Theology browsing by tag


Book review of David F. Wells’ “God in the Whirlwind”

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Book review: David F. Wells, God In The Whirlwind: How The Holy Love Of God Reorients Our World. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.)

David F. Wells is the well-known author of acclaimed books like God in the Wasteland and No Place For Truth. In his latest work, God In The Whirlwind, Wells couples erudition, wisdom, and spiritual insight with a clear writing style that is a pleasure to read. He attacks the modern notion of God existing for the satisfaction of our needs and the bolstering of human self-esteem. One sample of his writing sets the tone:

We become inclined to think of God as our Therapist. It is comfort, healing, and inspiration that we want most deeply, so that is what we seek from him. That, too, is what we want most from our church experience. We want it to be comforting, uplifting, inspiring, and easy on the mind. We do not want Sunday (or, perhaps, Saturday evening) to be another workday, another burden, something that requires effort and concentration. We already have enough burdens and struggles, enough things to concentrate on, in our workweek. On the weekend, we want relief. It is not difficult to see, then, how this two-sided experience, this paradox, has shaped our understanding of God. It leaves us with a yearning for a God who will come close, who will walk softly, who will touch gently, who will come to uplift, assure, comfort, and guide. We want our God to be accepting and nonjudgmental. It also leaves us with the expectation that somehow this God of plenty will dispense his largesse in generous dollops to us. Maybe even through a lottery win. Perhaps we could win Powerball, or maybe some sweepstakes prize. That is the kind of God we want. This is what we expect him to be like.[1]

While I do not share all of his Reformed convictions – most notably his Covenant Theology perspective when dealing with Adam in the garden – I applaud his zeal for the holiness and love of God. He rightly diagnoses and deplores the modern man-centered culture that infects evangelical thinking at certain points and evidences itself in the Church’s worship (especially its music) and preaching (or lack thereof.) He spends a significant portion of the book defining “holy-love” and shows why this understanding of God’s nature is vital for Christian belief and practice. God commands full attention and is worthy of all of our affection and obedience. Wells rightly shows the scriptural emphasis on God’s supremacy and beauty. He inverts the skewed modern idea of human-centeredness, in favor of focusing on the triune God.

[1] David F. Wells. God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Kindle Locations 446-455). Crossway. Note: I received a review copy from Crossway.

Killing The “God Is Dead” Lie

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14

On February 28, 2012 the atheistic theologian William Hamilton passed into eternity. He was best known for co-authoring the book Radical Theology And The Death Of God with fellow liberal scholar Thomas J.J. Altizer. This incendiary tome inspired Time magazine’s famous 1966 cover story “Is God Dead?” That article summed up the issues with which they wrestled thus:

Nietzsche’s thesis was that striving, self-centered man had killed God, and that settled that. The current death-of-God group believes that God is indeed absolutely dead, but proposes to carry on and write a theology without theos, without God. Less radical Christian thinkers hold that at the very least God in the image of man, God sitting in heaven, is dead, and—in the central task of religion today—they seek to imagine and define a God who can touch men’s emotions and engage men’s minds. If nothing else, the Christian atheists are waking the churches to the brutal reality that the basic premise of faith—the existence of a personal God, who created the world and sustains it with his love—is now subject to profound attack.[i]

Hamilton’s obituary explains that his questioning of God’s existence began with the accidental death of two religious friends, while a third atheistic friend was spared. He went on to cite the Holocaust as a major blow to his belief in God, in his words: “I wrote out my two choices: ‘God is not behind such radical evil, therefore he cannot be what we have traditionally meant by God’ or ‘God is behind everything, including the death camps — and therefore he is a killer.’”[i]

Two Facts That Vindicate God

Of course trite answers to the problem of evil and human suffering will not do. The harsh realities of history and contemporary life demand something more than shallow sound-bytes and Pollyanna-esque platitudes. Thankfully, the Bible devotes a great deal of space to exploring this problem that sooner or later touches every human life.

