Encouragement

Social Justice or Kingdom Righteousness? Part 4

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In response to feedback that this series is a little dense for many, we will unpack the content so it is more accessible.

We are discussing what our Prime Minister considers the “fundamental reason” why the lease on the land has to be 99 years (and not longer or freehold). The reason is moral. If the land is not redistributed after 99 years, Singapore will have a landed and a landless class and this will surely lead to social unrest. Therefore the state has to take possession of the land to redistribute and rejuvenate it.  

The morality of the land distribution by the government begins with how the government has land to lease.

Land acquisition, improvement, and redistribution

Soon after Singapore became independent, the government passed the Land Acquisition Act (1966). This law gives the government power to acquire private land by compulsion for public development; and the amount of compensation is also determined by the government.  In 1949, the state owned 31% of the land, but by 1985, the state owned 76.2% of Singapore. (https://bit.ly/2wXOEnt).

The acquisition of private land is not unique to Singapore. Many countries do it because private owners can block public development. Private owners can be selfish, or they can demand exorbitant compensation, or use their ownership as blackmail against development.  The acquisition of private land is called “eminent domain” in the US, “compulsory purchase” in the UK, NZ and Ireland, etc. They all mean the same thing: the mandatory acquisition of land from an unwilling private seller because the interest of the state must take precedence over the interest of an individual.

This is different from private acquisition of land. In Singapore, private acquisition is determined by the willing sale of 80% of the share owners of the property. Most people think this is eminently just, even though some may be extremely disgruntled by the collective decision, or suffer from the sale. The principle is that a significant majority should have the power to change the status quo because they are acting in their interest.

However, we need to be careful and not give a government unbridled power to acquire land where no such majority is required. In the Bible, we have a case of an unwilling seller and the king’s forced acquisition of land.

King Ahab wanted Naboth’s beautiful vineyard, but Naboth did not want to sell. This troubled Ahab so his wife created false charges against Naboth and had him stoned to death. His vineyard was confiscated. God sent Ahab a message through Elijah the prophet, Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it.  Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’” (1 Kings 21:18-19)

The king cannot acquire private property for personal gain. And the unjust use of law to deprive a person of his property and his life is an abomination in the eyes of God.

Let’s take the story of Naboth’s vineyard in a different direction. Let’s say Jezebel declared Naboth’s vineyard must be acquired for public good and he was not killed, but simply removed from his land. After the land was acquired, it was never used for public good. If that were the case, the evil may not be as heinous, but few will argue that it is acceptable.

I like to suggest two criteria that justify government land acquisition. (1) It is done for the public good; and (2) there should be fair compensation for the land that is acquired. The government must conscientiously demonstrate in every instance that the land it acquires is truly done for the public good.  People who are concerned with justice in society need to be the watchdog over the government and hold the government accountable. The acquisition of land for public good must be real and not a pretext.

Let’s consider a purely theoretical situation. Let’s say you own a piece of prime freehold land, but there is something about you the government does not like. The government acquires your land for “public good” and compensates you with (1) a piece of leasehold land that is not prime and (2) a paltry cash payment not enough to rebuild what you lose on the land. This course of action is fundamentally unjust even though it is done for the public good.

But there is more. Twenty years later, the land the government acquired from you is left fallow and no public good has come from the land you lost. Now it is clear that there is no kingdom righteousness with this acquisition. How can people hold the government accountable for every piece of land that is acquired?

The Christian community in Singapore is largely non-adversarial towards the government.  That is a good thing. We are not called to be contra-culture and we do not have a political agenda. But we do have an agenda of righteousness; of justice in society. In this regard, the Christian community in Singapore appears to be too pliant. We seem to accept government decisions and actions without question. This is where we have room to improve. We must be aware that no government is perfect, no matter how good that government may be. The people need to hold the government accountable. While this is true in all areas, it is certainly true in the matter of land acquisition. The Christian must want a righteousness in land acquisition that brings blessings to a nation, a kingdom righteousness that Jesus taught.

Hence, the moral references to land acquired for HDB housing are that (1) it is land acquired for the public good and (2) it is land that the government has paid fair compensation. On the second condition, we may be justified to ask if the government had paid fair compensation. But there is another side to poor compensation. If the land is acquired through a token sum from private persons, is the land sold to the public also based on a token sum?

The land the government acquires has to be improved. That costs money. When we finally get our HDB flat there are many costs in addition to the land acquisition cost. Let’s say the land costs $1million and all the improvements including the building of 100 flats costs $9million. This adds up to $10million. As a non-profit public housing entity, the HDB should then sell the units at cost, which is $100,000 each. This would justify land acquisition at the token sum of $1million.

Did the government charge us cost for the HDB flats? We don’t know because the public is denied access to such information. The issue of the lease renewal also renews this question. Are we paying cost? Many doubt it. I think it is healthier for the Singapore government to hold itself accountable to its people on the real cost of HDB flats and how the cost is broken down.

Solving the Problem of the 99 year HDB lease

I disclaim all cleverness or ability to think better than people whose paygrade I will never attain.  But what I want to explore with you are situations that are already in operation and ask if these are better moral and practical considerations to the problem of the 99 year HDB lease.

  1. Why can’t HDB flats privatize like HUDC and become private estates?

HUDC flats were privatized and they function like other private housing estates. The privatization of the HUDC has been overwhelmingly successful in that the land can be sold to private developers at market price. If the owners refuse to sell, the building gets older and eventually the lease runs out. So it is in their best interest to sell at some point before the lease runs out or the building becomes unmanageable. The government still makes money charging the premium differential for renewing of the lease to 99 years but is free from the duty of managing the housing.

The proposed VERS program is a type of a government guarantee that housing that is not desirable to the private market can be redeemed by the government. But as in all government acquisitions, the owner is left with no option. If we are made to pay for the land again, then it is unjust. Development costs must be paid, but the land is already paid by the citizens of this country and it would be unjust to make the citizens pay again.

  1. Do freehold properties create a class divided society?

Singapore has freehold properties. Do these properties get passed down in perpetuity? I think there are not many freehold properties owned by more than three generations; we don’t need to speak of perpetuity.

Let’s look at freehold condominiums. Do they create class societies through perpetual ownership? History does not bear it out. Further, the wear and tear on a building does not allow perpetual ownership. I am not entirely convinced of the argumentation that we will have a class-divided society unless the government takes back the land. I think it is good that we take steps to preempt a class-divided society, but we can ask if taking back the people’s land is the best way to do so.

 [To continue …]

Pastor Peter Eng

 

Social Justice or Kingdom Righteousness? Part 3

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HDB 99 Year Lease And Social Justice

The Prime Minister of Singapore recently unveiled the government’s plan concerning the 99 year lease for HDB flats. Singaporeans don’t use the label “social justice” in our deliberation, and that is just as well. The label does not shed light. But the way the 99 year lease is handled is a typical case concerning social justice.

The Prime Minister gave two reasons why the 99 year lease must stay. The first reason is the need to redistribute land to ensure social equality. The second is the practical consideration that buildings do not last beyond 99 years.

The Second Reason

We will discuss the second reason first. It is true that buildings do not last beyond 99 years. HDB flats, like other buildings, need rejuvenation after around 30 years. Things wear out and have to be repaired, and as social needs change, utilization of ancillary land or common spaces also change. While it is true that land rejuvenation has to happen, the question is why 99 years and not a lease that matches the actual longevity of the 30 years of a building?

All land in communist China is state-owned. The leases for residential land used to be 20-30 years. With the liberalization of the command economy, the leases were revised upward, up to 70 years. This led to a boom in construction and the appreciation of property prices. Homes can now become an asset that protects against inflation, and can be passed on to the next generation.

You would ordinarily expect capital decay over the duration of the lease. Long leases, when new, have an expiration in the far horizon, and that allows the land to appreciate (if the conditions are right). The long lease allows temporary appreciation, but the decay of capital becomes more aggressive as the lease draws to the end. In all cases, the lessee (private entity) returns the land to the lessor (the state).

In Singapore, private leases from the state for 99 years can be redeveloped and the lease can be rejuvenated back to 99 years through the payment of a premium differential. But that option does not appear to be available to the owners of HDB flats, that is, until the recent announcement of a Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme for HDB flats. This will not happen for another 20 years. It does, however, give an option to the HDB owner hitherto not known. The HDB flat owners will have the option to sell the remaining lease back to HDB which will get the lease back to 99 years. The price may be attractive (like in private collective sale) or it may not be attractive (since there is no competitive offer for the land).

The Bible and the Year of Jubilee

Let’s look at God’s heart on the matter of land distribution and leases. This can be found in the God’s assertion to Israel that all land belongs to him and it is his to give as he chooses. He chose the twelve land parcels for the twelve tribes (Levites get none and the sons of Joseph get two allotments). The land is subsequently further divided among the tribes, and this constitutes the permanent land owners.

In the Jewish calendar, there is to be a Jubilee year every 50 years. In the year of Jubilee, the land that is sold will be returned to the original owner according to his tribe. The way it works is that if a man sells his land for whatever reason, usually because of poverty, that land is really a lease, and that lease is to end with the year of Jubilee. So if it is only one year to the Jubilee, that land is leased for 1 year. If it is 49 years to the Jubilee, the land is leased for 49 years. The basic rule is that the lease will terminate on the year of Jubilee, and the land reverts to the original owner or his heir. A type of “reversionary right” to the land. This system prevents systemic poverty as the children of debt ridden parents have a chance to start afresh when they regain their ancestral land.

The First Reason

The land reversion based on a maximum of a 49 year lease in the Bible, to prevent intergenerational poverty, is somewhat expressed in the first reason why HDB leases expire at 99 years. The Prime Minister said,

“There is one fundamental reason why HDB leases are for 99 years. And that is, we need to be fair to future generations. … After that (99 years), the flat comes back to the state, the Government redevelops the land, and builds new flats for future generations. This is the only way to recycle the land, to ensure that all our descendants can buy new BTO flats of their own.

“If instead the Government sold you the flat on freehold … , sooner or later we would run out of land to build new flats for future generations.”

“The owners would pass down the flat to some of their descendants …. Those not lucky enough to inherit a property, they would get nothing. So our society would be split into property owners and those who cannot afford a property. That would be most unequal, and socially divisive.”

He is not wrong to say that a 99 year lease is a very long time. The biblical lease is half that time. He is also right to say that if the property is handed down in perpetuity and all the land is bought up, we create two classes in society, those who own land and those who don’t. And those who don’t own land will live in perpetual poverty.

Analysis

Even though the Prime Minister did not use the term “social justice” (for which I am glad), he is right in that there must be a way of equitable distribution of a nation’s assets. Unless we do so, there will be poverty and there will be a landed and a landless class. This will lead to the oppression of the poor and perhaps eventually an uprising of the poor landless people against the rich landed people.

