The Gospel, Tribulation, and The Appearing – Part 14

January 15, 2014

After all we have surveyed it should be clear now that the Gospel is a larger proposition that what we hear in “churches” today or by extension what is taught in seminaries producing the ones who are just promoting what they have been taught.  Seldom is what is taught and preached today about the gospel is complete.  The gospel of the Kingdom is an epic story that has yet to reach its conclusion.  In fact, it will never have an ending.  This is the ultimate aim, to be granted immortality, and to have the same capabilities that Jesus resurrection body has.  But this doesn’t happen until death is subdued the Kingdom is handed over to God the Father.  “Then” as the scriptures say “…God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:24 – 28). We can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like (1 Corinthians 2:9).  To explore the universe not hampered by sin, evil, and disease.

Old Testament believers understood more than we give them credit for.  However, we need to look more in the New Testament at the development of the ideas found in the Old. As before we will be going back and forth in scriptures, so keep your translation handy.  In this post we are going to see what the coming King had to say about the timing of His coming and compare it to a righteous believer who was quoted by our Lord more than once.

The Kingdom in the New Testament

The timing of the arrival of Messiah is contained in both testaments, these texts that deal with what the prophets and apostles wrote will be examined; but the best place to start is what our coming Savior has said.

And Jerusalem will be  trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Luke 21:24b

Jesus our Lord spoke of the time that we are in (this age) as the “times of the Gentiles” (Matthew 24:15 – 21Luke 20:21 – 14Mark 13:14 – 19), he did this in the context of a prophetic utterance about the destruction of Jerusalem with His disciples and those listening.  We will see more of this as we go through the relevant texts on this subject and that our lack of understanding and over dependence on the New Testament has given believers in this age a skewed view of the future.  This age, the time we are currently in, is very important and to start with you must study several passages to further understand what the course of these times were, are, and will be.  There are many OT passages that deal with this subject.  The first we will look at is Daniel 2:31 – 45 and then Daniel 7:1 – 28.  I won’t go into an in-depth analysis of these passages other than to summarize what I believe that they mean at this point in time.  You may need to refer to works on ancient history to explain what happened during the past with these empires in relation to the Jews and the disciples of Jesus and His apostles.  Here’s essentially what we see in the book of Daniel, and in these two passages in particular, in terms of world history:

1. The Babylonian Empire - Daniel 1:1 – 5:30; 7:4

2. The Medo-Persian Empire - Daniel 2:39a; 5:31 – 6:28; 7:5; 8:1 – 7; 10:1 – 11:2

3. The Hellenistic Empire - Daniel 2:39b; 7:6; 8:7 – 27; 11:3 – 35

a. The United Stage

b. The Four Division Stage

4. The Fourth Empire—The Empire of Imperialism - Daniel 2:40 – 43; 7:7 – 12, 19 – 27; 9:27; 11:36 – 45

a. The United Stage—The Roman Empire

b. The Two Division Stage—The East-West Balance of Power

c. The One World Government Stage

d. The Ten Division Stage—The Ten Kingdoms

e. The Antichrist Stage—Absolute Imperialism

5. The Messianic Kingdom

There are two other passages in the New Testament that speak to this subject, Revelation 13:1 – 10 and Revelation 17:7 – 14.  The book of Revelation has no direct quotations from the Old Testament, but it has hundreds of references or allusions back to the Old Testament. The majority of the things found in the first twenty chapters of the Book of Revelation are found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Only the last two chapters deal with things totally new. Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah and the Kingdom are scattered throughout the Books of Moses and the various Prophets and Writings as we have seen.

The Revelation

It’s nearly impossible to develop Old Testament prophecies into any chronological sequence of events by just using the Old Testament. The value of the Book of Revelation is not that it provides a lot of new information, but that it takes the prophecies distributed throughout the Old Testament and puts them in understandable order so that a sequence of events may be determined. This book provides a framework for the understanding of the order and the sequence of events found in the Old Testament prophetic writings. This is the reason for so many indirect references to the Old Testament. However, the material found in the last two chapters of Revelation is totally new material which describes what has been termed the “eternal order.”  Neither Jesus while on earth nor His apostles knew about this information, until it was revealed to John. The Old Testament prophets never foresaw anything beyond the Messianic Kingdom. Indeed, the Kingdom was the high point of Old Testament prophecy and no prophet ever saw anything beyond that. But this “eternal order” is the high point of New Testament prophecy, and Revelation 21 and 22 provide new information, as they describe what lies beyond the Kingdom of Messiah.

Back to our texts in Revelation 13 and 17, these passages show a similar picture as we see in Daniel,

To summarize these four chapters of Scripture dealing with the Times of the Gentiles, there are three important things we see.  First, the entire period of the Times of the Gentiles is to be composed of four Gentile empires: Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Hellenistic, and Imperialistic. Second, the Fourth Empire, the Empire of Imperialism, developed from five previous forms of Roman governments: the Tarquin Kings (The First Head), the Counsulors (The Second Head), the Plebians (The Third Head), the Republicans (The Fourth Head), and the Triumvirate (The Fifth Head). Third, the Fourth Gentile Empire of the Imperialism was to undergo five stages, the first four being the United Stage (Rome), the Two Division Stage (East-West Balance of Power), the One World Government Stage, and the Ten Kingdom Stage. These first four stages are all the Sixth Head. This will be followed by the fifth stage, the Antichrist Stage, the stage of Absolute Imperialism, which is also the Seventh Head.

To show it again with all four chapters in summary form:

1. The Babylonian Empire

2. The Medo-Persian Empire

3. The Hellenistic Empire

a. The United Stage

b. The Four Division Stage

(Developmental Prelude to the Fourth Gentile Empire – See Roman history)

b1. The Tarquin Kings—The First Head

b2. The Counsulors—The Second Head

b3. The Plebians—The Third Head

b4. The Republicans—The Fourth Head

b5. The Triumvirate—The Fifth Head

4. The Fourth Gentile Empire—Imperialism - Revelation 13:1–10Revelation 17:7–14

(The following subsections comprise the Sixth Head)

a. The United Stage—The Roman Empire

b. The Two Division Stage—The East-West Balance of Power

c. The One World Government Stage

d. The Ten Kingdom Stage—The Ten Horns (Ten Kings)

e. The Antichrist Stage—The Seventh Head (The Eleventh Horn and then the Eighth Horn)

5. The Messianic Kingdom

So where are we at this time in relation to what the prophet’s and apostle’s saw?  I would say in reference to the list above, we are in 4b.  At this time, I also see the east-west balance slipping in favor of the eastern powers.  That is radical Islam and the former Soviet Union/Russia.  All you have to do is pay attention to the news and our modern history in the struggle between conservative and/or religious people versus socialist/communist, radical Islamic ideologies and their proponents to understand this.

Another view of this which another believer shared with me deals with the visions of the beasts between Daniel and Revelation, between Nebuchadnezzar vision and John’s vision.  It’s interesting to note that this actually links the two prophetic books. As I said before there are many allusions to the Old Testament in Revelation, here is but just one proof:

Comparison Between Daniel’s Fourth Beast and the Beast of the Revelation

 

dan - rev comparison

So if we see past history through Old Testament and New Testament prophecy, and we think we know where we are in relation to the present, which only leaves what is coming up, right?  Wrong.

Let’s back up a bit.  In the first chapter of the book of Revelation, after John gave his introductory text, he proceeded to describe what happened to him.  His encounter with his risen Savior affected him in a way that most of us would have been.  If there was critical instruction in the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew on how to enter the Kingdom (Matthew 5 – 7), then the letters to the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 add to that instruction. We will deal with the meaning of John’s vision of the risen Lord and in the individual letters to the assemblies that follow in the next post.


The Gospel, Tribulation, and The Appearing – Part 13

December 16, 2013

In this post we will start by looking at the progress of the Messiah after the appearing at Bozrah and His march towards Jerusalem.  Also, we will start looking at events like the blackouts that are contained in the prophetic texts.

The Mount of Olives and the Messiah

I believe that after the actual fighting is completed, there will be a victory ascent up the Mount of Olives which is described in Zechariah 14:3 – 4.

Since this passage is often used as evidence that the appearing will initially take place at the Mount of Olives, it needs to be studied more carefully, especially in light of the other passages. Earlier, we saw in the same context, Zechariah 12:7 stated that Jesus will save the tents of Judah first, prior to saving the Jews in Jerusalem. The meaning of this was discussed in the last post. Other passages also showing His initial return to Bozrah with the fighting starting in that place have been looked at earlier. In Zechariah 14, the Messiah is first seen as going to fight against the nations that had gathered against the Jews (verse 3). It is only after the fighting of verse three that His feet will stand upon the Mount of Olives (verse 4).

Along with this victory ascent upon the Mount of Olives, a number of cataclysmic events will occur as the great tribulation comes to an end. These cataclysmic events will be a result of the seventh Bowl Judgment, described in Revelation 16:17 – 21,

And the seventh poured out his bowl upon the air; and there came forth a great voice out of the temple, from the throne, saying, It is done: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since there were men upon the earth, so great an earthquake, so mighty. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And great hail, every stone about the weight of a talent, comes down out of heaven upon men: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof is exceeding great.

Revelation 16:17 – 21

With the seventh bowl, a voice cries out, “It is done,” because the seventh bowl brings the Tribulation to a definite end (verse 17). This declaration will be followed by convulsions of nature, including the greatest earthquake ever to occur in the history of the earth (verse 18). This will cause the City of Jerusalem to split into three divisions, while the city of Babylon will suffer the full wrath of God (verse 19). Many geographical changes will take place (verse 20) and hail weighing 120 pounds will fall (verse 21).

This earthquake that will shake Jerusalem is further described in Zechariah 14:4b–5:

And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south.  Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.  Thus the LORD my God will come, and all the saints with You.

Zechariah 14:4b – 5.

Not only will Jerusalem be split into three divisions, but the Mount of Olives will be split into two parts, creating a valley running east and west. This newly-formed valley will provide a way of escape for the Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem from the earthquake that will destroy the city. In this way the inhabitants of Jerusalem will be rescued following the deliverance of the other Jews in Bozrah.  During this time a number of supernatural or possibly a natural process we have never seen will happen, a deep darkness that the eye cannot penetrate. They have been called blackouts.

Blackouts

The scriptures speak of five blackouts that will occur before and during the tribulation. A blackout means that the light of the sun, moon, and stars is suddenly blacked out so that the earth is not receiving any light from these sources and is in total darkness. It will be similar to the blackout of Egypt which took place during one of the ten plagues, as described in Exodus 10:21 – 23.

This first blackout is predicted by the prophet Joel to occur “before” tribulation begins,

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.

Joel 2:31

Notice the blackout occurs “before the coming” of the Lord Jesus.  The second blackout is seen in the opening of the sixth seal judgment,

I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.

Revelation 6:12 – 14

When the Abyss is opened in the fifth trumpet judgment (Revelation 9:1 – 12) the third (partial) blackout occurs (verse 2).

Another blackout, the fourth, occurs during the fifth bowl judgment (Revelation 16:10, 11). The entire kingdom of the Beast will be darkened which, at this stage, will include the entire world with the exception of the three transjordanian nations where light will still exist. This will be a thick darkness that can be felt and which causes pain.

The fifth and final worldwide blackout is described in Matthew 24:29,

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Matthew 24:29

An earthquake and the fifth (and final) blackout are also described in Joel 3:14 – 17,

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness. The LORD also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the LORD will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel. “So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, Dwelling in Zion My holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be holy, and no aliens shall ever pass through her again.”

Joel 3:14 – 17

With the multitudes defeated in the closing Day of Jehovah in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (verse 14), the blackout will occur (verse 15), as well as the great earthquake (verse 16a). But a refuge will be provided for the Jews from these cataclysmic events (verses 16b – 17) by means of the valley cutting through the Mount of Olives spoken of by Zechariah.

The tribulation and the campaign of armageddon will come to an end with these cataclysmic events.  Next we will turn our attention to the Books of Daniel and Revelation, as well as other New Testament texts.


The Gospel, Tribulation, and The Appearing – Part 12

December 11, 2013

The last post we looked at the place of the appearing of the Messiah.  Next we study the manner in which the Messiah returns.

The Way of the Appearing

Having identified the location of the appearing, it is now necessary to look at the scriptures dealing with the manner of the appearing, and the battle between the Lord Jesus and the antichrist and the nations armed forces that will side with him against the Messiah and attempt to stop the Kingdom of God from beginning and an end of the times of the gentiles (Luke 21:24). It has already been learned from Isaiah 63:2 – 6 that when He fights, Messiah will fight alone and no others will participate in the battle.  The way our Lord will appear is described in Matthew 24:30.

Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

Matthew 24:30

First what we see here is that there is a “sign of the Son of Man.”  What is it?   The Greek word for “heaven” here is the one used for the atmospheric heaven above the earth.  The common interpretation is that it is the display of the cross in the sky. I don’t agree with that view. Another view is that it will be a light and or a cloud similar to or perhaps identical with the Shekinah Glory that will surround Jesus when He comes. This seems most probable to me since Jesus was evidently was referring to Daniel 7:13, 14 when He said these words. Throughout the Old Testament, clouds and the Shekinah Glory are interrelated. In this Old Testament passage, the interrelation can be seen again. Also, Zechariah prophesied that all the tribes of Israel in the land would mourn in repentance (Zechariah 12:12). Jesus identified this prediction with His coming and broadened it to include all the tribes of the earth.  In addition, looking at Acts 1:9 – 11, He will return in the same manner as He left,

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:9

Notice the angels did not prophesy that the Messiah would return to the same place, but rather in the same manner in which He had left. Jesus left in the clouds of Heaven and, according to Matthew 24:30, He will return in the clouds of Heaven. The clouds symbolize the heavenly origin and character of the King.  As well as the word for “heaven” which should be rendered “the sky.”  Have we really understood what the sign of the Son of Man is?

