Month: July 2013

Ezekiel

God gave the prophet Ezekiel an amazing vision of His glory.

Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man. Then I noticed from the appearance of His loins and upward something like glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it, and from the appearance of His loins and downward I saw something like fire; and there was a radiance around Him. As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking. Then He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” As He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me. Then He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me, they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day….” Ezekiel 1: 26 – 2: 3

In this vision Ezekiel saw the figure of a man, and the man spoke and said things that only God could say (“I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me…). In other words, Ezekiel saw and heard God.

“Theophany” is the term used to describe a physical manifestation of God. This passage in Ezekiel is not the only Old Testament account of a theophany – Jacob wrestled with God and his grandfather Abraham encountered God at the oaks of Mamre. Yet despite multiple Old Testament accounts of God manifesting in physical form, a theophany is a puzzling thing, because God Himself instructed Moses that no one can see God and live.

Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Exodus 33: 18 – 20

So on the one hand, God says no one can see His face and live. On the other hand, people had physical encounters with God and lived. This paradox is ultimately resolved by the doctrine of the Trinity, a teaching clearly derived from the New Testament and even seen in the Old. For it becomes clear, in hindsight, that an Old Testament theophany, such as the appearance of the man to Ezekiel, was an appearance of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. People can behold the face of Jesus and live, although the fullness of the Father’s glory has never been made known to man. The fullness of God’s glory is too great for man to comprehend, so God condescends via theophany, most notably in the incarnation of Christ, where the second person of the Trinity took on flesh, not only for His ministry on earth two thousand years ago, but forever. In Christ, man could finally behold God’s face and live.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. Hebrews 1: 1 – 3

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1: 18

…Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2: 5 – 11

There are many today who want to “see God’s glory”. They want miracles, they want signs and wonders, they want ecstatic spiritual experiences. They want to have visions of God just like Ezekiel, where there is dazzling radiance, rainbows, a holy throne and a booming voice. Such desires are foolish, for the New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ is the final Word of God spoken to men. To behold Christ is to behold the Father, for He has explained the Father. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “is the radiance of His (the Father) glory and the exact representation of His nature”.

Until Jesus returns, and we behold His actual face, we have no need to see Jesus in divine visions like the one Ezekiel had. Those days are past. We have Scripture, which speaks of Christ. We have Scripture, which speaks of God’s will for our life. We don’t need visions – we need people to expound God’s written word.

Whenever that occurs, whenever Scripture is taught accurately, we see Christ and we see God. In one sense, the revelation of Christ given to us in Scripture exceeds the glory of the vision of Ezekiel, for we are able to read about the great work that Christ has done, and all that He has accomplished and all that He is waiting to accomplish. There is no such assurance that Ezekiel learned in great detail anything about the plans of God to reconcile the world to Himself through Jesus. His encounters with God were real and significant, but, as Hebrews says, were but a portion of the whole.

Advertisements

Jeremiah

Jeremiah had a duel of words with a false prophet, in the presence of priests and people. The false prophet told the people God would bring back very quickly the Jews that were exiled.

Now in the same year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, in the fifth month, Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet, who was from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the LORD in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I am going to bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I am also going to bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles of Judah who went to Babylon,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’” Jeremiah 28: 1 – 4

This false prophet used the Lord’s name, attributed a message to God, and delivered that message to the people. But he was not called of God – Jeremiah was. Here is what followed the false prophecy:

Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and in the presence of all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD, and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD confirm your words which you have prophesied to bring back the vessels of the LORD’s house and all the exiles, from Babylon to this place. Yet hear now this word which I am about to speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people! The prophets who were before me and before you from ancient times prophesied against many lands and against great kingdoms, of war and of calamity and of pestilence. The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent.” Then Hananiah the prophet took the yoke from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet and broke it. Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Even so will I break within two full years the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations.’” Then the prophet Jeremiah went his way. The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah after Hananiah the prophet had broken the yoke from off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Go and speak to Hananiah, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “You have broken the yokes of wood, but you have made instead of them yokes of iron.” ‘For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “I have put a yoke of iron on the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and they will serve him. And I have also given him the beasts of the field.”’” Then Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.’” So Hananiah the prophet died in the same year in the seventh month. Jeremiah 28: 5 – 17

This battle of words between Jeremiah and Hananiah has a precedent in the garden of Eden. Just as Hananiah falsely predicted peace, Satan lied to Eve and told her she would not die if she ate of the forbidden fruit. The first lie told to men, recorded in Scripture, was a message of peace as opposed to truth. This is one of the hallmarks of false teachers – peace instead of truth.