There is one fundamental difference between the biblical Jubilee and state owned land sold on leases. It is the question of who holds the reversionary right to the land. In the case of Singapore, it is the state. In the case of Israel, it is the ancestral holding, that is private ownership. The entity that holds the reversionary right to the land is the true owner of wealth and has the real power. In a communist / socialist system, the land is owned by the state leased out to different entities for various durations. The Singapore government identified itself as a democratic-socialist government. The state acquisition of land and the leasing of land to entities is typical of a socialist government. It can be argued that this has to be done because of the real scarcity of land in Singapore. But it is primarily done as a matter of socialist principle. At the same time, Singapore is not completely socialist in that there are properties that are “freehold” or “fee simple.” We will not have a landed versus a landless class. But we do have a freehold vs a leasehold class.

I am not suggesting that the Jubilee system can be implemented in our day and age. And if there is a way to do it, I don’t know how. The main difference is that if the land that comes to the end of its lease is taken as true state land (owned by the people), the new lease of the land ought to reflect that. That is to say, if the land is sold, the proceeds go to the people. Alternatively, the land is developed (at a cost) but the land itself is free because it belongs to the people.

The Singapore government has not been forthcoming in how the cost of HDB flats are calculated, so we don’t know if the HDB pays for the land it develops (land that belongs to the people); or that HDB gets the land free (since it is for the citizens and the land belongs to the citizens). If the land is free for public housing, then the government would be rightly treating the land as owned by the people but managed by the government. If its citizens are made to pay for land they own (via the state), then there should be a justification for it.

The reversion of land for redistribution after a term of lease is consistent with the biblical principle of the reversion of land to prevent intergenerational poverty. The Bible is silent of who owns the land outside of the land of Israel, but the Bible is clear that God is the creator of the heaven and earth, and therefore the rightful owner. There will be a great reversion of land globally. When Jesus returns to claim the world for himself, he will assert himself as the creator-owner of the world. There will be a redistribution of land to the children of the king, who are the resurrected, and who live in the resurrected body in the new heaven and the new earth.

Before the realization of the great reversion of the earth to God, we can support the principle of land reversion to prevent intergenerational poverty. However, that begs the question, “To whom should the land revert before it reverts to God the creator?” The answer is left to us to determine. Every society will have its own set of circumstances and there should be open and careful deliberation on what actions will result in generations with opportunities to prosper regardless of what previous generations had done.

 [To continue …]

Pastor Peter Eng

 

Social Justice or Kingdom Righteousness? Part 2

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The Spirit of the Age

I recall with shame how foolish we all were. Even though I did not personally engage in it, I gave it tacit support. In the 70s, ideas of socialism and communism had gained strong intellectual traction in the public domain. Christians joined the spirit of the age, saying that the first socialist/communist manifestation is found in the Bible. Jesus tells the parable of three sets of workers who work different lengths of time in a day and they are all paid the same, much to the chagrin of those who work longer (Matthew 20:1-16). This seems to be a case of equal outcome to unequal input, supporting both communism and social justice. In another instance, we have needy people in the church and others with great wealth. The rich sold their property to feed the poor (Acts 2:44-45) – apparently, a communist ideal.

Is this the real meaning of Matthew 20 and Acts 2?

Acts 2:44-45 speaks of people putting money into a common pool to feed the poor. It is voluntary giving. Social justice strongly advocates the role and duty of the government to redistribute wealth, usually not without coercion. There is no similarity between the voluntary help to the needy and the coerced redistribution of wealth. The communist giver is motivated by fear and not love, and the communist recipient receives the redistributed wealth as a greedy entitlement with no gratitude.

Immediately following the statement that people sold their property to feed the poor, we are told, the believers “broke bread in their homes and ate together …” (Acts 2:46) This would be impossible if all their homes were sold. Acts 2:44-45 is a general and expansive statement celebrating the sacrificial giving of some in the community, not an absolute statement. It is not a prescription for action, nor is it an ideal for our perpetual emulation.

Not long after this event, there arose a couple who wanted the praise of man among the believers. They sold their property and claimed to have given all the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute. Peter’s rhetorical question in response to them is instructive, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4). The church never claimed an individual’s wealth. Private ownership was never discouraged.

We see this phenomenon again later in the book of Acts. When King Agrippa I persecuted the Christians by beheading James and throwing Peter into prison, the believers gathered in the home of Mary to pray for Peter. When God delivered Peter from prison, he went to Mary’s home to look for the other disciples. From the description we have, it was a big house with an outer courtyard and she had at least one servant employed in the household (Acts 12:12-17). If all the believers sold their homes, how did Mary come by this substantial home so soon after giving away everything?

The parable of equal reward in Matthew 20:1-16 has a context. Peter had asked Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27). Jesus replied at three levels. First, the twelve will be as prominent in the Kingdom of God as the twelve patriarchs (19:28). Second, all who make sacrifices will be rewarded many times over (19:29). Third, “But many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.” (19:30). Jesus then tells the parable of equal reward and repeats the same apothegm “So the last will be first and the first will be last.” (20:16). This forms the literary inclusio on the third group that will get a reward. The first two groups do not get equal reward, only the third group gets equal reward. This dispels the myth of citing this text as proof for equal outcomes.

Next we ask what is with the third group that they get equal reward. Who or what is Jesus referring to?

The literary inclusio “the last will be first and the first will be last” tells us two things about the third group. The first is that there will be a reversal of sequence of reward for this group. The second is that there is equal reward.

Jesus is talking about who enters the kingdom of heaven. The Jews who first hear the Good News of the kingdom will enter last while the Gentiles who hear it last will enter first. The reward of inclusion in the kingdom of heaven is a generous reward. A denarius for a day’s work for a laborer was generous. But it was even more generous pay for an hour’s work. This is the meaning of God’s grace. A person who enters God’s kingdom one hour before he dies is saved no less than a person who lives for God his whole life. There is a reward that is both generous and common to all.

In the parable, the equal reward of eternal life is never based on the goodness of the unemployed men incapable of providing for themselves or their family, it is the gracious provision of the generous employer who gives meaningful and gainful employment. In the whole story of Jesus, there is an even greater imbalance of unequal input that produces the same outcome of eternal life. Jesus the sinless Lamb of God dies to procure our salvation. What more unequal input is there? But the outcome of equal reward of eternal life is all of grace.

The current Christian infatuation with social justice is similar to the Christian infatuation with communism in the decades past. We are children of our time. But the Word of God calls us to a wisdom that lifts us up in courageous thought that rises above the shifting opinions of the world.

I don’t want to muddle through social justice as I did communism. I don’t want to approach social justice with a desire to justify it or to castigate it. I need to know social justice on its own terms and not baptize it with Christian thinking. With that in mind, my first realization is that social justice has a different moral referent from Scripture.

The Referent

Why is something good or bad? Social Justice is a moral expression of humanism. “Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively….” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanism, 18 Aug 2018). In humanism, we humans decide what is right or wrong, and right or wrong depends on whether it benefits humans. Social justice as an expression of humanism emphasizes equal outcome, diversity, and the creation of supportive environments (as noted earlier).

In contrast, the Judeo-Christian morality draws from monotheism. Monotheism is the belief there is only one God the creator of all things who determines right and wrong. Right and wrong issues from God’s character and God’s commands. God’s commands are consistent with his character even if some commands relate only to human life (e.g. marriage). The end
result of justice in society is that it brings glory to God. In contrast to humanism, the good that is accomplished is not what satisfies human wants, but what brings glory to God. God is glorified in us, when we are satisfied in him. So ironically, human satisfaction is to be found in God, not in any human self-actualization collectively or individually.

Tom Holland (British author, not the actor of Spiderman) is an atheist who authored several prominent books. He held the typical humanist view that Christianity created a huge blot against the progress of human goodness ushered in by the Greeks and the Romans. The triumph of Christianity brought in superstition, the crusades, the inquisitors and, eventually, dour puritans. But in 2016, this scholar of classical studies wrote an article that shocked his peers. “Why I was wrong about Christianity” a candid admission of his mistaken view. “It took me a long time to realise my morals are not Greek or Roman, but thoroughly, and proudly, Christian.” (https://goo.gl/2Py6UW)

Holland’s realization helps us understand humanism and social justice (the moral system based on humanism.)

Humanism argues that the moral goodness in the world today arose on the back of the Renaissance, which is a rebirth of the Greco-Roman worldview. Tom Holland came to the realization that the Greco-Roman world was brutal and their moral philosophy does not resemble what he holds to be right and wrong. His humanistic moral values are ultimately traceable to Christianity, to Jesus and to Paul.

Humanism takes what the Bible affirms about human values and human rights and elevates this good and make it the ultimate good. This is why humanism looks so much like Christianity, and seems to agree so much with Christian morals. Humanism is an imitation of Christianity, humanism is not the legacy of the Greco-Roman world but the illegitimate child of Christian morality. In that sense, Holland is right to trace the morals of humanism back to Jesus and Paul.

Idolatry is to take a good and turn it into the ultimate good. Humanism is the idolatry of taking humans, God’s good creation, and turning it into the ultimate good. Humanism is the sin of rebellion against God as God. It is when we are enticed by the whisper of the serpent, “You will be like God knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5). Ironically, when we believe that lie, we lose our discernment of good and evil.

 [To continue …]

Pastor Peter Eng

 

Social Justice or Kingdom Righteousness? Part 1

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What is Social Justice?

My failure to understand social justice begins when I do the logical thing of putting together the two words “social” and “justice” to mean “justice in society.” But when I listen to discussions on social justice I know something is amiss.  Social justice is not about justice in a society. It is a term for a certain view of society. So what does it mean?

Different people understand social justice differently. Yet we can identify certain fundamental concepts in social justice without too much debate.

The first pillar in social justice is the equality of outcome.  Communism stands for the equality of input, and expects the equality of outcome. This has failed miserably for reasons history has already documented. Social justice is more sophisticated in that when the goal is the equality of outcome, it advocates unequal input to arrive at equal outcome.  Thus, social justice is better positioned to reach the goal of equal outcome by advocating unequal input.

Nowhere is this more apparent than “Affirmative Action” in university admissions. A school may decide it has too many successful students of a particular race, and decides that the underrepresented race deserves a leg-up by lowering the admission criteria for the underrepresented race, and conversely, raise the admission criteria for the overrepresented race. By this means, a university is able to admit the exact racial percentages they choose.  Of course, this can be done for graduation too. If not enough students of a certain race is getting a passing grade, they can just lower the passing grade for the underperforming race. That way, the school will get the graduation percentage they want from the races.

The University of Malaysia openly uses race in its admission criteria, ostensibly to give more opportunities to one race. Some other schools do it surreptitiously. A case in point is Harvard University. Experience tells us Harvard sets a much higher bar of admittance for Asians (and there is an ongoing lawsuit to hold them accountable). The same goes with medical schools because they think Asian doctors are overrepresented. Cambridge University does the same thing. A Singapore student with top grades will be rejected in favor of a student from a third world country. If you are in the academic loop, these stories are all too familiar to you.

I will be remiss to omit mention that not all admission restrictions are motivated by social justice. For example, a country has the social responsibility to provide qualified health care professionals, and decide that 95% of the vacancies should go to locals who fill the health care needs of the society.  The action is not motivated by some perceived injustice among people groups, instead it is there to fill a real social need.

Another expression of equality of outcome can be found in the expression “equal work for equal pay.” I have two real life cases that help clarify my thinking.

