures show up in our emotions, we should be careful to point out that Jesus’ emotions were sinless.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a great caveat. But let’s look at just a few examples. In John 12:27 we read that after Jesus had indicated to his disciples that his death was imminent, he said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” So his heart was troubled, just as any person would be at such a terrifying thought. Then, in Matthew 15:42 we read that Jesus said to his disciples, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” So he had the normal human emotion of compassion for those in need.

Marc Roby: And that also makes me think of the shortest verse in the Bible. When Jesus went to the tomb of his friend Lazarus, who had died, we read in John 11:35 that “Jesus wept.” He had normal human sorrow at the death of a friend and the pain it had caused his loved ones, even though he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.

Dr. Spencer: And that is not the only time Jesus wept. In Hebrews 5:7 we are told that “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

The biblical record is clear that Jesus Christ was fully human. In his humanity he was subject to the same limitations we all are in terms of finite knowledge and reasoning ability. He had normal human emotions and so on. The only difference is that he was sinless.

Marc Roby: Of course, that is a huge difference!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. It is impossible to imagine just how different we will be when God removes our sin completely. It’s a wonderful thing to meditate on. What will it be like when there is no use for the words “should” or “ought” because there will be no difference between what I should do, or ought to do, and what I want to do and actually do!

Marc Roby: I can’t imagine. But there is one more issue about Jesus’ humanity that has engendered a great deal of discussion. We are told in Hebrews 4:15, which you read earlier, that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” So the question arises, “Was it possible for Jesus to sin?” And, if it wasn’t possible for him to sin, how could his temptation then be real?

Dr. Spencer: Those are great questions, but we must be very careful in dealing with them. I think Wayne Grudem does a good job in his Systematic Theology.[2] He begins by noting what it is that Scripture clearly teaches: First, that Jesus never actually sinned. Second, that Jesus was truly tempted, just as we are. And third, that God cannot be tempted as we read in James 1:13.

Marc Roby: Alright, those three points are clear. But they don’t really answer the questions.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but they frame the discussion in terms of things we can know for certain. We do also know that God’s purposes and plans are certain, no one can thwart them. We can, therefore, conclude that it was not possible for Jesus to actually sin. If he had done so, he would no longer have been qualified to be the perfect sacrifice we need. But that leaves the question open as to why it was not possible for him to sin, which gets to the issue of how his temptations could be real.

Marc Roby: Yes, and that’s a difficult question.

Dr. Spencer: It is difficult, but I think Grudem makes a couple of very good points.[3] First, he looks at Satan’s tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread after he had been fasting for 40 days in the desert. The temptation was for Jesus to use his divine power to make it easier for his human nature. But that would have violated God’s will, so Jesus did not do it. Grudem writes, “Therefore, Jesus refused to rely on his divine nature to make obedience easier for him. In like manner, it seems appropriate to conclude that Jesus met every temptation to sin, not by his divine power, but on the strength of his human nature alone (although, of course, it was not ‘alone’ because Jesus, in exercising the kind of faith that humans should exercise, was perfectly depending on God the Father and the Holy Spirit at every moment).”

Marc Roby: That’s a great quote from Grudem, and it makes a very important and practical point. If we rely on our own strength, we’re going to fail and give in to temptation. But, if we make use of the means of grace that God has provided to us in prayer, reading his Word, participating in corporate worship and the life of the church and so on, we will have divine power to say no to ungodliness. We read in 2 Peter 1:3 that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Dr. Spencer: And we also read in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” So, Jesus is our example in depending on the Holy Spirit power to enable us to say “no” to sin. And the fact that he is truly human is extremely important. Because he didn’t use his deity to cheat and make it easy, he obeyed in his human nature.

Marc Roby: And he did so perfectly. This also shows us that we have no excuse for sinning, God’s grace is sufficient whenever we are tempted. Is there anything else you’d to add on this topic?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Grudem also makes the valid point that “only he who successfully resists a temptation to the end most fully feels the force of that temptation.”[4] Therefore, we could argue that Jesus felt the full force of every temptation, whereas we sometimes yield to temptation and, thereby, spare ourselves from the full force of it.