The appearing is further described in Revelation 19:1 – 18. Remember we have looked at the beginning context of this text up to the point of the appearing (see discussion above).  With that covered, the Apostle then describes the actual appearing in verses 11 through 16. We can see the same word for the sky used here in verse 11.  The description of the appearing, which begins by describing Messiah as the Judge (verses 11 to 13), has many resemblances with the descriptions found in the first chapter of Revelation. The war He engages in against the nations is a result of judgment by Him Who is Faithful and True. He wears on His head “diadem crowns.”  This Greek word (in the plural) that was a type of crown employed as a symbol of the highest ruling power in a particular area and therefore often associated with kingship.  This symbolizes His right to rule the world as King of kings. His garments are stained with blood, just as in Isaiah 63:1 – 6, for reasons discussed earlier. This is the appearing of the Judge and the “Word of God,” is Jesus returning in righteousness to judge the nations. When He returns, Messiah will be followed by armies (verse 14). The Greek phrase “armies in the heaven”; the word heaven is singular while the word armies is in the plural, meaning that at least two separate armies will return with Him. One army is known because of words of the Lord Jesus that He had command of them before His resurrection. This is an angelic army. Matthew 16:27 says that this will be the Angelic hosts.

For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.

Matthew 16:27

Another army that will return with Jesus is the army of saints who had been resurrected previously and caught up to him during His arrival (1 Thessalonians 4:16 – 17; John 14:1 – 3; Revelation 3:10; 1 Corinthians 15:50 – 54, etc.), during the tribulation not before it starts. I believe, at this time, this is during the seventh trumpet judgment in Revelation 11:15ff. Jude 1:14 – 15 defines the purpose of this event – “to execute judgment on all, …”  However, Isaiah 63:1 – 6 made it clear that although the armies of saints and angels will return with Him, they will not participate in the fighting. The Messiah will fight this battle “alone” according to Isaiah. After describing the Messiah in His role as Judge and the armies that return with Him; John next describes the Messiah in His office as King (verses 15 and 16). After judging the nations (and us) as righteous Judge, He will begin His rule as King with a rod of iron. These nations will have assembled and attempted to destroy the Jews in order to prevent God’s rule over them (Psalm 2:1 – 6).  We see this occurring throughout history, in our present time, and it will only be more intense in the future.

However, the Jews will participate in the wrath of God at the appearing and He will rule over them. Hence, Jesus will indeed be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Because of the massive slaughter of all the armies of the nations, another invitation is issued. This one invites the birds of the heavens to the great supper of God, in Revelation 19:17 – 18. The birds will eat the unburied carcasses of many who participated in the battle of armageddon. In this way, the birds will be filled and satisfied (Revelation 19:21).  This feast for the birds is also described in Ezekiel 39:17 – 20, where the invitation is extended to include the animals of the field.  Ezekiel closely connects these events with the final redemption of Israel in 39:21 – 29.

Only then will the Gentile nations realize that God did not cast off His people forever. Israel’s judgment and dispersion was due to sin, primarily the sin of the rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus. So for a time, God hid His face and allowed the nations to come and cause destruction. But later, Israel will confess her national sin and seek His face in their affliction (Hosea 5:15). They will seek rescue from the nations that have so greatly afflicted them. The nations will recognize at the appearing that God is still Israel’s God and He will avenge their affliction of Israel.  In gathering all the armies of the world against Israel, they will actually be gathering against Israel’s Messiah (Revelation 19:19).

Another passage giving a description of the appearing is Habakkuk 3:1 – 19.  This is a prophetic prayer of Habakkuk (verse 1), for it records in vision what can only be the appearing of the Messiah. The prayer opens with the pleading of the remnant (verse 2) to save them physically “…revive Your work in the midst of the years” and spiritually “In wrath remember mercy.” In answer to the remnant’s request, God is viewed as coming from Teman in Edom (Jordan) with all His shining glory (verses 3, 4). At His coming, He will begin to render judgment against the gathered nations by various means (verses 5 thru 7). Nature will also be greatly affected by the appearing (verses 8 thru 10), as will the lower part of earths atmosphere (verse 11).  The Messiah is next viewed as marching in indignation and threshing the nations (verse 12) on behalf of the people of Israel (verse 13a). The head of the armies, the antichrist, will be smitten (verse 13b), as well as the soldiers of his armies (verses 14, 15) who have come to scatter the Jews out of their land again. Having seen this vision of the marching armies and the appearing, Habakkuk trembles with the knowledge of what must yet befall his people Israel, where so many will be slaughtered (verses 16, 17). But he takes comfort in the fact that his personal salvation rests in the Lord Who, at the appearing, will make all things right (verses 18, 19).

The Psalms contains many poetical references to the appearing. A graphic one is found in Psalm 18:8 – 16.  At His appearing, He will come with the wrath of God (verses 8, 9), riding upon a cherub (verse 10), which will have horse-like features, according to Revelation 19:11. There will be convulsions throughout nature at the appearing (verses 11 thru 15) as the entire world is illuminated by the brightness of His glorious return.

So at this point in the battle of armageddon, Jesus will return at the request of Israel and enter into battle with the Antichrist and his armies. With His return to the remnant of Israel in Bozrah, He will indeed “…save the tents of Judah first,…” before saving the Jews of Jerusalem, as Zechariah 12:7 predicts.  The term “tents” points to temporary shelters rather than homes. The fact that Judah is living in tents shows that Judah is not home in Judah, but is on the move to a location. That location is Bozrah. By inference this shows that the Messiah will save the tents of Judah first and that the initial place of His return will be Bozrah and not the Mount of Olives.

The Progress of the Battle after the Appearing

While the battle between Messiah and the antichrist and the nations backing him will begin at Bozrah, it will apparently move all the way back to the east of Jerusalem, which overlooks a section of the Kidron Valley. This place is also known as the Valley of Jehoshaphat. We can see this in Joel 3:12, 13.  One of the very first casualties will be the antichrist himself. Having ruled the world and having spoken against God and His Son, the counterfeit son will be powerless before the Messiah. Habakkuk described it as,

You crushed the head of the wicked house, laying it bare from foundation to roof.

Habakkuk 3:13

Notice that it is a sword strike that lays him open from the lower body to the neck.  The simplicity with which Jesus or Messiah will slay the Antichrist is described by the apostle Paul,

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.

2 Thessalonians 2:8

The one who has claimed to be god, the one who has been able to perform all kinds of miracles, signs and wonders, the one who exercised all the authority of Satan as he ruled the world, will be quickly dispensed with by the Word of the God, Jesus. For the second time, the antichrist will die.  After the death of the antichrist, the slaughter of his army will continue. Several passages have been cited already which pictured the Messiah’s marching through the land in indignation and treading the nations with His feet, causing blood to be sprinkled on His garments. Zechariah 14:12 – 15 describes the manner in which these massive hordes of antichrist’s armies will be destroyed.  In this manner, the fight continues all the way back to Jerusalem, coming to an end in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:12, 13). The nations that have gathered against the Jews (Joel 3:9 – 11) will now find themselves being trodden by the King of the Jews. It is of this treading in the Valley of Jehoshaphat that Revelation 14:19, 20 speaks,

So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.

Revelation 14:19, 20

The “city” spoken of in these verses is Jerusalem, and the winepress is just outside the city, meaning it is in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. It is from here the armies of the antichrist will have left for Bozrah, and they will retreat to here as the battle comes to an end. The “blood” stretches “for one thousand six hundred furlongs”, which is approximately two hundred miles. The two hundred miles may refer to the entire area from the valley of armageddon to Bozrah, which is about two hundred miles.  This is unlikely since that is an assembly area and during the actual fighting which will start at Bozrah all the enemy forces probably will have left the assembly area at the valley of armageddon.

Another possible explanation is that it refers to the round trip distance between Jerusalem and Bozrah. The fighting will begin at Jerusalem and move to Bozrah which is about 100 miles, and with the appearing, will return back from Bozrah to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, another 100 miles. But the best explanation is based on Jeremiah 49:20 – 22.  In the context (see verses 13, 14), this passage is dealing with the battle of armageddon. The massive blood-letting that begins at Bozrah begins moving south down the Arabah until it empties in the Red Sea at the present-day cities of Eilat and Akaba. The distance from there to Jerusalem is about two hundred miles. The level of blood is to be about four feet high. Exactly how this will be fulfilled I have not a clue. It may not be all human blood, but also objects turned into blood by divine judgment.  The battle of armageddon will come to an end in the Valley of Jehoshaphat.

This judgment and battle the way I understand it has precursors (as we have seen in previous posts) and there are still events that lead up to the appearing that we have not covered.  This would be the Seals and Trumpets in the book of Revelation, in which I believe the 7th Trumpet is the “last trumpet” that the apostle Paul taught would be the one that signaled the coming of the King.  We will get to these later when we examine the book of Revelation.

Next we will look at what happens at the Mount of Olives.


The Gospel, Tribulation, and The Appearing – Part 11

December 4, 2013

There are other prophetic texts that were not part of the books of the prophets, but are no less prophetic and important to consider.

Other Old Testament Prophecies

Several of the Psalms are poetic versions of the pleading of the remnant for God to come and save them from the invading armies. One such passage is Psalm 79:1 – 13. This Psalm is impossible to understand except in the context of the faithful remnant’s pleading for the Messiah to return and save them from the invading Gentile armies. After recalling the events of the fall of Jerusalem, with the city in ruins, the Abomination of Desolation of the Temple, and the death of so many Jews (verses 1 thru 4), they will plead for God to come down, to rescue them and to pour out His wrath on the Gentile nations (verses 5 thru 7). They will plead for the forgiveness of the sins of their forefathers (as commanded by Leviticus 26:40) who led the nation to the rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus, as well as for the forgiveness of their own sins (verses 8, 9). On the basis of what these Gentile nations have done to Israel, they will ask God to avenge them as He had promised and to save them from their enemies (verses 10 thru 12). Then they will give thanks and sing the praise of God forever (verse 13).

Another Psalm that describes the pleading of the remnant is Psalm 80:1 – 19.  This Psalm opens with a pleading for the Shepherd of Israel to come and save them (verses 1, 2). Not only will they plead for their physical deliverance, but also for their spiritual salvation (verse 3). The statement, turn us again, points to the repentance and conversion by which we shall be saved. After describing the bitter state in which they find themselves, having become the laughing stock of the nations, they will plead once again for God to come and save them (verses 4 thru 7). Recalling God’s past dealings with Israel from the Exodus to the kingdom of David and Solomon (verses 8 thru 11), they will mourn over their present state of having been slowly brought down by the Gentile nations (verses 12 thru 13). Therefore, they will appeal to God to turn to them and defend the cause of Israel which had been so badly bruised (verses 14 thru 16). The specific person they are pleading for is the One on God’s right hand (verse 17), referred to as the son of man. This is none other than Jesus the Messiah, Who has been sitting at the right hand of God the Father ever since the ascension from the Mount of Olives after He was rejected by Israel. Only by faith in the Son of Man can Israel be regenerated. Only by calling upon the Name of the Lord can Israel be saved spiritually (verses 18 thru 19). Only by the return of Jesus the Son of Man can Israel be saved physically.

We need to back up a bit and talk again about place it will happen, the way it will happen, and resulting battle after the appearing.

The Location of Messiah’s Return

The Messiah will return when the Jews plead for Him to do so. The initial place of His appearing will not be the Mount of Olives, as is commonly taught, but the place known as Bozrah. Since this fact is relatively new to most people, it would be best to deal with the place of the appearing of the Messiah before discussing the manner of His return. Four key passages pinpoint the place of the Appearing at Bozrah. A fifth one has a possible reference to it. The first passage is Isaiah 34:1 – 7.

In verses 1 thru 3, the prophet begins the next with a call to the nations and people to “come near, to hear; and heed,” in a declaration global in its scope.  The prophet is declaring that God has “indignation…against” all these nations and their armies.   The Hebrew word herem occurs in verse 2 (and again in 11:15) and is translated in this verse, “He will annihilate them and slaughter them.” This is a word as used in the Law of Moses is a religious “ban” and it most often used to refer to “a ban for utter destruction.” (For examples, see Numbers 21:2; Joshua 6:21; 1 Samuel 15:3). It has other uses, but this is the most common use and from the context this is the way it is used here.  This is a sentence of herem judgment on the whole earth (See Psalm 2:9). Verse 3 speaks of the corpses that will putrefy as they are not able to be buried immediately after battle.

Not only will there be geological events (recorded in other texts), but there will be astronomical events of unprecedented magnitude in the heavens (verse 4).  In fact the Hebrew of verse 4a is literally, “and all the host of heaven will rot.” But when God attacks all the armies of all the nations, what is the target? The country where all the nations’ armies will be destroyed is identified as the land of Edom. Also the means is identified and specifically the weapon will be His sword (verse 5). Becoming even more specific, it will occur at the city of Bozrah in the land of Edom (verses 6 – 7). The part of the Middle East that was Edom is in what is now southern Jordan. According to this passage, the exact geographic spot where God will strike all the armies of all the nations will be the city of Bozrah.

