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Marc Roby: Before we begin today, Dr. Spencer and I want to wish all of our listeners a blessed 2019. It is our prayer that God will draw you to himself and build you up in the most holy faith. We’d love to hear how God is using this podcast in your life and invite you to email your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

And now let’s resume our study of systematic theology by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of holiness. Last time we looked at God’s revelation to the prophet Isaiah. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend some more time on the revelation given to Isaiah, but with a different emphasis. Last time we focused on the impact God’s holiness has on us as sinful creatures.

Marc Roby: Which is that it should drive us to our knees in fear and trembling and cause us to cry out with the Philippian jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” [1] (Acts 16:30)

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the response we should have. But today I want to focus more on what this attribute tells us about the being of God.

Marc Roby: We already know that his holiness means he is separate from his creation, and that he is morally perfect.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, as we discussed in Session 71, God is the ultimate standard for what is morally right, just as he is the ultimate standard for what is true or what is good. There is however, more that we can learn about the being of God from his holiness. But before we get into that, it is important to note that this is the only attribute of God ever repeated three times in the Bible. Remember that in Isaiah 6:3 the seraphs were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty”.

Marc Roby: And that repetition is for emphasis, right?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We do the same thing. For example, someone might describe a certain task as not just being difficult, but being very, very difficult. But here we have the word holy repeated three times, which is why you sometimes hear God referred to as the thrice holy God. It is a little bit like our printing something in bold italics and underlining it. We really want that thing to stand out. And so, God wants his attribute of holiness to stand out. The Bible never once refers to God as “love, love, love” or “wrath, wrath, wrath” or “mercy, mercy, mercy” for example. We need to be careful of course to not think that God’s holiness somehow diminishes the importance of his other attributes, but we clearly need to take it very seriously.

Marc Roby: One indication of the importance of holiness is that in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the apostle Paul describes those to whom he is writing as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy”.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. As we noted last time, Hebrews 12:14 tells us that “without holiness no one will see the Lord”. This is a common emphasis all through the Bible. God is holy and his people must be holy. And God is in the business of making us holy. In Ephesians 5:25-27 the apostle Paul commanded, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Marc Roby: There is a lot packed into those two verses.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. First, we see that Christ “gave himself up” to make the church holy, which speaks about his sacrificial death. Then, secondly, we read that he is cleansing his church “by the washing with water through the word”, which speaks about our being sanctified through reading and obeying the Bible, which is the word of God. And, thirdly, we see that Christ is going to present the church “to himself”. Interestingly, in John 10:29 and again in John 17:24 Christ refers to his people as being given to him by the Father. So both are true; God the Father gives us to the Son and God the Son purifies us to present us to himself. It is hard to grasp, but we are the Father’s gift to the Son.

Marc Roby: It is astounding grace that the Son would want such a gift!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But it is a little easier to understand when you realize that he doesn’t want us just the way we are. He wants us the way we will be when he is done working in us. Jesus Christ will not be our Savior if he is not also our Lord. And as our Lord he is at work transforming us. In Romans 8:29 we read that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” This being conformed to the likeness of Christ is the process of sanctification, which all true believers go through. We will talk about this more in our next session, but for now I want to focus on this idea that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Which is not something many modern churches talk about.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right about that. There is a completely unbiblical idea that is very common in the modern church, which says that I can accept Jesus as my Savior without also having him as my Lord. But there are two fatal problems with that thinking. The first is that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe whether we acknowledge that fact or not.

Marc Roby: And even if we don’t choose to voluntarily acknowledge that fact in this life, we will when it comes time for judgment. Philippians 2:9-11 tell us that “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a scary thought; if you reject Christ now, on the day of judgment you will confess him as Lord and then go to hell. But getting back to our topic, the second fatal problem with the thinking that Jesus can be your Savior without being your Lord is that the Bible makes it absolutely clear he must be your Lord or you do not belong to him and he did not die for you. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus himself told us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” We can call Jesus Lord, we may think he is our Savior, but on the day of judgment only those who have done the will of the Father enter the kingdom of heaven. In other words, only those who have obeyed.

Marc Roby: Jesus also said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the same idea. We could go on, but we made this point before and will get to it again in our next session, so for now let me just say that the biblical case is so strong that if one of our listeners is struggling with the idea that obedience is necessary, my best counsel is to take a week and sit down and read through the New Testament, making note of how may times and in how many ways it says that you must obey if you are God’s children.

We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, our works play no part in earning salvation. But if we are not living a changed life, striving for obedience out of love for God, then we have not been changed. We are not born again, and we will not be in heaven.

Marc Roby: And that fact is intimately linked with the holiness of God since heaven is where God is in the fullest sense.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. James Boice, in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith, points out that the Bible “calls God holy more than anything else. Holy is the epithet most often affixed to his name. Also we read that God alone is holy.”[2] Now, in saying that God alone is holy he is referring to the first meaning we have discussed for the word holy; namely, that of separation from creation. And that is why I wanted to spend some more time on this attribute, I want to emphasize this dominant aspect.

Boice points out that people tend to think of holiness mostly in terms of morality and, therefore, as something that admits to degrees. One person can be a little more or less holy than someone else.

Marc Roby: When we do that, it is our natural, that is to say sinful, tendency to pick particular behaviors to focus on so that we come out on top.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what we tend to do. If someone has no trouble with putting on weight, there is a tendency for that person to be judgmental toward those who are overweight. If we have been blessed with good jobs and financial security, it is easy to look down on someone who has troubles with personal debt. And the list can go on and on. I am not diminishing the fact that gluttony and fiscal irresponsibility are sins, but I think you get my point. Our natural sinful tendency is to minimize our own sins and to be more judgmental toward the sins of others.

Marc Roby: And such thinking leads to thinking less of other people and more of yourself, which is the opposite of true Christian character.

Dr. Spencer: And when people think about holiness only in these terms, they also tend to think of God as just better than they are, but not completely different than they are. But the reality is that he is radically different – it isn’t just a matter of degree. Which is why Isaiah was undone when he saw God as we learned in our last session.

