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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The World, the Flesh, and the Devil-The Power of Darkness

LORD, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1928 Book of Common Prayer


In Reformed circles particularly, but in the institutional church at large; this phrase is most often used during the ceremonial act of water baptism. I vaguely remember being asked this question ( or at lest hearing others being asked ), 'do you renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil?' when I was baptized, in my early teen years.

We have probably all heard this phrase, in some variation, at some point or other, in our lives; but what is this phrase really saying? My contention in this article, is that this phrase does not convey an understanding of three separate entities; but, as can be gleaned from the usage of this kind of language in Scripture, especially in the covenantal and historical context of Scripture, that these three things can, and maybe should be 'lumped' together.

In the covenantal context of Scripture; God promised, speaking of those who tried to refute His wisdom and righteousness and replace it with their own, in Isaiah 13:11, 'I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible'. ( see also Psalm 9:8 ( John 3:16-19 ),17:14, 22:27, Isaiah 24:4, 34:1, Matthew 13:22, 18:7, Mark 4:19, Luke 12:30, John 1:10, 9:39, 12:31 ( 14:30, 16:11 ), Acts 19:27, Romans 3:19 ( 5:12 & 13, 11:12-15 ), 12:2, I Corinthians 1:21, 3:19, II Corinthians 7:10, Galatians 6:14, Colossians 2:8, Hebrews 11:7, James 1:27, 4:4, II Peter 2:20, I John 2:15 & 16, Revelation 13:3, 16:14 )
I'm sure many of my readers know that there are two ( main ) different Greek words translated 'world' in the New Testament; 'αἰών', or 'age' , and 'κόσμος' which basically means 'orderly arrangement'; some writers also used 'οἰκουμένη', which means 'inhabited earth', and, in the historical context, most scholars will admit, were referring to the Roman Empire.
In many cases; the covenant and historical context of which I spoke above are really one and the same, referring to God's covenant creation, the physical 'children' of Israel ( after, or according to the flesh ). Isaiah prophesied of God's judgment on these 'children', saying 'The earth mourns and fades away, the world languishes and fades away; the haughty people of the earth languish' ( Isaiah 24:4 ) ( see also Isaiah 62:11, Lamentations 4:12, Nahum 1:5, Matthew 24:14 ( 10:23, Colossians 1:23 ), Luke 2:1, John 7:7, 15:18, 16:33 ( 17:9 ), 18:36, Acts 17:6, II Corinthians 5:19, Galatians 4:3, Philippians 2:15, I John 2:17, 5:19, II John 1:7, )

It is hard to prove 'beyond a shadow of a doubt' that 'flesh', as read in the Scriptures, refers to physical Israel; but Jesus, speaking in the context of 'the feeding of the five thousand' and of 'The Bread of Life', told those unbelieving Jews, in John 6:63, 'It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life'. These Jews had the word of God, written on 'tablets of stone' ( II Corinthians 3:3 ), which spoke of the Christ; but they thought that that these words contained life, so when Jesus came, speaking the true 'words of life', they would not believe Him. After Jesus had forgiven and dismissed the women, supposedly caught in adultery; He told the shame-faced Pharisees, who could not carry out their own law, 'You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one' ( John 8:15 ). Paul, referring back to Jesus' statement above, in Romans 8:5, wrote, 'For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit'. He late said, in Romans 9:8, 'That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed'. Again referring, I believe, to the Jew's misplaced hope in their law, Paul reminded the early church, which had just emerged from the shadow of it's Judaistic foundings, and was still fighting their ( Jewish ) influence, in I Corinthians 15:50, 'Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption', and in II Corinthians 5:16, 'Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer'. I've often pondered this passage, and while it could be physically understood to be saying that since Jesus had ascended back to 'Heaven', Paul and the apostles no longer regarded Him as 'in the flesh'; but I believe that Paul was referring to knowing Him 'in Spirit and in Truth' ( John 4:24 ), rather than simply through the 'letter of the law' ( Romans 7:6 ). In Galatians 3:3; Paul rebuked the brethren for listening to the arguments of the Judaizers, by asking them, 'Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?' Paul referred, in metaphor, to our freedom from the penalty, the 'chains' of the law ( of Moses ), in Colossians 2:11, when he wrote, ' In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sinsc]">[c] of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ'. There is, no doubt, an application for today to be made, in, as Peter said, in I Peter 3:21, 'the answer of a good conscience toward God', but the point that Peter was making, I believe, to his brethren after the flesh, was that God had freed them from the tyranny and oppression ( Exodus 1:8-14 ) of Judaism ( Matthew 23:4 ), and that, for their conscience sake, should 'present their bodies as living sacrifices' ( Romans 12:1 ) in His service and for His Kingdom! Today, as twenty-first century Christians; we should do no less!