Many years back, I applied for an employment visa at the US Embassy, and was surprised by the experience of a blind interviewer. It became clear to me that this blind man was extremely competent. It seems to me that this is a strong case to support “equal work for equal pay.”

In another instance, I knew of a handicapped law student, confidently asserting that she did not want charity and she was the equal to any other student. At the same time, friends had to carry her books for her, help her take lecture notes, and even accompany her to the toilet because she had a high risk of falls. When she graduates, she will want equal pay for equal work. She can never do equal work, so should she expect equal pay?

The current peeve of media journalists is the lament over “income inequality” referring to the gap between the rich and the poor of a country (e.g. the Gini index). Hong Kong and Singapore are considered some of the “worst” countries in terms of income gap/inequality. Social justice assumes injustice is involved when the income gap is wide, and justice is found where the gap is narrow. But it does not take a genius to figure out that it is better to be poor in Singapore which has a big income gap than to be poor in Bangladesh which has a narrow income gap. Actual prosperity is clearly more important than the income gap. This obsession with income gap is puzzling to me. Why does concern for income gap take over the concern for quality of life? It takes a better mind than mine to work this out.

The second pillar in social justice is the desire for diversity. This includes concepts related to multiculturalism, and inclusivity.  The argument is that diversity enriches a community or a nation, individuals have a right to maintain their cultural uniqueness, and society needs to create inclusive spaces for the flourishing of diversity, usually without regard to what that diversity may mean.

We can easily see the need for both diversity or homogeneity. Singapore embraced multiculturalism through our official languages, through deliberate governmental efforts in cross-cultural interactions, etc. At the same time, without the homogeneity of a common language of business through which we can communicate with the rest of the world (i.e. English), we will not be able to flourish.  Diversity in social justice is different.  It is commonly used to address the issue of white privilege in America.

White privilege is real. Rich, well-placed white parents open doors for their mediocre children who assume good jobs while higher performing non-whites end up with lower level jobs.  As a tool to rebalance white privilege, social justice advocates diversity as a test. While the goal of moving away from cronyism is good, using diversity as a measure or test of real social justice is foolish. The issue is not race but cronyism. Singapore and China have a tier of social-political elites. The children from this tier compete fiercely for good positions in the best government linked organizations, and for the most part, we can expect them to be at least fairly competent when they secure these positions. The cronyism is not race based, and no measure of diversity will reveal or address the systemic injustice in non-race based cronyism.

While Singapore ranks high in not having corruption as a society, Singapore ranks poorly for cronyism (The Economist, May 7, 2016). Social justice does right in arguing there is a privileged class with access to positions others do not have. But social justice does not do well by incorrectly making racial diversity the measure of justice in society.

I believe social justice uses diversity because their goal is equal outcome. If they advocate true meritocracy rather than diversity, the advocates in America fear what the result will look like. The racial representation they wish to see under the rubric of social justice will not materialize. Even though meritocracy is the obvious instrument of justice in society, it is ignored and race-based diversity is promoted in its place.

The third pillar of social justice is the creation of supportive environments to achieve equal outcome. For instance, ramps are required by law, so those using wheelchairs can access public buildings, restaurants, shops, etc.  The spaces closest to the entrance are reserved for the handicap so they gain easier access. More significant than these conveniences would be supportive environments for people to flourish. The poor may not be able to afford housing, buy food, pay for health care, or utilities, so these are provided for, or heavily subsidized, so they may have an environment that allows them to compete with others in the society. America has done this for decades, but only a small number used these environments to get out of their cycle of poverty. Many have observed that help is not helping the poor move out of poverty.

It is clear the Word of God calls the disciples of Jesus to open our heart and our purse to the poor and the needy. The difference between what Christians do and what social justice does is the execution. Social justice argues the government has the right to tax the rich and give to the poor. The biblical model is for voluntary generosity. There may indeed be a place for both.  We shall presently discuss this. 

 [To continue …]

Pastor Peter Eng

 

Signs and Wonders: God’s Creation of a People

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“Signs and wonders” is most commonly associated with certain Christians. They argue that the way to evangelize is through signs and wonders. “This was what Jesus and the apostles did,” they say.

Their claim has some merit. Scripture records for us what the Apostle Peter said to the people at Pentecost. “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22). In addition, that was how God chose to confirm the message of the Apostles. “So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.” (Acts 14:3).

“Power evangelism” is the term they use for evangelism that is accompanied by “signs and wonders”—which is mostly healing. So the claim is that if you want to reach the world effectively for Jesus, you need to do so with signs and wonders. Let us put aside our questions, but just look at Scripture without the burden of proving one thing or another.

SIGNS AND WONDERS IN THE OT

It may surprise some to learn that “signs and wonders” did start from the OT.

The first use of “signs and wonders” began early in the OT when God told Moses “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt he will not listen to you. (Exodus 7:3-4). This is then repeated in Deuteronomy looking back to the same event, saying, “The Lord did miraculous signs and wonders before our eyes, dealing terrifying blows against Egypt and Pharaoh and all his people.” (Deuteronomy 6:22, NLT, cf. Deut. 3:24; 7:19; 11:3; 26:8; 29:3; 34:11). There is a remarkable uniformity of reference in these occurrences. These signs and wonders were all said with reference to what was done against Egypt. Every single reference to “signs and wonders” in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) identifies the signs and wonders as what God did to Egypt for the Hebrews. We will call this the “Exodus Event.”

The OT references outside of the Pentateuch use this term in the same way. Jeremiah spoke of “signs and wonders in Egypt,” and “You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders.” (Jeremiah 32:20,21). Nehemiah speaks of “signs and wonders against Pharaoh” (Nehemiah 9:10). As in the Pentateuch, every single reference to signs and wonders points to what was done to Egypt to deliver God’s chosen people so they can be a nation as promised to Abraham.

The Psalms also use this term, speaking of “the day he displayed his signs in Egypt.” (78:43) Also, “He sent Moses … and Aaron. They performed signs among them, his wonders in the land of Ham.” (105:26-27). Here “Ham” is used as a poetic equivalent of Egypt as the reference goes back to Moses and Aaron.  “He sent his signs and wonders into your midst, Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants.” (135:9). Up to this point, every reference to “signs and wonders” is to Yahweh’s acts of sheer power against Egypt/Pharaoh in delivering his people from Egypt.

In the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar (the Babylonian king), also uses this term. “It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.” (Daniel 4:2). Even though Nebuchadnezzar was never delivered by Yahweh in the way Israel was delivered, and Egypt was not involved, he uses similar language. However, he immediately follows up with the declaration of God’s kingdom, “How great are his signs, | how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation. (4:3)

It appears that Nebuchadnezzar is appropriating to his own life God’s signs and wonders in the building of God’s eternal kingdom, which stands apart from Babylon.

In Daniel, the Persian king, Darius said: “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.

“For he is the living God and … his kingdom will not be destroyed,
  his dominion will never end. | He rescues and he saves;
  he performs signs and wonders | in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:26-27)

Here, Darius begins with God’s eternal kingdom and follows it with the declaration of “signs and wonders,” adding a reference to the amazing deliverance of Daniel from the lions.

Two foreign kings use “signs and wonders,” without reference to God delivering Israel from Egypt, but with reference to God’s eternal kingdom.

Summary. There are two meanings to “signs and wonders” in the OT: (1) the Exodus Event and (2) the eternal kingdom of God. The Exodus Event is the event that created a nation. The eternal kingdom is also the creation of a nation, but this nation, unlike other nations before, will not be created through human means, will sweep away all the nations that come before (Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome), and it will last forever (Daniel 2). This was powerfully fulfilled when Jesus was born under the Roman Empire, swept it away, has endured and continues to endure to this day. We are living in this period of fulfillment. The formation of Israel in the Exodus Event and the formation of the eternal kingdom will be accompanied by “signs and wonders.” The two references to “signs and wonders” in the OT seem disparate at first, but they are really powerfully tied together. “Signs and wonders” in history (the Exodus Event) and “signs and wonders” in prophecy (the inauguration of the eternal kingdom). God had formed national Israel through signs and wonders; God will form his eternal kingdom through signs and wonders.

SIGNS AND WONDERS IN THE NT

When we come to the NT, we see the repeated declaration that the kingdom of God has come. This is the good news. God’s Messiah has come to establish the eternal kingdom of God spoken by the prophet Daniel.

In the proclamation of the Good News

Jesus brought in the kingdom of God by his life, death and resurrection. From the start of his ministry, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.  News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. (Matthew 4:23-25).

The term “signs and wonders” is not a restrictive term but a general term encompassing healing, freeing the demon possessed, and the miraculous works of nature. We see Jesus doing two things in tandem: proclaiming the good news of the (eternal) kingdom and healing people from diseases and from demonic possession. This is exactly as prophesied in Daniel. The Apostle Peter reminds the people of Israel, “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22).

While Jesus was powerful, the disciples were powerless – until the day of power, the day of Pentecost. This was the day when the disciples took up where Jesus left off. And when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them, they became God’s agents to perform signs and wonders.

On the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter explained, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel … ‘I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below.’” (Acts 2:16,19).  “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” (Acts 2:43). We note that most of the signs and wonders came through the apostles. This showed the people the apostles were indeed God’s servants. It also authenticates the message. The authentication of the messenger and the message are really one and the same matter. If the messenger is true, the message is also true.  We are told repeatedly, The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. …” (Acts 5:12).  “So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.” (Acts 14:3). …“by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. … I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. (Romans 15:19). “I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.” (2 Corinthians 12:12) “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:4).

Summary. Signs and wonders accompanied the ministry of Jesus and of the Apostles as they proclaimed the eternal kingdom of God. “Signs and wonders,” especially healing, accomplished four things: (1) it caught the people’s attention; (2) it authenticated the messenger; (3) it authenticated the message; (4) it fulfilled the prophecy in Daniel.

In the conversion of Gentiles

The majority of people in God’s Kingdom today are Gentiles. It is easy to forget the first Christians were Jews who struggled with the question: “Who should inherit God’s Kingdom? Or, to whom should we share this Good News?” Acts outline for us God’s hand in leading the early church from Hebraic/Aramaic-speaking Jews to Greek-speaking Jews to Gentiles. This was a severe culture shock to the first Christians, and the Holy Spirit of God had to demonstrate to them clearly that such was his intention.

Acts tells us the first church had both Hebraic/Aramaic-speaking Jews and Greek-speaking Jews). To serve the needs of the Greek-speaking Jews, “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 6:5).   “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8). Stephen was the spearhead messenger of Good news to the Greek-speaking Jews. Those who rejected his message plotted his death (Acts 6:9ff). Stephen’s death accelerated the spread of the Good News because Christians fled Jerusalem, bringing the Good News everywhere (Acts 8:1,4).

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:19-21)

Luke intends to show us that the proclamation of the good news to the Gentiles is superintended by God. It began with Stephen who was authenticated by God through signs and wonders.

