The Pagan Path

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

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Face to 'Face'- 'I can see clearly now.........'

Thinking of the phrase 'through a glass darkly' this morning, and I realize that this is 'old hat' for many of us, the thought came to me, 'we no longer see 'through a glass darkly'. Although it is true that some or most, for whatever reason ( mostly their own choice ), still have not been able to see clearly that God has made His eternal dwelling-'place' with us ( John 14:23 ), or in us ( I Corinthians 6:19 ), and that we no longer need hope for that Day, when all things are made 'new', for Paul tells us that 'all things have been made new'( II Corinthians 5:17 ), and several years later, through John; Jesus assured the first-century Christians, and assures us that He had, and has made 'all things new'!

Especially in today's 'day and age', as things ( physically speaking, anyway ) 'seem' to have gotten, and continue to get, worse and worse; it's very easy to see why many Christians have failed to see that Christ did 'return' when He said He would ( Matthew 16:26, 24:34, etc ), and that God once again, as in the 'Garden' dwells with us ( Exodus 15:17, 25:8 ( Ephesians 2:22 ) Exodus 29:45 ( Jeremiah 31:33 ) II Corinthians 6:16 ), and 'walks' with us ( Genesis 3:8, Matthew 1:23 ). Above, when Paul said, 'if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation'; what did he mean by that? Obviously, since he said it in the present tense; he did not mean that physically we had been made new, because one would think it would follow that we would be walking around with a brand new body ( hmmm.............that has interesting implications for the traditional creation account, don't you think? ), with a new 'heart' ( mind ) that wouldn't even think of anything impure, much less do anything untoward; the fact is, though, that we still walk this earth with the same old aching body, the same propensity for impure thoughts ( though if we are a 'new creation'-'born of God', we will have less and less of those because our conscience has been made 'captive' ( Psalm 68:18, Ephesians 4:8 ), and even the best of us ( Christians ) doesn't do everything right all the time, every time ( not that we don't and shouldn't try )!

Most Christians understand, and are comfortable with the fact that Paul was speaking spiritually, as Jesus and the apostles were used to doing. Most of these, however, look forward to a day when 'our faith will be made sight', believing ( to varying degrees ) that we will, at some future 'day', whether after we physically expire or before, be clothed in a new, perfect ( as Jesus' was ) human body, to physically walk this earth, although that will be new and perfect too, with the wolf laying down with the lamb, lion with the calf ( Isaiah 11:6 ), etc, for a millennial reign ( this can vary as well ), after which we will all be taken to our actual home, 'Heaven'!

If my readers, especially of several years ago, have learned one thing about me from my articles; it is that I believe that 'Heaven' is not a place, per se, but humanly speaking, is more of a condition, a state of being. Take for instance, when we proudly ( and humbly) say that we are 'in' Christ ( as opposed to being 'in' the flesh ); are we actually, physically in Him? Okay; those who know me, or my writings can probably see where I'm going with this; we are physically in Him because we are in 'His body, the Church'. Traditionally though; when a Christian claims to be 'in' Christ, he means that positionally ( spiritually ) they have been identified with Christ, and as a follower of Him, have begun to lead a different life: 'old things have passed away, behold all things have become new', in essence, that they have died to self, and begun a new life.

As Paul also wrote, in I Corinthians 15:46, 'However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual', and as I reasoned in a previous article, several years ago,

'Jesus also speaks to this effect, in the third chapter of John, when He told Nicodemus, who thought that Jesus was saying that, to enter the Kingdom, you had to be physically reborn; that 'unless one is born of water ( the natural birth ) and the Spirit ( Matt. 3:11 ), he cannot enter the kingdom of God.' Jesus had to further clarify, with this statement, to make clear in Nicodemus' mind that He was NOT talking here about a physical, but rather, a spiritual 'change'!'    From 'A Spiritual Body'.

I talked above, about the phrase 'our faith will be made sight': many Christians, I believe, will agree that, spiritually speaking, our faith has become sight, but most look forward to the day when our faith ( spiritual ) will become sight ( physical ). I believe that this has happened already, and continues to happen, as people's eyes are opened to the truths of fulfilled & covenant eschatology. In the greatest ( well, maybe not the greatest! ) sense, our physical eyes have been opened, and our faith ( hope ) has become sight ( assurance, seeing not only the truth of fulfilled redemption, but the fact that 'The kingdoms[f] of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!', that even though it doesn't seem to our finite minds, that God is reigning ('Why do 'bad' thing happen to good people?' ); He is in total control, and is ruling ( physically through us ) on this earth! We can see the Presence of God in the beauty, not only natural, but human, that surrounds us, we can see the effects of 'Christ in you, the hope of Glory' ( Colossians 1:27 ), and we have the assurance that He did what He said He would, when He said He would!