A far more graphic description is given in Isaiah 63:1 – 6. While in a prophetic vision the prophet Isaiah was standing on some high point in Israel looking eastward toward Edom when suddenly he saw a magnificent but blood-stained figure approaching him in glory and splendor. At that point a question and answer session ensues between Isaiah and this marching Warrior. Isaiah initiated the conversion with the first question, in 63:1a.  The figure approaching him is coming from the land of Edom and from the city of Bozrah. His features are reflecting His glory, and there is greatness in His strength. The word translated “dyed” is a word in Hebrew that literally means that His “garments” will be bright red (verse 1 compared to verse 2 and following; See also Revelation 19:13 – 16). This Warrior is “glorious in His apparel” and His features are reflecting His glory, and there is greatness in His strength. I believe that this Warrior is surrounded with the Shekinah Glory of the Old Testament. In this verse Isaiah asks a question which the Messiah answers in 63:1b: “I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”  Literally in Hebrew it looks like this, “It is I, [the one] speaking in righteousness, great to save.”  The Hebrew word here for “great” is an absolute singular adjective. The word itself has many meanings possible; one which fits here is not “great” but could be rendered “mighty” as in the NKJV.  Also this word in masculine noun form can speak of a military commander with troops under his command.  If there was doubt as to the identity of this Warrior before, it should be very clear now. Only one man can answer, the One who can speak in righteousness. Only one Man in the history of earth has ever had spoken in righteousness. It is the Person of Jesus the Messiah marching toward Israel from the land of Edom and the city of Bozrah.

Isaiah noticed that the clothing of this individual, though glorified, is nevertheless stained red. So Isaiah inquires as to how His garments became stained.  This question is answered in verses 3 – 6. The staining with blood was caused by a battle fought in the land of Edom and the city of Bozrah. He fought against the nations alone. In the course of trampling the nations, their lifeblood sprinkled on His garments, staining them red (verse 3). The fight was necessary in order for Him to save His redeemed (verse 4). He fought all alone and there were none to help Him (verses 5 – 6).  Note also that this corresponds to John’s vision in Revelation 19:11ff, His garments are already “dipped in blood” in verse 19:13.

The main point to learn from this passage is that the battle is initiated in the land of Edom and at the city of Bozrah.

The third Scripture that places His initial return in this area is Habakkuk 3:3:

God came from Teman, The Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise.

Habakkuk 3:3

Teman and Mount Paran are both in the vicinity of Bozrah and are located in the same mountain range of Mount Seir. Many scholars only appear to understand this as the prophet Habakkuk recalling the exodus of Israel from Egypt. The context is obviously speaking of the appearing, and that event is said to be in the same area.  I believe that the Messiah’s return is in view here is due to the fact that the Hebrew name for God used here is in the singular, perhaps stressing the essential oneness of God. Another reason is that the Messiah’s splendor covered the heavens like the sun after sunrise. The vision of self-manifestation of His glory filled the earth with His “glory.” The Hebrew word here describes primarily kingly authority (See Numbers 27:20; 1 Chronicles 29:25), and here it has particular reference to God’s sovereignty over creation and history. Moses used similar terms to describe what I believe at this time is a prophetic statement about the Messiah’s coming (See Deuteronomy 33:2).  All these passages clearly pinpoint the place of the Appearing as being in the land of Edom and at the city of Bozrah.

The remnant of Israel will be gathered in Bozrah (This would be a whole other post about those who are the remnant – remember that Paul said that the Gentiles are grafted into the Olive tree?) at the appearing.  We see this in a fourth passage, Micah 2:12 – 13. The remnant of Israel will be gathered in Bozrah (verse 12) where they will be besieged by the forces of the antichrist. They are finally able to break the siege, because the LORD is leading them (verse 13). The breaker, the King, and the LORD are all the same Person in this verse. At the appearing, the Messiah will enter into battle with the forces of the Antichrist which have gathered at this city.

A fifth passage that may refer to this same event is in Judges 5:4 – 5.  It is not really certain that these verses are speaking of the appearing, but if so (and this writer isn’t sure about this), God is seen as coming from Mount Seir and from the land of Edom. Mount Seir is the mountain range of southern Jordan in which the city of Bozrah is located.

Up next is a study on the way that the appearing will occur.


Intentional Sin

December 2, 2013

Freedom from Sin?

I need to take another step back and deal with something that came to my attention recently as I mentioned in the last post.  Corresponding via email with another believer who had helped teach me Greek; I was made aware of for the first time of the phrase “intentional sin.”

For many years now I have had a habit of and learned to pay particular attention to my teachers of Greek and Hebrew. This was something that made me step back and realize that I don’t know the Old Testament well.  But I press on anyway.  I studied the passages that were relevant to the subject of sin.  It was a shock what I read in the Old Testament and what follows is my journey and study of this particular topic. I share this with you as things I have learned, and also my personal experiences and thoughts.  It saddened me beyond words that I was guilty of this type of sin.  You see for many years I had never thought about or much less studied sin in the Old Testament.  But by God’s grace I also through the scriptures found encouragement, first how this type of sin is as an affront to God, and second, that all was not lost.

Thank God the Father through Jesus Messiah, Savior, our Lord; the coming King.

Introduction

The Levitical system that God gave to Israel did not have a remedy for all sins committed by the Hebrews. While the sacrificial system was primarily established by God for the purpose of atonement and forgiveness of sins (Leviticus 1:1 – 4; 4:20, 26, 31; 2 Chronicles 29:23, 24), not every sin could be atoned for and forgiven by an animal sacrifice.   Sin offerings were prescribed for “unintentional” sin; we see this in chapter 4 (Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27) where the sins which are dealt with are those which, for some reason, were not immediately apparent, but which, in the course of time, came to the person’s attention. The sin offering and associated confession was to be made immediately after the knowledge of sin was present. The sin offering was a sacrifice for those sins which were “unintentional”.  Think on that for just a moment, and think about the ramifications, since Jesus as Messiah is said to be the fulfillment of that very same sacrificial system.

The Law of Moses – No Atonement or Forgiveness of Intentional Sins

Since the Levitical sacrificial system didn’t provide atonement for some sins, but did for others, which is which? What sins could someone commit for which they could not turn to the sacrificial system to atone for them, to provide them with God’s forgiveness? The Torah (the first 5 books of the bible) is very clear – intentional sins cannot be atoned for by the Mosaic system.  The master text for this is the following verse from Numbers,

But the person who does anything presumptuously [literally in Hebrew, “with a high hand”], whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach [literally “is blaspheming”] on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.

Numbers 15:30, 31

The expression “does anything presumptuously” means that someone would do something with deliberate defiance in spite of what the LORD said. This sin is described literally in Hebrew as acting “with a high hand.”  It is as if the sinner was about to attack God, or at least lifting his hand against God. The implication of the expression is that it was done in full knowledge of the Law of God. The phrase “brings reproach” is literally in Hebrew, “is blaspheming.” The verb is in a form that indicates intensive action and active voice; it means “to blaspheme,” “to revile.”  We see this word used in the in other passages either directly or indirectly (Numbers 14:40 – 44; Deuteronomy 1:43; 17:12; Psalm 19:13; Hebrews 10:26) to describe this category of sins as “high handed”, or “great”. These are literal translations of the Hebrew words and ideas behind them.  The idea is that this is a category of sin for which there is no excuse in God’s eyes. They were premeditated acts. These sins involved denying either the truths of the scriptures or God’s righteousness in pronouncing and enforcing the laws and ordinances He gave to Moses. They were planned, or committed with gross disregard for the holiness of God; committing a sin that you fully knew was a serious sin, but you did it anyway (has anybody done that recently?). All that the sacrificial system atoned for was unintentional, non “high handed” sin. We will explore this more fully, now I’d like to give you a couple of examples as to how the Law of Moses classifies sins.

Murder is an intentional sin and a violation of the 6th commandment (Exodus 20:13). We can have a debate later about whether any killing of a human being is murder or justified in some cases; or the death sentence for certain criminal acts; or even death resulting from action in war.  The Law made it all pretty cut and dried for the Hebrews. The killing of a human fell into two basic categories: justified or unjustified. Justified killing was not murder. Justified killing would be, for example, you caught an unarmed thief in your house at night, had no way to make a quick judgment as to the level of danger this thief posed to you and your family, and so you killed him. In the Law of Moses, you were justified in killing because you were assumed to be protecting life (Exodus 22:2).

Killing that same unarmed thief during daylight hours, however, when you could have discerned whether the thief was a dangerous criminal (armed or not), is unjustified.  Outside of this there is the idea of justified killing in battle.  For example, the Torah prohibits murder, but sanctions killing in legitimate battle (Compare Exodus 20:13, Exodus 34:10 – 14, Deuteronomy 7:7 – 26). The scriptures often praise the exploits of soldiers against enemies in legitimate battle. One of David’s mighty men is credited with killing eight hundred men with the spear (2 Samuel 23:8), and the warrior Abishai is credited with killing three hundred men (2 Samuel 23:18), Of course, David himself is portrayed as a hero for killing Goliath in battle (1 Samuel 17). Therefore, the unjustified killing was an intentional sin and not covered by sacrificial atonement.

Another and common example is adultery. If a married man had sex with a woman who was not his wife, this was an intentional sin. They both knew the Law on this matter, or should have because the prohibition against adultery was common knowledge to the entire Jewish community from the days of Moses. It was not accidental nor was it a mistake. Therefore, this was not covered by the sacrificial system, and atonement could not be made for this sin. That person was to be executed for this sin (Leviticus 20:10). And execution was usually by the community stoning the person(s) to death, and was itself considered justifiable killing. Therefore it was unintentional killing, and it was able to be atoned for using the sacrificial system.

The Curse of the Law

So what happened to those who could not make sacrificial atonement for their sins, because the sins they committed were classified as intentional? They were turned over to the other part of the Levitical system, God’s justice system, or what has been called “the curse of the law.” In other words, they were considered criminals and executed for capital offenses prescribed by the Law of Moses.

This such an important principle to comprehend because it not only will help us understand the Old Testament Hebrew mindset, it will give us an understanding so much of what Paul was talking about in so many of his references to the law in his letters to the various churches. Another text that speaks to this directly is,

And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the LORD, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them. But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.

Numbers 15:27 – 30

If an individual sinned by mistake, he was to offer a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. The priest will make atonement before God for the person who by sinning inadvertently becomes or is made aware of it. The priest will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven. Notice it didn’t matter whether he is a citizen of Israel or a foreigner living with them. You are to have one law for whoever it is that does something wrong, by mistake. But, an individual who does something wrong intentionally, whether a citizen or a foreigner, is blaspheming the Lord God Almighty. That person was to be cut off (executed) from his people, because he had contempt for the word of God.

This is a great example of what is called the curse of the law. If you committed a capital offense, you were put to death.  Now do you know why so many prefer not to teach this? This statement, and the principle it so clearly and unambiguously spells out.  How do we live today, sin abounds, and most of those sins are intentional.  This put the Hebrews and the believing Gentiles into a pretty awful predicament.  Was there any way out of this mess?  We look to the Messiah and his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension and current session in the third heaven for the answer to their and our predicament.

Did Jesus satisfy all the requirements of the sacrificial system? We’ve all heard that from the pulpit, and probably everyone would agree with that statement as well. But, exactly which sacrificial system are they referring to? That Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, once and for all, and an authorized permanent substitute for all those prescribed animal deaths that were used to atone for sin within the Old Testament sacrificial system, as found in Leviticus, is absolutely accurate.  Remember animal sacrifices were done prior to the Law of Moses.

However, what do we do about the clear-cut reality that God plainly said, and I’m paraphrasing a bit here, “Now that now that you know what is right and wrong in my eyes, to intentionally do wrong, to sin against Me, is to blaspheme against Me; and for that you will be cut-off, put to physical death, and for those sins there will be no atonement.”  This is a much more difficult issue when we actually examine the sacrificial system, than when we are blissfully ignorant of it and just assume some things that aren’t so; that is, when we look at the actual words of the scriptures, in context, and not just accept a greatly distilled and unquestioned doctrine that fits a predetermined religious agenda.  Bear with me. I know some of you are getting uncomfortable with this, and you’re probably wrong so don’t stop reading just yet.

Religious Judaism’s Unsuccessful Solution

The Jews knew they had a big problem. The Torah simply does not provide a way for an Israelite to reconcile with God, once that Israelite commits a “high handed”, or “great” sin. So, over the course of time, the writers of the Jewish traditions took over.

You can read of all kinds of remedies for this seemingly insolvable problem. An example is the Talmud for instance. The great sages and rabbis made sweeping pronouncements that ranged from saying that the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, was what covered the intentional sins; even saying that doing good deeds and/or showing heartfelt repentance covered intentional sins. Some said that being sorry enough or studying Scripture enough or doing a great act of repentance or a great good deed could even turn that intentional sin into a deed that had merit in God’s eyes. Of course, none of this is in the scriptures. This just highlights what a serious matter intentional sin is, and how the Hebrew religious authorities would go to such great length to conjure up these tortured procedures on how to rid themselves of this rejection by God due to their commission of an intentional sin. After all, who wants to commit one of these highhanded sins, and then go through life knowing that your fate is inescapable? These were and are traditions of men not the word of God.

In the book of Exodus in particular we see laws prescribing immediate death for adulterers, homosexuals, perverts, murderers, and idolaters.  There were other laws that even prescribed death for gross negligence. Some laws dealt with property, and therefore, usually involved reparations when a wrong was done. Someone discovered to be a thief was not jailed; instead they had to make reparations to the person they stole from. And, these reparations always involved giving back well more than the amount they took. There were laws involving accidental injuries to people or animals, and the remedy for these was also normally reparation. If you could not or would not make any of the required reparations, your life was turned over to that person who had been harmed or suffered loss, more or less as a slave, until you worked off that debt to him. These sorts of issues, their remedies, and punishments, are all covered in the Law of Moses.

So a good way for us to understand the justice system God set up for Israel is to think of it as consisting of two primary components: the Law, and the sacrificial system. One foundational principle underlying God’s justice system is quite similar to our American legal system whereby we declare some crimes less serious than others, and so we classify the offenses accordingly and we have different processes of how we deal with the less serious versus the more serious. We generally classify the less serious crimes as misdemeanors, the more serious as felonies.

