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Monday, August 31, 2009

The Unity of the Faith ( 'once delivered..............' )

There are several issues that I want to address in this article; first and foremost of which is: 'what do we mean by 'the unity of the faith' ( Ephesians 4:13 ) , why is it so important, and how do we attain it ( if we don't already have it )?' To answer this question; we first must 'nail down' what we mean by 'unity' ( pretty self explanatory, right? ) and what we mean by 'faith'; is this our 'faith', or is this 'the faith once delivered to the saints' ( Jude 3 ), the faith that is 'a gift of God' ( Ephesians 2:8 )? Merriam-Webster's On-line Dictionary defines 'unity' as ': the quality or state of not being multiple', and 'a condition of harmony', among other things. 'Faith' is doubtless used in two different ways; both, of man ( Numbers 12:7, I Samuel 22:14, Psalm 31:23, 101:6, Proverbs 15:23, Isaiah 8:2, Jeremiah 23:28, Ezekiel 18:9, Daniel 6:4, Micah 7:2, Habakkuk 2:4, Matthew 8:10, 9:2,22 &29, 15:28, Acts 6:8, I Corinthians 4:2, Galatians 2:16, 3, Ephesians 1:1, 6:23, Philippians 2:17, Colossians 1:4, 2:5, I Thessalonians 1:8, 3:5, I Timothy 1:12, II Timothy 2:2, Philemon 1:5 & 6, Hebrews 3:5, James 1:3, 2:18, I Peter 1:7-9, II Peter 1:5, I John 5:4, Jude 20, Revelation 2:10, 17:14, etc. ), and of God ( Deuteronomy 7:9, Nehemiah 9:33, Psalm 36:5, 37:3, 71:22, 89:5, 119:90, Isaiah 49:7, Lamentations 3:23, Hosea 11:12, II Corinthians 1:18, Ephesians 6:23, I Thessalonians 5:24, II Thessalonians 3:3, II Timothy 2:13, Hebrews 2:17, James 2:1, I Peter 4:19, I John 1:9, Revelation 1:5, 14:12, 19:11, etc. ), although, unarguably, the former comes from the latter ( Hebrews 12:2 ). The 'faith' that Scripture speaks of, in so many places, refers, not to 'doctrines of men' ( Colossians 2:20-23 ), but to this 'faith once delivered to the saints' ( Jude 3 ). The 'New Living Translation', which I don't usually quote from, reads 'Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people'. This 'faith' is the belief, the knowledge, that Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, came in the flesh, as a true Man, paid the penalty for our sins, and rose again, thus guaranteeing our own spiritual resurrection ( Romans 6:5-11, 8:10 & 11, I Corinthians 15:46-57 ) One of the largest, and probably most widespread 'problems' that we have in the church today ( besides sin itself ) is that many people, pastors ( leaders ) in particular, have gotten the idea that they must be 'protectors of the faith', and that this faith is their own personal interpretation of Scripture, or, in, many cases, that this 'faith' is the culmination of '2,000 years of church history' ( this has resulted in many atrocities ( committed in the Name of God ) in the not-too-distant past, and continues to divide the Body of Christ today ). Many, I believe, have well-nigh forgotten what exactly this 'faith once delivered.......' was; it was personified in Jesus Christ. This 'gift' was delivered ( given ), or as the NLT puts it; 'entrusted' to God's people, not for protection, but so that we could share it with one another. One may wonder why the church ( visible ) is so divided these days: we have almost innumerable denominations, divisions even within those denominations, and even within the ranks of preterism itself, there is so much division and squabbling over petty stuff ( mostly 'doctrines of men' ) that many turn away, sadly shaking their heads, thinking 'what a bunch of heretics!' When Jude wrote of this 'faith'; he used the Greek verb παραδίδωμι ( 'to give, deliver' ) to describe how this 'gift' came into our possession. This was a 'gift' given, not that we may improve upon it ( although our faith will ( or should ) continually grow ), and not that we should add to it our own 'pet peeves' ( likes or dislikes ), or even that we should use our interpretation to be 'divisive', but that it ( or He ) may rather shine through us, thus bringing that 'faith' to others. Don't get me wrong here, please; I am by no means denying the fact that God's Word is divisive in it's very Purpose. The writer to the Hebrews penned these famous words, in chapter 4, verse 12, 'For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Jesus Himself, told the disciples, 'Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.' ( Matthew 10:34, Revelation 6:4 ) The Word of God is definitely revealed to help us discern right from wrong, good from evil, but the way some use it today ( for example, some who interpret certain Scriptures differently than other people do ) to divide the church, I believe, use it in a manner that it was never intended to function! To further clarify; it is clear from Scripture that God sent His Son to suffer ( both in life and death the punishment that we rightly deserved, thus transferring His own righteousness upon us, and then rising bodily from the grave to prove that He had indeed conquered death ( who would have believed Him if He hadn't? ), and to guarantee our own resurrection ( I John 3:14, ( John 5:24-26, 11:25 & 26) Romans 6:4 ), but there are many other 'doctrines' that men have 'seen' in Scripture ( the doctrine of the Trinity,Virgin Birth, Lord's supper, water baptism, etc. ) that may or may not be there, but really don't have that much bearing on the 'faith once delivered............', that being personified in Christ, and the 'law of love'. Some may argue that Scripture makes very clear, in places like I John 5:7, that there are three separate, yet inseparable 'persons' within the Godhead, and indeed, Genesis 1:26 records that 'Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...........', implying a plurality of persons in the Godhead ( Colossians 2:9 ), while in Isaiah 7:14, God Himself promised this 'sign' to wicked king Ahaz; 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.b]">[b]' ( Matthew 1:18-25 ) As is the case with numerous other words in our English Bible; 'virgin' doesn't ( necessarily ) exactly what it meant at the time this prophecy was made, some might argue, reminding us that the Hebrew word for 'virgin' ( עלמה ) simply refers to 'a young woman', but, it is also clear that God ( the Father ) 'sent His only begotten Son.....' ( John 3:16, I John 4:9 ). The angel Gabriel's words to Mary, though, in Luke 1:35, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God' tell us pretty clearly that Jesus was born, not naturally, but super-naturally, expressly ( Hebrews 1:3 ) through the power of God Himself, by His direct intervention. We cannot therefore deny the 'Virgin Birth', per se, but there are those who purport that Jesus had to be born of a virgin in order to have pure blood, and make it a point of their doctrine, and while this may or may not be, it is more a matter for personal opinion and speculation, and not for divisive doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity, however, is not quite so clear; the strongest argument that Scripture gives us, all in one place anyway, is I John 5:7 & 8, most of which only exists in the later manuscripts. As I said above; there is much evidence that there is, or was, a separation ( for a time, anyway ) in the Godhead ( Matthew 27:46 ( Psalm 22:1 ), John 1:14, Galatians 4:4-6, I John 4:10 ), but I believe that only speculation, whether the Church has taught it for '2,ooo years' or not, tells us that there are three separate 'persons' in the Godhead. I don't believe that this is a matter for division, though, and I usually don't discuss it with those who hold this doctrine, because it is, and has been, so divisive.

