When a Church Building is No Longer Important to God

“But he answered them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down’” (Matt. 24:2). The verb “thrown down” is one word in the Greek, katalusethai, from the noun, kataluo, “detach” (Gingrich); “literally, of buildings with their stones destroy, demolish, dismantle (MT 27.40).” (Friberg)  Jesus is saying, “There will be left here no, not one stone upon stone that will not be detached, dismantled, and destroyed.” Not one stone will be left upon a stone. It means that the Temple will be leveled, flattened, and crushed. This is the solemn declaration of Jesus. The Temple, as they know it, will be totally, absolutely, and completely destroyed.

If you were a Jew in Jesus’ time, the destruction of the Temple would be scandalous and unimaginable. The Temple was the center of Jewish life. (Constable) Without the Temple, there is no Jewish life. Consequently, Jesus’ opponents hated Jesus’ prophecy so much that they used this same prophecy against Him during His trial and execution (Matt. 26:61; 27:40). (Chouinard)

But Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled 40 years later. In C. E. 70, the Romans defeated the Jews in Jerusalem and burned the Temple to the ground, only six years after its completion. (Walvoord; Constable) “Ornate gold detail work in the roof melted down in the cracks between the stone walls of the temple, and to retrieve the gold, the Roman commander ordered that the temple be dismantled stone by stone.” (Guzik)

The second Temple of Solomon was once devoted to God’s glory. But the Jewish people’s rejection of Christ have caused its devotion to destruction. It is possible to dedicate a church building to God at first. But it is equally possible to forget the glory of God in the same building.

Several centuries ago in a mountain village in Europe, a wealthy nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. He made a good decision. He decided to build them a church. No one was permitted to see the plans or the inside of the church until it was finished. At its grand opening, the people gathered and marvelled at the beauty of the new church.

Everything had been thought of and included. It was a masterpiece.

But then someone said, “Wait a minute! Where are the lamps? It is really quite dark in here. How will the church be lighted?” The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls, and then he gave each family a lamp, which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship. “Each time you are here'” the nobleman said, “the place where you are seated will be lighted. Each time you are not here, that place will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God’s house will be dark”[1]

For Jesus, it is not man’s glory but God’s glory that matters. Beautiful church buildings do not impress Jesus. He is more impressed with the beauty of His people, the church. The devotion of His people is more important to Jesus. The salvation of people is more important to Christ.

A church building is but a tool to glorify God by making more disciples who will become worshipers of God. If we use our church building in ways that do not promote God’s glory, then our church building may no longer be important to God.

I’m not saying that we should not build church buildings. We badly need church buildings, esp. when the rent is rising. God built the beautiful Temple of Solomon for His glory. But God destroyed the Temple because it no longer glorified God. A building is no longer important to God if it no longer gives glory to God.

[1] “Sermon Illustrations,” Sermonsplus.co.uk. Cited June 10, 2017.  Online: http://www.sermonsplus.co.uk/Illustrations.htm

Jesus’ Prophecy About the Destruction of the Temple

Jesus and His disciples were going away from the Temple and going up to the Mount of Olives located east of the Temple area. Then His disciples pointed to Him the buildings of the Temple. Mark wrote, “And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings” (Mk. 13:1; cf. Lk. 21:5)! Doubtless, they have noticed the Temple with admiration for its beauty and significance.

The Temple was Herod’s renovation of the second Temple of Solomon. It took Herod more than 80 years to expand the Temple. It was famous for its shining beauty and massive stones.

“The Jewish historian Josephus says that the temple was covered on the outside with gold plates, that were so brilliant that when the sun shone on them, it was blinding to look at. Where there was no gold, there were blocks of marble of such a pure white that strangers, from a distance, thought there was snow on the temple.” (Guzik)

“The Roman historian Tacitus reported that it was a place of immense wealth . . . Some of the stones measured 40 feet by 12 by 12 and weighed up to a hundred tons, quarried as a single piece and transported many miles to the building site.” (MacArthur)

The Prophetic Declaration

The disciples were evidently impressed about the Temple. But Jesus threw water into their fire. “But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:2). Matthew used the adversative conjunction, “but” (de), indicating a strong rebuttal of their impression about the Temple. Jesus introduced his prophecy with the words, “Truly, I say to you.” With the verb “say,” the word “truly” (amen) is used “to emphasize that what is being said is a solemn declaration of what is true.” (Friberg)  Jesus is making a serious prophetic declaration about the Temple.

