The Pagan Path

Those who wonder are not lost; they are trying to awaken! 'The Sleeper must awaken!'

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Finished Work of Christ ( 'What now?' )

What about it? It's no big secret, right? On the cross; Christ cried 'It is finished!', and gave up the ghost, in other words, died. Scripture is very clear, especially in the gospel according to John ( John 19:30 ( Romans 6:10 ), that Christ accomplished, once for all, what He came to do, but, as I've already written about in a previous article, there is some question about what exactly He came to do.

'And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins'. ( Matthew 1:21 )

The Apostle Paul told Timothy that 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief' ( I Timothy 1:15b ). That should be enough, but with Matthew's words above, we might contend, 'Who are His people then?' In the context in which that promise was given; was it not the Old Covenant people of Israel who were primarily in the mind of the Author? True enough, as far as that goes, but speaking of Paul's writings; what did Paul have to say about the covenant people of God? He told the Roman believers, comfortingly that, 'they are not all Israel who are of Israel', and the explains himself further saying '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' ( Romans 9:6-8 ); not that those of the Hebrews which were born physically according to the flesh ( Romans 1:3 ) would not be counted part of the true 'Israel of God', although they wouldn't be counted as such on the merit of being born thus, but they would be called thusly when they were born spiritually, according to the promise of God ( Ezekiel 36:25-27, Isaiah 65:13-25, Daniel 9:24 )as when God told Abraham, in Genesis 18:10, 'I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son', which was itself a picture of the 'Virgin Birth', promised in Isaiah 7:14, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.b]">[b]' Paul explained this in much the same way earlier, in Romans 2:28 & 29, 'For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God', and Jesus Himself explained this 'new' concept to Nicodemus, a spiritual leader of Israel, who did not understand the spiritual nature of God's promises, in John 3:1-21. All of this is probably 'old hat' to many of my readers, and I'm sure that most have no problem seeing what Jesus, Paul, and the apostles taught concerning the spiritual nature of God's promises; but many tend to differentiate too far between the spiritual and physical natures of these promises. Is there a physical aspect to the nature of God's promises? Most assuredly so; as I quoted N.T. Wright as saying, in his book 'Surprised by Hope', 'God ordered His world in such a way that His own work within that world takes place not least, through one of His creatures; in particular, namely, the human beings who reflect His image'. He spiritually delivered us from the natural consequences of sin ( Romans 6:23 ) that we may, as He revealed to John in Revelation 22:2, be those physical, yet spiritual 'healing leaves', to physically carry out the promises of God in the strength of His Spirit!

So we've seen that God sent His Son to earth to save His people from their sins, and that this was not exclusive of physical Jews but was inclusive of all sinners, both Jew and Gentile, who would believe on His name, those who had been chosen to be in Him, before the foundation of the world; now we must discuss what it means, or meant to be 'saved from our sins'. Paul told the Roman Christians that 'the wages of sin is death' ( Romans 6:23 ), so we can see that when Christ died to save us from our sins; He saved us from the penalty of sin, which is death. God told His Old Covenant 'children, through the prophet Ezekiel that 'the soul who sins shall die' ( Ezekiel 18:4b ), and Adam, our 'first' father, 'of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die' ( Genesis 2:17 ). Concerning this death from which Christ came to save His people; was God speaking of physical death or spiritual death? There has been, and still is, I believe, much discussion on this subject as well. Although the majority, if they're honest with themselves and Scripture, would admit that He was speaking of spiritual death here, though not necessarily the finality of spiritual death ( Revelation 20:14 ), everlasting separation from the presence of God. While they admit that Adam died in a spiritual sense, as God said he would, on the day that he partook; many still look for an everlasting physical life, in a spiritual, yet somehow physical renewed 'incorruptible' body. I've covered this subject too, somewhat, in my article 'A Spiritual Body', so I'll not go any further on it here.

Was Christ's work finished, like He said before He died, or was He just saying that? Was He simply telling us that His part was done, and now the rest, of course, with the guidance of His Holy Spirit, was up to us, that He had shed His precious blood merely on the hope that we would choose to accept His offer of salvation? I believe that He was telling us who would hear ( Mark 4:11 ( Revelation 22:15 ) That He had accomplished, in reality, the purpose for which He had been sent ( Isaiah 55:11, John 3:16 ), the salvation of His people, New Covenant Israel, or The Israel of God ( Galatians 6:16 ( Romans 9:6-8, Galatians 3:7 ).When espousing such a view, one might hear the argument, 'Why evangelize? Why even try, if it's already settled?' ( I've actually heard this argument ) Simply reply, 'because we're commanded to! Jesus told the seventy to go. Even though the so-called 'Great Commission' ( Matthew 28:19 ) was fulfilled in the first century ( Matthew 10:23 ), I believe that we, as Christians, and 'healing leaves', are bound by God to 'Go' still, not necessarily to the farthest reaches of planet earth, but to our neighbors, those who come within the sphere of our influence.

Now for the final question, which I've really answered already; 'what now?'

