The Pagan Path

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Difference Between Having and Taking ( a History of Violence )

So God created man in His [ own ] image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. Genesis 1:27 & 28

From the moment in time when Eve decided to take from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, things have gone down-hill. They were told before this happened, to 'have' dominion but ever since the 'Fall', it seems like man has taken whatever dominion he has, whether it be over the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, the beasts of the earth, or the earth itself. One has only to  read one of the good old history books,, ancient or 'modern', to read this history, 'necessary' or not, of violence.

When, on September 11th, 2001, 'a date which shall live in infamy', two hijacked airliners were flown smack-dab into two of the most influential towers in this country, if not the world; violence, which had stayed, for the most part, in other parts of the world, returned to our shores, and prompted maybe one of the greatest, and most short-lived spiritual revivals this nation had seen for quite some time. People were going to church again, neighbor was helping neighbor, and God was again be sought after for help in time of trouble. As was the case with Israel of old, however; once things began to calm down once again, and relative peace was restored ( there is still a flair-up every now and then; usually outrage over some new mosque, or some such ); God was yet again returned to the back burner ( if not the oven ), and life pretty much returned to normal. To be fair; I don't live in New York City; and cannot, therefore say with any real authority that this disaster had no lasting effect on the spiritual welfare of those involved!

Getting to the point, though, of the passage above; the only reason that those terrorists did what they did ( well; I probably shouldn't say 'the only reason'............... ), was that the leadership of this great nation of ours had decided, long ago, to take what they thought was their right, and to exercise their own brand of dominion by going overseas, and sticking their noses in where they didn't belong. This happened most notably in 1948, with the wrongful wresting of the land of Palestine from the Palestinians and 'returning' it to the Israelis, in the name of the Jews.. Here is a short passage from the Wikipedia article on the subject;

'Following the 1947 United Nations decision to partition Palestine, on 14 May 1948 David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization[9] and president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared Israel a nation independent from the British Mandate of Palestine.[10][11] Neighboring Arab states invaded the next day in support of the Palestinians. Since then, Israel has fought a series of wars with neighboring Arab states,[12] and has occupied territories, including the West Bank, Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, beyond those delineated in the 1949 Armistice Agreements.'

This is not the only episode in the history of violence in those parts, but doubtless the most notable in recent, modern history. This is also just one area of the world, which has seen a history of violence, and interestingly enough, this is where the Scriptural story is centered; all because men don't want to just receive and steward the gifts which God has given; we would rather take them, by force if necessary, and say 'Look what I did; look at me!' This all goes back, as was pointed out earlier, to the Garden of Eden, where our first 'parents' got impatient to have dominion, and decided to take it for themselves!

Aggression can be a good thing, as with all moods, when it is harnessed by the Spirit of God, but sadly; I'm afraid that much of the aggression shown by our leadership in the past, and it continues today, has not been according to the Spirit of Almighty, and loving, God. This aggression, though it cannot necessarily be blamed on any one individual, those who have taken the leadership in this country, since a few short decades after its inception, have, to varying degrees, brought much trouble on this nation through their stance.

How can we get out of this mess?

The one and only way that we can crawl out of this deep, dark hole that we have dug, first of all, is to humble ourselves before this Almighty, and loving, God, seek His forgiveness for centuries of careless repression and apathy, and repenting of our sin, bring before our exalted leaders the grossness of their iniquity, and through our own example, lead them to repentance of their own evil deeds.

This will not happen overnight, 'in the twinkling of an eye', so to speak; it has taken centuries, even millenia to get to the point we are today, and apart from the super-natural, miraculous intervention of God Himself, it's not going to be restored to Eden in one day! God has made us kings and priests in His Kingdom, and it is up to us to rule according to His law, being stewards of the gifts that we have received by warrant of birth!

With this in mind; let us begin to have the dominion that God has given us!

By God's grace, Charles Haddon Shank

Some Thoughts on the Millenium

There is much unnecessary quibbling in many of today's theological circles over what is meant by the phrase 'the thousand years', as it is found in Revelation 20:3, in reference to the binding of Satan, who was bound for 'a thousand years'. This 'thousand years' is most commonly referred to as 'the millenium', and has been the instigation behind cult and sects, even splitting the Body of Christ into premillenials ( of which there are differing versions ), who believe that Christ will return prior to the millenium, the postmillenials, who believe that He will return at the end of the millenium, which will be the end of time, and the amillenials, who believe that it's all figurative. All, or most of these, anyway, can be classified as 'futurists', in other words, they believe that Christ will return bodily, in our future. We, as believers in fulfilled eschatology, realize that Christ returned in judgment on His covenant people in AD70, and was revealed as God Himself!

As you know; the term 'millenium' is not to be found within the pages of Scripture, but is a contrivance of man, meant to describe a period of time.As we all know, particularly in the Hebrew Scriptures, the term 'thousand' was often employed to describe, not any certain amount ( although this was sometimes the case), but, more often than not, a great, or even innumerable amount, such as that famous passage from Psalm 50, about God owning the cattle 'on a thousand hills'; I have quipped before, concerning this phrase, 'who owns the cattle on the thousand and first hill?' Stupid question, I know, but it just goes to show where a strict literalism can lead.

As John borrowed most heavily from the Hebrew Scriptures when he wrote the Revelation, it should not take long to see that he was not speaking either, of a 1,000 year period, but was, like the prophets of old, using a sort of symbolic, even hyperbolic, maybe, language to describe the period of God's judgment of His covenant people. This is also referred to, in some circles, as the 'transition period', between the crucifixion ( 69th week of Daniel 9 ) and the Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the Revelation of Jesus the Christ ( 70th week ).

Some have objected to this, even with the understanding of the term's symbolic usage in the Hebrew Scriptures, that the approximate 40-year period between the cross and the Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was too short a period of time to be classified as 'a thousand years'. It does seem to be a rather short period for John, or Jesus, actually, to call it 'a thousand years', doesn't it? Maybe now, though, would be a good time to look at the covenantal context of the word. Most famous, probably, and interestingly, also one used most often by these same 'futurists', is II Peter 3:8, where Peter told his audience, 'do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day'. This most often is referred to the idea that, since Jesus has not returned ( as 'they' see it ), that His use of words like 'soon', 'near' and 'quickly' refer to even thousands of years in the future.This, it should be plain to see, was simply Peter's way of reminding his readers that God was not constrained to time as we know it, but would return and visit His judgment in the fulness of time, when the harvest was ripe. Peter was merely using the same sort of language that he, as a Jew had grown up with, that he was used to hearing every sabbath day in the synagogue, no doubt.

