Written by R.C. Sproul |
Thursday, May 19, 2022
It’s the New Testament that says, “There is no other name under heaven through which men may be saved, except that of Christ.” It’s the New Testament that says, “To whom shall we go? Thou alone hast the words of eternal life.” It’s God who says, “This is My only begotten son.” And again, and again, and again, the New Testament reiterates either through the lips of Christ or through the writings of the Apostles this theme that Jesus is uniquely the Redeemer of mankind.
I was taking a course in English literature. I was a second-semester freshman at the time, and I had become a Christian the first semester of my freshman year. And I did not keep my Christian commitment a secret on the campus. And there were some faculty members at the college where I attended that were very hostile towards Christianity. And the person who at least manifests the greatest amount of hostility of all the faculty happened to be the professor of this English literature course I was taking. The teacher was a woman. She had distinguished herself as a journalist and as a war correspondent during World War II prior to taking on the task of collegiate teaching. I think out of her background in the war effort, she was kind of a hardened person, and she had a very great ability to intimidate students.
In the middle of a class one day, she called on me, and she said in front of the whole class, “Mr. Sproul, do you believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God?” I thought, Of all the questions to be asked in front of the whole class, she had to ask me that one. And I went through a very severe moral crisis at that point because I knew if I answered what I believed that that would be very unpopular. But if I knew also that if I denied what I believed, I would be guilty of committing treason to Christ. So very weakly and very meekly I said to her, “Yes, ma’am. I do believe that Jesus is the only way to God.” But when I said that in that classroom, she absolutely exploded. And she started to dress me down right in front of the whole class. And she said, “That’s the most conceited, that’s the most arrogant statement I’ve ever heard from the mouth of a student.” And I offered no defense; I offered no rebuttal. I just tried to sneak down in my chair as far as I could go while she carried on in front of the whole class about how narrow-minded, conceited, and arrogant that that was.
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By Jim McCarthy — 6 months ago
A relatively small band of progressives have declared war against the PCA, demanding greater conformity, not to our confessional standards but to a version of the world’s standard of human sexuality in which one’s identity is determined by the sum total of their lusts. Their efforts have been magnified by the National Partnership; a highly organized, clandestine fraternity of block-voting progressives. While naïve moderates and confessionalists have been busy writing sermons and pastoring their churches, NP leaders have been mastering the art of denominational chess, stacking committees, distributing General Assembly voting guides, and maintaining anonymous mailing lists, closed Facebook groups, and password-protected websites
In 1643, George Gillespie traveled to London as one of the eleven Scots chosen to participate in the Westminster Assembly. Initially tasked by Parliament to revise the 39 Articles of the Church of England, one of the most contentious topics of the Assembly was the nature of the relationship between the church and state. On one occasion the renowned legal scholar and Erastian, John Seldon, argued for the spiritual subordination of the church to the magistrate. The logic of the elder statesman seemed so unassailable none rose to challenge him. Parliament had called the meeting, after all. But then, Gillespie heard the whispered voice of his friend, Samuel Rutherford, “Rise, George! Rise up, man, and defend the church which Christ has purchased with his own blood.” Gillespie stood and with scripturally-saturated wisdom, trumpeted Christ’s supremacy over his church and won the day, leaving an indelibly biblical mark on the ecclesiology of the Standards and the Reformation itself. He was 31 years old.
Gillespie’s bold example should serve as smelling salts in the nostrils of young churchmen in the PCA. Caught in the crossfire between a godly impulse to show deference to fathers in the faith and a culture of prolonged adolescence, it can be difficult for young elders to know their place and find their voice. When controversial issues like Revoice come knocking on the doors of our sessions, presbyteries and general assemblies, conventional wisdom kicks in, urging the greener presbyter to “Sit tight. Stay out of it. Let the older titans clash. ‘Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise’ (Proverbs 17:28).” For the assistant pastor whose livelihood is umbilically connected to the good graces of his senior minister and session or for the RUF minister, missionary, chaplain, or church planter whose support may come from a broad coalition of churches with conflicting visions for the future of the PCA, biblical boldness can have a steep price tag. But while there is a time for young elders “to keep silence,” there is also “a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
Brothers, that time is now.
