A 200-Year Prophecy

Atheist Carl Sagan posed the question:

“…has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science?” [1]

Gates of All Nations in PersepolisYesterday, I introduced two of my favorite Bible prophecies. Today, I share a third concerning Cyrus the Great, King of Persia.

Cyrus Called by Name

The prophet Isaiah records this startling prophecy:

24       Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
“I am the LORD, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,
25       who frustrates the signs of liars
and makes fools of diviners,
who turns wise men back
and makes their knowledge foolish,
26       who confirms the word of his servant
and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
and I will raise up their ruins’;
27       who says to the deep, ‘Be dry;
I will dry up your rivers’;
28       who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;
           saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
      and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’ ” (Isaiah 44.24-28)

Cyrus cylinder in the British MuseumIn the greater context surrounding these verses, God is proving a point: “I am the LORD and there is no other” (Isaiah 45.5-7). In order to prove that He is the only God, He calls Cyrus specifically by name almost 200 years before Cyrus came on the scene! In fact, when Isaiah penned this prophecy, Assyria was the superpower. Babylon would come next, pushing out the Assyrians and capturing Jerusalem. But after Babylon reigned in power for about 100 years, the Persian empire would rise and overcome them. Cyrus the Great is the Persian King who brought Persia to the height of power.

Jeremiah also had prophesied concerning the fall of Babylon and concerning the length of time the Jews would remain in bondage:

‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation.’ (Jer. 25.12)

For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.’ (Jer. 29.10)

The fulfillment of these prophecies are recorded in Ezra 1.1-2:

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah…”

How did Isaiah know Cyrus’ name so many years in advance? How did he know Assyria would fall to Babylon and Babylon would fall to Persia? He didn’t! God spoke those words through the prophet, and the events transpired exactly as God had foreseen.


[1] Carl Sagan. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Random House, Inc., New York: 1996, p. 30.

The Historical Jesus – Part 2

Yesterday we discussed Josephus and Tacitus, two men who were not Christians but who wrote about Jesus. Today, I’ll introduce the testimonies of Pliny the Younger and Lucian of Samosata.

Pliny the Younger

Pliny the YoungerPliny is called “the younger” because he is Pliny Junior, son of Pliny the Elder. He wrote many letters which have been preserved for posterity, among which is one addressed to Emperor Trajan circa A.D. 112 concerning his dealings with Christians in his area. Following is his letter and the emperor’s reply.

This does not assert that Christ really lived, but it does show the early existence of the Christians and their incredible faith until death.

Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Trajan to Pliny the Younger

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

While these letters do not directly deal with the historicity of Jesus, they do show a large number a men and women who were so convinced of His reality they were willing to die for Him. And this was a mere 80 years after Jesus’ death.

 

Lucian of SamosataLucian of Samosata

Lucian was a satirist around A.D. 170. He showed himself hostile against Christians, which makes his testimony in Passing of Peregrinus concerning them quite believable. Lucian’s protagonist Perigrinus was a philosopher who decided to take advantage of some gullible Christians (in his satirical story):
 

11.    “It was then that he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine.   And—how else could it be?—in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

….

13.   “Indeed, people came even from the cities in Asia, sent by the Christians at their common expense, to succour and defend and encourage the hero. They show incredible speed whenever any such public action is taken; for in no time they lavish their all.  So it was then in the case of Peregrinus; much money came to him from them by reason of his imprisonment, and he procured not a little revenue from it. The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan and trickster, able to profit by occasions, comes among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk.

Lucian’s testimony is over 100 years after Christ’s death, but he exposes the believes of the Christians, at least, of his time, which was that the man Christ actually lived. He calls Jesus “the man who was crucified in Palestine” and “their first lawgiver” and “that crucified sophist himself.”

The Historical Jesus – Part 1

For most of the world, Jesus is just another guy. Perhaps a wise guy. Perhaps a charismatic, gifted, insightful guy. But the world, at best, places Jesus alongside all the other wise guys and gals of history.

