In taking seriously the issue we need to be wise to those who would glam on to the opportunity provided by stoking either fear or fascination with the occult. We confess and testify to the veracity of the negative spiritual world and its existence to be sure. That being said we must be able to see that which is true and bring the full weight of God’s cleansing power upon its destruction.
Thinking through how demon possession works in 2023 and how it remains an active force even when so many people do not believe in its existence can be a difficult labor. In some ways writing on this matter can sound like taking time to ponder through leprechauns, fairies, and other mystical forest creatures. Most enlightened people, usually of a settled upper-middle class bourgeoisie mindset are of the opinion that we have moved passed such notions and need to spend our time in the real world. However, it has been the opinion of the last several Tuesday essays that it is actually the comfortable suburban types who need to get with the program. Not only is demonic activity still with us, denying its existence is dangerous for the well-being of humanity. The aforementioned forest deities are likewise more with us than some would bother to consider. More on them later.
Today as we get back into the question I want to ask a few leading questions. First of all, why, or better yet, how did we get into a world where so few want to believe in the presence of the spiritual, whether good or bad. The answer to that goes back to man’s discovery in the 18th century that he no longer needed the superstitions of the past to grow crops or in his finding new scientific ways of accomplishing victories over nature previously thought impossible. Humanity’s confidence in itself, and unwillingness to see its failures made it immune to the noumenal realm. However, just like a dog who hides its face behind a telephone pole, merely because Dr. Ph.D. isn’t looking at the transcendent doesn’t mean it’s not there. Our haughtiness just makes us more blind and grants more power to the wicked spirits of this age.
That being said and while chronological snobbery may be the privilege of the age in which we live it is not the fact that we are in some sense smarter than those who came before us. We may have more access to information, but as I have noted before folks in the Bible knew the difference between what was actual and what was not. No one on the planet was more surprised their staffs turned to snakes than the sorcerers of Pharaoh’s house. Our forefathers in the Reformed faith, including the Father of the Puritans William Perkins who wrote the English manual on demonic activities were likewise concerned that we treat the subject with fairness and honesty. Perkins made a distinction between actual witches and those who by reason of whipping themselves up conjured a feeling of demonic activity.
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By Dean Davis — 4 weeks ago
Time and again Israel had been pillaged and plundered by her human enemies; the Last Battle will be their last attempt, when fallen man (6) will do his very worst. But here, says God, is where it ends, and where the tables are forever turned. For here eschatological Israel will pillage and plunder all her foes, and for all time; her victory will be complete (7). The NT unveils the fulfillment of our text. By God’s decree the saints will have a share in the Judgment. “Do you not realize,” asked the incredulous Paul, “that the saints will judge the world” (Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 20:4)? In that Day, the glorified Church will pillage her enemies and plunder their illicitly held possessions. When the fires of judgment have performed their work, a world formerly gone over to Satan and his seed will forever belong to the saints of the Most High. The humble will inherit the earth (Gen. 3:15; Dan. 7:18; Matt. 5:5, Luke 4:5-7; 2 Pet. 3:10-13).
For many years I have labored in the Word of God, hoping to establish the Lord’s Church in a soundly biblical eschatology. Current events playing out here in the Fall of 2023 confirm the importance our attaining that worthy goal. Otherwise (to paraphrase the apostle) we may be alarmed or suddenly shaken from our presence of mind, whether by a sermon, a blog, or a video, claiming that recent developments in the Middle East signal a Pre-tribualtion Rapture, or that the Day of the Lord is at hand (2 Thess. 2:1).
Demonstrating the extent to which the evangelical Church remains under the spell of dispensational premillennialism, the present war between Israel and Hamas has triggered a number of sermons on the eschatological significance of “Israel’s Last Battle”, prophetically described in Ezekiel 38-39. The goal is to connect this biblical text with supposed fulfillments in the present conflict (see here).