Next, we have the account of the conversion of Cornelius by Peter. Cornelius was not a Jew, and not circumcised. But when he believed, the Holy Spirit came on him and he spoke in tongues (Acts 10:44-48). Since God had approved Cornelius without circumcision, Peter decided to baptize Cornelius. But “the circumcised believers criticized him  and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’” (Acts 11:2-3). Peter explained, “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. … So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:15-17).

The issue of baptism without circumcision finally came to a head with all the church leaders meeting to deliberate on the issue (Acts 15). “The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” (Acts 15:12) And this finally convinced the circumcised believers that they could baptize Gentiles without circumcision, and circumcision should not be required of Gentiles.

Summary. The supernatural manifestation of God variously described, through healing, tongues, miracles, signs and wonders, were used by God to show the early Christians that the promises of God’s Kingdom were not limited to the Jews, but were available to the Gentiles without their first becoming Jews through circumcision.

As God’s concession

One day a desperate man pleaded with Jesus to heal his son. Jesus lamented, “Unless you people see signs and wonders … you will never believe.” (John 4:48). This refers to the miracle of healing of someone whose son was about to die. Jesus obliged the desperate father even though this is not what Jesus wants to see. The sad reality is that people want to see healing before they will believe. This event reveals God’s heart on the matter of miraculous signs. It is not the ideal way for God to reveal himself, but he does it as a concession to human need for proof.

One great danger associated with miraculous deliverance such as healing, is that it breeds the expectation that God must always heal. This is not true. God will ultimately heal in the resurrection. But the ultimate healing of God at the resurrection is different from God healing us every time we fall sick. If that were so, we would not die! The curse on Adam has been neutralized by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

God wants to be wanted for himself. By providing a supernatural intervention, people tend to want God for what he can give. Even though it draws people to God, there is an inherent danger associated with supernatural signs.

Another grave danger is that the awe of miracles will quickly wear out. The Israelites had the daily miracle of manna, but that became the new normal and the daily miracle did not help them obey God any better.

This brings us to yet another grave danger of depending on signs and wonders for our faith. It leads us to stop evaluating truth claims and we become susceptible to falsehood.

Negatively as a warning

On the Mount of Olives, Jesus warned his disciples, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24; cf. Mark 13:22). The miracles here do not come from Jesus the true Messiah, but from false messiahs and false prophets. These false teachers will use miracles to try to deceive God’s people.

Paul affirms strongly that in the last days, “lawless one will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). This is a clear warning to believers, that as much as they have been brought to faith through signs and wonders, the evil one will seek to use the same method to deceive.

In Connection with the OT

The NT continues the OT tradition of using “signs and wonders” to describe the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt. (Acts 7:36).  It is such a well-established idea that it does not require repetition; instead, the NT moves on to the fulfillment of the eternal kingdom of God through miraculous signs and wonders.

Summary for the NT

In the NT, “signs and wonders” together with healing, is (1) an important means of drawing people to Jesus so they will listen to the message. This was also true with the Apostles. (2) “Signs and wonders” authenticate the messenger. (3) They also authenticate the message. (4) The miraculous accompanying the proclamation of the kingdom of God is fulfillment of prophecy. (5) The use of the miraculous for the people to accept the Good News is not considered ideal and Jesus lamented over it. It is a divine concession to hard-hearted people. (6) There are inherent dangers when people use signs and wonders as proof because the evil one is able to act falsely to imitate these signs and wonders and lead people astray. There is therefore a severe warning about false messiahs using signs and wonders.

CONCLUSION

“Signs and wonders” describes a phenomenon which includes tongues, healing, judgments, etc. They are supernatural acts that demonstrate God’s deliverance. In the OT, there is restricted reference to the Exodus Event, and in the Book of Daniel it is tied in to God’s eternal kingdom.

Jesus and his Apostles brought in the eternal kingdom of God through miracles. This replicates the Exodus Event, and fulfills the connection established in Daniel. The eternal kingdom of God is pried out of the hands of the evil one, no less that Israel was pried out of Pharaoh’s clutches. God’s people in Jesus are delivered from our bondage to sin. And when God wins, the devil loses.

“Signs and wonders” is not the norm in Israel’s history beyond her inception. While there were miracles throughout the history of Israel, they were not of the magnitude or character as the Exodus Event. This also holds true for the eternal kingdom of God. The inauguration of the kingdom under Jesus and the Apostles was a season of unparalleled miracles, but there is no evidence of the same level of miracles sustained over the years.

It is not the purpose of this article to advocate the cessation of the miraculous. I will only opine that it may be an overreach to say all miracles have ceased. At the same time, to argue that the supernatural events surrounding the inception of God’s eternal kingdom ought to be repeated in our day and age is a dangerous overreach in the opposite direction. And this overreach is more dangerous than the other because of the inherent dangers of proving truth with miracles. The Bible warns us that in the last days, the “lawless one” will be using this tool to deceive.

We cannot relive the miracles of the early church any more than Israel can relive the miracles of the Exodus. We need to see that the use of the miraculous is not God’s preferred method in the long run as Jesus himself lamented it, even while he was healing miraculously.

May the Lord grant us clarity and boldness as we study his word. Amen!

Pastor Peter Eng

 

Jerusalem in God’s Plan (Part 2)

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In my previous article, I had demonstrated that the NT view of Jerusalem is quite consistent and unambiguous – the Jerusalem for Christians is the heavenly Jerusalem, and the City of God in the New Heaven and New Earth. The earthly Jerusalem is irrelevant. This was asserted both before and after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

I avoided the question of the third temple in the earlier discussion, but it’s necessary to address it because if there’s to be a third temple on which prophecy is hinged, then national Jerusalem becomes significant. This subject deserves its own investigation, in which we now engage. The options before us are: (1) the popular opinion that there is significant prophecy concerning the third temple; (2) there will not be a third temple; (3) there may be a third temple but it is not in Scripture and not significant for the disciple of Jesus.

Here we will examine Scripture and other relevant matters to arrive at a tentative answer. I say “tentative” because I do not regard myself as an expert in such matters.

Daniel 9 and Matthew 24

Daniel 9 is the account of Daniel praying for the end of the proscribed exile of 70 years (9:1-19). He receives a revelation from God through the angel Gabriel in response (9:20-23). Using 70 years in a word play, Gabriel tells him that God has appointed 70×7 years for God’s plan to unfold. The time is divided into three parts: (1) seven sevens [i.e. 49 years], (2) sixty-two sevens [i.e. 434 years], and (3) a final seven [i.e. 7 years], making a total of 490 years. The counting starts and ends “From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem and end with the Anointed One” (9:25). You may be aware that the Anointed One is the same word as Messiah or Christ. It is more than likely this refers to the ultimate Anointed One, rather than the lesser anointed kings in Israel’s history.

Popular Christian thinking combines the first two blocks of time, seven sevens and sixty-two sevens into one continuous block of sixty-nine sevens [i.e. 483 years]. When they calculate the time of the decree to the death of Christ (9:25), it turns out to be exactly 483 years. (You can find many of these posts online.) Thus they show the remarkable fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The calculations are complicated but not complex, and are necessary for us to understand so we can evaluate better. So bear with me.

There are three to four major options on the start of the 483 years because there were three to four decrees: (1) decree of Cyrus, 538 BC; (2) decree of Darius I, 521-520 BC; (3-4) decree of Artexerxes, 458-457 BC and 445-444 BC.  In addition there are two possible end dates AD 30 or AD 33 (These are the only two possible years because these are the years when the Passover falls on Friday, when Jesus was crucified.) If you plug all the numbers in you will still not be able to get the 483 year fulfillment. So how do they get 483 years? They use 360 days for one year, which they call a “prophetic year.” Using this method, it is possible to use the above variables to come to 483 years.

Remarkable as it may be, I have reservations that this is the correct way to interpret. Here are my reservations:

1.  70×7. When we see numbers used in the formula of 70 times 7, we can either take the number literally, or dynamically. For example, Jesus asks his disciples to “forgive your brother”, not 7 times but 70×7 times. It is interesting that in the case of forgiving the brother, nobody takes it literally, but dynamically, as many, many times. There may be some justification to take the 70 x 7 as literal years, but we should not preclude the possibility of the dynamic use of the numbers. (See also, the assertion of Lamech, Genesis 4:24). In all other instances, 70 times 7 is not literal. This should lead us to question if we ought to take these years numerically, or to ask if there is a literary meaning instead.

2.  The breaks. Daniel gives us three segments: (Segment 1) seven ‘sevens’, 49 years; (Segment 2) sixty-two ‘sevens’, 434 years; and (Segment 3) one ‘seven’, 7 years. The popular method interposes a long period between segment (2) and (3); and say we are now living in between (2) and (3), waiting for the final seven years commonly called the years of tribulation. But there is no gap of time between Segment 1 and Segment 2. So why do we treat Segment 1 and 2 as running consecutively without any break, but interpose a break of several thousand years between Segment 2 and 3?                                                              

3.  The years. If you add up the years, you immediately see they do not add up to 483. Our brethren get this number by suggesting that Daniel used the prophetic year of 360 days in a year. If you count a year as 360 days we can indeed find a permutation that is 483 years. I have reservations as to whether there is a “prophetic year.” We can create an artificial year with any number of days we want, and make almost any period fit 483 years. It seems very unnatural to me that the Jews should use 360 days because they will be short of 5 plus days each year, and over time, it would totally mess up their agricultural cycle. (The use of intercalation to reconcile the lunar and solar cycles still result in 365 days a year on average.)

4.  Daniel 11:31; 12:11. Daniel used the “abomination of desolation” two other times. Daniel 11 talks about the wars between the kings of the north and the death of Alexander (the Seleucid Greeks based in Syria) and the kings of the south (the Ptolemy Greeks based in Egypt). Daniel 11:31 talks about the time when the Seleucid king (Antiochus IV) took out his anger on Jerusalem. He stopped the daily sacrifices at the temple, put up the statue of Zeus at the altar, and sacrificed a pig (167 BC). Daniel 12:11 seems to refer to the same incident “And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days.” This text is largely ignored because we don’t know what it is saying. Bible scholars are not agreed on these enigmatic numbers, but the likelihood is that Daniel is talking about the desecration of 167 BC. The two viable options are: (1) Daniel 9:27 is also talking about the desecration of 167 BC like the other two references; (2) Daniel is referring to an event that will repeat 167 BC is some way. The natural candidates would be AD 70 or an end time event. Even if we say it refers to an end time event, we must not forget the possibility that 167 BC is a strong contender.

5.  Matthew 24:15. This text may be the main justification for tying Daniel 9 to our own end times. “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Matthew 24:15-16; cf. Mark 13:14).

Properly understood, this text actually argues against reading Daniel 9:27 as a third temple rather than for it. There are two main ways to understand this text: (1) it is talking about the destruction in AD 70 or (2) it is talking about an event during the purported seven-year tribulation. I believe the evidence is overwhelming that it is talking about AD 70.

