‘Genesis 24 and God’s plan for the world’ by David Schrock

camel train, Middle East, Palestine, Egypt, Abraham, Genesis 24, Isaac

Image from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs online catalog.

“And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” . . . . ”Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor.” (Genesis 24.2-4,10). An old photograph (taken between 1934 and 1939) showing a camel caravan in the Middle East.

Genesis 24 tells how Abraham found a wife for his son Isaac. It’s the longest chapter in the Book of Genesis. David Schrock explains this story and explores its importance in the Bible storyline. He writes, “. . . the longest narrative event in Genesis is a love story, one that seems Dickens-like in its profusion of extraneous information. Certainly, as the promises of God are given to Abraham and his offspring, the marriage of his son is no small matter. Yet, it seems as though the account of the servant traveling back to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac is prolix detour from the rest of Genesis. . . . . So why the long drama of finding Isaac a wife? My answer is that this story reflects God’s story for the world, and the long-time-in-coming union between God’s beloved son with his bride. Let’s consider.”

After showing us how Genesis should be read in the context of the whole Bible story, he comments, ”. . . we have reason to read Genesis 24 as a narrative meant to point to Christ, just as the firstborn son of Abraham points to Christ (cf. Romans 8.31–32). We should likewise see the account of Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage as patterned after the original marriage and foreshadowing a greater marriage—after all, this is the mystery marriage, that every husband and wife are types of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5.22–33). Last, we should consider how Moses intended to tell the history of Isaac and Rebekah and perhaps something else—namely another rehearsal of the exodus event he had experienced with Israel. . . . . With these ‘reading requirements’ in place, what do we find in Genesis 24?”

Dr Schrock details how the story in Genesis 24 foreshadows how God will bring a bride to His Son. He concludes, “Incredibly, Genesis 24 is not the longest chapter in Genesis by accident. It is a pure and holy story of covenant marriage, set against all the other debauched stories of sexual immorality in Genesis. And . . . it teaches us how to look at the entire world with hope in Christ and the marriage he offers to those who forsake their fathers and join themselves to God’s Son. . . . . It surely should encourage us as we the bride serve our Master and call others to come to him!”

Read the whole article HERE.

CREDITS Scripture citations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘The four seeds of Abraham: natural, national, Christ and “in Christ”‘ by David Schrock

“And [the LORD] brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15.5–6).

David Schrock writes, “. . . it is vital to see how God’s earlier revelation prepares the way for his later purposes. Sometimes this is called an ‘eschatological’ reading of Scripture. That may sound complicated, but it’s not. Eschatology means ‘the study of last things’ (eschatos = last), and most of the time people immediately jump to what they perceive are the ‘last things’ in the Bible. However, if we consider that God stands outside of time and created all things for the purpose putting them under his Son’s feet (see Ephesians 1:10), then we must read the Bible as one unified-but-unfolding plan of redemption. In this way, eschatology doesn’t begin in Revelation, or Daniel, or Zechariah, it begins in Genesis. And from Genesis to Revelation, God is working all things for the purposes of his people—the offspring of Abraham. But who is/are Abraham’s offspring?”

Dr. Schrock explains who the four seeds of Abraham are, and places them in the developing storyline of the Bible. He concludes, “. . . ultimately, it is the third and fourth seeds that are most important. To be sure, the second seed takes up most of the pages in Scripture, but that second seed was always chosen for the purpose of the third seed. And nestled within the second seed, even before the coming of the third, was the fourth. . . . . Keep your eyes on the storyline of Scripture, and watch how the historical figures in the Old Testament bear witness to the coming Christ. In Scripture, all things are directed towards him, and thus only as we place faith in him, do God’s people find their blessing, as children of Abraham. This is how the Scripture explain God’s purposes in time, just as Paul puts in Galatians 3.23–29. . . . . Indeed, as we read Scripture may we learn how to tell the time. And most important for setting our watches is learning to see how God is at work over the different covenants of Scripture.”

Read the whole article HERE.

CREDITS All Scripture citations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Christmas army of angels

Image © Lumo Project through Free Bible Images All rights reserved

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2.8–14).