In the essay below I argue that all such efforts are fundamentally misguided; that they are based upon a literalist hermeneutic that does not abide under the discipline of New Testament (Covenant) theology; that the Spirit’s focus in this text is not (primarily) on ethnic Israel, but on spiritual Israel, the Church; and that the Last Battle here in view has little or nothing to do with “wars and rumors of wars” in the Middle East, but exclusively with the world-system’s final global assault upon the Church of God, an assault that will swiftly usher in the Second Coming of Christ, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Judgment, and the advent of the World to Come.
Am I therefore saying that the present war in Israel is without eschatological significance? Not at all. For again, it is definitely one of the many wars and rumors of war that herald the coming of the End, though not the imminence of the End (Matt. 24:6-8).
Also, it is not impossible that the current global attack on God’s OT people is, in fact, the last of the many that have bedeviled them down through the centuries; that in the Providence of God this is the one that will lead (multitudes of) them to repentance and faith in Christ, as Scripture predicts; and if so, that the return of the Lord is indeed at the door, soon to bring with it “life from the dead” for the entire Israel of God and the whole creation (Genesis 45-46; Romans 8, 11; Galatians 6:16).
Here, then, is the essay, and my best shot at opening up its deep meaning for God’s latter-day Church. May it help you and all of God’s eschatological Israel never to give way to fear or be shaken in mind or spirit, but instead to steadfastly occupy until He comes.1
These mysterious chapters give us Ezekiel’s famous prophecy of the Deception, Destruction, and Disposal of Israel’s great eschatological enemy: Gog and his confederation of evil armies. In the latter days, by divine decree, they all will go up against a people fully restored to the LORD and his covenant blessings, thinking to annihilate them and seize their homeland. But it is Gog and his armies who will be annihilated. Under furious strokes of divine judgment they will suffer complete and everlasting destruction upon the mountains of Israel.
How shall we understand this prophecy?
The answer from our premillennarian brethren is predictable and disappointing. Embracing prophetic literalism, they argue that Ezekiel is predicting a military war against latter day Jews who are spiritually renewed and happily resettled in their ancestral homeland of Palestine. But once again there are telling disagreements among them. Some, following the lead of Revelation 20:7-9, place this battle at the end of the Millennium. Others say it will take place just prior to Christ’s Second Coming and the onset the Millennium. This, however, forces the latter group to explain why Ezekiel has the Messiah living in the land before the Last Battle, rather than coming to it afterwards (Ezek. 37:24-25).
There are other problems as well, and of the same kind that appear in all Old Testament Kingdom Prophecy (OTKP). For example, the conspicuous use of figurative language warns against prophetic literalism. But if, in the case before us, the warning is ignored, our text is immediately seen to conflict with other OT prophecies of the Last Battle, entangle us in numerous historical anachronisms, and plunge us into incredulity.
For consider: Would (or could) modern armies bring wooden weapons to the field of battle? Would there be enough such weapons for a nation of millions to use them as fuel for seven years (Ezek. 39:9)? If all the people of the land worked daily for seven months to bury the bodies of their defeated foes, how many millions of corpses would there have to be (Ezek. 39:13)? How could the Israelites bear the stench or avoid the spread of disease?
But if prophetic literalism is not the key, what is? The New Testament (NT) points the way. As we have seen, according to the NT the Kingdom enters history in two stages: a temporary spiritual Kingdom of the Son, followed by an eternal spiritual and physical Kingdom of the Father (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; Col. 1:13). Sandwiched between the two stages of the one Kingdom is the Last Battle: a final global clash between the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of Satan, during which, for a brief moment, it will appear to all the world that the Lord’s Church has been destroyed However, nothing could be farther from the truth, for in fact the Last Battle is the sign and trigger of the Consummation of all things: No sooner has it begun, than Christ himself comes again to rescue his Bride, destroy his enemies, and usher in the eternal Kingdom of the Father (and the Son). (Matt. 24:9-28; 2 Thess. 2:3-12; Rev. 11:7-10, 19:17-21, 20:7-10).