Is 'the healing of the nations' ( Revelation 22:2 ) all up to us now? Has God given to us, frail, faulty humans that we are, the task of fulfilling what His Son had begun? In the greatest sense, yes! However, as every Christian knows; we are not alone, these tasks do not rest solely upon our feeble shoulders ( thank God! ); Jesus, speaking in His capacity of Almighty God, tells His disciples, 'I will never leave you or forsake you' ( Hebrews 13:5 ( Deuteronomy 31: 6-8, Joshua 1:5 ) John 14:18 & 19 ) In John 14:12, Jesus tells His disciples, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father'. I wrote above that we have been redeemed, and sanctified ( Romans 8:29 & 30 ) that we might be, as music artist Jewel puts it, 'God's Hands', His tools for, and means of, physical transformation. Having said that; I do not mean to say even now that it is all up to us; we each have a choice to make, and while, more often than not, it may seem like many make the wrong choice, it is that persons choice, and he must make it and take the responsibility for it, for good or evil. Whether we feel like we're up to it or not; we are those 'healing leaves', having been appointed so by God; and having the fullness of the Presence of Almighty God Himself forevermore with us, we have the strength, and authority, to do what He has bidden us! I have been asked, as I'm sure many believers in fulfilled eschatology have, 'if all Scripture is fulfilled; is there anything left? Is it still authoritative for all walks of life, or do we have reason and license to move beyond, especially since we now have the presence of 'Immanuel' ( Matthew 1:23 )' I answer 'Yes!' We have been purified, our consciences cleansed by the once for all sacrifice of God's Son, and I believe that, along with God's Word, revealed through that Son, along with the consciences that He has cleansed and claimed as His own; we can live our lives doing right and what is good, and because of that, or through this sacrifice, which is acceptable to God ( Romans 12:1 ), acting as 'God's Hands'!

May God continue to bless us all as we strive to live up to what He has dne, and to do our part, to be 'the leaves of the tree' that are 'for the healing of the nations'!

In His Service and for His Kingdom,
Charles Shank

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Conversations with a bullfrog ( 'singin' 'Joy to the world....'

I knew I shouldn't have done it, and I almost hung up after a couple rings, but I hadn't talked to my friend in awhile, and after the way we parted company last time we talked; I wasn't sure what kind off mood he'd be in. Sure enough; I regretted it!

'Peace on earth?!', he said, rather scornfully: 'how can you say that, with so much unrest going on in the world, just because we, as Christians, have the peace of God in our hearts?' 'You say that's our purpose, as 'healing leaves', that we're supposed to let that peace shine through our lives, spreading it to all those around us: you're an idiot!' 'After the example that you've set, do you really expect us to follow your preaching when you can't even practice it?!' I almost said something then, but I decided to let him continue his tirade; I just rolled my eyes............. 'How are we supposed to let the peace of Christ reign in our lives when everybody else is so 'blasted'...................un-peaceable?!' I could tell that my friend was on one of his down-trodden rant, and I knew it might be well-nigh useless; but I chided him gently; 'Jeremiah, we can only do our part: it's up to others whether they let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts, they have a choice to make, but that doesn't take away our responsibility.' I almost instantly regretted saying it, because he reminded me of my own example, once again, calling me a hypocrite! 'Yes', I replied, 'and I'm not proud of that fact; I'm doing better ( I think ) in that area, doing what I know I should, even though people around me don't do what I think they should!' Now, I was starting to feel like Jeremiah, not that I needed any help in that area, because I was starting to think that maybe it WAS me, that maybe, like another friend told me, I DO think too much! Obviously; Jeremiah had been reading my articles again, and knowing me in person, saw that my own life didn't quite 'measure up'.

I had hopes; but Jeremiah wasn't done yet!

'I've been re-reading your articles on 'A Focus on the 'Physical', he said, 'and it seems to me that you're telling folks to overlook the physical aspects of life, almost gnostically, that the spiritual is what we need to be concerned with: it's almost like you think that we need to pray more, not do more!'

Ok: now I HAD to say something!

'My friend', I told him, almost sadly; 'I'm not saying that at all; just that 'A Focus on the Physical' aspects of life ( hardship, trials, tribulations ) has been a real deterrent to the church over the ages and that by focusing rather on the spiritual, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 6:33, on seeking His righteousness, on what He has done, rather than what we feel we have do, I believe that we are 'freed' to do our best, in His strength, for His Kingdom!'

'I got another call coming in', he said, 'and I see what you're saying, but you're still a hypocrite!'

'I love you anyway, Jeremiah'; as I hung up the phone, breathing a sigh of relief: that wasn't too bad!

It's hard to sing 'Joy to the World', sometimes, but through God's grace we CAN do it!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Studies in the Book of the Revelation of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God ( the visions ( final judgment ( the Two Witnesses ( the 7th Trumpet ) pt 8

Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation

'TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.' ( Daniel 5:27 )

'Then he defeated Moab. Forcing them down to the ground, he measured them off with a line. With two lines he measured off those to be put to death, and with one full line those to be kept alive. So the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought tribute.' ( II Samuel 8:2 )

'Who has measured the waters[c] in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure? Weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? ' ( Isaiah 40:12 )

Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood,[a] saying, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.

As we begin to study this eleventh chapter of the Revelation; we see John being commanded to reveal God's judgment, significantly, to His people, that was soon to come upon His Old Covenant 'children'. In this study; I have tried to show that the Revelation was given to John, not only to reveal Jesus as the Son of God ( Matthew 26:64 ), but also to serve as a warning to His covenant people of what was about to happen ( Matthew 24:34, Isaiah 56:1, Luke 21:35 ). God revealed His purpose to Daniel for the kingdom of Babylon, showing to Belshazzar that He had passed judgment on him, and was about to fulfill that judgment by taking the kingdom from him ( Matthew 21:43 ). When David, a type of Christ, had defeated Moab; he measured off, much as John did in the Revelation, those who would be destroyed, and those who would be left alive. As we have seen already in this study, and will continue to see as we study this book; John's instruction continues the central theme of the 'remnant' ( Isaiah 65:8 ) that, as you may have noticed, runs throughout all of Scripture. The prophet Isaiah revealed, in metaphor, that it was God Himself who had 'weighed' all things, according to His 'measure', His judgment, and that He had 'set' things according to His purpose and Plan.