The struggle of modern radical theologians like the late Dr. Hamilton is largely a product of their prior rejection of the Bible as God’s Word. Two biblical truths in particular give a coherent defense of the Almighty’s character in the face of evil and human pain. The first is the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the second is His empty tomb.

Boasting In The Cross

The cross clearly shows that God is interested in human beings, and is no mere spectator to their trials and sufferings. He is not an accomplice to atrocities like the Holocaust or 9/11; rather He is just and deems all such iniquity to be worthy of the severest judgment. If anyone questions whether the Almighty is impassive in the face of evil, they have only to look at the cross where He poured out His unrestrained wrath upon it. No wonder Paul boasted in this great act (see the verse at the top of the page), which demonstrated God’s love and righteousness, while striking a mortal blow to evil and pain. Human suffering is on borrowed time, for the sin that underlies it, has been dealt with by Christ on the cross.

The Creator’s knowledge of human pain transcends the theoretical, because God the Son took on flesh and suffered the death of the cross. In addition to the awful torture of crucifixion that He experienced at the hands of wicked men, He also suffered the unutterable divine wrath against sin. More than any other being He knows what pain is. Unlike men who have no choice about living in a world where suffering is commonplace, everything that the Son of God endured was voluntary. What is more, His substitutionary death on the cross makes it possible for people to escape eternal hellfire.

The Reports Of God’s Demise Have Been Mistaken

The second great truth that kills the “God is dead” lie is the glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus. After His ignominious and graphic death on the cross people wrongly assumed that that was the last they would see Christ. Nevertheless, three days later the Lord Jesus rose in power from the dead, at once proving His deity and the perfect accomplishment of His divinely ordained work. What is more, this astonishing miracle demonstrated that the grave does not have to have the final victory. Even the unimaginable pain of Christ’s death was overcome by His rising again. That is to say, when He had suffered beyond what any human being has ever suffered, the Lord triumphantly rose again, proving that no pain is insurmountable. Further, if we belong to the Lord, the sufferings of this life will be superseded by eternal blessedness in the future. As He told two of His disciples after the resurrection, “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (Lk. 24:26.)

In turning away from the true and living God, people mistakenly abandon the only possible ground for hope in the face of human suffering. Among all of the belief systems of man – be they secular or spiritual – only the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ offers the certain prospect of taking present sufferings and transforming them into future glories. Paul emphatically described this truth, affirming “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18.) Moreover, he understood that sufferings themselves are tools in God’s hand for transformation into the most beautiful image imaginable: that of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. As he said: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17.)  Like a skillful reconstructive surgeon, God applies the scalpel of suffering to cut away the grotesque and unseemly parts of human character and conform the resulting visage into His own glorious likeness. Removing God from the discussion of human suffering only removes all possibility of salvation from unremitting and pointless pain.

[i] “Is God Dead?”, Time magazine, April 8, 1966,,9171,835309,00.html#ixzz1o4yZ9zPG Accessed on March 3, 2012.

[1i] William Hamilton, from a 2007 interview with The Oregonian newspaper, quoted in his obituary of the Los Angeles Times wire service, March 3, 2012, “William Hamilton dies at 87; theologian questioned God’s existence” accessed here on 3/3/12:,0,1455686.story


Recycled Error & The Superior Promises Of Christ

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

A popular, well-worn adage opines: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”[i] This is certainly true in regard to spiritual error. In keeping with the contemporary zeitgeist, Satan is a great recycler, recirculating old lies to gullible mankind.[ii] Take for example his time-honored tactic of idolatry coupled with sexual immorality. When the ancient mercenary-seer Balaam – a sort of “for profit-prophet” – was hired to curse the Israelites, God thwarted his efforts on three occasions. His imprecations were divinely turned to blessings; on his fourth utterance he even prophesied of their glorious destiny (see Num. 22-24.) During this unsuccessful spiritual attack, the Israelites were ignorant of the threat; nonetheless, God protected them from wickedness in high places. Unable to beat them through curses, Balaam resorted to baser tactics, counseling the Moabites to entice the Israelites to enrage the Lord through spiritual and physical fornication under the pretext of inviting them to a feast. Subsequently, many of them succumbed to idolatrous debauchery and incurred the Lord’s wrath.

