I want to talk to you today about the subject of audience relevance. This is a subject that is very important to our study of Scripture. Last week in our study of 1 John, several questions arose about audience relevance in light of verse 28.
Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 1 John 2:28 NASB
John says, “Little children, abide in him”—“Little children” is synonymous with believers. So, he is telling believers to “abide in him.” To abide in Christ is something all Christians are commanded to do.
“So that when he appears…at his coming”—This is a reference to the second coming of Christ. John admonishes them to abide in him “so that” (purpose clause) when he appears at the second coming, they will have confidence and not shame. I said last week that this is talking about the bema seat judgment. Believers, all of us, will have to give an account to the Lord for what we have done.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV
Last week I said, “If we live a life of abiding in him, we will have confidence when we stand before him. How much thought do you give to the fact that you will one day answer to the Lord for how you have lived?”
Several questions arose last week over the issue of the Bema seat judgment and audience relevance. On last week’s video on YouTube someone left this comment:
Hi. I ask this sincerely. Why is audience relevance not used, when it is said to them, that we all must stand before judgement seat of Christ? John was talking to them. I see this creep in a bit, sometimes audience relevance is main part of the preterist teaching, and then other times, like here, David reads it, then looks at his listeners and says to them, they will stand before the judgement seat of Christ. What is the method used to determine, when it is audience relevant and not?
That is an awesome question. I want to spend our time this morning trying to answer it. Let me start by saying that audience relevance is always important and should always be used. Audience relevance is one of the rules of Hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation). If we are going to study the Bible, we must have some understanding of Hermeneutics. The purpose of hermeneutics is to establish guidelines and rules for interpreting the Bible. Any written document is subject to misinterpretation, and thus we have developed rules that safeguard us from such misunderstanding. Yahweh has spoken, and what He has said is recorded in Scripture. The basic goal of hermeneutics is to ascertain what God meant by what he said.
Audience relevance requires that the interpreter ascertain the meaning of the words of Scripture by what they meant to the original, intended audience. Furthermore, the concern of the interpreter is to understand the grammar of a passage in light of the historical circumstances and context of the original audience.
We see two extremes when it comes to audience relevance. One extreme held by some is seeing everything in the Bible as pertaining to them. You may have heard the false mantra, “every promise in the book is mine.” An example of such taking of a verse out of its context is seen in this popular promise in Jeremiah 29.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 ESV
This has to be the number one home school graduation verse. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this at graduations. This is a very comforting verse, is it not? Maybe—if it were in a fortune cookie. But it is not! It is a verse in the book of Jeremiah that must be understood in its context. If you just read the previous verse you see the context and audience.
"For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. Jeremiah 29:10 ESV
This was written around the 6th century B.C. when Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people were taken into captivity by Babylon. Yahweh is assuring the exiles of Judah (not 21st century Americans) that His long-term plan is good and that He has not abandoned them. He would give them a future and a hope. Yahweh had plans for their welfare (i.e. the exiles of Judah) and not for calamity. These promises were to take place when the seventy years were complete—they were clearly made to the exiles of Judah and not to us.
Totally ignoring the principle of audience relevance, one pastor wrote: "You know the Bible is timeless. Let's look at these Scriptures as though Paul had just sent an e-mail to the Neptune Church of God."
Holding this view will keep you from understanding the Bible. I think that most Christians view the Bible this way—as though it just arrived in the mail for them. But we must understand that if we disengage the original audience from the Scriptures, we can make any passage mean whatever we want, and we can make apply it to whomever we want. Whenever we read the Scriptures, we must ask ourselves, "To whom is this person writing or speaking?" We must remember that the Bible is a collection of personal letters and history books written in real time contexts by real people and to real people. For instance, in the book of Philippians the Apostle Paul wrote the following:
I hope in the Lord Yeshua to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. Philippians 2:19 ESV
Does this verse teach us that "we" are supposed to be waiting for Timothy? Even the pastor of the Neptune Church of God would not apply the verse this way, even though he contended that we should “look at these Scriptures as though Paul had just sent an e-mail to the Neptune Church of God.”
