The Scarlet Thread

Nahum

The book of Nahum is a prophecy against the city of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire – the same Nineveh to which Jonah was sent. Upon the preaching of the prophet Jonah, Nineveh repented and God withdrew His threatened wrath. Yet the repentance of Nineveh was temporary, hence the words of Nahum proclaiming God’s coming judgment; a judgment that would not be withdrawn as in the days of Jonah.

Who were these objects of wrath, the Assyrians?

They were a wicked people. A pastor once said that an ancient town, upon hearing that the Assyrians were coming, committed mass suicide, to avoid the awful torture that Assyria was known for. Archaeologists have uncovered bronze reliefs depicting heads impaled on stakes, severed heads hanging from city walls, soldiers holding victims by stumpy arms and legs, with dismembered hands and feet littering the ground. The following quote is from the Assyrian king Sennacherib, a king who is referenced in Scripture:

“I cut their throats like lambs. I cut off their precious lives (as one cuts) a string. Like the many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon the wide earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot, which brings low the wicked and the evil, were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I filled the plain, like grass. (Their) testicles I cut off, and tore out their privates like the seeds of cucumbers.”1

This quote portrays a disgusting and violent treatment of people captured in war. The Assyrian rulers were ruthless and the people of Assyria were wicked. The common folk may not have mutilated prisoners of war like their military did, yet the whole culture was lifted up in pride, worshipped false gods and filled with wickedness. Hence the words of Nahum to the city of Nineveh:

Woe to the bloody city, completely full of lies and pillage; her prey never departs. The noise of the whip, the noise of the rattling of the wheel, galloping horses and bounding chariots! Horsemen charging, swords flashing, spears gleaming, many slain, a mass of corpses, and countless dead bodies – they stumble over the dead bodies! All because of the many harlotries of the harlot, the charming one, the mistress of sorceries, who sells nations by her harlotries and families by her sorceries. “Behold, I am against you,” declares the LORD of hosts; “And I will lift up your skirts over your face, and show to the nations your nakedness and to the kingdoms your disgrace. I will throw filth on you and make you vile, and set you up as a spectacle. Nahum 3: 1 – 6

Historians accept the destruction of Nineveh as fact, although they obviously do not attribute the fall to divine wrath. But for us who understand that the city fell by God’s order, it is worth noting that before its fall, and despite its abominations, blasphemies and cruelties, God through the prophet Jonah gave it a chance to repent. What a great demonstration of the grace of God, that even people like the Assyrians were not outside of the reach of God’s saving hand!

Now the words of Nahum and the fall of Nineveh may seem to be obscure Biblical knowledge, since for us ordinary citizens of a modern society, the unbelieving friends and acquaintances we have are not like the Assyrians and their king Sennacherib. We do not know mighty warriors who gut or castrate their captives, who spill entrails and dismember hands and feet. Yet due to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must be aware of the fact that spiritually speaking, we do know people like Sennacherib. For God judges the heart, and Jesus gave us words regarding the heart of man and God’s judgment of it:

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Matthew 5: 21 – 22

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man. Matthew 15: 18 – 20

There is not one person alive who is innocent of committing verbal murder, and who would avoid the fiery hell, based on the words of Jesus. Therefore, as we think of our unbelieving friends and acquaintances, or even strangers, it may be helpful to view the situation as being analogous to Jonah and Nineveh. We are as Jonah preaching to the citizens of Nineveh. We preach the gospel so that people might believe and repent and be granted life in God, and not have to be subjected to words of wrath on the day of the Lord – such as Nineveh was in the day of Nahum.

As we do this, as we share the gospel of grace with a view of God’s wrath, what helps us deliver this hard message with humility and gentleness is remembering that we too were once like the Assyrians – lost and in darkness and without hope. But the grace of God reached Nineveh in the days of Jonah, it reached us where we were at, and it can reach anyone at any time as God wills, no matter who they are.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6: 9 – 11

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1: 13 – 14

1http://faculty.uml.edu/ethan_Spanier/Teaching/documents/CP6.0AssyrianTorture.pdf

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Micah

Christmas is approaching, and so is the time when verses regarding the birth of Christ will be read throughout churches and Christian households. Undoubtedly the first three verses of Matthew 2 will be part of the seasonal reading:

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.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Matthew 2: 1 – 3

These three verses are rich with meaning – a meaning that derives from the history of Israel recorded in the Old Testament. For it is written that God gave Israel David as king. David was then promised an eternal throne by God, and David’s descendants ruled for a few hundred years. Due to perpetual sin, God exiled His people to Babylon and ended the Davidic dynasty. From that time until the birth of Jesus, God did not allow a son of David to sit on a throne as king. In fact, via the prophet Ezekiel, God told Zedekiah, the last Davidic king, that there would be no more Davidic kings until Messiah.

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

The last sentence from this Ezekiel quotation is an allusion to the Messianic prophecy in Genesis 49: 10.

