[Originally posted in Jan of 2010 with the title "The God Who Raises the Dead (Where God is Taking the Church)"]
The virgin birth of Christ means that the “seed of the woman” is born into the world without the help of man. The same is true of the resurrection of the dead and of creation ‘ex nihilo’ (out of nothing). These are the metaphors that scripture uses to describe regeneration. In all of these examples: creation, birth, and resurrection, the subject is passive. It is not producing the action; it is being acted upon. The salvation of God is everywhere manifest to be a sovereign act of God “apart from works”.
The work must be God’s alone, because a division in the labor implies a division in the glory. Although the salvation of God is wrought ‘in’ man and manifest ‘through’ man, it is nothing ‘of’ man. This is precisely what sets the faith of Christ apart from all other religious systems. It is what made Paul an enemy not only to his nation but also many within the church. Their quarrel was not with Paul’s high Christology but his monergistic (only one working) soteriology (doctrine of salvation).
Just as the virgin birth was a divine ‘by-pass’ of natural fertility, so is every aspect of the salvation of God. God is supremely jealous for this, because He is supremely jealous that to God alone be all the glory. The cross signifies God’s utter rejection of anything that fallen might might presume to contribute to his own resurrection. “Any you he made alive, who were dead …” (Eph 2:1). It signifies that the life of the Spirit can only begin at the place of utter death to all natural support (“I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name”). This is why the promised eschatological salvation of Israel is always depicted at the end of their power (Deut 32:36; Lev 26:29; Jer 30:6-7; Dan 12:7).
If this principle is true of Israel in the coming day of the Lord, it is no less true of the church of this age. In fact, that is what makes the church the church. Through the transforming power of the revelation of the gospel, the believer receives the salvation of the coming day in unexpected advance of that day. The church by definition is the first fruits of Israel’s coming salvation. The church is the church only so far as it has received the Spirit that will yet be given to the penitent remnant of Israel at the end of the great tribulation.
We might say that the church is the product of a partially ‘realized’ eschatology. As such, it is NOT the negation of Israel’s eschatology, but as the people of the Spirit through revelation of the messianic secret (Mk 4:11; 8:30; 9:9; Ro 16:25-26; 1Cor 2:7-8; Eph 6:19; 1Pet 1:11-12; Rev 10:7), the church is the first fruits of millennial Israel. Living ‘between the times’, the church is the tribulation people, instructing many (Dan 11:33; 12:3). What then should the church be? What is the church called now to demonstrate before men and angels in anticipation of that day?
Obviously the so-called church of professing ‘Christendom’ falls miserably beneath the standard of God’s declared intention for the church. The searching divine question, “Where art thou?” finds most of what calls itself church naked and ashamed. This leaves many to ask, what is the church? Where is the church? The greatness of what God has decreed for the church, particularly in terms of what He had declared He will show forth and vindicate through the church, makes the church to ask with Mary, “How shall this be?”
I believe we can hear the same promise for the church of our day. “For with God nothing shall be possible.” There is a sense that the age is waiting on something still to be accomplished in the church, something to which the church could never attain apart from the constraints and inducements that God will bring through the crisis of Israel.
The crisis of Israel, particularly as it concerns the covenant concerning the Land, and the controversy of Jerusalem (Isa 34:8; Zech 12:2) will constitute the final watershed issue that will evoke all the great issues of the faith. In short, God will provoke the nations to provoke Him, since it is when the nations lift themselves up to attack Israel that His fury comes up in face (Ezek 38:18; Joel 3:2), as the ultimate provocation of His wrath. With this great provocation, there is no more delay.
The issue of Israel will be turned into a great test of the heart that will be a plumb line of division, not only among the nations but also in the church, not least because the people that are the occasion for such world turmoil are by no means friends of the gospel. Hence, the issue of Israel will test the hearts of many, particularly since this people, entirely unworthy in themselves, are nonetheless predestined to be made righteous at the set time, as was Paul on the road to Damascus. Thus it is that what the church believes about Israel is very revealing of whether it understands the nature of its own grace.
There is at the present a glorious church that is as much alive and hid with God in Christ as it will ever be. However, God has appointed a day of separation and manifestation through the determinative events and judgments of the tribulation. Of course, the essence of what the church will meet in the final tribulation is not without precedent. It is simply the ultimate intensification and concentrated embodiment of the church’s age long conflict. But a dispensation of requirement is at hand that will more clearly manifest the distinction between wheat and tare, even before the actual return of Christ.