I believe that we have established fairly well, here, what is meant by the faith; that it is that 'gift of God' whereby we are enabled to trust in Him and in His promises, and thus 'unity of the faith' would include all those to who God has given that 'faith', not just to those who hold to ( ascribe to ) certain 'doctrines' that men have constructed, albeit, to whatever extent, from Scripture.

It is important that there be unity of the faith, as we can see somewhat above, in what's already been stated, because this is the 'faith' that has come to us directly from God, 'not of works, lest anyone should boast' . ( Ephesians 2:9 ) This talk of the Reformed 'faith', the Roman Catholic 'faith', or even the Baptist 'faith' as different 'faiths' is just not true; we all have the same 'faith' ( 'a gift of God' ) and while it's true that we may all have differing degrees, or or understandings, if you will, of that gift, those of us that hold to the doctrine of Christ, 'and Him crucified' ( I Corinthians 2:2 ) we are all members of that 'one faith' ( Ephesians 4:5 ), 'the faith of Christ' ( James 2:1, II Peter 1:1 ) . Paul went on to say, in the passage ( Ephesians 4:5 ) that I quoted from, above, that there is 'one baptism'; this, I believe, refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit ( John 1:33, Acts 1:5 ( 11:16 ). It is our responsibility, yes, to 'strive' ( as Paul says-Acts 24:16 ), or 'contend' ( as Jude says- Jude 3 ) diligently for the 'faith' ( to stay in it, to make it our own, to grow in it ), but must also do our best to stay unified with others of 'like precious faith', though we may interpret certain Scriptures differently, though we disagree on certain points of 'doctrine'.