The reality is that we have ( and do, everyday ) come 'face to face' with Christ, in the form of His Body, the Church! I realize that for too long ( one can think of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and many other atrocities that have been committed in the name of Christ ), God's people, whether real or imagined, have not shown the 'face' of Christ to the world; but it is obvious to me, through the many natural and man-made disasters which have happened throughout the world, in the past millenia, that God is bringing His Church, His people together, and so, while many do not realize that they are, in actuality, 'face to face' with Christ, we have, as even the first-century Church, come to 'Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel'!

May God continue to bless His people with this realization, as we struggle, through our weaknesses, to serve Him in His Kingdom.

                                                                  In all humility and thankfulness,
                                                                                            Charles Shank

Friday, March 19, 2010

Studies in the Book of the Revelation of Jesus the Christ the Son of God ( the visions ( final judgment ( The Beast ) Pt 10

Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation

Then I[a] stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns,[b] and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.

In the past, we have reviewed many passages from the book of Daniel's prophecies in attempting to understand more readily the prophecies that we read in the Revelation of Jesus Christ: this study of the thirteenth chapter of Revelation is no different, for it has much in common with the seventh chapter of Daniel.

'I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other'. ( Daniel 7:2 & 3 )

Later on toward the end of the chapter; Daniel asked 'one of those who stood by' to explain what he had seen; he was told 'Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings[c]which arise out of the earth'. Although these passages are a lot alike; you may notice some differences, like, Daniel's vision records four different beasts while John's only has one. Let's study the two accounts here, and see if we can't clear this mystery up: Daniel saw that 'The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings'; one of the first things that may come to mind, concerning eagles wings, is that famous passage in Isaiah 40:31, 'But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint'. ( see also Exodus 19:4 ) We have reviewed this passage before, but David wrote, in his lamentation for his brethren who had just been killed, in II Samuel 1:23, 'Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions'. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, concerning the coming judgment of God, and His chosen 'weapon' ( Isaiah 13:5, Jeremiah 5:15 ); 'Behold, he shall come up like clouds, and his chariots like a whirlwind. His horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us, for we are plundered'. ( Jeremiah 4:13 ) Using the same kind of language, and speaking of much the same situation; Jesus said, in Matthew 24:28, in answer to the disciples questioning, 'For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together' ( see also Luke 17:37 ) From my understanding; this actually had a very physical and literal fulfillment, because, as you may have seen before; the eagle was a national symbol of Rome, and was carried into battle as a standard, by their legions. I'm sure that many of my readers are more than a little familiar with the fact that not only God Himself was known as 'The Lion of Judah' ( Revelation 5:5 ( Hosea 13:7 & 8 ( 5:14 ) Proverbs 20:2 ), but that Israel itself, in particular a certain tribe, was referred to as a 'lion' ( Genesis 49:9 ( Numbers 24:9, Deuteronomy 33:22 ), Numbers 23:24, Deuteronomy 33:20, Ezekiel 19:1-9, Zephaniah 3:3 ). When thinking of 'lions', though, I'm sure that many will remember that Scripture also relates 'Satan', traditionally the arch-enemy of the people of God, to a lion; the most familiar passage on this account probably being I Peter 5:8, which reads 'Be sober, be vigilant; because[c] your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour'. The prophets of the Old Covenant also had much to say on this account, referring to all the adversaries of God's people, even some in particular, as 'lions': in I Samuel 17:34-36; David related to King Saul how God had delivered him from the natural enemies of his flock, in a very physically literal picture of Christ and His deliverance. Job saw that God was 'like a fierce lion' to him, hunting him to the ground ( Job 10:16 ). David, again, prayed that God would deliver him from the wicked, 'Lest they tear me like a lion' ( Psalm 7:2 ( Psalm 10:9, 17:12, 35:17, 57:4, 58:6 ), and in a reminder of the joys of the 'everlasting covenant' ( I Chronicles 16:17 ( Psalm 105:10 ( Isaiah 55:3 ), David wrote, in Psalm 91:13, 'You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot'. Speaking, also of this 'new covenant', in Isaiah 65:25, God promised 'The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, says the LORD'. ( see also Isaiah 11:6 ). The prophet Jeremiah wrote to his people, speaking of the imminent invasion of the armies of Babylon, 'The lion has come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of nations is on his way. He has gone forth from his place to make your land desolate. Your cities will be laid waste, without inhabitant'. ( Jeremiah 4:7 ( 25:38 ) 50:17 ) Almost in the words of Job, the prophet later laments the fact that 'He has been to me a bear lying in wait, like a lion in ambush'. ( Lamentations 3:10 ) Ezekiel 19:1-6 relates the degradation of Israel, whom he likened to a 'lion' to those around him. Because of this depravity; God related through His servant Hosea that 'I will be to them like a lion; like a leopard by the road I will lurk; I will meet them like a bear deprived of her cubs; I will tear open their rib cage, and there I will devour them like a lion. The wild beast shall tear them'. ( Hosea 13:8 & 9 ) In defense of his prophetic authority, Amos asked the question, using a 'biblical parallelism', 'A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?' ( Amos 3:8 ) When Peter warned his people, above, in I Peter 5:8, of the 'roaring lion'; he probably had in mind this passage in Zephaniah 3:3, in which the prophet speaks woefully of the lengths to which the leaders of Israel had fallen, 'Her princes in her midst are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves that leave not a bone till morning'. Using very physically literal language, the apostle Paul related to his 'son' Timothy, how that 'the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion'. ( II Timothy 4:17 ) In all of the above; I believe that we can see that, while this beast ( which was a conglomeration, you might say, of all of Daniel's ) that John 'saw' was, not just symbolic of the wicked, Gentile nations around them, but of their own wicked leaders, and even of God Himself, who became an 'adversary to the children of Israel when they fell into apostasy.

