Kim Riddlebarger

The Basics — The Lord’s Supper

It is the Holy Spirit working through the Word, and not a priest or minister that makes the sacrament efficacious for believers. God is the active party (not even the “rememberer”), and this is why we must see the Supper and the elements of bread and wine as gracious gifts from God–manna from heaven, as it were–given to us by God to communicate to us the realities of the blessings of the covenant of grace, through the signs instituted by God. 

The Reformed understanding of the Lord’s Supper is grounded in a distinction between the “sign” and “seal” (the bread and wine) and that which is signified in the Supper (the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s shed blood, the “blood of the covenant”). There is also a sacramental union between the sign and what is signified as evident in our Lord’s words “this is my body.” This manner of speaking of the Supper comes from the words of institution given by Jesus to his disciples.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:26-29).

When Jesus speaks of the bread as his body and the wine as his blood, we take him at his word without resorting to confusing the sign (bread and wine) with the thing signified (Christ’s body and blood). Nor should we insert words such as “this represents my body,” as in the case of those who believe that the Lord’s Supper is essentially a memorial meal and that nothing is received through partaking of the bread and wine. As Paul calls “Christ the rock” (1 Corinthians 10:4), so too, the bread is Jesus’ body, not because the sign is miraculously changed into the thing signified (as the Roman Catholic church erroneously contends in transubstantiation), but because Christ can speak of the bread (the sign) as though it were the thing signified (his body) using the language of sacraments as Jesus does when instituting the sacrament (Matthew 26:26 ff).
Following John Calvin, the Reformed have tried to keep in mind both the reality of Christ’s ascension, wherein Christ’s human nature is now in heaven awaiting his return (Acts 1:9-11), and the real presence of Christ in the sacrament (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Although Christ’s human nature is in heaven, the believer receives all of his saving benefits, because, through faith, the Holy Spirit has united the believer here on earth to Christ in heaven.
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B. B. Warfield: On Christless Christianity

“Only the fact that Christ stands out in history as surety of the gracious will of God, that in God’s name he punishes sin and calls the sinner to himself, that in holy suffering he endures the lot of sinners in order to convict them of their sin and free them from it, that as the Risen One he brings them the assurance of justification and of eternal life, is able to transform human seeking after salvation into finding. Severed from this fact which forms its very essence, faith is nothing, an empty desire, a question without an answer.”

One of B. B. Warfield’s most insightful essays is “Christless Christianity,” written for The Harvard Review in 1912.  It is available in its entirety here:  Christless Christianity.  It is not an easy essay, but well worth the effort.
Warfield takes aim at those who would divorce Christianity from history thereby eliminating Christ’s cross as the ground of our salvation.  He points out that,
There is a moral paradox in the forgiveness of sins which cannot be solved apart from the exhibition of an actual expiation [a payment for sin].  No appeal to general metaphysical or moral truths concerning God can serve here; or to the essential kinship of human nature to God; or, for the matter of that, to any example of an attitude of trust in the divine goodness upon the part of a religious genius, however great, or to promises of forgiveness made by such a one, or even—may we say it with reverence—made by God himself, unsupported by the exhibition of an actual expiation.
No payment for sin, no Christianity.  Warfield continues,
The sinful soul, in throes of self-condemnation, is concerned with the law of righteousness ingrained in his very nature as a moral being, and cannot be satisfied with goodness, or love, or mercy, or pardon. 
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“Daniel Blessed the God of Heaven” – Daniel 2:1-24 (An Exposition of the Book of Daniel– Part Four)

In this prayer, as we will see, the two themes surface which we have identified earlier as running throughout the entirety of Daniel’s prophecy. First, we see God’s absolute sovereignty over all of human history, including YHWH’s rule over the great empires depicted by the statue in the dream. Second, God’s fatherly care of Daniel and his friends is evident when YHWH protects Daniel and his three compatriots from the king’s wrath. YHWH enables Daniel to do what the Babylonian court experts cannot, that is to recount and then interpret the king’s dream.[3] 