My readers may have noticed that in both of the first two points, or questions, that we've discussed here, that one question more or less answered the other, and vice-versa; so is the case here: I believe that we have attained this 'unity of the faith'! We have attained, not because we made sure that we believe exactly as the other guy, or that he believes exactly as we do on every point; but because God gave it to us! 'Have a little faith!' is a phrase that we hear thrown around quite a bit, even in the secular 'world', but we often forget the difference, I believe between our acting upon the faith that we have been given, and 'the gift' itself ( or Himself ); now don't get me wrong; I believe that if we have truly been given that 'faith', we will ( and must-Philippians 2:12, Romans 12:2 ) act upon it, but it is not our actions that have 'earned' or warranted this 'gift; it is One that we have been given, and that freely! Let's share this 'Gift' with all our brothers and sisters in Christ ( no matter how different they are ) and keep 'the unity of the faith'!

in His service,
and the 'faith' of His kingdom,
Charles Shank

Friday, August 21, 2009

Are we seeking other gods?

The first question we should ask ourselves is, 'what is a god?' According to the Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary; a 'god' is 'a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship; specifically : one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality'. I have recently been involved in a discussion with a good friend concerning the disputable 'fact' that many 'Christians' look to the Government, whether local or Federal, as 'god'. My contention is that this depends upon the attitude that you have toward any given object. If, for instance; this object is 'a person or thing of supreme value' ( in one's eyes ), then yes; it could well be defined a 'god'. I am going to 'let my guard down' a little, and 'level' with my readers: I am on disability, receiving a monthly check from the Government! I am also on a State-run program that helps to care for my 'needs'! I may get more feedback on this than I was looking for; but am I seeking after other gods? Am I looking to the Federal Government and the State for my sustenance, for my needs'? You'll have to take my word for it ( unless you know me in person ); I'm not! I know ( realize ) that ultimately God is the Provider and Sustainer of all things, but I also know that God, more often than not, uses means, whether we agree with them or not, whether we think they're 'right' or not, to accomplish His purposes. Sure; there's the 'fact' that we're just spending our great-grandchildren's ( maybe even great-great, etc ) meager earnings ( somewhere down the road ) by taking advantage of these government programs, but it comes down to 'Who's in control?' One might also object conscientiously to this kind of thinking, saying something like I've written above; if that's the case, you had better not do it! To the Roman church; the apostle Paul wrote, 'Do you have faith?g']">[g] Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.h']">[h]' ( Romans 14:22 & 23 ( Titus 3:11, James 4:17 ) I use myself as an example here; there are others who may think that it's wrong to 'steal' from our descendants ( however far down the road ), and some may not look at it that way. I choose not to look at it that way, and therefore my conscience doesn't condemn me: I am merely using the means that God has given me to take care of my family and myself. Some people may still try to tell me that I'm doing wrong, and I may or may not be, but as long as God provides this 'means' for me, and as long as I 'need' it to take care of my family; I will continue to 'use' it!

in the love of Christ,
and in His service to His 'Kingdom',
Charles Shank

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Studies in the Book of the Revelation of Jesus the Christ the Son of God ( the visions ( final judgment-the first four trumpets ) Pt 5

Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation

'And the LORD said to Joshua: “See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets.' ( Joshua 6:2-4 )

In the passage above; we might recognize some similarities to the 8th chapter of Revelation, which we will now embark on a study of. Some who have studied this book more thoroughly have noted, as I have previously, a kind of 'double-talk' here, or what I've called a 'biblical parallelism', saying the same thing twice, in two different ways, repeating a warning to convey the immanence, or immediacy of the purposed event. I'm not going to try to make a case that Joshua and the children of Israel did or did not ( necessarily ) actually march around the city of Jericho once a day for six days, and then seven times on the seventh day ( though arguably; this must have included 'breaking' the Sabbath ( Exodus 31:14 & 15 ); that's not the point! The point is that they were showing the inhabitants of the city ( who were already 'trembling' ( Joshua 2:11 ), through their perfect obedience, that God had determined to make an end of the city.

When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.