Marc Roby: We may spare ourselves from the force of the temptation by sinning, but we bring on ourselves the pain that sin always produces.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, very true.

Marc Roby: And we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d appreciate hearing from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 537-539

[3] Ibid, pg. 539

[4] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine hermeneutics, the principles that we use to properly interpret the Bible. Last time we gave a number of examples for how to properly use the context of a verse, including its historical context. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: We could go on giving many more examples about the use of context, but I want to keep moving forward. So, I’d like to take a look at a few key ideas that we need to keep in mind as we study the Bible.

Marc Roby: What ideas are these?

Dr. Spencer: The first one is that Jesus Christ is the focal point of the entire Bible. The Old Testament looks forward to Jesus Christ and the New Testament tells us about his birth, life, death, resurrection and then also tells us that he will come again to judge the living and the dead as we are told in Acts 10:42, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 2 Timothy 4:1. At that time the world as we know it will be destroyed and God will create a new heavens and a new earth. From that time on everyone will either live eternally in heaven or in hell.

Also, Jesus himself told us that the Old Testament testified about him. After his resurrection, he appeared to his disciples and we are told in Luke 24:44 that “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.’”[1]

Marc Roby: And by listing Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, Jesus was referring to the threefold division of the Hebrew Bible, which is our Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. In other words, he was saying that the entire Old Testament speaks about him. In addition, the New Testament is entirely about Jesus Christ and his church. So, whenever we read the Bible, any part of the Bible, we need to ask ourselves, “What is this saying about Jesus Christ?”

Marc Roby: In other words, there is a Christological focus to the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In their excellent book A Puritan Theology, Doctrine for Life, Joel Beeke and Mark Jones demonstrate that the Puritans considered a Christological focus to be a major principle of biblical interpretation. They quote the famous Puritan John Owen, who wrote that “the revelation and doctrine of the person of Christ and his office, is the foundation whereon all other instructions of the prophets and apostles for the edification of the church are built”.[2] We must keep this Christological focus in mind as we read the Bible or we will not get a complete understanding of what God is teaching us in each section.

Marc Roby: How, in a practical sense, does our being aware of this Christological focus affect our Bible study?

Dr. Spencer: It affects our Bible study very deeply. When we say that the entire Old Testament points forward to Christ what we mean is that God controlled every event of human history during that time to reveal exactly what he wanted people to know. Not only is Jesus Christ the focus of the Bible, he is also the focus of all history. History is linear and God has a purpose in creation. The Bible is telling us real history, but that history is not a sequence of random events controlled by the whims of men. It isn’t that God let things run on their own and then sent a prophet to speak once in a while. No, everything unfolded according to God’s eternal plan, he providentially rules all of history.

Marc Roby: That probably sounds a bit fatalistic to some of our listeners. Do you mean that God determines every detail, or just the general scope or grand plan of history?

Dr. Spencer: I mean that God has sovereign control over every detail. But, if you think about it for a minute, how could he possibly control the grand scheme if he didn’t have control over every detail? Remember the old proverb that for the want of a nail the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; for the want of a horse the battle was lost; and for the loss of the battle the war was lost? The reality is that if God is not able to control every detail, he could never guarantee anything with absolute certainty.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that some of our listeners might be objecting at this point. After all, we live in a world with physical laws and people at least appear to have some kind of free will – an ability to make real decisions. How on earth then can God control everything without doing away with free will and physical laws?

Dr. Spencer: We would be getting too far off topic to discuss that at length right now but let me make two quick comments. First, with regard to the inanimate creation, God does use the fixed laws that he put in place most of the time, but he is free to overrule them at any time. I don’t think he does that very often at all, but he can. He also has the ability to perfectly predict exactly how everything is guided by those laws.