To later generations of Israelites this sordid incident at Baal Peor was a cautionary tale of the dangers of mixing with pagans and their religions (e.g. Josh. 22:17.) Unfortunately, the memory of it did not prevent it from reoccurring in various forms in their history thereafter. Nor did it preclude an outbreak of such vile iniquity in the church at Pergamos.[iii] Worst of all, the mixture of errant theology and immorality is far too prevalent within modern Christendom, even penetrating churches which profess to be evangelical. While such sin may seem tantalizingly pleasurable, it cannot compare with what the Lord Jesus offers to His followers.

Feast or Famine?

The Greco-Roman world’s ubiquitous idolatry is evidenced by 1 John’s closing admonition: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (1 Jn. 5:21.) Its insidious tentacles reached into every level of society, influencing politics, business, literature, entertainment, and sports. Not surprisingly, there are numerous other New Testament references to this sin and its excesses. Of course, idolatry is not limited to the veneration of stones and statues. Any erroneous concept of God that diminishes His character, person, or attributes is an idol. Anything put in place of God is an idol; therefore, Col. 3:5 equates covetousness with idolatry.

The True Face Of Idolatry

To think of idolatry as merely involving the adoration of images, metals, or other inanimate objects is overly simplistic. The essence of this sin is robbing the true God of His due by misconstruing His identity. God is sovereign and unique. As He says: I am the Lord, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me” (Isa. 45:5.) Robert Spender remarks: “The Bible understands that idolatry extends beyond the worship of images and false gods. It is a matter of the heart, associated with pride, self-centeredness, greed, gluttony (Phil. 3:19), and a love for possessions (Matt. 6:24).”[iv] Another writer explains idolatry’s core concepts this way:

Although it is difficult to reduce biblical teaching on idolatry to a simple formula, one element common to both models, the marital and the political, is worth noting. In both cases the notion of exclusivity is central: in one the exclusive claims of a husband to his wife’s love and affection; in the other the exclusive claims of a sovereign to protect and provide for his subjects and receive their trust and obedience in return. Thus idolatry is an attack on God’s exclusive rights to our love, trust and obedience.[v]

Elsewhere the same author comments further:

What constitutes a god? Martin Luther’s answer, as he reflected on the first commandment in his larger catechism, was ‘whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your God; trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and idol’. We wish to confirm his view, but also to emphasize love and service: a god is that which one loves, trusts and serves above all else. This definition suggests both the possibility and the urgency of making clear the relevance of idolatry to the modern world.[vi]

Obviously, idolatry encompasses many things that modern westerners seek after and live for.

Enter The Wolves

Many commentators suppose that the church in Pergamos was struggling with issues similar to the idol meat controversy in Corinth (1 Cor. 8:4-13; 10:23-33.) They offer the possible scenarios of participating in feasts at an idol temple’s banqueting hall. Some writers assert that the business dinners of the region’s various trade guilds would involve eating meat sacrificed to false gods, as well as fornicating with ritual prostitutes. An interesting alternative view holds that these were meals given in honor of one’s deceased ancestors; the “idols” were images of the dead person, and so much wine was imbibed that these gatherings degenerated into orgies.[vii] Whichever view one takes, it is not hard to see that the Lord did not exaggerate when He spoke of those who adhered to Balaam’s ancient teaching that it was permissible “…to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (Rev. 2:14.) Their licentious doctrine maintained that they could participate in egregious sin and God would not do anything to them because of it. Sadly, many of the modern “signs and wonders” preachers have imbibed the same poisonous doctrine; thus it is no surprise that they live decadent lives of material opulence and fleshly self-indulgence. Material and sensual things become their contemporary idols. Furthermore, the scandals that have rocked multiple corners of the evangelical world during the past quarter century make it clear that false theologies still lead to immoral lifestyles. Instead of “you are what you eat” one may now affirm “you are what you believe.”

