Compiled from Dr. Warren VanHetloo’s “Cogitations,” October, 2010.
Dr. Van, I have a question about the origin of Baptism. I’ve always been taught it pictured the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. But according to Matthew 3, John was baptizing before Jesus died, even before he had even met Jesus. It then appears that believers (Jews?) displayed their faith in God by getting baptized. Any conjecture on why John seemed to come up with this idea at a time when it doesn’t mean what it means today?
No need for conjecture, there is enough in Scripture. There are several answers, and all are important.
First, God chose John to introduce something entirely new and different from the nation-centered dispensation of the Old Testament era. “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). John was sent to bear advance witness of a once-for-all-time revelation of the Light which lights every man who enters this world (John 1:3-9). Second, his water immersion was intended to prepare for a spiritual immersion to follow shortly (John 1:25-27): “I immerse with water, but…the same is He who immerses with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:26, 33).
It is important to emphasize that God called and sent John to proclaim the greater work about to be revealed. His ministry had been predicted in the OT: “As it is written in the prophets, Behold I send My messenger before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way before Thee, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight” (Mark 1:2-3, Mal 3:1, Isa 40:3). Thus, John immersed in the wilderness and preached the immersion of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3).
Judaism had known ceremonial sprinklings and some forms of soaking and self-immersion, but prior to John there is no record of an immerser. Repentance was an inner thing. Immersion was an individual’s outward declaration of an inner change. Immersion gave a vague picture of drowning, of death, and as well of a coming forth to a changed life. The meaning of the symbolism was perhaps not clear until after the death and resurrection of Jesus. God chose the mode, not John. God used it as a picture which became more clear after what it portrayed became history.
Dear Dr. Van, I am somewhat confused by your statement that “opposing a bully is a civil matter, not a religious.” Since when are Christians supposed to make a distinction between the two? Is not everything we do “religious,” in that our entire lifestyle should be conformed to the leadership of Christ? Perhaps I have misunderstood you; if so, I apologize. But I strongly suggest that we not compartmentalize the Christian life into “religious” and “civil” and have different standards for each.
Be subject to principalities and powers, obey magistrates, be ready to every good work (Titus 3:1).
When I typed that item, I considered putting a verse in parenthesis but did not. It is sure to get more attention this way, and so it might be that God thought it better to have greater attention drown to it. “Jesus said to them, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21, Mark 12:17).
My answer to “Since when?” is, “At least since Jesus so clearly taught the two separate areas of responsibility.” Also, it seems obvious to me that all through the OT period God taught that believers have primary responsibility to their Creator and secondary obligations to fellowmen. Jesus clearly paid taxes to the Roman government. He and others did not hesitate to call to account rulers who had disobeyed the standards of morality and conduct expected by God. Separation of church and state was not first developed in the American colonies.
Christians make a distinction between the two (religious vs. civil) because God does. The command “render” (not merely a suggestion) surely indicates that we are to fulfill our civic responsibilities toward civil authorities. These are not the same as what God instructs believers to do in relation to their leaders in a local church. The two are kept distinct, and God’s commands for us are clear for each. We all are citizens or subjects of a nation. We consider that such persons are equal in many ways and that all have privileges and responsibilities. If we are believers, we also have instructions and responsibilities in relation to other believers. We should not ignore civic obligations.
For different relationships of our civil life, God gives a believer specific instruction. Standards for wives (Eph. 5:22-24, Col. 3:18) do not apply to the unmarried. What God expects of husbands in the civil realm has been the same since before the fall (Eph. 5:25-33, Col. 3:19). God expects those in a family relationship to act differently (Eph. 6:1-4, Col. 3:20-12). Servants have a separate status (Eph. 6:5-8, Col. 3:22, Titus 2:9-10), as do masters (Eph. 6:9, Col 4:1). We do not compartmentalize different areas of life in this fashion; God did. Standards are different for different realms.
Note especially: “I exhort therefore that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). God may answer those prayers in many ways, but I doubt that that means that we are to aid or encourage those who would deprive us of an undisturbed existence. I expect that God would want us to do (speak, vote, even take up arms) what is consistent with what we ask Him to accomplish.
Dr. Van, I am currently reading through the minor prophets in my personal devotions and find I am puzzled by Bible Chronology. In Haggai, God exhorts the Jews to rebuild the temple. But the command to rebuild the temple seems to be given by Cyrus way back “earlier” in Chronicles and Ezra. A chart in one of my Bible study books shows that the events in Ezra actually happened after Haggai. Could you please give your thoughts on how Bible chronology fits together and how to factor it into one’s study? It is so ingrained in me that most books are strictly chronologically arranged (like history books, novels, etc.) that I keep making the same assumption about the Bible. Thanks.
Scripture is given by inspiration of God…that the man of God may be mature, complete in all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Biblical chronology is confusing in part because so many “authorities” speak authoritatively without telling the reader that there is another view of authorship and chronology. Books and charts often include just one set of results without telling the reader about the “other” view.
Roughly, the two sets of views are the ones by those who accept the inspiration of Scripture and the ones by others who think of the Bible as only a human product. A quick clue to differentiate the two is the date used for the Exodus from Egypt: 1446 for literalists against 1200s from the reconstructionists. Those using the later date crowd together and mix up much that should not be confused. It is best to use reliable charts and explanations. In my Zondervan NASB Study Bible, I have a clear chart at the beginning and discussion at each book head.
The ancients often connected events and completed telling of a matter (which thus happened later) and then returned to the narration. They seemed to concentrate on God’s prophecies and fulfillment of those more than on chronological sequence. It is admittedly confusing at times, but seeming conflicts are being worked out and becoming more established. Using a dependable chart and introductions to the various books will be of great help.
Building and rebuilding the temple were not six-month projects. Although much of the historic tent of the tabernacle did not survive, the service and much of the detail was continued in Jerusalem, and the “open air” meetings were called God’s house. David wanted to build a sturdy reliable structure, but God assigned that project to Solomon. The “house” that had been in a tent and then in open air finally had a stone structure. Rebuilding of the temple (which is what you’re studying) took stages. Once again, God’s house was open air with much of the ritual restored but no solid building. Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was the first important project, and safeguarded temple activity. During reconstruction, opposition disrupted work such that work was done for a while and then delayed for a period.
When scrolls were assembled into a definite sequence, the grouping was literary (law, history, poetry, prophecy) and also by length (shorter combined). Don’t be disappointed if you don’t keep all the chronology straight the first time through. Refer often to charts and summaries. If dates seem to conflict, let them rest. God will clear them up, perhaps in your lifetime. God’s work with people is much more important than people’s work with stone and clay.