Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Sword of Jesus

Biblical, Christ-centered preaching is Christ’s own sword, which He wields to warn, correct, and judge both His Church and the world. The theme of God’s striking Word is seen in the prophets:
  • “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide disputes by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked (Isaiah 11:1-4).
  • “‘Is not my Word like fire,’ declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’” (Jeremiah 23:29).

Does He do this directly in a literal manifestation of His Person? No. A passage in Hosea reveals to us how His sword is unsheathed to do its work: “Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth, and My judgment goes forth as the light” (6:5). The sword of the Word of God is present in the proclamation of that Word by God’s called emissaries.

His Word faithfully proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit produces the effects for which it is intended. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10,11). We often quote this verse, but don’t make the connection between the Word going forth from the mouth of God and the proclamation of that Word by God’s prophets/preachers.

Read Genesis 1. The very existence of Creation all around us (and including us) is a testimony to the power of God’s proclaimed Word. This is the power He manifests when His appointed prophets/preachers proclaim His Word. Preaching is a function of the will of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11,12). If the first Creation was made by His Word alone, how much more the New Creation – and who has been called and empowered to proclaim His creating Word?

As an important aside:
  • I define “prophecy” as the act of applying the Word of God by the calling, guidance, and power of the Holy Spirit – what we do when we “preach” in the Church every Lord’s Day. I think the continuists and cessationist arguments are both off because we have allowed the modern Pentacostal/charismatic movements to define the terms “prophecy” and “tongues” (among others). The vast majority of what we see the Old Testament prophets doing was applying the Law (including the promised curses of invasion and exile) to their day by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Prophecy” is a term that emphasizes the Spirit’s involvement in preaching (applying the contextually-accurate, theologically-orthodox explained Word to the hearers in the gathering of the Church).
  • I do not mean that the off-topic, contextually-removed, theologically-bankrupt, humanistic, erring babbling of the man who refuses to be faithful to the Word and is not in submission to the Spirit is the sword of Christ. Just because someone has a title and stands on the stage before a crowd does not guarantee that his words are the Word. Our opinions, preferences, “special words,” “leadings,” experience, etc., are not the sword of the Spirit of Christ, which is the Word of God proclaimed by His power. Please don’t hear me say otherwise.

This is how Christ the King works through His Holy Spirit: in the reading, preaching, and teaching of the Word wherever the saints gather:
  • This sword convicts and disciplines true believers: “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to Whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12,13).
  • This sword is all we need against all the powers of darkness – human or spiritual – that oppose the reign of the King of kings over all the heavens and earth: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore...and take...the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:10-13,14,17).

The Revelation is a fitting conclusion to the Bible since it is put together by the Holy Spirit from all the other things the Spirit inspired in the rest of the Bible. There is not a phrase or image that isn’t echoing something that came before. Here we see “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” inseparably connected with the glorified, reigning Jesus:
  • “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:12-16).
  • “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of Him Who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast My name, and you did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Revelation 2:12-17).
  • “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The One sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but Himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:11-15).

Does Jesus have a two-edged sword literally, physically coming out of His mouth? No. Read these images in light of the rest of the New Testament, which clearly shows the Word going forth in power throughout the world, according to His will, by the power of His Holy Spirit, and through the Church.

“Behold! The ecclesiastical power which is given to pastors of the church (by whatever name they are called) is clearly declared! That is, by God’s Word which they are established to administer, they boldly dare all things and constrain every glory, greatness, and power of this world to obey and submit to the divine Majesty. By this Word they have command over the whole world; they build up Christ’s house and overturn Satan’s kingdom; they feed the sheep and kill the wolves; they lead by teaching and exhortations those who are teachable; they constrain and correct the rebellious and obstinate; they bind, loose, thunder, and cast lightning - but all in the Word of God” (John Calvin, 1541 edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion, 15).

As we go through these days in this world, our “righteous souls are tormented by the lawless deeds we see and hear” (to paraphrase 2 Peter 2:8). The days and weeks and months and years and decades seem long, and it seems that the forces of darkness are in easy, clear control of the world. It must’ve seemed so to Daniel, as well. But the message of that book is clear: despite the Nebuchadnezzars and Belshazzars and Babylons and scary beasts, God is absolutely, 100% in total control over all. The clashing of world powers is matched in the heavenlies by unseen (but far more powerful) forces that don’t fight for God in their own created strength, but by His unstoppable and perfect providential will. Let the Word direct your vision of the world – as it was during Daniel’s day, so it is today. The King of kings and Lord of lords has been given authority over all of heaven and earth. He has unsheathed His mighty sword – the Spirit-inspired Word, and wields it through the faithful proclamation of His Church in all places in all the centuries since His ascension. By it He defends where He will and defeats where He will, according to His perfect, sovereign plan. Read it with this truth in mind. Preach it, teach it, pray it with this truth in mind. Hear it and live by faith-based, Spirit-empowered obedience to its commands in your life. The Word is the Sword of Christ, and it does exactly what He wills it to do, both in your heart and mind, and on the vanity that is the world stage.

Biblical, Christ-centered preaching is Christ’s own sword, which He wields to warn, correct, and judge both His Church and the world.

All this being said, I feel I need to suggest something, and, in so doing, probably scuttle a reasonably edifying blog post.

Because of the principle I argued for above, I’ve often wondered if the events of Revelation 19:11-15 were actually descriptive of the events started at Pentecost: Jesus descending in His Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18; Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11) to begin manifesting His reign and bringing judgment upon His enemies through the proclamation of the Word throughout the world (Acts 1:8; Colossians 1:23).

I’ve had the same thoughts about the Olivet Discourse (which is obviously about the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70): “And He will send out [αποστελει] His angels [τους αγγελους, which can also be translated “messengers”] with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31). Could this be the current Gospel Age, when Christ is gathering the elect from all over the world through His sent-out messengers?

I’m not denying a “literal, physical, visible return” of Christ. I’m saying that it’s very possible that the passages that we’ve traditionally thought taught this doctrine do not. Before you write me off (I mean that figuratively, not literally, physically, and visibly), read the Old Testament parallel to Matthew and Revelation’s “literal, physical, visible return” texts: 2 Samuel 22//Psalm 18. Now show me where anything even remotely like this happened in a “literal, physical, visible” sense in the historical narrative of 1-2 Samuel. Do the same with Deborah’s song (Judges 5:4,5,20). When did we see the coming of the Lord on march or see angels stoop to battle human beings in the historical narrative of the battle itself (4:1-24)?

I think we in the Church are long overdue for a revolution (I would’ve used “reformation,” but that’s been taken) in our eschatology. Rooting our reading of the New Testament more firmly in the way the Old Testament speaks while being purposefully aware of the historical context of the A.D. first century and the theological shift-of-age that happened then would make our eschatology smaller (but more potent) and more focused on the general thrust of the entire N.T.: Jesus is Lord of all, and He manifests His reign by the power of His Spirit through the proclamation of the Word throughout the world. May our reading of so-called eschatological passages lead us to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) rather than charts and today’s news.

There is a connection between the response to the proclamation of the Word of God and our eternity after the final judgment. Proclamation and eternal judgment are linked in the Word of God (Romans 10:8-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7,8). Don't underemphasize or undervalue this great link. Preaching is a manifestation of the eschatological.

Preach the Word. We are Spirit-empowered heralds of the King Who – right now – reigns over heaven and earth and continues (as He has for almost 2,000 years) to powerfully manifest that reign through the proclamation of the Word through His Church.

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