The Abiding Appeal Of A Permissive God

The defective view of God held by some in Pergamos is all too familiar to one who is conversant with popular modern views of a higher power. Idolatry’s popularity stems in part from its ability to add religious legitimacy to man’s carnal instincts. One may freely engage in immorality and do so without guilt, provided one worships a deity who sanctions such behavior. The resurgent interest in nature gods and goddesses, as well as the academic repopularizing of Gnostic beliefs, demonstrates that modern people are yearning for a semi-supreme being – one who may be adored and supplicated, but not one who gets in the way of having a good time. New Age thought and eastern religions are also wildly popular for allowing one to be devout, but not “puritanical” (one of the worst modern sobriquets with which one may be tagged!)

Even among nominal “Christians” low views of God’s holiness abound. This is evidenced by the absence of the doctrine of eternal punishment from most books about spirituality. The idea of a deity who sends people to hell is hopelessly old fashioned, and is even lampooned by some so-called clergy and theologians. Others reason that they can build up credit with the Lord by their good deeds and then commit the “occasional” sin. In other words, devotees of these worldviews can claim to be spiritual and still sin to their heart’s content. The devoted disciples of Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and many other pseudo-Messiahs show that the fraudulent notion of a permissive God remains wildly popular in modern countries. Generally speaking, people have no concept of a holy and righteous God.

Of course, some idolatrous notions of the Lord offer a veneer of morality by their strict and abstemious practices. Their followers live outwardly pious, moral lives, and are fond of religion’s rigorous devotion. This sort of idol enables people to indulge in the sins of pride and self-righteousness in their veneration. Whether it leads one to the grosser forms of iniquity or the more socially acceptable kinds of sin, idolatry deprives the true and living God of His rightful worship. As the Creator and Redeemer, He deserves absolute loyalty from His creatures. This is why the Law demands that man love the Lord with the entirety of his heart, soul, mind, and strength; anything less is an insult to the Almighty (Mk. 12:30.)

Religious Junk Food Versus Spiritually Satisfying Food

In contrast to the antinomian teachings of those who promoted the excesses of eating idol’s food and enjoyment of sexual sin, the Lord Jesus offers His saints “the hidden manna” (Rev. 2:14.) Manna was the divinely provided staple of the Israelites’ wilderness diet. Miraculously, the Lord daily fed them with bread from the sky for forty years. His material faithfulness was a harbinger of greater spiritual realities to come. Centuries later when the Lord Jesus arrived on the scene He told the Jews “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (Jn. 6:35.) In Christ provision is made for the satisfaction of the deepest hungering and thirsting of human beings. Every person has a choice: feast on the world’s fleeting, forbidden dainties or eat the Lord’s spiritually life-giving sustenance. Truly the world can spread a banqueting table, but it cannot sate the unremitting famishment of the Christless human heart. Sin’s pleasures are seasonal, and pass away all too quickly. In contrast, feeding on Christ gives one eternal life – both of quality and duration. Believers rejoice to feed on Him daily as they study His word and commune with Him in prayer.

The lesson for ancient or modern man is the same: the Lord is the true God – only He can save; only He can satisfy. Idols appear to enrich, bless, or fulfill their disciples, but in reality they only impoverish them. One may starve at this life’s sordid feasts or dine with the Lord presently and at His future marriage supper (Rev. 19.) A relationship with the Living God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the only reward worth seeking. Therefore, Christians delight to dig into God’s Word, gleaning beautiful truths about the Lord and enjoying His fellowship as He reveals Himself from its sacred pages. Such believers place their affections on things above, not on earthly things like idols, because they have died and risen with Christ. Their true life is now hidden with Christ in God, and it will be manifested when He returns to earth in glory (Col. 3:1-4; 1 Jn. 3:1-2.) They feed on the hidden manna, the glorified Christ Himself!