But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.

'And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined.' ( Daniel 9:26 ( 8:13 )

'Then I raised my eyes and looked, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand. So I said, “Where are you going?”And he said to me, “To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length.'' ( Zechariah 2:1 & 2 )

John was specifically instructed not to include the 'court of the Gentiles' in his measurement, indicating, I believe, that this area, symbolic of those Old Covenant 'children' who had become no better, and in many cases, worse, than the nations around them, had been adversely judged and would be destroyed along with the 'nations' that did not know God. The 'man' that Zechariah 'witnessed' was going to stretch out, again symbolically, God's 'line' over those people that He had made covenant with, and which He ratified through the 'once for all' sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.

And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.

(It must be noted here, that although the reading that the New King James revisers have placed here, indicating that God gave these witnesses 'power', is fairly true to the intended meaning ( as they saw it ); the word 'power' is not found in the original Greek, but is simply an addition meant to clarify. )

'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. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him' . ( Matthew 17:1-3) ( see also Matthew 11:13, Luke 16:16 )

'Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them'. ( Luke 16:29 ) ( see also Romans 9:4 )

'Then I answered and said to him, “What are these two olive trees—at the right of the lampstand and at its left?” And I further answered and said to him, “What are these two olive branches that drip into the receptacles[b] of the two gold pipes from which the golden oil drains?” Then he answered me and said, “Do you not know what these are?And I said, “No, my lord.” So he said, “These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth' ( Zechariah 4:11-14 )

As we see throughout Scripture, and even in cultures all over the world; 'sackcloth' is a universal symbol of mourning. These two witnesses, I believe, representative of 'the Law & the Prophets'-Matthew 5:17 ), were sent out one last time, covered in sackcloth, to remind Old Covenant Israel ( after the flesh ) of the covenant which they had broken, and to indicate the surety and finality of the judgment that was soon to be visited upon them. When Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ on the 'Mount of Transfiguration', I believe that He was not only giving His disciples a preview of His glorious coming Kingdom, but also revealing the nearness of the judgment that was prophesied in the law Deuteronomy 28:15-68 ) and the prophets ( Zechariah 5:4 )! The 'parable' of 'The Rich Man & Lazarus', which, according to some is not a parable, is yet another reminder to God's Old Covenant 'children, I believe, of the covenant blessings that they had received and spurned, and also an indicator of what was about to come upon them ( Acts 24:15 & 25 ( Matthew 24:34, 16:28 ).

There are several different possibilities for the interpretation of the passage from Zechariah's prophecy: firstly, I believe, 'the anointed ones' could be symbolic, as are the 'two witnesses', of 'the law and the prophets', God's two means of revealing His will and purpose to His 'children': secondly, these two witnesses could be speaking of the 'branches' that Paul wrote of in Romans 11:16-24, His Old Covenant 'children, or Jews, and His New Covenant people, both Jew & Gentile.

John 'saw', or rather, heard that the Gentiles would 'tread the holy city underfoot' for a symbolic period of 'forty-two months', which is roughly 3 1/2 years, or exactly the number of days that God's 'two witnesses' were given to prophesy. Of these days, Daniel was told, 'And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days.' ( Daniel 12:11 ) Although the amount of time that Daniel was told about was about a month more than John's figure; it is still roughly 3 1/2 years, or half of '7', the biblical symbol of perfection, or completeness. When Daniel had asked the Lord's messenger how long these things would last, he was told 'for a time, times, and half a time', traditionally '3 1/2' years, or 'when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered'. Who were these 'holy people' of whom the messenger spoke, but the 'children of the covenant, the people with whom God had especially covenanted by expressly sending them the Light?

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God[b] of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

'Therefore thus says the LORD God of hosts: “Because you speak this word, Behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.“ ' ( Jeremiah 5:14 )

'Fire has come out from a rod of her branches and devoured her fruit, so that she has no strong branch— a scepter for ruling'. ( Ezekiel 19:14 )

'So Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” And fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty'. ( II Kings 1:10 )

The first chapter of the book of II Kings chronicles what happened when Ahaziah, one of the many wicked kings of Israel thought to command, probably in order to harm, even kill, one of God's servants, and accordingly as John recorded above, these enemies of God were consumed by 'fire from heaven'. The power granted these 'witnesses' to 'shut up heaven' should also remind us of Elijah,in the events leading up to the famous incident at Mount Carmel, as recorded in I Kings 17:1-7 ( I Kings 18:20-40 ) Moses, of course, who was both a prophet and the instrument through whom God gave the law ( ten words ) to His covenant 'children', is most well-known for the power ( of God ) he exercised over the waters of the land of Egypt, turning them to blood, and striking the land with many plagues.

When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our[c] Lord was crucified.

'Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah'. ( Isaiah 1:10 ( Romans 9:29 )

As we read of the prophet Isaiah's first recorded vision, we see that the wickedness of Judah and Jerusalem had become so great that they were now no different, in God's eyes, then those degenerate inhabitants of the city of Sodom, from which we have 'gleaned' the term 'sodomite' ( I Corinthians 6:9 ). Jerusalem, is also termed spiritually 'Egypt', with much the same meaning, that she had become so corrupted ( I Corinthians 15:53 ), that she was now associated with Egypt, which, traditionally, is symbolic of sin and of the corrupt world system ( Romans 1:18-32, Deuteronomy 17:16 ( II Chronicles 9:25 ), Hosea 8:13 ( 9:3 ). In 'the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit'; we can see John's reference, not only to the 'beast' or 'beasts' ( Revelation 9:2-11 ) that he has already mentioned, but, as we will see in further studies in this Revelation, he also refers, more directly to his later visions ( Revelation 12:3-9, 13:11-18,20:1-4 ). Many of my readers are probably aware of this, and I believe that I have alluded to this previously, but John's visions seem almost to repeat themselves, rehearsing a common theme.

Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allowd]">[d] their dead bodies to be put into graves.

'The dead bodies of Your servants they have given as food for the birds of the heavens, the flesh of Your saints to the beasts of the earth.' ( Psalm 79:2 )

'I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. Their dead bodies shall be for meat for the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the earth.' ( Jeremiah 34:20 )

'Assemble yourselves and come; gather together from all sides to My sacrificial meal which I am sacrificing for you, a great sacrificial meal on the mountains of Israel, that you may eat flesh and drink blood'. ( Ezekiel 39:17 )

'Nevertheless they were disobedient and rebelled against You, cast Your law behind their backs and killed Your prophets, who testified against them to turn them to Yourself; and they worked great provocations.' ( Nehemiah 9:26 )

'Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers'. ( Acts 7:52 )

'Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar'. ( Matthew 23:34 & 35 ( 21:33-45 )

I must remind my readers, again, that this is a vision, and significant, not only of things that would happen in the near future, but things that were happening in the present, and things that had happened in the past. We saw previously that these two witnesses had been killed and left in the streets of Jerusalem, symbolically, for the birds to pick their bones, and John is reminded, no doubt, of Jesus' words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 and, you must imagine, of many Old Testament prophecies. One might also think of this passage in Isaiah; 'And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh'. ( Isaiah 66:24 ) Admittedly, Isaiah wrote of those transgressors of God's covenant law, but said covenant, represented by the law and the prophets was entrusted to ( and broken by ) His Old Covenant 'children' of Israel, the remnant of which have now grown ( and are growing ) to adulthood, having become 'the Israel of God'! Much of the reason for the 'nations' not allowing these 'witnesses' bodies to be buried was, as in the case of the crucifixion of Christ, and indeed of any crucifixion, to cause shame, and also as a warning to those who would likewise transgress. Their bodies lying in the streets of Jerusalem for three and a half days, I believe is symbolic in the sense of the many references which we have noted throughout the Old Testament prophets, and also refers to the three plus days that Christ's body lay in the grave.

And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

'Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and have followed the Baals.' ( I Kings 18:17 & 18 )

'Therefore the Jews of the villages who dwelt in the unwalled towns celebrated the fourteenth day of the month of Adar with gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another.' ( Esther 9:19 )

'But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance'. ( Matthew 21:38 )

In Jeremiah 20; we read how the spiritual leaders of Israel, namely Passhur the priest, persecuted the prophet for revealing God's true and righteous judgment. ( see also II Chronicles 18:7, 16-27 ) Jesus and His disciples, as He spoke of His death, in Matthew 21, revealed to His listeners that, as their fathers had always done to the prophets who prophesied contrary to them and their wicked deeds, so they themselves were about to do to Him, the Son of the parable! In the quote from the book of Esther; we see that the Jewish people, who Haman intended to destroy, 'turned the tables on' their adversaries, and rejoiced greatly over the deliverance that God had granted them from their 'tormentors'!

Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.

'Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.' ( Matthew 5:17 )

'Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up'. ( John 2:19 )

'Your dead shall live; together with my dead bodyb]">[b] they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.' ( Isaiah 26:19 )

'Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live'. ( Ezekiel 37:5 ( Gen 2:7 ) Hosea 6:2 )

Resurrection, one of the great themes of Scripture, is prophesied of in the Hebrew Scriptures, mainly in a spiritual and allegorical way, and usually in the corporate sense, of God's people being awakened ( Ephesians 5:14 ), being comforted by the revelation of Jesus Christ, in places like Isaiah 60:1-3, Isaiah 9:1-7, and Isaiah 52:1 & 2. The 'resurrection' of these 'two witnesses' ( the Law & the Prophets ) was revealed to John and his readers to prove irrefutably that, as Jesus said above, 'I did not come to destroy but to fulfill', thus linking, I believe, His own resurrection with that spoken of in John's Revelation. I hinted at this earlier, but I believe it to be very significant that these witnesses lay dead for approximately the same amount of time that Christ did, and arose with much the same 'startling' effect. ( Luke 24:36-40, Mark 16:4-8 )

And theye]">[e] heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.

'I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.' ( Daniel 7:13 ( Acts 1:11 )

'Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.' ( Matthew 26:64 ( Revelation 1:7, Zechariah 12:10 )

'Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. ' ( II Kings 2:11 )

'Then Moses went up into the mountain, and a cloud covered the mountain'. ( Exodus 24:15 )

Moses ascended into the 'mountain of the Lord', or into His presence ( the glory-cloud ) to receive His Law for the 'children' of Israel, a picture of Christ ascending to where He was previously, in the presence of the Father, to ratify and finalize His perfect Law, of love. I believe that when John penned the words above, he had these passages in mind, as well as many other happenings, such as what Manoah and his wife witnessed, in Judges 13:20. When the prophet Elijah's work was done; God called him up to heaven in quite a spectacular way! As Jesus ascended into the heavens in the clouds; I would imagine that His disciples standing there had much the same reaction as did Elisha, although maybe Jesus' ascension was not accompanied by quite the same 'fanfare' as Elijah's received. For the purpose of our study; it is interesting to note that the passage that I quoted from Daniel comes from the midst of judgment, which Scripture makes fairly clear, occurs at the same time as the return of Christ: our redemption!

In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.