These NT mysteries richly illumine large portions of the book of Ezekiel, including our text. In chapters 33-37 Ezekiel prophesies about the Days of the Messiah, and about the great spiritual renewal that he will accomplish among God’s people. In these chapters the prophet is using covenantally conditioned language to speak of the Era of Gospel Proclamation, during which the Father will bring “the Israel of God” into the spiritual Kingdom of his Son (Gal. 6:16).
Later, in chapters 40-48, Ezekiel encourages the saints with visions of the Everlasting Temple (40-42), the Everlasting Glory (43), the Everlasting Worship (43-46), the Everlasting Wholeness (47), the Everlasting Homeland (47-48:29), and the Everlasting City (48:30-35). In these chapters he is using covenantally conditioned language to picture the glorified Church in the eternal World to Come.
And what is sandwiched between these two great blocs of prophecy? You have guessed correctly: A covenantally conditioned picture of the Last Battle, cast as the Deception, Destruction, and Disposal of Israel’s most fearsome enemy: the armies of Gog.
Keeping these introductory thoughts in mind, let us now begin our journey through Ezekiel 38-39.
The Deception of Gog (38:1–17)
In verses 1-6 God commands Ezekiel to prophesy against Gog—who is consistently represented as a person—and the seven nations that will join him in the eschatological assault against Israel: Meschech, Tubal, Persia, Ethiopia, Libya, Gomer, and Togarmah. The number is symbolic, indicating that these nations typify the entire world. So too does the fact that they are situated to the north, east, and south of Israel. Rev. 20:7-10 further opens up the meaning, declaring that Gog and Magog will be gathered from “the four corners of the earth.” The message, then, is that Gog—unveiled in the NT as a personal antichrist controlled by Satan himself—will gather together the entire world-system for a final attack against the NT people of God: the Church. Her enemies will mean it for evil, but the all-sovereign God of providence, intent on a final majestic display of his glory, will mean it for good (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28, 9:14-18, 11:36; 2 Thess. 2:1ff).
By Nathan Eshelmann — 1 year ago
Much of this year’s time dealt with complaints…The complaints dealt primarily with two categories this year. The first category had to do with responses to Covid regulations and freedoms. The second set of complaints dealt with the Synod Judicial Commission (SJC) that was set up to investigate the pastoral response to a sexual abuse case in one of our Indiana congregations. It is important to note that this SJC was NOT investigating the sexual abuse, but investigating the pastoral/shepherding response to the sexual abuse.
The 190th annual synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) met on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) in Marion, Indiana. Rev. Bruce Parnell (Stillwater, OK) began with preaching on “taking up the cross,” encouraging the court to not trivialize the message, but to make self-denial the mark of your Christian life. Each morning began with excellent preaching from Romesh Prakashpalan (Dallas), Kyle Sims (ARP fraternal delegate from SC) and Matt Kingswood (Russell, ON). The court then was introduced to first time delegates; seventeen ruling elders and eight pastors were introduced. Bill Edgar was able to introduce his son, Alex, and Russ Pulliam was able to introduce his son David. This highlights the covenantal nature of Christ’s church. Following introductions, the court elected this year’s officers: Harry Metzger: moderator; John McFarland and Andrew Barnes would serve as clerk and assistant clerk.
Several items were accomplished at synod right away. One congregation transferred presbyteries (Durham, NC). A letter was received from the Great Lakes Gulf concerning an “injustice and wrong” of giving credentials to a former minister while a trial was impending. A committee was formed to study a proper response to abuse in the church with the view of an oversight board.
Several of our church’s boards and agencies were heard from: Home Mission, Global Mission, and church planting committees in other parts of the world (South America, East Asia, etc). The Global Mission board recommended several changes to their by-laws and these were sent back to them for further consultation. The court also heard from Geneva College, RP Seminary, The RP Home, and other committees and agencies. Geneva College reported that a cappella Psalm singing and preaching highlight their weekly chapel services as well as the college seeking to promote Sabbath keeping on their campus. President Troup also highlighted the fact that the whole curriculum is “driven by” the mediatorial kingship of Christ.