[i] As best I can determine this phrase originated with a nineteenth-century French novelist named Alphonse Karr, and was later employed by the noted man of letters, George Bernard Shaw; see:

[ii] Zeitgeist = “The spirit or genius which marks the thought or feeling of a period or age” Oxford English Dictionary; the dictionary entry reveals that the word itself is of German origin, & entered English as early as 1848 when it was employed by the essayist-literary critic, Matthew Arnold in a letter; he later used the term in his book Literature & Dogma (1873.)

[iii] Spelled “Pergamum” in many modern versions: e.g. ASV, NASB, ESV, NIV, NLT, etc. Since I’m primarily using the NKJV for this article, I retain the spelling of “Pergamos” as used by the KJV, NKJV, & JND translations.

[iv] Robert D. Spender, “Idol, Idolatry” in Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. electronic ed. Baker reference library; Logos Library System. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997.

[v] B.S. Rosner, “Idol, Idolatry” in Alexander, T. Desmond, and Brian S. Rosner. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001. (Logos.)

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] For an excellent explanation of this view & the exegesis behind it, see Gordon Franz, “Meat Offered to Idols in Pergamum & Thyatira” at: . I recommend as an excellent resource for articles dealing with the Bible, especially in reference to archaeology & ancient history.

TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF. FORMAT, CLICK ON THIS LINK: Recycled Error & The Superior Promises Of Christ