Marc Roby: Alright, you said you wanted to make two comments, what is the other one?

Dr. Spencer: The second one deals with living things, most specifically with human beings. Suffice it to say for now that there is no logical contradiction in saying that I make real decisions for which I can be justly held accountable and that, at the same time, God has foreordained exactly what will happen. God understands me perfectly and knows exactly what I will do in each and every situation, so he doesn’t need to force me to do anything.

Let me use a very unflattering analogy, but one that I think at least illustrates that there is no logical contradiction between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. I used to have a dog that loved to chase a tennis ball. If I grabbed a tennis ball I could lead that dog all over the place without ever having to lay a hand on him. He was doing exactly what he wanted to do at that moment, and yet I was getting him to do exactly what I wanted him to do. There is no contradiction in saying that my dog was doing exactly what he wanted to do and that I was controlling the situation. You don’t want to take this analogy very far at all of course, we are not puppets, and God never leads us into sin, although he does allow us to be tempted, but it at least shows that there is no necessary logical contradiction.

Suffice it to say that God is infinitely more knowledgeable, wise, and capable than we are, and he is able to ordain exactly what will happen without, in general, overriding the free will of any creature, although he has the right and ability to do that when he chooses.

Marc Roby: That example is unflattering – I happen to remember that dog you refer to! But, I think it does give at least a hint of an answer, and I can see that pursuing that subject right now would get us way off track.

Dr. Spencer: It definitely would. But I would like to quote from the Westminster Confession of Faith because it contains a brilliant, yet succinct statement that deals with this topic. In Chapter III, on God’s eternal decree, Paragraph 1 the confession says that “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

Marc Roby: That is a great statement, although it certainly includes some very deep topics for further discussion.

Dr. Spencer: Further discussion at a different time. For now, I want to get back to hermeneutics.

Marc Roby: Very well, you were discussing how our being aware of the Christological focus of the Bible affects our study.

Dr. Spencer: And I made the point that God is completely in control of all history, so the events described in the Old Testament all fit into his eternal plan. He knew that he was going to send Jesus Christ into the world, to be born in the small Jewish town of Bethlehem to a virgin who was pledged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph. He knew everything about the life, death and resurrection of Christ and how he was going to use that to redeem a people for himself.

And in addition to revealing progressively more and more over time about this coming Messiah, he deliberately brought about certain events in the history of his people to serve as illustrations and precursors pointing to these later events.

Marc Roby: And we are told about many of these in the New Testament.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are. For example, we are told in the book of Hebrews that the entire Old Testament sacrificial system was pointing forward to Jesus Christ as the ultimate sacrifice for sins. In Hebrews 10 the writer speaks about the Old Testament ceremonial law and says it was only a shadow of the true sacrifice, which is Christ. He points out that the sacrifices were repeated over and over again precisely because they were not effective; they did not truly cleanse people from their sins. He writes in Verse 4 that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” And then, in Verse 10 he writes that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Marc Roby: The writer of Hebrews also tells us that Jesus is our permanent high priest.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. In the Old Testament times, the high priest was the religious leader of the Jewish people. He was a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses and he would go into the holy of holies once a year, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, to make atonement for the people. In Hebrews 7:23-26 we are told that “there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”

Marc Roby: And, unlike the high priests in the Old Testament, Jesus is also the sacrifice of atonement.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In John 1:29 we are told that “John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” He was referring to the fact that the lamb was the most common sacrificial animal in the Jewish sacrificial system. In particular, it was a lamb that was to be sacrificed the night before God destroyed all the firstborn of Egypt. The blood from this lamb was then to be sprinkled on the door frames of the Jewish homes and God would pass over those homes when he destroyed all of the firstborn in the land. This is the origin of the Jewish Passover celebration.

