No Bad Trees in the Garden

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God put two special trees in the garden. The “Tree of Life” and the “Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil.” Adam was allowed to eat of any tree as much as he wanted, but he could not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Why then did God put that tree in the garden? Some would say, “Well, God wanted to give Adam free will and the ability to choose to be evil. And, God wanted to know if Adam really loved Him, and He couldn’t have known that unless Adam had a choice to not love Him.”

That’s a good Sunday school answer, but it makes God sound like somebody’s insecure girlfriend. “Adam, sometimes I just don’t know if you love me anymore!” Also, if that reason is the only reason, then the tree could have simply been called the “Tree of the knowledge of Evil” since Adam already knew good–in fact, that’s all he knew.

But the tree was called the knowledge of good and evil. Perhaps a better way to say it would be “the tree of being able to discern the difference between good and evil.” Being able to discern the difference between good and evil is called wisdom. If we could only choose a select few in our societies to have this wisdom, who would we choose? Our leaders of course.

In Canada, our leaders have declared that gay marriage and abortion are good things. They have lost their ability to discern the difference between good and evil. What is clearly a hateful thing in God’s eyes has been declared a “right to happiness” in our government’s eyes.

In the bible you will see that the great kings and leaders were also great judges. Solomon was known among the nations for his wisdom, a wisdom that allowed him to discern good from evil. The whole book of Proverbs is a laying out of what is good and what is evil. At the beginning of the book of Judges, we see that everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. That’s why God sent in the judges–to discern good from evil. When ever a king lost this wisdom, the whole nation suffered.

Nebuchadnezzar was a great king. In his vision of the statue he was the head of gold–the greatest of all the empires to follow. He had another vision where he was a great tree. All the peoples took shade under his branches. What was that tree in his vision? It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The wisdom to discern good from evil is given to kings.

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.
~Proverbs 25:2

You’ll notice that with the Old Covenant (the law and the Mosaic priesthood) it was all about bread. The bread of life. But when Jesus came to establish the New Covenant He added something more: wine. And while the bread stayed, the emphasis was placed on the wine.

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”
~Luke 22:19-20

He said the cup was the New Covenant, not the bread. Wine is a symbol of maturity. It takes time to prepare good wine. And while you can give a child plenty of bread, you won’t give him wine. The bread of life and the wine of maturity. The Old Covenant (the bread) prepared the way, and Jesus (the wine) brought the covenant to maturity. Jesus is King.

Back to the garden. The tree of life was the bread. The tree of knowledge of good and evil was the wine. Adam was called to be king. But he was not ready to be king right at the beginning. He needed to mature first. If Adam had obeyed God, the time would have come where God would have said, “Adam, you are ready to be king. You may now eat of the tree of knowledge.” But instead, Adam took a short cut, and in doing so forfeited his ability to eat of both trees.

Jesus Christ was called to be king also. When He was tempted in the desert by Satan, He was being tempted to take a short cut. Satan offered Him all the nations. Did Satan have the ability to give Jesus the nations? Absolutely. Satan had authority over all the nations except Israel. But Jesus did not give in. Instead, He bound the strong man and took the authority from Satan through His death and resurrection.

Jesus is the second Adam. Where Adam fell short, Jesus conquered. And now, we who believe, can rule as kings with Him, being brought into maturity by His blood.

Take Over the World for the Glory of God

babelRight at the beginning of creation, humanity received from God what could easily be called our first “Great Commission”.

God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
~Genesis 1:28 NASB

“Take over the world for the glory of God” is basically what we’re commanded to do.

Skip ahead to Babel and read what the people’s two reasons were for building the tower:

They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
~Genesis 11:4 NASB

They wanted to make for themselves a name (above God’s name and for their own glory), and they did not want to be scattered abroad; which is exactly what they were commanded to do: “…fill the earth, and subdue it”.

So, God scattered them. God scattered them by using different languages to cause division.

Right after the Babel story we are introduced to Abram, later to be named Abraham, the father of many. Starting with Abraham, God enters into a covenant with the Hebrew people, and for many hundreds of years, deals only with these people.

Did the Church exist in the Old Testament, or was that some different dispensation? Absolutely the Church existed in the Old Testament. Israel was the Old Testament Church; they were also of the same ethnicity. All those who were saved in the Old Testament were saved by the person and work of Jesus Christ. The animal sacrifices and the temple were types and shadows.

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship.
~Hebrews 10:1 NLT

Now we can jump ahead to Pentecost.

At the beginning of the book of Acts, Jesus gives the Great Commission.

“…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
~Acts 1:8 NASB

And this is what happened when they were filled with the Holy Spirit:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language.
~Acts 2:1-6 NASB

The miracle of Pentecost was not that they spoke with other tongues. The miracle of Pentecost was that all the people present, from “every nation under heaven”, heard “the mighty deeds of God” (Acts 2:11) spoken to them in their own languages.

At Pentecost God used different languages to bring the people together.

At Pentecost God did the reverse of what He did at Babel.

Where as before God was only dealing with the Jewish people, now God was opening His arms to the gentiles as well.

The miracle of Pentecost was not that God was creating the Church in some new dispensation. The miracle of Pentecost was that God was taking the gentile nations and grafting them into the Church, which already existed as Israel, the true Israel.