As we continue to spread the Good News of Good's Kingdom; let us remember that it only leads to these kinds of disagreements, and tends to take our focus off of what we should be doing instead, when we quibble over silly matters like whether the 'thousand years' of the Revelation is. Instead; we should remember what the Revelation is all about: Jesus the Christ, the Son of God!

With the 'thousand years' in the past, whatever your particular view of it is; let's live the eternity that we have been given in service to the Kingdom of God!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Studies in the Book of the Revelation of Jesus the Christ the Son of God ( the Visions ( Genesis Restored ) Pt 18

Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.

In previous studies; we have noted many times that, particularly in prophetic writings, the use of the term 'sea' most often refers to a large group of people, those outside the physical boundaries of the nation of Israel, or to the nation as a whole. When you read this first verse of chapter 21; the last phrase should immediately take you back to Genesis 1:10b; 'the gathering together of the waters He called Seas.' Understood in its true covenantal context, you might also think of Galatians 3:28, and like passages ( Colossians 3:11, Ephesians 2:14  ) where Paul wrote, 'There is neither Jew nor Greek'.

'How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger! He cast down from heaven to the earth the beauty of Israel, and did not remember His footstool in the day of His anger.' ( Lamentations 2:1 )

Although I have quoted this verse before; I believe that it warrants being quoted again to show that the phrase 'heavens and earth' ( Deuteronomy 32:1, Psalm 50:4, Isaiah 13:13, 51:16, Jeremiah 51:48, Habakkuk 3:3, Matthew 5:18, II Peter 3:5-7 ) referred most often, especially in relation to YHWH's holy Covenant, not to the sky and terra firma, but to the position and place of YHWH's covenant people. YHWH told the priests, the leaders of His typical old covenant 'children', in Hosea 4:6; 'Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me'. Because His covenant 'children' had rejected His Law, as we saw above, in Jeremiah's lamentation; YHWH had removed them from their exalted position, and, as Jesus said, in His parable in Matthew 21:43, 'Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it'!

Then I, John,[a] saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

'But you have 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.' ( Hebrews 12:22-24 )

'For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he [ who was ] of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the[d] two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar-for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children-but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.' ( Galatians 4:22-26 )

I have commented on this previously, in another article, but when John saw this vision of the holy city of 'Jerusalem' descending from heaven to earth, as we read from the book of Hebrews above, it was significant, not only of the Church, the bride of Christ, ready to be wed to her Groom, but also that YHWH's covenant people had become, as Jesus taught His disciples to pray, in Matthew 6:9-13, His 'kingdom come', 'on earth as [ it is ] in heaven'!

'I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks [ himself ] with ornaments, and as a bride adorns [ herself ] with her jewels.' ( Isaiah 61:10 )

'Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.' ( Genesis 3:21 )

Looking back over the studies that I had done of the first three chapters of the book of beginnings, the other day; I was struck, again, with the fact that 'they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed' ( Genesis 2:25 ), before they had broken covenant with almighty God, and that after YHWH had pronounced judgment on them for their trespass, before He consigned them to wander in the wilderness, outside the Garden; He clothed them, thereby symbolically and significantly forgiving their iniquity!

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them [ and be ] their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

'And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood [ at ] the door of the tabernacle, and [ the LORD ] talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing [ at ] the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man [ in ] his tent door. So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.'  ( Exodus 33:9-11 )

'I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I [ am ] the LORD their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I [ am ] the LORD their God.' ( Exodus 29: 45 & 46 )

'Then the word of the LORD came to Solomon, saying: [ Concerning ] this temple which you are building, if you walk in My statutes, execute My judgments, keep all My commandments, and walk in them, then I will perform My word with you, which I spoke to your father David. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.' ( I Kings 6:13 )

'You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men, even [ from ] the rebellious, that the LORD God might dwell [ there].' ( Psalm 68:18 )

'Then I heard [ Him ] speaking to me from the temple, while a man stood beside me. And He said to me, “Son of man, [ this is ] the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places. When they set their threshold by My threshold, and their doorpost by My doorpost, with a wall between them and Me, they defiled My holy name by the abominations which they committed; therefore I have consumed them in My anger.' ( Ezekiel 43:6-8 )

'Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.' ( John 14:23 )

John had heard this voice before, proclaiming things like 'Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down' ( Revelation 12:10 ), and 'The kingdoms[f] of this world have become [ the kingdoms ] of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!' ( Revelation 11:15 ). Hearing these words now must have thrilled John to the heart, knowing, understanding, as he must have, that the promises of YHWH concerning His continuing Presence, which were foreshadowed in the Hebrew, and reiterated in the Greek Scriptures, were about to be fulfilled, indeed were already fulfilled in Jesus the Christ!

One thing stood in the way, physically and covenantally speaking, though: as we read above, and there are others, in I Kings 6; YHWH told His people that 'if you walk in My statutes, execute My judgments, keep all My commandments, and walk in them', then He would fulfill His Word, and dwell among them. As we can easily ascertain by reading through the Hebrew Scriptures, and maybe especially through the book of Judges; the 'children' of Israel often, and on the whole, failed miserably to keep that Word! However; with the Revelation of Jesus the Christ, that Word was fulfilled, and YHWH's eternal Presence in and among His people was finally realized!

'For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, [ and ] my feet from falling.' ( Psalm 116:8 )

'Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun: and look! The tears of the oppressed, but they have no comforter-on the side of their oppressors [ there is ] power, but they have no comforter.' ( Ecclesiastes 4:1 )

Therefore you shall say this word to them: ‘Let my eyes flow with tears night and day, and let them not cease; for the virgin daughter of my people has been broken with a mighty stroke, with a very severe blow.' ( Jeremiah 14:17 )

'And this is the second thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive [ it ] with goodwill from your hands.' ( Malachi 2:13 )

' And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”' ( Luke 7:37-39 )

'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, [ he is ] a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.' ( II Corinthians 5:17 )

In the passage above, from Luke 7; read in the context of the whole story, we perceive that this woman, through her tears, received forgiveness of her sins from Jesus ( God ). In the covenant context of this greater story, then, we can ascertain, even from everyday life, that tears ( of pain or remorse, not joy ) most often are significant of some kind of punishment, as a result of wrong-doing, whether purposeful or ignorant. When Jesus forgave the prostitute, or sinner ( indicative of the adulterous house of Israel ); He showed that her tears had been dried, and that her former sins ( although He told another woman in a parallel passage ( John 8:11 ) 'go and sin no more' ) had been wiped away, or as Paul put it, speaking of the 'death' of that first covenant, 'old things have passed away', and she had been given a clean slate, for 'the former things have passed away'!

