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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Wilcock’


What is commonly called the Parable of the Dishonest Steward or Manager in Luke 16:1-9 has been called the hardest parable to interpret. Some of the people in our women’s ministry struggled with it. This is how I attempted to provide some assistance.

Preliminary Thoughts:
15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you (according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3

If Paul wrote things that are hard to understand, Jesus said things that are hard to understand. That should not surprise us, particularly in light of the quotations from Isaiah 6 regarding parables. See Mt. 13:14ff.

7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (WCF, I)

This is one of the least clear passages. It is probably most closely connected with the Parable of the Prodigal Sons by proximity and vocabulary, as well as the Unmerciful Servant.

He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
Is this Jesus’ commentary on the parable?
10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Robert Capon calls this the hardest parable in The Parables of Grace.
Capon sees the connection with the Prodigal Son in that both he and the dishonest manager were wasteful. Both then came to themselves after coming to the end of themselves: destitution and impending destitution. One went home to be received, the other tried to make a way to be received. One sought forgiveness thru humiliation of self, the other mercy by showing mercy.

Capon notes this is the reverse of the Unmerciful Servant. There mercy flows top down. Here it flows from the bottom up.

Capon sees the Dishonest Manager as a Christ-figure thru his “death”. He makes much of Christ as “sinner” for us. But that was by imputation, not by act. So … I’m not liking his move.

Leon Morris sees the parable in a group of teaching on money. It is not part of the series of parables on lost things (sheep, coin, sons). “This is notoriously one of the most difficult of all the parables to interpret.”

Many think Jesus was commending his decisiveness, not necessarily the actions themselves.

He puts the parable in context of the questionable practice of charging interest to fellow Israelites called usury. They argued that if the other Israelite had anything he wasn’t destitute and therefore could be charged interest in order to make money. This seems to be an unbiblical loophole.
The steward or manager would tack interest on to the bond on the original transaction. This manager, discovering he was about to be fired, actually removed the interest from the bonds, bringing the owner into compliance with the law, and gaining favor from the borrowers. The owner, in pursuing any claim would have to admit to usury. He admitted the man’s shrewedness.

This parable was spoken to his disciples, and not the Pharisees like Luke 15.

The take away for the disciples to was use the money they had, even if gained by questionable practices in the past, for spiritual purposes. Use it wisely for good purposes, just as worldly people use it wisely for their worldly purposes. Our faith should affect how we use our money (and gain it in the future). A good illustration of this would be the tax collector Levi.

In the follow up lesson we are not to put earthly treasure above eternal treasure. Choose whom you will serve- God or money- because you can’t serve both. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we see the danger of serving money instead of God.

Wilcock notes that as this man was certain he was going to be fired, we all can be certain that we will die. We must make the right use of the opportunities life presents us. Use what belongs to this “present evil age” (unrighteous mammon) to gain an inheritance, a welcome, in the age to come.

Leon Morris’ analysis makes the best sense of the context to me. It also keeps Jesus from affirming dishonesty. This is one of the passages, being hard to understand, that we should be humblest about our interpretation.

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Talking about Revelation is fraught with danger. People often have very strong opinions. Some try to be clear where Scripture is clear, and hold opinions loosely where it isn’t.

In the last year and a half I have read far too many commentaries on Revelation. Here are my thoughts on them.

The Book of Revelation (NIGTC) G.K. Beale.  I bought this on the recommendation of another pastor. This is one expensive volume. This is worth the money you will spend. This is over 1,000 pages of commentary on Revelation. Beale exhaustively chases down all the OT allusions, background and quotes in the Revelation. In other word, he puts the last book of the Bible into the context of the rest of the Bible. There are parts of the commentary that are quite technical, but you don’t have to know the original languages.

Revelation: A Mentor Expository Commentary by Douglas Kelly. I saw this last summer, and was excited to see that Dr. Kelly took a partial-preterist, amillennial approach to Revelation. This is essentially my current understanding of Revelation. Instead of being an academic commentary like Beale’s it is an expository commentary. This means it was adapted from sermons that Dr. Kelly preached years ago. As a result this volume has a number of great illustrations that I have used in teaching a SS class on Revelation. One downside of those illustrations is that many concerned the Civil War. His appreciation for some key figures in the South could be a stumbling block for some people. While I do not doubt their piety, I do know they sinned in certain matters. Some people will struggle (rightfully) with them being used as role models (so to speak) in other areas. All our “heroes” are sinners and have feet of clay. But I completely understand if someone struggles with this aspect of the commentary. There were also a few sections of Revelation that were not covered in the sermons. Just a few. Some passages are covered more than once to draw out different aspects. Since this is an expository commentary, there is a healthy emphasis on application that you don’t often find in more academic commentaries.

The Returning King by Vern Poythress. This short book is one of my favorites. I found it be to quite helpful in observing the larger patterns of the book: recapitulation, counterfeiting etc. Poythress also takes an amillennial position, and advocates for the idealist or “spiritual” (I hate this term since it is grossly misleading) interpretation. It is quite readable, and immensely helpful. This is not the book for you if you want verse by verse commentary, but it does help you see how those verses fit into the whole.

