Tag Archives: John

A Great Light

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2

The Scripture’s great contrast between light and darkness is here on display through the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning, in the near, hope in the midst of the Assyrian invasion, yet in the far, a future greater in hope found in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the context of Isaiah’s prophecy, which like so much of Old Testament prophecy looks toward the future and sees an amalgamation of events (often called prophetic perspective) this prophecy is set in the midst of the coming judgment on Israel as God-ordained punishment for their apostasy from God. The darkness expresses the hopelessness of the current situation, yet the language of Isaiah, “…have seen a great light” is that of the prophetic perfect, used to express the surety of a future event as though it has already happened. Commenting on this passage Calvin writes,

“He speaks of future events in the past tense, and thus brings them before the immediate view of the people, that in the destruction of the city, in their captivity, and in what appeared to be their utter destruction, they may behold the light of God. It may therefore be summed up in this manner: “Even in darkness, nay, in death itself, there is nevertheless good ground of hope; for the power of God is sufficient to restore life to his people, when they appear to be already dead.”[1]

Certainly, a restoration from the hands of Israel’s captors is in view, yet we must not limit our understanding of this prophecy to the events surrounding Israel and Assyria, particularly since this passage is referenced elsewhere.

Written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel of Matthew 4:15-16 cites this passage from Isaiah 9 in the context of Jesus beginning His earthly ministry

“12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17

This further illumination by the Spirit of God, the Divine Author of Scripture, aids in our understanding of the fullness or fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah, namely that found in the person and work of Jesus Christ as the great light that offers hope in the midst of a darkened world. Turning again to Calvin we read,

“If, therefore, we wish to ascertain the true meaning of this passage, we must bring to our recollection what has been already stated, that the Prophet, when he speaks of bringing back the people from Babylon, does not look to a single age, but includes all the rest, till Christ came and brought the most complete deliverance to his people. The deliverance from Babylon was but a prelude to the restoration of the Church, and was intended to last, not for a few years only, but till Christ should come and bring true salvation, not only to their bodies, but likewise to their souls.”[2]

Christ Himself makes this connection in John 8:12 when He states,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

In John’s Gospel, this statement is buttressed with the truths about Christ being the Light from chapter 1, verses4-5, 9 and chapter 3:19-21. Our Lord’s declaration that He is light has profound biblical meaning. Primarily, it asserts His deity bringing to mind such Old Testament declarations such as Exodus 13:21, where the pillar of fire led the way for the Israelites in the wilderness; Psalm 27:1 “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear”; Micah 7:8; Isaiah 60:20; as well as 1 John 1:5. The declaration of light is a declaration of purity and holiness, in which there is no shadow or defect (James 1:17).  Additionally, several Old Testament passages assert that God’s Word is light (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23) adding to the profundity of John 1:1.

Secondarily, by stating He is light, Christ assumes the role that God had intended for Israel to occupy as a city on a hill whose light was to shine forth to the world, yet because of their disobedience failed to properly fulfill the mission of God. Therefore, God has appointed His True Servant Israel, His Son, to go forth as a light unto the nations bringing salvation to the ends of the world. Isaiah 42:6; 49:6

This advent season, may our eyes be drawn to the Light of the world. May we realize that He alone can shine forth in a world of darkness. This Light alone possesses the light of life. Walking in spiritual darkness, dead in our trespasses and sins is a hopeless and dire situation that leaves us under the wrath of God and destined for the experience of His everlasting judgment. May we look toward the light, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and see Him as our only hope. Surety in a world of darkness and a beacon for all who come to Him in repentance and faith.

 

 

[1] Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries Vol. VII Isaiah 1-32, Baker 2005, pg. 298.

[2] Calvin, pg. 299

On Heavenly Visions: The proper response

If you either grew up in the 70’s or 80’s or haven’t been living in a bubble the last few years, then you’ve likely heard (or read) about someone having a vision of heaven.  In the last couple of years, it’s been a hot market for Christian book publishers even gaining national media attention in some cases (see the Burpo’s story).  Just a generic Amazon search will reveal the masses of book titles about near-death experiences where visions of heaven were revealed or dreams (some out of body experiences some not?) about seeing Jesus, along with family relatives, and some that rival tales similar to alien abduction.  On the surface, it would seem these books have a positive intent, perhaps to encourage or convince people that heaven is in fact a real place and accounts of seeing it along with seeing Jesus could do nothing but confirm that right?  Defenders of these titles will quickly jump to the Apostle Paul’s recount of his heavenly vision in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and say “See! There’s biblical support for such encounters!”  But there is a myriad of problems with this argument not the least of which is that the Apostle did not boast of his vision, referring to himself in the 3rd person, and he did not build an argument for either the existence of heaven or the existence of Jesus based on what he saw.  Likewise, Paul’s experience cannot be normalized as a proof for what people may experience today.  If that were true, then we all should rush to the Damascus Road in hopes to have an encounter with the risen Lord.