Power, Real & Imagined

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

The despots of the world cling to the notion that they possess power, and this legitimizes the enacting of their every whim. The ancient Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar harbored such illusions regarding his personal significance and authority. He was the poster child for Lord Acton’s well-known dictum: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” The eighteenth century British statesman William Pitt the elder uttered a similar sentiment, saying: “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.”i This knowledge of humanity’s proneness to abuse power led the founders of the United States to develop a government where authority is divided among its separate branches.ii Unfortunately, these liberal sentiments were written more than 2,200 years after this Mesopotamian monarch held sway over the near east. Accordingly, Nebuchadnezzar was the unquestioned head of Babylon with no checks and balances to curtail his exercise of power; or so he thought…
Bright Lights, Big City
Following their deportation from their homeland, four well-born Hebrews found themselves serving the Babylonian kingdom. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – soon to be renamed Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego – were placed in the most prestigious university of the land in preparation for their work in the civil service of the regime. After graduating with top honors, they were placed in jobs where they distinguished themselves by hard work and faithfulness (Dan. 1:20.) Their rapid promotions to more important work came due to the Lord intervening in Nebuchadnezzar’s life through a prophetic dream. The king and his most erudite advisors were at a loss to interpret the mysterious nocturnal revelation. In frustration, he vainly attempted to coerce an answer from his wise men by ordering their immediate executions. Daniel and his friends were able to petition the Lord for the solution to the dream, and thus their lives (and those of their colleagues) were spared. Furthermore, they achieved high status in the government on account of Daniel’s successful interpretation – a feat for which, he gave all of the glory to God (Dan. 2:47-49.)
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream should have humbled him to acknowledge that the Most High God is over all and that Babylon and all subsequent empires would eventually give place to the establishment of the earthly reign of the Messiah. Instead, he seemed to be enamored with his position as “the head of gold” (Dan. 2:38.) He set about building a monument to his own greatness, and in characteristic ancient kingly fashion, he wanted total allegiance from his officials – even to the point of worshiping the golden image that he erected. When the royal philharmonic struck up the music that was undoubtedly composed especially for this notable occasion, all of the government employees were to render obeisance to the image. Imagine the
scene: what an amazing display of unity when all of the officials great and small prostrated themselves in testimony to the king’s self-perceived ultimate greatness! Regrettably, the effect was weakened by the fact that when the multitude bowed down, three men conspicuously stood.iii
Royal Hubris Meets Divine Reality
News of this affront to the royal dignity soon came to Nebuchadnezzar’s ears, filling him with rage at the temerity of these ungrateful Jews. Who did they think they were? All of the powerful and important people physically professed their loyalty to him as supreme, what made Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego think that they were exempt from the royal decree. Perhaps they had misunderstood. With remarkable restraint (for an Oriental despot, that is), he offered them a second chance: if they would put their faces in the dirt when the encore was performed, then the king would show clemency. The seriousness of rejecting his mercy is shown in his final words to them: “But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” [Dan. 3:15, emphasis mine.] His final question was clearly rhetorical, but soon he would receive an unexpected answer to that incredulous inquiry.
Remarkably, the three men turned the king down flat. More astonishing was their brave explanation of why they could not bow to him or any other man as supreme: “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18.) Their supreme allegiance was to the living God, not to some idol or mere man. If the Lord so desired, His power could easily deliver them. If it was not his will to rescue them, however, they still would not prostrate themselves to the golden image. Loyalty to God trumps all other considerations – even earthly life itself. If they died in that furnace, they would join the multitude of martyrs who bear witness to the reality of the true Lord by the giving of their lives. Many testified in this way before them, and many have given their lives for God’s glory since then. The chain of martyrs continues today in numerous places around the world and extends into the future Tribulation, when martyrdom will be the norm for those who are loyal to the Lord Jesus Christ in the face of unprecedented persecution and tyranny.iv
They Wouldn’t Bow, Bend, or Burn
Accordingly, the three faithful men were violently thrown into the deadly, white-hot furnace. Contrary to Nebuchadnezzar’s expectations – and every law of physics regarding fire and heat – the men freely roamed the furnace unscathed. What is more, a fourth man joined them in their affliction, except He did not look like the others. By the king’s own astonished admission: “…the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Dan. 3:25.) After this display of awesome Divine power, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego emerged from the testing without a hair
singed or the odor of smoke upon their persons.v Such a magnificent display of power caused the awe-struck monarch to declare that they were “servants of the Most High God” (v. 26.) This dramatic occurrence elicited a remarkable confession from the lips of this eastern potentate:
Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this (v. 28-29.)
Once again their faithfulness to the Lord resulted in their promotion, further authenticating the principle “…those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam. 2:30; Dan. 3:30.)
The Illusion of Political And Military Power
Nebuchadnezzar was far from the last ruler to imagine that his power was greater than the God of Israel. Daniel chapter 5 tells the sad tale of one of his successor’s downfall for his disrespectful handling of the vessels of the Jerusalem Temple. The famous hand-writing on the wall appeared to tell wicked Belshazzar that his time was up – he had “…been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Dan. 5:27.) In keeping with the Lord’s prophecy, that night his capital fell to the Medo-Persian forces and he was promptly executed. Hubris among autocrats did not cease with the demise of Babylon, however. Events in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrate that He suffered the same sort of mistreatment at the hands of supposedly powerful human beings.
A Scene From The Greatest Miscarriage of Justice In Human History
After being subjected to “show-trial” style hearings before Annas, Caiaphas, and the partial gathering of the Sanhedrin, Christ was led away to the fifth Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. The Romans prided themselves on the Lex Romana (Latin for “Roman law”), and affirmed that its enforcement was the basis of the Pax Romana (Latin for “Roman peace.”) Of course, the subjugated people under their rule might contend that things were peaceful as long as they bowed to the supreme authority of this occupying power. Nevertheless, the Romans prided themselves on law and justice. Their jurisprudence forms the historic foundation of most legal systems in the modern western world.
Pilate had used military force to quell other disturbances (e.g. Lk. 13:1; cf. Josephus’ The Antiquities of the Jews 18.2.60.) If Jesus was a threat to the state or the peace of Judea he was prepared to punish him in the severest manner. The problem was that this Galilean did not behave like a terrorist or revolutionary; nor did He exhibit open lunacy. Jesus just stood before
the judgment seat silently, permitting His enemies to heap opprobrium upon His person unchallenged. Not a single syllable was uttered by the accused in His own defense. If he had been an observant Jew the scene might have called a Scripture to the governor’s mind: “…as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth” (Isa. 53:7.)
Innocent, Never To Be Proven Guilty
Despite the vehement condemnations of the chief priests and their allies, there was no obvious evidence of the prisoner’s guilt. He did not need to speak, His innocence of the charges leveled against Him was apparent. Most unusual of all, Jesus did not beg for mercy from the powerful Roman official who seemingly held His fate in his hands. The contrasting views of Pilate’s position between the judge and the accused is demonstrated in the following exchange: The Jews answered him {i.e. Pilate}, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin’ (Jn. 19:7-11.) At issue was Pilate’s authority (translated “power” in the KJV & NKJV.) The governor thought it incredible that Jesus did not beg for mercy – or at least, plead His innocence – from this exalted jurist. To paraphrase his exasperated expostulation: “I have authority to release or crucify you! You had better start talking to me.” The Lord’s reply revealed the true nature of things: it was the meek One who actually held the power, for He is the incarnate Son of God.
Like Nebuchadnezzar before him – and all human rulers for that matter – Pilate’s power was limited by the will and power of the sovereign God who ordains the powers that be. As the Babylonian emperor recounted centuries earlier after the Lord humbled him: “…I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven. And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan. 4:34-35.) As the early believers exultantly prayed: “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28.)
The Wrath of Man Carrying Out God’s Purposes
For all of their vaunted pretensions of authority, the leaders of the earth are subject to the Most High God and only succeed in carrying out His purposes. What a comfort to believers who suffer under tyrannical regimes in “closed” countries. Nothing can happen to them apart from the permission of the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth. As He demonstrated in the case of the three Jews who would not bow, He stands with His people as they go through the fire (Isa. 43:2.)
Not only does He control and limit the suffering, He identifies with and strengthens His saints in their trials. Thankfully, the church has a Savior who affirms that “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18.)
i “Letter to Mandell Creighton (April [3? or 5?], 1887”:,_1st_Baron_Acton, See also: Both accessed on 1/26/10.
ii The principle was well-articulated by the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison, who wrote: “The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” [Emphasis mine.]
James Madison, “The Particular Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Power among its Different Parts from The New York Packet, Friday, February 1, 1788,” in The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, & John Jay, p. 269. Originally published 1788, republished 2008 by Forgotten Books, (no other documentation available.) Electronic edition accessed on 1/26/10 at:
iii Daniel is absent throughout the passage. It is impossible to say where he was, but had he been there, his actions before and after this event make it clear that he also would have refused to bow, e.g. Dan. 2 & Dan. 6.
iv Given the modern usage of the term “martyr” by religious extremists who take the lives of others, it is worth noting that the word literally means “witness” in ancient (Koine) Greek, and indicated one who gave his life as a witness to the reality of the Lord Jesus and His gospel, e.g. Rev. 2:13; for the future Tribulation martyrs see Rev. 6:9-11.
v That this is evidence of the supernatural is well-known to anyone who ever sat by a camp fire – or even emerged from a modern restaurant that contains a smoking section!


