Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 6: New Truths of the Kingdom Aristocracy
Part 6 Introduction
Lesson 154 – Romans 8:28 – Israel’s Choice to Accept or Reject
26 Oct 2000
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’ve covered Isaiah 40, we’ve gone to Philippians 4:6-7 and of course Romans 8:28 and we’ll take the three steps of the faith-rest drill again and show the promise, step two is thinking about the promise, contrasting it with human viewpoint, the world system around us, and then step three in the faith-rest drill is we come to a conclusion that we can trust. So turning to Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” This is an all-encompassing statement; it’s a basic statement of God’s sovereignty and His power. We know God causes all things, He is the universal cause.
So in a situation where we need to walk by faith the first step is grab the promise, and whatever promise the Holy Spirit brings to your mind, fragments of Scripture here and there, full verses or whole passages, but you grab a Scripture like Romans 8:28 and instead of just sitting there and rote repeating it, what you have to do often in order to believe it is to sort of chew on it for a while. In this particular case, as we said, there’s rationale behind each one of these promises, and you can think about God’s attributes that stand behind a promise, or you can think about His plan, etc. His logistical grace that He uses to administer sustenance day by day. You can look upon His overall plan for history and this year we’re getting into His plan for the Church Age in particular.
In this case suppose we grabbed hold of this promise. That’s step one; step two we start thinking about this promise and notice in Romans 8:28 that the reason there’s hope is only because God causes all things to work together for good, that all things work together for good not because of themselves but it’s because God works them together for good. This is nothing more or nothing less than the Scriptural position that God has a pre-existing plan, that He has purposes, that we as creatures …, and here again we get the Creator/creature distinction, God pre-existing thought, language and meaning; creature, derivative thought, language and meaning. We’ve gone over the diagram which shows how this works out in practical experience, that we can view our plans that we make and we give God the right to veto those plans because that yielding motion spiritually of allowing God to veto our plans is just a confession that He is sovereign. That’s all it is, it’s just a playing out of that belief. So we think about our plans, we take it to Him, He can say yes or no, but the point is that whether He says yes or no, it means that there is a plan. And here we see the plan. Here are the scattered pieces of our particular plans or our attempts at planning, so we wind up as dependent creatures.
Verse 28 is just a simple regurgitation of that truth, the Creator/creature distinction and that we as dependent creatures must submit to His plan. The idea here is that He has the plan, and that’s why ALL things, not some things, not the good things, but all things work together for good. That’s what gives hope, it doesn’t stop the hurt, it still hurts, stings and wounds hurt and take time to heal. It’s not going to stop that, but what it does do for you is that it gives you a momentum, it gives you a base, it gives you something to put your feet on while you’re bleeding. You’re not floating in thin air. That’s what that verse does for you. That’s a foundation verse.
One of the things in step two of the faith-rest drill is to think about what would happen if you didn’t have that promise. Again we go back to how the universe looks from a person who is an unbeliever, and you have this finite limited experience, you don’t know whether there’s a plan there or not, you’re just kidding yourself. You can’t say that all things work together for good, how do you know that? You don’t know all things. So the whole statement becomes just a nonsense statement, or in our new age of mysticism it can become a sort of mantra that we repeat to ourselves and self-hypnotize ourselves with all things work together for good. That’s all it can do because there’s no substance behind it. This situation is a hopeless situation.
The alternative to verse 28, and this is kind of how you want to think about these promises in Scripture, what is the alternative here? Really think hard, press the alternative, what would you do without the promise. And then finally after looking at this, it may take a second or it may take an hour, it may take a day, then we can trust that in the middle of the situation we are now facing, we are in a situation where we can at least trust the Lord. Notice it also says “all things work together for good,” and we know that if we were unbelievers and we were honest to our position we would know that all things do not work together for good because here’s the pagan position, here’s the position of unbelief, do all things work together for good? No, good and evil are always there, always there, always there, and it’s not true that all things work together for good. Only in the top diagram is there an eternal invulnerable good. Again the verse is grounded upon heavy theology and heavy spiritual truths. That’s just a review by way of introduction; we’ll try to go through one of these promises each evening to review them because you never know when you’ll need them.
I want to review a point that we made last time that I think from the Q&A I might have not gotten it clear, so we’re going to back to the introduction to this section that we’re working on. Turn to Matthew 3, what we’re doing here is going backwards somewhat. Last year we covered the life of Christ, His birth, His death and His resurrection, and this year we’re going to start after Christ rose from the dead. But in order to pick up the situation in history that was left by the Lord Jesus Christ before He left earth we want to go back in time. That’s what we tried to do last time and introduced the concept that the Lord Jesus Christ, early in His career, made an offer; He offered to be the King. And if Israel would accept Him as being King, they would have their Kingdom.
I want to show you why the cross works out of the rejection and rebellion of Him being King. Here’s where there’s a break in theology and why people who tend to be in the Reform theological camp get very antsy when they hear somebody like me talking this way. They get antsy because in their eyes Christ came to die, period. That was His whole mission, to come and give atonement. With that we don’t quarrel. What we’re saying, however, is that it wasn’t a straight line to the cross. He arrived at the cross as a result of cause-effect, cause-effect, cause-effect, cause-effect, and part of the cause-effect was that He was rejected by the nation, and it was that rejection that propelled Him to the cross.
For some strange reason this comes across as an odd idea, but if you think of history, you think of the fact that you can start out with the creation, God offered a sinless environment to man, did He not? What did man do with it? He trashed it. So we have the fall. Had man not trashed the environment and had he not rebelled, would Christ have had to have died? So you see that the set up for the crucifixion works out of a genuine situation in Eden. Then you can go on down, and we did it for several things, you can go on down to the flood. You get to the flood and Noah has an ark of a finite size. Suppose when Noah preached everybody believed. Would the ark then have become necessary? Well, not really but then God was going to send a flood so you needed an ark, so what do you do, everybody builds their own ark, maybe thousands of arks. It’s a speculation.