We are told in a number of places in the New Testament that Jesus is the final sacrifice of atonement. For example, in Romans 3:25 we are told that “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” Then, in Hebrews 10 we this final efficacious sacrifice of Jesus Christ contrasted with the continual sacrifices of the Old Testament. In Verses 11-12, 14 we read, “Day after day every priest [this is talking about the Old Testament priests] stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [which is speaking about Christ] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. … because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

Marc Roby: That is a glorious promise for those who have placed their trust in Christ. And it is very clear how much the Old Testament presents us with a pattern for things that are revealed in the New Testament.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they do. The word we use to describe this typology. The Old Testament events, objects and people who in some way point to New Testament realities are called types, and the realities that they point to are called the antitypes. So, for example, the Old Testament lamb is a type of Christ in his role as our sacrifice, and the Old Testament high priest is a type of Christ in his role as our permanent high priest.

We must be careful here however. Typology must be distinguished from allegorizing.  Allegorizing can be dangerous as we have noted before and can lead people into all sorts of fanciful interpretations.

Marc Roby: What would you say is the key difference?

Dr. Spencer: The key difference is that in typology we are not adding anything to the meaning of the text.[3] Mickelsen, in his book Interpreting the Bible, does a good job of explaining what typology is. He writes that “In typology the interpreter finds a correspondence in one or more respects between a person, event, or thing in the Old Testament and a person, event, or thing closer to or contemporaneous with a New Testament writer. It is this correspondence that determines the meaning in the Old Testament narrative that is stressed by a later speaker or writer. The correspondence is present because God controls history, and this control of God over history is axiomatic with the New Testament writers. It is God who causes earlier individuals, groups, experiences, institutions, etc., to embody characteristics which later he will cause to reappear.”[4]

Mickelsen also goes on to contrast typology with allegorizing. He then quotes K.J. Woolcombe, writing that “Typology as a method of exegesis is ‘the search for linkages between events, persons or things within the historical framework of revelation, whereas allegorism is the search for secondary and hidden meaning underlying the primary and obvious meanings of a narrative.”

Marc Roby: So, the basic difference is between noticing certain similarities that are there as opposed to reading a bunch of hidden meaning into a passage.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And you can’t miss most of the clear typology in the Bible. The Jewish people were in slavery to the Egyptians for example, and were led out of that bondage, through Passover and the Exodus, into the Promised Land.  And Christians are led out of their bondage to sin, through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, into new life in Christ. The Israelites in the Promised Land still had to contend with enemies who were there and had to trust in God’s promises to deliver them. And Christians still have to deal with indwelling sin and enemies in this world, trusting in God’s promises that we will ultimately be victorious. There is much more than we have covered, but I think that gives the basic idea. And this kind of typology is often used in recognizing the many ways in which the Old Testament speaks of Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: But there are also many direct prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.

Dr. Spencer: There certainly are, and we went over a few of them in Session 20 when we were discussing external evidence that corroborates the Bible.

Marc Roby: Have we finished with what you want to say about the Bible’s Christological focus and typology?

Dr. Spencer: We have for now.

Marc Roby: Alright, you mentioned at the beginning that you wanted to look at a few key ideas, so what is the next one?

Dr. Spencer: The next idea is that of covenants. The Bible talks a great deal about covenants and by looking for them and thinking carefully about them we can significantly enhance our understanding of God’s word.

Marc Roby: And a covenant is simply an agreement between two parties.

Dr. Spencer: It is, but it is not necessarily an agreement between equals and it isn’t necessarily voluntary on both sides either. The Bible talks about a number of covenants; for example, God made a covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth by a flood, and the rainbow is the sign God gave us to remind us of that covenant. He also made a covenant with Abraham to make him the father of many nations. And he made a covenant with the people on Mt. Sinai, with Moses as their representative. There are others, but there are two major covenants that I want to discuss, usually called the Covenant of works and the Covenant of grace.

Marc Roby: I think we had better hold off discussing those until next time, because we are out of time for today. I’d like to encourage our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would appreciate hearing from you.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Joel R. Beeke & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 31

[3] A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974, pg. 252

[4] Ibid, pg. 237

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