To make an analogy, admittedly imperfect but close enough to make the point, the sacrificial system atoned for misdemeanors but not for felonies (please don’t take that too literally). God, in His justice system, defined a misdemeanor as committing an unintentional sin and a felony as committing an intentional sin. Today we as believers in the Messiah want to classify our sins according to big ones and little ones, bad ones and not-so-bad ones.  A little one is cheating on your taxes, a big one is robbing a bank, and a bigger one is premeditated murder.  God begins by showing us in the Law of Moses classifying sins as unintentional or deliberate.  This is a universal principal.

The sacrificial system was not an escalating system of penalty fees or fines in the form of more valuable or less valuable animals, the choice of which depended on the severity of your offense. The sacrificial system was there to maintain your relationship with God, and to repair it if it got broken as a result of your sin. It was there to benefit to the sinner far more than to appease God. It was about obedience and reconciliation within His system of justice so that you could have your relationship with Him restored.

Again let’s simplify this, the sacrificial system represented the blessings part of the Law, and the curses of the Law represented the punishment part of the Law.  If an Israelite sinned unintentionally, he could always turn to the sacrificial system that is laid out in detail in Leviticus, and be reconciled with God. Is that not exactly what we believers in Jesus Christ as our High Priest rely on? When we sin we turn to the sacrifice and current ministry of Jesus as our way out.

However, if someone sinned intentionally, they could not go to the sacrificial system and gain reconciliation with God. Instead they were to be dealt with under the curse of the Law. Instead of being under the blessing and grace of the sacrificial system, they were put under the punishment (the curse) of the Law. Let me state that again: the sacrificial system was based entirely on grace. It was the animal that lost its life rather than the person who committed the sin. The curse of the Law, however, was different. And when a sin was of the type that required a punishment under the law, although the Jews usually did not lose their physical lives (although sometimes they did), they did lose their relationship with God, and there was really no defined method to regain it. This was a terrifying possibility that every Hebrew faced every day of his entire life. I mean did an Israelite honestly believe he could go his entire life and never once intentionally break one of God’s laws? Never once have a bad day and deliberately sin?

The sad reality is that those Hebrews’ sins were almost always unintended. And they worked like crazy to never sin. How about us? We’re almost the exact opposite. The “church” doctrine and tradition has led us to the point that we hardly ever consider as sin to be as bad as it really is. The common view today is that if we didn’t mean it, or didn’t even recognize it, there’s nothing to it.  And yet it was precisely this kind of sin, the unintended sin, that the sacrificial system was designed to deal with. It was the unintentional sins for which millions, perhaps billions, of God’s animals were put to death to atone for things men did.

Almost all of the sins that we modern believers currently think of as the everyday variety of sin actually fall into the category of deliberate and intentional. We mean to do it, even though later we might regret it. We know that it’s wrong, but we do it anyway. We know it’s an offense to God, but we choose to consider the consequences later. I can say this because I’ve been guilty of this category of sin.  When we have sin to confess to God it is usually, by the scriptural definition, an intentional sin that we are confessing. And the Levitical sacrificial system did not cover this type of sin. Since the sacrificial system of the Old Testament only covered sins that weren’t intended, and if Jesus fulfilled only that system, where does that leave us when most of the time we sin deliberately?

The Biblical Solution to Intentional Sin

The apostle Paul saw Jesus the Messiah as fulfilling far more than the Levitical system, with all its definitions of what it could and could not atone for,

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed…

Romans 3:23 – 25

Notice that God “passed over the sins that were previously committed.” What is Paul saying here? First, the word “propitiation” in Greek is literally “mercy seat” or “means of expiation”. The Greek word used here is only twice in the New Testament, and both times (See also Hebrews 9:5) is referring to the lid to the ark of the covenant we see for the first time in the book of Exodus. When we realize that it is referring directly to the most important furnishing in the most important location of the tabernacle (and later in the Temple), which is central to the Levitical system and its sacrifices; then we see how thoroughly tied together the Levitical sacrifices and Jesus Christ or Lord is. Yet even that is not fully representative of what the Messiah fulfilled by His death.  Remember, God “passed over” sins that were committed previously.  In this we see the Levitical system and another aspect the passing over of sins previously committed.  There is no distinction here about unintentional and intentional.  Both were dealt with by the Law of Moses.

Later Paul goes on to say,

…knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.

Romans 6:6

Here Paul points out that it is our “body of sin” – our entire body (or “flesh”) that is related to sin.  And that body must be done away with to live in freedom. To not be released from that “body of sin” meant physical death.  Paul was probably remembering the famous discourse in John 8,

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free?’” Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.

John 8:31–34

It is laughable that the Jews would have said that they were not in bondage.  At that time they were in bondage to the Roman government who conquered them; they were in bondage to a religious system that had been corrupted by man-made tradition and ineffective, and finally they were slaves to their own sin.  Especially intentional sin.  A key phrase in the verses we just read was “slave(s) to sin”. That phrase, or others very similar (See also Romans 6:16, 17, 19, 20; 7:14, 25; 2 Peter 2:19 and the associated context), harkens back to the idea that once a Hebrew committed an intentional sin, and there was no hope for atonement for it.  Commit an intentional sin, and indeed, you are its slave forever in the old covenant. There is no escape from an intentional sin under the Levitical system. This is closer to the meaning it had to Paul, because by the Hebrew thinking of that day, it was intentional sins that were the problem because these hung over your head forever. You were not a slave to unintentional sins, but rather to intentional sins, because the sacrificial system as it existed from Moses’ day forward was fully capable of dealing with the unintentional sins that Hebrews committed.

Notice the first portion of the passage earlier in Romans 3 we just read. It says that because not one person has ever gone his lifetime without sinning (See Ecclesiastes 7:20), that by God’s grace there is now a method by which ALL those sins can be atoned for. To Paul it was obvious that Messiah did something more than what the Levitical sacrificial system was capable of doing; and what Messiah did was to atone for the intentional sins in our lives as well as the unintentional.

The prophets foretold the coming of a redeemer who would save the people from their sins, intentional and unintentional; we do not see a distinction in their prophetic words either.  The believing Jews saw that a remedy for their predicament was on the way to be provided by the LORD Himself in the person of Messiah.  (See all the earlier series on the prophetic scriptures on the Messiah’s first advent for more information on this.)  His arrival was heralded by angels with the specific message of the salvation from sins,

And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

Matthew 1:21

Again, the angel didn’t specify which sins the people would be saved from.  We see the burden every Israelite carried and now we see the answer to that burden – the Messiah. The Israelites were wrong in failing to understand that the promised “seed” was coming to save men from their sins.

Remember one careless or rash moment basically carried not only a physical death sentence, but something worse than death – eternity without God. Commit a sin that the sacrificial system was not built to atone for and beyond the criminal punishment you might receive from the Law, you were now at war with God forever as an enemy. Since the only way, in God’s justice system, to atone and be forgiven was an animal sacrifice within the context of the sacrificial system protocols, but what you did was not covered by that system you were toast – literally.

This of course, was the world that Paul and all of the Jews in Christ’s day lived in. This was the world the Hebrews of the Old Testament, beginning with Moses, lived in. Paul, as a highly trained Pharisee, understood the realities of God’s justice system to a degree that the common people didn’t. It was his profession to contemplate this difficult reality, day and night. Imagine the mental energy necessary to try to control your will so thoroughly as to never in your lifetime commit a deliberate sin; the effort must have been exhausting. But the failure to avoid such sin was so terrible that not to work yourself to exhaustion to avoid it was unthinkable. The common people understood their situation, but they had lives to live, mouths to feed, and most didn’t go to bed at night and then wake up in the morning, and re-examine their position with God. For Paul, as with all the other Pharisees, however, it was the center of all their thoughts.

You see when Paul and other Pharisees went around strong-arming fellow Jews in the gospels, it wasn’t only followers of Jesus who they were accusing of crimes and arresting. It was everyday traditional Jews. Because primarily what Paul’s job was, or at least he seemed to take the greatest delight in, was to look for Jews who had committed an intentional sin, because that person was going to be dealt with harshly (Acts 9:1, 2). That person would now be under the curse of the Law, as opposed to sins covered by the sacrificial system. That person was now out of fellowship with God and subject to punishment by men. This was the system Judaism operated under Old and New Testament times.  Paul repented and believed the gospel and subsequently wrote as we saw earlier.

With the preceding as a perspective, is it no wonder that Paul came to use such harsh words when describing the Law in comparison to the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and current session of Messiah? I believe that what made Messiah’s blood so precious to Paul and the other apostles and disciples was that it did cover sins that were intentional. You see, even though Jesus Christ is often described as our High Priest, He is not the type of High Priest that Aaron represented in the Law of Moses; He is more than the High Priesthood started by Aaron. The scriptures tells us that the Messiah was “after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4; See also Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 17), who was both king and high priest. The Messiah in His Davidic king’s priestly role is that of Melchizedek, who was both “king of Salem” (i.e., Jerusalem) and a “priest of God Most High” in the time of Abraham (Genesis 14:18 – 20). Like Melchizedek, the coming Davidic King was to be a royal priest, distinct from the Aaronic line. The analogy here in this Psalm focuses on the king’s priestly role.

Even though Jesus provided the once and for all sacrifice that had formerly been the purpose of the Levitical system; His life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension and current session was more than what that system could ever provide. He also provided what the ancient Passover provided, and that is the key.  Remember in our Romans 3 text, the phrase that God “passed over” the sins previously committed.

The Passover Sacrifice

The Passover sacrifice was not really part of the Law or the general sacrificial system; it actually came before it (Exodus 12:1 – 13). The feasts generally functioned somewhat separately, and had different purposes than the Laws of do’s and don’ts. The Passover sacrifice was not about atoning for sins. The Passover sacrifice was originally established as a means of being protected from temporal death. The Lambs’ blood was smeared on doorposts in Egypt so that God’s wrath, His hand of death, would not come to the homes of His people and kill the firstborn sons. When the Israelites celebrated Passover, it was for them a remembrance, a memorial holiday, to recall God protecting them from death and freeing them from slavery Egypt; it was not about atonement for sins. Egypt is a type of the sinful life of a human being.  Leaving it and not going back to being a slave again.

Of course it had much deeper significance that they couldn’t comprehend it was a foreshadowing of Messiah’s death on the cross. But the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb had nothing to do with the sacrificial system whose job it was to make peace with God by means of atonement.  However, we see later in the context (verse 15) if someone didn’t celebrate God’s deliverance from the plague of death against the firstborn would be “cut off from Israel.”  The Hebrew verb here is in a form that is a common formula in the Law of Moses for divine punishment. Here, in sequence to the idea that someone might eat bread made with yeast, the result would be literally “cut off.” Not a good outcome for that person in the worst way possible.

A translation of the Hebrew verb with a nuance of possibility, not certainty, and could be rendered “may be cut off.” There is the real danger of being killed by God, for while the punishment might include excommunication from the community, the greater danger was in the possibility of divine intervention to root out the evildoer.  In Leviticus 20:3, 5-6, God speaks of himself as cutting off a person from among the Israelites.  This is most probably a divine punishment for disobedience that is most likely temporal, physical death. The rabbis mentioned premature death and childlessness as possible judgments in these instances, and many scholars recognize that the one who removed from the religious community of Israel cannot be a beneficiary of the covenantal blessings.  i.e. no relationship with God and no way to atone for sin.  So if the Passover dealt with divine punishment leading to death, and a violator of this part of the covenant was guilty, we have an intentional sin that leads to death by divine punishment.

It was the Passover sacrifice of Jesus that was to protect us from judgment resulting in temporal death. Paul again instructs us in the relationship of Jesus being our Passover sacrifice,

Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.

1 Corinthians 5:7

Notice here in the greater context of verse 7, Paul is arguing for a man’s removal from the assembly (due to sexual immorality with his father’s wife) with the analogy to leaven and the Passover. In verse 7 we see “leaven” (an analogy to personal sin) being thrown out so that “lump” (of “dough” representing the congregation) would be “new.”  In Jewish life it was customary to throw away all the leaven (yeast) in the house when the family prepared for the Passover celebration (Exodus 12:15; 13:6–7). They did this so the bread they made for Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread that followed would be completely free of leaven. There is great symbolism in the act of throwing out leaven. This is what the Corinthians needed to do as an assembly so they could worship God acceptably.

The mention of the removal of leaven before the Passover led Paul to develop his analogy further. The final Passover Lamb, the Messiah had already died. Therefore it was all the more important that the believers clean out the remaining leaven immediately.  In verse 8, Paul is probably thinking of the feast of Unleavened Bread began the day after Passover. The Jews regarded both Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread as one festival (cf. Exodus 23:15; 34:18; Deuteronomy 16:6). As believers our Pascal Lamb has died, just as He had for the Corinthians; it was necessary that the Corinthian’s keep celebrating the feast and worshiping God free of leaven that symbolically represented sin. The old leaven probably refers to the sins that marked the Corinthians before their conversion. Malice and wickedness probably stand for all sins of motive and action. Sincerity and truth are the proper motive and action with which we should worship God. This verse constitutes a summary appeal to deal with personal sin in the community of the believing ones.