In a recent conversation, a friend of mine was surprised to discover I believe in a historical Jesus; I believe He was a flesh-and-blood man who actually accomplished all the things we read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

A number of reasons lead me to this conclusion. One is historical. Even if you discount the biblical accounts as non-historical, extra-biblical references to Christ and the early Christians certainly exist.

Josephus

JosephusFlavius Josephus, a Jewish historian born just a few years after Jesus’ death, wrote copiously of his people’s history in two major volumes: The Antiquities of the Jews and The Wars of the Jews. (See his works online or pick up a copy. It’s good stuff!) He lived to see his precious Jerusalem fall by Titus’ hand in A.D. 70. Included in his history are a few references to Christ (he was not a Christian), John the Baptist, and James (brother of Jesus and elder in Jerusalem).

The most explicit reference is this:

(63) Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; (64) and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. (Antiquities 18.3.3–which means book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3–emphasis mine, NW)

This reference to James also mentions Jesus:

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned; (Antiquities 20.9.1–emphasis mine, NW)

For a reference to John the Baptist, see Antiquities 18.5.2

Cornelius Tacitus

Nero BustBorn in the first century (in the early 50s), Tacitus became a well-respected early-second-century historian, writing his Annals around A.D. 110. Emperor Nero had, in A.D. 64, burned Rome to the ground, but then had attempted to pin the atrocity on Christians, using them as scapegoats of a sort. Tacitus records the deeds Nero did to Christians at the time:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. (Annals Book XV–emphasis mine, NW)

Tomorrow I hope to offer two more ancient sources–Lucian of Samosata and Pliny the Younger–as additional witnesses to the historical Jesus, but for now ponder these ancient words from men who were certainly not Christians; more often they were anti-Christian. There seems to have been no doubt in their minds that such a man as Jesus actually did live and that he had been killed by crucifixion. Naturally they did not believe He rose from the dead. But who could believe such an outrageous thing?

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE,
AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1.18-25)

Is Seeing Really Believing?

Shocked EyesThe apostle John wrote his gospel in order to produce faith in his readers (John 20.30-31). How is that faith born? In the book the crowds and even Jesus’ disciples ask Him to SHOW them something so they can believe. Don’t we sometimes declare, “Seeing is believing”?

The crowds, attempting to goad Jesus into giving them more bread asked, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” (John 6.30)

Faltering Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (John 14.8)

Those Who SAW

After Jesus began to work miracles,”many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.” However “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2.23-25). Although they believed when they saw, it seems their believe was not really in Jesus as the Son of God. It wasn’t a belief unto salvation, a persevering faith.

Skeptical

Jesus chided the people, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 4.48).

Jesus fed the 5000, and “when the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!'” (John 6.14). That sounds like faith, but just wait until  the end of the chapter: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (6.66).

After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, “many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done” (John 11.45-46).

Those Who HEARD

More than SEEING, faith comes by HEARING, as Paul writes in Romans 10.17. John’s gospel illustrates and illuminates this truth: faith comes by hearing the word of Christ.

When Jesus told Nathanael, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” He based that connection solely on the words of Jesus (John 1.47-51).

ListenThe very fact that Jesus is the embodiment of the Word shows the prominence and weight of hearing His word (John 1.1, 14)

Following Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, He spent the rest of the day teaching the whole town, who had come out to meet Him. “Many [of the Samaritans] believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.'” (John 4.41-42)

What Jesus Is Looking For

In the very heart of the gospel, the pivotal chapter, John 12, we read this indictment against the Jews: “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him” (John 12.37). And here’s the main point, as Jesus continues:

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12.44-50)

This is why Jesus told Thomas at the end, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20.29)

Faith is not built on sight but on sound. It’s not in the seeing but the hearing that truth faith is born. True faith comes from believing the word of God, embodied in His holy Son.

Two different but inseparable questions: Do you believe in Him? Do you believe Him?