A friend of mine has recently begun a sermon study of the book of Hosea, and although this adulterous woman, Israel, is judged for her iniquity, there is also the promise given of forgiveness and reconciliation. In the Revelation of Jesus the Christ; we now begin to realize, to 'see' the fulfillment of that promise, in the forgiveness ( 'No More Tears' ) and reconciliation, or resurrection, of this relationship between God and His people!

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me,[b] “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

What did Jesus ( God ) make new? 

One 'problem' that most have with the Fulfilled viewpoint is that 'obviously', all things have not ( yet ) been made new, so this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. When we go back to passages such as II Corinthians 5:17 ( Isaiah 48:5-7 ), though; we can start to get an idea of what these 'all things' are, that He made new. Paul says that we, His people, are His 'new creation'; as the covenant is at the basis of God's relationship; we see that the covenant was renewed with His people, fulfilled in Jesus the Christ ( Isaiah 42:6, 49:8 ). Rather than changing the Covenant itself, for Jesus is 'the same yesterday, today, and forever' ( Hebrews 13:8 ( Revelation 4:8 ), through the New Covenant ( I Corinthians 11:25 ( Matthew 26:28, Luke 22:20 ), He renewed His relationship with His people, instituting a 'change' ( I Corinthians 15:52 ( Ezekiel 36: 25-27, Ezekiel 37 ( Isaiah 62:2, 66:22 ) in them!

And He said to me, “It is done![c] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things,[d] and I will be his God and he shall be My son.

Using language similar to the words He uttered on the cross ( John 19:30 ); Jesus revealed to John that His purpose, His plan, was complete; all had been renewed, all had been restored as it should be.

'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.' ( Genesis 1:1 )

'And He said, “Amos, what do you see?”   So I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me: “ The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore.' ( Amos 8:2 )

'And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.' ( Matthew 24:14 )

'But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.' ( I Peter 4:7 )

I acknowledge that the verses I have chosen to show how Scripture 'backs up' Jesus' claim that He is 'the Beginning and the End' could be a bit confusing; if Jesus is the 'beginning', the Creator ( John 1:1-3 ) of the material wold, as is the traditional understanding of Genesis 1, would that not indicate that the end spoken of in Scripture, to be the 'end' of that material world? As believers in Fulfilled Eschatology; we see this 'end' for what it is, as YHWH revealed through His prophet Amos, above, 'The end has come upon My people Israel', and thus, that He was the 'beginning' of those same people, or 'children', as I like to term them. This is not to say that God is not the Creator of the physical heavens and earth; I believe that secular science, even, try as it might, cannot deny that the universe and all it contains, was made by an Intelligent Being, and not by 'chance'. It is clear enough that God did create the material universe, but Scripture is all about YHWH's dealings with His covenant people, and not about the creation of the physical heavens and earth, at least not as we're used to thinking of them!

But the cowardly, unbelieving,[e] abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

'Its streams shall be turned into pitch, and its dust into brimstone; its land shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night or day; its smoke shall ascend forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; no one shall pass through it forever and ever.' ( Isaiah 34:10 & 11 )

I have quoted this passage before, I believe, but as others, it bears repeating. God revealed His Judgment on cowardly Edom for the way in which they had treated His people. We have read other, similar passages before, all using this sort of hyperbolic and metaphoric language ( Joel 2 ( Acts 2:14-21 ), Ezekiel 32:1-8, Isaiah 13:5-10 ( Ecclesiastes 12:2 ).

We have seen throughout this study that John relied very heavily on his knowledge of the Hebrew Scripture, of course through the inspiration of YHWH's Holy Spirit, when he wrote the Revelation. This is the case here as well. John was reminding, in code, if you will, the enemies of the people of YHWH, that just as HE had judged His enemies in the past; their judgment would be, not only in similar terms, but that it would be final!

Again; we can see, in the covenant context, that it was national, physical Israel ( after the flesh ) that had become the cowardly, unbelieving, lying, and adulterous people that John had in view here. The book of Hosea shows very plainly how adulterous and idolatrous this people had become. Jesus told the Pharisees that they were children of the devil because he 'he is a liar and the father of it' ( John 8:44 ). Earlier in this very study; John condemned the Judaizers, 'those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan' ( Revelation 2:9, 3:9 ).

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me[f] and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”[g] And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy[h] Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.

'But you have 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.' ( Hebrews 12:22-24 )

The writer to the Hebrews told his first century audience that they had come to the New, or 'heavenly' Jerusalem. We understand that he was saying that, as the Body of Christ, we have come before the Throne of God, to the 'city' that Paul wrote of in Galatians 4:26; 'the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all'. There is a tendency, in today's 'day and age', to forget that John was recording a vision here. I have spoken before, with my 'tongue in cheek', of John's disappointment, when promised a view of 'the Bride', to only witness a city descending out of the sky, but seriously; John was shown a very hyperbolic, and metaphorically brilliant vision of the Bride of Christ, who really isn't a bride at all, except in the spiritual sense of being covenantally united with Christ, but is a corporate Body, the people of God, called out from among the Old Covenant Body of Moses.

This is not the first time that a 'woman' has been compared to a structure, or described in architectural terms. Solomon described his Shulamite bride ( traditionally viewed as a picture of Christ and His Bride ) in terms not unlike this; 'Your nose [ is ] like the tower of Lebanon which looks toward Damascus' ( Song of Solomon 7:4b ), and 'Your neck [ is ] like the tower of David, built for an armory, on which hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men' ( Song of Solomon 4:4 ).

It is rather common, even in this 'day and age' to refer to certain objects, including cities, as 'she', and this is nothing new, for throughout Scripture; Jerusalem is often referred to in terms of the people that inhabited 'her'. Isaiah, prophesying of the coming judgment, wrote 'When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, then the LORD will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering.' ( Isaiah 4:4 & 5 ) In Jeremiah 4:14; YHWH pleaded with His people, 'O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved. How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you?' YHWH referred to the spiritual harlotry of His people, Jerusalem, in very vivid terms, as the very worst of harlots, in Ezekiel 23 ( see this also, in the book of Hosea ).

Her light [ was ] like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.