Times Have Changed
The mood in the Babylonian court has completely changed between the time Nebuchadnezzar claimed the throne in 605 BC, and the scene which unfolds in Daniel chapter 2. In the opening chapter of his prophecy, Daniel describes Nebuchadnezzar as an all-powerful king, bestowing favors on those servants who have successfully completed their transformation from captured youths into humble and efficient servants in the Babylonian court, young men who come from the various peoples defeated by the Babylonians, now dedicated to serve the king and worship his Babylonian “gods.”
But in chapter 2 (which takes place two years later in 603 BC), the king is troubled and frightened because he has had a dream–the meaning of which escapes him. The royal court which seemed so dominant over its humiliated subjects is now depicted as a place of fear, helplessness, and brutality.[1] Whatever it was that the king had dreamed, coupled with the failure of Nebuchadnezzer’s magicians and astrologers to interpret the dream for him, initially leads to great peril for Daniel and his friends. But then it becomes an opportunity for Daniel to ascend in rank and importance in the court. This comes to pass because YHWH is Daniel’s shield and defender, and the source of both Nebuchadnezzaer’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation.
Chapter Two — The Big Picture
Chapter 2 of Daniel’s prophecy contains a 49 verse story dominated by Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a bizarre statue composed of four different metals (which represent four different earthly kingdoms), which is then destroyed by a giant rock (which represents an eternal kingdom established by the God of Heaven). The revelation given by the Lord to Daniel regarding the meaning of the king’s dream tempts us to focus entirely upon the sequence of future events revealed. Indeed, the dream contains a fascinating and remarkably accurate prediction of the rise of future empires and their eventual destruction. Yet, we must not overlook the big picture purpose of the story of the king’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation of that dream. Although the details of the vision which follows are interesting and important because the dream predicts the histories of the great world empires, this is not as important to Daniel’s message as the fact that only YHWH knows how the future will unfold, because he is the author of the future. It is YHWH’s kingdom, not any of the four kingdoms which Nebuchadnezzar sees in his dream, which triumphs over all other kingdoms of the world in the end.[2]
The account in Daniel 2 of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation of it is a single unit which is best covered in one long essay. But this requires far more space than is usual for a blog post. So rather than skimming over the entire chapter and then hitting the highlights (there are too many and the dream is too important for that), I will break the chapter in four parts. We will spend several posts going through the various parts. The first part is the king’s dream and his challenge to his court magicians to recall and explain it to him (vv. 1-13). The second part is God’s revelation of the dream to Daniel (vv. 14-23). We will cover both of these sections in this exposition. The third part of the chapter is Daniel’s God-given explanation of the dream to the king (vv. 24-45), and then finally, we have the king’s very favorable response after Daniel interprets the dream for Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 46-49).
The Key—Daniel’s Prayer to YHWH
The interpretive key to understanding the whole of the chapter correctly (the big picture) is found neither in the dream, nor in the interpretation of the dream, but in Daniel’s prayer to YHWH as recounted in verses 20-23. In this prayer, as we will see, the two themes surface which we have identified earlier as running throughout the entirety of Daniel’s prophecy. First, we see God’s absolute sovereignty over all of human history, including YHWH’s rule over the great empires depicted by the statue in the dream. Second, God’s fatherly care of Daniel and his friends is evident when YHWH protects Daniel and his three compatriots from the king’s wrath. YHWH enables Daniel to do what the Babylonian court experts cannot, that is to recount and then interpret the king’s dream.[3] As a result (vv. 46-49), Daniel is made a ruler in the province of Babylon, as well as chief prefect over the king’s wise men (counselors). Daniel also secures posts for Shadrach (Hananiah), Meshach (Mishael), and Abednego (Azariah).
We have in this chapter what amounts to a “court tale of conquest.” At first glance, the rivals are Daniel and the king’s advisors, but the real contest is between YHWH and the king’s idols [4]–just as it had been in Egypt in the contest between Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians. When the contest is over, it is clear to all–believer and unbeliever alike–that the Babylonian “gods” are no match for YHWH.
Daniel is the wisest of the so-called “wise men,” because YHWH has given him the wisdom and ability to interpret the king’s dream, while protecting Daniel and his friends.
A Very Bad Dream
When we consider the first 24 verses of Daniel 2, the first thing we notice is the specific time established by Daniel, “in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar” which would be the spring of 603 BC. We also learn that something was deeply troubling the king. “Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him.” We do not know what caused the king’s troubles–whether he had too many goat meat Shish Kebabs or too much caffeine late at night–but his sleep was interrupted and after falling back asleep he dreamt (the time when dreams are the most vivid). Before the invention of artificial lighting it was very common for people to go to bed just after dark–then awaken for a time around midnight–and then go back to sleep until first light. This is likely what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. He slept, was awakened, and then upon returning to sleep had his dream.[5] The king was deeply troubled by its content, a great metal statute with clay feet being crushed by a rock made without human hands.
Bring In the Chaldeans
In what appears to be a state of great distress, the king seeks relief from those in the royal court whom the king consulted in such matters. “Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king.” The list given us by Daniel is important–magicians, enchanters, and sorcerers–men who claim to see the future, talk to the dead, or interpret strange phenomena (storms, earthquakes, droughts, etc.). These men (known as “Chaldeans” as a group) were practitioners of the occult (the demonic). Such men were common in the courts of the ancient world and understand such dreams to have regular patterns which could be discerned so as to “interpret” such dreams correctly. There are even ancient manuals from Babylon (“dream books”) explaining how to do this. But this was such a complicated a “science” that it took much time and study to master these manuals and be admitted to the royal court.[6] The folly of this will be exposed by the young man Daniel, the prophet of YHWH.
With the Chaldeans standing before the distraught and troubled king, we read in verse 3, “and the king said to them, “I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.’” Either the king cannot recall the details of the dream–which is not uncommon–or else (and this is much more likely) the king recalls much of the dream but does not reveal the details so as to test whether or not his “court magicians” are actually interpreting his dream, or are merely offering flattering words meant to gain his favor and not provoke his anger. Nebuchadnezzar was no slouch. He is asking for much more than an interpretation of the dream. He is asking for a recounting of the specifics of what he dreamt, as well as an interpretation. He will put his court magicians to the test. He will not like the outcome.
“Tell Us Your Dream”
An important bit of irony appears in verse 4. “Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic, “`O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.’” The text of Daniel’s prophecy shifts from Hebrew to Aramaic until the end of chapter 7. The irony is that the king’s subjects begin with the common address offered by servants to someone of Nebuchadnezzar’s great prestige and power. This is a prayer to the “gods” (Bel or Marduk) offered on behalf of the king, who was often associated with the “gods” as though he were one of them. The irony in this is that Nebuchadnezzar is but a mere mortal, whose dream will reveal that his reign and kingdom will come and go. The king will not live forever despite the invocation of pagan “gods.” Some have wondered whether or not this is a bit of satire on Daniel’s part, pointing out the ultimate fate of Nebuchadnezzar and the futile efforts of his court magicians to bring about eternal life through the prayer they offer.[7] But Daniel will both recall and interpret the dream, only to tell the king about an eternal king and a kingdom which will not end, but endure forever (cf. v. 44). The New Testament will identify this kingdom for us (Revelation 11:15) –“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Likely unable to recall the essence of the dream if not all of its details, the king demands that his “spiritual advisors” tell him both the details of the dream and its interpretation. “The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, `The word from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. But if you show the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore show me the dream and its interpretation.’” Serving in the court of someone like Nebuchadnezzar is like being chained to a lion–things are fine while the lion is well fed, in a good mood, and not worried about other lions. But should the lion get hungry . . . Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is much too important to let the Chaldeans get away with mere formalities typical of the royal court.
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“Ten Times Better”: Daniel 1:17-21, Part Three

Although the young man Daniel suffered through the terrifying ordeal of being kidnapped and forced to serve in a pagan court of a tyrannical king, those who know Israel’s history know that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are part of the believing remnant within Judah–those Jews who, despite the curse of YHWH upon their own nation, remain faithful to YHWH, and who are preserved and sustained by YHWH in the midst of exile.  Yet, Daniel and several post-exilic prophets such as Malachi and Zechariah will be raised up by YHWH to reveal his purposes for his people upon their return to Judah and Jerusalem which will ultimately lead to the coming of the Messiah (Jesus). 