A second approach to defending the stories detailed in books like Heaven is for real, 90 Minutes in Heaven, To Heaven and Back, et.al. is that some will say these are their stories and how can someone else say they are untrue.  It’s therefore their word against their detractors and what’s the harm if it encourages readers, right?  Well, it actually is a big problem, because the Word of God is sufficient.  Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the Bible is sufficient for coming to an understanding of the existence  of heaven and more importantly the existence of God and His Son Jesus Christ.  God has provided exactly all that we need to know regarding heaven and that revelation is closed and confined to His Word.

These books (I’m somewhat generalizing here because I have not read them all) lack several important, biblical evidences that serve as proofs of a genuine experience.  If we return briefly to the Apostle Paul’s experience, we see 3 key elements that we’ve already touched briefly on: 1) He did not boast, nor did he want himself thought highly of 2) He provided no details on what he saw 3) Just to ensure humility, God sent a thorn for his flesh.  The modern accounts of heavenly experiences are detailed, they are marketed and sold, they are publicized through media interviews and reports, and I know of none who were given a “thorn in the flesh” by God as an instrument of humility.  Surely, these authors and visionaries are not more humble than the Apostle Paul.  Why then would he need humbled and not them?

To the next point, and the chief reason I chose to write this post, the biblical authors who had first hand visions of heaven, angelic beings, and God Himself, all have a common response that none of the modern authors have, and it alone is a tell for their accuracy.  Let’s look at Ezekiel 1:26-28 as we read of the prophet’s response to his heavenly vision:

26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”

Note the response from Ezekiel after taking in the majesty of the heavenly vision which culminated in seeing the pre-incarnate Christ: “And when I saw it, I fell on my face” Ezekiel was so awe-struck by his encounter with the holiness of God that out of fear and reverence he fell to his face.  Some may disagree, but it seems this was hardly a voluntary response by Ezekiel.  Look at what happens next in chapter 2:1-2, 1And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.”  Ezekiel was commanded by the pre-incarnate Christ to stand, yet he was unable.  The Holy Spirit literally had to set him on his feet.  Such is the response of those who have had a genuine vision of heavenly things, let alone the Lord God Almighty.

Ezekiel’s response is not isolated.  The Apostle John had a similar vision and response as recorded in Revelation upon seeing the risen Savior, 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  Revelation 1:17-18 John’s response was remarkably similar to Ezekiel’s and this is not coincidental.  This is the immediate response by those who see Christ, namely to worship.  And not just trivial worship, but on your face “as though dead.”  In other words, a complete and total collapse before the glory and holiness of God.  Additionally, John records a second response for us, this time in regards to an angelic being, “Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10  John was so overcome by the created beings in the presence of God that his response was to fall down and worship them (though as we see he mistakenly worshipped the angel), not hold hands and skip through gates of pearl down streets of gold.

Can men have dreams of heaven?  Certainly, but the image they conjure is not a divine revelation, but more like a human depiction of what they may think the divine holds.  Books and stories about visions of heaven and sights of God outside of His Word are fanciful.  They may entertain, but they do little to describe the majesty of heaven.  If godly men whom God used to record His divine revelation lack the human words to describe the images they saw, how can it be that a 4 year old can? (Note how often Ezekiel uses comparative language in Ch. 1)  As we’ve seen, the Apostle Paul provided a pattern of humility for those who have seen visions.  But as we saw with Ezekiel and John, those who speak and write about what they’ve allegedly seen lack the proper response to seeing visions of heavenly things, namely the posture of worship, prostrate before the holiness of God.  God has declared in His holy Word that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.” Philippians 2:10-11  If the mere mention of His name generates that response, why should we expect the sight of Him to be any less?

See Also:

http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/heaven-is-for-real

http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/book-review-90-minutes-in-heaven