“As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2; cf Matthew 24:1-2; Luke 21:5-6). The disciples ask two things (1) when it will happen, and (2) the sign of when it will happen (Mark and Luke) or the sign of Jesus’s coming (Matthew).  This question assumes the two will happen at the same time. Jesus’s answer corrects the mistaken assumption. “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matthew 24:6; Mark 13:7); “but the end will not come right away” (Luke 21:9). There are events that are only “the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:8; Mark 13:8). The Good News will be declared to all the world before the end will come (Matthew 24:14), and in the meantime, there will be false Messiahs, persecutions, wars, natural disasters, etc.,  but you are to stand firm. (Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19). Up to this point, I think the consensus is that Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Next comes the statement in question about the “abomination of desolation” and “armies surrounding” Jerusalem (Matthew 24: 15-29; Mark 13:14-25; Luke 21:20-26). Followed by what most will agree refers to the end, the appearance of “the Son of Man” and Jesus concluding “about the day and the hour no one knows (Matthew 24:30-36; Mark 13:26-31; Luke 21:26-33). The “abomination of desolation” / Jerusalem “surrounded by armies” is sandwiched between the destruction of AD 70 and the end. So we need to make a determination whether it goes with AD 70 or with the end.

There are several indicators in the text that it is about AD 70. (1) the call to flee to the mountains (Matthew 24:16; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:21). This was what the Christians and many Jews did in AD 66 ahead of the war that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem. (2) Matthew, writing to the Jews says, “pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath” (Matthew 24:20). This tells us it will happen at a time when keeping Sabbath for Jews is the norm affecting the majority of them. (3) “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24). This reference is almost certainly about AD 70.

Conclusion on the Discourse on the Mount of Olives: Since the “abomination of desolation” and Jerusalem “surrounded by armies” is about AD 70, it is not a prophecy concerning the third temple.

6.  Another reason why I doubt Daniel 9 to be talking about desecration in the third temple comes from the introduction of this discourse. Daniel 9:24 says God has decreed 70×7 years concerning “your people and your holy city, (1) to finish the transgression, (2) to put an end to sin, and (3) to atone for iniquity, (4) to bring in everlasting righteousness, (5) to seal both vision and prophet, and (6) to anoint a most holy place.” All these point to AD 70. The work of Christ, his life, death and resurrection, has accomplished the six things expressed here, and it also spells the redundancy of the temple.

Conclusion on Daniel 9 and Matthew 24: There is no reason to read these texts as requiring a third temple.

Revelation 13

Revelation tells of the beast that rises from the sea with ten horns and seven heads, with power from the dragon. It seems to have a mortal wound but did not die. A second beast is from the land, and it compels people to worship the beast from the sea. It makes an image of the beast from the sea and causes it to come alive. The assumption many make is that this is talking about worship in Jerusalem.

First, we note that there is no mention or hint of Jerusalem here. It is almost certainly talking about the Roman Imperial system and the dragon behind it. If this is not about Jerusalem, then there is no need for a third temple to be rebuilt.

Next, I believe there is strong evidence that John is talking about the imperial cult temple in Ephesus. John is exiled to Patmos just off the coast of Ephesus. The personal reference point for him would be Ephesus where he labored. The beast from the sea is just like we say from over the sea, overseas, and the beast from the land is local. This was during the reign of Emperor Domitian who was honored as a god in Ephesus, and Ephesus was a well-known city of the imperial cult. The local leader compelled the imperial cult in Ephesus. Those who refused to pay cult to the emperor were punished variously. This is the most likely historic reference to the beast.

I will not elaborate on this as it is too involved, but I will just point out the essential, that this is not about Jerusalem or the temple in Jerusalem. It is historical with possible future relevance; it is not an elaborate prophecy about the future of what to expect in the third temple.

2 Thessalonians 2:4

“He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). This verse suggests to some that the “man of lawlessness” will set himself up in the third temple in Jerusalem and proclaim himself as God.

I will not be surprised if Paul is engaging in some creative political dissent here. Emperor Gaius (Caligula) wanted to set up an image in the temple in Jerusalem but failed. This was a time of great national angst for Israel, but there was great relief because Caligula died while the statue was on the way. This disaster would be like the disaster of 167 BC. But this is background imagery and subsumes under the main message. The issue is the return of the Lord. Paul assures that they have not missed the return of the Lord, and he adds information to explain to the Thessalonians why they have not missed the Lord’s return.

The verse before the text in question says, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). There will be the appearance of the man of lawlessness. This refers to a political leader (most likely the supreme leader like the emperor) who does not regard the law (we are not told what law). He is the son of destruction, meaning he will be terribly destructive. Caligula would have fit the description, except that he died in AD 41 and this letter is written AD 50-51. So it is possible that Paul is using the impression of Caligula to explain the terrible man of lawlessness. He will be powerful, he will live above the law, and he will be destructive. At the writing of this epistle, Emperor Claudius was in power and he was a scrupulous legalist, so he was the opposite of Caligula and Paul cannot be referring to him.

The day of the Lord will be preceded by “the rebellion” (ESV, NIV) “falling away” (KJV).  The Greek term is “apostasia” from which we get apostasy. There will be a great rebellion / apostasy. Then comes our text. This man of lawlessness will set himself up as the supreme object of worship (somewhat like the leaders of North Korea), “so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”  The question lies in what is meant by the “temple.”

Paul says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?…” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16).

“built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20-22).

Paul does not look back to the temple in Jerusalem even though it was still standing. He consistently says we are the temple of God. When the man of lawlessness will lead a rebellion / apostasy and set himself up in God’s temple, it points to apostasy among those who purport to follow Jesus Christ. There does not seem to be good reason to think that Paul suddenly switched from Christians as the temple of God to the temple in Jerusalem which he has completely ignored in all his deliberations.

The Third Temple May Be Built

I have just laid out for you why there is no biblical prophecy concerning the third temple and the return of Christ our Lord. What I am not saying is that the temple will not be built. In fact I think there is a fair chance that it will be built, not from Scripture but from circumstances, and not in fulfillment of prophecy but in the course of human events. Even so, there is significance for Christians and here is why.

Let’s assume the third temple is built. Those who related the temple to prophecy will wait 3½ years for some beast / man of lawlessness to assert himself in the temple. And I am quite sure they will be as disappointed as those who guess the date of the Lord’s return. What then are they to think? They either reject the Bible as false (less likely) or they will ask, “Where did we go wrong in our interpretation?” (more likely). So I think the building of the third temple, if it happens, and there is no scenario as painted for us in popular thinking, it will clarify Christian thinking and interpretation.

I believe the biggest impediment to the building of the third temple is the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock sits on “Temple Mount.” For the temple to be built, the Dome of the Rock has to go. The deliberate destruction of the Dome of the Rock will create unimaginable turmoil.

Archeologists today are challenging the location of the temple. They are now investigating an alternative site which I think is the more likely site. You will be able to find YouTube videos on this subject. In brief, we note that Josephus the Jewish historian description of the temple location does not fit the Temple Mount. He tells us the Fortress of Antonia (the Roman fortress that guards over Jerusalem) overlooks the temple area. To prevent the Romans and the impious King Agrippa II from overlooking the sacred activities, they extended the western wall of the temple to block their view. This does not fit the Temple Mount.

Another reason is the water supply. In 1997, the Gihon Spring was discovered. This is a very rare siphon spring which brings in fresh water several times a day through a natural siphon. Because the water is intermittent but fresh, the Pool of Siloam was dug out to hold the water when it comes in. This is the only source of fresh water into the city and it is not on the Temple Mount. The water supply probably influence where the temple was built. Both the Gihon Spring and the Pool of Siloam are now known locations. These are south of the Temple Mount.

The archeological investigations continue, and if it is shown that the temple was not on what is named “Temple Mount,” the greatest impediment to the building of the third temple is removed, and the erection of the temple in our lifetime becomes more likely. However, I don’t think this has anything to do with the return of Christ.

Conclusion

This is not a comprehensive examination of the third temple. And I make no claim to expertise. I am only sharing with you what I have discovered from Scripture. I find what Scripture says to be less flamboyant but more compelling at the same time. I would not enter into such discussion if current events have not created a flood of questions, and even though I have not satisfied myself that I know enough to make firm assertions, I find myself having to address questions the best I can from what I know because I owe the flock under my charge what meager knowledge I have.

Pastor Peter Eng

 

Jerusalem in God’s Plan (Part 1)

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Israel has always said that Jerusalem is its capital. Political expediency requires a more qualified reality and the embassies of the various countries are located in Tel Aviv rather than in Jerusalem. There is also the physical consideration. Jerusalem has a small land area and it is ridiculous to crowd all the embassies of the nations in Jerusalem. These, and perhaps other reasons, would direct the Jews to take a less assertive position on where the embassies should be located. Practical challenges notwithstanding, Israel’s choice of Jerusalem as its capital is no different from any other nation’s right to choose its own capital.

The current hooha is due to Trump’s announcement that the US embassy will move to Jerusalem. This angers the Muslims in general and the Palestinians in particular.

Many Christian leaders have weighed-in on this, and several of you have asked me about this directly and indirectly. I hesitate to write on it because many Christians have already made up their minds, and in most instances, without reference to what the Bible has to say. Furthermore, this is a complex question, and there is no simple answer. There are two broad issues to consider: (1) What does the Bible say directly about Jerusalem as the capital of modern day Israel? (2) What biblical principles and human sensitivities should we consider in this question? Emboldened by your interest, I will share with you what Scripture has to say about it (1), and leave the other considerations (2) to another time – if your interest is sustained.

It is more helpful for us to examine the NT rather than the OT on this question as the kingdom of God is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, and that has ramifications because Jerusalem is the capital of all Israel only during the rule of David and Solomon. An examination of the OT will yield the obvious, that Jerusalem is the historic capital of Israel and later Judah. The question I seek to address here is: “What is God’s plan for Jerusalem after Jesus has come and brought in his kingdom?” This means we focus on the NT to discover God’s plan for Jerusalem.

God’s Plan for Jerusalem Explained by Jesus

What Jesus said about Jerusalem is found primarily in the Gospel accounts. The most important of which is Matthew. This is because Matthew was written to the Jews who would see, or had just witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem. Matthew frames a theology concerning Jerusalem as the Holy Spirit of God called to remembrance the things that Jesus had taught. Mark was written (before the destruction of Jerusalem), to the Romans who would be the most likely destroyers of the city, and what is said about Jerusalem would be limited to its relevance to Romans. Luke was written primarily to the Greeks, and the main relevance would be Jerusalem’s destruction according to prophecy and the possible restoration of Jerusalem during our time.

First, we see that Jesus laments over Jerusalem, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you are not willing.” (Matthew 23:37). Something bad will happen to Jerusalem. Not because Jesus abandons Jerusalem, but Jerusalem has set itself on a course that was outside of God’s plan. She opposes God’s messengers, and eventually opposes God’s Son. Jerusalem chooses destruction when Jesus wants to give her protection.

Luke records, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Jesus is overwhelmed by the suffering Jerusalem will soon experience. Jerusalem chooses her own destruction, and Jesus’s heart breaks for the city. No matter how much she has opposed God, Jesus longs for her repentance and salvation, not her destruction. But the freedom for man to choose will not be revoked. And Israel has chosen the path of destruction for Jerusalem, and Jesus honors it with grief. Jerusalem abandons God.