Therefore, the present condition of the church is not the last word. God knows how to get us from here to there. “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1Thes 5:24). Hallelujah! That little verse, so big with meaning, says that what God has determined to do for and ‘in’ His people, He will certainly do. What a word of assurance! When I think of the present state of the church, and, of course, my own state, I think of the Lord’s words to Peter in John 21:18 “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”
So what wants and what waits in order for the church to attain to its full eschatological stature before this age can give way to millennial glory? No lesser power than the power that overshadowed Mary is required. That “holy thing” that is conceived is as holy and apart from the help of man as that “holy thing” that was conceived in Mary’s womb, i.e., the seed of the woman, the incarnate Word. We know also that the working of that power requires a divinely quickened humility of faith that only comes at the end of strength. God is able to bring the church to that holy end.
To propose a pre tribulation exit for the church, which is “the pillar and ground of truth” (1Tim 3:15), is to settle for an anti-climax, unworthy and out of keeping with all that scripture reveals concerning the cruciform pattern of God’s ways with His people throughout redemptive history (“ought not Christ to have suffered …?”). The suffering saints of the tribulation are never depicted as subject to divine wrath, but only the persecution of men. Some are hid and fed (Isa 26:20; Rev 12:6); many are preserved alive to the end.
May we then assume that God is waiting upon the church? Or is the church waiting upon God for the fuller manifestation of His glory? There is a necessary order, but God is no more waiting on the church to come into its place than He is on Israel to come into her place. He is not waiting on the help of man!
If history has shown anything, it has shown that if God were waiting on Israel, He would be waiting forever. No, while the sovereignty of God’s purpose never sets aside human obligation to fulfill the necessary requirements of righteousness, according to the eschatology of Israel, the willingness and obedience of the people awaits a special act of divine power. “Your people will be willing in the day of your power” (Ps 110:3; Jer 31:18; Gal 1:15). And significantly, that day follows the humbling of the nation through the chastisement of the Antichrist (Isa 10:5; Jer 30:14).
Certainly, the church has already come to this divine enablement in some measure by the gift of the Spirit; else it wouldn’t be the church. However, the power of Pentecost did not happen in a vacuum, and we may be sure that God’s determination to manifest the power of Christ through the church is yet to see a crescendo of glory in a final martyr witness of love and obedience, which will register itself powerfully upon the conscience of Israel, moving some to anger and others to holy emulation. But whether to anger or emulation, a church that has come to its appointed stature is a church that provokes.
Just as the seed did not appear until the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), God’s full purpose for the church has its appointed time, and we believe that time will coincide with “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1; Mt 24:21). The church needs to understand the time and nature of that time of ultimate crisis, what provokes it and what is ultimately at stake in it. We believe that this “understanding” (Dan 9:25; 11:33; 12:3, 10) is crucial and will prove priceless and transformative for the church. We believe that the first half of Daniel’s seventieth week will have everything to do with crowding the church into position for its final testimony, which not incidentally coincides with the time that Michael casts down Satan to begin the final tribulation, Satan’s ‘short time’ (Dan 12:7; Rev 12:12; 17:10).
Theologically, the church is the corporate seed of the woman through the Spirit of Christ, who has indwelt all the regenerate people of God from the beginning (1Pet 1:11), even as Christ is the personal seed of the woman. Born by miraculous conception of the Word (1Pet 1:23), she is the corporate fullness of Christ in His people through the Spirit. (Eph 1:23; Col 1:18-19). In essence, the church is as miraculously conceived and birthed as her ascended Lord. No less than Christ Himself, the church, and every living member in her, is born from above, “not by the will of the flesh or by the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:13).
Therefore, if the incarnate life of God in the people of God is the standard, many are anxious to see evidence of a corresponding reality in tangible manifestation, particularly in mighty demonstrations of the Holy Spirit’s power. Here we must caution of something very perverse in human nature. It is the spirit of demand. It is also a question of the purity of the motives for seeking powerful evidences for the manifest working of God.
