The Apostles’ Creed

He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

Institutes CalvinIn a sense it is remarkable that Pontius Pilate’s name is so well-known. Of course, he is famous (or infamous) for all the wrong reasons. He is known for playing a primary role in the crucifixion of Christ. Sinclair Ferguson writes that he was “a man whom history would have well-nigh forgotten were it not for his part in this drama” (Let’s Study Mark, p.255).

Not only is Pilate’s name mentioned repeatedly in all four (4) Gospels, but it also appears three times in the book of Acts (Acts 3:13, 4:27, 13:28) and once in 1 Timothy 6:13 as well.

Pilate’s name is even included in the Apostles’ Creed, which, in speaking of the sufferings and death of Christ for our salvation, it calls us to confess as an essential part of the Christian faith:

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

Likewise the Nicene Creed also states that “for us men and for our salvation,” the Lord Jesus Christ: “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.”

But why does it matter that Jesus specifically suffered under Pontius Pilate? Have you ever wondered why that is? Why did He have to suffer and die in that particular way (i.e. the cross)?

In the 1541 edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin includes an extended exposition of sorts of the Apostles’ Creed. In his comments on Christ’s sufferings under Pontius Pilate he notes:

For since by Christ’s death sins had to be wiped away and the condemnation which they deserved removed, it would not have been enough for him to suffer a different kind of death. To duly fulfil [sic] every part of our redemption, it was necessary to choose death in a form which allowed him to take upon himself our condemnation and the payment owed to God’s wrath, and so deliver us from both.” (p.246)

In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ’s death had to be a judicial death, a death involving the passing of a sentence of condemnation and death.

Calvin goes on to say,

“If thieves had cut his throat, if he had been murdered in an affray by the hands of individuals, there would have been no semblance of satisfaction [i.e. atonement or payment for sin] in such a death. But in that he was brought as an accused before a court of law, was denounced by witnesses and condemned by the mouth of the judge, we recognize that he appeared as a criminal.” (ibid)

And so for our Lord to be the Savior of sinners, He could not just die as a mere victim or even a martyr – He had to die as a criminal, one convicted and sentenced to death. For this very reason He was crucified between two robbers (Mark 15:27), and so the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled which said that He was “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

Not only that, but in suffering under Pontius Pilate, it was sure to come to pass that the method of execution (i.e. capital punishment) employed in His death would specifically be that of crucifixion – “death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

Calvin states,

“The cross was accursed not only in the opinion of men but by decree of God’s law (Deut. 21:23). By being nailed to the cross Christ makes himself subject to a curse. This had to happen so that the curse merited by our sins and made ready for them should be transferred to him, that we might go free.” (p.247)

Deuteronomy 21:23 specifically states that “a hanged man is cursed by God” (ESV). And so for Christ Jesus to be executed in that way was to demonstrate that He underwent the curse of God in our place – the very curse that we deserve because of our sins.

These are some of the more important reasons why we confess (in reciting the Apostles’ Creed) that “he suffered under Pontius Pilate.”


“Even More Present Than Before” – John Calvin on the Ascension of Christ

Institutes CalvinIn his 1541 edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin includes an extended exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. (That section alone is worth the price of the book.)

His comments on the the Creed’s statement regarding the ascension of Christ (i.e. “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty”) are noteworthy and helpful.

It is sometimes asked how Christ’s promise to be with us “always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, ESV) can be compatible with His ascension to the right hand of God the Father. In some sense, then, isn’t He actually not with us, or at least in some way less present with us than He was during His earthly ministry?

To this question Calvin says the following,

“Thus being received into heaven, he removed his bodily presence from our sight, not so as to leave without help believers who still have to live on earth, but to rule the world with a power even more present than before. Certainly his promise to be with us to the end of the age has been fulfilled by his ascension, for as by it his body was lifted above all the heavens, so its power and effectiveness reach far beyond all bounds of heaven and earth.” (p.253)

What an amazing statement! Even though our Lord Jesus Christ is no longer bodily present for a time until He returns, He now rules over all things “with a power even more present than before” (italics added)!

Not only that, but Calvin goes on to say that Christ’s ascension, far from undoing His promise to be with us always, is actually the very fulfillment of it! It is because Christ has ascended “above all the heavens” that His “power and effectiveness reach far beyond all bounds of heaven and earth.” And so it is because of Christ’s ascension that He is actually with us always, even to the end of the age!

Apostles’ Creed Eschatology

Simpsons End Is NearThe subject of eschatology can often be very confusing, even intimidating for some people. Sometimes it can seem as if there are nearly as many different views as there are Bible scholars and teachers! And despite the fact that there are a seemingly endless number of resources (books, lectures, Bible conferences, etc.) available on the subject, we seem to be further and further away from any consensus. The result? Many sincere believers despair of ever grasping the basics of biblical eschatology.

That being the case, you might be surprised to learn that the eschatology of the early ecumenical creeds was rather simple. The Apostles’ Creed (circa 3rd century AD), for example, notes that the Lord Jesus Christ will return from heaven where He is presently seated at the right hand of God. It simply says “From there he will come to judge the living [or the “quick”] and the dead.” So the Creed clearly connects the return of Christ with the final judgment of all mankind.

The other aspects of eschatology that are found in the Apostles’ Creed are the resurrection of the dead and the eternal state (heaven and hell). The focus is clearly on how these two essential elements of eschatology relate to believers in particular. The creed simply speaks of “the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting” (which are, incidentally, the last two things mentioned in the creed).