'O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, [ and ] not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones.' ( Isaiah 54:11 & 12 )

The immediate context of God's promise above is that of the restoration of His people. Throughout this study; we have seen how this kind of language is used, largely by the prophets, to describe the blessings of the covenant for those who kept it. Not only is this kind of language used by the prophets of God in a hyperbolic, or metaphorical sense, though: I Kings 10 chronicles for us some of the blessings of the covenant that were lavished on Solomon, king of Israel for his faithfulness and Godliness. In I Chronicles 29; we read how David prepared much of these sorts of things, in preparation for his son to build the Temple, one of the many pictures we have in the Hebrew Scriptures, showing how God prepared us to be built up by His Son as a temple for the Holy Spirit ( Ephesians 2:19-22, I Peter 2:4 & 5 ).

'You [ were ] the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone [ was ] your covering: the sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created.'

The above quotation from Ezekiel 28:12b & 13 is most often, I believe, said to be a description of that 'being' traditionally known as Satan, but when you really think about it, it really is a description of their first father, Adam. Remember when Jesus told the Pharisees that they were children of their father, the devil ( John 8:44 )? In other parts of the above passage, we can see, too, more language from the earlier parts of Genesis, referring to the beginning of covenant life.

We should notice too; that although YHWH had judged His old covenant 'children', mostly with a adverse judgment; the gates of His 'new' city, the heavenly Jerusalem ( from above ) were adorned with the names of His 'twelve tribes', which should be yet another 'key', or clue, that this was but a fuller revealing of His plan concerning His people.

Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names[i] of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal.

We see here how God has made of the two, One. By showing John that, not only, as we saw in the previous passage, was this 'heavenly Jerusalem', or the Bride of Christ, made up of the original twelve tribes, the very foundation of this 'city' was laid on the foundation of the apostles, who, though mostly of physically Jewish descent, were followers of the Christ, and no longer Jewish, but Christian. Remember that we read in Isaiah 62:2b, that 'You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD will name' ( see also Isaiah 65:15 )?

Many people like to read John's description of the Church, or the Bride of Christ, here, and assign to it a physically literal meaning, and envision a city that is 1,500 miles square, as one person described to me; floating in the air, with those twelve foundations. Wait; a city that is not anchored to the ground does not need.....................never mind: it's just ridiculous!

You've heard of the 'four-square' gospel churches, speaking, I believe, of the fulness of the message, rather than making sure that their buildings are laid out in exact measurements: much the same here; I believe that Jesus was showing His servant John that  His Church was perfect, and complete, the 'fullness of Him who fills all in all' ( Ephesians 1:23 )!

The equal 'length, breadth, and height' of its walls might also refer to the equality of its inhabitants before God, and each other.

Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.

We have noted this before, that as '7' is a most significant number in the Holy Scriptures; so too, we see that '12' is just as significant, and may even more prolific. Aside from the measurement of the wall, which John found to be a perfect multiple of 12; it is also interesting to note that this measurement was 'according to the measure of a man' , again cementing the fact that John was seeing no ordinary, physically literal city ( although its 'make-up' is very physical ), but rather was seeing in a wonderfully metaphorical vision, the Church of God, not as witnessed by human eyes, but as seen through the eyes of Grace!

'And you shall put settings of stones in it, four rows of stones: [ The first ] row [ shall be ] a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; [ this shall be ] the first row; the second row [ shall be ]a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper.'  ( Exodus 28:17-20 )

I'm sure you've hear this before, and even noted it yourself, that, even though in different order, and most likely by different names, but the stones which John recorded seeing as adorning the walls of this city ( again, think of Ezekiel 28 & Isaiah 54, above, but also Isaiah 61:10 ) were much the same as the precious stones which were to adorn the high priest's breastplate. It is very interesting to note that, as these stones adorned the breastplate of judgment, so they also are noted as adorning the protecting wall of the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ!

The twelve gates [ were ] twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city [ was ] pure gold, like transparent glass.

'Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.' ( Matthew 13:45 & 46 )

I don't know if you've ever thought about why Jesus would show John a vision in which the gates of this heavenly city were made of pearls, but I had really never given it much thought, except to think; that is one BIG pearl! Aside from the fact that this was a metaphorical vision that John saw, and that this 'city' was not an actual city, but was indicative of the inhabitants of the New Covenant: why would Jesus use 'pearls' for the 'gates'?

For a physical explanation, both of why Jesus would use a pearl as the subject of one of His parables, and in the vision that He gave to His servant John, in the Revelation; we might think of the geographical land of Palestine. Palestine is located in the Near East, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, where there are found, no doubt, pearls! For a more spiritual explanation, though; we might think first, of Jesus reference in the parable above, in Matthew 13, which includes a number of parables, all centered around 'the kingdom of heaven'. We're all familiar with Jesus' words in Matthew 7:6: 'Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine', lest, He said, 'they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces'. While we could certainly attribute a physically literal meaning to this, and glean some really good advice from this ( I mean; who in their right mind would throw their costly gems into a pigpen? ); I believe that Jesus had more in mind 'pearls of wisdom', metaphorically, 'the wisdom that comes from above'!

We saw, earlier in this study, how the Great Harlot, indicative of Israel, was adorned with 'gold and precious stones and pearls': these would be indicative, as James wrote, of a 'worldly wisdom' that is 'earthly, sensual, demonic' ( James 3:15 ).

Pearls, as you likely know, are formed through probably one of the most painful processes imaginable, at least, if you're an oyster! I mean, think about it, for us humans; it would be kind of like getting a splinter in a hard to reach place, or else one that is just beneath the surface of the skin, or even worse yet, under the fingernail! And we have arms, fingers with which to pull these foreign objects out; the mollusk's only choice is to cover it up and hope that it will eventually feel better as it continually layers this foreign object with nacre, the same stuff that lines the inside of their shells.

I believe that Jesus used the pearl as an object lesson, not only because of its ready availability, beauty, and popularity in the region, but metaphorically, because those who make up the Bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem, are very like pearls, in that we must make the best of what we have been given, whether it's foreign to us or not. The 'children' of Israel under the Old Covenant did not do this, rather, they let the foreign object become their identity, as we have seen, conforming to the wickedness around them, instead of being the redeeming factor they were called to be!

Streets of Gold?

I don't know if you've ever heard it explained this way, but someone actually told me once, that 'maybe the purest form of gold IS crystal clear'! Never heard that one before, but again, we must remember that this was a vision, meant to relate a greater spiritual truth.

'Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire.' ( James 5:3 )

'In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, [ being ] much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.' ( I Peter 1:6 & 7 )

Like the pearl; a natural explanation could be found, as to why Jesus would use this most precious metal to pave the streets of His city, but the point of John's vision here, I believe, was again that the New Covenant people of YHWH are in view here, as their 'gold' was found to be much more precious than that of His old covenant 'children', which was 'corroded', and soon to eat their flesh like fire, in the conflagration of AD70.

