The 144,000

Article by Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan. (original source here)

The 144,000 are not an ethnic Jewish remnant, and certainly not an Anointed Class of saints who became Jehovah’s Witnesses before 1935. The 144,000 “sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Rev. 7:4) represent the entire community of the redeemed. Let me give you several reasons for making this claim.

First, in chapter 13 we read that Satan seals all of his followers, so it makes sense that God would seal all of his people, not just the Jewish ones.

Second, the image of sealing comes from Ezekiel 9, where the seal on the forehead marks out two groups of people: idolaters and non-idolaters. It would seem that the sealing of the 144,000 makes a similar distinction based on who worships God, not who among the Jewish remnant worships God.

Third, the 144,000 are called the servants of our God (Rev. 7:3). There is no reason to make the 144,000 any more restricted than that. If you are a servant of the living God, you are one of the 144,000 mentioned here. In Revelation, the phrase “servants of God” always refers to all of God’s redeemed people, not just an ethnic Jewish remnant (see 1:1; 2:20; 19:2; 19:5; 22:3).

Fourth, the 144,000 mentioned later in chapter 14 are those who have been “redeemed from the earth” and those who were “purchased from among men.” This is generic, everybody kind of language. The 144,000 is a symbolic number of redeemed drawn from all peoples, not simply the Jews. Besides, if the number is not symbolic, then what do we do with Revelation 14:4, which describes the 144,000 as those “who have not defiled themselves with women”? Are we to think that the 144,000 refers to a chosen group of celibate Jewish men? It makes more sense to realize that 144,000 is a symbolic number that is described as celibate men to highlight the group’s moral purity and set-apartness for spiritual battle.

Fifth, the last reason for thinking that the 144,000 is the entire community of the redeemed is because of the highly stylized list of tribes in verses 5-8. The number itself is stylized. It’s not to be taken literally. It’s 12 x 12 x 1,000: 12 being the number of completion for God’s people (representing the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the Lamb) and 1,000 being a generic number suggesting a great multitude. So 144,000 is a way of saying all of God’s people under the old and new covenant.

And then look at the list of the tribes. There are more than a dozen different arrangements of the 12 tribes in the Bible. This one is unique among all of those. Judah is listed first, because Jesus was from there as a lion of the tribe of Judah. All 12 of Jacob’s sons are listed—including Levi, who usually wasn’t because he didn’t inherit any land—except for one. Manasseh, Joseph’s son (Jacob’s grandson), is listed in place of Dan. So why not Dan? Dan was probably left out in order to point to the purity of the redeemed church. From early in Israel’s history, Dan was the center of idolatry for the kingdom (Judges 18:30-31). During the days of the divided kingdom, Dan was one of two centers for idolatry (1 Kings 12:28-30). And there is recorded in some non-biblical Jewish writings that the Jews thought the anti-Christ would come out of Dan based on Genesis 49:17.

The bottom line is that the number and the list and the order of the tribes are all stylized to depict the totality of God’s pure and perfectly redeemed servants from all time over all the earth. That’s what Revelation means by the 144,000.

In the Beginning…

This excerpt is from Everyone’s A Theologian by R.C. Sproul

The first sentence of sacred Scripture sets forth the affirmation upon which everything else is established: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Three fundamental points are affirmed in that first sentence of Scripture: (1) there was a beginning; (2) there is a God; and, (3) there is a creation. One would think that if the first point can be established firmly, the other two would follow by logical necessity. In other words, if there was indeed a beginning to the universe, then there must be something or someone responsible for that beginning; and if there was a beginning, there must be some kind of creation.

For the most part, although not universally, those who adopt secularism acknowledge that the universe had a beginning in time. Advocates of the big bang theory, for example, say that fifteen to eighteen billion years ago, the universe began as a result of a gigantic explosion. However, if the universe exploded into being, what did it explode out of? Did it explode from nonbeing? That is an absurd idea. It is ironic that most secularists grant that the universe had a beginning yet reject the idea of creation and the existence of God.