A pure and single passion to see the greater glory of God in the church will learn to reckon on the lowliness and hiddenness of God’s ways among His people. Except for the sake of judgment, God will usually hide the greater manifestations of His power from pride. God makes it a point to bring His “good thing” out of Nazareth (Jn 1:46), and to conceal His glory underneath badger’s skins. As the Lord, so is the church without form or comeliness in the assessment of the world. Its beauty is a hidden beauty known only to God and to those who are begotten of Him.
The church is only strong when it is weak. It is only full when it is empty. The church demonstrates the wisdom of the cross in its rejection of all false forms of power through a resigned faith in “the God who raises the dead.” Such a faith cannot be intimidated by any earthly power. It is as free to die as to live. “If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn 8:36). The freedom that is freedom indeed is the freedom of love that casts out fear (1Jn 4:8).
It is much to be observed that only a church that is perfect in love can be bold in the face of death, and this is exactly what the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation depict of the tribulation saints. As Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered, so the church of the last days will be perfected through sufferings. It is an inviolable principle of the faith (Acts 14:22). Whether Joseph or David (and where is the exception?), the afflictions of the sons of God establish the pattern that Christ, the preeminent Son, fulfills most ultimately (“ought not Christ to have suffered?”) Even as Israel must and will be brought to the end of their power in preparation for the revelation of Christ, so too the church must and will be brought to an end of its power. “Judgment must begin at the house of God” (1Pet 4:17).
The question that follows is what does God intend to employ in bringing the church to its predestined fullness? How will He get us from here to there, corporately speaking? Can we believe such ‘manifest’ glory for Israel at the end of their tribulation, and believe less for the church at the end of hers?
If I were a teacher giving a class an assignment, I would love to garner the collective insight concerning what scripture shows that God intends to employ to bring His church to its full eschatological destiny in preparation for Israel’s return.
Note that at the very moment the church is being glorified, Israel is being converted. Israel’s salvation does not happen gradually; it happens suddenly, “at once” and “in one day” (Isa 59:21; 66:8, Ezek 39:22; Zech 3:9; 12:10; Mt 23:29; Act 3:21; Ro 11:26; Rev 1:7), at the ‘set time’ (Ps 102:13; Dan 9:24; 11:35). Israel’s salvation at the day of the Lord can be compared to Paul’s sudden divine arrest on the road to Damascus.
Note too how Israel’s salvation is related to the power of Christ’s return and the millennial binding of Satan. Significantly, the finishing of the mystery of God (Rev 10:7) coincides with the destruction of the veil that is spread over all nations (Isa 25:7), as the time of Satan, “the anointed cherub that covers” is made short by the tribulation, which begins with the revelation of the mystery of iniquity in the incarnation of the Man of Sin.
What is the church’s role as witness to the prophetic testimony of Jesus in bringing Israel back to God? What will God do to bring the church to its appointed place in the Spirit in order to stand in the gap for Israel in the evil day? I welcome any input from the body, as i am doing some writing on some of these things. Your brother in Christ, Reggie
Jan 18th, 2010 followup
I’m struck and surprised at the response to that quickly done collage of notes and reflections. I’ve received two requests to have names removed from my comparatively small contact list. Others write to complain of a one sidedness that neglects the place of human “cooperation.” Another, making the same basic objection, said he didn’t have time for such “ramblings” that intrudes into things beyond what God has been pleased to reveal. So in view of such unexpected reactions, and now getting this encouragement from such a trusted old friend, I’m beginning to think that we’ve touched something here that is perhaps more than we know.
Years ago, I had some notes that showed how a religion of works is behind every form of anti trinitarian theology. I wish I could find those notes; I believe they were quickened one morning. But I entrusted them to a brother’s care who lost them. Of course, the fault was mine for letting them go. I’ve often asked the Lord to return to me the essence of that powerful argument against the meritolatry inherent in all forms of unitarianism, both Judaic and “Christian.”
Of course, evangelicals are keen on the incarnation of Christ but get drop jaw when we begin talking about the implications of God incarnating the same essential nature in the believer, albeit in measure.
Of course, this is simply what it means to be “in Christ.” The offense comes when we insist that the only “cooperation” that God receives is the cooperation of the new creation, which alone is capable of the required cooperation. Though indeed nothing “of man” in the sense of source, the life of God in the believer is no less fully human; it is incarnation, and incarnation is simply union, but that union is necessarily apart from any natural potency in man. To paraphrase Paul, “woe is me if I do not cooperate.” Yet, “who is sufficient?” “I labored more abundantly … I can say this without boasting because it wasn’t me” (“yet not I”).