But the point I’m showing you is that in every one of these historical junctures there’s a pattern that you want to see, and it’s that pattern that occurs in the Gospels. So what occurs in the Gospels isn’t new, it’s just a repeat of the same sort of thing. God presents a positive option to the human race and the human race always rebels against it. As a result of the rebellion against His positive offer, we move to the next step in the plan. Granted, from all eternity God set this up to get there, to the cross; that’s granted, He does. But it’s by means of these things, these events. So let’s watch how it works out in the Gospels.
Matthew 3:2, here’s where the Gospels begin, and they don’t begin with Jesus, all four Gospels begin with John. Why do the Gospels begin with John? In the Old Testament history who chose the kings? Did the kings come upon the scene and anoint themselves? No, there were king-makers. We, in our American political system use the word “king-makers” to refer to the smoke-filled room where the deals are made. But I’m using the word “king-maker” in the sense of the Old Testament; the prophets were the king-makers. Who ordained the kings? It was the prophets. How did they ordain the King? What did Samuel do to David? He anointed him and there was oil. That’s the anointing, that’s Mashach, that’s from the word Messiah. What does the word Messiah mean? The word Messiah means the anointed one. Who was the anointed one? The one the prophet has chosen to be king. That’s the background.
So now comes the prophet, the king-maker, and in Matthew 3:2 look what he says, that’s the message. The message isn’t believe on Christ for He’s going to atone for your sins. It’s true that John the Baptist knew that the Messiah would suffer, he knew that out of the Old Testament. And there was an inkling that somehow the Messiah would die, that’s true. But there’s an offer being made here to the nation. He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” it’s here, it’s at hand; it doesn’t mean it’s come, it means it is at the door, so to speak, it’s near here. Why should the nation repent? What does it mean to repent? It means to change their whole reference system because Israel was operating on … this is their program, the program was a bunch of religious works that dominated the culture. It’s the old balance system, that God’s going to judge, I know He’s going to judge, but He has scales and if my good works outweigh my bad works, the scale tips in that direction, then He’s got to forgive me and I’m going to be a happy boy. That’s works, that’s a system of works. The problem is, the scales never tip that way, and furthermore, this represents an arbitrary forgiveness, if God is a holy God how does He get rid of bad? There’s got to be a blood atonement, as we learned in the Old Testament.
John the Baptist knew all that, but nevertheless, he went ahead and preached this message, and the message was to the house of Israel, to change their attitude, challenging them on the basis of Scripture to look and prepare themselves for the Kingdom. Notice that he doesn’t, in verse 2, define what this Kingdom is, and that’s critical to understand about the New Testament. The New Testament never stops to define the content of the Kingdom, which means one thing. It means the Kingdom must have been known. Where did they find out the content to the word Kingdom from? Old Testament. And what did they read in the Old Testament? Going back to Old Testament history, take the framework again and work our way back to when they had a Kingdom, David was king and then Solomon was king and then the whole thing cratered. Remember those steps in history, the golden era of Solomon, the kingdom was divided, the kingdom was in decline, and what happened in 586 BC? Exile. Why did this happen? Because the nation turned away from God. The kings were corrupt and the people were corrupt.
It’s too bad the ACLU has everybody so frightened to mention Scripture. This can be taught in any classroom as straight out history, and if people would understand this, here is one of the most eloquent comments on social organization, political and sociological theory. Here you had, if there was an opportunity for a divinely blessed culture on this planet it was Israel and what happened? It fell apart. What does that tell you about the hope for a political system? It’s no better than the people that run it. Both leaders and people sinned and were chastened; the king disciplined his kingdom. But notice in the progress here, from the golden era of Solomon, the kingdom divided, the kingdom in decline, right around the golden era of Solomon and as the kingdom was declining, there arose among the prophets a vision. And the vision was a development out of the thoughts of David himself.
David himself knew he was a sinner. David sinned grossly enough to be fully aware that he was not, even though the anointed, little “a,” he was anointed as a human king, he knew from his own historical experience that he couldn’t be the ideal king. We’re going to see a Psalm, it’s very important, and in then we’ll see two more Psalms, and these Psalms all originate with David, way back just before the golden era of Solomon. David foresaw this whole time of discipline and he looked beyond the discipline to an ideal king. Now David knew that he wasn’t the ideal king, and he couldn’t be the ideal king because of his sin. Did he think Solomon was going to be any better than him? No, he knew that. Did he think that Solomon’s son would be any better than him, Rehoboam, grandson? No. Well then who was this mysterious greater king than David? We know it’s going to be the Messiah.
The thinking here from the golden era of Solomon through the kingdom division, through the kingdom in decline, all the way to the exile, who was writing, who was preaching, who was teaching all during this period of time? Men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah. What was their message? Their message was that God’s program that He had promised through Abraham was going to come to pass. With man’s depravity how can the Kingdom come about? The Kingdom can only come about if you have a people that will be righteous and leadership that will be righteous. It’s into that environment that this verse in Matthew 3:2 comes. It’s an address to the whole country because remember where he is ministering. It says in verse 1 he’s ministering “in the wilderness of Judea,” and I don’t have a way of projecting photographs of what this area looked like, but I’m going to try to describe the terrain here because it enters into the event of the ascension of Christ.
If you have a Bible map you see the Sea of Galilee is up here, the Dead Sea is down here and the Jordan River runs here. There are mountains here, not really mountain mountains like the West, but more hills, big hills that run along this area, and this is mountainous over here, so this is like a valley. You want to picture that. Jerusalem is up here in the highlands. The wilderness of Judea is on the leeward side of these hills and it’s a wilderness, it’s very dry. Somewhere out in here is where John the Baptist is ministering. Jericho is here and it’s a main drag of transportation. So even though it’s the wilderness, people would come out to the wilderness, especially to hear him.