Context and Background Matter In Daniel
I think it fair to say that one reason why preachers often turn the great events of redemptive history into object lessons or timeless truths–and often times even these are obscured by illustrations, stories, and multi-media presentations–is because neither they nor their congregations know the Bible well enough (or care to know the Bible well enough) to let the biblical story tell itself, and then trust God to apply his word to the hearts of those hearing it proclaimed. 
Because it is a difficult book, requiring a great deal of historical background, the Book of Daniel is far too often subject to such unfortunate moralizing treatment.  This is a shame, because the story of four young Jewish boys taken captive, forced to conform to foreign ways, and then finding themselves standing before the king of Babylon (the man who has done these evil things to them) and out-performing by ten times the king’s own best and brightest, is far more interesting than any illustration I might find, any story that I might tell, or any timeless truth we may attempt to identify. 
Their story is especially compelling when we know the biblical background which puts this account into perspective–the reason why I will spend some time developing that background.  Yes, this is a wonderful story of faith under pressure and resistance in the face of temptation.  But it is also a story of God working all things after the counsel of his will, while still caring for these four young men.  God has chosen Daniel to reveal future chapters in the great story of redemption.
As mentioned previously, the Book of Daniel can be quite challenging to understand because of its apocalyptic visions and its direct ties to ancient near-eastern history.  This is also why it is a difficult book to unpack—for the reasons just mentioned.  This is why we are slowly “easing” into our study of Daniel’s remarkable prophecy.  In previous posts we spent some time on the background to the book, we looked at its literary structure, and then we established that two themes run simultaneously throughout the course of this book–themes bound together in the person of Daniel, a prophet of YHWH, and the author of the book which bears his name. 
Keeping Two Themes in Mind
The first theme is the sovereignty of God over the empires and rulers of the world–including the Babylonian empire and its king current Nebuchadnezzar.  We have considered Daniel’s stress the upon the sovereignty of God in the opening chapter of his prophecy–God “gave” Israel’s king Johaikim over to Nebuchadnezzar, along with many gold and silver vessels from the Jerusalem temple used in the worship of YHWH (v. 2).  The very idea of Israel’s king being led in chains to Babylon, as well as Jewish gold and silver, which had been used in the Jerusalem temple for the worship of YHWH, now placed in the Babylonian treasury and dedicated to the “gods” worshiped by Nebuchadnezzar, was unthinkable to any Jew.  The symbolism attached to these events is not to be missed by Daniel’s reader.  Nebuchadnezzar thinks his kingdom is far greater then Judah, and his “gods” are vastly superior to YHWH.  He will soon discover otherwise.  Yet at the same time Daniel tells us that this tragic set of events occurred because God willed that they occur–the covenant curses meted out by YHWH upon disobedient Israel. 
The second theme running throughout the Book of Daniel is God’s providential care of Daniel and his three friends (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah), who together have been taken captive by Babylonian soldiers and then removed to the capital city (Babylon) where they would be made to serve in the royal court.  It is hard to imaging how frightening it would have been for these boys–likely between twelve and fourteen–to be kidnapped from their homes and families in Judah, taken to a strange place, where they would be forced to forget their past and learn to worship foreign gods.  We see God’s sovereignty and care of Daniel throughout this saga, as Daniel reveals that God “gave” him favor in the sight of Nebuchadnezzar’s chief eunuch, Aspenaz (v. 9), the man responsible for the training (actually the “re-education”) of Daniel and his three friends, whose story unfolds in the first half of Daniel’s prophecy.
Taking capable Jewish youths captive–especially from royal and noble households–was part of Nebuchadnezzar’s larger plan to weaken Judah (a potential enemy) by taking the best and brightest of Jewish youth, especially future kings and nobles, and turning them into servants in Babylonian court.  As these young men were made to serve their Babylonian masters, they were a living testimony of Nebuchadnezzar’s power.  Jewish royals and nobles made to serve Babylonian royals and nobles–a humiliating demonstration of Babylon’s complete domination over Judah.
The Mounting Pressure to Comply with Pagan Ways
The tremendous pressure upon Daniel and his friends to comply with this Babylonian indoctrination was a matter of life or death.  As we will see in the next chapter, the Babylonian king was a cruel and vicious tyrant, and yet in the providence of God, Daniel and his three friends astonished him by how well they had learned the Babylonian language, culture, and history.  As recounted in our passage (vv.18-20), based upon their appearance and knowledge, these Jewish boys were now Babylonian servants, ready to dedicate the rest of their lives to serve their new masters.  But appearances can be deceiving.  YHWH’s favor towards these boys is revealed in verse 17, as once again we see his sovereign hand at work.  “As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”
What makes their appearance before Nebuchadnezzar so remarkable is that throughout the first chapter we have already seen that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, successfully resist their Babylonian captors at virtually every step in their reorientation, despite the tremendous pressure put upon them to conform to Babylonian ways and religion.  Daniel identifies his new home as “Shinar,” which was the location of the wicked and rebellious city Babel, destroyed by YHWH (Genesis 11:1-9).  We read of how these four Hebrew youths deliberately misspelled their new Babylonian names to keep from honoring false Babylonian gods.  We also saw how Daniel and the others managed to avoid defiling themselves by not eating the food offered them from the king’s table–receiving instead vegetables and water. 
It may indeed have been the case that as a Jew committed to the dietary laws of his people, Daniel wished to avoid the unclean foods of Babylon.  But it is likely that Daniel also wished to avoid any symbolic actions which identified Nebuchadnezzar as his covenant lord–such as table fellowship with the king, the means of cementing a lasting bond between two parties in ancient near-eastern culture.  Daniel could serve the king as a servant in the civil kingdom.  Yet, Daniel refused to give the king and his gods the devotion and worship symbolized by eating from the king’s table.  So when we read in verses 18-20 of the king’s acknowledgment of their superior wisdom and understanding, we know the only way this was possible is through the direct action of YHWH, “giving them” skill, wisdom, and learning, much greater than all the other captive youths serving with them in the Babylonian court.  They resist and they prosper.
In order to understand why the closing verses of chapter 1 are so remarkable and surprising in light of the greater story of redemptive history, as well as to help us to gain important biblical background as to why specific things will unfold in the dreams and visions which follow, we need to do a bit more background.  So, in the balance of this post, we will first consider YHWH’s covenant promises and threatened curses upon Israel, and then turn to other prophetic declarations regarding both Israel’s exile and eventual release from their captivity in Babylon so as to return home to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its temple.  Finally, we will consider the closing verses of Daniel 1 and how these four young men (especially Daniel) will witness God’s judgment fall upon Babylon.
Israel’s History and the Warnings of Covenant Curses
First, we turn back the clock from the days of Daniel to about 1400 BC and the moment when the people of Israel were about to enter the promised land of Canaan after forty years of wandering in the wilderness of the Sinai.  While still on the plains of Moab–to the east of Canaan, and shortly before his death–Moses leads what amounts to a covenant renewal ceremony, recounted in the Book of Deuteronomy.  On this solemn occasion, as God’s people were about to enter the long-desired land of promise, Moses reminds the people of the blessings promised them by YHWH if in the generations to come they remain obedient to their covenant with YHWH.  Yet in Deuteronomy 28:46-48, Moses also reminds Israel of the covenant curses which will come upon them should the nation fall into sin by embracing the false gods of Israel’s Canaanite neighbors.  Moses warned the assembled people,
And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.  And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the Lord will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul.  Your life shall hang in doubt before you.  Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life.  In the morning you shall say, “If only it were evening!” and at evening you shall say, “If only it were morning!” because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see.  And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.
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“The Babe, the Lamb, and the Lion of Judah” An Exposition of Revelation 5:1-14

The vision of the heavenly throne ends with all of creation and all of God’s redeemed worshiping the one seated upon the throne and the Lamb. When Daniel’s vision was sealed, when Ezekiel and Isaiah saw the throne, their visions were incomplete because they did not yet see the Lamb who was slain. For it is only after Jesus was born of the virgin, only after he has died for our sins, only after he was raised for our justification, that we can fully understand how Jesus can be both the Lamb who was slain and the Lion of the tribe of Judah, from whom the scepter (the symbol of his rule) never departs. This is why heaven sings a new song which centers upon what God has done in Christ to free us from our sins, to make us a kingdom of priests and to ensure that one day we will rule with Christ upon a redeemed earth.