Marc Roby: And while Isaiah’s experience may be the most exalted view of God given to anyone in the Bible, he was not the only person who had the experience of coming face-to-face, so to speak, with the holy God. I am thinking of Job’s confrontation with God, where Job declared, in Job 40:4-5, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another great example. Putting his hand over his mouth was a polite way of saying that he shut up. And in Job 42:5-6 he proclaimed “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

We must come to grips with what is truly meant by the holiness of God, and when we do, we too will be quiet and repent. Boice writes that “in its original and most fundamental sense, holy is not an ethical concept at all. Rather it means that which is of the very nature of God and which therefore distinguishes him from everything else. It is what sets God apart from his creation. It has to do with his transcendence.”[3]

Marc Roby: And to be transcendent means to go beyond normal limits or to be beyond comprehension, or to not be subject to the limitations of our physical universe.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, those ideas can all apply. Boice goes on to say that holiness “is the characteristic of God that sets him apart from his creation. In this, holiness has at least four elements.” And he then goes on to present the four elements, which he says are: first, majesty, second, will, third, wrath and fourth, righteousness. The fourth element, righteousness, refers to the moral aspect of holiness and we don’t need to spend more time on that now.

Marc Roby: And majesty is also fairly clear. It refers to having sovereign power and authority, great dignity or grandeur. But what does Boice mean by saying one element of God’s holiness is will?

Dr. Spencer: I would summarize this point by saying that he is referring to the fact that God has personality. He wants to avoid any cold notion of holiness as an abstract concept. We must remember that God is personal. He has his sovereign will and he acts in accordance with it. For example, as we saw a couple of minutes ago from Philippians 2:9-11, it is God’s will that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Alright. What about wrath? I doubt that many of our listeners would have mentioned that as an aspect of God’s holiness.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that quite a few would have left that off of their list. But many others agree with Boice on this point. Wrath is, as Boice put it, “an essential part of God’s holiness”[4]. He also points out that we must guard against thinking of God’s wrath in human terms. It is not an emotional response to some personal affront. Boice writes that “It is, rather, that necessary and proper stance of the holy God to all that opposes him.”[5] R.C. Sproul wrote that “If there is no wrath in God, then there is no justice in God. If there is no justice in God, then there is no goodness in God. And if there is no goodness in God, then there is no God. A God without wrath is not God.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s a very strong statement. But I see the logic. I think it could be rephrased by saying that in order to be just, God must punish sin, which means he must have wrath in the sense that Boice noted, namely that of being the “necessary and proper stance of the holy God to all that opposes him.”

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a fair restatement. And it agrees with what God tells us in his word. In Romans 3:25-27 we read in part that “God presented him [meaning Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, … so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” In other words, sin, which is opposition to God, must be punished for God to be just. Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitute for his chosen people, which is called substitutionary atonement. He took the punishment that they deserved, which satisfies God’s wrath and allows God to declare those who are united to Christ by faith just, meaning that the penalty due them for their sin has been paid.

Marc Roby: I remember we mentioned these verses in Session 73 as a great example of God’s justice, love and wisdom all working together.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did mention them then. And we could have mentioned God’s wrath as well, because his wrath is not only an aspect of his holiness, but it is also obviously intimately linked with his justice. Sin must be punished by a holy and just God because it is opposition to him and he is the sovereign Lord.

Marc Roby: You mentioned before that Jesus is Lord whether people acknowledge that fact or not.

Dr. Spencer: And the lordship of God is a fundamental aspect of who God is, although that statement doesn’t do his lordship justice, it is far more than just an aspect of who God is. As the Creator and Judge of the universe he has created, he can’t be anything other than the Lord of his creation. The theologian John Frame writes that “God’s lordship is grounded in his eternal nature, and therefore in his attributes.”[7]

Frame has an interesting discussion about God’s attributes in The Doctrine of God. He writes that “We should think about God’s attributes as servants, within the covenant relationship.”[8] I don’t want to go too far off track here, but his point is that as creatures we think about God in language and concepts that we can understand, but at the same time these are based on God’s revelation to us, so they tell us things about God that are true.

Marc Roby: And, to stay on track with our current discussion, God certainly does reveal himself as holy, in fact thrice holy as we have seen in Isaiah 6:3.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And although God’s lordship can be related to a number of God’s essential attributes, I think it is natural for us to talk about it in the context of his holiness because God’s holiness speaks about his being completely set apart from his creation, and by definition lordship also speaks about being completely set apart, to be more specific, to be above, to be in control.

Marc Roby: It sounds as though we are getting ready to switch topics. Talking about God’s holiness in terms of his being separate from his creation has led us to the concept of his lordship.

Dr. Spencer: We are about ready to switch, but we’ll have just a bit more to say about holiness next time first.

Marc Roby: Alright, I look forward to that, but we’re out of time for today.

[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] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 125

[3] Ibid, pg. 126

[4] Ibid, pg. 128

[5] Ibid

[6]R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, P&R Publishing Co., 2006, Vol. 2, pg. 283

[7]John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 388

[8] Ibid, pg. 390

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes. Dr. Spencer, last time we discussed God’s love, which can be viewed as an aspect of his goodness. What are we going to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at God’s holiness.

Marc Roby: And the root meaning of that term has to do with separation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. According to the great Hebrew scholar and Old Testament theologian E.J. Young, the root word “is generally taken in the sense ‘to separate, cut off.’”[1] And God is separate from his creation in two different senses. First and foremost of course is the awesome fact that he is the Creator and everything and everyone else are mere creatures.

Marc Roby: Which is why we have emphasized the Creator/creature distinction a number of times in these podcasts.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And that is the dominant sense in which the word holy is used in the Bible with respect to God. But there is also an ethical sense because God is entirely separate from sin. The prophet Habakkuk exclaimed to God, in Habakkuk 1:13, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” [2]

Marc Roby: That is a big problem for sinful creatures like us.

Dr. Spencer: That is not only a problem, it is the problem of the human race. It is the problem that, in one sense, defines our existence in this life. We live in a world corrupted by sin and inhabited by sinners, the effects are pervasive. In fact, the Bible makes clear that since the fall, the sole purpose of human existence, from our perspective, is to deal with this problem. Coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and thereby taking care of our sin problem, is the one thing needful as Jesus told Mary.

Marc Roby: You’re using the King James wording when you say “the one thing needful”, but you are, of course, referring to the time when Jesus came to the house of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, all of whom Jesus loved.