Again; gold is the softer of metals, more pliable than most, and except for platinum, arguably the most precious. Not only did gold figure most heavily in the trappings of the Old Covenant tabernacle and then in the Temple, which were but pictures of the true; it also was used to symbolize the preciousness and worth of the wise and covenant-keeping people of YHWH. In fact; the wisdom of YHWH's people, and His Law, are regarded as more precious, and 'better than gold, yes, than fine gold' ( Proverbs 8:19 ).

The other side of the coin, regarding the covenant-breaking 'children' of Israel, was that, as Jeremiah lamented; 'How the gold has become dim! [ How ] changed the fine gold! The stones of the sanctuary are scattered at the head of every street'  ( Lamentations 4:1 ), and 'The precious sons of Zion, valuable as fine gold, how they are regarded as clay pots, the work of the hands of the potter!' Although the people of God are today also regarded as 'clay pots'; let us not forget that, not only are we more precious, and 'valuable as fine gold', we are yet but 'the work of the hands of the potter'; lest we too, allow our 'light' to be dimmed, and forsake the Covenant!

But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it,[j] for the glory[k] of God illuminated it. The Lamb [ is ] its light. And the nations of those who are saved[l] shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.[m]

'Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.' ( Genesis 1:3 )

There is a story going around, not that we can really deny it's veracity, though maybe mis-understood, that the seeming inconsistency in YHWH 'creating' Light on the first 'day', but the Sun, Moon, and stars on the fourth day, by saying something like, 'Jesus was the Light, before the Sun, Moon or stars were created', then pointing ahead to the passage above, in Revelation 21. Like I said; you really can't deny that Truth, but I believe that, covenantally speaking, it's not quite that 'cut and dried', or simple. John's Gospel makes it pretty clear that Jesus was the Light typified by the Genesis creation, especially in the later portion of this passage; 'In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend[a] it.' ( John 1:4 & 5 )

In the Revelation of Jesus Christ; John saw that 'the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple', but other places in the Greek Scriptures call God's people, for instance, 'the temple of the Holy Spirit' ( I Corinthians 6:19 ), and 'the temple of God' ( I Corinthians 3:16 ). On the other hand; when Jesus told the Pharisees to 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' ( John 2:19 ), and though they, as often, misunderstood this saying; we can see that He was speaking metaphorically of 'the temple of His body'.

We also read in Scripture that Jesus is 'the light of the world' ( John 8:12, 9:5, 11:9, 12:46 ), and He most surely is, but Matthew told the followers of Jesus; 'You are the light of the world' ( Matthew 5:14 ), while Paul uses very similar language to John's in Philippians 2:15. As we are the Body of Christ on earth; we are both the light of the world, although those words were primarily meant, I believe, to give comfort and strength to their first-century audience, and the Temple of the New Jerusalem. God, in Christ is without doubt the true light and true temple, of which we are mere finite representations, but when we think of Jesus' words in John 14:23, for instance; we can begin to realize the impact of the words, 'Christ in you, the hope of glory' ( Colossians 1:27 ); for for believers ever since the 1st century anno domini, this is a fulfilled, though not always realized 'hope', but as we, believers in Fulfilled Eschatology, and the Revelation of Jesus the Christ, continually let our lights shine, or rather let the Light of God shine through us, we will make a way in the darkness!

As we've noted before in this study; Israel, under the Old Covenant, was to be a light to the darkness of idolatry around them, and sometimes, usually while they were being shepherded by a good leader, or leaders, they often fulfilled that mandate, to a point, but ultimately, they failed in their mission. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that God found fault with the 'children' of that 'first' covenant ( Hebrews 8:8 ), thus 'finding' it necessary to establish 'a new covenant', as prophesied in places like Jeremiah 31:31-37.

Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.[n] But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes[o] an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

'And I said to them, “Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot; and while they stand [ guard ], let them shut and bar the doors; and appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, one at his watch station and another in front of his own house.”' ( Nehemiah 7:3 )

If not from this verse alone, reading a bit of the historical background of the book of Nehemiah will quickly reveal why Nehemiah would give a command like this. The political situation at that time was such that he felt the need, for safety's sake, to give this command. In the New, or 'heavenly' Jerusalem, there is no need to take such precautions, for, going back to Genesis, 'there shall be no night there'. The enemy has been defeated, and though there are still 'gates' ( Psalm 24:7-9 ); we are not to be closed, or shut up, but are to be open, day and night, that the true Light of theChrist may shine through us, bringing God's Light to a sick world in desperate need of healing!

'Therefore your gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day or night, that [ men ] may bring to you the wealth of the Gentiles, and their kings in procession.' ( Isaiah 60:11 )

In the New Jerusalem which Jesus revealed through His servant John, the situation is quite the opposite from in Nehemiah's day. In the New Jerusalem, which Paul equated with the Church, the Bride of Christ, now the Wife of God; the enemy has been defeated! We do not fear 'those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul', for death, the death of Adam, which was spiritual, or covenantal separation from God was cast into the 'Lake of Fire', to be seen no more! The New Jerusalem, like Jesus said of us, His kingdom, 'is not of this world' ( John 18:36 ). Jesus referred to the same 'world' to which He came, and which 'did not know Him' ( John 1:10 ); I believe that, as Paul revealed that 'flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God' ( I Corinthians 15:50-Paul also refers here to that same 'world' ), that we can also apply Jesus' words to the natural ( physical ) creation, intangible insofar that it can be defined, seen, or felt, only through the Spirit of God. Not only are the 'gates' to remain open for lack of fear, but as Jesus told the church at Laodicea; 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock' ( another particular referent ), they are also to remain open that men 'may bring to you the wealth of the Gentiles', or as John wrote, 'they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it'. This is not so much an evangelistic message, as it is indicative of the blessings of the New Covenant in Christ!'

But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes[o] an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

This can applied to un-believers today, as well, but as we have seen throughout these studies; John's referent is the apostate 'children' of Israel, YHWH's typical old covenant people. We read in Revelation 3:7 about those 'of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie', and again, in John 8:44; Jesus told those same Jews that 'You are of [ your ] father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own [ resources ], for he is a liar and the father of it.'

Who is said to have profaned YHWH's holy name throughout the Scriptures, but the 'children' of Israel, 'after the flesh'? Who but these Israelites had, time after time, defiled, not only themselves, but their inheritance, the 'land of promise', which was, of course, typical of 'the holy city, New Jerusalem'?