The Babe in Bethlehem
In their opening chapters, the synoptic gospels give us a wonderful picture of God incarnate, a helpless babe in a manger, virginally conceived, and born to a young woman named Mary. When we see him in Bethlehem, the Christ-child is like a defenseless lamb, anything but a roaring lion.
Yet, in Revelation chapters 4 and 5, the Apostle John gives us an entirely different perspective on this newborn’s true identity. John recounts being caught away by the Holy Spirit where he was given a vision of God’s throne in heaven–a much different perspective upon our Lord’s advent from that given to us in the gospels.
A Different Perspective–The Throne of Heaven
Struggling to describe the scene he is witnessing, John sees one who is both a lion and a lamb. The glory of the one sitting upon the throne, says John, has the appearance of precious gems and reflects virtually every color of the spectrum. A rainbow encircles the throne, from which emanate flashes of lightening and peals of thunder. Surrounding the throne are twenty four elders, representing God’s redeemed people from both testaments. Also present are four living creatures (angels) who have six wings and who are covered with eyes. The living creatures represent all of creation. Together, with the elders, the living creatures worship the one seated on the throne. But they also worship another—a Lamb who was slain and yet who is also the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5). He alone is worthy to open the mysterious scroll containing God’s plan for the future chapters of redemptive history.
In what follows, we will consider the coming of Jesus Christ from the perspective of God’s throne in heaven. From this heavenly vantage point, we get a glimpse of the eternal glory of the Son of God, who then veiled that glory in human flesh when he came to earth to be born of Mary in a creche in Bethlehem.
Like the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel, Daniel, and Isaiah before him, John is caught away by the Holy Spirit and given a vision of God’s throne room in heaven. What John sees is beyond human description. This vision will give comfort and encouragement to Christians then suffering under persecution from the Roman empire and its emperor. John is given a glimpse of heavenly glory to remind us in the midst of our struggles against our earthly foes that God’s will is being done in heaven–just as Jesus instructed us to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). The birth of Jesus points ahead to that day when God’s will is done upon the earth just as it is in heaven. Our Lord’s first advent guarantees that he will return a second time to complete his redemptive work.
The Glory of the Heavenly Scene
In the opening chapters of the Book of Revelation (1:12-3:22), John is given a vision of the resurrected Christ walking in the midst of his churches. Let us consider John’s second vision, recorded in Revelation 4-5. The vision in chapters 1-3 depicts Christ’s presence with his church on the earth, while the second vision gives God’s people a heavenly perspective upon their earthly struggles. The vision of Jesus Christ’s heavenly glory and power in Revelation 4-5 would be a great encouragement to those whom God has called to fight the good fight of faith during times of trial and uncertainty.
Keeping this heavenly scene before our eyes reminds us that despite the wrath of Satan against the offspring of the woman, as well as his hatred toward us, God’s people will be victorious in the end. Through the birth of the seed of the woman (“her offspring” as foretold in Genesis 3:15), the serpent’s head was crushed by Jesus when he died upon Calvary’s cross, a victory which became evident when Jesus was raised from the dead three days later. Jesus’ victory over the serpent dominates the vision in Revelation 5.
As the vision unfolds, John’s focus is upon an incarnate Savior, the babe who was born of the virgin, now depicted as the Lamb who alone is worthy to open the scroll. Because the Lamb has already triumphed over Satan upon the cross and has been raised from the dead, one day the Lamb’s triumph will extend to all the earth. At the end of the redemptive drama, when Jesus returns, Satan and his evil henchmen (the beast and the false prophet), will be cast into the lake of fire, never to torment God’s people again.
Revelation 5 continues the vision of the heavenly throne begun in chapter 4. The focus shifts from the scene in the opening verses of chapter four in which all of creation–represented by the four living creatures–praises the one seated on the throne, to the image of the representatives of the redeemed (the twenty-four elders) praising God, to God’s re-creation of all things as seen in Revelation 5:1-14.[1] We can see this pattern with the intensified focus upon the Lamb who not only redeems his people from sin and death, but who is also the one in whom all things will be re-created by virtue of his resurrection from the dead. The Lamb was slain, but now he is alive forevermore. Just as he rose from the dead, so too he will make all things new.
The Broad Panorama of Redemptive History
In this vision, the broad panorama of redemptive history–creation, fall, redemption, re-creation–is displayed in summary form. We can view redemptive history as moving forward from the moment of Adam’s fall (the reason for Advent) to the crushing of the serpent. In John’s vision we view Christ’s advent from the vantage point of heaven–the box top to the 5000 piece jig-saw puzzle so to speak. John sees the seed of the woman (depicted here as both a lion and a lamb) as that one who is alone worthy to open the mysterious scroll and its seals (the theme of Revelation chapters 6-8).
In the fourteen verses of Revelation, we should note that there are many Old Testament messianic prophecies alluded to by John–including several from the Book of Zechariah. In Revelation 5:1, John reveals that the one upon the throne is holding something in his hand. “Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” The scroll which John sees has writing on both the front and the back. This reminds us of the scroll given the prophet Ezekiel in the opening chapters of his prophetic vision. The same was true of the flying scroll in Zechariah 5:1-4. Because Ezekiel was called to preach the contents written upon the scroll to the people of Israel, he was commanded to eat the scroll, a symbolic act pointing to his preparation to preach its content.[2] But the scroll which John sees is sealed–and someone must be found who is worthy to open it. This sets in motion the great drama of this vision as John laments that no sinful human is worthy to take the scroll and open it.
Worthy to Open The Mysterious Scroll
Some historical background to this is helpful. People living in John’s day (late first century) would have understood the significance of the fact that the scroll was sealed. Such scrolls often served two functions in the ancient world; an official document, or a last will and testament. When an official document was sealed with wax, the seal was made with the author’s official and personal mark, usually from his signet ring or his official seal, to ensure both the authenticity and the authority of the sealed document’s contents. The seal not only ensured privacy, it ensured that only one who had recognized authority could open the document and read its contents. If the heavenly scroll is a last will and testament, this explains the double-sided writing, a common Roman practice in legal documents.
A will had to be witnessed and sealed by seven witnesses–explaining why the seven-fold Spirit of God is present before the throne. The terms of such wills could be executed only upon the death of the testator. In this case, the seven seals contained in the scroll are to be opened by the Lamb who was slain, and who, by virtue of his death for his people, is reckoned worthy to do so.[3] The Lamb is the author of this heavenly scroll, and by virtue of his death and resurrection, he alone is worthy to open it and execute its instructions.
What is this mysterious scroll all about? Why is it that no one can be found who is worthy to open it? As we read in verses 2-4, that no one was worthy causes John great anguish.

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

We must look back to the Old Testament for an explanation. In verse 4 of Daniel 12, the angel tells Daniel, “but you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” Daniel is perplexed about the meaning of the angel’s words and so he asks in verse 8:

I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.”

Those who are wise and who understand are the same ones whom Jesus says have been given ears to hear.
The Sealed Prophecy Now Opened
Daniel’s prophecy was to be sealed until the time of the end, because the Old Testament saints could not possibly understand how God would bring about the blessings of the messianic age without knowledge of the person and work of Jesus Christ. But with the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ seen as accomplished facts, the time has finally come for the scroll to be opened. Once Jesus Christ takes upon himself a true human nature in Mary’s womb, and then conquers death and the grave, human history enters into its final phase. The time has come for that which was sealed in Daniel’s day (until the time of the end) to be revealed with the coming of Jesus at his first advent. But we still have not answered the critical questions, “what is on this scroll and why is no one able to open it?”
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Paul on Christian Hope in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Christ’s death and resurrection are the central events in redemptive history. Because Jesus has risen and then ascended to the Father’s right hand, so too, we will rise at his return to earth. Christ’s resurrection is the basis for our future hope. When our Lord returns to earth, so too, will those “who sleep in him,” and on that day, we shall be raised imperishable.

