Month: December 2013

Malachi

Malachi ends the Old Testament on a bad note. He highlights the sins of the people – a people not far removed from the exile to Babylon due to sin. Rather than turning to God by living righteously, the post-exilic people of Malachi turned to sin: they intermarried with foreigners, they didn’t pay the tithe, they didn’t rest on the Sabbath, they offered lame sacrifices to God. God was not pleased.

“ ‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’ You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is to be despised.’ But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 1: 6 – 8

So the punishment of the exile did little to curb the sin of the people. In one sense, this ought to have been expected, for the words of the Mosaic Covenant, which promised blessing if the people were obedient, never inspired Israel to obedience. And the words of the covenant, which promised cursing if the people were disobedient, never caused Israel to fear sinning against God. The people always did what was right in their own eyes. In the days of Moses, they did what they wanted. In the days of the judges, they did what they wanted. In the days leading up to the exile, they did what they wanted. And now, after the exile and in the days of Malachi, they did what they wanted.

So the Old Testament ends on a bad note, in that the sin of the people is still raging and God is not pleased. The ineffectiveness of the Law to change people’s hearts is on full display. The inability to live up to God’s standard is evident. Yet despite all this, there is hope. God grants the prophet Malachi words that relate to the coming of the Messiah. He grants him words that discuss a great figure that will arise before the day of the Lord – a forerunner to Messiah.

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse. Malachi 4: 5 – 6

This great figure prophesied by Malachi is John the Baptist. Only by God’s providence could it be that the last verses of the last chapter of the last book of the Old Testament prepare the way for the New Testament. Now how do we know that Malachi speaks of John, since he used the name Elijah? Because Luke tells us:

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1: 5 – 17

Jesus Himself confirms that John is the Elijah of whom Malachi spoke.

For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Matthew 11: 13 – 15

If the Bible stopped at Malachi, the story would be incomplete. We would be left with the sin of the people and the mysterious Elijah who was to come before the day of the Lord. We would also be left to wonder about how that mysterious figure fit in with the Messiah, the son of David, the one of whom the prophets continually spoke.

But thankfully we have the New Testament. We have the completion to the story. We can read how John prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus, and how Jesus is the Messiah that the prophets spoke of and wrote about. We can read how the New Covenant established by Christ is better than the Old Covenant given through Moses. We can read how hearts are transformed, not by the Law, but by the very Spirit of God. We can read how the Messiah, the great coming king, had to die. We can read about Him rising from the dead on the third day. And we can read the sweet words of John the Baptist, recorded by John the apostle, concerning this Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, of whom the whole of the Old Testament, including Malachi, points to:

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ John 1: 29 – 30

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. John 3: 35 – 36

Obscure Advent Verses: Week 4

Last week we looked at the prophecy from Balaam regarding the Messiah, whom Balaam dubbed the star of Jacob. This prophecy finds its way, not directly, but by allusion and pattern, into the Christmas narrative written by Matthew.

For with Balaam, we have the pattern of a pagan prophet telling Israel about the Messiah, referring to a star. The pattern is repeated when the magi, religious pagans, travel to Jerusalem and tell Herod about the birth of Messiah, saying that they saw the Messiah’s star.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2: 1 – 2

One of the great mysteries of Scripture is how the magi, religious pagans from another land, were granted knowledge of the Messiah, and had such faith that they caravaned to Jerusalem in search of Him. Did God advise them in a dream? Did the prophet Daniel or other Jews in the court of Babylon, hundreds of years prior, advise the magi of those days regarding Messiah, and did those magi pass down the prophecies?

Since Scripture doesn’t answer those questions, we can only speculate. We do know that magi went to Herod and followed the star to Jesus’ post-birth home, within a couple of years of His birth in Bethlehem.

After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. Matthew 2: 9 – 12

Just as suddenly as the magi appeared, they left. But during their short stay in Scripture they were privileged to behold the infant Christ, a privilege not granted to many.