And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?

As we have seen in the book of Daniel's prophecy; this beast was indicative of a king, or kingdom, which would rise to oppose the people of God. You may have heard, or even read for yourself, histories of the struggles of Roman politics, particular in the centuries surrounding the advent of Jesus Christ, and recall stories concerning the greed and lust for power of the Roman Caesars, which often led to much blood-thirstiness, at least one of which involved a certain man who received a head-wound from which he should ( ordinarily ) have died, but miraculously lived. This event, I'm sure, only served to strengthen the already prevalent cult of emperor worship throughout the Roman Empire, including the subservient nation of Israel. This may come as a shock to some people, but think, for a moment, of the likeness of the above passage to the crucifixion of our Lord: although it may be a bit of a 'stretch', and though 'Satan' was the one whose head was wounded ( Genesis 3:15, Romans 16:20 ), remember that Christ Himself was wounded ( 'for our transgressions' Isaiah 53:5 ), from which 'wound' He was 'healed', being raised from the dead, that 'Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God' ( Romans 14:11 ( Isaiah 45:23 )!

And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue[c] for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe,[d] tongue, and nation.

We have discussed before, the occurrence of the phrase 'forty-two months', and should be very familiar with it's usage, and with the concept. Several studies previously; we noted that, during the infamous 'times of the Gentiles', the holy city, or Jerusalem, would be 'tread............ underfoot for forty-two months'. We have also discussed the fact that, while Daniel's visions incorporate rather, the phrase 'a time, times, and half a time'; these two phrases are identical, speaking of the same time period, and indeed, the same event. We have noted too, the similarities between Daniel's vision recorded in chapter 7 and John's vision, as recorded in chapter 13 of the Revelation, so we continue in chapter 7 of Daniel, down to verse 25, which reads 'He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute[d] the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time'. Notice the similarities between these two verses: although Daniel's vision seems almost, to be more properly applied to the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, in the early to mid 2nd century B.C; I believe that this 'reign of terror' was a fore-shadow of what was to come, of what God had decreed upon His 'holy' people, 'Some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt' ( Daniel 12:2 ).