Virtually all agree that there is such a thing as a universe. Some may plead the case that the universe or external reality—even our self-consciousness—is nothing but an illusion, yet only the most recalcitrant solipsist tries to argue that nothing exists. One must exist in order to make the argument that nothing exists. Given the truth that something exists and that there is a universe, philosophers and theologians historically have asked, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” That is perhaps the oldest of all philosophical questions. Those who have sought to answer it have realized that there are only three basic options to explain reality as we encounter it in our lives.

The first option is that the universe is self-existent and eternal. We have already noted that the overwhelming majority of secularists believe that the universe did have a beginning and is not eternal. The second option is that the material world is self-existent and eternal, and there are those who, in the past and even today, have made this argument. These options have one important common element: both argue that something is self-existent and eternal.

The third option is that the universe was self-created. Those who hold to this option believe that the universe came into being suddenly and dramatically by its own power, although proponents of this view do not use the language of self-creation because they understand that this concept is a logical absurdity. In order for anything to create itself, it must be its own creator, which means that it would have to exist before it was, which means it would have to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship. That violates the most fundamental law of reason—the law of noncontradiction. Therefore, the concept of self-creation is manifestly absurd, contradictory, and irrational. To hold to such a view is bad theology and equally bad philosophy and science, because both philosophy and science rest upon the ironclad laws of reason.

One of the main aspects of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment was the assumption that “the God hypothesis” had become an unnecessary way to explain the presence of the external universe. Up until that time, the church had enjoyed respect in the philosophical realm. Throughout the Middle Ages, philosophers had not been able to gainsay the rational necessity of an eternal first cause, but by the time of the Enlightenment, science had advanced to such a degree that an alternative explanation could be used to explain the presence of the universe without an appeal to a transcendent, self-existent, eternal first cause or to God.

The theory was spontaneous generation—the idea that the world popped into existence on its own. There is no difference between this and the self-contradictory language of self-creation, however, so when spontaneous generation was reduced to absurdity in the scientific world, alternative concepts arose. An essay by a Nobel Prize–winning physicist acknowledged that while spontaneous generation is a philosophical impossibility, that is not the case with gradual spontaneous generation. He theorized that given enough time, nothingness can somehow work up the power to bring something into being.

The term usually used in place of self-creation is chance creation, and here another logical fallacy is brought into play—the fallacy of equivocation. The fallacy of equivocation happens when, sometimes very subtly, the key words in an argument change their meaning. This happened with the word chance. The term chance is useful in scientific investigations because it describes mathematical possibilities. If there are fifty thousand flies in a closed room, statistical odds can be used to show the likelihood of a certain number of flies being in any given square inch of that room at any given time. So in the effort to predict things scientifically, working out complex equations of possibility quotients is an important and legitimate vocation.

However, it is one thing to use the term chance to describe a mathematical possibility and quite another to shift the usage of the term to refer to something that has actual creative power. For chance to have any effect on anything in the world, it would have to be a thing that possesses power, but chance is not a thing. Chance is simply an intellectual concept that describes mathematical possibilities. Since it has no being, it has no power. Therefore, to say that the universe came into being by chance—that chance exercised some power to bring the universe into being—merely takes us back to the idea of self-creation, because chance is nothing.

If we can eliminate this concept altogether, and reason demands that we do so, then we are left with one of the first two options: that the universe is self-existent and eternal or that the material world is self-existent and eternal. Both of those options, as we mentioned, agree that if anything exists now, then something somewhere must be self-existent. If that were not the case, nothing could exist at the present time. An absolute law of science is ex nihilo nihil fit, which means “out of nothing, nothing comes.” If all we have is nothing, that is all we will ever have, because nothing cannot produce something. If there ever was a time when there was absolutely nothing, then we could be absolutely certain that today, at this very moment, there would still be absolutely nothing. Something has to be self-existent; something must have the power of being within it for anything to exist at all.

Both of these options pose many problems. As we have noted, nearly everyone agrees that the universe has not existed eternally, so the first option is not viable. Likewise, since virtually everything we examine in the material world manifests contingency and mutation, philosophers are loath to assert that this aspect of the universe is self-existent and eternal, because that which is self-existent and eternal is not given to mutation or change. So the argument is made that somewhere in the depths of the universe lies a hidden, pulsating core or power supply that is self-existent and eternal, and everything else in the universe owes its origin to that thing. At this point, materialists argue that there is no need for a transcendent God to explain the material universe because the eternal, pulsating core of existence can be found inside the universe rather than out there in the great beyond.