In his book, A Not-So-Silent Night: the Unheard Story of Christmas and Why It Matters, Verlyn D. Verbrugge writes, “One of the most familiar elements of the Christmas story in Luke 2 is the appearance of the angel to the shepherds. That angel was soon joined by a “great company of the heavenly host . . . praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2.13– 14 NIV). I doubt if there is anyone who does not envision this scene as a huge company of angels dressed in choir robes, perhaps complete with sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses, singing praise to the newborn king . . . . . . . . I, too, have always had this picture in my mind. . . . . But . . . I decided to revisit this passage in Luke 2, reading it in the Greek New Testament to see if there was something I may have missed. In doing so, I discovered something I had never realized before and something that is rarely mentioned and never discussed in detail in commentaries on Luke. This passage fits in with one of the two main themes I have been exploring in this book, namely, that Christmas is the beginning of war. Where is the military imagery in Luke 2:13? Listen carefully: The word that Luke uses for “host” is the Greek word stratia, a word that in classical Greek almost invariably denotes an army or a company of soldiers. On occasion the word could be used as an alternate for the Greek word strateia, which denotes a military expedition. In either case, the word has strong military connotations. . . . . What the NIV translates as “heavenly host,” Luke Timothy Johnson translates as “the heavenly army.” Christopher Evans refers to the “angels as the divine soldiery,” and F. L. Godet calls them a “troop of angels.” The NRSV has a footnote by the word “host” and indicates that in Greek this word means “army.” . . . . Most commentators, however, understand this word as a large choir.”

Dr. Verbrugge asks, ”How does this military imagery, then, intersect with the Christmas story? He explains, “In chapter 2 we discussed the evidence in the Bible that Christmas was the beginning of a celestial war. Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil, and Satan reciprocated by trying to destroy Jesus. . . . . . . . Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, he had numerous encounters with demons, the cohorts of Satan.  . . . .  Our Savior openly admitted that he had always had a spiritual army at his disposal: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26.53).  . . . . It seems to me that those legions of angels who were ready to do the bidding of Jesus in Matthew 26 are identical to the multitude of the heavenly host, the stratia, that is out on the fields of Bethlehem. In other words, the song that these heavenly angels sing, . . . is not sung first and foremost by a heavenly choir, though I don’t doubt for a minute that they were trained in music as well as in military procedures. It is sung by legions of heavenly soldiers whose Commander in Chief has just been born, and they know that full-fledged war is just ahead of them.”

Verbrugge’s explanation throws a floodlight onto this heavenly encounter that Luke narrates. The appearance of this army of angels signals that a war – whose field of conflict embraced both heaven and earth – was entering its decisive phase. Christ’s nativity was the prelude to the great climactic battle in the war against Satan, the battle that took place on the cross, in which Satan was defeated, in which Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Colossian 2.15).

That war against Satan began in heaven, when Satan first rebelled against God. Other angels joined Satan’s rebellion. From that time, Satan and his evil forces have opposed God and every angel and human loyal to Him. This cosmic conflict is central to the Bible story.

When Adam and Eve, too – tempted by the serpent – rebelled against God, the theatre of war now extended to planet Earth. After Adam and Eve’s sin, God cursed Satan. He said to him: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3.15). There would be conflict between Satan and Eve. And there would be conflict between their offspring – between people who follow Satan and God’s people. But, one day, a single offspring descended from Eve would – though suffering fearfully in the process – defeat Satan, and deal with all the consequences of sin. In Vaughan Robert’s words, “The rest of the Bible can be seen as a ‘search for the serpent-crusher”.

From the moment of the Fall, through century after century, God prepared the stage of history for the coming of the Serpent-Crusher. Alec Motyer comments that the Old Testament “is, in many ways, a book standing on tiptoe, straining forward into the future.” As we travel through the Old Testament God fills out the details of this Man Who would defeat Satan and rescue and restore mankind and the whole creation. So, after many centuries, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, . . . .” (Galatians 4.4). Just as angels sang at Earth’s creation (Job 38.4-7), now they celebrate our Saviour’s birth (Luke 2.13-14). God’s heavenly host rejoice every time Satan’s dark dominion is pushed back – and Jesus’s birth heralded Satan’s total defeat. No wonder they sang!

Details of Dr. Verbrugge’s book A Not-So-Silent Night: the Unheard story of Christmas and Why It Matters are available HERE.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2018 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.

‘Preaching Christ from the Old Testament’ by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Image from Lightstock

Dr Sinclair B. Ferguson asks, “. . . how do we legitimately preach the text of the Old Testament as those who stand on this side of Pentecost? What difference does it make to expound Genesis or Psalms as believers in Jesus Christ? Or, to put it in a more graphic way, how can we reconstruct the principles of Jesus’ conversation in Luke 24.25-27,45, and learn to follow his example of showing how all the Scriptures point to him so that hearts are ‘strangely warmed’ and begin to burn? . . . . Yet we must also preach the Scriptures without denuding them of the genuine historical events they record and the reality of the personal experiences they describe or to which they were originally addressed. How, then, do we preach Christ, and him crucified without leapfrogging over these historical realities as though the Old Testament Scriptures had no real significance for their own historical context?”