Paul employs the traditional image of Messiah as the sacrificial lamb in his counsel (verse 7), using the Passover lamb as a type grounds Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian assembly to commit itself to its status as “new dough,” “unleavened” (verse 7a), whereupon the cleansing of immorality (verses 1ff.) must follow (verse 8). Here Paul presupposes an acquaintance with Jewish Passover customs and with the Passover typology.  We see this story played out over the course of 1 and 2 Corinthians.  We know from the record that Paul directed that this person (the one who was committing sexual immorality with his step-mother) was to be thrown out. Later in 2 Corinthians we learn that he repented and was to be welcomed back into fellowship (this is debated by scholars as to whether this person is in view or someone else.  I believe at this time that it is the same man.).  Although don’t know from the text of 2 Corinthians that his sins were forgiven and his fellowship with the Lord was repaired. We can however deduce that his sins must have been forgiven by Jesus as High Priest, otherwise Paul would not have asked the Corinthians to welcome him back into fellowship in 2 Corinthians 2:5 – 17.

The writer of the book of Hebrews also had something to say about this sacrifice.  The author of Hebrews reflects on the history of the Passover sacrifice when he traces it back to Moses’ faith (Hebrews 11:28). Moses continued to demonstrate confidence in the blood that God provided, so should we. He avoided and we avoid God’s temporal judgment by doing so if we purge out the sin in our lives.

The Lamb of God

Relating this to our predicament of intentional sin, John the Baptist said that Jesus was the Lamb that “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!…Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:29, 36)  The title “Lamb of God” presented Jesus as the Lamb that God would provide as a substitute sacrifice for humankind’s sin (Isaiah 53:7; compare to Genesis 4:4; 8:20; 22:8, 13, 14; Exodus 12:3 – 17; Isaiah 53:12; 1 Peter 1:19).  John the Baptist did not make a distinction here about willful and unintentional sin.

Peter also spoke of this (1 Peter 1:16 – 23). As the death of the Passover lamb liberated the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, so the death of Jesus Christ frees us from the bondage of sin (Compare to Exodus 12:5). In speaking of redemption Peter always emphasized our freedom from a previously sinful lifestyle to live a changed life here and now.

When Jesus our Lord died on the cross there were at least 2 things relevant to our discussion that were accomplished that affects us as believers and our relationship to God. First, He paid the price with His blood for our sins, past, present, and future; intentional and unintentional.  In this way, He atoned for our sins, intentional and unintentional, in doing this he “redeemed” us; i.e. freed us from the curse of the law,

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”),…

Galatians 3:13

We are set free from the “curse of the law” since the death that the Messiah died was a punishment for blasphemy (a capital criminal offense according to the Law of Moses) according to the curse of the law.  We are set free according to Paul by,

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:2

Paul used “law” here and was not referring to the Mosaic Law but the Law of Christ. The second “law” in this verse refers to the law of sin and resulting death for those who persist in it (See Romans 7:21).  These laws refer to the certainty and regularity that characterize the operations of the Spirit and sin. The Spirit’s work that comes to us because of our faith in Jesus Christ leads to fullness of life through freedom from sin.  Conversely personal sin, if unchecked leads to premature physical death of the believer.

Paul speaks of “the curse of the law” in another of his letters (Galatians 3:10 – 14, 19, 20; 4:5), meaning a curse decreed by the law.  This would cover the aspect of the intentional sin.  As Paul lays out his reasoning in the letter of Galatians, he means deliverance from the entire law not just the curse of intentional sin (See verse 4:5).  Again, all unintentional sins could be remedied by a proper sacrifice; the sacrificial system atoned for them; this was a great blessing because by God’s grace your sin could be atoned for. But no intentional sins could be covered by the sacrificial system. Let me be clear; I’m not talking about Law of Moses in some vague sense, or some local criminal justice system. I’m talking about the biblical law as found in the word of God.

The Law of Life

Without the Spirit within as a law of life, there would be nothing but condemnation; for we as the new creation have no power within ourselves apart from the Spirit of God. This is why I believe Jesus used the analogy of a vine and abiding in Him to truly live (John 15:1 – 11). Contrast this with a life of perpetual bondage to the flesh which brings temporal physical death for the believer and very likely a massively negative outcome at the Judgment Seat of Messiah.  No wonder that Paul cried out for someone to free him from his “body of death” (Romans 7:24).  In Romans 7 we see this struggle played out in Paul’s mind.

The solution to the apostle’s dilemma is not escape from temptation but victory over it. The source of Paul’s wretchedness is clear (Romans 7:24). It is not the old nature versus new nature, but the fact that the last hope of mankind, religion, particularly the Law of Moses, has proven to be failure in regard to sin. And the answer is the Spirit of God who gives us the ability to be free from sin.  The law of the Spirit shows us that redeemed believers need deliverance.  This is part of the new covenant.  As to who will free the apostle from his “body of death” we have Paul’s answer,

I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:25

Romans 7 is very important for several reasons. It corrects the popular idea that our struggle with sin is only against specific sins and habits whereas it is also against our basic human nature. Second, it shows that human nature is not essentially good but evil. Third, it argues that our sanctification does not come by obeying laws, a form of legalism called nomism, but apart from Law of Moses. It also proves that doing right requires more than just determining to do it.  We must avail ourselves of the Spirit and choose life versus the flesh and death.  All these insights are necessary for us to appreciate what Paul then explains in Romans 8.

Second, as the Passover Lamb, His blood marked us to be passed over from the punishment of physical death which the scriptures describe as, first and foremost, the lack of physical life (i.e. the breath of life – Genesis 2:7).  We saw this in an earlier post.  I also believe at this time, that He ultimately secures believers from the “second death” (See Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8) that is the judgment at the end of the Kingdom for all the unbelieving dead.  It is also worthy to note that the Passover will be celebrated in the Kingdom (Ezekiel 45:21).

Messiah’s Superiority over the Law of Moses

Let’s keep going, there is more.  We know specifically what had infuriated the Jewish religious authorities about Jesus, even beyond His claim of being Messiah, God’s Son, was during the time of His ministry He was giving divine forgiveness to those who had committed intentional sins (Luke 7:36 – 50; John 8:1 – 11)! Jesus was pronouncing that the person who put their trust in Him could achieve reconciliation with God even after committing an intentional sin. Even the sacrificial system, the holiest most blessed, gracious and powerful part of the entire Hebrew justice system, couldn’t do that!

Paul never says the Law of Moses is obsolete or dead; he only says that compared to the work of Messiah, the Law is as nothing. Now by faith in Messiah, you are subject to the grace of God when you intentionally sin, instead of being subject to the curses of the Law.  And being subject to that law would lead to physical death through execution or divine punishment under the old covenant. Now under the new covenant, when you or I intentionally sin, we can be forgiven.  This is too wonderful for words. Paul as a Pharisee took it for granted that unintentional sins could be forgiven as they always had, by means of a proper animal sacrifice, since the days of Moses.  Surely the Messiah’s sacrifice would take care of that. But more so, Paul never compared the ability of Messiah to forgive against the Law’s failure in being able to do that for intentional sin. The sacrificial system did provide a means of forgiveness but it was limited to the unintentional sin. The Law portion of God’s justice system was not designed to atone or forgive; it was to draw a line between obedience to God and disobedience to God. The Law established moral choices for believers; in doing so it showed us what sin and its penalty is – death. Both systems, both parts of God’s justice system, the law and curses did what they were designed to do, perfectly.

However, even though the Law has no effect, even though now intentional sins can be forgiven, and even thought we have a High Priest who has atoned once for all sin in one sacrifice and is an advocate with the Father for us, we still can be subject to another law.  That is the law of the flesh (Romans 7:25; 8:1 – 13; 13:14; Galatians 5:13 – 24; 1 Peter 3:18, 21; 2 Peter 2:10, 18) which leads to physical death. This is too often ignored by believers to their own peril in time and in the future consequences at the resurrection. I thank God, as you should, that our High Priest has atoned for and can and justly forgive all sins intentional and unintentional (1 John 1:9).  However, we need to live in the Spirit and not the flesh.

The Warning Not to Apostatize 

There is one more passage that we need to look at to confirm our understanding on the punishment of willful sin in the believer.  There is one particular sin that if we commit, we will be judged very harshly in time and at the judgment seat.

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.  Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:26 – 31 NKJV

Some interpret the willful sin as continual sin (NIV: “If we deliberately keep on sinning”), but this is reading too much into the Greek present participle used for “to sin.” The author of Hebrews apparently has a particular sin in mind, which becomes evident as we look at the context. Willful sin in the context of Hebrews is deliberate apostasy, turning away from God (See Hebrews 2:1; 3:12; 6:4 – 8). If an apostate rejects Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, there is nothing else that can protect him or her from God’s judgment (Compare to Hebrews 6:6). The judgment in view will take place at the judgment seat of Christ, not the great white throne. It is the judgment of believers (Compare to 2 Corinthians 5:10), not of unbelievers (See Revelation 20:11 – 15). It will result in loss of reward, loss of the believer’s inheritance of the Kingdom, not loss of salvation. This same fire (judgment) is that which will test believer’s works.

The imagery of “fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” is vividly suggestive of the prospect awaiting the person who turns away from God’s gracious provision through the Messiah. The apostate is regarded as the adversary of God. The description of judgment as a fire that devours and utterly destroys recalls the actual experience of the followers of Korah who were consumed by fire because they had shown contempt for God (Numbers 16:35; 26:10). The consequence of apostasy is terrifying, irrevocable judgment which is not only the terrible prospect of temporal death, but of dis-inheritance at the resurrection in the Kingdom.

The writer of Hebrews had exhorted his readers previously to hold fast to their confession (Hebrews 3:6; 4:14) and has warned them about the dangers of not pressing on in their faith (Hebrews 6:1 – 8). He reinforces this concern in the verses just before this warning about the willful sin (Hebrews 10:23 – 25). The readers were on the verge of abandoning their confession of faith in the Messiah and returning to the Mosaic Law and its sacrifices, which is why the writer discussed the inadequacy of the Mosaic sacrifices especially from chapter 8 onward.

The willful sin would be a deliberate abandonment of their confession of the sufficiency of Messiah’s sacrifice for a return to the insufficiency of Jewish sacrifices. The author had written them that the Messiah,

…was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

Hebrews 9:28

That “by one offering he has made complete for ever those who are made holy” (Hebrews 10:14), and that once forgiven “there is no longer an offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18). The Law offered them nothing since it looked forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus  (Hebrews 10:1 – 10). Should they turn back to the Law, Messiah’s perfect and eternal sacrifice would be sufficient to cover even that great and willful sin from a salvation standpoint, but they would still face a severe divine judgment in time and at the judgment seat of Messiah. The author had just referred to an approaching “Day” (Hebrews 10:25) implying that there will be an accounting, which we know as the judgment seat of Messiah taught in so many other places in the New Testament (See Romans 14:10 – 12; 1 Corinthians 3:11 – 15; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

The background for understanding this passage is very likely our earlier passage, Numbers 15:30 – 31. There we see that for certain serious (or presumptuous) sins no sacrifices were stipulated, therefore those who committed those sins were “cut off” from their people (put to death) as we have seen before. The author is saying that if the readers of Hebrews abandon the only sufficient sacrifice for their sins, they too will be judged severely.

Because the author uses strong language (“fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries”) and speaks of a punishment worse than death (verse 30), many conclude he is threatening them with eternal punishment. But because they are believers who cannot lose their salvation and because he has in view the judgment seat of Messiah, this cannot be. The exact judgment is not specified, only its severity. It is hard to imagine a judgment worse than death, but human experience does testify that there are occasions when death is preferred than to endure severe suffering (Just ask Jonah! Jonah 4:3). The author of Hebrews is comparing this judgment to the death penalty for the presumptuous sin of Numbers 15:30 – 31, which was the severest penalty dictated at that time. This penalty is temporal physical death.  But in light of New Testament revelation about the judgment seat of Messiah, we know that a more severe judgment would be a negative assessment (excluded from reigning with the Messiah, being in the outer darkness, and other unspecified discipline to the unfaithful believer) at the judgment seat because there the eternal implications of our lack of faithfulness will be known.

The possibility of a negative assessment at the judgment seat of Messiah is a “fearful expectation of judgment” (Compare 2 Corinthian 5:9 – 11) for those who have not done good. The “fiery indignation” is literally in Greek, “zeal of fire” or “fury of fire” and refers to the zeal of God’s judgment toward sin. Believers can experience the same zeal of judgment toward their sin as God’s enemies experience toward theirs, though the results are different. This is why I believe that Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians,

If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:15

In the end, these readers who would be judged are still “His people” (verse 30; a quote from Deuteronomy 32:35 – 36). They will not be condemned to the lake of fire, but will fall “into the hands of the living God” (verse 31). Though at first glance fire may conjure up thoughts of hell, fire was actually used often in the Old Testament to judge or threaten temporal punishment on God’s own people.  Sometimes it is the fire of God’s wrath that disciplines His people (Numbers 11:1 – 3; Isaiah 9:19; 10:17; 29:6; 42:25; Jeremiah 11:16; 15:14; 17:4; Lamentations 2:3 – 4; 4:11; Ezekiel 22:20 – 22; Amos 2:5; Obadiah 18; Psalm 78:21; 80:16). Sometimes it refers to a cleansing or purifying trial or judgment (Psalm 66:12; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2; John 15:6; 1 Corinthians 3:13 – 15; 1 Peter 1:7).

I believe at this time that this text is speaking of temporal judgment of the believer in time (the sin that leads to death) and a negative result at the judgment seat of Messiah. Here in this passage, the believer who sins willfully (Again note that the author includes himself as a possibility by using “we.”) has in store “judgment,” and “fiery indignation which devours the adversaries.” The willful sin in Hebrews is turning back to Judaism which would be tantamount to giving one’s approval to the re-crucifixion of Jesus Messiah.