This theme of peace versus truth has continued to our day. One type of false peace offered to people comes from America’s most popular Christian heretic, Joel Osteen. His primary doctrine is one of human potential – the ability for men to increase in God’s favor by applying the principles that Joel teaches. He teaches how to achieve dreams and live out visions. He teaches how to have “your best life now.” He leads his people in chants where they declare who they are becoming, as if their words held a magical power to bring their hopes to fruition: “I am strong!” “I am healthy!” “I am confident!” “I am secure!” “I am talented!” If leading sinners in those chants is not a false message of peace, then nothing is.

The Biblical truth, God’s truth, is a far different message. God would never deceive people into thinking they are strong when they are weak. God would never deceive people into thinking they are healthy when they are sick and dying. Jesus said as much in an encounter with some Pharisees.

It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice’, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9: 12 – 13

The Apostle Paul attests to the fact that Jesus calls the sick and sinful, when he reminds the Corinthians of who they really are.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. 1 Corinthians 1: 26 – 29

Jesus does not promise good health or strength and might to achieve all your dreams or talent that will impress all whom you encounter. He is not terribly concerned with such things, for His concern is far more weighty and substantial. His concern is with sin and redemption, hell and heaven, eternal death and eternal life.

The gospel of Jesus Christ makes no sense without presenting both the wrath of God and the redemption of God, hand in hand, side by side. If we could only be like John, who merely repeated the message that Jesus spoke.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3: 16

Do not believe – perish. Believe – do not perish. Simple logic spoken by Jesus. Let us repeat His message, for it is a true message of peace, far different from the messages of peace that flow from the mouths of the false prophets.

Isaiah

Jesus commissioned His disciples to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1: 8

After the ascension of Christ, and after the sending of the Spirit, the disciples began to fulfill the commission. In those very first days there was no New Testament; when the disciples taught about Jesus, they taught about Him from the Old Testament and demonstrated how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies in Scripture.

There is a great example of this methodology in the book of Acts, when Philip encounters an Ethiopian who is studying God’s word.

But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: “He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He does not open His mouth. In humiliation His judgment was taken away; who will relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.” The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. Acts 8: 26 – 35

Why did Philip need to explain the passage from Isaiah to the Ethiopian? Because when Isaiah wrote the passage, he did not write “this is about Jesus of Nazareth who will be born in about seven hundred years.” Only someone with an understanding of who Jesus is can interpret the life and work of Jesus and compare it to the text from Isaiah, to demonstrate to those listening how Jesus fulfilled the writing of the prophet.

Christians today suffer a problem opposite of the Ethiopian. The Ethiopian had the Old Testament, but he did not know of Jesus and had no New Testament to read. Christians today, if they read the Bible at all, tend to read the New Testament and know little of the Old Testament. They have no idea how the Jesus they believe in fits into the overall narrative of Scripture, and how He is the One the Old Testament said was coming. The power of the gospel witness of many contemporary Christians is reduced because it is historically ignorant and lacks depth.

So to anyone who is ignorant of the Old Testament, or to anyone who is familiar and gets great joy in reading prophecies about Christ, behold, the famous passage from Isaiah, which the Ethiopian was reading when he was encountered by Philip. This is an amazing picture of Jesus Christ over seven hundred years in advance of His incarnation. The gospel is clearly portrayed – that a man would die on behalf of sinners, and as a result they would be justified before God and have their sins forgiven. The entire passage is remarkable and ought to bolster confidence that Jesus is the Messiah of Scripture, for no one other than Jesus matches the description of the suffering servant prophesied by Isaiah.

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him. And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53