Although few in those days understood the implications of Jesus’ birth, it is not so in our day. Each and every Christmas what was the privilege of the magi is the privilege of God’s worldwide church, insomuch as we get to ponder the birth of Christ and the hope of Israel. Although we don’t get to see Christ in the flesh, we get to read about Him and celebrate the reason for His becoming man; a reason which, like the account of the magi, comes to us from Matthew.

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1: 20 – 21

Merry Christmas and praise be to the star of Jacob, the descendant of David and the bright morning star!

Zechariah

One of the most amazing Messianic prophecies in all the Bible comes from Zechariah. And no, I am not referring to the famous verse from chapter nine quoted in Matthew 21.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9: 9

Although this is a great prophecy, there is one more stunning that God gave to Zechariah. For rather than a prophecy about Jesus riding on a donkey, it is a prophecy about Jesus sitting on a throne. But He is not only sitting on the throne as king, which would be expected for the son of David; He is also sitting on the throne as priest, something unheard of in Israel.

Take silver and gold, make an ornate crown and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’ Zechariah 6: 11 – 13

The ruling structure of Israel had separate offices of king and priest. Priests were from the tribe of Levi. Kings were from the tribe of Judah. But when the Branch comes, according to Zechariah, He will combine the roles, and there will be peace between the two offices. These words of Zechariah are supported by a messianic psalm :

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.” Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; in holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110: 1 – 4

From the view of the Old Testament, when Messiah comes, He will be a king and a priest in the order of Melchizedek. He will not be a Levitical priest. And therefore it is anticipated that the Mosaic Law will come to an end and be replaced by the New Covenant, for why remove the priesthood from Levi unless great changes were going to occur?

In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews continues the discussion of this theme of Messiah as king/priest. The importance of this concept cannot be overstated, given the context of the Israel theocracy that was established through Moses. Age old structures, established by God, were changing, by God. The author goes to great lengths to explain that the changing of established structures was prophesied, and he further explains how the priesthood of Melchizedek exceeds the priesthood of Levi. His words are long and dense, but worth the read:

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, “the LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever’”); so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. Hebrews 7: 11 – 28

The book of Hebrews is called Hebrews for a reason. It wasn’t written for the pagan Gentile, although anyone in Christ benefits from reading it. It was written to Hebrews – those who knew the Law and who knew the intricacies and nuances of what was being written about. The author does well in explaining the logic of the king/priest role that Zechariah prophesied would come:

  • The priests of old were based on bloodline. The sons of Levi were priests, and when a priest would die he was replaced by another son of Levi. Jesus, who is the eternal God-man, never needs to be replaced due to death, and therefore His priestly work exceeds that of Levi.
  • The priests of old were sinners, and offered up sacrifices not only for the people, but for themselves. Jesus, the only man to ever be born under the Law and follow it without sin, has no need to repent of sins. And therefore His priestly work exceeds that of Levi. The priests of old were reminders of the sins of the people. The temple was nicknamed “the house of blood” due to the flow resulting from the sacrifices continually offered up. Jesus died once for all, and His blood was enough to end the daily sacrifice. The temple was no longer needed.

We can infer that the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy by Jesus was hard to grasp by Jewish converts, hence the explanation in the book of Hebrews. It is not easy to change, even with simple things on a personal level. Imagine how hard it must have been for the Hebrew Christians in the early church, to see the things that Moses wrote about (Levitical priesthood, sacrifices, etc.) going away. How hard must it have been to change their mindset, to change their understanding of God.

But, alas, if the teachers of that day cared more about the coming Messiah than creating a false law, and had taken to heart the prophecy of Zechariah, perhaps all of the Jews would have been better prepared to receive the words that the apostles taught about the Messiah, the one who combined the offices of king and priest, and who rules forever on His throne.

Obscure Advent Verses: Week 3

God used a pagan prophet to speak truth to Israel. The prophet was Balaam and the truth was about the coming Messiah.