Martha was preparing a meal for them and was distracted by all of the preparations that needed to be made, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Martha then complained about this and Jesus replied, as we read in Luke 10:41-42, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Dr. Spencer: That is, of course, the situation I am referring to, and I like the King James wording –only one thing is needful.

We must take note that there was nothing wrong with what Martha was doing, in fact, it was a good thing. But even things that are good and necessary in this life are of no importance in comparison with coming to know Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. And this topic is particularly appropriate at this time of year. In our previous session we discussed the love of God, which was an appropriate message for our last podcast before Christmas because God’s sending his own Son to pay for our sins is the greatest possible expression of love. But today’s message is no less fitting for the first podcast after Christmas because when we are confronted with the holiness of God, our own sinfulness and need for a Savior is immediately and obviously apparent.

Marc Roby: You said last time that people must receive the bad news that we are sinners and cannot save ourselves before they can receive the good news of the gospel, that there is Salvation possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we must. And considering the holiness of God brings us face-to-face with the bad news. There is a classic passage I would like to examine today as we begin to look at this extremely important topic.

Marc Roby: What passage is that?

Dr. Spencer: It is Isaiah 6:1-7.

Marc Roby: That is an amazing passage, where the prophet tells us about receiving his call from God.

Dr. Spencer: And in that passage we see the most glorious and awesome vision of God given to anyone in the entire Bible. It begins, in Verse 1, with Isaiah telling us, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.”

Marc Roby: A little history will probably help our listeners. Uzziah, who is also known as Azariah, was the king of the southern kingdom of Judah from about 792 to 740 B.C. He started out as a godly king, and served for a very long time – 52 years. But late in life he became proud and God punished him with leprosy. His reign however was a time of great prosperity for the nation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, much like the times we are living in now, which should serve as a warning to us. In any event, P.G. Mathew notes the importance of this history in his commentary on Isaiah. He wrote that “Despite Uzziah’s unfaithfulness late in life, he had been an able administrator and military leader, and the people had looked to him for protection. Now his very long reign had ended and the people did not know what to do. It was in this context that God was saying, ‘Don’t worry, Isaiah, the King is not dead.’ So Isaiah says, ‘I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted’.”[3]

Marc Roby: It is always the greatest possible source of comfort for Christians in troubling times to know that God is seated on his throne and is absolutely sovereign over everything and everyone in the universe.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, that is our greatest comfort. But Isaiah was given this comfort to an extreme degree by being given this vision of the heavenly throne room. Now in 1 Timothy 6:15-16 God is described as, “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” Therefore, E.J. Young points out that “It is not the essence of God which Isaiah sees, for, inasmuch as God is spiritual and invisible, that essence cannot be seen by the physical eye of the creature. At the same time it was a true seeing; a manifestation of the glory of God in human form, adapted to the capabilities of the finite creature, which the prophet beheld!”[4] And Young goes on to note that “He sees God as sovereign in human form, and this appearance we learn from John was an appearance of Christ.”[5]

Marc Roby: Of course, he is referring to John 12:41, which we read just a little while ago in our daily readings[6], where John gives a quote from Isaiah Chapter 6 and then says, “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the verse he was referring to. Isaiah saw a pre-incarnate vision of Christ. But let’s read a little more of the revelation given to Isaiah. Let me read Verses 1-4. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”

Marc Roby: Just the thought of being given a vision like that gives you the chills. The word awesome is overused in this day and age, but it is completely appropriate here. I can’t think of anything that would inspire more awe than this.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. Awe means a strong feeling of fear, respect and wonder, and this vision would certainly inspire all of those things to the highest degree possible.

Marc Roby: And the prophet had exactly that reaction. In Verse 5 we read about Isaiah’s reaction. He cried out “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Dr. Spencer: I again like the King James wording better here, it translates the first part of Isaiah’s response as “Woe is me! for I am undone”. Somehow the word “undone” is more powerful.

Marc Roby: That is a powerful word. Being undone does not sound like a pleasant experience.

Dr. Spencer: It isn’t a pleasant experience at all. But we must ask, “Why did Isaiah say he was undone?” R.C. Sproul, in his book The Holiness of God provides an interesting perspective on this passage.[7] He points out that to be undone is a very descriptive term; it means to come apart at the seams, to disintegrate. It is the very opposite of being integrated, or coming together. Now we don’t say that an individual is integrated; we say that he has integrity, but it is the same root. It means to be together; or, in casual speech, to have it all together. So to be undone is to realize that you do not have integrity, you do not have it all together. And who could say anything else in the presence of a holy God? When we compare ourselves with each other we may be able to say that someone is a person of integrity, or that he or she has their act together. But when we compare any of us to God, that illusion disappears.

Marc Roby: It certainly does. God is perfect in every conceivable way and, more to the point, he is, as we have emphasized, our Creator.

Dr. Spencer: And not only is he the Creator of all, but he is also the Judge of all. And this judge does not need a prosecuting attorney, or any witnesses to be called, or any evidence to be presented because he knows everything perfectly. And no defense is possible. Whatever charges he brings against us are guaranteed to be absolutely true. That should be terrifying. Think about a courtroom here on earth. Even that can be an intimidating place.

Marc Roby: Yes, I’m sure it can be. I’ve never been a defendant in a case, but even serving on a jury gives you an idea. The judge is separated from the attorneys, jury, lawyers and audience. He sits up higher, he wears a robe, you all rise when he enters the court, and so on. There is serious decorum demanded.

Dr. Spencer: And not only demanded, but enforced by officers with guns and a judge with authority to throw you into jail for contempt of court. That is scary, and it is meant to be because they are dealing with very serious issues. But the throne room of God is infinitely more important and impressive and the issues dealt with are infinitely more important because they deal with the eternal destinies of people.

Marc Roby: Which, quite literally, does make it infinitely more important.

Dr. Spencer: And we must also think about the standard being used by this perfect judge. We are told in Hebrews 12:14 that we are to, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” In this verse holiness is obviously being used in the moral sense. We cannot become God. We will always be creatures and so cannot be separate in that sense. But God does demand that we be holy in the moral sense. As we saw earlier, the prophet Habakkuk properly said to God, in Habakkuk 1:13, that “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”  Because God is holy, we must also be holy or we will not see him, which means we will not go to heaven when we die.

Marc Roby: And the only alternative is hell.