Galatians: Hindered from Obeying the Truth

FreedomWhen you hear the phrase “obey the gospel” or “obey the truth,” what comes to mind?

Paul writes in Galatians 5.7, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”

Context is everything, so let’s back up a bit to examine our immediate surroundings:

1 Stand  fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

Paul here deals with circumcision as a MEANS to obtain justification. He is not outlawing the physical act of circumcision, saying that anyone who has been circumcised has no hope of salvation. Far from it! Paul himself was circumcised–a procedure which was at that time impossible to reverse–and he most certainly was saved. Just don’t attempt to be saved by circumcision–that’s his point.

Free to PlayIndeed, if you attempt to obtain God’s grace by keeping the law of circumcision, you bind yourself to keep the entire law–and no one can do that! Remember Galatians 3.21: “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by law”? Those who were preaching circumcision as a means of obtaining a right standing with God “do not themselves keep the law” (Gal. 6.13). “The law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them'” (Gal. 3.12).

What’s worse, if you attempt to justify yourself through keeping the law, you are severed from Christ, fallen from grace! The cross of Christ has no meaning any more. Paul claims that if he still preached circumcision he would, in reality, remove the offense of the cross (Gal. 5.11). What is the “offense of the cross”? The gospel message is written in Galatians 1.4: Jesus “gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.” We don’t deliver ourselves; Jesus delivers us through His death–through the cross. Jesus “gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2.20) and “we are justified not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16).

Christ on the CrossBrothers and sisters, if you lean upon law-keeping as the means for your justification, you fail to obey the truth and are in a state of grave spiritual danger! Paul does not contrast the Law of Moses with the law of Christ; he contrasts

  • the Law with faith,
  • circumcision with the cross,
  • the works of man with the work of Christ.

In which do you trust?

Obeying the gospel, in the New Testament, is equal to (truly) believing in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10.14-17 and 2 Thessalonians 1.3-10). The mark of true obedience is “faith working through love” (Gal. 5.6). It’s a freedom from the law, but only because our flesh has been crucified and we now walk by the Spirit and in the Spirit (Gal. 5.13-26). Law still exists, and most of the world still stands condemned by the law, but those in Jesus Christ who believe in Him and have been sanctified by His blood will not be judged by the law. We have obtained mercy! Let us not return to the law but let us exercise our faith, through love serving one another.

What a blessed life, and what an amazing opportunity God has given through Jesus Christ!

Galatians: Has the Old Law Been Replaced by a New Law?

1cor15-56-57We left off on our last post with the question “Why then the law?” Paul asked this because he had already shown that God never intended to save man by the law or through the law–so now he must explain why God initially bound Israel under the law.

Things Law Cannot Do

  • Bless (3.10-14)
  • Correspond with Faith (3.12)
  • Fulfill God’s Promise (3.15-18)
  • Give Life (3.21)
  • Give Freedom (3.22)

Negative Things Law Does

  • Brings a Curse (3.10-14)
  • Imprisons Under Sin (3.22)
  • Holds Captive (3.23)

Positive Things Law Does

  • Defines and Exposes Sin (3.19)
  • Brings the World to Christ (3.24-29)

And remember how long God planned for the law to endure: “until the seed should come” (3.19b), until faith came (3.23, 25), “until Christ came” (3.24).

Out with the Old...

Has the Old Law Been Replaced with a New Law?

A brother argued recently that we are under Christ’s law today (1 Cor. 9.21); therefore, he insisted, while Galatians tells us we are no longer under the law of Moses, Christ brought a new law by which we are saved today if we keep it.

That is a theological theory. I say theory because the Bible never speaks of Christ coming to replace the law of Moses with a new law. This is important! We must speak where the Bible speaks, and if you insist on a universal law switch-up, you must support your position with scriptures which speak to that effect.

New TestamentWhat the Bible does clearly state is that the old covenant has been replaced with a new covenant. Covenants, truly, may have law embedded within them, but not necessarily.

Exodus through Deuteronomy lists God’s laws to Israel, a law system like none given other on earth, including moral, civil, and ceremonial precepts. It was obviously written as law.