When Rhubarb Isn’t Rhubarb

Monday, August 24th, 2009

My father has a well-developed sense of humor, coupled with an unnerving ability to bring up obscure bits of trivia that sound highly implausible. Usually on the infrequent occasions when he mentions these arcane details, I question the accuracy of what he is saying, only to discover upon further investigation that he is correct. Of course, this fills him with great mirth and gives me a healthy piece of “humble pie” to eat. This occurred a few months ago concerning the word “rhubarb,” and reminded me of the importance of defining terms – particularly in connection with biblical terminology. It all started when my father referred to an argument between two men as a rhubarb. It went something like this:
Dad: “They’re having a rhubarb!”
Me: “What did you say?”
Dad: “A rhubarb. You know: a fight.”
Me: “You’re making that up! That’s 50’s slang from Beech Street. Nobody talks that way. A rhubarb is a plant.” [He grew up on Beech Street in Pottstown, PA.]
Dad: “I’m not making it up. Look it up.”
Dutifully, I opened up the electronic version of the Oxford English Dictionary and looked up “rhubarb.” To my surprise, “4. c.” says “U.S. slang. A heated dispute, a row, spec. a disturbance or argument on the field of play at a sporting (orig. Baseball) event.”i The dictionary further cites confirming evidence from The New York Herald Tribune, July 13, 1943, attributing the expression to “Red” Barber who announced baseball games for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Once more, I acknowledged my father’s astonishing mastery of verbal-historical minutiae.