The PCA ordains gay pastors. The commitment of men like Greg Johnson to abstain from homosexual activity is important, but their insistence on identifying themselves by their sinful desires — instead of renouncing them with holy hatred — is a tragic compromise. While the adoption of the Nashville Statement and the Report on Human Sexuality were encouraging psychological victories for those eager to guard the purity of Christ’s church, all actual judicial attempts to exercise discipline have proven unsuccessful. This, coupled with the recent failure of two-thirds of our presbyteries to approve overtures intended to slow the spread of Revoice theology, is symptomatic of a denomination in crisis.
The Ephesian church of Paul’s day faced similar challenges. False teachers had risen to prominence and infected the church with their “strange doctrines” regarding marriage, celibacy, and homosexuality, among others (1 Timothy 1:10 & 4:3). To resist these wolves and shepherd the Ephesian flock, Paul sent in young Timothy, urging him, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:10). You see, Paul knew that while “the splendor of old men is their gray hair,” “the glory of young men is their strength” (Proverbs 20:29). He knew that “it is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27). He knew that Joseph was 30 when he entered the service of Pharoah and saved the world. He knew that Levitical priests were 30 when they started pleading for sinners before the mercy seat. He knew that David was 30 when he began to rule as king over Israel. He knew that Jesus was 30 when he came “into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14–15). Paul knew that a man’s usefulness to the Kingdom of God has never been determined by his age but by his faithfulness. Young elders in the PCA must know it too.
 See Greg Johnson’s USA Today article, I’m a Gay Celibate Pastor of a Conservative Church. Here’s a Trick for De-Escalation.
By Thomas Brewer — 11 months ago
Just because we believe God’s Word and pray about it doesn’t mean that we’re immediately given comprehensive understanding of Scripture. We have to adopt wise ways of approaching the text. So, to start, we should read in context. We shouldn’t forget what came before the section we’re reading.
The Bible is a big book. It can be intimidating to read, so many of us prefer reading books about the Bible. And if we do read the Bible, we can sometimes treat it like a mere instruction manual. We use it if needed, but otherwise we try to do things ourselves. It reminds me of trying to put together IKEA furniture without a manual. Unfortunately, as many of us have experienced, the instruction manual needs to be respected and read properly. Otherwise, our furniture may look disjointed in the end. Things are similar with the Bible. Failing to read it properly can lead to all kinds of trouble.
As we know of course, the Bible is much grander than any IKEA instruction manual. It’s a book with heights and depths, poetry and prose. Reading it requires even more purposefulness than reading other books. As I’ve read the Bible over the course of my life, here are a few things I’ve learned that have helped in my understanding it.
Believe. It’s important to remember that understanding the Bible requires faith. We have to believe it. Augustine challenged us, “Believe so that you may understand.” Augustine said those words because he himself never properly understood the Bible until he believed. The Bible is much like polarized lenses that fishermen use. Without polarized lenses, the water has an intense glare. But with polarized lenses, one can see into the water. The Bible requires faith for us to see its depths.
Pray and meditate. Prayer is often an afterthought, but we can’t understand anything spiritual unless God helps us and reveals it to us. We may have faith, but we still need help. We should pray that the Holy Spirit will help us understand His Word. As we pray, we remember our dependence on God for insight and wisdom. We should also take our time to meditate on God and His Word as we move through Scripture. Just like it takes time for a tree’s root system to soak up water, so our souls need time to be nourished by God’s Word.
By Kim Riddlebarger — 2 months ago
When viewed against the backdrop of redemptive history (culminating in Christ’s saving work), the binding of Satan is directly tied to the success of the missionary enterprise. Satan was bound when his power of deception over nations and empires was broken by Jesus’s death and resurrection. John is not referring to the absence of all evil and unbelief as premillennarians contend. The amillennial interpretation is the correct one.