When Jesus enters the temple at the start of the holy week, he cleanses the temple by driving out the traders (Matthew 21:12ff.). If Jerusalem is to be rescued, it must start from its spiritual core—the temple. But the nation Israel does not welcome such cleansing.

Next, Jesus sees a fig tree without fruit. He curses it and it dies (Matthew 21:19ff). The fig tree is the national symbol of Israel even to this day. Israel, the unfruitful nation will die.

Jesus then tells them the parable of the unfaithful son who says he will do as the father asks, but does not. Conversely, the son who does not agree to obey finally obeys (Matthew 21:28-32). Jesus is rebuking the Jewish religious establishment in particular and the whole nation in general. The Gentiles who are disobedient will end up obeying God.

In the parable of the wicked tenants, the tenants refuse to give the master his due harvest. They abuse and kill the master’s servants. The master then sends his own son. The wicked tenants kill the son wanting the son’s inheritance for themselves (i.e. the Jewish leaders kill Jesus so they can keep their appointments by the Romans). Jesus declares, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” And because they reject Jesus, the cornerstone, they will be “broken to pieces” and be “crushed” by the cornerstone. “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them” (Matthew 21:33-46). Scripture depicts these religious leaders as usurpers, as pretenders to God’s Kingdom. The leaders of the Jewish people are rebelling against God and are leading the people astray.

However, it is not just about Jewish leaders. The general population is equally culpable. Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet. Those who are invited would not come, so the king “sent his army and … burned their city.” Instead of the original guests, the banquet is opened to all who would come. (Matthew 22:1-14). This alludes to the destruction of Jerusalem and its people, and how the Gentiles will be invited to the banquet.

Then the disciples marvel at the beautiful temple in Jerusalem, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2; cf. Mark 13:1-2). Here Jesus clearly says Jerusalem will be destroyed and every stone in the temple will be pried apart.

While Matthew focuses on the judgment against Israel and Jerusalem, Luke focuses on what the followers of Jesus should do in view of Jerusalem’s impending destruction.

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24).

The points here are:

1. Jerusalem will be destroyed by the Gentiles.

2. The followers of Jesus should flee from the destruction of Jerusalem. While it is normal for the people to hide in the city in the face of an invading army, in this instance they are to flee Jerusalem because it will be destroyed.

3. Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” There will be a time when Jerusalem will no longer be trampled by the Gentiles—suggesting the restoration of Jerusalem at some indeterminate time after its destruction.

This dire message of destruction also carries a message of hope. Jesus also says, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:29-31). The fig tree (symbol of Israel) will again sprout leaves when the time of the trampling by the Gentiles is over.

As much as the cursing and death of the fig tree prophesizes the destruction of Israel, and Jerusalem with it, the greening of the fig tree prophesizes the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem with it.

The destruction of Jerusalem happened in AD 70 according to the prophetic judgment and every stone in the temple was pried apart. Many Christian scholars believe that the restoration of Israel began in 1948 when Israel reconstituted as a nation.

Summary

Even though Jerusalem became the capital of the nation, and is sanctified by the temple in Jerusalem, and that God’s presence is with the people through the temple, it will be destroyed because it is unfruitful, it rejects the rightful inheritor (Jesus) and kills him, it makes excuses for not accepting the invite of the king, and it chooses destruction. The temple that sanctifies the city will be desecrated and totally destroyed. God’s glory has departed. Jerusalem and the temple are now the institutions of man and no longer the place where God is please to make his presence known.

God is gracious. There is redemption even in judgment. When the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled, there will be a restoration of Israel, and the Gentile trampling of Jerusalem will come to an end.

God’s Plan for Jerusalem Explained by Paul

One of the earliest books of the NT is Galatians, written before the destruction of Jerusalem. In this epistle, Paul lowers the status of national Jerusalem on account of the teachings of Jesus, and not because Jerusalem was already destroyed.

“Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” (Galatians 4:25-26). Paul uses an analogy to explain the freedom that Christians have in Christ. The Law is given at Mount Sinai, and that corresponds to “the present day Jerusalem” to Hagar. Our freedom in Christ is like Sarah, and like “the Jerusalem that is above.” The spiritual relevance of “present city of Jerusalem” is replaced by “the Jerusalem that is above.”

The loss of status of Jerusalem is not the same as the loss of status of Israel. Paul is equally emphatic that eventually “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). The rejection of Israel has led to the Gentiles becoming partakers of God’s inheritance intended for the children of Abraham. If Israel’s rejection has produced blessings for Gentiles how much more blessings will come to Gentiles when Israel is restored to Messiah?

Summary

We must not look at the law or Jerusalem from the Jewish point of view. It is enslaving. Our heritage is the Jerusalem above, it is freedom in Jesus our Messiah. While Paul does not talk about a restoration of Jerusalem or even of national Israel, he asserts the restoration of Israel to Messiah and points to the blessings this would bring to the whole world. Paul does not answer the question if Jerusalem will regain its status as the capital of Israel. Instead, he tells us the people Israel will be restored to Messiah.

God’s Plan for Jerusalem Explained by the Author of Hebrews

In Jewish thinking the ideal was the tabernacle in the wilderness, and not the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was God’s concession to King David, while the tabernacle was by God’s command to Moses.

Like Matthew, “Hebrews” is written to the Hebrew people. This epistle is written after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. What does it mean for the Jewish Christians now that the temple is gone?

The writer of scripture explains, God had set up the old tabernacle for worship. There is the Holy Place, and the inner room called the Most Holy Place. That is where the presence of God is represented (Hebrews 9:1-10). “But when Christ came as High Priest … he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not part of this creation.” And this he did by the sacrifice of his own blood. (Hebrews 10:11-14). “For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” (Hebrews 9:24). The earthly tabernacle is only a copy of God’s true tabernacle. The true tabernacle is heaven itself (melding with the image of a tabernacle in heaven). The sacrifice of Jesus is once for all. He did not enter any earthly tabernacle with a sacrifice, but he entered the true tabernacle (heaven) with the sacrifice of his own blood.

Next concerning the Christians, “… you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” (Hebrews 12:22-23). Christian Jews are already living in the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. This is both present reality as it is future fulfillment. When we enter the church of Jesus Christ, when our names are entered into the book of life in heaven, we have come to the “heavenly Jerusalem.”

Summary

People of Jesus the Messiah have an eternal high priest (Jesus) who has given the unlimited sacrifice of his own blood, and has entered the true tabernacle, that is, heaven. The inheritance of Christians is the heavenly Jerusalem. As much as the true tabernacle is (in) heaven, Mount Zion, the city of the living God is the heavenly Jerusalem to which we have come. Nothing is said of the national Jerusalem while much is said about the heavenly Jerusalem.

God’s Plan for Jerusalem Explained by John in Revelation

The depiction of Jerusalem in Revelation stands the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem (AD 70).

The Spirit of God writes to the Church in Philadelphia, because “you have kept my command to endure patiently.” Consequently, “The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave i. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.” (Revelation 3:12). It is clear the language here is figurative. The old Jerusalem is no more and the new Jerusalem “is coming down from heaven.”

At the close of Revelation, John declares, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God …” Also, “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Revelation 21:10). The new Jerusalem does not appear to be national Jerusalem. It is coming down from heaven, and it comes from God.

Revelation talks about the temple in heaven in the same way Hebrews talks about the tabernacle in heaven and the two are one and the same. “After this I looked, and I saw in heaven the temple—that is, the tabernacle of the covenant law—and it was opened.” (Revelation 15:5). And in the eternal state, John tells us, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Revelation 21:22)

Summary

Like the other NT writers, John does not suggest a restoration of the old Jerusalem or the old temple. The Christian Jerusalem is in heaven, and it will come to earth when we have the New Heaven and New Earth.

Conclusion

It is clear to me that while Israel will be rescued as a nation and the people of Israel will eventually recognize Jesus and be saved to bless others, there is no promise of a national Jerusalem or a rebuilding of the temple. The New Testament is quite consistent. The Christian focus is to shift from the old Jerusalem of the flesh to the heavenly Jerusalem that is now heaven itself. And eventually, when heaven and earth shall merge into the New Heaven and the New Earth, the city of God will be a place that accommodates everyone, and there will be no temple because God himself is there, and where God is, there the temple is.

From the biblical point of view, the restoration of Jerusalem today is subsumed under the restoration of Israel as a nation. It may be assumed, but it may not be asserted as a divine promise. At the same time, it is possible that the restoration of Jerusalem is not literal, given the collective evidence pointing us to the new Jerusalem that is heavenly and not earthly.

The OT contains some references to the restoration of Jerusalem. There are two things for us to note. (1) Do they refer to the restoration that is already fulfilled in the second temple? If they do, they are already fulfilled, and do not speak of present day fulfillment. (2) Assuming the OT references are talking about restoration under Messiah, the NT itself is consistent in depicting Messiah’s Jerusalem in terms of a heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God where God rules; and it does not suggest national Jerusalem. Therefore, there is no clear biblical prophecy about a restored Jerusalem but less a unified Jerusalem.

This does not mean the Jews today do not have a right to a unified Jerusalem. There are principles of truth and justice on which Israel can lay claim. That will be a different discussion. However, Scripture does not have either a divine promise or a prophecy on a unified Jerusalem during our time or in the future.

Pastor Peter Eng

 

The Good News That Heals

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Introduction

In Singapore today, it is quite likely that the first time you hear about Jesus is that Jesus can heal you or your sick loved ones. This is a decided shift from the time when you are more likely to hear about the love of God or the forgiveness of sin as the Good News of Jesus Christ. Nobody is dumping the love of God and the forgiveness of sin, but it is worthwhile asking if this new opening point of contact is good, and if so, how exactly can we make the right claims of healing and avoid making false promises on God’s behalf.

Prayer for healing is a settled practice in the church from the earliest of times, and this has gone without challenge through to the present day. No Christian has ever rejected that God heals, and from time to time, he does it in extraordinary ways. It can be a healing from a disease that leads to death or permanent disablement, or it can be the sudden and immediate recovery of a disease that should normally take a long time. We call these “miraculous healing.”

jesus-heals-the-blindThe Good News of Jesus Christ is not linked to healing until more recent times. In the Gospel accounts, it is clear Jesus heals and that healing is part and parcel of his proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Over time, healing has been decoupled from the Good News. In more recent times, Christians have rediscovered the role of healing in the proclamation of the Good News. All good things tend to produce the danger of an over-emphasis. Healing is no exception.

The Contribution of the Pentecostal Tradition to the Issue of Healing

The Pentecostal Tradition began in America in 1900. It focuses on the speaking of tongues as evidence that a person has been “baptized by the Holy Spirit.” Like other Christians, they too pray for healing. But unlike other Christians, they emphasize miraculous healing as part of the life of the church. Because of certain excesses, other Christians tend to reject too close an association with them, and they were no more than a minor denomination among different Christian traditions. They are indiscriminate in “stealing” Christians from other churches, saying they are lacking in a second blessing, and in proclaiming the Good News. The American expression about these Christians is that they are on the “other side of the [train] tracks,” meaning the poor, dangerous, and uneducated part of town. This is represented by the “Assembly of God,” and they were not well received by the rest of the Christian community.