“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he says. Verse 3, “For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet, saying,” when did Isaiah write? He wrote back during the decline of the kingdom. What was Isaiah prophesying about? The kingdom—the ideal kingdom that would surely come. So when you see the quote in verse 3, that tells you that John the Baptist is communicating what any Jew of his day would have understood from Isaiah. What did Isaiah talk about? He talked about the whole regenerate cosmos, he talked about Jerusalem being the everlasting temple, he talked about make straight the crooked paths and that’s not just figurative, they looked forward to a rebirth of nature. What did Isaiah prophecy about the military? He prophesied beat your swords into plow shears.
Today I was over in the headquarters of the development and testing command, and I was looking at the plaques and there was this plaque quoting Isaiah 2, and I thought wow, I wonder who did that, it sounds like some pacifist organization because that’s what usually happens, “they shall beat their swords into plow shears,” and then I looked and it wasn’t the King James translation, it was another English translation. I said gee, I’ve never seen that translation before. Then I came to the bottom and there was the Yeshua and I knew immediately it was the Jewish translation. Then I looked at the fine print, who gave a plaque, a Bible verse, right smack in this award where all these military plaques are, here’s the quote from Isaiah and who did it? The chief of the IDF, the IDF is the army of Israel and apparently some years in the past the chief general of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force, gave that to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, which I thought was interesting.
This was the wilderness and the kingdom idea was that of Isaiah. So it wasn’t necessary for Jesus and John to go into great iteration about what was the Kingdom. Everybody knew what the Kingdom was. This is not a new political party coming in here. This is talking about a major event in world history, the long anticipated culmination of Israel’s reason for existence. That’s what’s meant here. “Repent, for that kingdom is at hand,” the last hour of history is near. So when you don’t read this lightly, verse 2 is not a light verse, it’s a very heavy verse when you understand what kingdom means here.
That’s why in verse 4, “Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather belt about his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey,” he was a weird guy, and his personality resembled Elijah a lot.  “Then Jerusalem was going out to him and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan,” see they were coming out on this road. Here’s Jerusalem, here’s Jericho, Samaria is up here, and there was a traffic jam down the road to go hear this guy. And it was constant because the Greek in verse 5 is a picture of these people going and coming, this wasn’t a Saturday night revival meeting or something, this went on for an extended period of time.
Verse 6, “And they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.” So he’s out here in the wilderness and over here’s the Jordan River. Verse 7, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism,” now this guy really learned how to preach, not from one of the modern seminaries that teach you to do everything gently, shake hands, smile at everybody, pat everybody on the head, this is the way you get more people to come to church. Verse 7 shows you he didn’t care who came to church, the issue was, “Are you going to repent, or not, and if you’re not, I don’t want to see you, period.” “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of snakes, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’”
Why do you suppose he used the word “the wrath to come” in accompaniment to the Kingdom. What wrath is it that’s coming? It’s the wrath that we associate with the Second Advent of Christ and what I want you to see is that the First and Second Advents of Christ are tied together, inseparably mixed at this point. We’re Monday morning quarterbacking; we go oh yea, well now I know there were two. Yeah, after the game you know that. But these people were in the game and the First and Second Advents of Christ were collapsed together in their consciousness. You couldn’t have the Kingdom without the wrath of God, could you? What would clear the air to make the Kingdom possible? It goes back to that graph about good and evil have to be separated. All that had to come with the Kingdom.
In verse 7 he gets really hot, when he sees these people he knows they are not believers, they’re just going through a lot of religious motion and gimmicks and he says I’m not interested in you people around here, get out of here. Right here, what happens to the ministry, right from the start of the gospel? If this guy is the king-making prophet who ordains the Messiah, he’s already offended the power structure. So right from the start of the gospels you have a collision of God’s spokesman over against the culture of the time.
Verse 8 goes on and he says “Therefore, bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance.” You say you have believed, then bring forth evidence, verse 9, “and don’t suppose you can say to yourselves, we have Abraham for our father; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” That’s a little prophetic because God has raised up children of Abraham, spiritually, in the Church Age. We don’t have Jewish genes, but through Christ we become adopted sons.
In verse 10 notice the judgment theme. People always think of the Kingdom of God as some gooey little positive … and it is, it’s wonderful, it’s world peace [that will] come, but look at the context. Imagine yourself going out there with a box lunch and a thermos jug, walking down this road to get out there to hear this guy, he’s kind of eccentric to start with, and then you hear this stuff. But as a good Jew you know what he’s talking about, you know that he’s talking about the last moment of history, and he says “the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire.  As for me, I baptize you in water for repentance; but He who is coming after me,” there’s the prophet and the subsequent King that the prophet-king makes, “is mightier than I, and I am not even fit to remove His sandals; He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Verse 12, “And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and he will thoroughly clean His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” The baptism of fire is the Second Advent of Christ and the destruction of evil. So you have this coalescence of the First and Second Advent, it is clear that He’s talking about judgment here and he’s basically telling them get ready because it’s coming, it’s right here at the door, it’s near.
Turn to Matthew 4:17, notice what Jesus does. What is His first message? His message is “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Again, the same message, the prophet and the King makes, as a pair, these two men have the same gospel, the same message, to the same people over the same issue, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That’s not the message of Isaiah. That’s not the message in the Old Testament. This is a message of urgency at the end of Israel’s history. This is the imminence of the end here. That’s how close it came. God could have ended history right in the era of Jesus Christ, but it didn’t work out that way.