Come, then, to the New Testament, and search diligently for something similar today. You’ll be hard pressed to find it. Many comb the New Testament looking for laws to extract; they seek to discover a New Law similar to the Old. If God has given a new law similar to the old, shouldn’t we expect to find it clearly defined and stated, just as He did for Israel?

How is the New Covenant contrasted with the Old?

The old covenant is associated with works; the new covenant is associated with faith (Galatians 3; Romans 3.27-28; 4.2-8; etc.). James speaks of the law as a thing which convicts and holds accountable; he contrasts that with a “law of liberty” in which “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2.8-13).

When God speaks of “law of faith” (Rom. 3.27) or “law of liberty” (James 2.12), there is a fundamental difference in type of law as we contrast it with the law of commandments. The law of liberty is not the same kind of law as we find in the Old Testament. The law of faith is not the same kind of law as the Law of Moses. Paul shows this distinction: “the law is not of faith, rather, ‘The one who does them shall live by them'” (Gal. 3.12).

Remember, if there had been a law which could actually give life, then righteousness would have come through the Old Law (Gal. 3.21). The point? Law, as we understand law, cannot save. Period.

Galatians: How Is the Promise Fulfilled?

PonderingTo Review…

Thesis: We are not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2.15-16)

Proof #1: You received the Holy Spirit not by works of the law but by hearing with faith (Gal. 3.1-9)

Proof #2: All who rely on works of the law are under a curse (Gal. 3.10-14)

To Continue…

Proof #3: The Promise was not fulfilled through the law (Gal. 3.15-20)

God promised that He would bless all nations through Abraham’s seed. Despite what the Jews were thinking, the special covenant Moses ratified between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai did not fulfill that promise God made to Abraham.

CancelledDid the covenant with Israel cancel out the promise? Paul says absolutely not! The law given through Moses did not change a bit of what God had promised.

Paul makes a great deal out of the phrase “to his offspring,” showing how offspring is singular and means one man, namely Christ. The promises God gave Abraham were to be ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ–not through Moses and the Law. Abraham lived 430 years before the Law was ever written, so God was faithfully working out His promises long before the Law came, and the Law did not change the direction of that work. When you read the Old Testament, it’s often good to think of the BIG STORY in which God works out the Seed of Abraham in such a way as to bring Jesus onto the earth “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal. 4.4).

Therefore the Law must have served some other purpose(s), since it did not accomplish the fulfillment of God’s promise. This is why Paul begs the question, “Why then the law?” (Gal. 3.19)

  1. It was added because of transgression (3.19)
  2. It was a bi-lateral covenant between God and Israel (3.19-20)
  3. It imprisoned everyone under sin (3.22) / held people captive (3.23)
  4. It served as a guardian / tutor / schoolmaster (3.24)

How long did God intend for the Law given through Moses to endure?

  • “until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (3.19)
  • “until the coming faith would be revealed” (3.23)
  • “until Christ came” (3.24)

Rapt AttentionGalatians 3.21 is extremely important for us to hear and understand:

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

The little “if” can change your worldview! Paul plainly teaches NO LAW in existence can give life. Law inherently cannot redeem, save, justify, etc. Just the opposite, law condemns and binds us under judgment and wrath. Law has no mercy. In order for us to receive mercy, forgiveness, and grace, we must receive it from someone who loves us and has the ability to give it to us.

It’s not as if God’s law to Israel was imperfect–it is the most perfect law which has ever been given to mankind! If any law could save, that would be the one.

Neither did God abandon the Law of Moses simply to replace it with a better law, the Law of Christ, by which we are now saved. The Bible never reads like that anywhere. Christ didn’t come to save us via a better law; He came to save us from the condemnation of the law. That’s important, and we must not miss it, because the Galatian brethren missed this point and were cursed because of it.

Why then the law? The law pushes us on to Christ! It displays the absolute holiness of God and exposes our own lack of holiness. But the law doesn’t save; for that we need Christ! “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3.29).