Much of this year’s time dealt with complaints. Although some may consider it a “waste of synod’s time,” this is a real part of the work of a higher court: “It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith and cases of conscience, to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of His Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same…” (Westminster Confession, 31.3). The complaints dealt primarily with two categories this year. The first category had to do with responses to Covid regulations and freedoms. The second set of complaints dealt with the Synod Judicial Commission (SJC) that was set up to investigate the pastoral response to a sexual abuse case in one of our Indiana congregations. It is important to note that this SJC was NOT investigating the sexual abuse, but investigating the pastoral/shepherding response to the sexual abuse.
The first Covid-related complaint was against the Atlantic Presbytery for not allowing their ministers to write religious exemption letters exempting members from Covid vaccinations. This complaint came from the Hazelton congregation. Although the presbytery had removed this requirement against exemption letters, the synod voted against the Atlantic Presbytery saying that it is within the right of ministers to write religious exemption letters and “The actions of Atlantic Presbytery were in opposition to the Westminster Confession 20.2-4 and Reformed Presbyterian Testimony 4.8, 20.4-5, and 26.5,8.” Essentially, this action was against applications of Christian liberty. The second Covid-related complaint was against the State College session and the Presbytery of the Alleghenies (POA). This complaint was because State College was not requiring masking during the height of state-imposed Covid restrictions. The synod voted in favor of State College Church and the POA. Although not all agreed with the way these votes went, the synod did uphold Christian liberty, an essential teaching of Presbyterianism. The second set of complaints were related to the Synod Judicial Commission (SJC) and their judicial actions against the former pastor of the Immanuel Reformed Presbyterian Church. Between Synod 2021 and 2022, the SJC spent over 10,000 man hours investigating the shepherding and pastoral responses to the sexual abuse (again, they were never tasked with investigating the abuse itself).
Several complainants against the SJC were concerned with various issues from the investigation and trial, including the accusation that the SJC proceeded unjustly, that the trial of Mr. Olivetti was “publicly” live-streamed, the investigators were biased, that a professional investigation ought to have occurred, a request to “annul” the results of the trial, and even against the fact that Mr. Olivetti is currently suspended from privileges of the Lord’s Table. Each complainant was able to present their case, the SJC would respond, and then there was a time of debate and questions and answers. The hearing and answering complaints was approximately 1/3 of our time in session. The votes on the complaints related to the SJC and Immanuel Church were: Olivetti complaint 1 was not sustained 109 to 14. Olivetti complaint 2 was not sustained 117 to 9. The Faris complaint was not sustained 120 to 13. The Bloomington session complaint was not sustained 114 to 16. The Riepe complaint was not sustained 125 to 1. The Dillon complaint was not sustained 89 to 40. The Dillon complaint (asking for Mr. Olivetti’s Table privileges to restored) was clearly most persuasive, but failed to persuade a majority of the synod. Although the church heard of much division over this matter, the synod was clear and united in supporting the work of the SJC. Several men dissented from the actions, registering their names (and some their reasons) for being against the actions of the synod. These were difficult deliberations, but the Spirit of God gave us one voice and it was very, very clear that the synod loves these men from Immanuel Church, the victims and their families, and seeks to see them restored. Several restoration commissions were established to help shepherd this hurting congregation following a very difficult season in the life of their church. May Christ speak comfort clearly to them and restore, renew, and revive them following this dark season. The Prophet Isaiah said, “A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.”
A discussion on prison inmate church membership resulted in allowing church membership for inmates as long as they may be baptized (unless already) and sessions can provide oversight. A well-written paper on the nature of the covenant of communicant membership was returned to the authors. This paper sought to identify whether our membership queries were oaths or vows. Many who spoke did not appreciate rooting the queries in the inter-Trinitarian relationship. That paper will come back next year. A discussion about Zoom trials, which allows for some videoconferencing in trials when “not reasonably feasible.” This decision will have to go down in overture, requiring the sessions to agree with this decision. Vital Churches spoke of pastoral “burn out” and the need for pastors to take their vacations and an occasional sabbatical. One person rightly noted that sabbaticals are historically for academic work (such as writing). Speaking of writing, Crown and Covenant reported on the difficulties of procuring materials for publishing. Several new books are coming out this year, and it seems that Daniel Howe’s (Providence, RI) book on the Lord’s Day is quite spectacular.