It is a negative future. Jesus said, “There will not be left here.” The word “not” in the English version does not capture the Greek. In the Greek, there is the double negative, o me, “no not.” The Greek can be translated thus, “There will be left here no not a stone upon stone” (o me apethe hode). The double negative is “for the purpose of stating denials or prohibitions emphatically.”[1] The “ou + the indicative denies a certainty, ou me + the subjunctive denies a potentiality. . . ou me rules out even the idea as being a possibility.”[2] The verb “left” is aorist subjunctive. Hence, there is no possibility whatsoever that there will be left one stone upon another.

If you go visit our apartment building in A. Lopez, you will see the very thick walls inside. The thickness may be 8-10 inches thick. It’s so thick that you cannot break through a wall with a hammer. You cannot hear people talking in the other room. You can shout inside the room without anyone hearing you.

The phrase “one stone upon another” in the Greek is literally, “stone upon stone” (lithos epi lithon). Literally, “There will be left here no, not one stone upon stone.” Jesus emphatically removes any possibility that one stone upon stone will be left in this Temple.

[1] H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1927), 266.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 468.

Signs of the End But Not of Themselves the End

Starting today, I launch an expository sermon series on “Signs of the End But Not of Themselves the End,” based on Matthew 24-25. For so long, I haven’t preached on Bible prophecy. Now I’d like us to begin with Jesus’ discourse on the signs of the end of the age. The signs of the end are not themselves the end, but signs of the end. (Hagner) The present age covers the interim period of Jesus’ first coming and second coming. It began in the time of the Jesus and will end in the second coming of Jesus. The signs of the end of the age are the signs before the second coming of Christ.

Scholars have debated on the exact meaning of Jesus’ discourse. Yet scholarly debates should not stop us from studying it. Remember that Jesus’ disciples were simple folks, not scholars. Jesus did not say these words to confuse them, but to clarify to them. He did not say it to discourage them, but to encourage them. (MacArthur) Matthew did not write his gospel to scholars, but to simple Jewish people.

Thus, we will study Jesus’ words in a straightforward manner. We will read it plainly, literally, and normally, following the historical-grammatical method of interpreting Scripture. As David Guzik noted, the literal fulfillment of the destruction of the Temple should make us expect the literal fulfillment of His other prophecies in the chapter. (Guzik)

Jesus’ teaching on the signs of the end is important for several reasons. Jesus’ teaching is fundamental and critical. Hence, the starting point of knowing the signs of the end is the teaching of Jesus. Jesus wants us to be aware of it, and not be ignorant of it. We are now living in the last days—the period of Jesus’ first and second coming. We are seeing several signs of the last days—wars, earthquakes, false Christs, false prophets, and persecution of Christians. If we know the signs of the end, then we can be ready any time for the end.

In my next post, we will tackle Matthew 24:1-3, which introduces Jesus’ discourse.

The Purpose of Salvation

Salvation is for the purpose of making us heirs of eternal life. “So that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:7). Note the conjunction, “so that” (hina), which indicates purpose. The purpose of our justification is so that “we might become heirs.” This is the main verb, the main point of this last clause. God saved us so that we shall become heirs of the hope of eternal life.

Paul wrote, “In hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Tit. 1:2). In one sense, we have received eternal life. But in another sense, we still hope of eternal life. We have eternal life, but we are not yet living the eternal life. We will still die. It is an eschatological tension. We have received eternal life already, but we don’t live it yet. When Jesus comes, our hope of eternal life will become a reality.

But our hope of eternal life is sure to happen. “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Rom. 6:22). We have a sure hope—eternal life. We will become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Conclusion

Paul repeats his exhortation for us to devote ourselves to doing good work to others. “Be ready for every good work . . . those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Tit. 3:1, 8). Be ready to do every good work; live the new life.

We were once ungodly, slaves to sin, hated and hating others. But when the kindness and love of God appeared, He saved us. God has transformed us from the old life to live the new life. Devote yourselves therefore to doing good things to others.

Salvation is Justification by the Grace of God

Sixth, salvation is justification by the grace of God. “So that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:7). The verb “being justified” (dikaioo) means “be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous, in theological language be justified = receive the divine gift of δικαιοσύνη.” (Gingrich) It refers to “imputed righteousness, as God’s judging and saving activity in relation to persons justify, declare righteous, put right with (himself) (RO 3.24).” (Friberg) To be justified is to receive the righteousness of God. It is to be declared righteous by God. That is justification.

God declares us righteous not because we are righteous for we are not. We are unworthy sinners. There is nothing good that we have done or will do that can make God justify us. God declares us righteous not on the basis of our own righteousness. It is not even because we are more righteous than the others for we are all equally unrighteous before God.

Rather, God declares us righteous by His own mercy and grace. God declares us righteous by giving us His righteousness in Christ. When we trusted Christ as Savior, God saved us by imputing His righteousness to us in Christ. Thus, salvation is solely based on the character of God and totally, on the work of God.