'For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles.a]">[a] These are the beginnings of sorrows'. ( Mark 13:8 ( Matthew 24:7, Luke 21:11 )

'For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath I have spoken: ‘Surely in that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel'. ( Ezekiel 38:19 ( Numbers 16:28-34 ( Exodus 15:12 )

'Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split'. ( Matthew 27:51 ( 28:2 )

'Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life'. ( Judges 16:30 )

'But yet a tenth will be in it, and will return and be for consuming, as a terebinth tree or as an oak, whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump'. ( Isaiah 6:13 ( Daniel 4:10-17 )

As we have noted previously; the term 'thousand' is, more often than not, indicative of 'a great many', rather than a literal number, and the numeral 'seven' is often used for 'a perfect, or complete amount': therefore, when John reported that 'seven thousand people were killed': I believe that he was revealing that just the exact ( perfect, complete ) number that God had determined had died, or would die, in the coming conflagration. Earthquakes, although not ( necessarily ) a common occurrence in the middle east were not uncommon either, and were often viewed as signs of God's judgment ( Isaiah 29:6, Ezekiel 38:19, Zechariah 14:5 ( Amos 1:1 ), Matthew 24:7 ( Mark 13:8, Luke 21:11 ). I believe that from the phrase 'The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly', we can deduce that the original recipients of this letter were already in the midst of this woe, or tribulation ( Matthew 24:21, 29 ), and the Lordship of Christ was about to be fully and finally revealed!

Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdomsf]">[f] of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: “ We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come,g]">[g] because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth''.

'But it came to pass on the seventh day that they rose early, about the dawning of the day, and marched around the city seven times in the same manner. On that day only they marched around the city seven times. And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people: “Shout, for the LORD has given you the city!' ( Joshua 6:15 & 16 ( Daniel 7:18 & 22 )

'I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation; so the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever'. ( Micah 4:7 ( Isaiah 9:7, Daniel 2:44 )

'Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.” ( Psalm 2:1-3 ( Isaiah 43:9 )

' And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt'. ( Daniel 12:2 )

'The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked, so that men will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely He is God who judges in the earth".' ( Psalm 58:10 & 11 )

It has been said before, that the Revelation is a worship service; here, once again, God's people ( symbolized by the 'twenty-four' elders ) break forth into a song of praise to God for His good judgment. After it is revealed that God's worldwide kingdom, which has long been prophesied ( Psalm 2:8 ( Daniel 7:13 ), Isaiah 65:13-16, Daniel 2:44 ), has at long last come to fruition, His people rejoice that the time has finally come that Daniel wrote of, saying 'Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed' ( Daniel 7:14 ), and 'the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom' ( Daniel 7:22 ). As is the case with most judgments; when somebody wins, somebody else loses!

Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenanth]">[h] was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.

'He gave them hail for rain, and flaming fire in their land.' ( Psalm 105:32 ( Exodus 9:24 & 25 )

'Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heavenb]">[b] quaked and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness under His feet. He rode upon a cherub, and flew; and He was seenc]">[c] upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness canopies around Him, dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him coals of fire were kindled. The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice. He sent out arrows and scattered them; lightning bolts, and He vanquished them.' ( II Samuel 22:8-15 )

'The LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men'. ( Psalm 11:4 ( Acts 17:24 )

'Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?' ( I Corinthians 3:16 ( 6:19 )

In the prophetic Scriptures, in particular, 'lightning', whether physical, symbolic, or both, was often an indicator of God's presence, as we can see in passages like Exodus 20:18-21, Job 36:32, Psalm 18:14, Ezekiel 1:13 & 14 ( Matthew 24:27 ), Daniel 10:6 ( Revelation 1:12-16 ), Zechariah 9:14, Luke 17:24 ). As we have seen much so far in our study of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and as we have noted before; the conjunction of a judgment with this revelation, or the so-called 'second coming' of Jesus Christ has been plainly shown ( made obvious ) by God, through His prophets.

May God bless you with this study of the Revelation of Jesus the Christ, and it is my humble wish that this study would be instrumental, in some way, in bringing it's readers to a deeper, truer understanding of this book!

in God's grace,
and for His kingdom,
Charles Shank

Friday, November 27, 2009

Conversations with a bullfrog ( I helped him'a drink his whine........)

'Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.............'