The children of Israel, in Numbers 29:1, were commanded concerning 'The Feast of Trumpets'; 'And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work. For you it is a day of blowing the trumpets'. As far as I could tell; the Author used the Hebrew feminine noun תרועה ( 'alarm, signal, sound of tempest, shout, shout or blast of war or alarm or joy' ) here, in the last phrase, to remind His people that He fought for them, that they were to be constantly ready for battle, and to rejoice because the battle had been one, in Him they rested! Throughout Scripture, as we'll see as we study further, the sounding of the trumpet was symbolic of God's presence, and meant that a judgment had been made, and was about to be carried out, whether for good or evil. In Exodus 19 & 20, we see examples of this. God commanded His children, to announce God's righteous judgment upon their enemies, in Numbers 10:9; 'When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the LORD your God, and you will be saved from your enemies', while in Leviticus 23:24 and 25:9; we see that they were also used to signal the accepted feasts, and thus the communion, or Presence, of God with His people. After the separation of the tribes ( kingdom ) of Israel upon the death of Solomon; II Chronicles 13:12 records that the grandson of Solomon made this speech to the northern tribes when they came against him for war; 'Now look, God Himself is with us as our head, and His priests with sounding trumpets to sound the alarm against you. O children of Israel, do not fight against the LORD God of your fathers, for you shall not prosper!', while in II Chronicles 29:27, when Hezekiah king of Judah had renewed the temple worship, we read that 'Then Hezekiah commanded them to offer the burnt offering on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD also began, with the trumpets and with the instruments of David king of Israel'. When Nehemiah was rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, he told his workers ( and fighters ), 'Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us' ( Nehemiah 4:20 ), and the psalmist's words in Psalm 81:3, 98:6, and 150:3, called His people to worship. When he began to pronounce God's judgment on the nations; Isaiah prophesied, 'All inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth: when he lifts up a banner on the mountains, you see it; and when he blows a trumpet, you hear it' ( Isaiah 18:3 ). Warning his people of God's coming judgment upon them; the prophet Jeremiah told the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, 'Blow the trumpet in the land; cry, ‘Gather together,’ and say, ‘Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities' ( Jeremiah 4:5 ), and in Jeremiah 6:17, God told these same hardhearted children, 'Also, I set watchmen over you, saying,‘ Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ but they said, ‘We will not listen'. In Joel 2; the sounding trumpet signals the coming 'Day of the Lord', His judgment ( for evil ) against His apostate children, and His judgment ( for good ) upon His blessed ( and repentant ) ones, and calls His obedient ones to His sacred assembly and rest ( verse 15 ). The prophet Amos asked his covenant-breaking people, 'If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?' ( Amos 3:6 ) When the apostle Paul began to give his defense before his Jewish adversaries, in Acts 21:40, a situation not unlike what John described above, in the latter part of the first quotation from the 8th chapter of Revelation, is recorded. 'So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language'. I believe that the same thing happened in the Revelation passage; God was read to reveal His final judgment on His apostate children, and 'there was silence........for about half an hour', for all knew (realized ) that the time had come for judgment, and, out of respect, were silent.

Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.

The writer to the Hebrews in chapter 9, verse 4, speaking of the 'Holiest ( place) of All' in the earthly temple in Jerusalem, wrote that it 'had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant', taking us back to Leviticus 16:12, speaking of the priestly instructions to Aaron for the 'Day of Atonement', where we read, 'Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil', and Numbers 16:46, when, upon the rebellion of Korah and his followers, Moses commanded Aaron, 'Take a censer and put fire in it from the altar, put incense on it, and take it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone out from the LORD. The plague has begun'. Referring back to Revelation 5:8; 'Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.' After David, king of Israel, had sinned by taking a census, in his pride, of the children of Israel, in II Samuel 24:25; we read that 'And David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel.' Again, returning to Revelation 6:9, we see that 'When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”' From these few examples; we can see what this angel was offering before God. These prayers, I believe, were those offered to stop the plague that the prophet Amos reminded his people about, in Amos 4:10; 'I sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt; your young men I killed with a sword, along with your captive horses; I made the stench of your camps come up into your nostrils; yet you have not returned to Me,' says the LORD', and that Jeremiah prophesied of in Jeremiah 19:8.

And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

'Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.' ( Genesis 8:20 & 21 )

Peter speaks of the coming destruction of the Old Covenant 'regime' in these terms; 'For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly' ( II Peter 2:4 & 5 ). Matthew 24:37 compares the coming of the Son of Man in judgment to the 'Great Flood' of Noah's day. After this messenger of God had offered these prayers to God; he threw the censer to the ear, bringing to mind passages like Lamentations 2:1, speaking of the unfaithfulness, and subsequent destruction, of God's typical Old Covenant 'children of Israel'; 'How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger! He cast down from heaven to the earth the beauty of Israel, and did not remember His footstool in the day of His anger', and Ezekiel 32:4-8, in which the prophet fore-tells of the coming judgment upon the weapons of God's indignation against His children. ( read also Ezekiel 31:16 ). Referring to the passage from II Peter 2, above; we have seen before that later, in chapter 3 of his letter, Peter again speaks of the coming judgment on Old Covenant Judaism in terms of the former destruction, by water ( verse 5 ), of the 'world' of Noah's day: 'But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.[c]' ( I Thessalonians 5:2 ) We might also remember the priestly instructions to Aaron concerning his duties on 'The Day of Atonement'; 'Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil' ( Leviticus 16:12 ). Also, in Isaiah 9:6 & 7, when I Isaiah was commissioned to reveal God's message to His children; it is recorded that when the angel had removed a live coal from the altar, he symbolically touched the lips of the prophet with it and said '“ Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” ' ( see Daniel 9:24, II Peter 3:13 ). This 'fire from the altar', as we have seen, and will further see, was not only indicative of the adverse judgment of God upon His apostate children, but also as a cleansing agent to His covenant people.