Dr. Spencer: That is the only alternative. And every single human being alive will face judgment. We are told in Hebrews 9:27 that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Marc Roby: God’s holiness, combined with his power and perfect knowledge, are extremely bad news for anyone who faces him standing on their own.

Dr. Spencer: They are the worst possible news. Anyone who stands before God on his or her own will be sent to eternal hell. But, praise God, there is a way of escape. Going back to the revelation God gave to Isaiah, we read in the next two verses, Isaiah 6:6-7, that “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”

Marc Roby: Having a hot coal touched to your lips would be extremely painful, but nonetheless, it is wonderful news. Our sins can be atoned for.

Dr. Spencer: They can, but not by our effort. Only God is able to do that. And he has done it through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We just celebrated his birth last week, which is the pivotal point in human history, and in a few months we will celebrate Good Friday and Easter, which speak about the culmination of his work of redemption.

Marc Roby: And just in case some of our listeners do not know about Good Friday and Easter, we should point out that Good Friday is the day we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate his resurrection from the dead.

Dr. Spencer: And praise God for Christ and his atoning sacrifice. I quoted from Hebrews 9:27 a minute ago, but let me read all of that verse this time, along with the next. Hebrews 9:27-28 tell us that “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Marc Roby: And that is the glorious hope of all Christians.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is. And we should be extremely thankful that God’s attribute of holiness is communicable, because we are not holy, and yet as we read a couple of minutes ago, Hebrews 12:14 tells us that “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Therefore, the Christian’s ultimate hope is that God will perfect us in Christ and we will, ultimately, be perfectly holy in his presence.

Marc Roby: And, of course, our holiness is not the basis of our salvation – that is the perfect righteousness of Christ alone. We don’t become holy in this life and then earn heaven by our holiness. Rather, having already been justified by faith, we are made holy by God through a process which begins when we are born again and acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and it isn’t completed until after we die.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We will talk about that process in some detail in a later podcast, but for now let me just summarize it. All people are sinners in need of a Savior. But, praise God, he has chosen to save certain people. And those whom he has chosen to save he effectually calls, which means that he causes them to be born again, and they then respond in repentance and faith. And God then works in them to change them throughout this life. When we die, our souls are perfected and brought into the presence of God as we read in Hebrews 12:23. Then, when Christ returns, we receive our perfected resurrection bodies as we read in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, and we then begin our eternal state perfected and living in God’s presence forever.

During this life, however, this process of sanctification involves suffering, which none of us like, but it is for a good purpose. In Hebrews 12:10 we are told that “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

Marc Roby: Now that is a glorious thought, to share in God’s holiness. Which then makes us fit to be in heaven with him.

Dr. Spencer: That is God’s glorious plan of salvation. The whole purpose of creation and human history is for God to redeem a people for himself. When that has been accomplished, this universe will end and God will create a new heaven and a new earth.

Marc Roby: We read about that in 2 Peter Chapter 3, which tells us, in Verse 13, that “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”

Dr. Spencer: And because it is the home of righteousness, or we could say holiness, it is only those who share in God’s attribute of holiness who will be there. And the only way, as sinful human beings we can do that, is to be united to Jesus Christ by faith.

Marc Roby: I assume we have more to say about the holiness of God, but this looks like a good place to end for today. I want to remind our listeners that they can email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to respond.

 

[1] E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., Vol. 3, 1972, pg. 242 (fn 19)

[2] 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.™.

[3] P.G. Mathew, Isaiah: God Comforts His People, Grace and Glory Ministries, 2018, pp 49-50

[4] Young, op. cit., pg. 235

[5] Ibid, pg. 237

[6] Our church’s daily reading schedule is available from the home page of our website: https://gracevalley.org/

[7] R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Living Books, 1985, pp 42-44

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the doctrine of the Trinity. We ended last time citing a number of scriptural passages to show that God had provided evidence of his triune nature even in the Old Testament. How do you want to proceed today Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend a little more time in the Old Testament, specifically, I want to look at Isaiah 48. In Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology he notes that Verse 16 of that chapter provides evidence for the Trinity, and he is in agreement on this point with the great Old Testament scholar E.J. Young.

Marc Roby: Some background to Isaiah 48 will probably help many of our listeners. Isaiah prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah beginning slightly before the time that the northern kingdom of Israel was carried into captivity by the Assyrians in 721 BC and continuing on into the early 7th century BC. Even though this was about 100 years before the southern kingdom was carried into captivity by the Babylonians, Isaiah spoke of their captivity as God’s punishment for their apostasy and, most amazingly, he prophesied, by name, that Cyrus would deliver them from that captivity.

Dr. Spencer: That is one of the most amazing and specific of all biblical prophecies. We spoke about it in Session 20. In Isaiah 44:28, God says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’” [1] And Cyrus the 2nd, the king of Persia, conquered Babylon in 539 BC and let the exiles return to rebuild Jerusalem in 537 BC just as Isaiah had predicted about 150 years before.

Marc Roby: That is irrefutable evidence that the God of the Bible is the Lord of history. And after talking about Cyrus in Chapters 44 and 45, Isaiah goes on to describe the fall of Babylon and to assert the Lord’s superiority over the so-called gods of the Babylonians, whom he mocks. He points out that the Lord alone is the creator of all things, that he alone predicts the future, and that he alone will redeem his people.

Dr. Spencer: And, in Chapter 48, God addresses himself to his people and chastises them for their false religion. He tells them that his “chosen ally” – referring to Cyrus – will defeat Babylon. And then we get to the verse we want to look at. At the end of Verse 16 we read, “And now the Sovereign LORD has sent me, with his Spirit.” And we must ask, “Who is speaking in this verse?” Both Wayne Grudem[2] and E.J. Young[3] say that the speaker is the Servant of the Lord, to whom we are first introduced in Isaiah 42:1, which says, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” In other words, it is the Lord Jesus Christ. And look at what he says. He says that the “Sovereign LORD” has sent him, along with his Spirit. In other words, looking back at this passage with the knowledge added by the New Testament, we can clearly see all three persons of the Trinity. It is not explicit in the passage itself, but it is there. We aren’t adding something foreign to the passage, we are just making explicit what is already there. As John Murray said, “because of the unity of revelation and the unity of what we call both Testaments, what is patent in the New is latent in the Old.”[4]

Marc Roby: And I think you have demonstrated that the Trinity is certainly latent in this verse in Isaiah. Is there more to say about the Trinity in the Old Testament?

