Revelation 19:11-21, Behold, He Is Coming!

11] Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse.  And he who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.  12] His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns.  He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.  13] He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.  14] And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, clean and white, followed Him on white horses.  15] Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations.  And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.  16] And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS.

17] Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, 18] that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.”

19] And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.  20] Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.  These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.  21] And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse.  And all the birds were filled with their flesh.

We’ve arrived back at the narrative interrupted by the description of the great whore and her admirers and of her judgment and destruction.  We pick up from chapter 16:21 and the great earthquake and hail which strikes mankind.

Remember that everything seems hopeless.  The entire world has been engulfed in idolatry, wickedness and immorality.  The Jews have been harassed and tormented in a way which will make the Holocaust seem like a picnic.  Indeed, as we saw, Zechariah 14 indicates that Jerusalem will be taken and great atrocities will be committed against her people.  As we said, we’re not sure of the “time” involved in all this.  Revelation seems to indicate that these things will take place rather quickly; Zechariah indicates some time will elapse.  I will say that the “time” probably doesn’t include the whole church age, as the historicist view requires.  Indeed, at the time spoken of by John, the “church age” is over.  This age, the church age in which we live, is “the day of salvation,” 2 Corinthians 6:2, a time when the heavens are silent and men seem to get away with doing pretty much as they please.  However, Revelation 19 describes the end of “the great day of His wrath mentioned in Revelation 6:17, (emphasis added) and they don’t “get away with it” at all.

Regardless of the time involved, the rebellion of this world will come to an end and our Lord will return to this world, as promised in Acts 1:11.  Revelation 19 describes some of what will happen when He does.

John sees heaven opened, v. 11.  He had earlier seen a door standing open in heaven, 4:1 (emphasis added).  Now he sees heaven itself opened up.  I don’t know what will happen or how – it doesn’t matter – but men will suddenly see that we are not “alone” in this universe, after all, but it won’t be aliens and spaceships men discover, but the God who created and sustains this world.

Out of this scene, John focuses on a horse and its Rider, who is called Faithful and True, v. 11.  This is in opposition to the deceit and falsehood of an earlier rider on a white horse, the counterfeit rider, the Antichrist, Revelation 6:2.

Further, in righteousness He judges and makes war.  There will be no negotiations, no “diplomacy,” to try to persuade men to do what He wants.  Zechariah 14 describes the strictness with which He will govern this world.  He has many crowns, to go along with the name written on His thigh:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.  No longer is He “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” but the absolute sovereign and ruler of this world.

His clothing is bloody, to go along with the idea of “war,” also the last part of v. 15.  This brings to mind Isaiah 63:1-6:

Who is this who comes from Edom,
With dyed garments from Bozrah,

This One who is glorious in His apparel,
Traveling in the greatness of His strength? –

“I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”

2] Why is Your apparel red,
And Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?

3] “I have trodden the winepress alone,
And from the peoples no one was with Me.
For I have trodden them in My anger,
And trampled them in My fury;
Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments,
And I have stained all My robes.
4] For the day of vengeance is in My heart,
And the year of My redeemed has come.
5] I looked, but there was no one to help,
And I wondered
That there was no one to uphold;
Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me;
And My own fury, it sustained Me.
6] I have trodden down the peoples in My anger,
Made them drunk in My fury,
And brought down their strength to the earth” (emphasis added).

His return will not be uncontested, but it will be victorious.

He will not be alone, v. 14, but will be accompanied with the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, clean and white.  There’s some discussion about who these people are.  Some say they are angels.  I think Paul refers to them in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

13] But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as other who have no hope.  14] For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

15] For this we say to you by the word of the Lord (that is, he’s not just making it up), that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  16] For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  17] Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  18] Therefore comfort one another with these words. 

Though Paul seems to refer to New Testament saints, I think Old Testament saints are included, as well.  These all make up “the armies of heaven.”

And notice, they are described with no weapons.  They won’t need them.  Their “warfare,” Ephesians 6:12, is over.

The only “weapon” belongs to the Rider, a sword with which He will strike the nations. Further, John says, He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  If, as so many believe, “the kingdom” is simply Christ’s rule over “the church,” why the necessity of a “rod of iron”?  And who are “the nations?”