This book is, of course, first and foremost, the Revelation of Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God, Almighty Himself, but it also chronicles YHWH's judgment of His typical old covenant people, for those who obeyed the Gospel, as personified in Jesus, good, and for those who rejected this Good News; evil. As we near the end of these studies; it is important to remember this, and to realize that, as the New Covenant 'Israel of God', we are now married to God, not only as His representatives on earth, His Kingdom on Earth, but much more than that; we are His Wife, endowed with all the covenant blessings and intimacy that entails.

As we begin to wrap these studies up, then; let us forever keep in mind this glorious fact of Who He is, and thus who we are: may God bless you with these words!

Charles Haddon Shank

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Venemous Wife

Let's face it,  the history of the Church, particularly of the American Church, doesn't need a whole lot of stretching to be compared with the Old Covenant 'children' of Israel, the congregation in the wilderness, sometimes! Is it any wonder that many in the mainline church are calling this 'the Laodicean age'? Sure; there are pockets, which have existed throughout the history of the Church, that have stubbornly stood in defense of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, but too many others have exhibited a 'Laodicean' lukewarmness.

Many Christians today make a livelihood, almost, from condemning 'sin', or evil, wherever it might rear its ugly, venomous head, but most don't stop to think that the Church itself, as the new priest-hood of God, has, in many areas reneged, or else absolutely refused to be the Wife that Solomon described in the latter portion of Proverbs 31.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive study of Proverbs 31, though that should doubtless be on the menu, but verse 11 says of this virtuous wife, 'The heart of her husband safely trusts her'. As the Wife of God; the Church has not had a very good history in that respect, but the fact that God's Kingdom has been growing since its genesis is due solely to the the glorious fact that 'If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself' ( II Timothy 2:13 ). This does not absolve us of responsibility for this careless 'oversight', this horrible neglect, and our apathetic refusal to 'get involved'! As before; there has always been that faction that has labored virtuously for the Kingdom, striving to be the best  'Proverbs 31 wife' she can be; don't get me wrong! On the whole, though; far too many have abdicated their role of leadership, except within the four walls of their church, name it: the state, or federal governments, which are growing more God-less and anti-Christian, it seems, by the day, and then we wonder why our culture, which we are supposed to shape, and not the other way around, is in such deplorable dis-array: it's because the Church herself is in such dis-array!

I have recently had the unspeakable privilege, and thus, blessing, of listening to a series of sermons on the Revelation, preached by a very good friend of mine, an elder at Covenant Community Church, of Whitehall, Montana. In this series, particularly on Revelation 11; he really brought home the fact that one reason for the seeming decay of much of the Church, is because of a lack of correct, covenantal worship. Going off on a bit of a rabbit-trail here; the book of Revelation is just that, the Revelation of Jesus the Christ, revealing Him for Who He said He was, the very Son of God, God Himself! For too long; the Wife of God has almost obliterated this fact; divorcing the book from its meta-narrative, and seeking salvation in its pages. By this; I simply mean that far too many Christians seem to be seeking an escape from this 'world', and their responsibilities in it, as 'the Israel of God'!

Back to the subject now; God's Wife, across the ages has had an adulterous history, sordidly like that of old covenant Israel herself, as laid out, most notably, in the prophecy of Hosea. You might be thinking, 'Whoah; that's kinda strong language!' Yes, it is, but probably not strong enough! The words 'too little, too late' come to mind. But we, as the people of the Almighty God, Creator of all, know that this is not true! If the Wife of God would begin to do her job, 'facing up' to her responsibilities, and watching over the ways of her household ( the 'world' ); coming back to a true covenantal worship of God, in all aspects of life, and every hour of ever day; then she may begin to have the effect she is predestined to have, upon the 'world' around her!

Throughout her 'colored' history; the Church has committed much idolatry, adultery even, with foreign gods, and committed many atrocities in the name of her Husband, with almost the opposite effect from what she was supposed to affect, taking rather than having, and forcing her religion, rather than the true religion of God that the apostle James talked about, in James 1:26 & 27. When we begin to remember, as a corporate whole, one complete entity, and that it is all about Christ, and the true religion of God, and not about any man-made religion; then perhaps we will begin to effect a change in the 'world' around us.

Our culture, the 'world' us, we often forget, belongs to God, and through our relations with God, to us. Because of a mis-understanding, or total lack of understanding of our covenantal relationship with our Creator, and denial of His words in the Revelation, 'The kingdoms of this world have become [ the kingdoms ] of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'; the Church has,again, over the ages, and especially within the past couple hundred years, more or less, adopted a policy, seemingly, of 'wait and see'; we have not fulfilled our covenant duty as the wife of God to get involved, to be the Proverbs 31 wife He has made us, extending our hands to the poor, and supplying sashes for the merchants.

May we  remember, before 'the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the well' ( Ecclesiastes 12:6 ), that, as the Bride of Christ, the New Covenant Wife of God; we are up to the task, and if we meet it head on, our own works will be our praise in the gates, or as Jesus said, 'that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven'. This being our prayer; let us act upon it for the glory of God and for His Kingdom!

Charles Haddon Shank

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An End to Vanity, an End to Violence

Violence, when you think about it, is useless; it usually only begets more violence; in fact, simply stated, Newton's, Third Law of Motion; 'for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction', is very applicable in this situation. Violence sometimes seems necessary, and often the only answer, but I believe we've all heard the phrase, 'violence is not the answer'. I believe that is true; while it can be AN answer, you're probably just as familiar with the saying, 'violence never solved anything' ( seems like Gandhi would have agreed with this statement ), it's also true that it has been our ( humanity's ) way of life since day one. As Newton averred, 'every action has an equal and opposite reaction'; this is the human way,: it is human nature, when someone threatens, or even takes action against you or yours, to react with equal, if not more, force! This is not necessarily wrong; sometimes in order to protect our stewardship ( 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' ), it may be necessary, in fact, the only clear course.

One of the most violent, unjust, and poignant, events recorded in our Scriptures ever perpetrated against a singular individual, was the mock trial, flogging, and crucifixion of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God.
Recently, and there are other portrayals like this, Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' really brought to our remembrance the violence of this event, beginning with His flogging ( I don't think you can watch this with tearing up ), and ending with the cross being dropped into the ground, further tearing at the wounds in His flesh ( pass the kleenex, please ). Without denying that Jesus was sent to die for the sins of His people, to redeem them back to true covenant relations with Himself; I believe that one reason that Jesus suffered such a violent separation on the cross was to show how violence was so utterly useless, and needless. Again; this is not to deny the fact that, as God's law required the death of a perfect human being to satisfy His justice; Jesus' ordeal was indeed necessary, according to the law. Could Jesus, as God, have paid the ransom for His people and redeemed them with having to suffer that ignominy, both that of having to suffer the normal existence ( although I think He rather enjoyed it ) of a human being, and then being crucified, put to the most cruel death? Well, when you come right down to it; He probably could have, but He chose to do it in such a way that we, as mere, finite human beings could understand the magnitude of what it meant to break the Covenant.