The Question Put to Paul by the Thessalonians
In light of the broad background of the New Testament’s teaching regarding the second advent of our Lord, we consider Paul’s teaching regarding Christian hope in verses 13-14 of 1 Thessalonians 4. Paul is addressing the question brought to him from the Thessalonians by Timothy regarding the fate of those who die before Christ returns. Since Paul had been gone from Thessalonica for but a short period of time, many have wondered about how it is that this question would arise, since it is not likely that many people in the congregation would have died during the short time span between Paul’s departure and Timothy’s return trip to the city. Perhaps some were martyred due to persecution, but this is improbable. Although many proposals have been put forth as an explanation, Gene Green wisely cautions us,

The reconstruction of greatest merit argues that at the moment of confronting the reality of death, the Thessalonians did not allow their confession to inform their reaction to this human tragedy. Alternately, they may simply have not understood fully the reality of the resurrection from the dead, especially in light of the general Gentile consensus that such things simply do not happen.[1]

Those Who Are Asleep
In verse 13, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “we do not want you to uninformed, brothers.” In the prior section of this chapter, Paul speaks of the Thessalonians as knowing certain details (i.e., 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2; 6, 9) but since he speaks here of the need to inform them (of what follows) it is likely that this matter was not fully dealt with when he had been among them previously.[2] Paul had been forced to leave after three sabbaths due to rioting because of his message. What Paul says in his response to the question is important. Specifically, Paul does not want the Thessalonians to be ignorant about “those who are asleep,” i.e., those who have died before the Lord’s return. As Greco-Roman pagans and new converts to Christianity, the very idea of the resurrection of the dead was difficult for the Thessalonians to grasp. It was common in the first century to believe in the immortality of the soul–often seen as an underworld journey, such as crossing the river Styx–but the very idea of the dead coming back to life in redeemed/resurrected bodies was completely foreign.[3]
It was also common for the ancients to speak of death as “sleep”–especially the Greeks (i.e., Homer, Sophocles). The Old Testament repeatedly speaks of people who have fallen asleep with the fathers (Genesis 47:30; Deuteronomy 31:16; 1 Kings 2:10; Job 14:12 ff.; Psalm 13:3; Jeremiah 51:39 ff.).[4] Christians could use the metaphor of sleep when discussing death because of belief in the resurrection at the end of the age, while pagans, sadly, viewed this sort of sleep as having no end–i.e., no redemption of the body.[5]
We Die “In Christ”
Unlike the Greco-Roman pagans of Paul’s day, Christians need not “grieve like people who have no hope.” There is an intermediate state, described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:8– “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Those who die in Christ immediately enter into the Lord’s presence at death. Yet, this intermediate state is temporary. Christ’s bodily resurrection guarantees the bodily resurrection of his people–the first fruits of a great harvest at the end of the age (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20). In Ephesians 2:12, Paul reminds Christians to “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” All eschatological (future) hope is grounded in Christ’s resurrection–his victory over death and the grave. For Paul, to deny the resurrection of the believer is to deny the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:12-18).
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“God Gave Daniel Favor and Compassion”: Daniel 1:8-21, Part Two

For Christians, Daniel’s obedience points ahead to Jesus’s perfect obedience.[12] As Daniel resisted Nebuchadnezzar’s food and devotion to Babylonian deities, Christians see in this a small foreshadowing of Jesus resisting the temptation to bow to Satan but one time in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world (cf. Matthew 4:1-11). As God gave Daniel and his companions over to Nebuchadnezzar for as yet unseen redemptive historical purposes, so too God gave his own beloved Son Jesus over to the Romans, who crucified him so that we might be forgiven of our sins. And just as God raised Daniel to a position of respect and honor in the Babylonian and Persian courts, so too God raised Jesus from the dead and then placed him at the position of highest honor.