Believers who committed apostasy (denouncing your faith, worshiping other “deities”, etc.)  under the Old Covenant usually brought a temporal death sentence to be carried out by other believers (Compare to Deuteronomy 17:2 – 7; 13:8), or even other nations against Israel. This same sin under the New Covenant means that the believer will lose his or her eternal reward and face an unspecified disinheritance (At this time I have not found a definitive scripture that specifies the judgment and punishment of the believer for this sin – its only references in the OT are Daniel 12:2, Isaiah 66:24; The only reference to this passage in the NT is when Jesus quotes the Isaiah passage in Mark 9:42 – 47) in the Kingdom. Not only this terrible fate, but God often begins to punish that kind of believer in this life with severe divine discipline.

We will see more on the consequences of living in the flesh and sins effects in upcoming posts where we will look at what living in sin will get a believer.  When I say a very negative outcome at the judgment seat of Messiah, it’s left unspecified.  I don’t want to find out what that is, do you?

Let’s continue our journey in the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Appearing of our Great God and Savior.


The Kingdom, Faith, and Salvation

November 27, 2013

A number of critically important sayings of Jesus have not received the attention they deserve either in the pulpit or in the classrooms of seminaries. These are verses which demonstrate that Jesus was very much conscious of the nature of the Kingdom which as Messiah He is destined to administer upon his appearing at the end of this age.   He also knew that after the leadership of the nation of Israel and Rome (representing the Gentile portion of the human race) rejected Him, that the Kingdom would come in a different way.  He knew that He would save the human race from spiritual and physical extinction.  Even as His mission progressed He still taught that He would fulfill the law and the prophets with a coming Kingdom.  He did this in many ways.  One way was what He claimed for Himself, truth about who He was.  There are many we could consider.  However, let’s take just one claim, that He is the son of David.  What does that mean?  What did that mean at the time of Jesus’s life on this earth?

Anyone evaluating someone who was claiming to be the promised Son of David could not have failed to be impressed by the fundamental importance of the covenant  between David and God, described in 2 Samuel 7 (the parallel is in 1 Chronicles 17).

God said to David thru Nathan the prophet,

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I took you from the sheepfold, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people, over Israel. And I have been with you wherever you have gone, and have cut off all your enemies from before you, and have made you a great name, like the name of the great men who are on the earth. Moreover I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more; nor shall the sons of wickedness oppress them anymore, as previously, since the time that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel, and have caused you to rest from all your enemies. Also the Lord tells you that He will make you a house.  When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

2 Samuel 7:8b – 16

The importance of this covenant is seen in the references to it in Psalms 72, 89, and in Luke 1:32, 33. As is well known, this formed the basis of God’s promise to bring about peace on earth through His chosen Davidic King.  This past and future divine intervention is vividly described in the Psalms, especially Psalm 2 and 10. Both the Qumran (location of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls) community and the early believers saw the application of 2 Samuel 7:14 to the promised deliverer – the Messiah,

I will be his Father, and he shall be My son…

2 Samuel 7:14

The writer of Hebrews used this passage in Hebrews 1:5,

For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”? And again: “I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son”?

It’s no wonder that the angel announcing the arrival of the Messiah had in his declaration this very promise,

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.

Luke 1:32, 33

It was widely recognized from a reading of the Hebrew scriptures that the glory of David’s kingdom would eventually be restored to Israel, with benefits for the whole world.  This was to occur when the Messiah inaugurated His reign. We see in the first books of the New Testament that it was devout believers who were eagerly awaiting the deliverance of Israel not only before Jesus’ birth, but after He had completed His ministry to save the people from their sins.  This latter group we call disciples.  We know from scripture, particularly the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that there were people who believed in the Messiah, the coming Kingdom, and deliverance or salvation from their enemies.  They were waiting for the Messiah to appear.  The Jews didn’t know His name, but they knew He was coming, they also knew as we saw earlier, that He was the promised Davidic King.

Israel’s national expectation of an apocalyptic Messianic reign remains central to the gospel of the Kingdom.  The righteous and devout Simeon was “… just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” (Luke 2:25). The Consolation of Israel was a phrase referring to the Messiah.  This refers to the fulfillment of the promises made in Isaiah 40:1 ff. The word “waiting” here is better translated “looking forward to.” Simeon was righteous and devout, one of the believing remnant in Israel who was looking for Messiah’s appearing. The Spirit who is the Consoler was upon one who was waiting for the consolation of Israel (i.e., the Messiah). One of the traditional Jewish prayers is, “May I see the consolation of Israel!” That prayer was answered for Simeon when he saw the Child Jesus in the temple. He was a man who was led by the Spirit, versed in the word of God, and was obedient to the revealed will of God.  Simeon was privileged to see the salvation of God come.  He was not at all surprised that he was looking at a Child.  Many readers have assumed that Simeon was an old man, but the text does not indicate that.  However, we know more about Simeon later in the text when it says,

And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple.

Luke 2:26 – 27

How important it is for people to see God’s salvation, Jesus Christ, before they taste death. Simeon was a pious man who was blessed by God, Who revealed to Simeon that he would see the LORDs Messiah before he died.  In blessing God when the Child Jesus was in his arms, Simeon said,

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

Luke 2:29 – 32

Notice that this righteous man said that the Messiah is the “salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples.” The last part of this sentence is a Hebrew idiom, is literally “according to face,” which means to be in a position in front of an object, with the implication of direct sight. Simeon is saying here, that God has revealed the Messiah to mankind, not just the nation Israel.

Simeon blessed Joseph and Mary, and then prophesied the death of the Messiah along with Mary’s grief.  The phrase “rising of many in Israel” is hard to interpret.   I believe at this time that this is a reference to the resurrection.  The “sign which will be spoken against” probably refers to Jesus Own resurrection (Luke 2:34; Acts 4:2; 17:32; 28:22).   See the book of John, in which there are 7 signs:  John 2:1 – 11; John 4:46 – 54; John 5:1 – 18; John 6:5 – 14, 16 – 24; John 9:1 – 7; John 11:1 – 45. Then there is generally recognized an 8th sign, the death, burial, and resurrection of Messiah (John 19:17 – 20:9).  I believe at this time that this is the one sign that causes people to stumble or to as above “speak against” (Isaiah 8:14; Hosea 14:9; Matthew 21:44; Romans 9:32; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 2:16; 1 Peter 2:7, 8).  This speaking against is by anyone who doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus is an example of unbelief in the Messiah which leads to damnation.

Another righteous person, Anna the widow and aged prophetess (See Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3; Acts 2:17; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5), was commended for her exceptional devotion to God, was giving “thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him [Jesus] to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).  Luke used “Jerusalem” figuratively (i.e., metonymy – A figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated) for Israel (Compare to Isaiah 52:9).  God gave Anna insight into Jesus’ identity. The godly in Jerusalem undoubtedly learned about Messiah’s birth from both Simeon and Anna.

 

There is another example of a devout believer, Zacharias who being John the Baptist’s father,

… was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David,…

Luke 1:67, 68

This has been called Zacharias Prophecy.  It is Zacharias’ song of praise to the God of Israel.  The entire text is Luke 1:67 – 79.  Observe that Zechariah’s previous doubt and his discipline through loss of speech did not mean the end of his spiritual ministry. So when a believer today has submitted to God’s discipline, he may go on in Christ’s service.  This is the second major song of praise in Luke. Also Zacharias praise is called the “Benedictus.” This title also comes from the first word in the Latin version, translated “blessed.” The first part of the song praises God for messianic deliverance (verses 68 – 75), and the second part rejoices in John’s significant role in this deliverance (verses 76 – 79). The chiastic structure of the song emphasizes the words “covenant” and “oath” (verses 72 – 73). God’s faithfulness to His covenant is a dominant theme in the Benedictus. There are at least 16 Old Testament allusions or quotations in this song. Its style and content are similar to Mary’s Magnificat.

Evidently there were many looking for the Messiah’s coming.  They believed the gospel of the Kingdom even though they didn’t know the name of the coming King Messiah.  Joseph of Arimathea, who Matthew describes as a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57; Luke 23:50, 51), was “a good and righteous man…who was waiting for the Kingdom of God.” This was after Jesus’ death. He evidently did not believe the Kingdom had come with the ministry of Jesus, even though, certainly, the records describe his ministry as an anticipation of the Kingdom (Matthew 11:5).

Another not so pious man, the dying thief on the cross next to Jesus recognized the certainty of the future coming of the Kingdom when he asked Jesus for a part in it, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42).  This is an example of faith in Messiah and the coming Kingdom.  The two are inseparable.   The belief in the coming King (In the Old Testament, King Messiah is also called God’s Son.) and Kingdom (promised because of the fathers and David) are what brings salvation are through the resurrection of those who believe in salvation in the coming King and Kingdom.  This is eonian life, imperishable life announced to the Daniel by the angel Gabriel (Daniel 12:2), spoken about by Jesus and the apostles; life that lasts for an undetermined period of time.  This life is to be granted at the resurrection when the Messiah returns at the end of this age.  For more information about this important topic, I have written a post on this before, here.  But that is not the end of the good news.

This is why in addition to being the Son of David, He is also the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world.  This is why both the angel said, “you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) and John the Baptist, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)  Besides the knowledge of salvation through faith which is incredibly precious, you can see that the Lord communicated things about the Kingdom that many today ignore.  This knowledge of personal salvation through the Messiah now and in the age to come through resurrection, salvation for the remnant of Israel thru resurrection, and saving the entire believing human race from extinction is all part and parcel of the Gospel of the Kingdom. It is the Gospel as found in the Old Testament.  It gets expanded in the New Testament with the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and current session in heaven of the Messiah.  The second appearing was already foretold by the prophets.  There is further revelation given to the apostle John in the form of the book of Revelation.  Like Daniel, John was allowed to see the future of mankind.

In Jesus our Messiah, mankind saw tangible proof of what the Old Testament saints knew at least from the time of Job (Job 19:25 – 27) and possibly a great deal longer – that there would be a resurrection of God’s people.  We know from the book of Daniel that this resurrection was also spoken by an angel to Daniel (Daniel 12:2).  This is why people were willing to be martyred after Jesus first appearing.  They had a passion that was generated by spiritual insight/illumination; the revelation of the fundamental change in mankind’s future affairs had just taken place.  But being saved from damnation is just the beginning.  There is reward from the King in the Kingdom for the faithful.

It is the same understanding and passion for the Gospel of Kingdom that had prompted the request by the mother of James and John. This request illustrates another facet of our salvation, but it is conditional.  Her petition reveals the biblical idea of a place of honor in the Messianic Kingdom, and Jesus did nothing at all to change her understanding of the kind of kingdom this would be,

Command that in your Kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right hand and one on your left…

Matthew 20:21

Jesus’ reply established that the honor of sitting in a ruling position in the future Kingdom was reserved for select individuals,

but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.

Mark 10:40

Furthermore, Jesus added that greatness in the coming Kingdom of God is for those who first accept the role of a servant, as he himself had done (See Mark 10:42 – 45; then compare to Philippians 2:5 – 8). But there is no question in Jesus’ mind about the nature of the future Kingdom, or about one’s status in it. The disciples were not rebuked for any misunderstanding about the fact of a future Kingdom in which positions could be held. They needed only to learn that the path to greatness lay through humility, suffering and servanthood.

Jesus illustrates this aspect of our salvation in a discussion He had with a man and his guests who had invited him to supper in Luke 14:7 – 24.  In verses 7 – 10 Jesus relates an important principal,  teaching from here on in this text centers on the concept of being invited to a dinner, in this case a dinner in the Kingdom.  The Greek word for “invite(d)” is literally “called,” is used multiple times by Luke to emphasize an important aspect of the gospel.  The word occurs in verses 8 (2x), 9, 10 (2x), 12 (2x), 13, 16, 17, 24. The meal in the Pharisee’s house was not a wedding feast.  Jesus used that type of banquet in His parable because He was speaking of the messianic banquet at the beginning of the Kingdom. Then Israel would unite with her Messiah. Evidently Jesus’ point was that the Jews present should learn a spiritual lesson about the Kingdom from the simple social situation He described. Everyone realized that seeking a prominent place for oneself at a banquet could lead to personal embarrassment.  Jesus’ hearers were to learn from this not to seek prominence for themselves but to humble themselves.

The principle that Jesus recommended to His host for selecting guests is one that God had used in inviting people to the messianic banquet. Inviting those who could not repay the favor resulted in the greater glory of earthly hosts as well as the divine host.  Jesus continued to use the meal in the Pharisee’s house to teach about the messianic banquet and the kingdom to come. He had taught the importance of humbling oneself to participate (verses 7 – 11) and had justified that requirement (verses 12 – 14). Now He invited His hearers to humble themselves so they could participate and warned those who rejected His invitation of their fate.

A fellow guest made this comment,

Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

Luke 14:15

This guest appears to have understood that Jesus had been talking about the kingdom and not just about social propriety. The guest seems to have assumed that he would be one of the blessed referred to or the speaker may have intended to correct Jesus’ implication that some of those present might not participate (verses 13 – 14; compared to Luke 13:28, 29). Jesus used the comment as an opportunity to clarify who would participate. This section immediately precedes the teaching on the cost of becoming a disciple.  The two are connected ideas.  A similar though obviously different parable occurs in Matthew 22:1 – 14.  See also Revelation 19:9.

The blessing of reclining at the table with Jesus in the Kingdom is an important additional motivation to remain faithful as a believer. Those invited to the Lamb’s marriage supper (Revelation 19:9) include His friends (the prophets, apostles, and faithful disciples). This implies the presence of other believers besides us at this celebration. Those invited to the supper will include the “bride” and other believers who are martyrs out of the tribulation and believers who will live through the tribulation and enter the Kingdom alive (Compare Revelation 12:13 – 17; 20:4 – 5; Matthew 22:11 – 14; 25:1 – 13). This will include all Old Testament believers who will experience resurrection at the beginning of the Kingdom (See Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2).

