The Scarlet Thread

Obadiah

The Apostle Paul had this to say to the Corinthians regarding events of the Old Testament:

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 1 Corinthians 10: 11

In the immediate context of the passage, Paul was pointing the Corinthians to accounts of unbelief and sin which were punished by God. Here is what he said leading up to the verse just quoted:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 1 Corinthians 10: 1 – 2, 5 – 10

Those examples of God’s wrath on Israel are minor in comparison to the great wrath to come upon the whole world. Of this wrath the prophet Obadiah writes, and his words can be of great instruction to us.

For the day of the LORD draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head. Because just as you drank on My holy mountain, all the nations will drink continually. They will drink and swallow and become as if they had never existed. Obadiah 15 – 16

The wrath of God here is pictured as a cup being poured out; the people are drinking God’s wrath. This prophetic imagery is also used by Jeremiah:

For thus the LORD, the God of Israel, says to me, “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it…” Jeremiah 25: 15

The notion of God’s wrath being poured out on the nations is an awful thing. It is not awful in that it is bad, but it is awful in that it is full of awe and wonder. The pure justice of God being poured out on deserving sinners, like never before – not even did Noah’s days see such things – this is truly an awful sight to behold.

Who then can be saved? Who will not reap wrath for the sin they have sown? Who will not be forced to drink the cup of the wine of wrath? Simply, amazingly, wondrously – the only people who will not have to drink of the cup will be those who put their trust in the One who drank the cup for them.

And who drank the cup? Jesus of Nazareth.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”…He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Matthew 26: 36 – 39, 42

The author of Hebrews comments on the account of Christ crying out to His Father in the garden of Gethsemane, saying this:

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety…And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation… Hebrews 5: 7, 9

Shortly after His words in the garden, Jesus was arrested. And then he was mocked and flogged and crucified unto death. On that cross the wrath of God the Father was poured out upon His Son.

How interesting it is, that before Jesus drank of the wrath of God on Calvary, He shared a cup of wine with His disciples. It was not a cup of wrath, but a cup of forgiveness – of covenant forgiveness – of a forgiveness that God promises on oath to all in Christ, and He will never revoke it.

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26: 26 – 28

So it is that in the end of days, all people will be given a cup to drink. Many will receive a cup of wrath, fulfilling the words of Obadiah. But there are those who will be given a cup, and a seat, at the banquet table of the Messiah; at the marriage supper of the Lamb. And they will drink of the Lord’s forgiveness forever.

Amos

One of the hardest things for a Christian to truly understand, having come from darkness and learning to live in the light, is the free gift of salvation offered by God. It is hard to believe that works play no role in our standing with God, other than to condemn us. We cannot be justified before God by our works – this is a clear New Testament teaching:

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Romans 3: 19- 20

If the New Testament distinction between law and grace is hard for us to understand, even though we have the Scripture available to us and two thousand years of Christian theology, imagine how hard it must have been for the early Jewish converts to understand, who had no written New Testament, and whose primary theological context was living under the God-ordained Mosaic covenant within the God-ordained nation of Israel, albeit with the false teachings of the Pharisees and others perverting God’s truth.

It took time for some of those Jewish Christians to work out the implications of the gospel in their lives; they could not simply “flip a switch” and move from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant in their thinking and practice. In fact, due to this dilemma of moving from the Old to the New, a church council had to be held. There occurred such a serious debate as to the true nature of salvation that there had to be a meeting of the leaders of the church. The early church had to work through the reality of Gentiles coming to faith in Christ and yet not abiding by the commands of Moses. The important details of this council were recorded in Acts.

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Acts 15: 1 – 12

In this council, Peter and Paul and Barnabas spoke about their preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles and the signs and wonders they performed; their testimony was offered as proof to the Pharisee converts that the things occurring were of God. But no good Jew should simply rely on religious experience as proof of God’s activity, for Moses warned about such things:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamers of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 13: 1 – 3

Surely to some degree the message of the apostles seemed like the dreams of a dreamer, calling people away from the God of Israel to worship a new God, Jesus. But the apostles did not simply rely on their experiences as the proof that their ministry was true and ordained by the God of Israel. The apostles went to the Scripture (the Old Testament) and demonstrated where the gospel was foreshadowed by the Law and the Prophets. In this Jerusalem council, the apostle James referred to a passage from Amos as proof that God was indeed opening up salvation to the Gentiles and that the experiences related by Peter and Paul and Barnabas have precedent in the Scripture.