So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.

'They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.' ( I Peter 4:5 )

As we have noted before, about the significance of the number '7' ( signifying perfection, wholeness, completeness ) in reference to the 'seven churches', 'seven stars' , 'seven lampstands', 'seven seals', etc. ( In Revelation 15:1, John reports, 'Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.' ) I believe that Jesus, by continuing to use the number 'seven' to reveal His purpose to John, is telling John, and his contemporary readers ( and listeners ) that the judgment has been made ( decided upon ) and is about to happen. We see, in Genesis 7:1-4, that when Noah, at the instruction of God, had prepared the ark, 'Then the LORD said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. You shall take with you , a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also , male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth. For after I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made'. Note the multiple usage of the number 'seven'; 'seven each of every clean animal', 'seven each of birds of the air', 'seven more days': I don't believe that this is coincidental, but that God was revealing to Noah, as to John, the completeness of the purposed destruction. In the previous study, of Revelation 7; we saw how God showed to John His perfect purpose, in the final and complete destruction of the Jewish Temple, thus bringing a decisive end to the Old Covenant 'age': now we see that complete and utter destruction ( Matthew 24:2, Luke 21:6, Romans 16:20, James 5:8-10 ) being unfolded before John's 'eyes'.

The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth.[a] And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

As Jesus reals these next 'seven' significant judgments to His servant John, my readers may notice some similarities to the creation story in Genesis 1, in reverse, if you will.

'Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the third day.' John's language above, of course, should also bring to mind the plagues of Egypt: Exodus 9:24 reads 'So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, so very heavy that there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation' ( see also also the similarities in Matthew 24:21 ). Ezekiel uses this same measure (1/3 ) in referring to the purposed judgment upon the apostate Old Covenant 'children' of Israel: 'One-third of you shall die of the pestilence, and be consumed with famine in your midst; and one-third shall fall by the sword all around you; and I will scatter another third to all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them.' ( Ezekiel 5:12 ), while in Zechariah 13:8 & 9, it is the one third that are 'brought through the fire' (Isaiah 48:10, Daniel 12:10, I Corinthians 3:15, I Peter 1:7 )

Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

'And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth'. ( Daniel 2:35b )

Some of my readers might recognize this short passage as coming from the so-called 'Stone Kingdom' prophecy that was revealed to Daniel for the instruction of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. In the context of Nebuchadnezzar's dream/vision; God was revealing to him what would transpire, not only after his kingdom had passed away, but also what would happen in the 'end of the days' ( Daniel 12:13, I Peter 2:4 & 5 ). When God came down and rested His glory upon Mount Sinai, recorded in Exodus 24:17; we read that 'The sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel' ( Exodus 3:2 ). We have already seen, in places like Exodus 15:17, that God's promised 'land' of rest is often referred to in terms of 'the mountain of Your inheritance'. The sons of Korah sang of His dwelling-place, in Psalm 48:1, 'Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in His holy mountain', and Isaiah, prophesying of the glory of God's future 'temple' ( ), wrote, in Isaiah 2:2, 'Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.' ( see also Isaiah 11:9, 25:6 & 10 ) Speaking to His rebellious Old Covenant 'children', in Isaiah 65:11, God reminds them 'you are those who forsake the LORD, who forget My holy mountain, who prepare a table for Gad,[a] and who furnish a drink offering for Meni.[b]' Again; God reminds His covenant-breaking 'children' ( of Israel ), His typical Old Covenant 'dwelling-place', in Jeremiah 17:3, 'O My mountain in the field, I will give as plunder your wealth, all your treasures, and your high places of sin within all your borders' ( see also Jeremiah 31:23 ). God, through the prophet Jeremiah, warned His 'instrument of indignation', the Babylonians, whom He use to chastise His Old Covenant 'children', in these terms; 'Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, who destroys all the earth,” says the LORD. "And I will stretch out My hand against you, roll you down from the rocks, and make you a burnt mountain' ( Jeremiah 51:25 ). Using hyperbole to describe His servant, the king of Tyre, in Ezekiel 28:14-16; God rebuked him by saying 'You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned; therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God; and I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones'. As the prophet Daniel prayed his famous intercessory prayer on behalf of his exiled people, in Daniel 9:16, he pleaded with God that 'according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us.' Exulting in the future blessedness of His covenant people, in Zechariah 8:3, God reveals that 'I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, the Mountain of the LORD of hosts, the Holy Mountain'. And finally, in this highly misunderstood ( and misused, I believe ) passage; Jesus, speaking of the influence of Old Covenant Judaism on His people, metaphorically tells His disciples 'whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says' ( Mark 11:23 ( see also Matthew 17:20, and Isaiah 54:10 ). We can see from these few examples that when John 'saw', in his vision, that a 'great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea'; it was not only hyperbolic, but metaphorical for the divorce, or casting away, the judgment of apostate Judaism, God's typical Old Covenant 'children' of Israel. We saw, above, how the 'third' passages above are symbolically indicative of a partial destruction of His typical covenant 'creation'; leaving His remnant, the true 'Israel of God'. The last part of the passage from John's vision, above, about 'a third of the ships', immediately brings to mind these words from a somewhat obscure passage from Israel's history ( II Chronicles 20:35-37 ): 'After this Jehoshaphat king of Judah allied himself with Ahaziah king of Israel, who acted very wickedly. And he allied himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish, and they made the ships in Ezion Geber. But Eliezer the son of Dodavah of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, “Because you have allied yourself with Ahaziah, the LORD has destroyed your works.” Then the ships were wrecked, so that they were not able to go to Tarshish'.

Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.

'While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; and I alone have escaped to tell you!' ( Job 1:16 )

The above passage comes from the story of Job, a typical story of God's chastening of those that He loves, not necessarily through any fault of their own, but to test them, try them, and to prove them, through trials and tribulation. The book of Revelation, as we've studied, is about the revealing of Jesus, as the Son of God, not only to those He came to save, but also to those first-century Jews that had rejected Him. ( Matthew 26:64, Romans 1:18-32 ) When God confirmed His covenant with Abraham; Genesis 15:17 records that 'when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces', and in his vision in Ezekiel 1:13, the prophet recorded that 'As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning'. This 'great star..........................burning like a torch', whether speaking, as is traditional, of 'Satan' being cast out of Heaven to the earth, or simply symbolical of God 'loosing' His judgment upon covenant-breaking and apostate Old Covenant Israel; it should be fairly clear that God, by whichever means, did reveal, 'in flaming fire' ( II Thessalonians 1:8 ), judgment upon His enemies, the adversaries of His people, in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, in AD70!

My readers might also remember what Moses did, when after witnessing the idolatry of the 'children' of Israel, in Exodus 32:20; 'Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it', and, as I have mentioned previously, the priestly instructions given in Numbers 5:11-31, concerning the 'unfaithful wife'. The very last word in the above passage above might also bring to remembrance the words of Naomi, in Ruth 1:20; after she had returned to the 'Promised Land': 'Do not call me Naomi;[a] call me Mara,[b] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.' ( Naomi and her family had left the country because of famine, typically seeking sustenance elsewhere than where God had called them )

Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.

'Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.' ( Matthew 27:45 )

'And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring'. ( Luke 21:25, Mark 13:24 & 25, Matthew 24:29 )

'He delivers and rescues, and He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions'. ( Daniel 6:27 )

'All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; all their host shall fall down as the leaf falls from the vine, and as fruit falling from a fig tree'. ( Isaiah 34:4- 'Judgment on the Nations' )

'Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?' ( II Peter 3:12 )

When Jesus took upon Himself the sins of His people; God signified His judgment of that sin by removing His covenant blessing for a typical period of three hours. Not only was Jesus 'The Light' ( John 1:4 & 5, 9:5 ); I believe that God's removal of light in the middle of the day served as a reminder to the 'children' of Israel of what God had done to the Egyptians, when the Pharaoh held them captive. ( Exodus 10:21-23 ) From the Old Testament prophets, such as in Isaiah 34, above, and others, like Ezekiel 32:7 & 8 ( concerning judgment upon the nation of Egypt ), Joel 2:30 & 31 ( concerning judgment of God's people-see also Isaiah 13:9 & 10 ), Micah 3:6, and Amos 8:9, we can see that God used this sort of language ( hyperbole ) to symbolize His judgment upon any given nation or its people. We see from the story of 'Daniel and the Lion's Den' that God is the One who works these signs ( Isaiah 45:7 ) , and shows these wonders ( Psalm 136:4 ) in judging ( for good or evil ) His creation. From the final two examples above; we can easily see that Matthew and the Gospel writers, as well as John, in the Revelation, borrowed heavily ( in some places, almost verbatim ) from the Old Testament prophets. There is no valid reason that we should take the words of John ( which, after all, were 'seen' ( 'signified'-Revelation 1:1 ) in a vision ) in any more of a physically literal way than we take the words of the Old Testament prophets!