Warning His disciples to 'Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees', speaking of their hypocrisy; Jesus told them that 'anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven' ( Luke 12:10 ). The Old Covenant 'children' of Israel had a long history of blasphemy, which started not long after their Exodus from Egypt, and arguably, even long before that. As early as Leviticus 24:16 ( 19:12 ) during the 'wilderness wanderings, Moses had to tell them, after an incidence of this,that 'whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the LORD, he shall be put to death'. God later told these same 'children', or more to the point, their leaders, 'Behold, it is written before Me: I will not keep silence, but will repay— even repay into their bosom— your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together, says the LORD, Who have burned incense on the mountains and blasphemed Me on the hills; therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom'. ( Isaiah 65:6 & 7 ) God again reminded His covenant 'children' of their iniquity, in Ezekiel 20:27, telling the prophet, 'Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: In this too your fathers have blasphemed Me, by being unfaithful to Me'. The apostle Paul, quoting Isaiah 52:5 & Ezekiel 36:22, voiced this accusation against his own people, 'the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you' ( Romans 2:24 ). There are many more passages like this in the Old Covenant Scriptures some of which are Exodus 17:7 ( 20:7 ), Joshua 23:7, I Samuel 8, 28:8, I Kings 9:6 & 7 ( II Kings 23:27 ( II Chronicles 7:12-16 ), II Kings 21:7 ( II Chronicles 33:1-9 ), Isaiah 48:1, Jeremiah 7:9-12, 14:14, 25:1-7, 27:10, 34:16, Ezekiel 20:1-32, 36:16-38, 43:6-9, Daniel 9:3-9, Amos 2:4-12, Zephaniah 1:4-6, 5:4, Zechariah 13:2-4, Malachi 1:6-8, and 2:2. As you can see, from these and other like passages, the Old Covenant 'children' of Israel had a long history of 'blasphemy' against God, for which God finally and utterly brought His 'weapons of indignation' to bear on them.

Granted; the covenant-breaking 'children' of Israel were not the only ones that Scripture records as uttering blasphemy against God, as we see in II Kings 1910b, when Sennacherib, king of Assyria besieged Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah; he told them, 'Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria' ( see also Isaiah 36:14 & 15 ). In Psalm 74:18, the psalmist wrote, 'Remember this, that the enemy has reproached, O LORD, and that a foolish people has blasphemed Your name', and again in Psalm 79:1-4, that 'the nations have come into Your inheritance; Your holy temple they have defiled; they have laid Jerusalem in heaps'. Because of God's displeasure with His 'vineyard', the covenant-breaking 'children' of Israel; Isaiah prophesied that 'He will lift up a banner to the nations from afar, and will whistle to them from the end of the earth; surely they shall come with speed, swiftly' ( Isaiah 5:26 ( 11:12 ) 41:2 ).

We have noted before, I believe, how God had granted power and 'authority' to certain rulers ( kings ) in which to rule over the nations: Isaiah 14:26 records that 'He who struck the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he who ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted and no one hinders', and against this same kingdom ( Babylon ), God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 51:28 ), 'Prepare against her the nations, with the kings of the Medes, its governors and all its rulers, all the land of his dominion'. Prophesying of the coming 'Day of the Lord', the prophet Joel pleaded with the Lord, and with his people, 'Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar; let them say, Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?' ( Joel 2:17 ) A fore-shadow of the 'Reign of Christ', realizing this fact, David wrote, in Psalm 22:28, 'For the kingdom is the LORD’s, and He rules over the nations' ( see also Psalm 66:7 ). If my readers will remember; we have noted before, the meaning of the name 'Israel': although there are several different meanings rendered from this Hebrew word, probably the most widely accepted, I believe, is 'prince ( ruler ) with God', and because of their disobedience to His covenant of dominion, He gave them up to the dominion of the rulers of the nations, to be ruled over, rather than to rule themselves!

If anyone has an ear, let him hear. He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

John again, or Jesus rather, uses the familiar phrase 'If anyone has an ear, let him hear', which should only strengthen the supposition that this is but one revelation, one letter to the churches. Jesus had already reminded His disciple, in Matthew 26:52, that 'all who take the sword will perish[f] by the sword' ( see also Jeremiah 38:2, Ezekiel 7:15, 33:27 ); remember also that He had told the Pharisees that they had 'shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in' ( Matthew 23:13 ). The religious rulers of Jesus day, following a long, and inglorious tradition ( Matthew 15:9 ( Isaiah 29:13 ), although they had the Word of God, thus far ( the Hebrew Scriptures ); rather than feasting upon that Word alone and thus feeding the sheep ( John 21:17 ( Ezekiel 34:10 ), they had added their own interpretation and traditions to the pure Word, and had become 'blind leaders of the blind' ( Matthew 15:14 ), leading their people back into captivity to the Law ( Acts 15:24, Galatians 5:3 ( Romans 7:7-12, Genesis 2:15-17 ). 'The patience and faith of the saints' that Jesus speaks of here, I believe, is the patience of Job, that is, even today, a much used phrase; the patience of God's people in waiting upon God's timing, and their faith, their belief that Jesus would come when He said He would, bringing the salvation that He said He would ( Hebrews 9:28 ), thus 'setting the captives free' in a very physical manifestation of the greater spiritual truth!

Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those[e] who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.

As we have seen in many places before, the Greek γῆ is used here, translated 'earth', but probably better translated 'land', which in the covenantal context of Scripture, has a connotation of speaking of the land of Israel, or Palestine, around which the whole of Scripture centers. In this context then; John describes a second manifestation of this 'beast', again using quite the same sort of imagery in revealing to the churches that the same 'spirit' that arose from Rome had also risen from within the nation, or people, of the Jews themselves. From reading Josephus' 'Wars of the Jews' and probably other related histories; certain scholars have been able to pinpoint with a certain accuracy, most likely, the very identity of this beat from the 'land', although from my own reading of Josephus, it seemed almost that you could take your pick from all the Rome-appointed rulers of the 'land' ( the Herod's, for instance, seem to fit the bill quite nicely, except that they were mostly before and around the time of Christ ). Even reading some of the apocryphal writings; one can almost 'see' that John was referring back to the times of the Maccabees and even before, for his description of this 'beast' from the 'land' that 'had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon' and 'causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast'.

This 'beast' with 'two horns like a lamb' also should tell us that this beast was just another 'sign' that John was speaking of a leader who would, or already had ( I John 2:18 ) arisen from among their own ranks. The 'lamb', of course, in the greatest sense, should immediately bring to mind Isaiah 53:7, prophesying of the lamb that was slain, a prophesy that was foreshadowed in many places throughout Scripture, such as Genesis 3:21, Genesis 22:1-19, II Samuel 12:1-15, Exodus 12:3, Leviticus 23:12, I Samuel 7:9, II Chronicles 30:15, Isaiah 16:1, Jeremiah 11:19, and Ezekiel 45:15 ( 46:15 ). God's covenant people, throughout Scripture, are often referred to a sheep, and Jesus as the great Shepherd of the sheep ( Hebrews 13:20 ( Mark 6:34 ) I Peter 2:25 ), as seen in Numbers 27:17, I Kings 22:17 ( Matthew 9:36 ), Jeremiah 50:6, Ezekiel 34:11, and Zechariah 10:2. Speaking of those in whom the spirit of anti-Christ was prevalent; John wrote that 'They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us' ( I John 2:18 ), and Jesus, of the same sort of people, said 'Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.' ( Matthew 7:15 ( Matthew 10:16, Luke 10:3 ); Paul too, told the elders of the church at Ephesus that 'after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock' ( Acts 20:29 ). This 'beast', who was in reality, to shepherd the sheep, not only acted as their shepherds of old had ( Ezekiel 22:27, Zephaniah 3:3 ), but was forcing them, as can be read in the above mentioned apocryphal writing, the book of 'I Maccabees' and in the writings of Josephus.

He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or[f] the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

'And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being'. ( Genesis 2:7 )

We have noted before in this study, how that the adversaries of God's people often try to mimic the abilities and miracles of God Himself, such as the magicians of Pharaoh's court did, when confronted by Moses and Aaron with the power of God, in Exodus 7:8-25, and 8:1-7. I believe, without going too far into it, that this is the case here; many have, I'm sure, and probably will continue to speculate on what the meaning of this 'beast' that gave breath to a statue, causing it to live and breath is, but I think that we might be able, as in most cases with the Revelation, to glean a clue from the Hebrew Scriptures. Ezekiel's prophetic vision in Ezekiel 37:1-14 might be considered a bit out of context for the subject matter that we are covering here, because it focuses on the redemption, restoration, and even the final revelation of the ( true ) Israel ( of God ), but, as I said above, it is yet another example of how the enemy would often try to ape God's miracles.