Matthew 10, later on in Jesus’ ministry, now he’s starting to pick up heavy resistance here. This is the time He sent out His disciples and they would confirm that the nation will reject Christ because remember when the guys come home from the mission and Jesus brings up, in chapter 12 the blasphemy, whosoever shall sin against me is fine but don’t you lie against the Holy Spirit because that’s an unpardonable sin. That all came about at this point in His ministry. So we’re halfway through Jesus’ ministry here and He’s commissioning the disciples, and he says in verse 5 do not go to the Gentiles, do not go to the Samaritans. [“These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them, saying, ‘Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans.’ ”]
Is this the same way as Matthew 28? What does He tell the disciples in Matthew 28? “Go into all the world.” Has something changed? You bet, and that’s what we’re dealing with. This is a different gospel in the gospels. At the end of the Gospels when it’s all said and done and Christ’s finished work is there and He’s risen from the dead, now all of a sudden the rules change; now we’re doing something different. What is going on in Matthew 28 is not what’s going on in Matthew 10. Here he says I don’t want you to go to the nations, I don’t want you to go to Gentiles, I don’t want you to go to the Samaritans. Verse 6, I want you to concentrate your ministry on the house of Israel. [“but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”] This is a Jewish issue.
Think a minute, why is it a Jewish issue whether history ends or not? It still is, by the way. Do you know what the impediment is to Jesus’ return? What did He say on Palm Sunday as He rode through Jerusalem and then as the people rejected Him? He says you will not see me until you say again, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” [Luke 13:35] So until Israel welcomes the Messiah, He will not return. In this case, in Matthew 10 He’s sending them out, there’s a Jewish issue here. Israel is a core stone of history, Israel is the priestly nation of God and when it’s not functioning right the whole world doesn’t function right. That’s why in Romans what does Paul say? If the casting aside of Israel be salvation, in other words, Christ died, they rejected Him, He died, and then God moved His plan over to the church, he says if that was true, what do you suppose is going to happen when Israel gets it straight? Now you’re going to see the blessing of the world and that’s the millennial kingdom.
But here in Matthew 10:7, “And as you go, preach, saying,” what are they saying? Again what’s the message? It was the message of John, it was the message of Jesus, and it’s the message of His disciples and to whom? To the Gentiles? Is this the gospel we know? This is a gospel that was projected during the time of Jesus’ ministry to the house of Israel exclusively, a special gospel, a special announcement that the kingdom was right at their door. Go ahead, He said,  “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give.”  But “do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts,” etc. He goes on and He threatens them, in verse 15, He says, “Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city,” the city that rejects your message and this gospel. It’s an ominous thing here. See the fierceness of the gospel message in Jesus’ time.
Go to Matthew 11:14, here’s a strange thing; with your other hand turn to Matthew 17:11. Here is one of the dilemmas of the gospel. In Matthew 11:14 notice what it says, this is where John was in prison and he was kind of doubting things and Jesus said,  “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist,” and then in verse 14 He says, “And if you care to accept it,” the it being italicized, you have to supply the object of the verb, and what it is it is the gospel message of “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” if you will accept this gospel, then John is Elijah and the prophecy has been fulfilled in John the Baptist. […“he himself is Elijah, who was to come.”] So there’s a kinship between the spirit of Elijah and the spirit of John the Baptist. John the Baptist, in other words, is looked upon as a contingent Elijah. This is heavy stuff, this is not easy to understand what’s going on here, but he’s saying that if you accept it and the kingdom comes, if the kingdom comes in in that day, what was the Old Testament prophecy? That Elijah would come and then there’d be the Millennial Kingdom. So if the Kingdom is going to come in Jesus’ day, you’ve got to have Elijah there? Well who’s the Elijah? He says if you accept it, John is the Elijah. But they don’t accept it.
So in Matthew 17:10, “And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’”  “And He answered and said, ‘Elijah is coming and will restore all things;’  but I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” The idea is He’s saying that Elijah is coming but he’s already come. That’s what I’m talking about, that’s what I mean when I say the gospels are strange, it’s this contingency. God offers the Kingdom, He offers John the Baptist, John the Baptist could have been Elijah but the nation in rejection and rebellion turns away. So we have this negative volition toward the Lord Jesus Christ that sets up the cross.
That leads, if we diagram it this way, one and two, the First and Second Advent, after Christ has died and rose, now look what happens. Now we’ve got the First Advent and the Second Advent split apart so we can see they’re two different events. But in splitting them apart, now we’ve got an age in between; we have an inter-advent age that is caused by the rebellion of Israel and because they wouldn’t accept Him the Kingdom is postponed, it’s still waiting, it’s still there, still waiting, but it hasn’t come yet. Now we introduce the mystery and here’s the situation: this inter-advent age, what is going on in this inter-advent age? That’s the dilemma that we’re studying. The first event we are studying in this inter-advent age is the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John, John being the later Gospel, John can remember, after the fact of course, oh yeah, you know, when I think back to what the Lord said I can remember He hinted at this inter-advent age. So let’s go back and look at some of those texts.
Turn to John 6:62. John, of all the four Gospels, emphasizes this the most, because again John wrote in a different vein than the other gospel writers and he has a different slant on things because he’s trying to show from Jesus and what Jesus taught… he’s looking at the whole thing now deep inside the Church Age. Let’s look at John 6:61, “But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble?’  What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before?” Now can you imagine that statement?
Let’s read that slowly. What is implied in that statement? “What then would you do if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” Where does that expression “the Son of Man” show up in the Old Testament most graphically? Jesus didn’t make that title up; He got that out of the Old Testament. Daniel 7, one of the magnificent heavenly visions; it’s an Old Testament expression for the fact that the human race, represented in the person of Jesus Christ as the Second Adam will attain the created destiny that He was intended to do, i.e., act as God’s vice regents, they will subdue all things. So what He says is the Son of Man, that’s Himself in that role, is going to ascend to where He was before He came here, which shows His preexistence. So before Jesus was incarnated and virgin born, in His deity, this is clearly a claim to deity here, that He was at the Father’s right hand, He was born and He is going to ascend back to where He was before.