After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ says the LORD, who makes these things known from long ago. Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles…Acts 15: 13 – 19

James quoted Amos to prove that the prophets spoke of God calling the Gentiles. It was not sufficient to solely rely on the experiences related by the apostles, especially when considering the warning from Moses about false prophets and false signs and wonders. It was of paramount importance for the apostles to relate the gospel to the Old Testament, and this was not a method of their own invention, but taught to them by Jesus Himself.

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Luke 24: 44 – 47

We can learn much from the apostolic method of gospel preaching and from the Jerusalem council in which Amos’ words were invoked. For if we are to preach the gospel to unbelievers in a manner worthy of the apostles, we cannot only rely on sharing our personal experiences with Christ. We must also endeavor to demonstrate to the lost how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled so many prophecies – prophecies which were hundreds and thousands of years in advance – prophecies like the one spoken by Amos, in which the God of Israel boldly declared that one day the nations would call on His name.

It is a powerful thing to show how God has interacted throughout history, in both declaring things in advance and bringing them to pass. This is how the apostles taught the Christian Pharisees that God was opening up salvation to the Gentiles and that they would not be required to bear the Mosaic Covenant. That same message of grace is what we, and our neighbors, need to hear.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith…Romans 3: 21 – 25

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands – remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 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. Ephesians 2: 11 – 16

Joel

When Jesus spoke with the disciples after His resurrection, He told them that they would take His gospel to the ends of the earth. But He also told them that prior to the gospel spreading, they should sit and wait for the Holy Spirit.

Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but 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: 4 – 8

While waiting, the Feast of Weeks came – a celebration ordained by God through Moses that occurred on the fiftieth day after the Sabbath of Passover week. This feast was also known by the name of Pentecost, a Greek word meaning fifty (representing the fifty day interval between Passover and the Feast). It was on the day of Pentecost when the words of Jesus were fulfilled and the power of the Holy Spirit came to the disciples.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” Acts 2: 1 – 13

Those who witnessed the disciples speaking in foreign tongues were amazed, and some blamed the phenomenon on drunkenness. Peter responded to the mockers by quoting the prophet Joel and explaining his prophecy as pointing to Jesus Christ and the New Covenant He established.

But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy. And I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” Acts 2: 14 – 24

Peter explained to the mockers and those standing in amazement how this outpouring of the Spirit fulfilled the words of the prophet Joel. And Jesus, before His death, provided insight into why the Spirit spoken of by Joel was to be given to the disciples:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John 14: 26

The Spirit was given, in part, so that the disciples could remember what Jesus taught and did and accurately pass on His gospel (in words spoken and words written). This is why the New Testament scriptures could be penned with precision and accuracy. Understanding this ministry of the Holy Spirit, to recall Christ and His work, helps us to understand what happened on Pentecost. The ability of the disciples to speak in different languages was a sign and wonder illustrating the future advance of the gospel to the nations of the earth; it was a testimony to those in Jerusalem that God had ended the Mosaic Covenant, established the New Covenant, and opened up salvation to the Gentiles.

It is a mistake to look at the day of Pentecost and to think that the sign and wonder of speaking in foreign tongues was the most important lesson to learn, and that we ought to try and replicate it with our own signs and wonders. Many in the church today try to do this – holy laughter, getting drunk in the spirit, babbling in unintelligible languages – these are things in charismatic and Pentecostal circles that attempt to replicate what happened on the day of Pentecost and to demonstrate that the Spirit has been poured out in their own lives. But those are false signs. Evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in someone’s life is not when one laughs uncontrollably or babbles nonsense in strange tongues (although there is a legitimate gift of the Spirit of speaking in tongues), but when one demonstrates an understanding of Scripture (which the Holy Spirit inspired to be written), believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, and lives a peaceful and temperate life in obedience to God’s commands (which the Holy Spirit enables us to do).

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and wordly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” Titus 2: 11 – 14

Hosea

Prior to Christ, the special revelation of God was given to the Israelites. They were the ones who from the time of Abraham were the recipients of God’s covenants and promises. No other nation could boast of such a relationship with God. As Paul said,

…Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh…Romans 9 : 4 – 5

The hope of the Christ, the Messiah, came through the Jewish prophets. He was not foretold by the Gentile sages. And when that Messiah came, He did something that was unexpected, even though it was recorded by the prophets and found in the Old Testament: Jesus opened up the special revelation of God, and a new covenant, to the Gentiles. No longer were the Jews the exclusive owners of God’s truth. Now, because of what Jesus did on the cross, the Gentiles, once outside of the faith, could now partake in the faith. The prophet Hosea spoke about this – a far off people being brought near to God.

Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and in the place where it is said to them, “You are not My people,” it will be said to them, “You are the sons of the living God.” Hosea 1: 10

Both Peter and Paul applied these words of Hosea to the gospel they were preaching, a gospel given to them by Christ. It must have been amazing for them to see Gentiles believing in the God of the Jews, and to have assurance that the prophets, like Hosea, spoke of such things.

Here is what Paul wrote to the Romans:

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved,’ and it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.”…What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Romans 9: 22 – 26, 30 – 31

Here is what Peter wrote:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 1: 1 – 2, 2: 9 – 10

To believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is to disbelieve the notion that America, or any other Gentile nation, is a nation that God has formed a special covenant relationship with. According to Scripture, God has given good news to all Gentiles, regardless of tribe or tongue, should they believe in the Christ whom the Father sent to Israel as Messiah and King.

Now is the time when God is calling all people to Himself, and many will respond. It is the cumulative responses of Jew and Gentile that will cause the sons of Israel, as Hosea writes, to be too many to count.

Daniel

Eschatology is the study of the end times, the term deriving from the Greek “eschatos”, which means “last”. The prophet Daniel had an eschatological vision of the coming Messiah.

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. Daniel 7: 13 – 14

In this vision the coming Messiah is called “Son of Man”, a name Jesus applied to Himself many times in the New Testament. The vision describes the return of Jesus, whom God promised to give an everlasting throne and a never-ending kingdom. I tend to think Daniel thought his vision pertained to the one and only coming of the Christ, since the reality of a first and second coming was not really revealed until Jesus walked this earth. But perhaps the Holy Spirit told Daniel about the plan of salvation in greater detail than what he recorded in his book.

Daniel is not the only book in Scripture which mentions the arrival of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven – this vision is abundantly supported by the New Testament.

But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. Matthew 24: 29 – 31

But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26: 63 – 64

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but 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.” And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” Acts 1: 6 – 11

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4: 16 – 18

Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1: 7 – 8

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand…Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped. Revelation 14: 14, 16

The Scripture teaches in multiple places that Jesus will return on the clouds of heaven. His return will be one of judgment, for it is at that time when the wheat are separated from the tares, the sheep are separated from the goats, those granted eternal life are separated from those given eternal torment.

It is fitting that Daniel, who saw such a great vision of Jesus upon the clouds, would also be the one to give the first clear reference in Scripture to the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12: 2

To those who are in Christ, who have embraced His first coming, His second coming will be a day of rejoicing. But to those who reject His first coming, His second coming will be a day of trembling. It will also be a day fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel, given thousands of years ago, and currently awaiting fulfillment.

It will be fulfilled. Are you comforted by the coming of the Son of Man? May all who are in Christ take comfort in the promise of the resurrection that awaits, a promise given to Daniel.

But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age. Daniel 12: 13

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.

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

Song of Solomon

As a love poem, the Song of Solomon excels in extolling earthly marriage. The Song can be hard to follow, due to its poetic language and multiple voices speaking. But one need not fully understand the Song to understand its place in Scripture.

The Song, and the joyous earthly marriage of which it sings, points us ahead to a greater reality. This greater reality is expressed in the Old Testament but is more clearly expressed in the New Testament: the Lord has declared that in regards to the relationship with His people, He is the husband and His people are the bride.

“For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the LORD of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. For the LORD has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God. Isaiah 54: 5 – 6

For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you. Isaiah 62: 5

“…I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 31: 32

The reality of this relationship, clearly seen in the Old Testament, is also affirmed in the New Testament.

And they said to Him, “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” And Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? But the days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” Luke 5: 33 – 35

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19: 7 – 9

The ultimate marriage is when Jesus returns and weds His purified bride. We are all awaiting this wedding, for it will be the start of life “happily ever after”, where sin and evil and pain are cast away and only shalom with God remains. Knowing that the ultimate marriage is between God and His church, and that earthly marriage is modeled after, and points ahead, to that ultimate marriage, these words of Christ should make more sense:

Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection), and they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he is childless, his brother should marry the wife and raise up children to his brother. Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; and the second and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. Finally the woman died also. In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection…” Luke 20: 27 – 36

Jesus teaches that marriage is an earthly institution and it does not carry on into the next life. When Jesus returns to claim His bride, the ultimate marriage will occur and there is no longer a need for lesser marriages to point to His. Hopefully, as the church awaits her Groom and the age to come, the words of the bride in the Song of Solomon come to mind.

Listen! My beloved! Behold, he is coming. Climbing on the mountains, leaping on the hills! My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he is standing behind our wall. He is looking through the windows, he is peering through the lattice. My beloved responded and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along. For behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have already appeared in the land; the time has arrived for pruning the vines, and the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land. The fig tree has ripened its figs, and the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance. Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along!’ Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13

In the final words of the Song, the bride implores her husband to hurry.