We are not waiting for Timothy because we correctly understand audience relevance and recognize that this was a personal letter from Paul to a real church in Philippi in A.D. 62. Paul promised to soon send Timothy to them—not to us. We correctly understand the time and place because we view them in context. The first century Philippian Christians were the intended audience of this book.
All time statements in the Bible must be viewed through this same lens of audience relevance. The books of the Bible are not mystical letters written nebulously to Christians throughout eternity so that all time statements can be extracted and applied to whatever generation we wish. On the contrary, each book was directed to a specific audience and Scripture itself adequately reveals to us who that audience was.
This may perhaps shock some people, but there is not one book in the Bible that was written TO anyone living today. Every single book in the Bible was written FOR us, for application and understanding, but none of them was written TO us.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
When Paul wrote, "All Scripture,” he was declaring that the entire Tanakh "is breathed out by God." But the contents of this passage apply to all of sacred Scripture, including the New Testament. In 2 Peter 3:15-16, we see that Peter considered what Paul wrote (in what would later become the New Testament) to be Scripture. So, all Scripture (both Testaments) is inspired by God.
"All scripture is breathed out by God"—what this is saying is God breathed out Scripture. God spoke it. It is the very breath of God. What that means is that, through the Holy Spirit, Yahweh revealed Himself and His plans to particular individuals who wrote down His message for His people. That does not mean that they went into a trance, and God moved their hands to write. Using their own minds, talents, language, and style, Yahweh led them to write what needed to be written. The claim of the Bible is that God was in control of its writing.
As stated before, every single book in the Bible was written FOR us, for application and understanding, but none was written TO us. Every book in the Bible is a personal letter, a history book, or writing by a prophet to particular people at a particular time and for a particular reason. Yes, we do glean truth and understanding from these books today, but that is far different from saying that these books were written TO us. To put it another way, we are reading other people's mail. Whenever someone today says "Here's what this Scripture means to me," we should be the first to say, "It doesn't matter what it means to you. It only matters what it meant to the original audience." That is where we find out what the Bible truly means. Only after we do that can we then apply it to ourselves.
So, some see everything in the Bible as pertaining to them, totally ignoring the principle of audience relevance. But there is another view which takes the principle of "audience relevance" to the opposite extreme by contending that none of the Bible applies to us today. The proponents assert that the Bible is written solely and entirely to national Israel. They accuse us of using audience relevance only for the time statements. One of these folks said, "Amazing how people pay lip service to 'audience relevance' but then ignore the meaning completely." What they mean is that to them the Bible is not relevant to today's audience. They would say that since none of the Bible was written to us, none of it applies to us.
Really? Let's go back to our text in Philippians. We talked about Philippians 2:19 and Paul’s sending Timothy to the Philippians shortly. This does not apply to us. Timothy is not coming to us shortly because he is dead. It has been two thousand years since Paul wrote this. Consider also these words of Paul to the Philippians:
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:2-3 ESV
Is this to us? No, Euodia and Syntyche are dead—as is Clement. This was very specific to the local situation. What we might apply from this text is the principle of unity that we see throughout the New Testament. But what about Philippians 4:13?
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 ESV
Does this apply to us? While Paul is clearly talking about himself, the principle also applies to us if we are in Christ. Most of the teaching that we find in the New Testament is directed to the Church and applies to all Christians in all times. Can we do all things through Christ? Leap tall buildings at a single bound? Run faster that a bullet? Notice the context:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. Philippians 4:11-12 ESV
Does this apply to us? Can we also deal with any circumstance if we are living in dependence on Christ? Yes, we can. This is a spiritual truth that applies to all believers who live in dependence upon Christ. But believers, although we can apply the spiritual truths that are given to the church to ourselves, the time and audience specific events are not for us.