The Reformed Presbytery of Canada was formed and a commissioning service sent them forth to preach the Gospel in the Dominion of Canada. The moderator was emotional as several congregations and mission churches were set apart to form their own national church. The moderators of presbyteries as well as the presidents of boards and institutions gave them the right hand of fellowship and then Psalm 72 (the national motto of Canada) was sung as the men went forward.
Other highlights are too many to write. The times of prayer and singing were rich and powerful. The fraternal delegates. The good finances and sacrificial giving of the churches. The unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace were quite evident. Difficult things have been done and will be done—but the glory of Christ remains central to all that we have sought to do. Hopefully this year will provide some healing from our struggles and we can look back on this synod being reminded that God is ever gracious to us and his love is evident among the brethren.
Nathan Eshelman is a Minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America and serves as Pastor of the RPC in Orlando, Fla. Source
By David Huffstutler — 8 months ago
Not only does Jude instruct our action toward the enemy (“contend”), but he also instructs us how to take care of ourselves and others in this fight. We cannot lose any of our soldiers. We ourselves must grow in the faith, pray, persevere, and look to the return of Jesus Christ (Jude 20–21). Concerning the victims of the enemy’s attack, we must show mercy to the doubters—those who vacillate between truth and the heresies of false teachers (Jude 22). For those more fixed in the flames of heresy and sin, we must be more forceful and snatch them from the fiery end of following these false teachers (Jude 23a).
Jude’s purpose for his letter his clear: “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
What is “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” what does it mean to “contend” for it, and why do we need to do so?
The Faith That Was Once for All Delivered to the Saints
“Delivered” (paradidōmi) is the same verb Paul employed to describe how he instructed the church about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:23), the gospel (1 Cor 15:2), and any essential doctrine that he had given to the church (1 Cor 11:2). Used as a noun, something “delivered” is a “tradition” (paradosis). The apostles commanded the churches to walk in these traditions, stand firm in them, and hold them fast in opposition (2 Thess 2:15; 3:6). What is “delivered” here in Jude is “the faith.”
“Faith” (pistis) can refer to the act of believing or, as here, the body of God’s truth that we believe. Used in this sense in the NT, the faith is singular (Eph 4:5, “one faith”) and something we preach (Gal 1:23). At its least, it consists of the essential truths of the gospel, “the apostles’ teaching” when the church first began (Acts 2:42), and at its most, it includes “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). The OT promised the sufferings and glories of Christ (Luke 24:44–47; cf. 1 Pet 1:10–12). The NT records the narratives of these matters (Gospels and Acts), teaches why Jesus came (Letters), and promises that He is coming again (Revelation). As Jesus promised, He gave the apostles “all the truth” through the Spirit (John 16:13), Himself being the apex of this revelation (John 16:14, “He will glorify me”; cf. Heb 1:1–2; 1 Cor 3:11; 15:1–4). The apostles bore their definitive witness to Him, confirmed by signs, miracles, and wonders (Heb 2:3–4; cf. Eph 2:20; 3:5).
All of this is included in “the faith,” and there is no more of this content to be given in this age. In fact, literally translated, it is “the once-for-all-delivered faith.” Though a handful of NT books could come after Jude, God had essentially revealed all of the truth necessary for salvation and godliness (cf. 2 Tim 3:14–17. The book of Revelation, last in time and order, closed the Scriptures and even said that no more revelation would be given (cf. Rev 22:18–19).
Coming back to Jude, the saints indeed find opposition to this faith from time to time, which is why Jude “found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith” (Jude 3). There are those who depart from the faith (1 Tim 4:10), wander from it (1 Tim 6:10), swerve from it (1 Tim 6:21), oppose it, and even seek to turn others away from it (e.g., Acts 13:8).