That is the point at which a linguistic error is made. When the Bible speaks of God as transcendent, it is not describing God’s location. It is not saying that God lives “up there” or “out there” somewhere. When we say that God is above and beyond the universe, we are saying that He is above and beyond the universe in terms of His being. He is ontologically transcendent. Anything that has the power of being within itself and is self-existent must be distinguished from anything that is derived and dependent. So if there is something self-existent at the core of the universe, it transcends everything else by its very nature. We do not care where God lives. We are concerned about His nature, His eternal being, and the dependence of everything else in the universe upon Him.

The classical Christian view of creation is that God created the world ex nihilo, “out of nothing,” which seems to contradict the absolute law of ex nihilo nihil fit, “out of nothing, nothing comes.” People have argued against creation ex nihilo on those very grounds. However, when Christian theologians say that God created the world ex nihilo, it is not the same as saying that once there was nothing and then, out of that nothing, something came. The Christian view is, “In the beginning, God…” God is not nothing. God is something. God is self-existent and eternal in His being, and He alone has the ability to create things out of nothing. God can call worlds into existence. This is the power of creativity in its absolute sense, and only God has it. He alone has the ability to create matter, not merely reshape it from some preexisting material.

An artist can take a square block of marble and form it into a beautiful statue or take a plain canvas and transform it by arranging paint pigments into a beautiful pattern, but that is not how God created the universe. God called the world into being, and His creation was absolute in the sense that He did not simply reshape things that already existed. Scripture gives us only the briefest description of how He did it. We find therein the “divine imperative” or the “divine fiat,” whereby God created by the power and authority of His command. God said, “Let there be…,” and there was. That is the divine imperative. Nothing can resist the command of God, who brought the world and everything in it into being.

Miscellaneous Quotes (109)

“..we make the Holy Scriptures the canon and the rule of every dogma; we of necessity look upon that, and receive alone that which may be made conformable to the intention of those writings.” (On the Soul and Resurrection).” – Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395)

“God has never looked into the future and learned anything.” –
Steve Lawson

“Either sin is lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God – and if it is resting on Christ, you are free.” – Martin Luther

“We shall never be clothed in the righteousness of Christ except we first know assuredly that we have no righteousness of our own.” – John Calvin

“We cannot be unjustified any more than Christ can be uncrucified.” – Burk Parsons

“Regeneration and conversion are two sides of the same coin. Regeneration is God’s sovereign activity by the Holy Spirit in the soul of one who is spiritually dead in sin. Regeneration is the implantation of new life in the soul. Regeneration gives the gifts of repentance and faith. On the other side of the coin, conversion is the response of the one who is regenerated. Regeneration is the cause, and conversion is the effect.” – Steve Lawson

“Christ reigns whenever he subdues the world to Himself by the preaching of His word.” – John Calvin

H. Richard Niebuhr famously described the liberal theology of the 1930s with this statement: “A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

“Doctrine matters. What you believe about God, the gospel, the nature of man, and every major truth addressed in Scripture filters down to every area of your life. You and I will never rise above our view of God and our understanding of His Word.” – John MacArthur

“True repentance is displeasure at sin, arising out of fear and reverence for God, and producing, at the same time, a love and desire of righteousness.” – John Calvin

“You will never turn from a sin you don’t hate.” – Jen Wilkin Continue reading

How Do We Relate to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

by Michael Horton, adapted from his new book, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life.

What we meet in the unfolding biblical drama is not merely three “personas” but three concrete persons; not just three roles, but three actors. We encounter the Father as the origin of creation, redemption, and consummation, the Son as the mediator, and the Spirit as the one who brings every work to completion.

There are various ways of formulating this mystery:

1. The Son is the Father’s image; the Spirit is the bond of love between them. Consequently, in every external work of the Godhead the Father is the source, the Son is the mediator, and the Spirit is the consummator. Creation exists from the Father, in the Son, by the power of the Spirit; in the new creation Christ is the head while the Spirit is the one who unites the members to him and renews them according to Christ’s image to the glory of the Father.