The question of the believer’s goal is immensely important in the records of Jesus’ teaching. The Apostles and other disciples were instructed by Jesus to recognize the promised Messianic Kingdom as the heart of the New Covenant. For them the supreme objective of the believer’s life was to assist the Messiah in the administration of his Kingdom.  At the last supper, He said to them,

And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Luke 22:29, 30

Earlier in the text Jesus had said that he would not eat the bread or drink the wine of the Passover with them again until the Passover in the Kingdom.  This in the words of Jesus, “…for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God…I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:16, 18). Then they would eat and drink in His presence, reunited with Him, as rulers of the Kingdom. This glorious occasion was to be “… in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory…” (Matthew 19:28). The word in the NKJV translation, “regeneration,” is a Greek word that could be rendered “…the age when all things are renewed…” and is understood as a reference to the Messianic Kingdom, the time when all things are renewed and restored (See also Revelation 21:5).

The apostles had no doubts about this happening, for Jesus also said,

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.”

Matthew 25:31

The implications of this are clear for all to read and believe. There will be a Kingdom inaugurated by the appearing of Messiah at the end of this age and the beginning of the age to come. At this point in history I believe that the “first resurrection” occurs. In the establishment of the Kingdom there is a judgment of each believer’s works.  At this time I believe that this judgment will occur right after the Lord Jesus arrives and subdues His enemies.  I have been emphasizing the negative assessment of believers at this judgment.  One positive aspect of it, is that as faithful believers we may have the opportunity to reign with the Messiah.

There will be thrones and government over the twelve tribes regathered in the land and the seats will be filled by the apostles.  There will be thrones over other nations and cities there as well filled by other faithful believers.  And there will be fellowship with Jesus in that coming age, a fellowship predicted, but not to be renewed “until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18).

After this there will be a wedding banquet for the Messiah and those who have believed in the gospel of the Kingdom and were faithful to Him.

Will you be at the table?


The Gospel, Tribulation, and The Appearing – Part 10

November 20, 2013

We continue our survey of the Minor Prophet’s foretelling of the appearing of the Messiah and accompanying events which will transpire.

Micah

Micah begins his prophecy with a vision of the Appearing (Micah 1:3, 4). Chapters 2 and 3 of Micah’s book deal with Israel’s sin (through false prophets and greed) and the resultant coming judgment.  The message of the false prophets was not completely wrong; it just presented the positive aspects of God’s promises to Israel but omitted the negative. Micah’s message had been mainly negative; the people needed to repent or they would experience divine discipline. Now Micah reminded his hearers that there were positive blessings ahead for Israel, through the coming King.

In verse 12 of chapter 2 we see this blessing and the one who brings it. The Lord Himself would assemble the scattered remnant of all the Israelites (Jacob and Israel; see 1:5) following His dispersion of them in exile. The remnant refers to the part of them that would remain following their dispersion. Yahweh would assemble them as a shepherd gathers sheep in a fold in the midst of a pasture (See 5:4; 7:14). This pictures the regathering of the Israelites in the land. This pen would be full of noise and people because it would be a time and place of great rejoicing, like the city of Jerusalem was during one of Israel’s annual feasts.  That long-awaited time of blessing will come about for the nation of Israel in the Kingdom.

In verse 13, the phrase “The one who breaks open…” in the NKJV is an interesting translation.  It literally means to break out or break through, not break open.  The verb form is understood as a perfect of certitude, emphasizing the certainty of this coming event. As a shepherd breaks through obstacles and barriers to lead his sheep into pleasant pastures, so Israel’s Good Shepherd (Messiah Jesus) will clear the way for His sheep to return to the land (Compare to Psalm 78:52–53; 80:1). They will break out of their former habitations, pass through the way He opens for them, and leave all parts of the world to return to the Promised Land.  The LORD would not only function as their Shepherd but also as their (Davidic) King (See Isaiah 6:5). He will lead them as a mighty conqueror and ruler (Compare to Isaiah 33:22; Zephaniah 3:15; Zechariah 14:9).

Regarding the Kingdom, Micah presents a glorious vision of it and does so in words that are almost identical with Isaiah’s (Micah 4:1-7 and Isaiah 2:2-4). I see 11 characteristics of the future Messianic Kingdom in verses 1 thru 8. These are the global prominence of the temple (verse 1a) and its attraction of people worldwide (verse 1b). Jerusalem will function as teacher of the world (verse 2a) and as the disseminator of revelation (verse 2b). The Lord will judge the world from Jerusalem (verse 3a), and peace will be universal (verse 3b). Israel will experience peace and security (verse 4), spiritual sensitivity (verse 5), regathering to the land (verse 6), strength (verse 7), and dominion (verse 8).  It’s clear from Micah that there will be true freedom and justice on the earth at that time.

Nahum

The opening verses of Nahum form a prologue dominated by the revelation of God’s eternal power and divine nature in creation (Compare to Romans 1:20). God’s anger and goodness are contrasted (Nahum 1:1 – 8). As in Romans 1:18 – 32, Nahum’s revelation is characterized predominantly by God’s justice, expressed in retribution (verse 2) and wrath (verses 2–3, 6) that shake the entire creation (verses 3–6).  In verse 7, Nahum also pointed out that the LORD is also good, not just angry and vengeful (Compare to Romans 11:22). He Himself is a more secure hiding place than any mountain, hill, or great city, like Nineveh, when people face trouble (compare to Psalm 27:1; 37:39; 43:2; 52:7). Furthermore He knows those who take refuge in Him by drawing near to Him and resting their confidence in Him. He takes note of those who trust in Him as well as those who incur His wrath.  The prophet wrote that the Kingdom of Messiah will be a time of perfect peace (Nahum 1:15). The Apostle Paul quoted the first part of this verse in Romans 10:15 in reference to those messengers who bring similar good news, namely, the gospel. The message is one of peace, a peace from external oppression and a new kind of peace with the God who is the giver of all life. The prophet predicted that the splendor of the Jewish nation will be restored in the Kingdom of Messiah (Nahum 2:2).

Habakkuk

Habakkuk has within his book a prophetic text.  It’s the assurance to the reader that God will be faithful to send the Messiah back at “an appointed time;” (Habakkuk 2:3). The vision Habakkuk was about to receive concerned events to take place in the future. Though it was a prophecy that would not come to pass immediately, it would materialize eventually. Habakkuk was to wait for its fulfillment because it would indeed come at the Lord’s appointed time. The writer of the Book of Hebrews quoted this verse (Hebrews 10:37). He used it to encourage his readers to persevere in their faith in the Messiah since what God has promised will eventually come to pass, the Lord Jesus’ return. Notice that the prophet says in the next verse,

Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.

Habakkuk 2:4

This verse appears three times in the New Testament. Paul quoted it in Romans 1:17 and emphasized “righteous.” Faith in God results in righteousness. He used it again in Galatians 3:11 but to stress “live” Rather than obtaining new life by obeying the Mosaic Law, the righteous person does so by faith. The writer of Hebrews also quoted this verse in Hebrews 10:38, but his emphasis was on “faith.” It is faith that God will reward in the righteous. In all three cases “live” has the broader reference to eonian life, but here it is mainly physical life that is in view. Thus this verse is clearly an important revelation in the scriptures, even its essential message. It is the key verse in Habakkuk because it summarizes the difference between the proud Babylonians and their destruction with the humble faith of the Israelites and their deliverance. The issue is trust in God and the righteous receiving deliverance at the appearing of the Messiah.

Having received the revelation that Yahweh would destroy Babylon, Habakkuk could understand that He was just in using that wicked nation to discipline Israel. Babylon would not go free but would perish for her sins. Israel’s punishment, on the other hand, was only temporary (compare to 2 Samuel 7:16).

This insight led Habakkuk to write the prayer of praise that concludes the book. The prophet includes in that prayer a very dramatic vision of the appearing of the Messiah (Habakkuk 3:3 – 13).  In this vision of God, Habakkuk moved from petition to praise in his prayer.  The prophet pictured the LORD as arising over His people like the rising sun, appearing over Teman, a large town in Edom, and Mt. Paran, the mountain opposite Teman (See Deuteronomy 33:2–4).  Many commentators think that this is a reference by Habakkuk to the Exodus and not the second coming of Messiah.  I believe it is a reference to the appearing of the Messiah and what happens to the earth and sky.

In verse 3, God uses through the Spirit a reference to two geographical points that Habakkuk and his readers would recognize as two ranges creating the Valley of Arabah. Habakkuk does this so that we can understand the Messiah’s second coming is a worldwide event. He goes on to describe the Messiah’s appearance,

His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise. His brightness was like the light; He had rays flashing from His hand, and there His power was hidden. Before Him went pestilence, and fever followed at His feet.

Habakkuk 3:3–5

Note “the heavens” and “the earth” suggests an event worldwide in scope. This is not a reference to the old Exodus. In verse 4, the word “brightness” or as some translations have it “lightning” is used as a metaphor for Messiah’s physical second coming. The Hebrew word literally, “[His] radiance is like light.” Some see a reference to sunlight, but the Hebrew word here refers to lightning, as the context indicates (see verses 4b, 9, 11). The word also refers to lightning in Job 36:32 and 37:3, 11, 15.  The phrase in 4b, “He had rays flashing from His hand,…” is literally in Hebrew, “two horns from his hand to him.” Sharp, pointed lightning bolts have a “horn-like” appearance. The weapon of “double lightning” appears often in Mesopotamian representations of gods.  The rest of verse 4 is “And there His power was hidden.”  This actually reads in Hebrew, “and there [is] the covering of his strength”; or “and there is his strong covering.” The meaning of this line is unclear to linguists, translators, and theologians. As I understand it at this time that the lightning bolts are merely a covering, or outward display, of God’s raw power. For instance In Job 36:32 one reads that God,

He covers His hands with lightning, and commands it to strike.

Job 36:32

As we see lightening from horizon to horizon, so end-time people will see Jesus’ second coming. Jesus probably was paraphrasing Habakkuk,

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be…

Matthew 24:27

Further, He taught in this same text,

…when you see all these things, know that it is near––at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

Matthew 24:33, 24

In verse 5, the Messiah burns up what is in front of Him and chars what He leaves behind. “Pestilence” is literally in Hebrew “burning heat” (NB: this is usually translated pestilence, but the context favors something like a destructive bolt of fire (which is what lightning is) and “plague” (this should be rendered: devastation, destruction, or death) are the results and evidences of His searing holiness at His appearing.

Verse 6 through 13 is a reference to the earthquake and geophysical transformation of the earth just before the appearing of the Messiah (See Isaiah 29:6).  In Revelation 6:12 – 17, we have a parallel passage which is a description of what happens right before the appearing shedding more light on the event.  This includes the breakup of the atmosphere of the earth (Revelation 6:14), the sun being darkened (Revelation 6:12), the blood red moon (Revelation 6:12), and a meteor storm (Revelation 6:13).  As I sit here imagining the destruction described in these texts makes me shudder.  Evidently the sky will appear to split and roll back in two opposite directions (See Isaiah 34:4). Before the appearing the universe will seem to be coming apart. Apparently the opening of the sky will give earth-dwellers a glimpse into the throneroom of heaven (Revelation 6:16). Probably the earthquake (Revelation 6:12) will cause mountains and islands to rise and fall.  It evidently is going to be more terrifying since people’s perception of God and the Lamb in heaven will be far more terrifying to them than the physical consequences of this judgment (Revelation 6:15 – 16).

Zephaniah

Zephaniah was the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah (Zephaniah 1:1), evidently King Hezekiah of Judah (This is not at all certain, but I believe it is likely. Only two other Hezekiah’s appear on the pages of the Old Testament, and they both lived in the post-exilic period.). His references to Judah and Jerusalem (Zephaniah 1:10 – 11) seem to indicate that he lived in Jerusalem, which would fit a king’s descendant. Zephaniah ministered during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640-609 BC; 1:1). Zephaniah’s reference to the future destruction of Nineveh (Zephaniah 2:13) definitely fixed his writing before that event in 612 B.C. So the prophet ministered between 640 and 612 BC. His contemporaries were Nahum, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah, though Jeremiah’s ministry continued beyond the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

God sent a prophetic word to Zephaniah because the Judeans of his day still needed to get right with Him in their hearts. The prophet announced that God was going to send judgment on Judah for her wickedness. He also assured the godly few in the nation, the remnant, that the Lord would preserve them and remain true to His promises concerning ultimate worldwide blessing for Israel in the future. Perhaps 1:7 summarizes what the book is all about better than any other single verse,

Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD; for the day of the LORD is at hand,

Zephaniah 1:7

The key to the Book of Zephaniah is the phrase “the day of the LORD.” This phrase appears in most of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. As we saw in Joel, “the day of the LORD” can be a past day, a day in the relatively near future, or a day in the far distant future. It is any day in which God is dynamically at work in human affairs. Wherever we find the phrase “the day of the Lord,” it always suggests a contrast with mankind’s preoccupation with things other than God. It is a day of God’s patience. The day of the Lord is any day when God is clearly in control of human affairs. It is a day of God’s judgment. The phrase “the day of the Lord” is by no means unique to Zephaniah, but it is the key to the message of this book. Zephaniah used it more frequently than any other prophet (24 times). It was his burden. And he explained the meaning of this phrase more than any other prophet.

Zephaniah’s prophecies are all about “the day of the LORD.” He revealed two things about this “day,” first, that it would involve judgment (Zephaniah 1:2–3:8) and, second, that it would eventuate in blessing (Zephaniah 3:9–20). The judgment portion is the larger of the two sections. This judgment followed by blessing motif is common throughout the prophets. Zephaniah revealed that judgment would come from the LORD on the whole earth, Judah, Israel’s neighbors, Jerusalem, and all nations.