I didn't answer right away, because I love listening to the good ole' Statler Brothers sing that song, but I noticed that the name 'Jeremiah B.' showed up on my caller ID, so I figured I'd better answer sooner, rather than later. As I flipped my phone open; I said 'Hey, Jer; what's up?' Boy, was I in for it this morning! 'Somebody' must have had quite a day yesterday ( Thanksgiving Day )! First, it was 'What took you so long to answer?', so I had to remind him of my enjoyment of Newton's hymn, as sung by the 'Brothers', after which he began his tirade........................'You know what my favorite thing about the holidays is?', he asked. 'I used to think it was family and friends, but now I really think it's the food!' ( I love food too, and Thanksgiving really brings out the best in most cooks! ) I had to ask my friend, at this juncture, what had happened yesterday that had so soured him on the family aspect of the holidays He replied, 'ya know, Chuck; it's not just yesterday that I'm talking about, it's the holidays in general......................why do we wait till certain days to get in touch with each other............wait a minute; I think I just answered my own question ( having family of my own; I kinda understood where he was coming from )..........I almost interrupted at this point, but I decided to let him continue his 'rant'. 'I've always had problems, if not outright, most of the time, then latently, with my family!' Harking back to what we had talked about last time, Jeremiah Bereano went on to explain that, for whatever reason, whether because his beliefs ( which he doesn't apologize for ) are somewhat different, or because he leads a different sort of life, he has had problems communicating with his family, and thus holidays can become quite strenuous for him, since he feels that preaching is his life, that's what he knows. As he too a short breath; I had to interject a few thoughts, reminding him to look at himself, and not others, for the source of his 'problems': 'if you really want to get to the bottom of your family troubles, you might wanna take a look at yourself!' Having heard much of his family history, previously; I rehearsed to him how, after he had been introduced to some 'new' ideas, he had adopted much of them as his own, even taken them further in some areas, and had become rather vocal, if not a little antagonistic, toward those who disagreed. ( I've had some pretty heated discussions with him, myself ). I continued, 'Have you ever stopped to think that might be part of YOUR problem?!' 'Maybe your family ( and certain friends ) have become so used to your disagreeable temperament, especially regarding religion, that they've ( consciously or unconsciously ) decided that you're not that much fun to be around, except for the occasional holiday!' I could hear nothing but silence for what seemed like a few minutes, on the other end of the 'line', and I could almost see my friend hang his head as he thought about the harsh possibility of what I'd outlined for him. 'You might have a point there, Chuck', he ( almost grudgingly ) said; 'I realize that, in the past, I've held such an attitude of 'I'm right, and you're wrong', and 'if you don't see it my way, you just don't get it', that many people have probably, as you said, consciously or unconsciously, 'turned me off' and 'tuned me out'; so what can I do now?' 'I don't think it's too late', I consoled him; 'a couple things you might do is, first; get off your high horse, stop talking down to everybody about how all this so-called 'knowledge' of yours makes you so 'all-fired' right all the time, so everybody else is wrong, or just hasn't gotten it yet..............' He interrupted me quickly, saying, 'I believe that God has given me this knowledge, and if that makes me right, then they ARE wrong!' 'Jer', I said, 'that may or may not be the case, but if you go around alienating everybody, because you think God's given you this 'knowledge' that He's, for whatever reason, held back from everybody else, by telling them that you have the truth, and they, just because they don't understand it quite the same way as you, don't; then it's no wonder that nobody wants to listen to you!' 'You need to realize that, just because you believe that God's shown you the truth, doesn't mean that you have it, and even if you have it to a greater extent then the average person, that doesn't give you the right to walk around ( no pun intended ) acting like you're better than everybody else, trying to prove that you're right all the time and that you know everything!' 'Learn what it means to defer, and whether you think you're right or not; humble yourself, and acknowledge that you DON'T know everything, you're NOT right all the time, and there just may be something you CAN learn from other people; like how to show people you love them , not just tell them, and then act differently, and how to show people that you believe such and such a way, not just tell them, and then destroy any effect you might have had ( for good ) by not living up to your words! Now I was ranting, and hoping that my friend wouldn't hang up in fury and frustration! My friend had had enough, so he quietly said that he had to go, and before he said goodbye; he meekly ( or is that 'weakly' ) said 'thanks', then softly hung up the phone. In God's good providence; I might not hear from my friend, while he mulls things over, then hopefully, acts on them!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Apples & Oranges ( and cranberry sauce )

One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner is cranberry relish!

I love a good cranberry relish; not too sweet, but not too sour!

There are several topics that I wanted to 'treat' here; first of all ( and don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining ), the celebration of 'special days': two, the comparisons that we make between 'fruits', and three, how we ought to be especially thankful for all that God has given us ( leading right back to number one )!

Whoever came up with the idea for setting aside a certain day in November ( to say nothing of a certain day in December, a certain day in April, even a certain day of the week, etc. ) as more special, or more important than another, ought to be flogged ( and thanked )! Thanksgiving Day was a great idea: as a nation, we have been greatly blessed, and setting aside that certain day every year to gather together, whether it be just family, family and friends together, or even strangers, to especially thank and praise God for His great goodness, is a good thing, a great plan. When I say that this man should be, or have been flogged; I say this because of the commercialization that has come from specializing this, as well as certain others you might think of. Thanksgiving Day, as with so many ideas, started well; what a great idea! A good time to remember how God has blessed us, not just as a nation, but as individuals, but why wait till November 26th ( or the last Thursday of November ) to get together as family, friends, and strangers, to eat turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry relish? As with certain other holidays ( as opposed to holydays? ), we have a tendency, as human beings, to treat these certain days as so much more special than others, that we might start to think that we should do things differently ( and I'm as guilty of this as anybody ) than we do other days of the week, or year ( as the case may be ). Should we be thankful everyday of the year for what God has blessed us with? Should we not celebrate the greatest Gift ever given everyday of the year? How about remembering what this Gift did for us, dying for our sins, and rising again that we might have life, everyday? I don't think that anybody would argue against this, but we still bow to tradition when, because of our busyness, or for whatever reason ( or excuse ) we treat certain days as better than others. I'm not complaining, as I said earlier; I enjoy getting together with family and friends ( even new friends ) for the holidays, eating special meals, and doing special things as much as the next guy, well, maybe not as much as some, but, as many of, I'd like to imagine, I'd rather that we weren't so busy with our hectic lives, so that we could afford to celebrate what God has blessed us with all the time!

The question is; 'can we afford not to?'