As a rule; the 'devil' is, to a greater ( in some circles ) or lesser ( in others ) extent, a rebellious, apostate ( Hebrew 6:4-6 ) fallen ( wicked ) angel, who, while not exactly omnipotent or omnipresent, and according to some ( those 'others' ) has no more power ( over Christians, anyway ), still wields much authority, as the 'ruler of this world' ( John 12:31 ), and the 'prince of the power of the air' ( Ephesians 2:2 ), even over Christians ( Job 1 & 2, John 13:2 ), but definitely over the world at large. As we have seen, and as I have stated in previous articles; I believe this to be a 'false assumption' ( though not ( necessarily ) damning ), based on a very simplistic ( at best ) theology! We have noted, for instance, that Jesus Himself said that the Pharisees were children of the devil ( John 8:44, I John 3:10 ), and how, in Hebrews 2:14, we read that Christ came to destroy this 'devil' ( who had the 'power of death'-Romans 8:2, I Corinthians 15:56 ( Romans 9:4, ( Matthew 23:13 ). Although this lesson may also easily be applied to many situations today; I believe that it is important to realize, through the above mentioned covenantal and historical contexts, that 'the world, the flesh, and the devil' that we read about in Scripture, not only had a quite different meaning to the original intended audience, but were all basically speaking of the same thing; the disobedient 'children' of the Old Covenant.

With all this said; I would like to remind my readers that, although these words still hold application for us today, when viewed from the perspective of the original audience, they hold different connotations for us today. No more do 'the world, the flesh, and the devil' wield the power of death ( as under the Old Covenant ), and although we may still ( and should ) renounce 'the world, the flesh, and the devil', we are denouncing, not the rigors of legalism under the Old Covenant ( although this may be arguable ), but rather our 'old man', our former, sinful way of life, which is something that we must struggle with each and every day!

May God continually lead us all to the realization that we have, through Him, the strength to fight this inner battle, and that now 'the world, the flesh, and the devil' no longer hold 'the power of death' as they once did under the Old Covenant: in a sense, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself'; we no longer battle against 'principalities and powers' ( Romans 8:38, Ephesians 3:10, 6:12, Colossians 2:15 ), but rather, against our inner 'demons', our own sinful and rebellious ( fleshly ) nature!

In His service,
and for His Kingdom and glory,
Charles Shank




Friday, October 09, 2009

Studies in the Book of the Revelation of Jesus the Christ the Son of God ( the visions ( final judgment ( the book ) Pt 7

Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation

'Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.' ( Matthew 17:1 & 2 )

'And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south.' ( Zechariah 14:4 )

I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a rainbow was on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire. He had a little book open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars.

The 'mighty angel' that John observes here, is pretty obviously a representation of our Lord Himself. Jesus, speaking of Himself, in Matthew 25:31 & 32, revealed that 'When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy[c] angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.' ( see also Ezekiel 20:4, 22:2, Joel 3:2, Matthew 10:34 ) Following the theme of 'division' that we see in Zechariah 14, and throughout the prophetic Scriptures ( Genesis 1:4, Exodus 8:23 ( 33:16, Romans 3:22 ), Exodus 26:33 ( Genesis 1:7 ), I Kings 8:53 ( Ezra 6:21 ), Nehemiah 9:2 ( II Corinthians 6:17, Matthew 13:49 ( Luke 12:49-51 ), John 7:43 ( 9:16, 10:19 ), Hebrews 4:12 ), John 'sees' Jesus place His feet, one on the sea ( symbolic of the nations ), and one on the land ( symbolic of national, physical, Old Covenant Israel ) thus making a separation between the two, but also bringing the two together in a resounding echo of the Gospel! ( Revelation 21:1b )

Prophesying of the revelation of the Son of God; David wrote, in Psalm 40:7 & 8, 'Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.' God told Isaiah to 'go, write it before them on a tablet, and note it on a scroll, that it may be for time to come, forever and ever' ( Isaiah 30:8 ), concerning His Old Covenant 'children', who were 'a rebellious people', warning them of the coming 'Day of the Lord' ( Isaiah 2:12, Jeremiah 36:2 ( 25:1-11 ), Joel 1:15 ( 2:1-11 ), Amos 5:20, Zephaniah 1:2 & 3 ( Zechariah 14:1 ), Malachi 4:5 )