Zephaniah begins the far prophetic portions of the book by presenting a powerful and frightening vision about the appearing of Messiah (Zephaniah 1:14-18). In 1:14, Zephaniah reported that this great day of the Lord was near, very near, and coming very quickly. He describes the judgment here and in the following verses.  His hearers needed to realize that it would be a day in which the LORD would act (see earlier in verse 12). When it came, warriors would cry out bitterly because that day would involve fierce fighting. The first deportation of Judeans to Babylon came in 605 B.C. not many years from whenever Zephaniah must have first announced this message.

In verses 15 and 16, the prophet wanted to impress the danger his complacent hearers faced even more strongly. He described the day of the Lord as a day marked by wrath, trouble, distress, destruction, desolation, darkness, gloom, clouds, thick darkness, military trumpet, and battle cry. The fortified cities of Judah would face invasion, and the high corner towers of their walls would come under siege.

In verse 17, the Lord would distress His people so severely that they would grope around as though they were blind. He would do this because they had sinned against Him (Compare to Deuteronomy 28:28–29). Their precious blood would lie all over the ground like common dust, and their dead flesh would lie in the streets like putrid, decaying dung.

In verse 18, the Judeans would not be able to buy themselves out of their trouble when the Lord poured forth His wrath (Compare to Ezekiel 7:19). He would devour the whole earth with the fire of His jealous rage, jealousy provoked by His people’s preference for various forms of idolatry (earlier in verses 4 – 6). He would destroy completely and terribly all the inhabitants of the earth (Compare to verses 2 – 3; and Joel 2:1 – 11).

The comprehensive nature of the judgment in this section suggests that at this point the prophet’s perspective again lifted to what we now see will be the fulfillment of this prophecy at the coming of the Messiah. The Babylonian invasion was only a preview. Some have written that we should understand “the whole earth” (NET) as referring only to the Promised Land (The NKJV translates “the whole land.”). However, other descriptions of the worldwide extent of God’s eventual judgment of sin and sinners in this book and others make this interpretation unappealing.  It is referring to a worldwide judgment.  It’s clear that this is the Day of the LORD in which the Messiah will appear.

Zephaniah concludes his book with a brief prophecy about the Kingdom (Zephaniah 3:14-20). The phrase “daughter of” in verse 14 is a way of referring to the citizens of Zion (Jerusalem) as the children of the city. Children born in any city are the children of that city in a metaphorical sense as well as the children of their physical parents in a literal sense.

In verse 15, the reason for rejoicing is that the LORD will have removed His judgment and Israel’s enemies from her (Compare verses 8, 19). The LORD, Israel’s true and omnipotent King, will be in the midst of His people.  This will be in the person of Messiah, Jesus Christ, during the Kingdom.  (See verse 17; Compared to Isaiah 9:7; 44:6; Zechariah 14:9). Consequently they will fear disaster no more.

In verses 16 and 17, the people of Jerusalem will have plenty of reasons not to fear. One reason is that the LORD their God will be in their midst (verse 15). He will be a victorious warrior having defeated all His enemies and all opposition worldwide (See 1:2–3; 3:8). The prophet reveals that the LORD will regather all believing Jews back to the land of Israel and that He will live in their midst (Zephaniah 3:17-20). Like a bridegroom He will take joy in His people Israel, and they will rest quietly in the security of His love for them as His bride. The LORD will even shout with joy over His beloved Israel!  And the LORD promises He will make the Jewish nation the prime nation of the world (Verse 20).

Eight times in verses 18–20, in the NASB, the Lord said, “I will,” “I am going to,” or “When I.” The future restoration and blessing of Israel in the world will be something that the LORD Himself will accomplish “in that day” (i.e., “the day of the LORD”). No one but He could ever accomplish it, and no one but He would.

Haggai

Haggai is the second shortest book of the Old Testament, after Obadiah. The history relative to this prophet begins when the Babylonians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed the city of Jerusalem, including Solomon’s temple, in 586 BC and took most of the Jews captive to Babylon. There, the Israelites could not practice their formal worship as the Mosaic Law prescribed, because they lacked an authorized altar and temple. They prayed toward Jerusalem privately (See Daniel 6:10) and probably publicly, and they established synagogues where they assembled to hear their Law read and to worship God informally.

Subsequently, King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jewish exiles to return to their land in 538 BC. At least three waves of returnees took advantage of this opportunity. The first of these was the group of almost 50,000 Jews that returned under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, and Zerubbabel who replaced him, in 537 BC (Ezra 1:2-4). Ezra led the second wave of 1,700 men plus women and children (perhaps about 5,000 individuals) back to Jerusalem in 458 BC, and Nehemiah led the third wave of 42,000 Israelites back in 444 BC. Haggai and Zechariah appear to have been two of the returnees who accompanied Sheshbazzar, as was Joshua the high priest, though Haggai’s name does not appear in the lists of returnees in the opening chapters of Ezra.

During the year that followed, the first group of returnees rebuilt the brazen altar in Jerusalem, resumed offering sacrifices on it, celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, and laid the foundation for the reconstruction of the (second) temple. Opposition to the rebuilding of the temple resulted in the postponement of construction for 16 years. During this long period, apathy toward temple reconstruction set in among the residents of Judah and Jerusalem. Then in 520 BC, as a result of changes in the Persian government and the preaching of Haggai, the people resumed rebuilding the temple.  Haggai first sounded the call to resume construction in 520 BC, and Zechariah soon joined him. Zechariah’s ministry lasted longer than Haggai’s. The returnees finished the project about five years later in 515 BC (Compare to Ezra chapters 1 – 6). One way to calculate the 70 year captivity is: from the first deportation to Babylon in 605 BC to the year temple reconstruction began, 536 BC. Another way is to count from the destruction of the temple in 586 BC to the completion of temple restoration in 515 BC.

Haggai asserts that at the time of the appearing of the Messiah, God will shake the heavens and earth (Haggai 2:6 – 7).  In verse 6, the basis of the Israelite’s confidence and lack of fear was a promise from the LORD. He would do again, in the future, what He had done at the Exodus and at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:16, 18; Psalm 68:8; 77:16 – 18).  The LORD’s action, “I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land” describes an enormous earthquake, which was an evidence of the LORD’s supernatural intervention (See and compare Isaiah 2:12 – 21; 13:13; Ezekiel 38:20; Amos 8:8). This will occur when Messiah returns to the earth at His appearing (Joel 3:16; Matthew 24:29 – 30).

The writer of Hebrews quoted this verse in Hebrews 12:26. He then added that we who are in Messiah have an unshakable Kingdom that will endure the coming cosmic earthquake (Hebrews 12:28 – 29). Haggai’s prophecy still awaits fulfillment.  The writer of Hebrews sees in Haggai’s language an implicit contrast between the transitory nature of the old economy and the abiding permanence of the new Kingdom of God economy that was initiated by Jesus.

In verse 7 the LORD would “shake all the nations”; His return will upset the political and governmental structures of the world (Compare to Zechariah 14:1 – 8). “The nations” will bring their “wealth” to the Israelites, like the Egyptians gave their treasures to the departing Hebrews at the Exodus (Compare to Exodus 3:21 – 22; 11:2 – 3; 12:35 – 36).  This is one way of looking at this verse.  However, there is another we need to consider.  Some translations have “and they [the nations] shall come to the Desire of All Nations.” This “”desire” could be an impersonal reference to the wealth that the nations desire (See Isaiah 60:5; Zechariah 14:14). Or this could be a personal reference. In this case it is a personal reference and a messianic prophecy, which is why some translations capitalized “Desire.” It is important to understand that from earliest days the majority of Christian interpreters followed the Jewish tradition in referring the passage to the coming of Israel’s Messiah.

The Lord also promised to “fill” the temple “with glory.” The temple here must be the Kingdom temple, rather than the second (restoration) temple, in view of the context. This glory could be the wealth that the nations will bring to it (Compare Isaiah 60:7, 13). Or the glory in view may be the glory of God’s own presence (Compare to Exodus 40:34 – 35; 1 Kings 8:10 – 11; Ezekiel 43:1 – 12). Simeon referred to the infant Jesus as “the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). However, Jesus’ presence in Herod’s temple only prefigured the divine glory that will be present in the Kingdom temple.

The prophet also predicted the overthrowing of all Gentile kingdoms (Haggai 2:22). The Lord announced that He was going to overthrow the rulers of the nations of the earth (Compare to Daniel 2:34 – 35, 44 – 45). He would defeat their armies by turning them against each other (Compare to Zechariah 12:2 – 9; 14:1 – 5; Revelation 16:16 – 18; 19:11 – 21).

And then, using Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, as a prophetic type of the Messiah, Haggai says that God will make him like His “signet ring” — meaning that he will become the King of kings and Lord of lords (Haggai 2:23).  When you read verses 21, 22 preceding this prophecy you have to understand that this was not fulfilled.  The words of Haggai 2:21–23, though spoken directly to Zerubbabel, were not fulfilled in his day. How do we explain this apparent failure of Haggai’s prophecy?

Zerubbabel, was a descendant of David and governor of Judah, was the official representative of the Davidic dynasty in the post exile community at that time. As such the prophecy of the future exaltation of the Davidic throne was attached to his person. As with the Temple (Compare Haggai 2:6 – 9), Haggai related an eschatological reality to a tangible historical entity to assure his contemporaries that God had great plans for His people. Zerubbabel was, as it were, the visible guarantee of a glorious future for the house of David. In Haggai’s day some may have actually entertained messianic hopes for Zerubbabel. However, in the progress of revelation and history Jesus Christ fulfills Haggai’s prophecy.

Malachi

Malachi contains several verses about the appearing, the one we will consider is Malachi 3:1 – 6.

In verse 1, Malachi predicted the coming of the LORD’s messenger (Compare to Isaiah 40:3 – 5). There is no question about who this was because Jesus identified him as John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10; Compare to Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27). This future messenger would clear the way in preparation for Yahweh (Compare to Isaiah 40:3; John 1:23).  Then the Lord, whom the Israelites were seeking, would suddenly come to His temple (Compare Ezekiel 43:1 – 5; Zechariah 8:3). Though Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem many times during His earthly ministry, this sudden coming was not fulfilled then (Compare verses 2 – 5). It will occur when He returns to set up His kingdom. “Messenger of the covenant” is another name for the Lord who would come following the appearance of the first messenger promised in this verse. He would be the divine Messiah; who we now know His name – Jesus.

The “covenant” is the New Covenant that God promised to make with the Jews in the future (Compare to Jeremiah 31:31 – 34; Ezekiel 37:26). The Jews delighted in this Messenger because His coming had been a subject of messianic prophecy and an object of eager anticipation from early in Israel’s history (Genesis 3:15). The LORD promised His coming again here. The Jews had been expressing disbelief that God would intervene and establish justice in the world (in Malachi 2:17), but God promised He would.

In verses 2 and 3 we see that when the Lord came “suddenly” to His temple, no one would be able to stand before Him. Elsewhere the prophets foretold that this time would be a day of judgment on the whole world marked by disaster and death (See Malachi 4:1; Isaiah 2:12; Joel 3:11 – 16; Amos 5:18 – 21; Zechariah 1:14 – 18). Here Malachi said no one would be able to endure His coming because He would purify the priesthood, the people who stood closest to Him. As a fire He would burn up the impurities of the priests, and as a laundryman’s soap He would wash them clean (See Isaiah 1:25; Jeremiah 6:29 – 30; Ezekiel 22:17 – 22; Zechariah 3:5). The Levitical priests would then be able to offer sacrifices to the LORD in a righteous condition rather than as they were in Malachi’s day (Compare Malachi 1:6 – 2:9; Isaiah 56:7; 66:20 – 23; Jeremiah 33:18; Ezekiel 40:38 – 43; 43:13 – 27; 45:9 – 25; Zechariah 14:16 – 21). The multiple figures of cleansing and the repetition of terms for cleansing stress the thoroughness of the change that the Lord’s Messenger would affect.

In verse 4, after this cleansing of the priests, Judah and Jerusalem (i.e., all Israel) would be able to offer sacrifices that would please the Lord, in contrast to the present ones that did not (Compare to Malachi 1:13 -14). They would be acceptable like the offerings the priests offered earlier in Israel’s history, before the priesthood had become corrupt.

Verse 5 tells us that at that time the Lord assured His people that He would draw near to them, but it would be for judgment. He would quickly judge all types of sin that they practiced, whereas in Malachi’s day, and now, He waits to judge (Compare 2 Peter 3:9 – 10). The Levites would not be the only Jews He judged; all the Israelites living then would come under His judgment (See Ezekiel 20:34 – 38). He would judge them for all types of activity forbidden for His people: sorcery, adultery, lying, oppression of employees, widows, orphans, mistreatment of aliens, even all forms of irreverence for Him. This was His answer to their claim that He was unjust in verse 2:17.

In verse 6 The Lord concluded by reminding His people of one of His character qualities that should have made them fear Him and have hope. He does not change, and that is why they would not be consumed totally. He was faithful to His covenant promises in the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants; He would never destroy them completely but would chasten them and finally bless them. By calling the Jews “sons of Jacob,” the Lord was connecting their behavior with that of their notorious patriarch. Promises are only as good as the person who makes them, so the fact that the LORD does not change strengthens the certainty of their fulfillment (Compare to Deuteronomy 4:31; Ezekiel 36:22 – 32).

The only thing other thing the prophet says about the Kingdom is that the name of the Lord “will be great among the nations.” (Malachi 1:11).

At this point we are going to pause to cover two important aspects of the King and Kingdom of God after which we will continue in the Old Testament looking at other prophetic texts.


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