Dr. Spencer: There certainly is. In the chapters we have mentioned in Isaiah for example, we see that God – meaning Jehovah – is the Savior. We read in Isaiah 45:21, for example, that God says, “there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.” We also see that God calls himself the Redeemer. In Isaiah 44:24 we read, “This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb”, which equates Jehovah the Creator with our Redeemer. And yet, based on the New Testament, who is our Savior and Redeemer?

Marc Roby: The Lord Jesus Christ. His name is Jesus because he will save his people from their sins we are told in Matthew 1:21.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And there are many other places in Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament were God tells us that he alone is our Savior and will redeem his people. So, if you believe the New Testament at all, you must conclude that Jesus Christ is God. And even if you don’t believe the New Testament, you must conclude that the Old Testament speaks about one God who is, nonetheless, plural in some sense.

Marc Roby: To modify Murray’s line we could say that the Trinity, which is explicit in the New Testament, is latent in the Old.

Dr. Spencer: We definitely could say that. And now I would like to turn to the New Testament.

Marc Roby: Alright, where do you want us to look in the New Testament.

Dr. Spencer: I want to start with Hebrews Chapter 1. We read, in Verses 1-3, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Marc Roby: I love that passage. And for those of our listeners who may not be familiar with it, if they go on and look at Hebrews 2:9 they will see that this passage is clearly speaking about Jesus Christ, even though he is not explicitly named in these verses.

Dr. Spencer: I love this passage too. And it is a very important passage because it tells us a several things we need to know about Christ. We learn that Jesus “provided purification for sins”, which speaks of his being our Redeemer. But we saw in Isaiah that our Redeemer is Jehovah. The passage also tells us that Jesus is the heir of all things and that God created the universe through him, which is a point we will come back to, but clearly points to his deity, he is the Creator. We are also told that Jesus Christ “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word”. That is an amazing statement and we should take a minute to look at it.

First of all, Jesus sustains all things by his powerful word. That is clearly something that only God can do. Secondly, we are told that he “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”.

Marc Roby: That is a difficult phrase to understand.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Let me use an analogy to help. If you see a great painting of someone, you might say something like “that is a perfect representation of him”. What you mean is that given the medium of paint on a canvas, the artist has done the best possible job of representing the person.

In the same way, given the medium of a human being, Jesus Christ is the exact representation of God. Now if you go back and look in Genesis, you see that man was originally created in God’s image. Unfortunately, that image was radically defaced by the fall. So, in the New Testament, we are told, in Romans 8:29, that we are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of” Jesus Christ. In other words, the radical defacing of the image of God brought about by sin is being repaired, so that when we finally receive our glorified bodies in heaven we will perfectly represent God in human form, just as Jesus Christ, in his humanity, perfectly represented God in human form.

Marc Roby: But, of course, Jesus Christ was more than just a perfect man; he was also fully God.

Dr. Spencer: And we will never be gods, contrary to what Mormons and the Word of Life preachers say. But, our point here is just that Jesus Christ is perfect man and, as we read, he is also God because all things were created through him and he upholds all things. If you go on in that passage of Hebrews you will see that the author applies several Old Testament passages to Jesus Christ in a way that makes his deity clear. But I want to jump to another passage.

Marc Roby: Which passage is that?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at Titus 2:13, where Paul writes about the grace of God teaching us to say “no” to ungodliness, “while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ”.

Marc Roby: I know that the Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible says that we wait for the “hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of our Savior, Jesus Christ”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I know they parse it that way, which requires inserting a comma in the Greek to separate God from Savior. But that cannot be justified because even in the Jehovah’s Witness’ own Bible it says a few lines later, in Titus 3:4, that God is our Savior. It also says that in Titus 1:3. So in the local context of this letter, it is clear that our God and our Savior are one and the same, Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: We have also looked at Colossians 1:16 before, in Session 43, and in that verse, Paul is speaking about Christ and says that “by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another very good verse. Everything was created by Jesus Christ, whether in heaven or on earth, whether visible or invisible, everything was created by him. There is no escaping the fact that he must be God for that to be true. He is not a created being, he is the Creator.

Marc Roby: And he himself clearly claimed to be God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes he did. Probably the most famous statement to that effect was made when he was disputing with some of the Jewish teachers of the law and he said, in John 8:56, that “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” To which they responded incredulously, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham!” And, in response to this, Jesus said “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” And that statement in the English does not properly give the force of the Greek.

We must remember that Jesus was speaking Aramaic, so we are reading a translation. But the way in which Jesus is reported as saying “I am” was not the normal, straightforward way of saying it. Instead, the Greek construction ἐγὼ εἰμί, is the way the Jews rendered the Hebrew tetragrammaton, Jehovah, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament[5]. And it is in the present tense, even though he is speaking about the past. The idea is clearly that he himself had no beginning, but existed always, certainly before Abraham. It is certainly reasonable to conclude that in writing his gospel, John chose this Greek construction deliberately to give the full force of Jesus’ assertion.

Marc Roby: And the people who heard him say this certainly understood his statement to be a claim to deity since we read in the next verse that “they picked up stones to stone him”.

Dr. Spencer: That is an extremely important point. Whatever Jesus’ actual words in Aramaic were, they were clearly understood as being an assertion of his deity. And, I’m sure many of our listeners are aware that Jesus didn’t just say this one time. There are seven famous “I am” statements in John. In John 6:35 Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” In both John 8:12 and 9:5 he said, “I am the light of the world.” In John 10:7 he said, “I am the gate for the sheep” and then he repeated “I am the gate” in John 10:9. In John 10:11 and 14 he said, “I am the good shepherd.” And in John 11:25 he said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” In John 14:6 he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” And, finally, in John 15:1 he said, “I am the true vine” and then nearly repeated that in Verse 5, saying, “I am the vine”.

Marc Roby: Those are all amazing claims to deity. And he repeated that claim again when he was being arrested on the Mount of Olives. In John 18 we see in three places, in Verses 5, 6 and 8, that he again said, “I am”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, and we’re told that the people fell down when he said it. There really is no doubt that he claimed to be God. Let me quote from C.S. Lewis because I think he summed up this point very well. He wrote that we should never say we will accept Jesus as a good moral teacher, but not accept his claim to be God incarnate. And he wrote, “That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any partronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”[6]

Marc Roby: Lewis had a way with words; that is a great statement.