Paul was not slack on responsibility or obedience; he never relaxed the requirement, but he was vehemently opposed to smuggling anything of fallen ‘man’ into the equation, lest there be, as I said, “a division in the glory.” So while it remains that “without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness …,” it also remains that the work of God defies any mixture with what lies in the power of man.
Paul’s monergistic view of grace and new creation is as much an offense to much of modern evangelicalism as it was in the religious atmosphere of his day. Subject to twisting and abuse? Sure. But if we are teaching something that does not meet with the same objections hat were leveled at Paul, it is likely we are teaching something more palatable to human sensibility.
The ‘non mixability’ of the work of God with anything of fallen man is a non negotiable of the faith. It is a question of the ultimate source of all righteousness. However apparently good any motive or deed, if it does not come by way of a new ceation, it is “short of the glory of God.” I know of no comfortable, more agreeable middle ground that does not yield to man what scripture refuses to grant, namely, a “piece of the action.”
Bottom line: we are ‘shut up’ to God to both will and to do. That truth, more than any other makes us to tremble. Though He presently working in His people, sometimes powerfully and in mighty measure, yet He has promised to perfect His glory in the church in a yet more manifest demonstration. We see it there in prophecy. The whole creation groans, and we groan. Thank God, you are one who groans for His glory in the church. It is just to say that He has promised more than we’re seeing, and we may be sure He has not resigned to leave things where they are now. This is NOT how it ends.
Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?” He knew that prophecy had already answered His question (Dan 11:33; 12:3, 10). Why then does He put it thus? I believe it is because He knew how nearly absent the true faith of God would be in the earth in the days just before the final sequence of prophetic fulfillment brings the great constraints and inducements that will move the church to higher ground. I believe we are being permitted to build our religious towers of Babel while we come to an end of our own steam. That end will come when the requirement of faith exceeds the comfortable level of our optimistic presumptions concerning man. God is jealous for His own glory beyond anything we can imagine.
I expect that at some point I will respond to that objection and offer further explanation. I’m certainly OK with it being posted, though I admit it was not written to be an article but more of a discussion starter and to invite feedback in the interest of a fuller and better jointed statement in the future.
I really ask that you remember me in prayer, Dean, as I am careful to pray for you on every remembrance.
Your friend in the fray, Reggie
Jan 19th, 2010 followup
Is it possible to hasten the “End of Strength” in one’s personal life and in that of a church community, if one can find such?
Your question seems to ask concerning the present appropriation of the kind of reality that prophecy portrays of the church of the last tribulation. Granting that the power of Christ is revealed at the end of human self sufficiency, to what degree is this possible in the here and now? My answer is “much every way!” The New Testament reveals both a present ‘realized’ eschatology (the ‘already’), and a future fullness that awaits the final great tribulation (the ‘not yet’).
The principle that the revelation of Christ deals a death blow to human presumption concerning what is in man is a fundamental doctrine of the faith. That is why Paul emphasizes the role of tribulation in advancing the believer in experience and hope. The weaker the stronger. The path of the just grows brighter as the tendency to trust in self is driven ever deeper down into death.
The veil that blocks the full shining of Christ’s face is only as dense as our human self sufficiency, which is what the Spirit is always at war against even in a true believer. Paul said, “Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor 1:9). We know that Paul was given a buffeter from Satan to preserve him from pride in his high calling. If it had not been necessary, it would have been removed.
Paul said, “I die daily.” Beyond the particular dispensations of tribulation and divine dealing that are uniquely suited to each individual believer (which we cannot choose for ourselves), we are commanded to give diligence to make faithful use of the so-called means of grace (the Word, the fellowship of the church, the Lord’s table, good works and careful obedience to the leading of the Spirit). The taking up of the cross in the continual mortification of the self life is a daily duty that is fatal to neglect.
Indeed, nothing of the fullness that we expect to come in mighty power to the church at the beginning of the tribulation is entirely without precedent. In principle and pattern, the essence of what is coming has been present in every authentic revival of true religion throughout the history of the church. However, this will be unique in several particulars, which explains why this revival will not fade as all others.