The Value of Verbal Precision
The foregoing story is amusing and trivial, but it illustrates the way in which words may mean wildly diverse things to different people. The cults certainly assign alternate definitions to Bible words like “grace,” “faith,” and “salvation.” To some “faith” is trusting in the sacraments of a religious organization for entrance into heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 4:4-5 show that human effort and biblical faith are completely different. Yet billions of people worldwide trust in their religious ceremonies and good works to save themselves. Misusing Scripture is a timeworn, Satanic tactic: he successfully used it against Eve and unsuccessfully employed it against the Lord Jesus (Gen. 3:1; Matt. 4:6.) It is all too common among the world’s false religions. Therefore, believers must use the Bible carefully – properly defining our terms – in order to ensure that our hearers do not form the wrong conclusions about God and His Word.
Unfortunately, verbal miscommunication is not restricted to the non-evangelical world; believers also use words improperly and misleadingly. Take for example the simple word “change.” During the past few decades the church growth movement in the western hemisphere made that concept central to their strategy for improving local churches. It is obvious that North American churches need to change, for in many places there is less commitment to the remembrance of the Lord, prayer, sound Bible teaching, discipleship, and evangelism (to name just a few weak points.) Nevertheless, when modern Christian pundits use the word “change” they are usually speaking of external things pertaining to the meetings and activities of the local assembly. Thus, the music must be modernized, new evangelistic tools employed, buildings where the church meets improved, technology brought to the fore (do I hear PowerPoint, anyone?), etc.
The Necessity Of Biblical Change
Doubtless there is nothing inherently spiritual about following old, traditional practices out of mere habit. This author does not oppose using newer songs – if their content is sound and deeply Scriptural – to supplement the great songs of past eras which memorialize so much truth. Technology can also be helpful in putting visual aids before the audience. What is disturbing, however, is how the word “change” is seldom employed in keeping with the teaching of the Bible. That is to say, the Scriptures emphasize internal change, not mere external alteration.
When the Lord addressed seven local churches in the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey), He repeatedly called upon some of them to repent (Rev. 2:5, 16, 21, 22; 3:3, 19.) With the exception of the persecuted Smyrnaens and overcoming Philadelphians, the churches were solemnly warned to change their attitudes and behavior. Likewise, Paul charged the Corinthians to change their sectarian mindset and overly tolerant treatment of blatant immorality (1 Cor. 1:10; 5:1-9.) Colossians was written to counteract false ideas of spirituality. 1 & 2 Thessalonians address false doctrine regarding the coming of the Lord. A study of Acts and the Epistles shows that the Lord is much more concerned with the spiritual health and doctrine of the church, rather than external issues. Should not the modern church seek to emulate the emphasis of the early church? The first Christians were steadfastly devoted to teaching, the Lord’s Supper, fellowship, and prayer (Acts 2:42.) Their witness was powerful and pervasive throughout the first-century world. They loved the Lord and each other. When their hearts moved from the Lord to other things, He told them to repent (Rev. 2:4-5.)
Without question the contemporary western church needs widespread change: more spiritual prayer, sound Bible teaching, and unadulterated love for the Lord Jesus Christ. In many places, we must repent of legalism; in others, liberalism – both of these errors essentially being a turning away from the Lord. We must eschew materialism and use our possessions as a stewardship for our God. We must warn the lost of the judgment to come and of the mighty Savior who can save them from it. We must live for the age to come and not for this age. If we really want effective change, then we must return to our first Love and His holy Word as the central focus of our lives. May our words and lives accurately reflect the teaching of God’s Word. Joel 2:13 expresses well the need for inward rather than outward change: “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.”

i Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989; electronic version. Entry for “rhubarb,” 4. c

To download the article in pdf., click on this link:  when-rhubarb-isnt-rhubarb1