The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush through the head of Moab, and tear down all the sons of Sheth. Numbers 24: 15 – 17

The star of Jacob is a Messianic theme, alluded to by Isaiah when he spoke of the Messiah:

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. Isaiah 9: 2

John continued this theme of light:

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1: 5

Jesus Himself said this:

I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. Revelation 22: 16

Given these Scriptures considered, one might say that on the very first Christmas, in the Bethlehem manger, a star was born.

Haggai

When one thinks of Haggai, one ought to think of “the temple of God”. For after the end of the exile, when Jews had returned to Jerusalem according to God’s promise, it was the prophet Haggai whom God used to exhort the Jews to continue their rebuilding of the destroyed temple of Solomon. Specifically, Haggai exhorted two main leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua, to lead the work:

In the second year of Darius the king, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘This people says, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt.” ’ ” Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” Haggai 1: 1 – 4
Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the LORD. Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke by the commission of the LORD to the people saying, “ ‘I am with you,’ declares the LORD.” So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God. Haggai 1: 12 – 14
On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now take courage Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts. Haggai 2: 1 – 4

Zerubbabel was from the tribe of Judah. His participation in the rebuilding of the temple continued a theme of Scripture, where persons from the tribe of Judah helped to build the Lord’s buildings. In the days of Moses when the tabernacle was constructed, Bezalel from Judah was used.

Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship;… Exodus 35: 30 – 31

Hundreds of years later, Solomon from Judah, David’s son, oversaw the building of the first temple.

As for the house which King Solomon built for the LORD, its length was sixty cubits and its width twenty cubits and its height thirty cubits. 1 Kings 6: 2

So in the days of Haggai when God used Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, to build the second temple, the pattern was continued. This pattern continued once more, when a few hundred years after Zerubbabel, God used a man from the tribe of Judah to build a temple. This man God used was a descendant of Zerubbabel, no less.

The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. Matthew 1: 1 – 2, 12

Jesus the Messiah – of Judah, of David, of Zerubbabel – built a temple made not of stones nor by human hands, but of flesh and human hearts. This temple He built was the church.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it…” Matthew 16: 13 – 18

The church, built on Christ and His gospel, is the combined group of Jews and Gentiles whom God granted faith to in Jesus Christ. The age old distinction between Jew and Gentile was done away with.

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2: 13 – 22

But in order to make this temple of living people, Jesus had to die; the temple of His body had to be destroyed.

And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume Me.” The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. John 2: 15 – 21

The Jews destroyed Jesus’ body. And on the third day He raised it from the dead. He established His church, His temple of living people, and made obsolete the physical temple with animal sacrifices.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. Hebrews 9: 11 – 12

When meditating on this great plan of God – the establishing of a New Covenant by the blood of Christ – one should note that what Christ did on earth was possible, in part, because God spoke to the prophet Haggai, who spoke to Zerubbabel and Joshua. Those two men listened to the prophet and led the people to build the second temple. Without Zerubabbel’s temple, there would not have been Herod’s temple. Without Herod’s temple, there would not have been a veil to be torn, upon the death of Christ.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. Matthew 27: 50 – 51

Without the torn veil, the words of Hebrews would have no significance to us:

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10: 19 – 22

But since the veil of the temple was torn, we can have great confidence before God, as the author of Hebrews says. And we should be comforted knowing that we are Christ’s temple, the people whom He died for.

Hallelujah!