John 16:28, this is in the upper room when He’s discussing in the last hours of His ministry, and John remembers now, as he recalls through the work of the Holy Spirit on his mind, that Jesus really did say those things. So he says sin verse 28, “I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world;’ I am leaving the world again, and going to the Father.” Quite clearly Jesus is indicating in advance of the event that He’s going to ascend into heaven. Remember our object is we’re talking about the ascension. The ascension and session of the Lord Jesus Christ. I bet you’ve never heard a sermon on that in the last ten years of your life. In this same chapter of John, go back to verse 7. Now He’s telling His disciples that He’s going to go away but then He says, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper” or the Comforter “shall not come to you; bit if I go, I will send Him to you.” Who sends the Holy Spirit, by the way? “I send” the Spirit.
I want to pause here, there’s something that is not in the notes but I want to give you a little subpage of church history about this one clause, “I will send Him.” Do you realize that the eastern and western halves of Christianity split over this truth? The Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church divided, due to a lot of other reasons, but one of the divisions that remains to this day is the so-called Filioque clause, and that’s a Latin term meaning “and the Son,” and it’s that section in the creeds that reads “and I believe in the Holy Spirit who was sent from the Father and the Son,” etc. “and who with the Father and the Son is glorified,” etc. It puts the Son in with the Father as sending the Spirit. If you go into the eastern half of Christendom that’s not true, they don’t believe that Jesus sent the Spirit, the Spirit was sent by the Father. This sounds like a little tweaky little theologian thing. It isn’t. Historically this has had devastating effects. Historically what happened is that wherever the Filioque clause was not actively pursued the full deity and authority of the risen Lord Jesus Christ was denied. That is why the eastern half of Christendom, to this day, is dominated by a mentality of totalitarianism.
This is why you could have forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union without looking at the newspaper. The Russian Orthodox Church is in the same group as the Greek Orthodox Church and you could have laid your last dollar on the fact that these people are going to have an awful time and probably will never make it as far a participatory government because for centuries upon centuries upon centuries the old Russian families from grandfather all the way back to great-grandfather and great-great grandfather, to great-great-great grandfather have said the Czar is necessary. There has to be a strong authority on earth to keep the peace and hold everything together. But why do they need a strong Caesar? That’s what a Czar is; it’s the word for Caesar. Why do they have such a strong idea of Caesar? Because they’ve got a weak idea of Christ and if Christ decreases, Caesar increases; that’s the equation. In the West you had a strong Christ, and you had Caesars, but the Roman Empire collapsed. Who dominated Europe in place of the Roman Empire? The Catholic Church. There was a difference because they were not substituting a political entity and structure for the Lord Jesus Christ. So that’s just a little sidelight and extra insight here.
Verse 7, when the Lord Jesus Christ ascends to Heaven, “I will send Him to you.” [blank spot] …sends the Third Person of the Trinity. It must be that He’s a pretty big boy, and that’s the whole point. If Jesus sends the Spirit then Jesus has absolute total divine authority right where He is, right now, at the Father’s right hand as God-man. It is the full authority of Jesus Christ behind these verses. That’s why this ascension is so, so important.
Notice in verse 8, [“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment;  concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.”] there’s that theme of judgment again. He says when the Holy Spirit comes He’s going to convict the world of three things. And this shows you what a good gospel presentation is, and what a good gospel presentation isn’t. The first sin that the Holy Spirit is going to convince people of is that they do not believe in Jesus Christ. Notice it doesn’t say all the little sins, moral sins, that’s true, those are sins, we’re not making light of that but you can sit there and make those an issue and never get to the person of Christ. So the sin central to the Holy Spirit’s ministry is the sin of the rejection and disbelief in Jesus Christ. The gospel presentation that is thorough, loyal and accurate to the Scripture will emphasize the person of Jesus Christ.
Verse 10, “and concerning righteousness,” the righteousness is not man’s righteousness, it’s righteousness that Christ secures, “because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me.” His admission ticket …, how could Jesus in His humanity go to the Father? Because He was perfectly righteousness. So the second point of a good gospel presentation, it emphasizes that the righteous key that unlocks the door to the presence of God doesn’t come from the human heart, it comes from the righteousness of Jesus Christ, emanating not from the human heart on earth but from the Father’s right hand. The righteousness that saves you is located at the Father’s right hand. The Protestant gospel, justification by faith in Jesus Christ; Catholic gospel, it is the righteousness in my heart wrought there by the Holy Spirit and faith that is the basis of my relationship with God. It can’t be both, either the Catholics are right or the Protestants are right. This gospel says that it’s the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that’s the locus of the righteousness, not the human heart.
The third thing, which is interesting, is that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of “judgment because the ruler of this world has been judged.” Notice past tense, Satan has had it. When Jesus Christ rose and sat at the Father’s right hand, Jesus Christ now outranks Satan on the hierarchy of rank and command structure. The keys of heaven have been given and delivered to Jesus Christ. Who had them during the temptations of Jesus? Who offered to give the kingdoms to Him? Satan. What did Jesus say? Oh, you don’t really have the authority. No, He did not, because Satan was the god of this world who had that authority and now Jesus Christ has that authority and He’s wresting it away, and this introduces the whole idea of why the church is not Israel.
The church is doing something very significant in history that Israel never did, couldn’t do and will not do. Israel is God’s earthly people with an earthly purpose and the church is God’s heavenly people with a power and a mission to perform in the unseen realm of the angelic beings. There’s a spiritual war going on and the church is in the middle of it, and it’s there by divine design. The church is doing something all down this time to prepare for that Kingdom that’s going to come. It starts with the ascension and session of Christ for when Christ walked into the Father’s presence and sat down at the Father’s right hand, the Scriptures tell us what happened. Jesus Christ came to the Father and the Father said You are now eligible to sit at My right hand, in His humanity, “Sit.” So Jesus Christ now reigns far above all principality and power, therefore of all creatures He has first rank. He has more stars on His shoulder than any angelic being. This is extremely important because the church is in union with the resurrected ascended Jesus Christ.