I spoke above of comparing 'fruits' ( 'Apples & Oranges' ): I refer to us humans, and in particular, Christians. I speak for myself, I accuse no other; we have a bad habit of comparing ourselves, especially as Christians, to the next guy. I know I have a problem with doing things that I believe I shouldn't because, well, my friend does the same sort of thing all the time and he obviously doesn't think it's wrong, so how bad could it be? One might think of the obverse of James' statement in James 4:17, 'Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin'. ( Romans 7:15-20 ) Scripture has much to say on the subject of 'conscience', and Paul even goes as far as saying, in regards to the conscience, 'Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble'. ( I Corinthians 8:12 ). Along these lines; Paul further writes, in I Corinthians 10:12, 'For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.' ( Now; before anyone feel like I'm pointing the finger at them: I am not saying that those who exercise their liberty ( in Christ ) to the fullest are unwise, or even sinning, just that each of us must live according to his own conscience, not that of someone else. ) Eventually; we might hope that those who 'beg to differ' might have a change of conscience so that they might more fully enjoy the liberty that we have in Christ Jesus. Until that point, if ever, I believe it not unwise to defer, as Paul did, certain of those liberties, in order that we might not wound those with 'weak' consciences ( II Corinthians 4:2 ). As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church earlier, in the beginning of chapter 8, 'We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies'. If we have a conscientious objection to something that our brother or sister does, yet do the same; are we not 'comparing apples and oranges?'

Not to sound hypocritical, but; I love Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving and Christmas, with Easter bringing up a close second, are probably my most favorite holidays ( although they really are 'just' holydays, like all the rest! ) Two main reasons; first, it's a great 'excuse' for family to get together, renew bonds of friendship, pick up the chains of sibling rivalries, etc., and two; the food ( especially cranberry relish )! It's really kind of sad, but too often; we wait for those two, maybe three days of the year to do this kind of thing, to fix these special dishes. As I've said; I'm not complaining ( for one, because I'm no better when it comes down to it! ), because I know the reason that we don't, several actually: the busyness in which we're all involved makes it difficult for us to get together for the purposes of celebrating everyday ( hard to get the same days, or amount of time, off, etc, for those who live far apart from each other; finances are always a factor, and I think that we, because of tradition or for whatever reason, seem to have gotten the idea, as I said above, that certain days are, and should remain, better, or more special than others. Thanksgiving Day ( or Turkey Day, as it's becoming more commercially known ) has become, to some, the day of the 'triple-header' ( as a friend of mine and I were talking about this morning ) where we stuff ourselves 'to the gills' with turkey, stuffing ( apt, huh? ), sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie ( don't forget the cranberry sauce ), and then sit on the couch with our beers, and watch some 'fools' ( with nothing better to do on TD ) run around and beat themselves up for four quarters ( X3 ). I dare say that most of us are thankful for what God's given us, although it may be questionable whether or not everyone actually acknowledges where these blessings come from, but are we truly being thankful to God, by relegating the celebration of this thankfulness to one particular day ( even a season )? I mentioned the over-commercialization of these three major holidays ( although many others have suffered ): many of us look forward to 'Black Friday'; most stores offer their best deals ( for a limited time ) on the day after Thanksgiving Day, and every year the stores are opening their doors earlier, competing to see how many people they can get to come through their doors, spending all kinds of money ( usually plastic ) that they may or may not have, buying all kinds of 'things' that they may or may not 'need' ( want ). For every major holiday; stores have special sales, sales which draw us into their stores; all to one end: the almighty dollar! This is not the way it should be!

God has certainly blessed us and it is more than right, and less than His due that we should set aside a certain day, even a season, to gather and celebrate our thankfulness, but as is common among humans, even Christians; I believe that we tend to forget our thankfulness in the humdrum and busyness of everyday life, and this, again, is not the way it should be! I chastise only myself with these words, because I have the same tendency ( problem ) with thankfulness: I'm not, much of the time. Especially in this season; let us remember to give thanks to God for all His manifold blessings, and then after all the 'hoopla' of the Thanksgiving holiday is over, and we're strutting around like over-stuffed turkeys, even the next day when we 'proclaim, 'I never want to see another turkey leg again', that it is not only when we have friends and family around, or turkey ( and cranberry relish ) on the table, that we should be thankful for His blessings, nor is it just on a certain day each year that we should gather as friends and as the family of God to celebrate that thankfulness, but everyday, in everything that we do and say! The apostle Paul said 'in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you' ( I Thessalonians 5:18 ), and earlier, in Romans 14:6, referring back to an earlier topic of mine, 'He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord;a]">[a] and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks'. The Psalms are full of references to the giving of thanks: in Psalm 18:49; David wrote, 'Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the Gentiles, and sing praises to Your name', after God had delivered him from the hand of Saul. We are told, in Psalm 30:4, 'Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.b]">[b]' Asaph wrote, in Psalm 75:1, 'We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks! For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near', and again, for deliverance, in Psalm 79:13, 'So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, will give You thanks forever; we will show forth Your praise to all generations'. In Psalm 92:1; we read that 'It is good to give thanks to the LORD, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High': Psalm 97:12 reminds us to 'Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.[a].' The psalmist pleads, as so many of us today, 'Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!' ( Psalm 107:8 ), and David wrote, in Psalm 140:13, 'Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name; the upright shall dwell in Your presence.' Whether or not one believes in fulfilled eschatology, whether one believes God is present with us in His fullness, or whether just through His Holy Spirit; it is a 'concrete' fact that the righteous dwell in His presence, and for this, if for no other reason; we should give thanks: Job, when he had just lost most of his material possessions, and also the children that God had given him, in one fell swoop, said 'Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD' ( Job 1:21 ). In the next verse; we read that 'Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong': can we do less, but in every situation, good or evil, give thanks to God for all things, even those that we do not recognize as a blessing? Finally; as Paul wrote in one of his most comforting passages, 'And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.' ( Romans 8:28 ) Now, pass the cranberry relish, please!

in thankfulness, Charles Shank

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Conversations with a 'bullfrog'