In Revelation 20:1-3, John is given a remarkable vision:
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.” In verse 7, John adds, “and when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison.”
The binding of Satan as depicted in this passage raises several obvious questions, especially in light of the on-going debate between amillennarians and premillennarians about the timing and character of the millennial age. This is the only biblical text which specifically mentions a thousand year period of time in which Satan’s power and activity are curtailed (the millennial age). The two most obvious questions raised by John’s vision are, “what does it mean for Satan to be bound in such a manner?” and “are the thousand years a present or a future period of time?” Amillennarians and premillennarians take quite different approaches to this passage and offer conflicting answers to these questions.
Amillennarians believe that the binding of Satan is but another way of speaking of Jesus’ victory over the devil during our Lord’s messianic mission. The thousand years are not a literal period of time, but refer to the entire age between Christ’s first and second coming (the inter-advental period). If true, the binding of Satan begins with our Lord’s death and resurrection, continues throughout the present age, and ends with the release of Satan from the abyss (abussos) shortly before Jesus returns at the end of the age when Antichrist is revealed during a time of final apostasy (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). This brief apostasy is followed by the final consummation which includes: the general resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11; 1 Corinthians 15:50-57), the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:4-6, 11-15), and the ushering in of a new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:4).
Premillennarians, however, contend that the thousand years are a literal period of time commencing with Christ’s second advent, who then establishs his physical rule over the earth in a millennial kingdom (Revelation 20:1-7). During this time, Satan is bound. The thousand years ends with Satan’s release from his imprisonment so as to lead the nations in a final revolt against Jesus’ rule, immediately before the final judgment at the end of the millennial age (Revelation 20:7-10). I address the serious problems with this understanding of redemptive history here: Evil in the Millennial Age? A Huge Problem for Premillennarians.
To summarize, amillennarians understand the binding of Satan to be a present reality, while premillennarians see this scene as an entirely future event. In this essay, I will consider and evaluate the biblical background to John’s vision and then respond to the premillennial challenge, “when and how is Satan is bound?” And “why is there so much evil in the world if he is?” These are two important questions which merit response.
The Redemptive Historical Background to John’s Vision
There is significant biblical background which provides context to help us understand what John sees, and which ought to be considered before we turn to the details of the vision given John as recorded in Revelation 20:1-3, 7. The scene depicted in Revelation 20 occurs in heaven (where the thrones are) and actually makes much sense in light of Old Testament imagery and events, especially when these are interpreted in light of the dawn of the messianic age in which Jesus triumphs over the devil and his legions. Since the context behind John’s vision is important and often overlooked in this debate, I will endeavor to trace out these images and events to aid us in our interpretation of the binding of Satan in Revelation 20. There are three categories of biblical events which give us considerable aid in understanding and interpreting John’s vision.
First, we consider Satan’s influence upon the nations. We start with the obvious fact that Satan was instrumental in the fall of our race during a time of probation in Eden (Genesis 3:1-24). A fierce adversary is introduced into the biblical narrative from the very beginning, although it is foretold that this adversary ultimately will be defeated by the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). According to the subsequent chapters of Genesis, Satan managed to deceive much of the world soon after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden, although an elect line did remain—the line of Seth, as recounted in Genesis 4:26. The first city was built by Cain in the land of Nod, and named for his first born son, Enoch. The Cain-Enoch genealogy in Genesis 4:17 ff. implies that the city became a center of unbelief and opposition to the purposes of God. Then we read of the Nephilim (Genesis 6), followed by YHWH’s judgment upon “the world that was” in the form of the flood (Genesis 6:9-9:29). No sooner did Noah and his family leave the safety of the ark, we read of the rise of two more cities hostile to God’s purposes and his people, Nineveh (Genesis 10:11-12) and Babel (Genesis 11). The early course of redemptive history is characterized as a period of increasing human wickedness, manifest in city-states hostile to God due to the spiritual darkness of satanic deception (Genesis 6:5).