Isaiah wrote of the coming of the Lord, 'As a lion roars, and a young lion over his prey (When a multitude of shepherds is summoned against him, He will not be afraid of their voice nor be disturbed by their noise), so the LORD of hosts will come down to fight for Mount Zion and for its hill' ( Isaiah 31:4 ( 5:29 ), and Hosea 11:10 reads, 'They shall walk after the LORD. He will roar like a lion. When He roars, then His sons shall come trembling from the west', speaking of God's final gathering of His Old Covenant people.


When he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices. Now when the seven thunders uttered their voices,[a] I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me,[b] “Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them.

'The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice.' ( II Samuel 22:14 ( Psalm 18:13 )

'And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!' ( Mark 9:7 )

'Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.' ( John 12:28 & 29 )

'But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase'. ( Daniel 12:4 )

Previously in this study of the book of the Revelation; we noted the words of the Lord which He revealed to the prophet Isaiah, concerning the blindness of the Old Covenant house of Israel, recorded in Isaiah 29:11-13: because they had rebelled against God and His Word for so long: His words were 'sealed' to them, they could not understand them ( Job 17:4, Isaiah 6:9 ( 44:18, Matthew 13:13,14 & 19 ), Jeremiah 5:21 ) God had determined an end to this rebellious and apostate people, and so had hardened their heart to His purposes!



The angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised up his hand[c] to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, that there should be delay no longer, but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets.


'In that day they will roar against them like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and sorrow; and the light is darkened by the clouds.' ( Isaiah 5:30 )

In the passage above, God reveals, through Isaiah, what will be in the 'last days', the final hours ( I John 2:18, II Timothy 3:1, I Peter 1:5 & 20, Jude 18 )of His Old Covenant 'children' ( Matthew 21:43 ( Isaiah 65:15 ). I believe that John's vision of the 'angel' that 'set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land' was indicative, not only of the fact that God rules over the nations ( Jew & Gentile-'for there is no difference' ( Romans 9:24, Galatians 3:28 ( Ezekiel 37:21-25 ), but also that He was 'behind it all' ( or above, as the case may be ), that He was the 'driving force' to destroy His enemies, and save His people ( Romans 9:22-24 ( Zechariah 9:9-16 )!

Reminding his people of the eternality of God's promise to Abraham ( Genesis 12: 2 & 3, 15,17:4-8 ); the writer to the Hebrews recalled, 'because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself' ( Hebrews 6:13 ). In pronouncing His judgments on the 'nation', the enemies of His people, God, through the prophet Jeremiah, spoke these words, 'For I have sworn by Myself,” says the LORD, “that Bozrah shall become a desolation, a reproach, a waste, and a curse. And all its cities shall be perpetual wastes'. ( Jeremiah 49:31 ). In this famous passage from Isaiah 45; God said, in verse 23, 'I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath'. ( see also Isaiah 55:11 )

The 'angel' now reveals to John that 'in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel....................the mystery of God would be finished': 'in Romans 16:25; Paul, in his benediction, reminds his readers that the 'gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ' was a 'mystery kept secret since the world began'. ( see also Ephesians 6:19 ) Although John's 'mystery of God' may, to whatever extent, be speaking of something other than the 'mystery of the gospel' that Paul talks about; they are closely intertwined, for the secret of which Paul speaks is the good news, the revelation that whoever, whether he be Jew or Greek, slave or free ( I Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:28 ) believed on Jesus Christ would be saved. The 'mystery' of which John wrote was the fulfillment of that promise, which, although of an ongoing fulfillment, was historically and decisively completed by the destruction of the Jewish Temple and economy, and the end of the Old Covenant 'age' ( Luke 18:30, I Corinthians 10:11, Ephesians 1:21 ). Paul wrote, in Colossians 1:23, that the Gospel was 'preached to every creature under heaven'. The immediate purpose of the Gospel was fulfilled in the first-century, revealing the secret of God's unconditional love ( Romans 11:11 & 12 ), not only for Jews, but for Gentiles as well, those outside the boundaries of physical Israel ( Ephesians 2:12 ( John 10:16 )!