Obscure Advent Verses: Week 2

Last week the blessing that Jacob gave to Judah was offered as an “obscure advent” passage. Jacob told Judah that his people would rule “until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

The mysterious phrase “until Shiloh comes”, spoken by Jacob, means “until he comes to whom it belongs.” 1 This phrase is a link to another obscure advent passage; a passage that occurs in the book of Ezekiel:

Therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Because you have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your deeds your sins appear – because you have come to remembrance, you will be seized with the hand. And you, O slain, wicked one, the prince of Israel, whose day has come, in the time of the punishment of the end,’ thus says the Lord God, ‘Remove the turban and take off the crown; this will no longer be the same. Exalt that which is low and abase that which is high. A ruin, a ruin, a ruin, I will make it. This also will be no more until He comes whose right it is, and I will give it to Him.’ Ezekiel 21: 24 – 27

In this passage, God through the prophet Ezekiel tells king Zedekiah, the last Davidic king of Judah, that He is taking the crown from him. Not only does God take the crown from Zedekiah, but He tells him that there will not be another Davidic king “until He comes whose right it is, and I will give it to Him.”

God, in this prophecy through Ezekiel, reveals that there will not be another legitimate king until Messiah. And perhaps this is why Herod, the illegitimate king over God’s people, was so very concerned when he heard that Christ was born.

1 The Zondervan NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids, 1999

Zephaniah

When God had determined to exile the southern kingdom of Judah, He sent them prophets to warn of the pending destruction. Zephaniah was one of those prophets and he spoke these words:

The word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah:…I will stretch out My hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests. And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, and those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom, and those who have turned back from following the LORD, and those who have not sought the LORD or inquired of Him. Zephaniah 1: 1, 4 – 6

This was a scathing rebuke of the false religion occurring in Judah. Priests and laity were worshipping Baal. They were swearing by Milcom and swearing by the name of the Lord. They exchanged God’s truth for their own religious lies. They were syncretistic and polytheistic in their worship.

This phenomenon of false religion that perverts the Lord’s truth is not unique to the days of the exile. It is not as if people worshipped God falsely only in that day, but now things are fine. Rather, Jesus spoke some words that paint a picture similar to the one that Zephaniah painted with his words.

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Matthew 7: 15 – 23

Jesus is speaking about the final judgment. People who on the surface claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, many of whom hold the office of pastor or missionary or servant of the church, but many who are just normal congregants, will be condemned by Christ on the day of judgment.

Why?

Because when they say “Lord, Lord,’ and acknowledge with their lips that Jesus is Lord, they are at the same time in the secret tunnels of their heart repudiating His truth. For they attempt, on the day of judgment and in the presence of Jesus, to boast of their works as a means of entrance into heaven. They boast in the great things they did – prophecies, exorcisms, miracles – rather than boasting in Jesus Christ and His atoning death and resurrection.

Therefore, because the claim they present to God is someone other than Jesus Christ, their religion is syncretistic and polytheistic, just like the Jews in the days of Zephaniah. But they are not calling on the name of Baal or Milcom – they are calling their own name. They have deified themselves, so to speak, by thinking that they are adding to the work of Christ, and have a right to enter heaven apart from Jesus. If Jesus is God, and His power is not enough for salvation, then certainly these people are exalting themselves up to the level of a god greater than Jesus, if they think their work is enough for salvation.

To boast of works in the presence of Jesus Christ, especially as a means of salvation, is the surest way to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding and faith in the Jesus of Scripture. And this is why Jesus says “I never knew you…”, prior to exiling the false Christians for eternity.

Jesus Himself was asked what the work of God is. He was asked to explain that great thing that people ought to do. And He did not say “Prophesy! Cast out demons! Perform miracles!” He said this:

Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” John 6: 26 – 29

God does not ask us to prophesy in His name, He does not ask us to cast out demons in His name, He does not ask us to perform miracles in His name, in order to inherit eternal life. No – He doesn’t ask us to do anything. He asks us to believe in Jesus the Messiah.

For those of us who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we take great comfort in the words that Zephaniah offered to the remnant of Israel. For they are words that apply to the return of Christ and the establishment of His eternal rule, and therefore they apply also to us:

Shot for joy, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away His judgments against you, He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you will fear disaster no more. In that day it will be said to Jerusalem: “Do not be afraid, O Zion; do not let your hands fall limp. The LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” Zephaniah 3: 14 – 17