Now reread the Great Commission as stated in Matthew:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
~Matthew 28:18-20 NASB

“Take over the world for the glory of God.”

The Three Part Great Commission

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We can assign three parts to the Great Commission.

1) Preach the Gospel as a witness to all the nations.

2) Make individual disciples in each nation.

3) Make whole nations disciples.

I think many christians would read #1 and stop there. I’ve had christians declare to me that the end is near because the gospel has been preached throughout the whole world, and Jesus said, “(T)his gospel…will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

I would argue against that reasoning, firstly and simply because, the Great Commission, as given to us in Matthew 28:18-20, does not say “go and preach the gospel as a witness to all nations.” It says to “go and make disciples of all nations.” There is a large difference between getting the gospel out there to be heard (a witness) and getting whole nations of people to conform their entire lives to it (discipleship).

Secondly, I would argue that, with the statement Jesus made in Matthew 24, He was not referring to the Great Commission, nor was He referring to the end of the world. Again, His wording did not imply the fullness of the Great Commission when He referred to the gospel as going out as a witness to all nations; that is part of the Great Commission, yes, but only the first part. Also, when Jesus used the word “world” in vs 14 (through the Holy Spirit inspired author), He used the Greek word oikoumené, which means “the portion of the earth inhabited by the Greeks, in distinction from the lands of the barbarians”; so arguably, He was referring to the Roman Empire only, not the entire planet 2000 years into the future.

The conversation in Matthew 24 between Jesus and the disciples was about the destruction of the temple, or more broadly, the end of the Judaic age, temple sacrifice, and the Mosaic priesthood. When Jesus said the gospel would go out to all the Roman Empire and then the end would come, I would argue that He was primarily thinking about all the Jews scattered throughout the empire at that time. Jesus wanted the Jews to hear the gospel before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. He wanted them to understand what was happening and why the temple was destroyed. It was destroyed because there was no longer any need for it and because judgment had come on the unbelieving Jews. The “end” which Jesus referred to is that destruction and judgement.

So, back to the Great Commission. Jesus said that all authority has been given to Him, and that is the reason we are to go out and make disciples of all nations. He did not say, “People are dying and going to hell, so go and preach to as many as possible and then I’ll come back”. Jesus is king, and we are to declare that fact to the world, and teach people how to serve the king. To do this, we have to do all three parts of the Great Commission. We can’t stop after #1 thinking we’ve finished the job. The bible does not teach that or allow it.

The Pessimistic Paradigm

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I once had a four volume set of history books. All of the books were written by one British historian in the early 20th century. In the concluding paragraph of the last book, the author praised the future: the British empire was expanding, religion and superstition were fading, China would be taken in 100 years, wars were soon to disappear, and enlightenment was ready to shine forth over the whole world. And it’s interesting because on the page prior to this paragraph, the author described in detail the events which directly lead to WW1. The books were published shortly before that war started, so the author didn’t get a chance to take it all back. He had no idea.

The 20th century crushed a lot of people’s optimism. More war and destruction occurred in that century than ever before. And what replaced the optimism is a crippling pessimistic paradigm. Chicken Little has been busy. But it’s justified right? The world is getting worse and worse, is it not? The end must be near.

Imagine living in the days when the USA was being formed, or when the British empire was continually expanding. Imagine being a Christian directly involved in those times. Wouldn’t you have had a positive outlook on the future? You would not have been lamenting on the end times when you were currently helping to usher in the Golden Age, the Millennium. But look what’s happening now; the western world has turned from its faith, we have gay marriage, abortion, distrustful governments, electronic surveillance, terrorism, and relativistic morals. Surely the end is near.

Now that we’ve barely survived 1988, the Y2K bug, and the end of the Mayan calendar, perhaps it is a good time to take a closer look at this pessimistic paradigm. What shapes these paradigms? Why would people be positive in one generation, and then be negative in another. Obviously the events of the time determine people’s attitudes; if things are good, attitudes are good, and vice versa. This is obvious. But we forget.

As Christians we need to look beyond the ups and downs of human history, otherwise we will mistakenly determine our view of the future based on the spirit of the age. Our eschatology is not based on current events, it is based on what the Bible says.

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”
~John 12:44-48

Jesus said He came to save the world. And to those who don’t believe, He said He would not judge them. This is interesting. It’s like walking into a room, and there are four people there you’ve never met, so you go and introduce yourself and shake hands with three of them. The fourth person you completely ignore and turn your back towards. This is what Jesus is doing to those who don’t believe. Those who don’t believe are excluded from the world, and Jesus came to save the world.

The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
~Psalm 2:7b-9

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
~Matthew 28:18-20

Did Jesus ask for all the nations? Clearly He did since in the Great Commission He commands us to go and disciple all the nations. So, God offers all the nations to Christ, Christ comes to save the world, and then He commands us to go and take all the nations for Him. I see a pattern developing here. Jesus actually intends to save the world, and use us to do it. But the pessimistic paradigm says, “No Lord. The world is just going to get worse and worse, and You’re just going to have to come and bail us out when things get too bad for us. Don’t You see the giants?!”

The word of God is our paradigm setter, not the world. Jesus has overcome the world.

“I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
~John 16:25-33