Over time, some business people became part of this tradition, and they applied business marketing methods. They rightly emphasized proclamation of the Good News (rather than steal members from other churches), and this is sometimes called the “Charismatic Movement.” Some broke away from the AoG, and some AoG reformed to adopt the Charismatic method. They have a more contemporary presentation of the Good News, are not shy about using paid advertising, and continue to emphasize tongues, miracles and “deliverance” as the norm. Their worship, like the Pentecostals, tend to be highly emotional with claims of healing, demon casting, etc.

After this, came the “Third Wave” within the Pentecostal Tradition. The biggest problem of the Pentecostal Tradition is that they are very weak in biblical knowledge and many of their claims run counter to Scripture and the test of reality or truthfulness. The Third Wave is “practice in search of the Bible.” At least two things happened with this wave. First, some of the excesses were reigned in as they cannot find Scripture to support their practices (e.g. slain by the Spirit, holy laughter). Next, a strong link is created between healing and the proclamation of the Good News. This is called “Power Evangelism.” The emphasis is that healing (and deliverance from evil spirits) is the main method of evangelism. Jesus, they say, is proclaimed as power over every human ill.

A fourth and current development within this tradition is the “Word of Faith” or “Prosperity Gospel.” In addition to promising health, the emphasis shifts to wealth. “God wants you to be healthy and wealthy through Jesus Christ.” Sadly, this seems to be a move away from Scripture. But alongside this development is a healthier one. Some now reject the need to speak in tongues, which is the serious theological point. Ability to speak in tongues or not is a minor point of dispute. But the grave theological divergence of this tradition is their insistence that every Christian must speak in tongues at least once. The move away from this is an important move in the right direction, and other realizations of the truth should follow.

What does the Bible Say about the Good News and Healing?

The Gospels tell us that Jesus did three related things. (1) He proclaimed the Good News of the kingdom of God; (2) He healed the sick miraculously; and (3) he cast out demons. For example, in Luke, we see Jesus began His ministry by teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:14ff). Next, Jesus cast out a demonic spirit (Luke 4:31-37). Third, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and many more (Luke 4:38-44). Of course this three-part action is seen in the other Gospels as well.

When Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom, he empowered them. “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:1-2).

These three aspects are parts of a coherent ministry, and not disconnected bits. Jesus was not doing three separate things. He was declaring that the kingdom of God has come, and showing the people he was the king of that kingdom. He was also showing what the kingdom of God looks like. It will be where (1) the truth of God is taught, (2) the devil is defeated, and (3) the result of sin (sickness and death) will be banished because sin would be forgiven. This will come about when people repent of their sins and acknowledge Jesus as their true king.

Jesus came to move us out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is where our sins are forgiven. When our sins are forgiven, the devil loses his grip and he is defeated. When our sins are forgiven, the effects of sin (death) will be abolished through our resurrection. In the resurrection of Jesus, death is defeated, and the way to eternal life is opened to all who share in his resurrection. Jesus’s healing and the raising of the dead are all precursors to the resurrection of Jesus.

There is good reason to connect our salvation with healing because healing is a foretaste of the resurrected life. It is the expression of God’s forgiveness of our sin. It expresses our moving from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13)

jesus-commands-the-wavesHowever, it is another thing to say we replicate the actions of Jesus. The signs and wonders campaign does not produce any real signs and wonders as Jesus did: walk on water, calm a storm, or catch fish at a command. There is no true replication of Jesus’s ministry. And it is right that we are unable to replicate Jesus’s ministry. After all, if everybody can do what Jesus did, there will be nothing to show he is the Messiah sent from God!

When we come to the Acts of the Apostles, we still see miraculous healing, but there is a distinct difference from the ministry of Jesus. Jesus performs many signs and wonders beyond healing: turning water into wine, stilling a storm, walking on water, making food multiply, etc. There is also an abundance of the casting out of impure spirits. When we come to Acts, which is also written by Luke, and from whom we can expect the same style of writing, we should expect a repetition of what Jesus did—especially when he tells us he intends to present the work of the disciples as the work Jesus continues to do through his disciples (Acts 1:1).

In Acts, we see miraculous healing and the casting out of demons in many places. But there is not a single incident when the disciples perform the type of miracle that suspends the laws of nature. The closest we have is Peter’s miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12:6-10), and Paul bitten by a poisonous snake, but remained unharmed (Acts 28:3-6). In both these instances, Peter and Paul were not the agents of a nature miracle, they are only recipients of God’s miraculous deliverance.

The distinct difference between the ministry of Jesus and those of his disciples is that only Jesus performed the nature miracles. But there is no substantive difference in healing and the casting out of demons.

When the kingdom of God is fully come, we are told, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”(Revelation 21:4). It goes without saying that when there is no death, sickness is banished. When Jesus comes in his glory, all creation will be healed. The earth, the land and sea, plants and animals, will all be healed from what the sin of man imposed. But leading that charge of the healing of God’s creation will be God’s people, the heirs of his kingdom. Fallen man destroy God’s creation. Redeemed man will be the agents of the restoration of God’s creation.

What I find remarkable is that Christians today tend to fall into one of two camps. One camp makes a big show of healing and another camp practically does not want healing to happen because they don’t believe God continues to heal today.

When we look at Scripture squarely, we can easily see that the Good News brings healing at all levels. The Good News of John the Baptist heals relationships. “[A]nd he (John the Baptist) will go before him (Jesus) in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:17, ESV).

The prophet Isaiah gives a preview of what Jesus would do (Isaiah 53:3-5, NLT)

He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

There is a tendency for some to forget everything except the last clause, “He was whipped so we could be healed” and there are some who only look at “he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sin.” The first group looks at the body and the second looks at the soul. There is no wholeness without body and soul. A broken body with a redeemed soul is still not whole. A healthy body who does not know Jesus is also not whole.

What we need to observe is that there was a healing for the sick – once. That is, we do not see multiple miraculous healings for the same person, not even once. When people are sick and call upon the Lord, and the Lord heals them, it is to point them to Jesus. It is to let them know that God is able to heal their whole person, body and soul. Eventually, the body will waste away and we all die (unless the Lord returns before that time). We must not hold out healing as a gimmick to bring people to Jesus. At the same time, we must not shy away from the reality that God used, and continues to use healing as a means of expressing his power over sin and death, and his ability to forgive and to heal the whole person, body and soul.

Let’s take a look at what Scripture has to say about healing in the preaching of the Good News in Acts:

Event Other Signs Healing Conver-sion
Peter’s preaching at Pentecost (2:14-41) No No Yes
Peter heals lame man (3:1-10) No Yes Yes
Peter’s mass healing (5:12-16) Yes Yes Mixed
Peter curses a sorcerer (8:20-24) Yes No No
Philip evangelizes the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26ff) No No Yes
Saul converts through blindness not healing (9:1ff) No No Yes
Peter with Aeneas and Dorcas (9:32-43) No Yes Yes
Peter’s evangelism to the centurion (Acts 10) No No Yes
Believers evangelize through persecution (11:19-21) No No Yes
Paul curses a sorcerer (13:6-12) Yes No Yes
Paul in Pisidian Antioch (13:14-49) No No Yes
Paul/Barnabas in Iconium (14:1-7) Yes ? Mixed
Paul heals in Lystra, creating chaos (14:8-20) No Yes No
Paul exorcises demon in Philippi (16:16ff) Yes No No
Paul evangelizes in Thessalonica, conversions recorded in epistles (17:1-9) No No Yes
Paul evangelizes in Athens 17:16-34) No No Yes
Paul evangelizes in Corinth for 1½ years (18:1-17) No No Yes
Paul raises Eutychus from the dead (20:9-10) Yes No No

The above is not comprehensive, but I want to show you that the Good News that heals is a sound message. However, the Good News is not always declared with temporal healing; and the Good News is never delivered with a promise of healing. Healing is never a carrot dangled as a motivation for conversion. Healing just happens. It often occurs without notice. It is never offered to the masses. Where there is mass healing, it just happens without planning. Evangelism is more often seen without physical healing than it is seen with physical healing.

Two events deserve special mention. Peter’s mass healing and Paul’s mass healing. These mass healings happened only once in their lives as far as we can tell. In Jerusalem, “As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed.” (Acts 5:15-16). We do not know if Peter’s shadow healed people, but we are told that it is what the people believed. However, it is clear that Peter healed all he set out to heal. Yet we note it is the villagers who convert, the people in Jerusalem were no longer converting. “But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them.” (Acts 5:13). There was a season of signs and wonders through Peter, but it was also a time of limited effect in conversions, much less than at Pentecost and thereafter when there were mass conversions. In other words, the best conversions happened outside of this mass healing.

Paul stayed in Ephesus for 3 years. That was his base to reach the Gentiles for Christ Jesus. There, “God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled” (19:11-12). For a time, there was mass or unusual healing. Every miracle is unusual, but there are some more unusual than others. In the life of Paul, this happened in Ephesus (not everywhere, otherwise they won’t be unusual).

If we look at Luke’s record of works of power by Peter and Paul, we see a pattern emerging. Peter is the chief apostle to the Jews and Paul the chief apostle to the Gentiles. Their ministry is authenticated by God in that both of them confronted sorcerers, cast out demons, healed the sick and raised the dead. There was even a time when there were unusual miracles. In the case of Peter, it was in Jerusalem, and in the case of Paul it was in Ephesus. Jerusalem was clearly the Jewish center of religion. Paul had made Ephesus the center for his Gentile mission, and that was where God chose to authenticate Paul. In both instances, the people, not Peter or Paul, were the movers of the healing. People place the sick along the path Peter walked, so his shadow might fall on them. This was not Peter’s doing. In the case of Paul, they took his work apron (for tent making) and handkerchiefs, and used them to heal the sick. Neither is ever repeated. God is creative and does not need to duplicate his creative works.

Summary

We see Jesus and his apostles proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God, often with healing and even raising the dead. The main difference is that Jesus talks of himself and the apostles talk of Jesus. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Our resurrection through King Jesus is the core of the Good News. Resurrection is total healing: body and soul.

Healing, or signs and wonders, happen sovereignly. We can see God using healing to relieve the sick, to facilitate the Good News, to bless believers, and to authenticate the apostles. All these are done in the proclamation of the kingdom of God. Jesus has come to claim his kingdom, and it is the kingdom that will be inhabited by the resurrected, by people made whole in every way. The casting out of demons and the healing light the way ahead so we can understand God’s redemptive plan for the world.

While healing should be included in the Good News because it is about total healing through the resurrection, I am concerned with the practice of making the wrong link of the temporary physical healing of the body to the Good News. Healing is sometimes used as a carrot for people to convert. That is not biblical. Worse, we sometimes see a bait-and-switch tactic. A person comes with stories of God’s wonderful healing (true, but a bait) and invites people to come for physical healing; but at the same time makes a disclaimer that it is God who heals, so if they come to Jesus, they may not be healed anyway (true, but a switch). It sounds like a product that declares loudly: “See, so many people are helped by this supplement … but it depends on you, and everyone is different.” Sounds familiar?