The people who are saying that since none of the Bible was written to us, none of it applies to us are wrong! They say that it is all to Israel—about their sin, their salvation, their Messiah. These folks go so far as to say that sin was done away with in AD 70, and, therefore, we don't sin today. And because we don’t sin, we do not need salvation. Christ did not die for our sin. It was all about Israel. They often quote:
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 ESV
They say that "His people" are Jews, and you are not a Jew, so He didn't save you. Who are "His people"? There is no doubt that Israel is His people! But who is Israel? I agree that the Bible is about Israel and her salvation, but I would include spiritual Israel in that definition. Yeshua is the true Israel and all who trust in Him are Israel:
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. Romans 2:28-29 ESV
Here Paul makes a distinction between the outward/physical and the inward/spiritual. The "outward Jew" is a transgressor of Torah since he is not honoring Torah in his heart. This can only be done by having faith in the Gospel of Yeshua and by receiving the promised Spirit.
Once the New Covenant arrived, the only true Jews were those who trusted in the Christ. All other Jews were covenant breakers, no matter what rites they held to. Consider the following:
But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. Romans 2:29 ESV
In this context, Paul uses "Jew" as the people of God—those chosen by Him, those shown God's favor, and those in covenant with God. The point of verse 29 is that the Holy Spirit is the one who makes uncircumcised Gentiles into circumcised Jews, namely, by circumcising their hearts. Circumcision, Paul says, is, in essence, an internal change of heart, not an external change of the sexual organ.
What Paul says here in Romans, he says throughout the New Testament. Look at what Paul wrote to the Philippians:
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Yeshua and put no confidence in the flesh— Philippians 3:3 ESV
Paul says, "For we are the circumcision." The "we" is a reference to Paul and the Philippian Christians. But what Paul says of them is true of all Christians. There is no reason to limit what Paul is saying here to only the Philippian church. Theologically, this is very significant. This is Paul's description of the Church of Yeshua the Christ. The Church is the "circumcision."
As it developed down through the history of Israel and even into the time of our Lord, it became very clear that "the circumcision" was a title—a technical designation of the children of Israel. Jews were synonymously called "the circumcision." There are many passages in Acts and some in Paul's letters in which instead of saying "Israel" or "the Jews," Paul simply called them "the circumcision." This was simply a way of saying "Israelites" or "Jews." The "uncircumcised" were the Gentiles.
What is the significance of the term "the circumcision" as a technical designation for Israel? Paul explains it in Philippians 3:2-3.
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Yeshua and put no confidence in the flesh— Philippians 3:2-3 ESV
Three times Paul uses the imperative "Look out." He is admonishing them to "be on the constant look out for dogs, evildoers, and those who mutilate the flesh." Paul has one hostile group in mind and describes it in three ways. He's talking about the Judaizers. The Judaizers were a group of people who went around in the first century promoting Judaism. They were pushing Judaism on the believers. They were saying that in order to be a Christian, you must first come through the door of Judaism. You must be circumcised and keep the law.
The word "mutilate" is the Greek word katatome. There is a pun in the Greek here which is not seen in the English. The word "circumcision” in verse 3 is the Greek word peritome which means "to cut around." In verse 2, Paul uses katatome, which means "to mutilate." Paul is saying that "We are the peritome, but they are the katatome." Paul is telling them that all they were doing was physically mutilating their bodies; it had no spiritual significance. You Jews think that you are circumcised, but in fact, you are only mutilated. This word, katatome, is used in the LXX of the pagan cuttings of the body that were forbidden by the law of Israel.
Who then is "the circumcision"? In Philippians 3:3, Paul tells us that it is those who “worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Yeshua and put no confidence in the flesh.” This is the Church, Christians, true believers. Paul is saying that the church is the "true circumcision.” In other words, the church is the true Israel made up of true Jews.
Someone may ask whether a Jew is someone who descended physically from Abraham and who has the mark of circumcision as a sign of his covenant relationship with God. Paul seems to be telling us that the "true circumcision" is not determined by ethnic derivation or by the blood flowing in one’s veins, but rather by the faith that is in the heart. It is a matter of the circumcision of the heart.
Paul taught that the Gentiles in the Church shared in the blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant with Israel:
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. Galatians 3:16 ESV
The promises were to one Seed, who was Christ. Yeshua is the seed of Abraham. He is Israel.