He explains, “. . . there are . . . very important principles that help us to develop Christ-centred expository skills. As we work with them, and as they percolate through our thinking and our approach to the Bible, they will help us develop the instinct to point people to Christ from the Old Testament Scriptures. The most general principle is one for which we might coin the expression fillfulment. Christ fulfils or ‘fills full’ the Old Testament. He came ‘not to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfil them’ (Matthew 5.17). As Christians standing within the light of New Testament revelation and looking back on the Old Testament, Christ himself acts as a hermeneutical prism. Looking back through him, we see the white light of the unity of the truth of Jesus Christ broken down into its constituent colours in the pages of the Old Testament. Then, looking forwards we see how the multi-coloured strands of Old Testament revelation converge in him.  . . . . We want to develop an instinct to preach Christ. This is the general principle. But it can be broken down into at least four subordinate principles . . . .”

Dr Ferguson then explains these four principles. In his conclusion, he comments, “These are general principles; they do not constitute a simple formula, an elixir to be sprinkled on our sermons to transform them into the preaching of Christ. There is no formula that will do that. . . . . But as we come to know the Scriptures more intimately, as we see these patterns deeply embedded in the Bible, and—just as crucially—as we come to know Christ himself more intimately and to love him better, we shall surely develop the instinct to reason, explain and prove from all the Scriptures the riches of grace which are proclaimed in Jesus, the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”

Dr Ferguson’s article is instructive and stimulating, and worth taking time to read and to digest – and to apply.

It’s available in 10 parts from website of The Proclamation Trust. For part 1, click HERE; for part 2, click HERE; for part 3, click HERE; for part 4, click HERE; for part 5, click HERE; for part 6, click HERE; for part 7, click HERE; for part 8, click HERE; for part 9, click HERE; and for part 10, click HERE.

An earlier version of this article is available as a single webpage HERE (the online version in 10 parts available above is a later edited version).

New series of videos: ‘The Journey’. Video 10: ‘Immanuel, God With Us’

The Journey is a series of 16 videos (of around 25-30 minutes each) that will take us through the Bible story. The YouTube video above is number 10 in this series. Entitled Immanuel, God With Us, it begins the New Testament story by looking at Jesus’s birth and life, and His ministry and teaching until He enters Jerusalem shortly before His crucifixion. And we’ll see how each of the four Gospels gives us a unique view of Jesus’s life and character and ministry.

This video series can be used for group study (in fact, it’s currently being used in the author’s home church in the United Kingdom for group study). Each video is accompanied by a two-page Leader’s Guide, in PDF format. These give a few questions for group discussion, and provide guidance for the leader in helping the group to answer the questions. Click on the PDF icon below to download this.

The next video in this series will cover Jesus’s trials and crucifixion, and His resurrection and ascension into Heaven. It will be uploaded on Thursday 23rd March. As we approach Good Friday and Easter, these two videos, and their accompanying Leaders’ Guides, might provide a suitable study for your church or Bible study group at this season when we remember Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

The writer Dorothy Sayers pronounced the Christian faith to be “the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man . . .” It’s helpful to step back and view this drama in one great panorama – a kind of large-scale map from Genesis to journey’s end in glory.

This series of videos (supplemented with the written studies entitled The Big Journey provided on this website) aims to be that map. It’s a panorama of the Bible narrative from creation through redemption to new creation. We explore the Old Testament story, Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, and the story of the Church from the Day of Pentecost to the present day. Finally, we’ll look at what happens at the end of this age, Jesus’s Second Coming, and the New Heaven and Earth. In particular, we’ll see how Jesus’s life, death, resurrection and ascension is the focus of all history, and the key to God’s plan for us and our world.

Along the way, the series introduces some of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith at appropriate points in the narrative (for example, the Incarnation is explained in the video above, which tells about Jesus’ birth and life).

‘Christ Ascended For Us’ by Nick Needham

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

Image from Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. No known restrictions on publication. Image edited from original.

Early photograph of Jerusalem taken from the Mount of Olives (taken around 1890-1900). From Luke 24.50 and Acts 1.12 we learn that Jesus ascended on the Mount of Olives, in the vicinity of Bethany. The place where this photograph was taken is perhaps close to where the ascension took place. Certainly this view, taken around 120 years ago before the development of the modern city of Jerusalem, is the kind of scene that Jesus and His disciples would have been familiar with. Of course, in Jesus’s day, the great Temple rebuilt by Herod would have dominated the view of the city, rather than the Dome of the Rock which stands on the Temple mount today.