One day, I made a left turn in downtown Cebu near Colon. But it was a “No Left Turn” road. I didn’t see the sign. A traffic enforcer flagged me. He said, “No left turn.” I replied, “Sorry, sir, I didn’t see the sign. But I’ve no excuse. I was wrong. I made a left turn. Now, can you forgive me and not give me a ticket?” He looked at me for a moment and say, “Okay. You can go now.”

I did something wrong. I admitted my wrong. I asked for forgiveness. The man forgave me. He cleared me. He did not make a record in his ticket book.

But God did something better than that. When we trusted Christ as Savior, God forgave our sin. Yet God did not only clear our sin. He declared us righteous.

The verb is passive participle, “being justified” (ESV, NASB) or “having been justified” (NKJV, NIV, NRSV). The passive voice speaks of another person doing the action. It means that God was the one who justified us. God saved us by justifying us, declaring us righteous in Christ.

The verb is also an aorist participle, “having been justified.” The aorist tense refers to point-action or one-time action. At one point in time, God justified us. God justified us when He saved us. God saved us when we trusted Christ as our Lord and Savior.

This justifying act of God, Paul wrote, is “by his grace” (Tit. 3:7). In v. 5, God saved us by “his own mercy.” Thus, salvation is only by the mercy and grace of God. Justification is by grace alone. Salvation is justification by grace alone.

Salvation then is a comprehensive act of God. God saved us by washing us, by regeneration, by renewal of the Spirit, by the pouring of the Spirit, and by the justifying act of God. Salvation is solely, totally, and completely, the work of God.

Salvation is By the Pouring of the Holy Spirit

Fifth, salvation is by the pouring of the Holy Spirit. “Whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Tit. 3:6). The verb “poured out” (ekcheo) means “shed, spill.” (Gingrich)

In Murcia, Negros Occ., there is a hot spring resort there called “Mambucal,” which is located on a mountain. There’s a strong river that flows down through “seven falls” from the top. You have to climb up to seven falls just to reach the top. The cold water keeps flowing down the river. Water just keeps pouring every day. It never runs out of water. They used to have a swimming pool at the resort. The water comes in the pool and goes out a tube at the foot of the pool.

God did not just sprinkle the Spirit. He poured out the Spirit “richly” (plousios) which means “abundantly” (Gingrich) or “generously” (Marshall).

When did God pour out the Spirit to us? When we trusted Christ and turned from our sin, God washed us with regeneration. When God washed us of our sin, Christ baptized us by His Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). When God regenerated and renewed us, He poured His Spirit.

In the history of salvation, God poured out His Spirit on the day of Pentecost. “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’” (Acts 2:17). Some think that the Spirit is poured out only to those who prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams. But no, God has poured out the Spirit to everyone who trusts Christ. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5).

God saved us by pouring out the Spirit to us.

Salvation is By the Renewal of the Holy Spirit

Fourth, salvation is by the renewal of the Holy Spirit. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5). The noun “renewal” (anakainosis) refers to “the action by which a person becomes spiritually new and different.” (Friberg) It refers to the work of the Spirit in giving new life and a new nature to every believer at the moment of regeneration. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). When you are regenerated, you are renewed. You are made new spiritually, with the new life and new nature of the Spirit. Thus, the experience of regeneration is the same as renewal. Regeneration and renewal of the Spirit are one and the same.

Pentecostals/Charismatics think that regeneration and renewal are separate experiences. Regeneration is conversion, they say, and renewal is empowerment of the Spirit. But the Greek does not support that interpretation. Paul uses only one preposition, “by” (dia), for both nouns—“by regeneration and renewal.” The context is about salvation, regeneration, and justification, and not empowerment.

Most likely, the two words, regeneration and renewal, describe one and the same event—washing. (Knight; Marshall) It is like a coin with two sides. The washing is one coin having two sides—regeneration and renewal. It is like a pair of reading glasses. The cleansing is one pair of glasses having two lens—regeneration and renewal. The washing is described as regeneration and renewal of the Spirit.

The washing of regeneration and renewal is “of the Holy Spirit.” (Tit. 3:5). The Spirit is the divine agent of the washing of regeneration and renewal. Have you been washed of your sin? Have you been born again? Have you been renewed with new life and a new nature? Then you have tasted the work of the Holy Spirit.

God saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Spirit.

Salvation is By the Washing of Regeneration

Third, salvation is by the washing of regeneration. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration” (v. 5). Paul is talking of salvation as the spiritual work of God in our hearts. Regeneration and renewal of the Spirit happen inside of us. Thus, salvation is a spiritual and individual experience, and not a group experience.