Perhaps you heard the same sorts of sermons on Daniel I did growing up. As Daniel resisted the temptation to embrace worldly ways, keeping his faith under pressure to conform, so we too should resist “worldliness” and stand strong in our beliefs in the face of those who reject them. The application we were to draw from this was not to smoke, drink, date non-Christians, lie, steal, and so on, when non–Christians tell us these things are okay.
While there is some truth in this, when we read of Daniel being forced to resist the pressure to compromise his faith we are tempted to read Daniel’s struggle in light of our own struggles to live godly lives and progress in our sanctification. But, as I will suggest throughout this series, we should understand Daniel’s situation as much more like that in which a Christian in modern Syria and Iraq endured when their community was overrun by a terrorist regime like ISIS or Hamas, or even in light of what the Chinese Communist Party has sought to do with the Uyghurs—a Muslim population in western China. Daniel faced a constant, coercive, and humiliating pressure to reject his religion and his national citizenship, to embrace foreign gods, serve foreign rulers, and adopt a way of life completely alien to the faith of Israel’s patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Daniel faced intense pressure to conform at a level difficult for us to imagine, especially when we consider that he was still a youth serving in the royal court and therefore in the presence of the very king (Nebuchadnezzar) who was attempting to subjugate Daniel’s people and nation through the most diabolical of means. Throughout his struggle to not compromise his fundamental beliefs, YHWH is with him every step of the way, all the while directing the affairs of kings and nations to their divinely-appointed ends.
As we begin to dig into the Book of Daniel, we will consider two related themes which we find in the opening chapter of Daniel. Last time we covered introductory and background matters, and established the fact that in the prophecy of Daniel two elements unfold simultaneously throughout the book. One element is Daniel’s stress upon God’s sovereign control over all of history, as YHWH brings Israel through a period of judgment (exile) and restoration (a new Exodus) leading up to the coming of the Messiah, and then on to the end of the age. The second element is God’s providential care for Daniel and his three friends while they struggle to remain faithful to YHWH while in Babylon, serving in the royal court of a pagan king. It is this second element of Daniel’s prophecy we will consider in this exposition as two related sub-themes appear–Nebuchadnezzar’s coercive attempts to turn young Hebrew royals into pagan Babylonians, and Daniel’s resistance to this intense pressure to conform to the king’s scheme to weaken, if not destroy, the people of Israel through Babylonian domination.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Manner of Conquest–Cruel Subjugation
The opening verses of Daniel reveal the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s efforts to cripple the nation of Israel, as well as explaining the circumstances which led to Daniel’s captivity and exile in Babylon in 605 BC. We read in verses 1-2, “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.” We can date this to precisely 605 BC when Nebuchadnezzar (who is still crown prince and not yet king) led the Babylonians to victory over an Egyptian army led by Pharaoh Neco at Carchemish (modern Syria).[1] Pursuing the routed Egyptians, Nebuchadnezzar went south to Jerusalem, laying siege to the city. That is when word came to him that his father had died. Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon for coronation as his father’s successor.
With Palestine firmly under Babylonian control, Nebuchadnezzar returned later that year to carry the spoils of his victory back to Babylon–a sign of his power and success as newly crowned king. The evidence from ancient sources (i.e., Josephus, and the Babylonian Chronicle) indicates that Jerusalem was besieged at this time, but not conquered. Daniel tells us that “the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God.” Jehoiakim was taken in shackles to Babylon (he was later released and returned to Judah) along with a number of the vessels (implements) used for the worship of YHWH in the Jerusalem temple. Jehoiakim was now the vassal (subject) of Nebuchanezzar, and paid tribute to his new Babylonian suzerain. Eventually the relationship between the Babylonians and Judah became strained, Judah allying with Egypt, whose armies later defeated Nebuchadnezzar, prompting Nebuchadnezzar to return in 587 BC and destroy both Jerusalem and the temple.
The Desecration of the Temple–A Sign of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dominance
Daniel is clear that YHWH “gave over” Israel’s king (Jehoiakim) to Nebuchadnezzar, along with vessels from the temple. No doubt, the reason was that Israel had become unfaithful to YHWH. His chosen people were embracing the pagan gods of their Canaanite neighbors. The temple vessels may have been a form of tribute which the weak and cowed Jehoiakim offered to his Babylonian suzerains. But let us not miss the symbolism behind this as well as the intentions of the Babylonians. Perhaps the vessels were selected by the Babylonians–“we’ll take these and spare the city.” But it is possible that the temple vessels were freely given up by Jehoiakim as tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. If this is the case, and it may very well be, then his act reveals that saving his own hide was more important to Judah’s humiliated king than YHWH’s honor. We know from Daniel 5:2-4, that these same vessels will be used by King Belshazzer to honor the “gods” of gold, silver, iron, bronze, and wood, an act which prompts YHWH’s judgment.
Regardless of how these vessels ended up in Babylonian hands, Daniel describes them as being taken to “Shinar,” the ancient name for the location of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). The use of the name “Shinar” instead of Babylon is surely intentional on Daniel’s part, because he sees Babylon as a place of sin and rebellion against God just as Babel had been (cf. Zechariah 5:11).[2] The fact that these vessels were placed in the treasury of Nebuchadnezzar’s god [Marduk, perhaps?] tells us that not only were these vessels a valuable spoil of war added to the royal treasury, but that this was an act of a pagan king showing utter contempt for YHWH, the weak “god” of the humiliated Jews.
The very act of taking the vessels used for the worship of YHWH and then placing them in the temple of pagan “gods” demonstrates to the demoralized citizens of Judah and Jerusalem the total dominance of Babylon. Israel’s king is in shackles, and items used for the worship of YHWH are now dedicated to pagan deities. It is not the value of the vessels which matters to Daniel (although they were worth a great deal). What matters is the symbolism of dedicating these vessels to Babylonian gods. Nebuchadnezzar is sending a symbolic message (as we will see throughout the coming chapters) that his kingdom is superior to Judah, that his gods are superior to YHWH, and that he has no intention of allowing Judah and Jerusalem to continue on as anything more than a weakened client state of Babylon. In fact, he will take a number of actions to ensure that Judah and Jerusalem never do return to the power and prestige they possessed in the days of David and Solomon. Jerusalem and its temple can stand for now, but they must serve Nebuchanezzar’s kingdom, not YHWH’s.
Conquest by Birth–Pagan Children
We also see the first act of defiance and resistance from Daniel in this recounting of events, identifying the city of Babylon as “Shinar,” thereby reminding his readers from the opening verses that Babylon and its king are no match for YHWH who brought a quick and final end to Babel and its Ziggarut (tower) built as a symbol of human power and defiance against the true and living God, YHWH. From the opening verses of Daniel’s prophecy, the prophet speaks of a battle shaping up between YHWH and his servants, and Nebuchadnezzar and his empire. As Daniel will make plain, this is a battle Nebuchadnezzar cannot win. If YHWH gave these vessels over to Nebuchadnezzar (as a form of judgment upon Israel), then YHWH will take them back (as judgment upon Babylon) when the Jews bring these vessels back to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple during the Exodus from Babylon to Jerusalem as recounted in Ezra-Nehemiah.[3]
Throughout what follows in verses 3-7, we get a sense of Nebuchadnezzar’s diabolical plan to weaken, if not eliminate, the Jews as a threat to his kingdom. We in the modern world forget the lengths to which the ancients would go to eliminate their enemies from the face of the earth. Unlike us, they thought of long term consequences. DNA testing shows that nearly 8% of all men living in Central Asia today are descendants of Genghis Khan (so are .05% of all men living today). Khan impregnated as many women as possible because any children born to his conquered subjects would be loyal to him, fight in his successor’s armies, and lose all attachments to their original tribal group–the tribal identity of the father determined the child’s identity and loyalties.
For the same reason, Alexander the Great ordered his Greek soldiers to impregnate as many women as possible wherever his army went (not just as the spoils of war) but because he knew these children would be Greek, regardless of their previous national identity. This baby boom would overwhelm defeated enemies for generations to come by replacing their depleted populations with the biological children of the victors. This is one reason why both Ezra and Nehemiah so strongly opposed Israelites intermarrying with Canaanite pagans–the children of such a union were far more likely to be pagans than Hebrews. Islam has learned this lesson, and spreads rapidly in the modern world–not by conversion or conquest–but by live births of children born to Muslim fathers, in many cases, to non-Muslim women.
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On the Nature and Frequency of the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper

In the absence of frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper, the gap created in the apostolic order of worship becomes rather noticeable. There is a reason why those fundamentalists who stand in the revivalist tradition place the “altar call” or an appeal to make some sort of re-dedication or re-commitment to Christ at the end of the service, after the sermon. When God’s word is proclaimed, we are called to act upon what we’ve just heard. But the absence of the Supper creates what seems to be a rather abrupt ending to worship, and the sense that something is missing gives impetus to those who want to see the preached word culminate in some sort of a call to action, which then takes on a more formal role in closing out the worship service.

This essay is an edited version of the lecture entitled “Frequent Feeding: Communion as Nourishing Worship,” given at the Great Lakes Reformed Conference in October 2023. An audio is version of the lecture is available here: Audio from the Great Lakes Reformed Conference. A YouTube video can be found here: Video from the conference. A downloadable PDF is available here: On the Nature and Frequency of the Lord’s Supper
1n 1555, John Calvin asked the following of the Magistrates of the city of Bern regarding the celebration the Lord’s Supper:

Please God, gentlemen, that both you and we may be able to establish a more frequent usage. For it is evident from St. Luke in the Book of Acts that communion was much more frequently celebrated in the primitive Church, until this abomination of the mass was set up by Satan, who so caused it that people received communion only once or twice a year. Wherefore, we must acknowledge that it is a defect in us that we do not follow the example of the Apostles (John Calvin, Letter to the Magistrates of Berne, 1555).