Galatians: Praise Jesus, Our Blessed Redeemer!

John17_LawVsGraceTruth_smPaul began defending his proposition that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16) by asking the Galatian brethren when had they received the Holy Spirit–by works of law or by hearing with faith? Of course, they received Him by hearing and believing the gospel, not by hearing and obeying a body of laws. The Jews, as a matter of fact, had lived their entire lives attempting to follow that body of laws yet, despite all their efforts, had not received justification.

Next, Paul demonstrates in Galatians 3.10-12 that those who seek to be under law remain under a curse.

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”

What curse? All Jews familiar with their scriptures know the blessings and curses God built into their covenant. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they quickly came to two mountains–Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. From Gerizim they pronounced the great BLESSINGS God would give them if they remained faithful (Deut. 28.1-14), and from Ebal they intoned the litany of CURSES God would bring upon them when they wandered away into unfaithfulness (Deut. 27.15-26; 28.15-68).

Ten CommandmentsPaul gets pretty legalistic here. You might recall a few moments in Israelite history when Israel seemed to be doing okay and God was blessing them because of their faithfulness. But, in reality, the law actually demands a full, total, and perfect faithfulness to all aspects of the law in order to be considered righteous! And who has done that? Only one.

Even in the Old Testament God justified individuals the same way He does now–by faith. Paul pulls from Habakkuk 2.4, “the just shall live by faith,” to show that God justified even the Israelites by faith and not because of their keeping of the Law (praise God)!

We are not justified by law but by faith. We do not live by keeping law but by faith. These ideas of being justified and living go hand-in-hand, for the one on whom God shows His favor has passed out of death and into life (John 5.24); the one God justifies now lives, as once he had been dead in his sins (Eph. 2.1) and under the curse (wrath of God). Law brings curse and judgment; faith brings life and justification.

How can this be? Continue in Galatians 3.13-14…

13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The CrossGive us the gospel again, Paul! Hammer it into us and make us full and rich, glowing in the light of God’s truth in Jesus Christ! That’s right–Jesus became cursed in our place. God provided a substitute for us who really deserve the curse, the beating, the mocking, the nails. He hung on that tree until dead, until He had erased our eternal pain and the condemnation of the law. He bore our sin and carried our sorrow so all the people of the earth could have access to the blessing of Abraham and receive that Holy Spirit unto salvation.

And God confirmed these promises by raising Jesus from the dead.

I don’t know about you, but I’m in total awe of what God has done. Praise Him, praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer!

When and How Do We Receive the Holy Spirit?

We noted Paul’s thesis for Galatians is Galatians 2.15-16:

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Then we asserted that God has never saved man through law.

In Galatians 3 and 4, Paul offers proofs as to why the law is powerless to save and, in fact, condemns those under it. Paul’s first point has to do with the process by which the Galatian Christians received the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3.1-9).

Sharing the GospelWhen and How Do We Receive the Holy Spirit?

Understanding when and how we receive the Holy Spirit is vital! Is getting theology right really so important? To Paul, getting this gospel right was of utmost importance! Those who got it wrong were (and are) damned, severed from Christ, fallen from grace (Gal. 5.4), and Paul wished those who taught this perverted gospel would emasculate themselves (Gal. 5.12).

So then, how did the early Christians receive the Holy Spirit in Galatians 3.1-9?

Twice Paul contrasts working the “works of the law” against “hearing with faith.”

  1. Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? (3.2)
  2. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith–just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (3.5-6)

Notably, Paul never distinguishes between working works of the Old Law and working works of a New Law. No, he only contrasts works with faith, for the two are at odds, contrary to one another. One has to do with our own power and ability; the other has to do with trusting in God’s power and ability.

In Christ AlonePaul says the GOSPEL was preached to Abraham centuries before Christ ever came, and it’s encapsulated in the promise: “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal. 3.8). We who are of faith (in Christ) are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith! Just as Abraham “believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Gal. 3.6), it’s exactly the same with us–we believe God and He counts it to us as righteousness today. Paul connects the giving of the Holy Spirit to this counting as righteousness, the Holy Spirit being an evidence of our justification.