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I know, I’ve been derelict in my duty. I have more important matters to attend to. But I have some spare time, so it is time to look at the second approach in Four Views on the Book of Revelation: idealism. Often this is called the Spiritual view. I’m not wild about that term since it wrongly implies spiritualization, which is a problematic way of interpreting the Scriptures.  Spiritualization treats the Scriptures as if they have special meaning that isn’t on the surface of the text. Typology, for instance, recognizes the historical events of the text, but says they also point to Christ and His work. Spiritualization does not recognize the historical events. I hope that makes sense. This view is NOT spiritualization.

The idealist view does a few things. First, it recognizes that The Revelation is filled with symbolism. To interpret it literally means to recognize the symbolism. Second, idealism recognizes progressive parallelism throughout the text in keeping with apocalyptic writings like we find in the prophets. The Revelation contains a series of visions about the same events from different angles, with increasing intensity. Therefore, the Book is not to be read chronologically (again, try to do that with the prophets and you’ll become very confused). Often, these different visions are indicated by “I saw heaven opened” (this is the title of Michael Wilcock’s commentary.) The third main feature of the position is that these visions represent patterns throughout history that culminate in the consummation at Christ’s return.

Most idealists hold to the amillennial position. This means that chapter 20 is a symbol representing the present age instead of chronologically following this age. This means that the battle at the end of chapter 20 is the same battle as we find in chapter 19. Christ returns at this end of this age to defeat His enemies, deliver His saints and restore creation. The amillennialist says that we are currently in the millennium. It is technically a post-millennial position.

As an idealist with some preterist leanings, I was not impressed with Sam Hamstra Jr.’s presentation. Commentaries that hold to this view, that are quite good, include Hendriksen’s More than Conquerors, Poythress’ The Returning King, Dennis Johson’s The Triumph of the Lamb and Derek Thomas’ Let’s Study Revelation. One thing that I found troublesome in Hamstra’s presentation, as opposed to the others, is that Revelation essentially becomes a book without a historical context (“They may have no historic connection with any particular event”). The book was intended to provide comfort to the original audience, and to us when we suffer in similar ways. We are not the original audience, but it applies to us too.

The letters to the seven churches are to the whole church, at that time. Here he recognizes the historical context. John is addressing their needs and trials. They do not represent 7 successive periods in the life of the church, as some people teach.

The big picture is the prominence of the throne of God. What plays out is a result of God’s plan and purposes for the world. History is under the direction of God, and the preservation of the saints and destruction of his enemies are a part of that. But we see rivals to God arising. The dragon, Beast and False Prophet comprise a counterfeit trinity and the Harlot is a counterfeit church (Poythress in particular is very helpful here). While they may prevail in the short-term, Jesus wins long-term, and His people preserve through the blood of the Lamb. He is a Lamb to us, and a Lion to His enemies. The Revelation is a revelation from Christ about Christ.

In the present, we see the power of the Beast in persecution, the False Prophet in deception (cults), and the Harlot in seduction. All three work in the power of the dragon, who is Satan as John tells us in Revelation 12. At any particular point in time, a church will experience one or two of those strategies. Here in America we are subject to seduction (consumerism) and deception (cults and secular humanism). At some point, we may experience persecution like many Christians around the world currently do.

This frees us from thinking the book is for our generation, though it applies to our generation. It frees us from thinking the books it for some far off generation, because it applies to our generation. This frees us from all the erroneous speculation that we see in dispensational teaching (Walvoord, Lindsey, LeHaye etc.). The point is not to generate fear- but for us to trust (rely upon) Christ who will prevail. We need to be vigilant about our lives, not obsessing about the European Union and bar codes.

The idealist position functions more as a theology of history than a chronology for the end of the world. As Hamstra notes, it is idea rather than event oriented. As a result, it helps us to apply the Revelation to any generation awaiting the return of Christ.

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I’m wrapping up my unusual Advent series called The Cosmic Christmas which focused on Revelation 12 to address the cosmic implications of the Incarnation.  Here are some of the resources I found helpful:

Steve Gregg’s Parallel Commentary on Revelation seen to the left.  It is helpful for summarizing the historicist, preterist, futurist and spiritual viewpoints on the Revelation.  When he gets to Revelation 20, he breaks it into millennial views.

I Saw Heaven Opened by Michael Wilcock from the Bible Speaks Today commentary series published by IVPress.  I really appreciated the opportunity to read some of this, since it had been on my shelf for awhile.  The title comes from the literary device used to begin new visions, or changes of ‘camera angles’ within Revelation.  I really found it a helpful, accessible volume.

The Returning King by Vern Poythress.  I had read this a few years ago.  It is not very long, but Poythress provides a good lay of the land to help you understand the overall flow of Revelation.  He then has a brief commentary.  Particularly helpful is the idea of counterfeits operating in the visions.  In 12-13 a counterfeit Trinity emerges (Dragon, Beast of the Sea & Beast of the Earth) to deceive the masses and persecute God’s people and the counterfeit Church (the harlot) which seeks to seduce God’s people.  As such Revelation provides a summary of Satan’s strategy of deception, persecution & seduction.

But Jesus is Faithful (Reliable) and True (Genuine) as revealed in Revelation 19.  He is the One we are to worship, serve and delight in.  The unholy counterfeits are no match for Him as the Warrior-King.  The emphasis, despite how fearsome the Dragon & beasts are, is that Jesus is greater, …. and good!

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