A deeper historical study of the geo-political situation in, not only Israel, but in the whole ( Roman ) world of the first century A.D. would likely show, as some historians have pointed out, that those who couldn't prove their citizenship, or their obeisance to Caesar and the Roman Empire, by a certain 'mark', whether it was a tattoo or a certain article of clothing or a bracelet or some such on their wrist or forehead were symbolically disallowed from plying their trade, or possibly even purchasing food at the markets. Whether this is the truth or not, and it sounds very plausible from reading certain the historical accounts that we have available, such as those of Josephus', or even the inter-testamental writings; this 'mark', like the 'breath' above, should remind us of a certain passage on Ezekiel's prophecy, 'Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it' ( Ezekiel 9:4 ). The context, of course, of this passage is prior to God's judgment of Jerusalem at the hands, I believe, of the Babylonian armies, typical of the final destruction ( desolation ) under Rome, and just as God commanded a 'mark' to be set on those that were His, that they might be spared, so the 'Beast' now commanded those to be 'marked' who bowed to him, in reverence to his authority. My readers may be reminded of the story of the redemption ( salvation ) of Rahab and her family, as set down for our learning in Joshua 2:17 & 18, and the 'mark' that was set upon her house.

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.

You may have heard, probably even read, that this 'beast' of Revelation was symbolic of the Roman emperor Nero Caesar ( apparently, the Hebrew spelling of his name, 'Neron Kesar', has a numerical value of six hundred sixty six ), and while there is much support for this theory,not only from the writings of secular historians of the era, but from the very fact that he was probably one of the most despicable, and Anti-Christian rulers of that 'age'. With this in mind, think too, that many have traditionally thought of the number '6' as being the human number ( as '7' is God's ), and indeed, John wrote above, that 'it is the number of a man', and, as such, was something that John knew that the original recipients of his letter could deduce.

In the historical context that John wrote these letter,or this letter, as with much of the New Testament; this was a very dangerous time to be a Christian, physically, because of the Roman tradition of emperor deification and worship, and spiritually ( and it often turned 'physical' ) because of the Jews, or 'Judaizers'! In this dangerous situation then; John used symbolic and hyperbolic language from the Hebrew Scriptures, I believe, so that the Jews would know what was about to take place and heed his warning, and also, so that if his letter ( s ) were to fall into the wrong ( Roman ) hands, they would not be able to figure out that John was 'fingering' their beloved Caesar as this 'beast'!

The weight of gold that came to Solomon yearly was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold.( I Kings 10:14 )

This passage, along with the parallel passage of II Chronicles 9:13, is one of only two or three places in Scripture where the exact number 'six hundred and sixty-six' is used. The passage above, from I Kings, comes almost directly after the account of King Solomon's visit with the Queen of Sheba, when the king was at the height of his might, power, and, which was the cause of his downfall, I believe, pride. You might be wondering why I bring this up. I bring this up to show that it was due to the pride of man ( 'created' on the sixth day, no less ) that all of this was coming upon the Old Covenant 'children' of Israel! As was the case with so many peoples of which we read, not only in the Scriptures, but in secular, even modern-day, history, so with Old Covenant Israel; pride was their downfall!

May God bless this study to your 'hearts', and may He alone receive all the glory,

Charles Shank

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ECP and the Resurrection of Condemnation


The question of 'Eternal Conscious Punishment' is, and has been, as certain other 'orthodox' doctrines a source of much controversy, and even division within the Body of Christ. I was just the other day, on the subject of the resurrection, particularly of the unjust ( I just 'happened' to be reading John 5 ) as laid out in John 5:28 and Daniel 12:2, and remembering Jesus' words to Martha, in John 11:25. and the orthodoxical problems associated with the doctrine of 'conditional immortality', and with the refutation of the doctrine of Eternal Conscious Punishment. For years; I have held to the first, and refuted the latter; citing passages such as Daniel 3, and Genesis 3:22 in defense of the doctrine of 'conditional immortality', but finding no acceptable Scriptural support for the refutation of the doctrine of ECP, as laid out in passages like Revelation 20:10 and 14:10, of which the latter portion reads that 'he shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb'. John continues his thought in the next verse, which traditionally has served to 'fan the flames' of the doctrine of ECP, 'and the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever'. Formerly; and I believe that it is still a plausible, though maybe unwise, explanation of these seemingly clear verses, I would point out, from the Scriptures, that the word 'forever' did not ( necessarily ) mean forever, as in 'for eternity' but often meant simply, 'a long time'. In fact, the Greek phrase 'eis aion' indicates that this torment was unto the ages, which to it's original audience, especially those familiar with the words of Jesus and the writings of the apostle Paul, would have reminded them of the 'age' that they were currently living in, the Old Covenant age, which age was drawing to a close. I've recently read, from a brother of mine, that he believes that the 'Lake of Fire' still burns, enveloping those outside the City, the New Jerusalem, the Church, or the Body of Christ. With these words in mind; I came to the realization, with my study of John 5 and such, that this torment which was/is forever, in the presence of God and all His people, or angels, was and is simply the torment that those without Christ, or God went through, and still suffer , while on this earth.