As I said; I'm not denying the fact that, according to God's holy law; Jesus' death on the cross was necessary to atone for the transgressions of His people, although it probably could be argued that God's law, like His Covenant, was always about the spirit ( principle? ), rather than the letter.

Anyone who has read anything of the early history, especially, but really, the entire Scriptural record of the dealings of God's typical old covenant 'children' can attest that theirs was a very violent time, and in fact, that much of their violence was carried out at the behest, the command, even, of God Himself. There can be no denying the fact that God commanded them to 'kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately' ( Numbers 31:17 ), and that 'the LORD delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they killed ten thousand men at Bezek' (Judges 11:4 ). The history of the 'children' of Israel is, without doubt, one of the most violent on record, and, unlike those around them, was perpetrated in the name of a loving God. No doubt the nations around them attributed and sanctified their atrocities to their 'god', but Israel's God, we know, was the true God, the Creator of 'heaven and earth'. Theirs ( ours ) was a God of mercy and love, unheard of among the other nation's 'gods'. As the 'god's' of the nations required a blood sacrifice ( usually human ), the God of the Hebrews, who also required a blood sacrifice, asked only for the blood of some poor, hapless animal. This, of course, was merely a picture of the sacrifice of God's own Son, because as the author of Hebrews wrote; 'For [ it is ] not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.' ( 10:4 ).

Reading the histories of Josephus, though, really brought out for me, the violence, especially in the latter years of their history, of these covenant-breaking 'children', some of which was committed in the name of God, but none of which was attributable to, or glorified God in the least. I'm not what you would call a history 'buff', or even all that knowledgeable in those areas ( I can sure 'Google', though ), but, from what little I have studied about it; Christianity, during the 'Dark Ages', and into the 13th and 14th centuries ( and beyond ) has committed some terrible atrocities against mankind, all in the name of God!

Beginning in the 12th century; awful practices were carried out by the Roman Catholic Church, although officially, secular 'police' did the dirty work, in the four different Inquisitions, which 'office' was founded to root out heretics. Really though; I believe that this was pretty much anyone who disagreed with Roman Catholic theology, or practice. Although Germany was never touched by the Inquisition to the extent that medieval France and Italy, then later, Spain, Portugal, and even Rome itself experienced it; I believe that Martin Luther probably experienced some of the 'fallout' from those dark days.

In the late ninth and early tenth centuries, and operating at much the same time, though in different areas of the world, the crusades were officially launched by the Roman Catholic Church, although, at that time, it may have simply been 'the Catholic Church'. As I said earlier; I'm not much of a history buff, and it not being my purpose here to give a history of the violence that Christianity has fostered throughout the centuries, suffice it to say that much of the horrific violence committed in the name of Christ over those 'Dark' years, in particular, but even for the past millenia, can be attributed, I believe, to a misunderstanding of the teaching of Christ, for instance, when He said, 'turn the other cheek'!

Jesus by no means meant that Christians are to be wimps, much the picture that we get today, from those who advocate 'turning the other cheek'. Earlier; He said 'blessed [ are ] the meek, for they shall inherit the earth'. Jesus told His disciples, not to be weak doormats, but to be meek, 'wise as serpents, [ and ] harmless as doves', always acting, not reacting ( that's usually where violence comes from ), in submission to God, seeking to fulfill His Purpose, and not our own. I believe that much in the way of defining the origins of 'a history of violence', particularly when it comes to Christianity, is a misinterpretation of the command in Genesis 1:26-28, to 'have dominion': if not in so many words, most Christians, from Genesis on, have seemingly understood this to say, 'take dominion'. This; I believe, was never God's intention, and Jesus' words, and for the most part, actions, in the Greek Scriptures, show that violence is not His way. When Jesus overturned the tables in the Temple, one could say that He was being a bit violent, but I don't believe that by doing so, that He was advocating violence. Scripture does not record Him assaulting anyone, anyway. Although He instructed Peter and the other disciples to go out and purchase swords ( for self-defense? ); He later rebuked Peter for using it in a violent way, for taking a preemptive strike, and cutting off the ear of the high priests servant.

'There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. [ By ] swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed.'

God's court case against idolatrous Israel, revealed by the prophet Hosea, included the charge of spiritual adultery, and indeed, that was His main complaint, but I believe that His words above also show that it was for their violence as well. The Israelites, through their covenant-breaking, had become a nation of violence, just like the nations around them, lying, stealing, committing adultery, and even murdering, all things forbidden by the 'Ten Commandments'. God even instituted cities of refuge that someone who killed another without meaning to, could flee to, in order that the violence might not continue!

As we continue in chapter 4; we read that God's just vengeance on His covenant-breaking people can be pretty violent, but truly; there is a difference between His justice and violence! I'm not saying that justice can always be carried out without violence of some sort. No; the violence that I'm talking about is unwarranted violence, and wrongful violence, like the 'bloodshed upon bloodshed' that God complained about, above; violence of the sort perpetrated, 'from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple' ( Luke 11:51 ) against the innocent and the righteous. This sort of violence is what God truly condemns, and it is this sort of violence, although not the only sort, about which I write. As I said earlier, in other words, maybe, 'sometimes violence is the only recourse'! Sometimes, in order to defend our stewardship we must counter violence with violent action, whether it be warding off blows ( though not necessarily returning them ), or whether it actually comes down to taking a life, violent action is required! Violence, even in these situations is not always needful, though it is our nature, even as Christians, to meet violence with more violence. By the nature of Christ, or God, in us, we can dispense with, or overcome these violent tendencies, and rather than reacting, which is really what defines violence, we act as Christ did, with love, grace, and mercy.

We have witnessed many times, because of needless violence, that, as Hosea prophesied of his people, the 'land' has mourned. Ten years ago, our own 'land' mourned because of a wicked act of terrorism brought on by, you guessed it, needless violence; in fact, some of the same sort of violence that was related earlier in this article.

In Jesus' crucifixion; I believe that God was not only meeting the just requirement of the physical 'letter of the law', and paying the ransom for the sins of His people with the blood of His Son, but also provided a lasting image for those who witnessed it, of what the kind of needless violence that they had perpetuated throughout their long history led to; more needless violence!