Now we come to the ascension itself, and we’re going to start looking at the locus of this because I want you to see that this is a physical event that happened outside the city of Jerusalem, just as physically real as the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. This is an amazing event and I wish I had a map of the ancient city of Jerusalem to show you this, but if we were to go to Jerusalem, you have the city of Jerusalem, the temple mount over here on the west, you have the Kidron valley running down like this, and over here you have a hill, and the hill has olive groves on it. That is the Garden of Gethsemane. There are ancient olive trees still growing there, centuries old, not from the time of Christ probably. Jerusalem goes further down and the Kidron Valley opens up. If you take a road, you walk across this valley and the road curves around this hill; this isn’t more than a quarter mile, you get around the other side of the hill and that’s Bethany. Now you can understand why he spent nights at the house there in Bethany, because if He was ministering in Jerusalem it was just a short walk around the back side of the hill and it was kind of nice because it kept you out of the city, nice hill, gardens, separated you from all the hoopla of the city.
Where do you suppose Jesus rose into Heaven from? Where was His ascent pad? Right here, that’s the hill, so it’s right nearby Jerusalem, it’s right between Jerusalem and Bethany, and it’s only thousands of feet away from the Temple. If you go there some time what blows you away is you read about all these biblical events and you think why is it so small. It’s interesting, it just strikes you, you expect this majestic thing and it’s just a small area.
Those of you who are interested in going to Israel, every other year Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, who is a Hebrew Christian, has the finest tour of Israel you could ever get with. It’s a long one and it’s a grueling one, it’s five weeks long. Before you go there he requires you to take a course in his book on Israel. Every day is spent with a lecture and then [can’t understand word.] When I went there in 1976 we spent five weeks, we must have seen over 220 biblical sites, we were hustling every single day, there was no rest except for the Sabbath. But the beauty of it is it’s not some tourist thing going to all the little trinket shops. This is actually going out into the hills and lowlands and tracing out what happened here. You go to the place where Elijah killed all the prophets, there’s the hill. You can see down in the Valley of Megiddo. It makes the Bible so much more real. I remember 25 years ago, walking around that hill and thinking to myself, Jesus rose into Heaven and this is just a hill. I expected to see Mount Everest or something and here’s this little dingy hill.
Here’s where Mark 16:19 picks it up, the Lord Jesus, on that hill, right just east of the walls, “So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.  And they went out and preached everywhere…” very abbreviated in the Gospel of Mark. Notice it’s described in passive terms.
Turn to Luke 24:50 and see what Luke adds to that scene, by adding I do not mean he made it up, I mean that he included more details in his writings. We’re not looking at the New Testament as a result of some church “spin doctors.” I just want to introduce when this ascension occurred and what they saw. Here’s eyewitness. “And He led them out as far as Bethany,” what did I say about Bethany, what was around the other side of the hill? He walked around this hill, probably on that same road, it hasn’t changed, roads don’t change, around the hill and then He must have walked up there because tradition says it’s the mount of ascent so He walked over to Bethany and walked up the side of that hill. And then it says, “… and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  And it came about that while He was blessing them, He parted from them.” It just leaves you, like what, did He just disappear? What happened here? Something profound happened here. All those resurrection appearances ceased after the ascension of Christ, He never appears again like He did before. He appears in visions but He doesn’t appear like those resurrection scenes.
One last text, Acts 1:8, Luke again, now you get even more information. We’ll start with verse 8 because that’s what you’re most familiar with. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Then in verse 9, “And after He said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on,” so He didn’t disappear on the hill, these guys are looking at Him, they’re both standing on the hill and it’s like He’s lifted up. So He’s in a bodily physical ascent mode, He’s lifting off, that’s the picture we’re getting from this; really, really weird, “He lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” So He goes into a fog bank or a low stratus type cloud and He’s gone. Of course the cloud is a special cloud because the cloud is the presence of the Lord.
But the interesting that Luke in this passage says something else happened. While these guys were looking up, and in verse 10 there’s an intensity here, these guys, their jaws are probably dropped. I mean, have you ever seen somebody go up like that, they’d never seen this before, they’re sitting their with their mouths open and they’re gazing up because it tells you that if they’re gazing up, He’s got some altitude to Him. “And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them,” notice “departing” is a present tense, so the idea is He’s rising slowly and they’re watching Him rise up into the clouds, it took some time, we don’t know whether it took one minute, five minutes, ten minutes, or what, however long it took, but there’s a process here of Him rising off. And “behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them;  and they also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This is Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
I want to conclude with that last statement. He’s going to come again like He went. Did He go physically? Yes. Does this mean He’s going to come again physically. Yes. Did he go up? Yes. Well He’s going to come down. Is He going to come in His body, like He was known? Yes. Is He going to come to planet earth? Yes, not Mars or Venus, but Earth. Where do you suppose on Earth He’s going to come? To Palestine, to Israel. So the angelic confirmation is that just as Jesus Christ lifted off He’s going to return this way, and why people who read this text come up with the goofy idea, oh Jesus has already come, that was in AD 70. Or Jesus has already come, that was the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came. Nonsense! Jesus Christ hasn’t come again. Where’s the video. He has never come again like this.
This whole depiction is here is a physical event, as physically real as the cross was, and yet rarely do we ever think about this in our own spiritual life. We get spooky and talk about the Holy Spirit, but just think about it, one of the implications we’re going to see as we study this further is the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ, in His physical body exists tonight: in His physical body He exists tonight at a point some place. Do you realize that? He exists some place, and He has fingers and arms and legs and toes and clothes. He’s that real and He exists some place. The place that He exists, the Bible says, is at the right hand of the Father. Now if we know the One who is at the Father’s right hand and the Father is the Creator of the universe, and He runs other galaxies like this one, at the helm of the universe isn’t some creature out of Star Wars, at the helm of the universe is a member of the human race. Another confirmation point that it is the human race by divine creation, Genesis 1-2, and Jesus fulfills the Gen. 1 mandate, He’s doing it tonight at the Father’s right hand, it’s not a Martian there, it’s a human there. It’s not an angel there, it’s a human there, the son of Adam rules the universe, an amazing truth.