The practical issues surrounding the nature and frequency of the Lord’s Supper have been with us from the earliest days of the Reformed tradition.
The purpose of this essay is to offer a rationale for the frequent (weekly) celebration of the Lord’s Supper. To accomplish this, I will: 1). Address the idea of the Supper as spiritual nourishment by surveying the biblical evidence which speaks to nature of the Supper, then 2). Consider biblical evidence for frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and then 3). I will briefly address common objections to frequent celebrations of the Supper, before 4). I will wrap up with a discussion of the pastoral benefits of frequent communion.
The key take away from this essay is that nature of the Lord’s Supper defines (or at least it should) its frequency. What the supper is–a spiritual feeding–ought to provide the rationale for when and how often we celebrate it.
The Nature of the Lord’s Supper
We begin by surveying the biblical evidence which speaks to the nature of the Lord’s Supper. As we do so, keep in mind that the Lord’s Supper is instituted during the Last Supper.
To fully appreciate the theological richness of the Lord’s Supper, we must put it in its first century context of table fellowship, and the Jewish Passover–the Old Testament thought world of the New Testament authors. The significance of “table fellowship” in the Mediterranean world of the first century should not be underestimated. To eat with someone at table was, in effect, to be identified by a bond with those with whom you ate.
This is especially significant in light of Exodus 24, when Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy elders of Israel were summoned by YHWH, to go up on Mount Sinai and eat a meal of covenant ratification in his presence. The Exodus 24 account subsequently frames our Lord’s willingness to join in table fellowship with repentant sinners—a scandalous event in the eyes of the Pharisees as evident in Matthew 9:10-13:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Another consideration is that the Last Supper is a Passover meal, as the gospels indicate (Mark 14:12 ff). Our Lord’s words and actions indicate that he saw the institution of the Lord’s Supper as a fulfillment of the Passover and connected his actions to its fulfillment. The historical development of the Lord’s Supper within the New Testament itself–from the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the gospels to the practice of the “Lord’s Supper” as seen in 1 Corinthians 11 is significant. Paul’s account of the Corinthian Church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper (mid 50’s) was actually written before the gospel writers wrote in the mid 60’s, giving us the account of our Lord’s institution of the Supper during the Last Supper. This explains the different word order in the accounts of Paul-Luke and Mark-Matthew, and demonstrate that apostolic practice (i.e., in the Corinthian church) very closely followed what our Lord commanded in the upper room on the night in which he was betrayed, a decade or so before the synoptic gospels were written.
The Reformed understanding of the Supper in terms of sign/seal (bread and wine), thing signified (forgiveness through his shed blood, the “blood of the covenant”), and sacramental union (our Lord’s words “this is my body”), arises directly from the biblical data. When Jesus speaks of the bread as his body and the wine as his blood, we take him at his word without resorting to confusing sign with the thing signified (in the case of Rome), or inserting words such as “this represents my body,” where they do not belong (in the case of memorialists). As Paul calls Christ the rock (1 Corinthians 10:4), so too, the bread is Jesus’ body—not because the sign is miraculously changed into the thing signified as Rome argues in transubstantiation, but because Christ can speak of the bread (the sign) as the thing signified (his body) using the language of sacraments. Because a true sacramental union exists between the sign and the thing signified, the bread can indeed be spoken of as Christ’s body (Matthew 26:26 ff).
Following Calvin, the Reformed have tried to keep in mind both the reality of Christ’s bodily ascension—wherein Christ’s true human nature is now in heaven awaiting his return (Acts 1:9-11)—and the real presence of Christ’s body in the sacrament (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). It is important to note that the Reformed view (following Calvin) is not some kind of half-way house between Luther’s view of the “real presence” as “in, with and under the bread and wine,” and the Zwinglian trajectory of the “real absence,” which focuses upon the memorial aspects of the Supper.
The Reformed view is formulated in light of Calvin’s doctrine of “union with Christ.” Though Christ’s true human nature is in heaven, nevertheless the believer receives all of his saving benefits because the Holy Spirit has united the believer here on earth to Christ in heaven through faith, so too Christ can be in heaven and the believer can receive his true body and blood, because the same Holy Spirit ensures that those already in union with Christ receive his true body and blood when they take bread and wine in faith (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:23-29). The manner of eating is spiritual, not “carnal.” We truly receive Christ through faith and not by mouth.
In the words of institution, the body of Christ is not brought down to us—i.e., localized on an altar as the Lutherans argue, but the believer is able to feed upon Christ in the heavenlies through the power of the Holy Spirit who ensures that we receive what is promised. The means of reception is faith (the mechanics remain a mystery), since it is the soul not the body that receives the reality of what is promised, as the mouth receives only consecrated bread and wine. When we when eat bread and drink wine, through faith, the Holy Spirit ensures that we receive the true body and blood of Christ which is in heaven because we are in union with him.
There is also a covenantal dimension to the Supper, since each time it is celebrated, God re-affirms his covenant oath to save sinners by bearing the curse for them, and reminds participants that Jesus Christ still enjoys table fellowship with sinners as was typologically set forth in Exodus 24. Given these biblical themes, and the biblical language of “real presence,” in addition to the biblical practice of connecting the word and sacrament (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 11; Acts 20:7), it is hard to make any kind of a case for a pure memorialism or infrequent communion as is practiced by many Reformed Christians. That Christ is sacramentally present with his people through the Supper as they feed upon him in faith, is at the heart of the biblical teaching and Reformed doctrine regarding the Lord’s Supper. In Article 35, the Belgic Confession confesses that we believe that our Savior Jesus Christ has ordained and instituted the sacrament of the Holy Supper “to nourish and sustain those who are already born again and ingrafted into his family,” his church. In the Westminster Confession of Faith, 29.1, the Supper is likewise said to be “spiritual nourishment.”
The memorialist position (inadvertently) makes the human testimony of worthiness to partake, or of our testimony to faith in the promises of God, central to the Supper. This inevitably depreciates the fact that the essence of the Supper is a spiritual feeding and a covenant meal, in which God re-affirms his covenant oath. It is the Holy Spirit working through the word, and not a priest or minister that makes the sacrament efficacious for believers. God is the active party (not the “rememberer” nor a priest) whenever the supper is celebrated. We speak of the sacraments as the “visible word.” We ought to see the Supper and the elements of bread and wine as gracious gifts from God—manna from heaven as it were—given to us by God to communicate to us the realities of the blessings of the covenant of grace, through the signs instituted by God. The Supper is not incidental to the Christian life and is a vital part of our sanctification and growth in Godliness.
As for the warning about “discerning Christ’s body in the Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:28-30), the sacrament is not to be viewed as though it were somehow poisonous to the non-Christian, who will get sick and dies by receiving the Supper unworthily. Rather, by not receiving the Supper in faith, the non-Christian places themselves in a position where the consequences of their sin and the judgment of God upon them can become a frightful reality. As Zacharias Ursinus put it, “an abuse of the sign is contempt cast upon Christ himself; and is an offense against his injured majesty.” This is why the Reformed “fence” the communion table or practice closed or “close” communion, to protect those who do not discern the body of Christ in the elements of bread and wine. But all repentant sinners, who are baptized and profess faith in Christ, and seek his saving benefits through faith, are welcomed to the table so that we may demonstrate to the watching world that we are indeed one, just as our Lord himself prayed.
The Frequency of the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper
We move on to address the second point mentioned previously–the matter of frequency of celebration. The most important passage in this regard is Acts 2:42. This passage gives us the earliest picture of the Christian church, “rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit.”[1] Luke describes how the first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
In Acts 2, we read that the church in Jerusalem was founded on apostolic preaching. Its members enjoyed the fellowship of others who trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus to save them from the wrath of God, and who recently experienced the events of Pentecost. Calvin, saw this passage as significant for any discussion of the frequency of the Lord’s Supper because Luke establishes “that this was the practice of the apostolic church . . . . It became the unvarying rule that no meeting of the church should take place without the Word, prayers, partaking of the Supper and almsgiving” (Institutes, 4.17.44).
Calvin is probably correct–the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship among believers culminates in the “breaking of the bread and the prayers.” The “breaking of bread” is a reference to the Lord’s Supper, which was a distinct activity within the context of the fellowship meal (“table fellowship”) shared by those present. Had Luke been referring to the “fellowship” meal (the ancient equivalent of the modern “pot-luck”) and not to the Lord’s Supper, it would hardly have been worth mentioning.[2]
Luke’s use of the term “breaking of bread” is likely another way of referring to what Paul calls the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:20). Luke uses an early Palestinian name for the sacramental portion of the fellowship meal, not the larger meal in general.[3] In Judaism, “breaking of bread” refers to the act of tearing of bread which marks the beginning of a celebratory meal, never to the whole meal itself.[4]
The fact that the disciples “devoted themselves” is used in at least one ancient source to refer to synagogue worship, which points to a formal (or intentional) activity as opposed to a more casual occasion. The verb “devoted” appears several times in Acts and often means “to attend worship regularly” (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:26; 6:4).[5]
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The Basics: Good Works and the Christian Life