And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:29 ESV
Is the "you" here limited to those in Galatia in the first century? Is there anything in the text that is time or audience specific? No, there is not! If you by faith belong to Christ, you are Abraham's seed and an heir according to the promise. It does not matter whose blood you have in your veins. What is of utmost importance is the faith that has transformed your heart. It is covenant, not race, that makes one a Jew.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, Romans 9:6 ESV
“For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”—I cannot emphasize how important this verse is to our understanding. It is the key to our comprehending the nature of Israel and to whom the promises of God were made. The term Israel means "God rules" or "He who rules with God."
Paul tells us in our text that there are TWO Israels. We know that one of these is national, physical Israel (i.e. Jacob's sons and descendants). There is no disagreement here. But who is the other Israel? This is where the disagreements start. There is physical Israel consisting of those who are descendants of Jacob, and there is true Israel—those in Christ. So, we have physical Israel and true Israel.
Who is true Israel? Is it the Church? Yes, but what is the Church? It is the Body of Christ! And what I want us to understand is that Yeshua is the true Israel! It is in Him and in Him alone that the promises of God are fulfilled. We could say, "They are not all 'in Christ' who are physical descendants of Jacob."
so that in Christ Yeshua the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:14 ESV
We (all believers) inherit all the promises made to Abraham through Christ. Everything we are and have is by virtue of our union with Christ—a union that comes only by faith. Listen carefully. The Abrahamic Covenant was a promise made to Abraham and to Yeshua the Christ, the seed of Abraham. God promised Abraham that He would be made great, that he would be the father of many nations, and that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This promise was fulfilled spiritually and ultimately in Christ. Believers, we are Israel and many of the promises and precepts of the Word of God apply to us today.
Something important to our understanding of audience relevance is understanding the transition period. Most believers do not understand that we live in a different age than New Testament authors did. They lived in what the Bible calls the "last days." They were in the last days of the Old Covenant. Those "last days" began at Pentecost and ended at A.D. 70 when the Jewish temple was destroyed. Since that time, we live in what the Bible calls "the age to come" (i.e. the New Covenant age). If you do not understand the transition period, you will never understand what time you are living in because you will not understand your Bible. This forty-year period from Pentecost to the Holocaust (A. D. 70) was a time of transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. In this transition period, the New Covenant was inaugurated but it was not yet consummated. It was a time of "already but not yet." We looked at this a little last week. Let’s look at it a little more.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. Ephesians 1:7 ESV
Who is the “we” here? It is Paul and the New Testament saints. Does this apply to us? Is there anything here that is time or audience specific? Actually, there is. This was written during the transition period. Paul talks about redemption as though it was a present possession—it was "already." But notice what he says just a few verses later.
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV
Here we see that the Holy Spirit was a guarantee or a promise of their coming redemption ("not yet"). We see the same thing in Ephesians 4.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30 ESV
Again, they were sealed by the Holy Spirit until the future-to-them day of redemption— "not yet." But then in Colossians Paul says:
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:14 ESV
Again, he says they have redemption—"already." People use these verses to argue against the inspiration of Scripture. They ask, “Which is it?” Did they have it, or were they waiting for it? People see this as a contradiction because they do not understand that the transition period was a time of "already but not yet." They had the promise of it, they had the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of it, but they still waited for the consummation. Redemption was still a hope to them. Until A.D. 70 and the consummation of all that they were promised, they lived in hope. We looked at this last week and saw that the transition generation hoped for righteousness, salvation, and eternal life. The return of Christ was their blessed hope because all that they hoped for would be fulfilled by His presence.
The transition period was an age of hope. They hoped for what they did not see. They hoped for the completion of their redemption. There are some who think everything was completed in the death of Christ on the cross in A.D. 30. They see no transition period, no "already but not yet.” This, I believe, is not a biblical position. We looked last week at many Scriptures that pointed to a future-to-them fulfillment that was yet to arrive.