So according to the Apostles’ Creed (and the Nicene Creed as well) there are only four (4) things that any truly biblical understanding of Christianity must necessarily include:

      1. The Return of Christ

      2. The Resurrection

      3. The Final Judgment of the Living and the Dead

      4. The Eternal State (Heaven for Believers in Christ; Hell for the Wicked and Unbelieving)

That’s it. No mention of the millennium. No mention of the tribulation. No mention whatsoever of a rapture of the church as distinct and separate from Christ’s second coming. All that is to say that there is no other aspect of a proper, biblical eschatology (if the Apostles’ Creed is viewed as a summary of the Christian faith) that can be held as definitive or essential to any truly Christian view of eschatology.

That is not to say that those other things are unimportant, nor that we should not study, discuss, and even debate them. We should strive to the best of our ability to rightly understand and articulate whatever the Scriptures say about the last things. We can disagree on those things, but we should not divide or break fellowship over them if the four basic essentials listed above are sincerely agreed upon.

For example, Dispensationalism certainly adds things to the four (4) essentials of Christian eschatology. In addition to the Return of Christ, this school of thought holds to a separate “rapture” of the church (which amounts to a sort of partial return of Christ before the actual return of Christ). They would also add a 7-year tribulation before Christ’s return, and a literal 1,000 year earthly reign of Christ before the final judgment. But, having said all of that, they nevertheless still hold to the four (4) essentials listed above; they just differ in some measure regarding many of the other details.

To be sure, I believe that Dispensationalists are mistaken on a number of things regarding their views on eschatology. (And no doubt my Dispensationalist brothers would say that I am mistaken on a number of points as well!) But I will not break fellowship over such things. Why not?  Because we both still hold to the four (4) essentials of what I term “Apostles’ Creed Eschatology.”

I Believe in the Church

Chapel 2How important is the church after all these years?

If we were to answer that question by examining how high (or low) a priority that many professing believers place upon the church (i.e. membership, public worship on the Lord’s day, serving in some capacity, inviting their friends and neighbors to church, commitment to financially supporting the work of the church, etc.), one might be led to believe that the church these days is not really very important at all. Sadly, it is becoming more and more common in our day for professing believers to have little or no firm connection to a local church.

If, likewise, we were to answer that question based upon the relative size of a given church, its influence upon the surrounding city or region, and how highly it is thought of (if it is even thought of at all) by outsiders/non-members, the church might seem even less important. After all, even the largest churches are barely a blip on the proverbial radar screen to most outsiders. They may drive by a particular church’s building on their way through town; they may know its name; they may have even darkened the door a time or two on a given holiday; but beyond that? Nada. Certainly there are exceptions, but they are just that in most cases – exceptions.

Despite all of that, I still believe in the church. I say that not because I am a pastor, but simply because I am a Christian.

What if I were to tell you that the church is so important that it is actually one of the chief tenets of the Christian faith! In fact, we confess a belief in the Christian church every time we recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. One of the many things that the Apostles’ Creed says is, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints.” (The word “catholic” there means “universal,” not Roman Catholic.) Similarly, the Nicene Creed says, “And we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

In his book, The Good News That We Almost Forgot, Kevin DeYoung writes, “Perhaps we would be less likely to overlook the importance of the church if we paid more attention to the Apostles’ Creed.” Good point, and one that is often overlooked. Think about that for a moment – what are the creeds? They are basic statements of the essentials of the Christian faith – the non-negotiables, so to speak. Remove any one of the articles from the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, and what you are left with is something substantially less than the true Christian faith. So a belief in the church is an essential part of the Christian faith. It is non-negotiable – you cannot just take it or leave it.

Do you believe in the church? If you are a Christian, you should. In fact you could even go so far as to say that you must. (Think about that next time you recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed!)

The Most Important Organization in the World


Ever take a look at your life and wish that you could be involved in something big? Something really important? That you  have helped to make a real difference?  Ronald Reagan once said,

Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. The Marines don’t have that problem.

The Marines might not have that problem, but neither does anyone who is a member of the Christian church – no matter how small, unimpressive, or insignificant that church may be when viewed by the world’s standards.

People often speak of “megachurches” (usually meaning that they are very, very large), as if they are somehow much more important than those much smaller churches (micro-churches?). But here’s the thing – every true Christian church (which is defined simply as a church where the Scriptures are truly taught/the gospel is truly preached, the sacraments  of baptism & the Lord’s Supper are rightly administered, and church discipline is faithfully exercised) is a mega-church.  Why? Because that is where you will really find the Lord Jesus Christ at work. The church is what the Lord Jesus Christ Himself promised to build and defend. That is where Jesus truly changes lives, families, communities, and the world.

In his book, Renewing Your Mind (which is all about the Apostles’ Creed), R.C. Sproul writes,

The church is the most important organization in the world. It is the target of every demonic, hostile attack in the universe. Jesus personally guaranteed that the gates of hell will never prevail against the church. He made no guarantee that the gates of hell would not be unleashed against it, however. (p.184)

Do you want to be a part of something big? If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and are a member of a local church, then you already are a part of something big!  You are a part of the most important organization in the world! Yes, even that small, unimpressive, all-too-ordinary one down the street.

So join in the worship, work, and witness of the family of God! It doesn’t get any bigger than that!