And I looked, and I heard an angel[b] flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!

'Now while I was speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God, yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering.' ( Daniel 9:20 )

'Then I turned and raised my eyes, and saw there a flying scroll, and he said to me, “What do you see? So I answered, “I see a . Its length is twenty cubits and its width ten cubits.” Then he said to me, “This is : ‘Every thief shall be expelled,’ according to this side of the scroll; and, ‘Every perjurer shall be expelled,’ according to that side of it.' ( Zechariah 5:1-3 )

The 'angel' Gabriel was sent to Daniel to inform him of the judgment that had been made concerning his people, the judgment upon God's typical Old Covenant 'children' of Israel, which judgment was consummated and finalized in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, in AD70. One may wonder if this was not the same 'angel' that John 'heard' warning of the 'three angels who are about to sound'. The 'flying scroll' that Ezekiel 'saw' in his vision warned of the same thing; 'the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth' ( Luke 21:35 ) When Paul spoke to Felix the governor of Judea, in Acts 24:15; he told him, 'I confess this to thee, that, according to the way that they call a sect, so serve I the God of the fathers, believing all things that in the law and the prophets have been written, having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, [that] there is about to be a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous'. ( see also verse 25, especially ) ( I quote here from Young's Literal Translation, which, I believe, more correctly translates the Greek μέλλω as 'about to ( be )' ) The writer to the Hebrews follows this theme, when he wrote that 'a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery zeal, about to devour the opposers' ( Hebrews 10:27-again, quoting from YLT ) Peter talks about the glory that was 'about to be' revealed, in I Peter 5:1, and Jesus uses the same Greek noun in Revelation 1:19 to show to John the things that were 'about to be'.

I pray that through this study revealing the past fulfillment of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, that God will be glorified, and that His Kingdom will be strengthened and edified with the knowledge that 'all these things' ( Matthew 24:34 ) DID come upon that generation ( first-century Judaism ), that God now dwells with us, as He promised ( John 14:23, Revelation 2:7 ( Genesis 3:8, 22 ).

May God bless you,
Charles Shank

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

In the beginning............Covenant Creation from Genesis 1 & 2 to Hebrews 12:18-24 & John 1:1-3 to II Corinthians 5:17

For years, those who perpetuate the idea of covenant creation, especially when applied to the original ( Genesis 1 ) creation account, have encountered resistance, in varying degrees, to their theological 'wanderings'. I believe that this is due, in part anyway, to the fact that many people have made the assumption that when we apply a covenantal meaning to the original creation account, that necessarily means that it is only concerned with covenant implications, and not a historical account at all. Although I believe that the original creation account has a primarily covenantal meaning, in other words, it's worded in such a way as to reveal God's covenant purpose ( the Gospel ); as I've written before, this is 'without doubt, a factual and historical account!' There is no doubt in my mind, and I'm sure in the minds of most of my readers, that God created the universe, and that out of nothing, and while there are many Scriptures that seem to show this; the primary purpose of God's revelation, from Genesis to the Revelation, is to chronicle God's relationship and dealings with His covenant people. Our first, and primary reference, of course, is the creation account from Genesis 1, which most of us are very familiar with.

'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'.

Pretty straight-forward, or so it would seem, right? There is no doubt in my mind that God created, 'in the beginning' and out of nothing; but is that the primary meaning of these words? In previous articles that I've written; I've tried to explain why this is not necessarily so. When the apostle Peter wrote, 'For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water' ( II Peter 3:5 ). Referring back to the 'Great Flood' of Noah's day, of which Peter spoke, we see that it was not the physical 'globe' that was destroyed, but the people which God had placed upon that land. In the context of Scripture as the chronicle of God's dealings and relationship with His covenant people; I believe that it is safe to say that the 'heavens and earth' of which Peter wrote, are the same 'heavens and earth' that were 'formed' ( Genesis 1:26 & 2:7 ) 'in the beginning'. ( Some might object here, and say something like, 'why does Genesis 1, then, record that the heavens and earth were created first, and Adam on the sixth day?' As I said above; the creation account; while it is factual, although not primarily historical or chronological, but is primarily prophetic in purpose, to typify and reveal beforehand God's purpose in the Gospel: the original creation account, I believe, does refer to God as being the Author of all things. ( Please refer to my series, 'The Gospel Typified in the Book of Beginnings' )

Next, we turn to a somewhat familiar passage, although it's relation to the Genesis creation might not be so obvious: Hebrews 12:22.