2. Or we can say that the Father works for us, the Son works among us, and the Spirit works within us.

3. God’s works, both of creation and new creation, are typically described in Scripture as performed through speech, so we may also say it this way: Just as the Son is the Word of the Father and the Father (or the Father and the Son) breathes out the Spirit, all of the Father’s speech in the Son brings about its intended effect because of the perfecting agency of the Spirit. We hear the voice of the Father, but we behold God himself in the face of Christ. Jesus could even tell Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). But the Spirit is the one who brings about this recognition within us, as Jesus goes on to point out so clearly in the following verses (vv. 15–27). The Trinitarian reference is implied in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “For God [the Father], who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts [by the Spirit] to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

4. In the covenant of grace, the Father is the promise maker (Heb 6:13), the Son is the promise (2 Cor 1:20), and the Spirit brings about within us the “amen!” of faith (1 Cor 12:13).

5. Athanasius observed that “while the Father is fountain, and the Son is called river, we are said to drink of the Spirit.”

For it is written that “we have all been given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). But when we are given to drink of the Spirit, we drink of Christ; for “they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). . . . But when we are made alive in the Spirit, Christ himself is said to live in us: “I have been crucified with Christ,” it says, “I live, yet it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19–20).

It is not different works but different roles in every work that the divine persons perform. This can be something like a paradigm shift not only in our thinking but in our worship, living, and mission. As we begin to discern the Spirit’s distinctive role across the whole canvas of biblical revelation, we begin to recognize his distinctive role in our own lives.

Again, for emphasis: We will have a very narrow vision of the Spirit’s person and work if we identify him only with specific works (like regeneration and spiritual gifts) instead of recognizing the specific way he works in every divine operation.

In creation, redemption, and the consummation, the Spirit is the life-giver.

The “When” of the Five Solas

Article: Whence the Reformation Solas? – R. Scott Clark (original source here)

I get this question with some frequency, usually around Reformation Day. Here is a preliminary answer:

The ideas were present from the earliest stage of the Reformation, but the actual phrases developed over time. The earliest phrases were sola gratia (by grace alone) and sola fide and sola scriptura. These are easily found in early 16th century protestant texts.

Sola Gratia

Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, before he radicalized, used the expression sola gratia repeatedly in his 1519 disputation.

Martin Bucer used it in his 1536 commentary on the Gospels and again in a 1545 tract. The Italian Reformer, Peter Martyr Vermiligi used it in his 1558 lectures on Romans. Wolfgang Musculus used it in his lectures on Galatians and Ephesians (1561). Caspar Olevianus used it in his lectures on Romans (1579).

Calvin defended the notion and used the phrase, in Institutes 2.3.11. He was arguing against the Roman notion of “cooperating grace” in justification. See also 3.11.5; 3.14.5; 3.24.12.

Sola Fide

Luther used it famously in his translation of Galatians 3. He also used it in his lectures on Galatians. (His defense of inserting “allein” is below). In 1521, Melanchthon used it in his Loci Communes (Common Places, his systematics text) exactly as we do today.

Karlstadt used sola fide also in 1519 in his disputation. The significance of this is that he was certainly reflecting, at this point, what Luther and Melanchthon were saying. The phrase is also found in the work of Francois Lambert (1524); Johannes Oecolampadius (1524, 1534), Martin Bucer (1527, 1534, 1536, 1545), Heinrich Bullinger (1534, 1557), Peter Martyr Vermigli (1549) and in Calvin (Institutes 3.3.1; 3.11.1; 1.11.19; 3.14.17 etc). It is also found, of course, in the Augsburg Confession Art. 6.

The Latin text of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) uses the expression sola fide in Q. 60 on justification.

Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura is certainly a sixteenth-century phrase. The expression itself occurs among the Reformed as early as 1526 and Bucer used it in 1536. Calvin used it in Institutes 3.17.8.

Solo Christo and Soli Deo Gloria

I do not know the original dates for the phrases, solo Christo (i.e. “in Christ alone”) and soli Deo gloria (to God alone be the glory) but my guess is that their origins are probably a little later. Jim Renihan suggested that they might be traceable to Merle D’Aubigne. That seems like a good possibility but one which I’ve not investigated yet.

(wikipaedia suggests that the five solas were not systematically articulated together until the 20th century.)