No obedience to law is necessary to receive the Holy Spirit–only hearing with faith. But doesn’t faith obey, work, and submit?! Yes, but biblical, saving faith is born in the heart of man, while works of obedience and submission flow from faith. The Galatians received the Holy Spirit by hearing the gospel and believing in the gospel. They were baptized, it says in Galatians 3.27, into Christ, surrendering only to Him. Baptism is not a commitment to a law system; it’s a commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior!

Am I saying you don’t have to follow laws any more? Not hardly! Am I saying God doesn’t want us to do any works? No! God created us to walk in good works (Eph. 2.10). Jesus and His apostles taught that we should be obedient to the laws of the land, to our parents, ultimately to God. We must understand the place of law in a Christian’s life, which is Paul’s point of contention here.

Law cannot not justify or save, so what was it / is it for? We shall continue…

Galatians: Never Justified by Law

Moses and 10 CommandmentsSince the beginning of time, what is the most perfect law ever given whereby men might live? Is it not the law God gave at Mount Sinai through His prophet Moses? The Ten Commandments form the bedrock basis for all of the Law of Moses, which only Israel received. God personally intoned the Decalogue from the top of the mountain, and the people trembled when they heard His voice (Exodus 20)! God has not given another law which so perfectly establishes His concerns for mankind and His own glory.

But did God not give us a new law in Christ Jesus? Indeed, the New Testament mentions, even in Galatians, the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2), but I contend that Christ’s law does not nullify or replace God’s Mount Sinai laws (Matt. 5.17-19).

But doesn’t Hebrews speak of nullifying the old law of Moses and bringing in a new law in Jesus? With our digital access to the biblical texts, it’s easy to search for “old law” and “new law.” I challenge you to run a search on those two phrases and read every instance you find.

What’s that? You couldn’t find a single instance of “old law” or “new law”? Interesting.

Illegal ImmoralWhat you will find are references to “old covenant” and “new covenant” (Heb. 8.13; 9.2, 15; 12.24) and to a “first covenant” and “second covenant” (Heb. 9.1), but that’s not exactly the same as “old law” and “new law.” A covenant is an agreement between parties; law may be included within the covenant, but it’s not equal to the covenant itself. We would do well to distinguish between Old Testament moral laws (instructions towards holy living), ceremonial laws (such as sacrifice, temple worship, special days, and circumcision), and civil laws (such as specific penalties for breaking laws).

Jesus and His apostles continued to refer back to the Law of Moses for moral guidance. Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18 for the Greatest Commandment and it’s human corollary (Matt. 22.37-40). He told a young man in Matthew 19.16-19 to keep the commandments in order to have eternal life. Paul often taught Christians using the commandments and the Law (Rom. 7.7-12; 13.8-10; 1 Cor. 14.34; Gal. 5.14-15; etc.).

JusticeMoral law has been the same since God created man. When has it ever been right to murder, to lie, to cheat, or to steal? When God spoke the Ten Commandments, He was not giving the world something new; He was instructing Israel in His character and in how they ought to live before Him! God’s moral law, then, displays His holiness and provides a means for us to understand our right place before Him. But it also condemns, giving judgments for violations.

If the Law of Moses contains the most perfect revelation of moral law since time began, then the way to have a relationship with God must have been through the correct keeping of that law, right? Wrong! This is Paul’s contention in the letter to the Galatians. Notice:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal. 2.21)

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Gal. 3.11; and notice Paul quotes from the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2.4, for this proof!)

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. (Gal. 3.21)

Law has never given life, has never justified a man before God!

There is a huge reason that Paul never contrasts the “old law” with a “new law” in Christ. He always contrast the law with faith and grace. Just as the Jews were not and are not justified by law, neither are we justified by law. Any law.

Think on these things.