Dr. Spencer: It is a wonderful statement. And because the doctrine of the Trinity is so important, I want to take some more time to lay out a careful biblical case for it. In doing so, I’m going to follow the outline given in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology,[7] which is very similar to what is used by Boice in his Foundations of the Christian Faith.[8]

Marc Roby: What is that outline?

Dr. Spencer: To firmly establish the doctrine of the Trinity, we must establish three things: First, that God exists in three persons; second, that each person is fully God; and third, that there is one God.

Marc Roby: Very well. I assume you are going to start by showing that the Bible teaches that God exists in three persons. What verses do you want to cite?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin with the famous beginning of the gospel of John. In John 1:1-2 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”

Marc Roby: When John wrote “In the beginning was the Word”, I’m sure he had Genesis 1:1 in mind, where it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure he did have that verse in mind, and he wanted his readers to recall it as well. The point there is that the Word existed eternally, prior to the creation, just as Genesis 1:1 tells us that God was pre-existent. But, for our present purposes the only thing I want us to see from this verse is that this it shows there are at least two different persons referred to as God. We see that “the Word was with God” and that “He was with God in the beginning”, which clearly speaks of two different persons, and yet we are also told the “the Word was God.” Later in the passage, in verses 14-17, it becomes clear that the Word is Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I’m sure many of our listeners are aware that the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim this should be translated to say that “the Word was a god”, which a little ‘g’ since the Greek does not have the definite article.

Dr. Spencer: As you well know, this verse by itself is not definitive on this point. We will make the case for the deity of Christ later, but this verse clearly is consistent with that view and shows that the Word, Jesus Christ, is distinct from the Father, who is just called God in this verse, which is the main point I want to make for now.

But, let me say just a bit more about this verse at this time. The definite article in the Greek tells us which word is the subject in this statement; so the subject is ὁ Λόγος, the Word. The word order, however, emphasizes Θεὸς, the Greek word for God. The context of the passage makes it clear that the Word refers to Jesus Christ and that when the Word is distinguished from God, God refers to God the Father. The lack of an article on Θεὸς simply tells us that the Word, Jesus Christ, and God the Father are not exactly the same person. William Mounce[9] relates what Martin Luther said about this verse, that “the lack of an article is against Sabellianism”. Sabellianism is the view also called modalism; namely that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three different modes of one God, sort of like my being a father, a son and a brother. If that view were correct, then there would be a definite article in front of Θεὸς. Luther also said that “the word order is against Arianism”. Arianism is the view that Jesus Christ is not God. Jehovah’s Witnesses agree with Arianism on this point, so the word order argues against their translation. And, as we will see in a later session, there is a great deal of other evidence to show conclusively that their view is unbiblical, Jesus Christ is God.

Marc Roby: I’m glad you said “in a later session,” because we are out of time for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can send their comments and questions to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would truly love to hear 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] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 228

[3] E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1972, Vol 3, pg. 259

[4] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pp 172-173

[5] I was not clear in this statement; ἐγὼ εἰμί is used for the tetragrammaton in Exodus 3:14, which is where God reveals his name to Moses as was discussed in Session 49. Elsewhere in the Septuagint the tetragrammaton was rendered by the Κύριος, the Greek word for Lord.

[6] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillan Pub. Co., 1952, pg. 56

[7] Grudem, Op. cit.

[8] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986

[9] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, 3rd Ed., Zondervan, 2009, pg. 27

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine extra-biblical evidence that corroborates the Bible. We left off last time during the period of the divided kingdom in the early first millennium BC. What do you have for us today Dr. Spencer?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we ended last time talking about the Moabite stone, which clearly mentions “Omri king of Israel”, so let’s start with a second reference to this king of the northern kingdom of Israel. In 1846 a 6½-foot-tall black stone monument, called the Black Obelisk, was found in what is now northern Iraq. It dates from about 825 BC and commemorates the military campaigns of the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III. It contains a carved picture of a king bowing and paying tribute to Shalmaneser and the inscription says that the king is Jehu, son of Omri.[1] It is in the British museum and I strongly recommend going to see it if you have a chance, it is amazing thing to see.

Marc Roby: I’ve seen that stone too and it is amazing to see something from that long ago and to see it clearly corroborate the Bible. What else do you want to mention?

Dr. Spencer: We noted last time that Samaria, the capital city of the norther kingdom, fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, but that wasn’t the end of the Assyrian’s aggression against the Jews. They came again against the southern kingdom in 701 BC and captured all of the fortified cities except for Jerusalem. The Assyrians were known for their brutality and we are told in 2 Chronicles 32:9 that the Assyrian king Sennacherib laid siege to the Jewish town of Lachish during this campaign. There is a famous 90-foot long carved mural that depicts this siege in gruesome detail. It was found in Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh, which was then the capital city of the Assyrian empire. Nineveh was on the eastern bank of the Tigris River and is now part the city of Mosul, in northern Iraq. This mural is also in the British museum and I again recommend going to see it if you get a chance.

Marc Roby: I concur that it is well worth going to see. And, of course, the Bible tells us that Sennacherib’s troops came to Jerusalem to lay siege to it after finishing with Lachish.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. And that is the next, and in many ways most amazing, evidence I want to cite. There is a lengthy description of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem in 2 Kings 18 & 19, 2 Chronicles 32 and also Isaiah 36 & 37. And we also, amazingly, have multiple copies of the Annals of Sennacherib, which describe the same events. One of these, the Taylor prism, is a 15-inch tall hexagonal clay piece with Akkadian cuneiform writing on all six sides. It was found in 1830 in Nineveh by a British Colonel named Robert Taylor and is again in the British Museum.[2]

Marc Roby: And do Sennacherib’s Annals agree with the biblical account?

