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
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