As the course of redemptive history continues to unfold throughout the balance of the Old Testament, we read of repeated instances of various nations and empires arising and persecuting the people of God. The list is long, but includes the Egyptians and its Pharaoh, followed by the various Canaanite tribes, most notably the Moabites, then the Assyrians and the fall of the northern kingdom (Israel), before Nebuchadnezzar conquers Judah and destroys the city of Jerusalem and its temple. Although Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people of God now find themselves as tenants in their own land, living under the rule of a series of pagan Gentile empires. These are nations who fell under Satan’s sway, did his business, and marshaled their resources against the people of God. This extensive evidence from the biblical narrative points in the direction that Satan’s influence upon the nations during their opposition to God’s purposes is very likely in the background of John’s vision when he refers to nations being freed from satanic manipulation.
A second factor to be considered is Satan’s power of deception, which often takes the form of idolatry and the worship of pagan deities is expressed in continual apostasy among the Israelites, seen initially in the wilderness of the Sinai, and then more openly once the Israelites have conquered the promised land of Canaan. The Canaan narratives inform us that like Adam, Israel never fulfilled the commission given them in Isaiah 49:6, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Because of Israel’s rank unbelief seen in the nation and the idolatry of successive kings evident in their persistent disobedience to YHWH’s covenant, Israel comes under the covenant curses and repeatedly ends up as subjects of godless Gentile nations and their foreign gods. Israel’s witness to the Gentile nations regarding YHWH’s gracious promise of future restoration, coupled with the hope of a final redemption from sin, was largely absent. In the absence of such a witness which chases away satanic error, Satan continues to deceive the nations and is able to keep them walking in darkness.
Third, we fast forward to the New Testament era, where much more information is given us about the devil, his intentions, and the extent of his power. He is called Satan, which comes from the Hebrew for “accuser.” He is also called the devil, (diabolos—the Greek translation of the Hebrew satan). We learn of two names given to Satan, Belial and Beelzebul. He is variously identified as the Adversary, the Dragon, the Enemy, the Serpent, the Tester, and the Wicked One. Satan is said to rule a host of fallen angels (Matthew 25:41), and he has been given control of the world (i.e., Luke 4:6), which indicates that Satan’s actions are limited by God’s providence, a point well captured by Martin Luther’s famous dictum, “the devil is God’s devil.”
Satan dominates non-Christians (John 8:44; Colossians 1:13), he is destructive of life and property (Luke 8:33), and he must be resisted (1 Corinthians 7:5). He is said to be exceedingly cunning (2 Corinthians 2:11), he tempts people to sin (Ephesians 6:11), and he opposes those who preach the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Especially important for our discussion, recall that Jesus responds to a hostile crowd by declaring, “you are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan is, therefore, the progenitor of lies and deception, and will do anything in his power to oppose the proclamation of the gospel. We see his opposition to the gospel at work when Jesus tells Peter, who implores our Lord not to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, “get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you [Peter] are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23).
An important theme running throughout the New Testament is the repeated references to Jesus’ triumph over Satan and the curtailing of his deceptive powers through our Lord’s death and resurrection. Jesus appeared in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4-5), but his public ministry did not commence until after he had resisted Satan’s temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). In an unexpected turn of events, Jesus’ messianic mission appeared to come to an end with his death by crucifixion on Good Friday. But by Easter Sunday, it was abundantly clear that Satan’s victory over the promised Messiah was actually a complete and total defeat. By orchestrating the death of Jesus, ironically Satan ensured his own demise.
Our Lord completes the redemptive mission which Adam and then Israel failed to accomplish, when he fulfills all righteousness through his own personal obedience to God’s commandments, thereby providing a justifying righteousness for his people, while bearing the guilt of our sin in his own flesh. The accuser can no longer accuse if the guilt and power of sin is removed from those whom he would otherwise incriminate. Paul encourages struggling Christians in Colossae by reminding them of Satan’s complete and total defeat. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” ( (Colossians 2:13-15). Satan is a thoroughly defeated foe whose end is certain, which echoes what Paul had previously told the Romans. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).