First of all; I would like to introduce my readers to a good friend of mine, named Jeremiah. ( 'Jeremiah was a bullfrog.....................wazza good friend o' mine.........') Sorry, just had to slip that in! Jeremiah seems to have a 'Jeremiah complex': he's a bit of a self-proclaimed preacher ( prophet, if you will ) that has a problem, as do most of us, when it comes to putting into practice what he preaches. In this way; he is not quite 'on par' with his name-sake. I remember quite often, as does my friend, the prophet's words in Jeremiah 20:9; 'Then I said, 'I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.' But ( His Word ) was in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones: I was weary of holding it back, and I could not'. Whenever Jeremiah, almost pridefully mentions this; I have to remind him that, although the situation that he faces may almost be compared to the situation that the prophet faced, it is nowhere nearly as dire, because Jeremiah was being persecuted for speaking the truth of God's promises of adverse judgment upon His typical Old Covenant 'children' because of their disobedience. I tell him, 'You are under no such persecution for declaring such things; you are surrounded by God-fearing people, though maybe a bit mixed up, that 'persecute' you, not so much because of what you preach, but because you don't practice what you preach, as you should.' 'You're right, brother Charles', he says, ashamedly 'but I still feel like the prophet must have felt sometimes, because when I do remind those around me of God's Word and face 'persecution' because of it, I'm almost sorely tempted to say, 'forget this', and stop preaching, because I don't always practice; it seems like my conscience just won't let me be, ya know, kinda like when God's Word was like a burning fire in Jeremiah's heart.' I, along with other friends, then remind Jeremiah ( B) that we shouldn't stop preaching just because we don't always practice; rather, we should do our best to always practice, not only because it's the right and grateful ( thankful ) thing to do, but because it does help our witness, helps those around us to see that, 'hey, he really means what he's saying, he's not just spouting off at the mouth!' I went to see Jeremiah the other day, and after the usual talk about the weather, sports, etc. ( we usually end up gravitating to discussing religion; it's rare that we don't! ); he remarked to me, 'ya know, Chuck; sometimes I almost sympathize with those prophets of old ( like Jeremiah ) when God used them, not only as His mouthpiece ( 'Thus says the Lord........' ), but as examples of what He was about to do to His Old Covenant 'children''. When I asked him why he would say something like that, he told me that he found that some things that he naturally did ( I must make a note here, and I hope that Jeremiah's not reading this; my friend can be a real jerk sometimes, insensitive, selfish, immature, prideful, etc.............), he realized later that, although he was acting wrongly ( proudly, selfishly, immaturely, etc...........), he was really showing others around him their own weaknesses and helping them to see the wrongness of their own actions and to correct those actions. I told him that this sounded a little like he was trying to rationalize, and he said, 'I realize that, Chuck; and I try not to act like that, but I also realize that God uses our actions, wrong or right, for His own purposes, and I thank Him for that!' 'Remember what He said through the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 55:8, 'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord.' Before I could accuse him of proof-texting, he quickly said, 'I know I'm kinda pulling that out of it's context, as I might seem to be doing with Jeremiah's words, but I believe that, even though the historical context of the prophet's words is quite a bit different than the situations that we face today, we can still find application for God's words, in that there is a tendency today to try to put God in a 'box', and say, 'well, this is the way we do things ( or more to the point, the way I do things ), so it must be the way God acts, too', or 'God wouldn't ( or doesn't ) do things that way'. 'This is not to say that my actions are without fault, and that I'm inculpable because I believe God's 'using me for His own purpose', just that, as Christians who, though chosen and perfected (although still being sanctified-Hebrews 10:14 ) still act wrongly ( sin? ) sometimes, we must remember that we have been forgiven 'once for all', not that........' ( I rudely interrupted at this point ) 'Are you trying to tell me that Christians can now sin for free, that we don't have to worry about consequences because 'once saved, always saved'?' Jeremiah replied, 'if you'd let me finish; I'm not saying that because of Christ's work, and yes, I believe 'once saved, always saved', that we can live however we please and we'll be okay, rather, because we've been forgiven and healed of all our iniquities ( I John 1:9 ) we are free to do what's right, we don't have to worry that our little slip-ups are gonna separate us from the love of Christ; as Paul said, in Romans 8:38 & 39, 'For I am persuaded that nether death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' I had to remind my friend, yet again, of the historical, not to mention immediate, context of Paul's words. ( Although thinking of Paul's remonstrations in the previous chapter almost makes his point, huh? ) When I did mention this to him, he reminded me of Paul's words in Romans 7, and that, although the historical context may have been quite different; the situation ( on the surface, anyway ) that Paul treated in that chapter was not so different from the situation that so many of us face today. 'Paul's words in Romans 8:38 &39 though', he continued, 'should give us all the comfort of knowing that no created thing ( does that include us? ) can separate us from God.' 'You're preaching to the choir here, Jer,' I amusedly told him; 'but one might argue that God, through Isaiah, told His Old Covenant 'children' that 'your iniquities have separated you from your God.' ( Isaiah 59:2 ) 'Whoa', he replied, 'now it is I who must remind YOU of the historical context!' 'God was speaking to those under the Old Covenant, not the New, and although Christ's atonement and redemption had been prefigured since day one and revealed, in a sense, to some of the faithful ( Hebrews 11 ); salvation had not yet been fully revealed, and their iniquities had not been pardoned: as we can see by reading the end of the Bible first, their sins finally and irreversibly separated them from God.' As sometimes happens; my friend was right, so I had to cede his point, and I promised that one day, we would get back to the subject: right now, my head hurt ( from overuse, maybe? ) and I had some things to do at home. I left my friend with this thought; 'if you're really serious about being a Jeremiah to those around you; you need to start being more serious about practicing what you preach, and controlling your own actions: start seeking God's will rather than your's more'.

As I got on my bike to pedal home; I distinctly heard him mutter, after our usual 'c-yas!'; 'till next time, Chuck, till next time...........................'

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