Dr. Spencer: The Assyrian account agrees in many details with the biblical account and there is one particularly interesting and important correspondence. The biblical account tells us that Hezekiah, the king of Judah, prayed for deliverance and we read in 2 Kings 19:33-36 that God told him through the prophet Isaiah, “‘By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the LORD. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.’ That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. … So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.” [3]

Now, we would not expect Sennacherib’s account to mention this miracle, but it is interesting that his account is clear that he did not enter Jerusalem, but instead he returned to Nineveh, so it’s obvious that something prevented him from destroying the city.[4] After boasting about capturing 46 fortified cities, all he says about Hezekiah is, “I shut him up like a caged bird in his royal city of Jerusalem”[5]. There is no reasonable natural way to explain why the most powerful empire of the time was unable to capture Jerusalem after already capturing so many other fortified cities in Judah. The Bible’s explanation, while obviously supernatural and therefore offensive to unbelievers, makes good sense and is consistent with all that we know about the events.

Marc Roby: Sennacherib’s silence does speak volumes in this case. What other evidence would you like to present?

Dr. Spencer: The Bible also tells us that after Sennacherib returned to Nineveh, he was assassinated by one of his sons, and this fact is corroborated by extra-biblical sources.[6] In addition, several bullae, which are clay seals used to seal documents, have been found with King Hezekiah’s seal, the most recent was found just a couple of years ago in Jerusalem.[7] There is more that we could say, for example about Hezekiah’s tunnel and his wall, but as I’ve noted, the historical accuracy of the biblical account for this period is not controversial, so I’ll let people who are interested in more detail watch Dr. Meyer’s video[8] or read other sources.[9] The detailed references are in the transcript online as always.

Marc Roby: Alright. If we move on about a hundred years in biblical history, we come to the next major event, the fall of Jerusalem. Is that what we want to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. The Babylonian chronicles[10] provide extra-biblical evidence of that important event. In fact, they agree with many details of the biblical narrative. Going back a few years before the fall of Jerusalem, Jehoiakim became king of Judah in 609 BC right after his godly father, King Josiah, was killed in battle against Pharaoh Neco. The Bible tells us about this in 2 Kings 23. Josiah was, at that time, allied with Babylon and he was trying to stop Neco from getting up to Carchemish to help the Assyrians fight against Babylon. After Josiah was killed, his son Jehoahaz was named king. But after only three months, Neco took Jehoahaz captive to Egypt, and placed his brother, Eliakim on the throne in his place, renaming him Jehoiakim and making him pay tribute to the Egyptians.

Neco then went on up to Carchemish to join his Assyrian allies. The Babylonians defeated the Assyrians and Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC[11] and Judah then became a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as we are told in 2 Kings 24:1. The Babylonians did not invade Egypt though, because Neco was able to successfully defend his country in 601 BC.[12] Nevertheless, perhaps because he was emboldened by Egypt’s victory at home, we are told in 2 Kings 24:1 that Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who then came against Jerusalem. Jehoiakim died during the siege and his son Jehoiachin became king, but only for three months before surrendering to the Babylonians in 597 BC. He was then taken captive to Babylon, along with about 10,000 other people. His uncle, Mattaniah, was then installed as king by Nebuchadnezzar, who also changed his name to Zedekiah. We are told about all of this in 2 Kings 24 and with other details in Jeremiah, who was the main prophet in Jerusalem at the time. And the Babylonian records agree with many of the details.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Zedekiah didn’t remain king for all that long either. He again rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, leading to the final destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And many of the details provided in the Bible about the power struggles between Assyria, Egypt and Babylon in the late 7th and early 6th century BC are in agreement with the extra-biblical accounts, while none of the Bible’s details are contradicted.

Marc Roby: All of this goes a long way in confirming what you said before; the Bible is our greatest archaeological treasure.

Dr. Spencer: It most definitely is. I want to give just one more amazing example of the evidence we have. Remember we talked earlier about clay seals called bullae? Well, they have found bullae of two of Jeremiah’s opponents, mentioned together in Jeremiah 38:1, Shephatiah son of Mattan and Gedaliah son of Pashhur. We don’t know anything more about these men, but the bullae were found in 2005 and 2008 only a few yards apart in excavations in the old City of David in modern Jerusalem.[13] Even though these are relatively common names from the time, the fact that they are mentioned together in that verse as having heard Jeremiah’s prophecy, which led to some unspecified officials telling the king that Jeremiah was worthy of death, would seem to imply that they were either officials themselves, or were at least called as official witnesses. When you combine this with the fact that both names also having the correct names for their fathers and the bullae being found in the same place, it all seems to add up to these being the very men mentioned by Jeremiah.

Marc Roby: That is truly incredible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. But as I said earlier, even secular archaeologists do not seriously challenge the accuracy of the Bible’s narrative for this part of history, so I don’t want to spend much more time on it. What I want to do instead, is to finish looking at the Old Testament history and to simultaneously begin examining some of the prophecies made in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: Alright. How do you plan to do those two things together?

Dr. Spencer: I want to briefly examine Isaiah’s prophecy about Cyrus. This prophecy deals with the last historical period of the Old Testament, the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem in 537 BC.

Marc Roby: And this Cyrus is, of course, Cyrus the 2nd, king of Persia, who conquered Babylon in 539 BC.

Dr. Spencer: Right. He is also known as Cyrus the Great and he is an important figure in biblical history. In fact, one interesting little fact about him is that he is the only non-Jew ever said to be called “Yahweh’s anointed” in the Bible.[14] Remember that people could be anointed for various tasks, like being a king or a priest, but in this case a foreigner is given this honor. He was, we are told in Isaiah 45:1, anointed “to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor”. And in Isaiah 44:28, God says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’” And this is true prophecy because Isaiah wrote this no later than the early 7th century BC, roughly 150 years before Cyrus fulfilled the prophecy by allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

We know a great deal about Cyrus from extra-biblical historical references, like the Histories by Herodotus[15] – also known as the Persian Wars, the Nabonidus Chronicle[16] and the Cyrus Cylinder[17]. And these extra-biblical references corroborate the biblical narrative of the fall of Babylon and Cyrus’ decree to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. In fact, there is a very interesting story told by the 1st-century Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus. He said that Cyrus’ decree to release the Jews was prompted by his being shown Isaiah’s prophecy. It is entirely possible that the biblical Daniel, who was a high official in Babylon when Cyrus conquered it, showed Isaiah’s prophecy to him, so the story may very well be true.

Marc Roby: That is amazing. But I know that modern scholars typically divide the book of Isaiah up into different pieces and claim that the prophecy about Cyrus was written after the events it describes. How would you respond to that?