We want to push this truth and in the ensuing three or four weeks were going to study the ascension and session because that’s the basis for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We mustn’t just think of the coming of the Spirit as some spiritual goo, there’s a physical thing here, the source and the instigation of the coming of the Spirit.
I’ll try to remember to repeat the questions, because people who listen to the tapes always say, “I didn’t hear the question. What question were you answering when you said that?” So they have to sort of go backwards and infer the question from what I was talking about.
Question asked: Clough replies: I think this is a good question about a clear gospel presentation, and in Sept. I gave a conference in Connecticut on Paul’s prelude to a clear gospel presentation, which is Acts 17, and I think before we even get to the gospel we need to remember we’ve got to connect with people out there. The problem is that people out there in the modern world, it’s like they’re living on another planet. You can use the same words, and you think you’re communicating and you might as well just talk to the air. In Acts 17 there’s a sobering lesson there, there’s a very sobering lesson because here you have the greatest mind, probably, in church history, which is Paul, and you can see him struggling in Acts 17 to clarify the meaning of two words … two words, Jesus and resurrection. These people hear Him talking, they think they’re gods, they’re totally pagan, he’s using the words Jesus and resurrection, that’s the transmitter, and this is the receiver, oh, that must be two gods. I mean they’re completely way out in the toolies here in understanding. They’re not ready for a gospel presentation at that point.
So the first thing about a clear gospel presentation, you can’t make a clear gospel presentation if you don’t have a clear vocabulary. I don’t have the gift of evangelism, some people have a marvelous gift of evangelism, but I know one thing, that in my experience if you don’t have available to your mind and heart a memory of illustrations, of what you mean when you speak a word, it becomes an abstract. That’s why Paul, if you remember in Acts 17 goes through and he talks about creation, he talks about God made this, God did this, God said this, history was thus and such, etc. For crying out loud, when is he ever going to get to the gospel? And I can hear a lot of people in our own churches getting impatient with Paul because he never gets to the gospel. Well he can’t get to the gospel until he’s in tune with these folks. So that’s why, I hope, as we’ve gone through this cycle of these events, remember what events show what.
For example, last night I was involved in a telephone conversation with a gentleman who really is miles apart from the Scriptural understanding and we were talking overseas, this was a transatlantic phone call, and we had to deal with this issue of revelation, because fundamentally this individual has the idea that God never has spoken in history but he’s a Christian who follows the leading of the Holy Spirit. And the problem here is, “What is revelation?” So I thought to myself, okay, in the framework what event most clearly illustrates biblical revelation. Mount Sinai. So when I mentioned Mount Sinai as God speaking such that if you had a tape recorder you could have taped it in Hebrew, oh no-no-no. Aha, good now we know where the conversation is going.
Now we’ve identified what the problem is. The reason we have problems with miracles, we have problems with this, we’ve got problems with that, you know, Jesus didn’t raise Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus wasn’t dead so he just walked out of the thing when the door was opened and that was a miracle because the people thought it was a miracle. This kind of idea of reconstructing the Bible, which well-educated people do, they pick this up in the classroom.
They come to the Scriptures already screwed up with a Scripture that has been absorbed and reconstructed inside their own frame of reference. So you’ve got to bust that frame of reference up. The first rupture occurs when you drop a piece on them that’s so big their filter can’t handle it. Don’t be afraid to do that, the Scripture said that God spoke from Mount Sinai. Well, I think Moses… you know, God kind of gave Moses the idea and then Moses wrote it. That’s not what the text says. The text says God spoke from Sinai in the Hebrew language and God wrote on those tablets, it wasn’t Moses. Well, I, I, I just can’t go along with that. Then we have to pause and deal with that issue because I can’t go any further with the gospel if I can’t deal with the issue of revelation and God speaking, God’s holy, God’s righteous.
So preliminary to answering the question, what is a clear gospel presentation, I think you’ve got to clear the air to have a clear gospel presentation, and I think in our day and age my impression is that you spend 90% of your time clearing the air and 10% of the time presenting the gospel, because once the air is clear and the categories are clear, then God is a holy God, He’s our Creator, in eternity I have to face Him, I have to be accountable to Him and I’ve got a problem here because I’m going to meet Him. Nobody is going to beholding my hand, the pastor isn’t going to be there, my mother isn’t going to be there, my wife isn’t going to be there, my sons aren’t going to be there, I’m going to be there and it’s going to be strictly between God and me.
When that starts to set in, now we can discuss the issue of our relationship and then it gets into the sin of rejecting the solution. But you can’t even deal with the sin of rejection until we deal with the solution and the solution to a holy God and a relationship with Him has been confirmed over and over again in Scripture as necessary is blood atonement. God cannot arbitrarily forgive, on the basis of His nature He has … all this theology is wrapped into that and in those three points in John 16 you’re seeing the crucial center of it in the sense that this sin, the ultimate sin, is brought out by a person’s response to the gospel. If we show that Jesus Christ died for us, He is the atonement, there’s no getting to God except through Him. Now if I turn my back on that, if I rebel and reject that, what have I, in effect, done? I have said that somehow either God isn’t there or if the God of the Scripture is there then I can substitute for His work my work.
So Christ becomes a center, and I think that’s the point in that text, that a good gospel presentation focuses on the Lord Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean that you escape from dealing with miracles in the Old Testament or creation, or the blood atonement and the rest of this because the Christ we’re talking about is the Christ that’s in that worldview. But the Holy Spirit emphasizes the importance of accepting or rejecting Jesus Christ. It’s not a trivial issue.