Jesus’s ascension is not a subject we perhaps think about very much. If we do, we may perhaps think of it as a postscript to His incarnation, life, crucifixion and resurrection. Yet, as Nick Needham makes clear in this article, His ascension is hugely important.

When Jesus returned to His Father at His Ascension He didn’t stop being a Man. Being human wasn’t just a temporary condition that He assumed whilst on Earth and divested Himself of on His return to Heaven. He is still a Man, and will remain so for all eternity.

There is now a Man in heaven – a Man with a physical body. Jesus’s body is glorious, incorruptible, perfect. But it is a true physical body nonetheless.

This has staggering implications for each of us individually, and for our human race as a whole – implications that Dr Needham brings out in his article.

Firstly, Jesus’s continuing humanity in Heaven tells us that God is for us. Dr Needham writes: “The eternal Son, the second person of the majestic Godhead, the Creator and sustainer of the universe, he is the human being, a son of man, a child of humanity. . . . . He has the same nature as us. He is flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. . . . . You may know how it is when you feel lost and alone in a strange place among unknown people and then suddenly you discover someone from your own country or your own city speaking your own language, maybe your very dialect. An instant bond springs up between you and your compatriot. Well, look up to heaven. You won’t just find angels there in all their alien angelic nature; you’ll find a man there; you’ll find a native of your planet who speaks your language.”

Secondly, Jesus’s resurrection and continuing humanity in Heaven is guarantees that we, who believe in Christ, will be resurrected as well. Dr Needham writes: “There is a man in the glory. The dust of the earth has entered the highest heaven. . . . . That has the most profound and the most wonderful significance for us. I’m human and in Jesus Christ humanity has ascended into heaven and lives in glory and so that means the way is opened for me as well and if I, in my humanity, am united to Christ, in his humanity, by the Holy Spirit, human on earth united with human in heaven, then the presence of the ascended Jesus in glory becomes the unbreakable pledge and promise that I will follow him there and I will share his glory.”

Thirdly, Jesus’s continuing humanity in Heaven means a Man – a Member of our own human race rules the Universe. That is an astonishing thought. Dr Needham asks: “Who is on the throne of the Universe? Who is King? God we say instinctively, God is the reigning King of the Universe. Our God reigns and that is true, but the New Testament adds a further truth. The man Christ Jesus is on the throne of the universe. . . . . There is a man on the throne of the universe.

This, in turn, has implications for our own destiny. God gave Adam and Eve dominion over this world, saying: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1.28 ESV). But now, as Dr Needham explains “The destiny that Adam lost has been restored and has been more than restored in the second Adam victorious over death. Humanity in Christ has been exalted to be the lord of the entire cosmos, with heaven as well as earth bowing beneath his feet.”

Finally, Jesus’s glorified human nature defines what God intends for our own human nature in the world to come. Dr Needham says: “In other words, it is the man Jesus in his final condition, ascended, glorified, exalted who finally stands before us as the perfect definition of humanity. It is only in the exalted Christ that human nature comes to its full bloom, its full flowering, its final development of powers and capacities. If I want to see what human nature is ultimately capable of I do not look at my own stunted twisted deformed, diseased, shattered and pathetic shell of humanity. No, I look at the man Christ Jesus, risen from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father. That is real humanity, human nature according to God’s final definition and purpose. . . . . And that’s the pattern according to which God the Father intends to mould you and me. . . . . Our human nature is going to be lifted up and augmented to heights of perfection that currently, frankly, we can only dream about. Our powers and capacities will be wondrously enriched and expanded in ways that are utterly beyond our present understanding when we are glorified.”

He concludes: “Now if all of this is the case, how can you and I be satisfied with earthly pleasures? How can you and I settle down contentedly here, our horizons limited by the activities and ambitions of life on earth; how can we do that? I say this with reverence. We’ve hardly been born yet. For the Christian life on earth is like being in the womb. The real life is yet to come and the ascended exalted Christ is the measure and the pledge of that glorious life.”

I urge you to take a few moments to read this article – and be edified and encouraged.

Dr Needham’s article is available as a PDF HERE.

Rev Dr Nick Needham holds the degrees of BD and PhD from the University of Edinburgh. He has published several books, including three volumes of a projected five-volume series on Church history entitled 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power (see the publisher’s description HERE). He teaches Church History part-time at the Highland Theological College, Dingwall. He recently accepted a call to a pastorate in Inverness.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.