Since our sanctification is every bit as much an act of God’s grace as is our justification, all those who have been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, will (as the Catechism says) live according to all of God’s commandments. Since our efforts at obedience (like our sin) are covered by the blood and righteousness of Christ (making even the worst of our works pleasing to God), our heavenly father delights in our feeble efforts to do good.

Closely related to the doctrines of justification and sanctification is the subject of good works. One of the most common objections raised by critics of the doctrine of justification by faith alone is this: “If we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, what place does that leave for good works?” Even the apostle Paul had heard a similar objection raised among Christians in Rome. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1).”
Questions like this one arise from the concern that if God’s grace is stressed too much, Christians will become lazy and indifferent to the things of God and will not demonstrate a sufficient zeal for good works. After all, what incentive remains to do those works God commands us in his word, if our standing before God depends upon the good works of another–Jesus Christ? More importantly, as the critics contend, if the doctrine of justification is true, and we are justified sinners even after we become Christians, then why do good works at all, since they are still tainted by our sin?
Paul’s answer to these questions in Romans 6 is emphatic. In response to the charge that stress upon grace makes Christians indifferent about how they live, Paul writes, “by no means!” The apostle’s explanation is simple. “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:2-4).
After arguing that sinners are justified by faith alone, and not by works (Romans 3:21-28; cf. Galatians 2:16), the apostle can make the point that those who are justified through faith have also died to sin. Christians no longer desire to live under sin’s dominion because they have been buried with Christ, and subsequently raised to newness of life.
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My Take on the Hamas Attack on Israel

UN Resolution 181 (1947) divided Palestine into a Jewish State (Israel) and an Arab state (Jordan). Then began a series of wars: Israel’s War for Independence (1948–49), the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six-Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War of 1973 (the Hamas attack on Israel was carried out 50 years plus one day of the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War), the First Lebanon War of1982, and then the Second Lebanon War of 2006. This is but a partial list of Arab-Israeli conflicts. Why the focus upon history? The Hamas terrorist attack upon Israel reflects a one hundred year history of Arab animosity to the West and sets the context for the seemingly endless conflict over Israeli/Palestinian territory. How quickly we forget.

A number of friends, church folk, and Riddleblog readers have asked about my take on Israel’s 911 (10/7). So, here you go.
It won’t surprise you that my take on the Hamas’s vicious attack on Southern Israel is much different than Greg Laurie’s (“Fasten Your Seat Belts”). A legion of prophecy pundits and “end-times” YouTubers have popped up, many offering wild and bizarre speculation about the tragedy and its role in the end-times. This is what they do. Admittedly, I have not watched or read much of this recent prophecy speculation, but what I have seen (most of which folks have sent to me) is largely a re-hash of prophetic scenarios long-since discredited (by the embarrassing fact that they got it wrong when previously proposed) now re-packed and presented as new material, with the hope that people will forget how wrong the pundits were the last time they made such predictions.
My points for consideration:
1). As for any biblical significance to the horrors inflicted upon Israeli citizens by Hamas terrorists, this clearly falls under the category of signs given us by Jesus regarding wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6-8). Jesus did not predict specific conflicts (such as this one), only what he describes as “birth pains” of the end. What happened in Southern Israel falls into the category of “wars and rumor of wars,” with no specific fulfillment of any biblical prophecy regarding Israel. What Hamas did was very much like what Vladimir Putin did in his barbaric invasion of Ukraine. He ignored all conventional rules of war and inflicted savagery upon innocents—the elderly, women and children, and unarmed civilians. Hamas has done the same in Israel. In this we see the depths of human depravity as divine image-bearers are slaughtered merely to satisfy someone’s rage, anger, and territorial ambitions. Jesus told us to expect as much until he returns.
2). It is important that we keep some historical perspective on what happened on 10/7. This is why I chose the picture of British General Allenby entering Jerusalem in 1917. When a Christian British general entered Jerusalem (a holy city for Jews, Christians, and Muslims) it meant the end of the Ottoman empire’s centuries-long rule over Palestine as well as the end of the Islamic Caliphate’s control of the region. But the heavy-handed British occupation helped to set in motion the series of events which sowed the seeds of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict one hundred years ago and which is still with us today.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917 called for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the rallying cause of early Zionism. With the end of the Great War came the ill-conceived Treaty of Versailles (1919), in which the victorious entente powers divvied up the Middle East into new states which had never previously existed (e.g., Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Kuwait) and which had no real cultural or ethnic unity (see my review of Andelman’s A Shattered Peace).
Then came the Holocaust, which created the impetus for the United Nations to establish a Jewish state in Palestine to which the displaced Jews of the world could emigrate. UN Resolution 181 (1947) divided Palestine into a Jewish State (Israel) and an Arab state (Jordan). Then began a series of wars: Israel’s War for Independence (1948–49), the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six-Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War of 1973 (the Hamas attack on Israel was carried out 50 years plus one day of the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War), the First Lebanon War of1982, and then the Second Lebanon War of 2006. This is but a partial list of Arab-Israeli conflicts.
Why the focus upon history? The Hamas terrorist attack upon Israel reflects a one hundred year history of Arab animosity to the West and sets the context for the seemingly endless conflict over Israeli/Palestinian territory. How quickly we forget.
3). If you are interested in the details of how Hamas was able to pull this attack off, and why the IDF was caught so unaware, here’s a highly recommended discussion of how and why it happened, and where we go from here: School of War — Episodes 93: Michael Doran on the War in Israel and Ghosts of 1973.
4). Many readers of the Riddleblog, long-time White Horse Inn listeners, church friends, and recent converts to Reformed theology may have given up their dispensationalism.
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