Dr. Spencer: I would first note that Bible believing scholars defend the unity of the book, and the main reason these unbelieving scholars have for dividing the book is precisely their presupposition that true predictive prophecy is impossible. But, secondly, I would say that such a view strikes me as incredibly hard to swallow. The oldest extant copy of the book of Isaiah, which is substantially the same as our current copies, was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and dates from no later than the 2nd century before Christ. It is impossible to believe that it was the only copy of Isaiah around at the time. In fact, given the importance of the book and the geographical dispersion of the Israelites, I would say there must have been a number of copies available in antiquity in a number of different places. So, to believe that someone modified or added to the book in order to make it look like prophecy, and to believe that we have absolutely no indication that anyone pointed this out until the last 200 years is ridiculous.

In addition, the purpose of this prophecy, and the one by Jeremiah that the captivity of the Israelites would last for 70 years[18], was to encourage the Israelites in this desperate time that their God was fully in control of history. If this had not really been prophecy, people would have known that and there would be some indication in our written histories that this was severely contested. Randall Price does a good job of discussing this in his book The Stones Cry Out.[19]

Marc Roby: You make a good case. I think it is very hard to believe that such wholesale changes could be made and we would have no historical record mentioning that. But, it is easy to see how those who think prophecy is simply impossible would arrive at such a conclusion.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, it’s very easy to see how they arrive at such a conclusion. But, simply assuming that prophecy is impossible does not in any way make you right. And there are other prophecies in Isaiah that it is much harder to dismiss since we have a copy from over 100 years before Christ, and some of Isaiah’s prophecies were fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Marc Roby: Well, it sounds like we are ready to move on the next phase of biblical history. So, which of these prophecies would you like to highlight?

Dr. Spencer: With the time we have left today I’d like to stick with ones that are in Isaiah, or some other passage that is attested in the Dead Sea Scrolls, so there can be no question at all that they were written prior to the time of Christ, and also to stick with prophecies that were recognized as having to do with the Messiah by Jewish scholars at the time of Christ so that we can’t be accused of searching the Old Testament and looking for things that could possibly be taken as prophecies about Christ.

Marc Roby: That sounds like a reasonable approach. I assume that means that we want to look at Chapter 53 of Isaiah?

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly one of the passages, yes. There are also two other verses we will get to in a moment, but, let’s begin with Isaiah 53. It was recognized by the Jews at the time as being Messianic, simply meaning, as I said, that it was speaking about the promised Messiah. In Verses 3 through 5 it says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Marc Roby: That passage is always amazing to read, it so clearly fits Jesus Christ and his redeeming work on the cross.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, and it so clearly speaks of God’s amazing love for sinners too. We are not able to save ourselves, but “he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” and “he was pierced for our transgressions”. It always reminds me of 2 Corinthians 5:21 where we are told that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” It is also clear that this coming Messiah was not going to be an earthly king since it says “He was despised and rejected by men” and “we esteemed him not”. We are also told in Verse 9 that he was assigned a grave with the rich, and we know from Matthew 27:57-60 that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man. Then, in Verse 10 Isaiah tells us that “the LORD makes his life a guilt offering”, which agrees perfectly with what we are told in Ephesians 5:1-2, where we read “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” There is much more that could be said, but I think that is enough for now.

Marc Roby: That is a lot. But you mentioned two other verses you wanted to mention?

Dr. Spencer: Yes I did. And both of these verses were also recognized as Messianic by the Jews at the time of Christ[20], and both of them are attested to in the Dead Sea Scrolls[21], so there can be no doubt about them pre-dating Christ. One is Psalm 22 Verse 16, which says “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.” This verse is clearly speaking about the crucifixion of Christ. And this is an interesting verse because it has long been a subject of dispute between Jews and Christians. The Jews claim that it should read something like “For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me, like a lion, my hands and feet.”[22] It turns out that the difference between the two translations depends on just one letter in the Hebrew. But, there are two major problems with this alternate view. First, the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, finished long before the time of Christ, agrees with our version about Christ’s hands and feet being pierced, so the Jews have to claim that Christians changed the Septuagint – an unlikely proposal to say the least in my mind. Secondly, since the verse has now been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, they have to claim that the letter is being misread and or the word mistranslated. I think that given the preponderance of evidence, including the next verse I want to mention, our translations stand.

The other verse is Zechariah 12 Verse 10, which says in part, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced”. This again is in a passage known at the time of Christ to be Messianic, and it has also been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Marc Roby: That is absolutely amazing. In fact, it appears to be clear evidence that God has deliberately given us more revelation to bolster our faith. But, we are out of time for today.

 

[1] Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out, Harvest House Pub., 1997, pg. 77, see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Obelisk_of_Shalmaneser_III

[2] Price, op. cit., pg. 272, also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sennacherib%27s_Annals

[3] 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.™.

[4] Price, op. cit., pp 272-274

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sennacherib%27s_Annals

[6] Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, pg. 42 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sennacherib#Death

[7] https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/king-hezekiah-in-the-bible-royal-seal-of-hezekiah-comes-to-light/

[8] Is the Bible Reliable? Building the historical case, Dr. Stephen Meyer, The Truth Project, Focus on the Family

[9] E.g., Kitchen op. cit., Price op. cit.

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_Chronicles

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Carchemish

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necho_II

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gedaliah_son_of_Pashhur

[14] Lisbeth S. Fried, Cyrus the Messiah, Bible Review 19:5, October 2003

[15] Price, op. cit., pg. 248, also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histories_(Herodotus)

[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabonidus_Chronicle

[17] Price, pp. 251-252

[18] See Jer 25:11-12, 29:10 and Dan 9:2

[19] Price, op. cit., pp 246-252

[20] Robert C. Newman, The Evidence of Prophecy, Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1988, pg. 104

[21] For Psalm 22:16 see, for example, Shon Hopkin, The Psalm 22:16 Controversy: New Evidence from

the Dead Sea Scrolls, BYU Studies Quarterly, Vol. 44, Issue 3, available at http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3716&context=byusq
For Zech 12:10 see, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zechariah_12 or http://dssenglishbible.com/zechariah%2012.htm

[22] https://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/64954/location-of-dead-sea-scroll-with-psalm-22-verse-17-they-pierced-my-hands-and-m/64962

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