Hurry, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.

As we wait for our Groom, what is His response to our plea to “hurry”?

“Yes, I am coming quickly.” Revelation 22: 20

Amen. Come Lord Jesus!

Ecclesiastes

The book of Ecclesiastes has a reputation of being heavy and depressing.  This reputation is somewhat deserved, for the book deals with the concept of a life lived without God.  The author, presumed to be Solomon, came to accurate and honest conclusions regarding a life lived outside of the will of God, whether it be as an atheist, who denies God outright, or as a pagan, who turns from the one true and living God to false gods and idols (which Solomon did).  The conclusions of an atheistic or pagan lifestyle are heavy and depressing.  Consider what Solomon said:

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.”  What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?  A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  Ecclesiastes 1: 2 – 4

I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.  And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.  It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.  I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.  What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.  Ecclesiastes 1: 12 – 15

Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me.  Why then have I been extremely wise?”  So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.”  For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten.  And how the wise man and the fool alike die!  So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.  Ecclesiastes 2: 15 – 17

Without the one true God providing an objective body of truth by which Solomon could evaluate the various enigmas of life, he concluded that all was vanity and meaningless.  Why labor hard when you are going to die and lose all you worked for?  Why strive for wisdom when the fool meets the same fate (death)?  These are appropriate conclusions to draw if there is no God or if He has not revealed His will to us.  For considering that all go to the grave and cannot escape the clutches of death, many things of this life do seem futile and lacking ultimate meaning.

But Solomon did not stay down in the dumps; he also reflected upon the God of Israel, and a life lived according to His will, and despite the heaviness of Ecclesiastes there is also a hopeful tone.  Solomon was able to see the meaning and purpose of earthly living based upon the light of the revelation of God.

There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good.  This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.  For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?  For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight…Ecclesiastes 2: 24 – 26

I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor – it is the gift of God.  I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.  Ecclesiastes 3: 12 – 14

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.  For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.  Ecclesiastes 12: 13 – 14

Upon all his reflection, Solomon ends Ecclesiastes, in essence, with the Mosaic covenant – “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person”.  It seems fitting that Solomon, having thoughtfully considered life with and without God, would return to the covenant of God given through Moses and preserved in Scripture, for it is the covenant of God that gave meaning and insight and purpose to Israel.

This notion of examining life lived outside of the covenant of God is also present in the New Testament.  Just as Solomon reflected upon his apostasy, the Apostle Paul examined the claim of some Corinthians who said they were Christian but who denied that a body could be resurrected.  These Christians wanted to receive the blessings of the New Covenant while denying the historical facts upon which the New Covenant is based.  They wanted to live, so to speak, outside of the will of God, while still claiming to believe in God (just as Solomon did when his wives led him astray).

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.  Moreover we are found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  1 Corinthians 15: 12 – 17

Just as the atheist wants to be able to deny God and yet claim there are objective truths on which one can base their life, these Christians Paul addressed wanted to claim they were Christian while denying an essential doctrine that is a basis of Christian faith.  Paul did not grant them their wish, for he exposed their hypocrisy in claiming to believe in Jesus while denying bodily resurrection.  Paul rightly told them that if they deny the resurrection, they deny the entire Christian faith and there has been no “once-for-all” answer for sin.  In other words, life outside of the real Christ is meaningless, for there is no forgiveness of sin and only the judgment of God awaits us after death.  False christs, such as a Jesus who exists outside of a real bodily resurrection, offer no hope.

However, just as Solomon was able to turn back to the God of Israel and appropriately evaluate life, Paul too was able to instruct the Corinthians of the truths of God that derive from the actual resurrection of Jesus and that allow one to appropriately understand life under the New Covenant.

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.  The last enemy that will be abolished is death.  1 Corinthians 15: 21 – 26

One of the great Christian hopes due to the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is that we too will be resurrected and made alive in Christ for eternity.  One day Jesus will return and claim His kingdom in full – those whom He has rejected will be sent away and those whom He has saved will live on a renewed earth as willing subjects under a righteous King.

In the meantime, between now and then, one of the primary meanings and purposes of a New Covenant Christian is to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ kingdom, since God desires the gospel to be made known to all people.  Everyone, when Jesus returns, will either by part of His kingdom or will be sent away condemned to hell.

If they are condemned, having refused the forgiveness of Christ for the duration of their whole life, they will spend an eternity outside of the love of God, and they will lose all meaning and purpose.  All of their earthly striving for pleasure and power, their continual rejection of God, will result in the heavy and depressing conclusions of Solomon:  their life on earth will have been “vanity of vanities” and “meaningless”.