There has been much discussion, of late, on this and like subjects over at the 'Covenant Talk' group on Facebook; one certain discussion that I was involved in personally was a discussion of whether the 'Lake of Fire' existed today and what was or is the nature of that 'Fire'. Reading the 'Wars' of Josephus'; one can see that, in many cases, assuming that the sack ( burning ) of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD70 was 'the Lake of Fire' referred to by John in the Revelation, the 'Lake of Fire had a very literal fulfillment in that cataclysmic conflagration, but in a spiritual and almost metaphorical, yet still very real sense, the 'Fire' burns still today: more on this later..................

There is no doubt that when John relayed Jesus' words to us in John 5:25 & 28 that he had in mind His words to Daniel, in Daniel 12:2. There is some question, however, whether the the words of Christ in verse 25 speak of the same resurrection as those in verse 28. In the historical ( and covenantal ) context of Jesus' words; I believe that we can say, with some certainty, that He was speaking specifically to that 'generation', so that when He said, in verse 25, that 'the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live', He was saying simply that all those that heard the Gospel ( both directly and indirectly ) would be awakened, but that not all who heard ( Pharisees, for instance ) would truly understand and believe ( Isaiah 6:10 ). In verses 28 and 29, Jesus is referring more directly to Daniel 12:2, and the 'final judgment' of the first century, but again to the fact that all would be 'awakened', and that some would respond in a positive way, and that some would respond negatively. Those who responded in a positive manner ( obeyed ) were then granted entry into the Kingdom of God, and His presence, while those who responded in a negative way ( disobeyed ) were condemned ( John 3:18 ) to perish in the 'Lake of Fire', of which John wrote in the Revelation, the conflagration and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, signaling the final and definitive end of the Old Covenant economy, or age.

The doctrine of Eternal Conscious Punishment is not an easy one, Scripturally speaking, to refute, because it is not easy to deny the 'plain' truth of the passages that I've already cited ( I'm sure there are others ).You may be asking yourself, at this point, 'what does John 11 have to do with this subject, of the resurrection of condemnation?' Well, as I said; I was sitting there thinking on these things, and I realized the truth of what Jesus told Martha; 'I am the resurrection...................' When God sent His Son, 'born of a virgin' (Luke 1:26-38 ), 'of the seed of David according to the flesh' ( Romans 1:3 ) to 'save His people from their sins' ( Matthew 1:21 ); He did indeed 'wake' His people ( the Jews ) from their comfortable slumber, the sleep of death 'under' the Old Covenant, but while some 'woke' to the Righteousness and Life that is Christ, some did not, but preferring to seek their own righteousness ( by the Law ), were condemned to final and irreversible death in the Lake of Fire. Typically speaking, the letter to the Hebrews, in particular the third and fourth chapters, has much to say on this account; in Hebrews 3:7-11, the writer quotes Psalm 95:7-11, concerning the 'children of Israel, as an example or those who should come after. 'Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where you fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, 'they always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways'. So I swore in My wrath, 'they shall not enter My rest'! The children of these 'children', Old Covenant Israel 'after the flesh' ( Romans 9:6-8 ) had the same problem; even though they had seen the works of God, in Christ, God incarnate, and had heard the Gospel, they refused to hear the Truth, and thus were refused entrance into that Promised Land of rest (Hebrews 4:3-5 )!

In Exodus 3:1-6, we read about the famous 'burning bush' from which God revealed Himself to Moses, speaking as the Angel of the Lord ( traditionally the pre-incarnate Christ ) from the midst of the bush that was burning, 'but was not consumed'. The writer to the Hebrews no doubt recalled this very story when he wrote that 'our God is a consuming fire'' ( Hebrews 12:29 ). The immediate context of this statement is at the end of a discussion where the writer told his readers that they had indeed, as Jesus said in Matthew 12:28, come, 'not to the mountain that may be touched', but to 'the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem'. The writer, whom some believe was a student, or disciple ( follower ) of Paul's, no doubt had in mind Paul's words to this effect in Galatians 4:25 & 26. Speaking of the difference between the 'Old' and 'New' covenants which God had made with His people Israel; Paul wrote, 'for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is ( earthly, natural ), and is in bondage with her children-but the Jerusalem above ( heavenly, spiritual ) is free, which is the mother of us all'.