Prophesying of the coming Messiah; God spoke, through Isaiah, 'I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles' ( Isaiah 42:6 ( 49:6, 66:12 ). In Malachi 1:5; God revealed that, 'Your eyes shall see, and you shall say, 'The LORD is magnified beyond the border of Israel'. When Simeon, in Luke 2:29-32, had seen The Christ, he rejoiced, saying 'Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel' ( see also Amos 9:12 ( Isaiah 62:2 ): as John 'heard' the 'angel' say; God had revealed this secret of the Gospel to His prophets all throughout the Old Covenant Scriptures, even as far back as Genesis 3:15, if one but had the 'eyes' to see it!



'Moreover He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. And He said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.” So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness.' ( Ezekiel 3:1-3 ) The first 15 verses of this chapter reveal the purpose that God had in making Ezekiel ( metaphorically ) eat this scroll; so that Ezekiel, as one of His many prophets, could carry a warning, in essence, act as a 'watchman' for His Old Covenant 'children'. I believe that John's 'book' and Ezekiel's 'scroll', like the intent of their separate visions, were one and the same; Ezekiel's warning of the beginning of 'the end', and John's of the final 'end', the final and complete fulfillment of the 'Day of the Lord'!



Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.” So I went to the angel and said to him, “Give me the little book.” And he said to me, “Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. And he[d] said to me, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.

In previous articles; we have noted the teaching in Numbers 5:11-31, concerning unfaithful wives ( which physical Israel was ). The priest was commanded to write the curses of the law concerning adultery in a book, and then ceremonially scrape them off of the scroll into a pot of water which the accused was then to drink from. If she was indeed guilty of the crime, the water would become bitter in her stomach, causing it to 'rot' within her. If God did not find her guilty, though ( a picture of those in Christ ), the 'bitter water' would do her no harm. As John was a prophet, and thus a representative to of Israel; he was made to symbolically bear the 'burden' of Israel punishment, as a warning to his people. Old Testament examples of this would include Ezekiel 4:4, where the prophet was told 'Lie also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. According to the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their iniquity' ( Isaiah 53:11 ). The prophet Micah wrote, 'I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me forth to the light; I will see His righteousness' ( Micah 7:9 ). As recorded in Daniel 9:1-16; Daniel revealed how he and his brethren bore the iniquities of the house of Israel in a foreign land.

In Exodus 15:22-26; we have a record of the incident at Marah, where the bitter waters were made sweet, or drinkable. I believe that, though this is undoubtedly a factual, historical account; it was given that it, along with so many other such incidents, might show us a deeper spiritual truth, a hidden meaning. When John, like Ezekiel, was commanded to eat this 'book', or scroll, they were further commanded, upon consuming it, to relate God's word to His people ( God's warning, you might say ) You may have heard, as I did, that this book represented, or was symbolic of the law ( of Moses ); as Paul said, in I Timothy 1:8, 'But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully' ( see also Romans 7:12 ). It is clear from both visions that, if not referring directly to the 'words' ( 10 ) given through Moses, that it was a fulfillment of passages such as Deuteronomy 28:16-68, as alluded to above, warning of a temporary, chastising judgment( in Ezekiel's case ) and final, irreversible judgment ( in John's case ). Solomon advised his son, in Proverbs 24:13, 'My son, eat honey because it is good, and the honeycomb which is sweet to your taste' ( Song of Solomon 2:3 ), and in Ecclesiastes 11:7, preached that 'Truly the light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun'. Both of these 'proverbs', though doubtless having a very physical and fleshly meaning, carried, I believe, a greater spiritual meaning; that of the wisdom of walking in God's light, and eating His 'honey', His Word.

John is reminded, finally, as we close this part of our study, that he must 'prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings': the last trumpet ( I Corinthians 15:52 )had yet to sound, and until it did, John had a job to do; warn His people to 'flee to the mountains' ( Matthew 24:16 ), and 'let those who are in the midst of her depart' ( Luke 21:21 ( Isaiah 52:11, Genesis 19:14 ( Daniel 3:26 ). John, like Ezekiel, was a 'watchman' over the people of God, to remind them of their sin and warn them of the consequences ( Jonah 3:1-4 ( Matthew 12:41 ).


As God's New Covenant people, though this is past history, can we do less than be the 'watchmen' of our generation, warning all those that God places in our path of His wrath, and telling them of His grace, showing them His love?! I believe that the only 'end' this 'world' ( the people in it ) faces is physical death; up until that point, there is still hope: let us always remember our job as 'healing leaves' ( Revelation 22:2 )!

In His service, and for His Kingdom,
Charles Shank