'But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, , to an innumerable company of angels.'

Reading the surrounding passage; we can see that the writer was speaking, not of a certain 'place' ( John 14:2 & 3-I often use the phrase 'qualitative, not quantitative' ), but of  'the general assembly and church of the firstborn', even of 'Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant'; in other words, he was speaking of the Presence of God Himself! Isaiah prophesied of a 'new heavens and a new earth' ( Isaiah 65:17-25 ). Like Hebrews 12, above, we see as we read further in this passage, what this 'new heavens and new earth' is, because in the next sentence, God says, 'behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy'. Most people will agree that this 'New' ( Revelation 21:2 ) or 'heavenly Jerusalem' is part of these 'new heavens and new earth', but fail, for whatever reason, to make the connection between the two, and realize that, as we 'have come to...............................the heavenly Jerusalem', so we have come to, or entered; in essence have become part of, these 'new heavens and new earth' of which Isaiah, Peter, and John wrote. To further explain why I made the connection between the original creation account in Genesis 1 & 2 and the passage in Hebrews 12; let's look at a short passage from Genesis 2:8. 'The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.' Just as God made a special place to begin His relationship with Adam, and later, as in Exodus 15:17, ' You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which You have made for Your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.', and Exodus 19, when He chose a special place to ratify His covenant with His typical Old Covenant people, so the writer to the Hebrews told God's first-century covenant people that they had come, not 'to the mountain that[c] may be touched', but to the true 'mountain', the spiritual reality of rest in Christ, to which the 'Promised Land', or 'mountain' that Moses sang of, in Exodus 15:1-18.

Returning now, to the apostle John's famous words of genesis, in John 1:1-3;

'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.'

Traditionally; this is one of those passages to which we have turned, among other reasons, to show that God, through His Son and Holy Spirit ( רוח-'wind, breath, mind, spirit' ), did indeed create all that we see, and even that which we don't: but, more importantly, particularly in the covenant context, refers to the fact that God purposed, as we see in the following verses of John 1, to reveal that 'Word', or 'Light', progressively and then finally, at the consummation of the New Covenant 'age'. Although it could be argued that if the Genesis ( 'in the beginning........' ) creation refers to the creation, or implementation, of God's covenant with His people, that John must also be referring to the same 'beginning', but as I wrote above, and previously in another article, 'Even though I believe that the Bible primarily teaches covenantal truths; it is a fact that the Scriptures also teach, or show that God created the physical universe and all that we see ( or don't see ) around us.' ( 'Let there be Light' )

Finally; we come to the last passage that I noted above, referring to the covenant creation, II Corinthians 5:17, which is most often referred to, and mostly agreed upon, as speaking of the regeneration of our spirit, but more correctly should be viewed as a total 'change' ( I Corinthians 15:52 )

'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.'

I'm not really sure if many of us actually fully understand the implications of what Paul wrote here. 'All things have become new'! Do we feel most of the time like all things had become new? I know I don't: I'm sure that most, if not all of my readers can attest to the fact that they don't feel like everything has been renewed, and this world most definitely has NOT been made new! How then, could Paul write that 'all things have become new'? In the covenant context of Scripture, that is, reading all Scripture in 'Light' of the covenant that God made with Himself ( Genesis 1:3 & 26 ), we see that Paul was speaking of the covenant redemption that Christ had accomplished in actuality on the cross, 'not imputing their trespasses to them' ( II Corinthians 5:19 ). From Hebrews 9:15, we read that 'for this reason He ( Christ ) is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.' Quoting Jeremiah 31:33 & 34; we read, in the next chapter, at verses 16 & 17, 'This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,”;[c] then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”[d]' Hebrews 8:7-13 reveals the reason for this 'new' covenant ( which wasn't really anything 'new' at all, but 're-newed': 're-formed' ( Genesis 1:26 ) might be another word for it! ); 'For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah' and finally, 'In that He says, A new covenant, He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away'. Again turning to II Peter 3; we read, in verse 10, 'But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.[c]'. John wrote, in I John 2:8 that 'the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining', and later, in verse 17 'the world is passing away', this 'world' in the covenant context of Scripture, being the 'world' of Old Covenant Judaism.

May this short article be a blessing to all my readers, and whether they realize or not that Scripture is written primarily to reveal His purpose for His people; I pray that God will use my feeble writing to bring glory to His holy name.

In His service and ( part of ) His Kingdom,
Charles Shank