The word “washing” (loutron) means “bath.” (Gingrich) Since the work of the Spirit is spiritual, it should mean, “spiritual washing” or “spiritual baptism.” It is not physical baptism, since the Spirit does not wash physically. Rather, it is spiritual baptism—the baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). Thus, salvation refers to the baptism of the Spirit, wherein we are washed by the Spirit in regeneration through spiritual baptism. In this sense, spiritual baptism is salvation.

Paul wrote, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11; cf. 1 Pet. 3:21). Note the aorist tense in all the verbs—washed, sanctified, justified—indicating point action in the past, at the moment of conversion to Christ. Washing here means spiritual cleansing of sin at the moment of regeneration; hence, “the washing of regeneration.”

In the “the washing of regeneration,” the genitive case can mean washing coming from regeneration. The genitive can also mean washing characterized by regeneration. This spiritual cleansing has the quality of regeneration and renewal. Thus, the washing of regeneration is the cleansing/baptizing of the Spirit of a believer at the moment of regeneration.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’ (John 3:1-7).

Jesus is talking about regeneration—the work of God in making us to be born again. The noun “regeneration” (paliggenesia) is from “πάλιν (again) and γένεσις (birth); regeneration; . . .(2) as spiritual and moral renewal of an individual new birth, regeneration (TI 3.5).” (Friberg) But the word “genesis” simply means “beginning.” Regeneration thus means “new beginning.”

What is the message of Paul? In v. 3, Paul is saying, “We were once slaves to sin.” In v. 5, he is saying, “We are now made new, with a new beginning, a new rebirth—a regeneration.”

Salvation is By God’s Own Mercy and Grace Alone

Second, salvation is based on God’s own mercy. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Tit. 3:5). The preposition “according” is in the accusative case—“according to, in accordance with” or “on the basis of.” (Gingrich) God saved us according to, in accordance with, and on the basis of God’s own mercy alone. Literally, in the Greek, it reads, “according to the mercy of himself” (kata to autou eleos), which is translated “his own mercy” (ESV). This mercy comes from God. God extends this mercy toward us sinners. Then in v. 7, Paul says that we are justified “by his grace.” Hence, there is no other basis for our salvation from sin, except the mercy and grace of God. God saved us not by our own works but only on the basis of God’s own mercy and grace.

Some people believe that if they will do good things, God will have mercy on them and forgive them. But salvation is not based on our works plus God’s mercy. Some believe that if they will do good works and the church will grant them forgiveness, then God might forgive them. But salvation is not based on our works plus the church’s works.

We are saved from our sins only by the mercy and grace of God, and not by our works of righteousness, religion, or religiosity.

Salvation is based only, solely, and exclusively on God’s mercy. That’s what God’s Word says. Which will you believe—the word of your religion or the Word of God? We believe only God’s Word, the final authority for what is true. God saved us not by our works but by God’s own mercy alone.

The Procedure of Salvation

In Tit. 3:4-7, Paul states the means of salvation. He gives a definition of salvation also. First, salvation is not based on the works we have done. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness” (Tit. 3:5). In the Greek, the words “not by works” (ouk ek ergon) are at the beginning of the sentence, indicating emphasis. It reads, “Not by works in righteousness that we had done.” Paul stresses that salvation is not on the basis of our works. “A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 3:16, emphasis added).

I grew up thinking that I must go to church so God will forgive me my sins. I committed many sins during the week. I wanted God to forgive me. So I went to church every Sunday. I followed all the motions of the mass. I thought that if I went to church and did good things, God will somehow forgive me.

I grew up in a religion that teaches that salvation from sin requires many things. It requires grace from God and faith. Then I must do good works. I must be baptized. I must take the sacraments. I must pay indulgences. I must obey the commandments. It doesn’t end there. After I die, I go to a place where my soul needs to be purged. I have to be cleansed there. To be cleansed, somebody has to pay masses for me.[1] It’s not free. You must pay for it. What if you are poor? You cannot afford to pay for more masses. It is really a tiring and costly process. It makes a man-made religious organization get richer and richer.

But thank God that the basis of our salvation is not on our works done “in righteousness.” Righteousness means the life that follows God’s law (Acts 10:35). Paul said that we are not saved by the works that we have done in doing what is right.

What works have you done in righteousness? “Pastor, I help the poor.” That’s good. But you cannot be saved by your righteous act of helping the poor. “Pastor, I go to church.” But you cannot be saved by your righteous act of going to church. “Pastor, I pray every day.” But you cannot be saved by your righteous act of praying every day. God saved us not by works done in righteousness.

[1] Matt Slick, “Attaining Salvation in Roman Catholicism,” Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. Cited May 21, 2017. Online: https://carm.org/catholic-salvation-attain