I am also concerned with a Good News that is devoid of healing. Healing is completely consistent with the promised kingdom of God at the resurrection. Healing is a token of God’s grace pointing us to the resurrection. The Good News is the total healing of body and soul (through the forgiveness of sin). Miraculous healing points to the resurrection, not an inducement for conversion or a promise of perpetual good health for the believer. Healing shows us God’s goodness. Healing makes us humble and grateful. Healing causes us to glorify God. Healing shows us there is more to this world than pain and death. Praise the Lord! His goodness endures forever.

The Good News heals everyone who comes, not only the lucky few who win the lottery of physical healing. Our immediate blessing is the forgiveness of sin, and the healing of body and soul in some way that points us to our full healing at the resurrection. The Good News that heals is for everyone who comes to Jesus.

Pastor Peter Eng

What is Temptation?

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Count it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter different temptations, for you know that the proving of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1:2-4)

I know what “temptation” means. At least, I think I know. And the dictionary bears it out. But when I come to the text of the Bible, “temptation” seems to have some of the same meaning as in English and some meaning totally unrelated to our contemporary use of the word. For instance, I can yield to the temptation of a chocolate cake without sinning. But in the Bible, yielding to temptation is always sin. And to make the puzzle worse, it seems that the Bible uses the same word (peirasmos) for “temptation” and “trial.” The two look very different to me. Temptation has to do with pleasure and trial has to do with pain.

This puzzle is demonstrated in James 1:2.

  • My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; (KJV)
  • Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, (NASB)
  • Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (NIV)
  • Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy (NLT).

Some translators take the original Greek word (peirasmos) to mean “temptation” and some to mean “trial.” The NLT looks at this problem and decides on the word “trouble” to encompass both “temptation” and “trial.”

Our first hint to the solution is that temptations and trials are opposites. So they are connected. They are not two disparate terms with no commonality. And even though their commonality lies in their being opposites, one dealing with pleasure and another dealing with pain, we can be justly hopeful that there is exciting meaning to be discovered.

If we look at how the KJV translates this word, we will notice that the KJV always translates the word as “temptation.” This results in expressions like “the last temptation of Christ” referring to Jesus’s time in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus was in that garden, there was no temptation to any pleasure. The temptation Jesus faced was not to go ahead with the cross. He had the option to lay down his life or to take it up again. This temptation had to do with pain, not pleasure. In our day, we will not use the word “temptation” to refer to Jesus’s experience at Gethsemane. What we see is that Jesus had a choice one way or another. He need not die if he did not want to. The emphasis on that use of “temptation” relates to Jesus having an opportunity to escape pain, or to escape a trial.

The word “temptation” in the Bible is used in two senses. The first we already know, that is, a temptation entices us to a pleasure that is sinful. The Bible also uses the term to refer to the sinful avoidance of pain. For instance, if we are asked to deny Christ on pain of imprisonment or death, we would be going through our Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus did, we will have to choose comfort and life versus faithfulness and death. There will be no pleasure involved in our choice. Instead, it is the opportunity to escape pain and death that draws us. So temptation is not just the attraction to sinful pleasure, it is also the sinful avoidance of pain.

Point: Temptation/Trial (peirasmos) is related to the indulgence of sinful pleasure and the sinful avoidance of just pain.

Another puzzling expression in the Bible is found in Hebrews 4:15 which says of Jesus, “… we have [a high priest] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” This makes it clear to us that we can be tempted, but if we do not yield to temptation, we have not sinned. That is clear enough. But what if we want to sin and lust in our hearts even though we do not do the act? Jesus makes it clear that lusting in our hearts is already sin. “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). This again creates two problems: (1) we cannot imagine that Jesus lusted but did not yield and Jesus himself tells us that the desire to sin is already sin; (2) our understanding of “temptation” in English always involves the desire for something.

It appears that the meaning of “peirasmos” (temptation/trial) in Greek is not about desire. In fact, we can affirm that when Jesus was tempted, it did NOT mean that he wanted to sin. So then, what is the meaning of the word?

I like to suggest to you that the Greek term focuses on choice. That is to say, Jesus was given the opportunity to sin, but did not sin. Temptation was not the desire to sin but the opportunity to sin.

This difference can be easily observed in life. If a man lusts after a woman at his place of work, according to Jesus, he has already committed adultery in his heart. He has already sinned. The desire to sin is evil in itself. He might have no opportunity to carry out his fantasy about the woman, so he has no opportunity for sin. In our day, we will say he is tempted by the woman, but the way the Bible uses the word would not allow it. If we use the biblical term, we would say he lusted after the woman. When we say he was tempted (but did not act on it) we are suggesting he did not sin. When we say he lusted (even though he did not act on it, or had no opportunity to act on it), we are saying he had already sinned. And that is Jesus’s view.

Let’s paint a different scenario. Let’s say the woman presents opportunities for the man to have his way with her. But he did not. He was not lusting after her, and when the opportunity came, he did not take up the opportunity. This would be like the case of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. He fled from her. The biblical term “temptation” would apply to Joseph. Not because he lusted, but because he was given the opportunity to sin. In the case of the man who lusted, the term temptation would not apply because he had no opportunity. He simply lusted after her.

I like to suggest to you that in the Bible, “temptation” focuses on the opportunity to sin not the desire to sin. This is why a person can be tempted but not sin. And this is why the desire to sin is already sin, and not a temptation to sin.

Point: Temptation/trial (peirasmos) is not the desire to sin without the act, which is already sin. Temptation is the opportunity to indulge in sinful pleasure or to avoid just pain.

When I discovered the Bible uses one word (peirasmos) for both temptation and trial, two things become clearer. First, I become aware of the motivation for my own actions.

I had a hard time understanding my own failures. Why did I fall into sin? Why did I yield to temptation? It was only when I understood what motivated me, and what continues to motivate me that my heart is laid bare before God. When I yield to the opportunity for sinful pleasure, it is because my heart had not been right for a long time. And the devil presented an opportunity to the impure heart. That is temptation. If my first love had been to my heavenly Father, and my heart is kept pure, then the opportunity for sinful pleasure will hold no attraction to me and I will reject the temptation.

My first battle is not to say “No” when the opportunity arises. That is the final battle. My first battle is to say “No” when sinful desires arises in my heart. I have no reason to be smug if I say “No” to the opportunity but if I had said “Yes” to dark passions. This is because the heart that imagines sin will eventually indulge in it.

When I zoom out to all of life, I find that we are all motivated by pleasure and pain. These two aspects control almost every action we do each day. We will choose a pain to avoid greater pain. We will deny ourselves a pleasure to get greater pleasure.

The next thing I discovered when I understood the duality of pain and pleasure in temptation is that they are two sides of the same coin. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the courageous pastor who stood up to Hitler and was eventually martyred said:

“Temptation to desire always includes the renunciation of the desire, that is to say, suffering. Temptation to suffering always includes the longing for freedom from suffering, that is to say, for desire. Thus the temptation of the flesh through desire and through suffering is at bottom one and the same.” (Creation and Fall; Temptation, 134)

This observation is practical and sublime. We know from experience that when we seize pleasure that is improper, we will enjoy the pleasure but suffer the consequence of pain. Conversely, when we accept the privation of not yielding to sinful pleasure, the result is true pleasure. Yielding to sinful pleasure produces pain; and embracing righteous pain produces pleasure. So when the Bible uses one word for both pain-temptation and pleasure-temptation, it reaches beyond the immediate pain or pleasure. It brings us to the opposite results of sinful pleasure or of the sinful pain avoidance. The decision for sinful pleasure will result in pain and the decision to avoid just pain will result in more pain. Contrariwise if we reject sinful pleasure (which is painful), we will experience greater pleasure; and if we embrace just pain, we will be rewarded with true pleasure.

It is important for us to pause at this point and note that all true pleasure is from God. There is nothing wrong with pleasure. God created us with the capacity for pleasure. It gives God pleasure when we enjoy our life and thankfully drink deep of the pleasure God gives us. The devil perverts the pleasures that God gives us for our proper enjoyment. The devil corrupts pleasure into something selfish and excessive, in such a way that the pleasure becomes sinful and harmful.

This is easily observable. Food is good, but food in excess is sinful towards God and harmful for us. Rest is good, but laziness is a repudiation of the productivity God expects of us, and such indolence is harmful to us. Work is good, but when work defines our value and we become workaholics, we depart from God’s purpose for work and we harm ourselves and our loved ones. Temptation as sinful pleasure is a perversion of God’s blessing of pleasure.

When we see that sinful pleasure and the sinful avoidance of pain naturally result in the exact opposite, we begin to appreciate the true nature of temptation. To yield to immediate sinful pleasure is to choose long-term pain. To accept temporary pain that we are called to bear is to choose long-term pleasure.

Conclusion

For me, an understanding of where the battle line is at, has been enormously helpful. I had wrongly understood temptation to mean the desire to sin. So I did not guard my desire, only my action. But that guarantees failure in the long run. We can only say “No” to opportunities to sin for so long, and so many times before we give in, if our heart is not right. As the saying goes, it is not how much water outside the boat that will sink it, it’s how much water in the boat. If I indulge sinful desires, even from a distance, then I am letting water into the boat. My sinking has already begun. The opportunity to sin simply seals what has already begun.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to pray “And do not let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13). The evil one prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour the soul of anyone whose heart is already given over to sinful desires. But his temptations are ineffective against the one who loves God with all his heart, and all his soul, and all his strength; and his neighbor as himself.

Pastor Peter Eng

Healing Through Community

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My own healing comes mainly through prayer and the Word of God. But I will be wrong to stop here or imagine myself strong against all odds. That just isn’t true. I see the hand of God best when he uses people to help me heal. I think my experience is not unique. Let me point out briefly the different ways Abba Father heals me through community.

When I am most disillusioned by people, and when I am dealt the most faithless betrayals, God sends people to stand with me and to bless me. He may send help from people I expect will be there for me; but I also marvel at how he sends people I do not expect – as though Abba Father is reminding me, “Child, I have resources you don’t know and never imagined.”

When I am betrayed, God restores hope in me through community. Abba Father does it through people, so the betrayal will not lead to cynicism or bitterness. He is telling me, “There are good people, don’t become bitter over the faithless ones.”

Almighty Father speaks the word to me through another person. Yes, it may be something I already know. But the same truth I know is different when it comes from the mouth of another. It is not me looking for comfort, it is the Word of God someone ministers to me. And what joy it is when I receive it humbly and personally as from my loving Father.

Some think they do nothing when they sit with me through the moments of despair. But your presence, your commiserating with me, is comfort that I have a friend through the community of faith.

When I am weak and I see the strength you have, it makes me strong. Some bear pain well. Some have unwavering constancy. Some will hope when I dare not. Some will forgive when I cannot imagine how. Some will speak softly when fury would be just. Some show discipline I can only admire from afar. Some will simply not give up. Some give and give and put me to shame. Some serve humbly because their reward is with our Father.

Community humbles me, strengthens me, and heals me. Thank you Father for community.

Pastor Peter Eng