From the beginning, though, God spoke out against the innate violence of man: aside from the first act of murder, God unleashed the flood in Noah's day against a world of wicked men, because of their violence ( Genesis 6:11-13 ). Throughout Scripture, 'violence' is denounced as belonging to the wicked and to the faithless, and in Isaiah 60:18; God revealed through the prophet that 'violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.' Those who understand the covenant context of God's Promise realize that He is not speaking of an end to physical violence, although that may come ( 'Amen'! ) , but of the spiritual rest and peace that came, and come, in Jesus. As this peace and rest, along with the mercy, grace, and love of God is worked out in the lives of His people, there will, I believe, come an ever-increasing end to even physical violence!

Amen: through the blessings of the New Covenant, may this be, as we, the married Church if Christ, put an end to the violence in our own lives. May we begin, instead of reacting, begin to act upon the grace we have been shown, and show forth the Light of God in our inmost being!

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Silence of the Dogs

His watchmen [ are ] blind, they are all ignorant; they [ are ] all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yes, [ they are ] greedy dogs [ which ] never have enough. And they [ are ] shepherds who cannot understand; they all look to their own way, every one for his own gain, from his [ own ] territory. ( Isaiah 56:10 & 11 )

There is a festering problem in many of America's churches today, and this is a problem that, ultimately, only God Himself, through the gentle thrashing of His Holy Spirit, can solve! That problem is the unwillingness, for whatever reason, of our spiritual leaders to 'rock the vote' ( I mean 'boat' ) when it comes to the insidious dangers that our country now faces; the threat of our liberties, granted by our Creator, being wrested from us! Oh sure, there are many pastors out there, who have taken up 'arms', at least within the safe and sacred confines of their beloved 'worship center', or church building, against the more visible threats; pornography and homosexual marriage, to name a few. As long as their speaking out won't disrupt their happy homes, or threaten their exalted position as leader of their particular social club, or of any certain institutional church that offered them the salary that they were looking for.

Fortunately; this is not always the case; there are those out there, as God promised Elijah, 'Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him' ( I Kings 19:18 ); those who, despite, for the most part, their 'favored' 501( c )3 status, are beginning to return to the roots of our countries spiritual leadership ( if they ever left ), and are preaching those good ole' 'fire & brimstone' sermons ( not quite ), and being the 'watchmen' ( Ezekiel 33:1-11 ) that God has called them to be, preaching, and acting, as the preachers they claim to be, searching out and fighting the evil that has pervaded their congregations and pretty much every aspect of society. This invasion, as was pointed out above, includes many of our personal liberties, our God-given rights, which, sad to say, far too many of us, for far too long, have ceded to our federal and state governments, in part based on a faulty interpretation of passages like Romans 13, and a general lack of understanding of our covenantal responsibilities, and yes, even relationship to and before Almighty God!

Covenant Community Church, which meets and worship together at the Education Station in Whitehall, Montana, and with whom I have recently become affiliated, has begun to bring back the 'Election Sermon', which, from 'days gone by', were delivered before elected leaders to remind them of, not only their constitutional oaths and promises, but of their duties and responsibilities before their Creator. We have been doing this, and other related activities, since 2,000 anno domini ( In the Year of Our Lord ). I believe that this extends, as well, to the spiritual leaders of America's churches, who, in many cases, are not much different than those who hold secularly elected office. Although I'm sure there are some ( secular ) politicians out there who sought their office with truly good intent, thinking of more than just a big cushy desk-job ( I'm sure most true politicians would 'take me to task' on that! ), or a comfortable, opulent lifestyle, as there are many pastors out there with the same 'good intent'; many have sought and gotten these exalted and revered positions, seemingly, just so they can afford all the 'things' daddy and granpa never had.

The lack of understanding of our covenant relationship with and responsibility before God is a large part, if not the main factor that has led to the downfall of this once-great nation, beginning, sadly, with individual Americans, but also deposited heavily ( some might say 'heavier' ) on the weakened shoulders of our God-ordained ministers, both in the secular and religious, or spiritual realm. One might question, at this point, whether there is, or should be, any difference!

The passage that was quoted at the beginning of this article, Isaiah 56, verses 10 and 11, seems to apply most readily to our leaders in today's America, does it not? We must remember though, that, although these men ( and women, now ) may 'shoulder' a greater responsibility; we also, as servants of the Most High God, and ministers of the grace which has been bestowed upon us, are stewards of the same Covenant, and have been 'shouldered', not only with our own stewardship, but with calling those leaders to account for their actions ( or lack thereof ). May we always use the grace given us to humbly ( and 'gently', as the case may be ) remind them of their covenantal obligations, whether they look at it that way or not!

Another way in which 'the silence of the dogs' can be marked, concerning the violation of our freedoms, is that great scourge upon the society of what we might call 'the preborn'; abortion. The preborn, more commonly called 'the unborn', or even 'the fetus', have, especially since the infamous Roe v. Wade case, decided in 1973 before the Supreme Court, have experienced more of this loss of liberty, particularly, and maybe primarily, when it comes to life itself. This is not an essay on the evils of abortion, so I will go no further than to say that, although ventures like 'Operation Rescue' have been very successful, to one degree or another, in exposing some of the real 'problems' behind abortion, one of them being human nature; all in all, too many watchmen have done nothing further than maybe denouncing it as 'a great evil' in this world, from the pulpit. Here again; we cannot discount human nature itself, because every person has a choice, personal liberty, granted by their Creator, of what to do with their own; not a liberty to do wrong, mind you, but a liberty to do what's right, even if someone tells you it's wrong!

The loss of liberty may be, then, the greatest 'evil' that has ever been unleashed on society, and this has been since the 'genesis' of time, because, really, it is all-encompassing. As Scripture describes liberty, and as I commented on above; it is the freedom to do right, not to do wrong. When the 'serpent' beguiled Eve in the Garden; he took away her right to do good, to obey her Creator, and thus unleashed a 'world' of trouble, that has plagued society ever since!  As I said; the loss of liberty is all-encompassing, relevant, when you think about, to all areas of life. It is this travesty, then, that we as the Body of Christ, must address, not only from the pulpit, but in all walks of life; wherever, and in whatever form, God may grant us a 'pulpit'!

Let us all, through the covenant context of the Revelation of God's Word, begin to act as the 'watchmen' He has called us to be, each and every one of us, and not give this 'evil' one square inch of ground, not one iota of rest, until it has been forever exterminated.

Maybe the question we should be asking, is not, 'who let the dogs out?', but, 'who shut the dogs up?'

Let the 'barking' commence!