'Why', you may ask, 'is he bringing this up; where is he going with this?'

The point I am making here, is that God was about to ( Greek-mello ) 'consume', both metaphorically and physically, His 'Old' Covenant creation, as He did in the days of Noah ( II Peter 3:5 & 6, Matthew 24:37-39 ), in which 'the elements will melt with fervent heat', and the 'earth and the works that are in it will be burned up'. Paul, or this follower of his, had written, 'in words hard to understand' ( II Peter 3:16 )that God Himself was this 'consuming fire' which would wreak all this havoc, and bring in 'a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells'! Again, in the letter to the Hebrews ( 6:7 & 8 ); we can read the writers analogy of a piece of ground; 'For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by who it is cultivated ( think of Genesis 1:11 ), receives blessing from God ( Matthew 13:23 ), but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned ( Matthew 13:40, II Thessalonians 1:8 )'. Chapter 9 of the Gospel according to Mark is probably one of the 'plainest' statements in Scripture that 'the fire.....shall never be quenched', and while Jesus does say that this fire is 'hell'; He used the Greek form of the Hebrew for the Valley of Hinnom ( Gehennah ), and while this word is most likely based upon the fact that, as the garbage dump, if you will, for the city of Jerusalem, the imagery would have been that of the continuous fires kept burning there. As Jesus was using such vivid ( to them ) imagery ( Isaiah 66:24 ), to impress upon His listeners the punishment for disobedience to the Gospel, or 'blasphemy of the Holy Spirit', I believe we can say with some confidence, as is the case with the 'parable' of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16, that it is not meant to be taken, as with all parables, at face value, but carried a deeper, hidden meaning, a greater spiritual truth.

Is our God still a consuming fire?

As I wrote earlier; there has been, and probably will continue to be, some disagreement over what this 'Lake of Fire was; I would have to say that, although it may be considered somewhat of a 'fine line'; the 'Lake of Fire' that John wrote of in the Revelation was the conflagration of AD70, when Jerusalem and the Temple were burned. Was God the Fire that was behind this desolation? Most definitely! Although this is the case; I do not believe it to be correct to say that the 'Lake of Fire still 'burns' today, though spiritually it could be said, I believe, because the Author of that Fire is eternally existent. Does He still test ( by 'fire' ) our faith? I believe He does, and will continue to do so, though Peter's admonition in I Peter 1:6 & 7 must have given a more immediate sense of comfort to those first-century Christians who first read them. Is God still the consuming fire then, that He was to first-century Judaism, to the Old Covenant economy ( 'under' law )?

When one hears of all the AIDS-related deaths in the world, all the other horrific diseases that have plagued mankind over the millenia since the advent of Christ, all the earthquakes and other 'natural' disasters that have rocked this planet since before history was written; it's easy to see the hand of God in it all ( unless you're a Deist, and believe that God wound the universe up like a clock, then just sat back to watch it unfold ), especially if you're a believer in the sovereignty and omnipotence of God; think of Jesus calming the waves, in Matthew 8:23-27, made the sun stand still ( or the earth, rather ) in Joshua 10:12-14, and brought terrible plagues upon the land of Egypt in Exodus 7, 8, 10, and 11! Is God still a consuming fire; are there those who are consumed, rather than purified by His 'fire'? I believe that He is, and there are. Paul said, in I Corinthians 15:25, that 'He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet': in context, both covenantally and historically I believe, he was speaking of that reign of Christ, which would then be symbolically handed over to God the Father, after Christ had subdued all His enemies under His feet, I.e., crushed the head of the serpent ( Genesis 3:15 ( Romans 16:20 ).

I hope that some questions that may have been bothering my readers have been answered, and that the implications, especially concerning John's 'Lake of Fire' ( Revelation 19:20, 20:10-15, and 21:8 ), of the first-century fulfillment of prophecy in the return on clouds of judgment of Old Covenant apostate Israel ( remember the remnant? ), which signaled the end of the Jewish age, and the full manifestation and authority of the eternal, New Covenant age.

May God continue to bless us all with the wisdom which only comes from 'above', as we study these things out, ever learning, ever seeking His kingdom and His righteousness and not our own!

In His Service,

and for His Kingdom ,

Charles Shank