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

Although God had ended the Davidic rule over Israel, it was because of God’s promise to David and because of the words of the prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and others, that there was great anticipation for the Messiah. People believed God would send Messiah and establish David’s eternal throne.

Moving ahead now to the birth of Jesus, we understand why Herod, an Idumean and not a son of David, was king – because God had ended the rule of the Davidic kings and allowed for Israel to be subjegated to Rome. And because of the people’s anticipation for the coming Davidic king, the illegitimate king Herod was terribly troubled upon the arrival of the magi, who asked him about a baby born as “King of the Jews”.

It is fascinating that Herod, a king appointed by Rome, an Idumean and not a Jew, believed enough in the possibility of a coming king to inquire of the scribes and priests as to where the Scriptures say the Messiah would be born. And yet it is obvious he did not believe in the hope of the Messiah, for it was his will to kill the baby who was born.

When asked by Herod to tell of the place where the Messiah would be born, the scribes answered with the words of the prophet Micah.

Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Matthew 2: 4 – 6

That prophecy from Micah was given seven centuries earlier – the Jews kept note of it for seven hundred years, for they did believe God would keep His word. What is fascinating about the fulfillment of Micah’s words is that the only reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem is because Caesar Augustus decreed that a census would be taken, and this census required people to travel to their own city. As a result, Joseph and Mary, from Nazareth, descendants of David, went to Bethlehem to register, for that was the city of David.

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son…Luke 2: 1 – 7

God used the decree of a Gentile ruler to bring to pass Micah’s prophecy – that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Over thirty years later, God would use the decree of Pontius Pilate to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy – that the Christ would suffer and die.

So Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem in accordance with the words of the prophet Micah. He was born to be king, but not a normal king. For what king offers himself as a propitiation and sacrifice for sins? Only one.

…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

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Luke 1: 30 – 33

Jonah

What do these two gospel definitions, from Jesus and Paul, have in common?

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…Luke 24: 45 – 46

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…1 Corinthians 15: 3 – 4

Both Jesus and Paul declare that the Scriptures, meaning the Old Testament, prophesied that the Christ would rise from the dead on “the third day”.

Yet this is a gospel mystery – nowhere in the Old Testament will you find a prophecy that states, in effect, “the coming Messiah will die and then rise from the dead on the third day.”

So we are presented with a paradox: there is no literal prophecy in the Old Testament about a third day resurrection, and yet both Jesus and Paul said Scripture teaches that doctrine. How does one make sense of this?

In order to make sense of it, one must grow in their understanding of Biblical prophecy. It is more than “prediction – fulfillment”, as in, someone says something will happen and then it happens. There is a mode of prophecy that is based on patterns. In the Bible, God over time repeats certain patterns to prepare one to receive a greater truth. This is known as typology (the study of types), and without understanding typology one will lack a certain depth in their Biblical comprehension. Here is an explanation of the mode from some Christian scholars:

Typology ought to be viewed as a subset of predictive prophecy, not in the sense of verbal predictions, but in the sense of predictions built on models/patterns that God himself has established, that become known gradually as later texts reinforce those patterns, with the goal of anticipating what comes later in Christ.1

Applying this concept of types and patterns to Scripture, one needs to look no further than the book of Jonah. Jonah has Messianic implications, not through predictive prophecy, but because of a type found in the first chapter. You may recall that Jonah was thrown into the sea for his sin. The Scripture says:

So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1: 15 – 17

Now there is nothing obviously prophetic in this passage. But the words of Christ give it significance.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12: 38 – 41

I am sure there are a great many Christians who have read Jesus’ words here and have understood the parallel – three days in the fish for Jonah and three days in the earth for Jesus. But it is more than a neat coincidence, and it would be my guess that many do not know Jesus is giving Jonah typological significance and that typology is not limited only to Jonah but has further applications in Biblical reading and interpretation.

It is true – the only way to understand the words of Jesus and Paul, when they say that the Scripture teaches a third day resurrection, is to understand the Old Testament types that point to a third day resurrection. And there are more than just in Jonah, although not many more. I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure none of the other third day types are pointed out by Jesus or the apostles, although there is a slight reference to one in the book of Hebrews. The other third day types can only be discerned after training the mind to look for such things and then reading through Scripture.

It is significant, I think, that the gospel definitions offered by Jesus and Paul, in Luke 24 and 1 Corinthians 15, cannot be fully understood without knowing how types function in Scripture. And since the Holy Spirit inspired the written word, and inspired the types to be documented, they are worth paying attention to, and it is a study worth undertaking.

Although theologians and Bible exegetes sometimes get nervous about typology, because they don’t want people turning everything in the Bible into a type, nevertheless it is a legitimate mode of Bible prophecy, and as in all things pertaining to Bible study, it ought to be done with care and with precision, and with respecting what the Holy Spirit is communicating through Scripture, not forcing what we think or feel upon the Holy Text.

1Gentry & Wellum. Kingdom Through Covenant, pg 103. Wheaton: Crossway. 2012. Print.

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.