What was happening during the transition period? The church was growing from infancy to maturity. A spiritual house was being built for God to dwell in.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Yeshua 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 2:19-22 ESV
“Grows into a holy temple”—the present tense verb along with the preceding participle shows the continuance of the growth process, indicating a living organism that continues to increase. It is not the future tense looking forward to some eschatological temple but is the present tense dealing with a present temple that is not finished and continues to grow. The Greek word for "temple" here is naos (nah-os) which is the inner sanctuary.
Believers are the Temple of God.
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 ESV
Look at what Peter says about this Temple in the following verse.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua the Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5 ESV
They were being "built up" into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. The Church is a Temple, and the Temple was being built during the transition period. So, during the transition period the Church was growing into a dwelling place for Yahweh. During this time, the Old Covenant was growing old.
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13 ESV
This was about 35 years after the curtain was torn. The writer of Hebrews says that the Old Covenant "is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." The Old Covenant did not become obsolete until the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.
So, in order to understand the New Testament, we need to understand the transition period. It began at Pentecost, and it ended with the destruction of Jerusalem at the Lord's return. The transition period was the Last Days of the Old Covenant. During this time, the New Covenant was gaining power and awaiting the appointed day when it would assume full power, and the Church was growing and maturing. There was a looking forward to the return of Christ, the resurrection, and the judgment of the Jews. And there was an eager anticipation of God’s dwelling with them.
Believers, we are no longer in the transition period. We are living in the New Covenant age in which righteousness dwells. We are not living in the age of "hope"; we are living in the age of "have." Christ has returned, the resurrection is past, the Judgement of God's enemies, the Jews, is over, and God NOW dwells with us. The righteousness of Christ is ours.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. Revelation 21:1-3 ESV
We are now living in the new heaven and earth. We are the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ. The Church has reached maturity, and the transition period is over. Yeshua and His Father and the Spirit dwell among us, and we need no temple; we need none of the rituals and ceremonies of the old heaven and the old earth. We are in God's presence now and forevermore. May God help us to fully understand and appreciate our position in the new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells and where God dwells with His people.
It is critical for us to understand the transition period because many things happened during that time, things which do not apply to us. If we do not understand this, we will have trouble interpreting and applying the teaching of the New Testament. We need to apply the spiritual truths to ourselves while recognizing that the time and audience specific events are not for us.
Let’s go back to the Bema.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV
So, does this apply to us today or not? Will the works of all believers be judged by the Lord or just the Corinthians’ works? Is there anything that is time or audience specific in this verse? Yeshua told his disciples that there would be a judgment:
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16:27 ESV
Yeshua also told the seven churches in Asia Minor:
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. Revelation 22:12 ESV
Paul told the Roman and Corinthian believers,
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Romans 14:12 ESV
John told his readers,
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 1 John 2:28 ESV
So, it seems to me that the Bema judgment was a truth taught to the Church and it seems to me that it is a truth that is timeless. This judgment is for all believers and not just for those of the first century. We know that the Bema seat judgment couldn’t take place until after the second coming, and that has already happened. We also know that the believers living at the time of the second coming didn’t face the Bema seat judgment until they physically died. So, to say that the Bema was a judgment that only took place in A.D. 70 is wrong, in my opinion. I see it as an ongoing judgment. Why would we be excluded from this judgment after death? Paul says, “We must all appear.” Why would this exclude us?
The questioner asked, “Why is audience relevance not used, when it is said to them, that we all must stand before judgement seat of Christ? John was talking to them.” Yes, Paul was talking to them, just as every verse in the Bible is directed to a specific audience. But he was talking to them as believers and what he said to them I believe applies to all believers. Why would some believers face the Bema and others not?
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Yeshua, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:30-31 ESV
The Philippian jailor asked Paul how to be saved and Paul responded, “Believe in the Lord Yeshua, and you will be saved.” Does this only apply to the Philippian jailor? No. Clearly, that is a universal truth taught throughout the New Testament. Whoever believes on the Lord Yeshua will be saved.
In summary, some see everything in the Bible as pertaining to them. They totally ignore the principle of audience relevance. Others take the principle of "audience relevance" to a place where none of the Bible applies to us today. And in between those two views are many arguments as to what applies to us and what does not. We must be Bereans and study it out for ourselves.