The second thing that has to be emphasized and a good gospel presentation will emphasize the finished work of Jesus Christ and making that the whole thing, so it doesn’t become a psychological thing. We can talk psychology and say there’s psychological effects of the gospel, peace, you know, I accepted Christ and it really straightened me out and I got off of drugs, and you hear that testimony, and it may be true. But the problem is that if somebody, Joe Whoever is sitting out there listening to this and maybe he’s struggling with drugs, and he hears this and one or two things may happen if you’re not careful. He may be thinking to himself while you’re talking he’s thinking oh man, I couldn’t do that, I’ve struggled with my problem for the last fifteen years, it’s like smoking, I can’t give it up, I’ve tried, etc. whatever the thing is. So all of a sudden their mind is sitting there spinning wheels on this issue. It’s not Christ, it’s a peripheral issue.
Or, the person is saying well, I think I can do that, that’s the optimist, you know the optimist and the pessimist, the pessimist says they can’t do anything about it and they get discouraged, and the optimist says oh I think I can do that. No, you’ve got the wrong idea, you don’t do that because the focus is all horizontal, it’s all me, me, me, me, me and my problems. And that’s not what the Holy Spirit is convicting of in John 16. The Holy Spirit is drawing us out of ourselves to look at Him, and it’s got to be Theocentric Christocentric, and that is so hard to do because we live in a psychological mystical age where everybody is thinking of this goo and mysticism. You will be very hard pressed to give a clear gospel presentation today. I’m not trying to discourage you; I’m just trying to warn you it takes a long time.
Clough asks someone, “You work with young people. Do you find this?” [can’t hear answer] He’s bringing up a point, in our particular culture, in our particular hour of existence there’s a speed and it’s brought about by television, video games, and everything else, you’ve got to be quick, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that, everybody is so busy, busy, busy, busy that the gospel is not a simple message, it’s going to be a sound-byte gospel. It can’t happen that way. Yes, you can have cleverly designed Christian sound bytes maybe, but those are only like the hook on the line, that’s not actually gotten in the fish’s mouth yet, that’s the lure. You can use sound byte lures to lure someone to the gospel, but there comes that point … and sometimes frankly, to get back to your question about what is a clear gospel, sometimes it isn’t clear but the Holy Spirit makes it clear because … I became a Christian with a very unclear gospel presentation.
The point is that even if you were to give a clear presentation, Satan has hold of people’s minds. They’re drifting, they’ve got other things, they’re going in and out in the conscious level, while you’re giving the gospel presentation. But if enough gets in, if just enough gets in, five days from now they can be driving down the street and become a Christian, just because something happens, the Holy Spirit works in that. So it’s encouraging to know that’s how the Holy Spirit works, that we don’t have to give a nice airtight presentation. We try to be good spokesmen, we try to be as clear as we can because we want to try to get enough in there that the Holy Spirit can work with it, because remember the Holy Spirit has chosen to work through the church and through believers. That’s why we have missions, missionaries.
The Holy Spirit says I call you, He’s powerful enough to do that, but why has He condescended to use us to be the conduits. It’s kind of almost like it’s humiliating for Him to have to do that, to work through us, creatures of clay. But we’re supposed to be His spokesman, and I think it behooves us as Christians to focus on who God is. You’ve got to get who the biblical God is, He loves but He’s also just and He’s not going to commit some arbitrary forgiveness. That’s not the gospel, that’s not the Bible. You’ve got to know what God is, who and what God is.
It may involve telling stories, you may have to tell the Flood story, you may have to tell the Exodus story, you may have to tell miracles from Jesus, but you’ve got to tell enough of the stories so it clicks, the God of the Scriptures. God speaks, He acts, He saves, and He judges, and you all know enough of the stories of the Bible so you ought to be able to illustrate that with stories. If nothing else, just stories from the Bible. Then you move from God to the issue of sin, God’s attributes versus our performance. And you can take comfort in the fact that every man knows God is there, Romans 1, so you see, you’re not introducing new information. What you’re doing is reminding them of something that basically they already know and have suppressed.
It’s very delicate to approach someone about something they’ve suppressed. In my experience with the gospel, in fact it was my experience last night, that if you probe around you’ll find some incident that happened in their lives that will explain to you the suppression that’s going on. In other words, there’ll be some event, something that’s happened to them or series of events that happened to them, maybe it was a case they lost a baby and the anger at God for that situation that has eaten them alive for the last fifteen years, they’ve never forgotten it, and they’ve never forgiven God for that. Until you deal with that, you’ve got a problem.
So Lord, give me wisdom, how do I handle this, how do I bring this to the surface, because as long as they’ve got that little hang-up, what are they doing to the gospel? I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to think about it, got to suppress it, got to bury it, and I don’t want you messing with it. So that’s what you’re dealing with. You’ve got to somehow work with that and you can just be sensitive to the Lord in working with that.
Those are the forces that you’re working against, but the more of these events that you see from Scripture, I think the clearer the gospel will become for you. We all know the outline of a clear gospel presentation, God is who He is, man has a sin problem, and the answer to that is God’s plan of salvation. We know from church history where it got fuzzy before the Reformation cleared it up, the righteousness, the source of righteousness. We know that as outline, it’s just that in practice with real people and real situations it’s almost person unique. We could stand up here and go through all of us in this room and give testimonies of how we became a Christian and there wouldn’t be two people in this room that were led to Christ with the same message or the same circumstances. I’m not going to ask you to do that, I’m just saying if we did I think that’s what we’d find.
Our time is up. Next week we will be working through a hard and difficult series of analogies that the New Testament uses to explain the session of Christ, because once He went in the cloud, He dropped out of sight, so everything else is non-empirical, everything else had to be inferred from the pages of the Old Testament. Three passages, Daniel 7; Psalm 2; and Psalm 110. So if you look at those passages, look at the notes and we’ll have fun next week.