Vs. 17, 18 paint what many might consider a grotesque picture, an angel crying with a loud voice to all the birds, “come and gather together for the supper of the great God….”  What in the world is this?

Ezekiel 39:17-20 tells us:

17] “And as for you, son of man, thus says the LORD GOD, ‘Speak to every sort of bird and to every beast of the field:

“Assemble yourselves and come;
Gather together from all sides to My sacrificial meal
Which I am sacrificing for you,

A great sacrificial meal on the mountains of Israel,
That you may eat flesh and drink blood.
18] You shall eat the flesh of the mighty,
Drink the blood of the princes of the earth,
Of rams and lambs,
Of goats and bulls,
All of them fatlings of Bashan.
19] You shall eat fat till your are full,
And drink blood till you are drunk,
At My sacrificial meal
Which I am sacrificing for you.
20] You shall be filled at My table
With horses and riders,
With mighty men
And with all the men of war,” says the LORD GOD. 

These scavengers will help in cleaning up the mess that’s left from the destruction of those who gather to oppose the Lord at His coming, cf. Ezekiel 39:4.  The beast and the kings of the earth may gather their armies to oppose the return of our Lord, but there is no battle.  It’s no contest, as Ezekiel 38 and 39 clearly show.

Their armies destroyed, the beast and the false prophet are thrown bodily into the lake of fire burning with brimstone, where they will remain forever.

Thus ends the final rebellion before the Lord Jesus returns to this world.

It may be at morn, when the day is awaking,
When sunlight thro’ shadow and darkness is breaking,
That Jesus will come in the fullness of glory,
To receive from the world “His own.”

It may be at midday, it may be at twilight,
It may be, perchance, that the blackness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus receives “His own.”

O Lord Jesus, how long, how long
Ere we shout the glad song,
Christ returneth!
Hallelujah! hallelujah!
Amen.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 15:3-4, The Giver, Not The Gifts

They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying

“Great and marvelous are Your works,
Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the saints.
4] Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify
Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before
You.
For Your judgments have been manifested.”

John has been describing the terrible desolation that has been poured out on the earth because of man’s rebellion and sin.  Here and there, though, there have been as it were rays of sunshine through the dark clouds of judgment as we’ve seen that there will be many who are saved by the grace of God in spite of the wickedness and ungodliness around them.

Chapter 15 records one such group, those who’ve been redeemed from the worst time this world will ever see and who now stand in the presence of God.  John gives us a record of their worship and praise in vs. 3 and 4.

it’s noteworthy that they don’t talk about the blessings or the gifts they’ve been given.  There’s no talk about what they did or who they were on the earth.  There’s nothing about their loving God or serving Him.  There’s nothing of themselves.  Perhaps we could learn from this in our own worship and praise.  God isn’t just waiting around for us to tell Him what we want.

The whole focus of these verses is on the greatness and majesty of God.  In v. 3, they describe His works:  great and marvelous.  They had seen something of this in what had happened in the seals and the trumpets, to say nothing of what they might have known of God otherwise.

Now, though some do, I don’t believe we live in the time of the seals and trumpets.  There’s nothing so obvious to show the presence of God.  We live in a time of relative “silence” as far as the heavens are concerned.  However, we can look around and see the marks of His handiwork everywhere, if we will but just look.  Whether through a microscope or a telescope, whether in the intricate structure of a single cell or in the awe-inspiring beauty of a far-off galaxy, we see evidence of a master workman.  It’s beyond reason that men believe all this just blindly “happened” without a guiding hand.

But further, just and true are His ways.  On facebook the other day, there was a video of a preacher dealing with the question of God and the existence of evil.  I really couldn’t hear what he was saying, my hearing not being what it once was, but it is a question folks ask:  “If God is good and almighty, why did He permit evil to exist?”

God never answers that question in Scripture.  He simply asserts that it will not forever have free reign, as it now seems to have.  I suppose that’s really the important thing – where it’s going, not where it came from.

However, God didn’t make Adam and Eve as puppets or robots.  He didn’t simply “program” them to do what He wanted.  He gave them minds, emotions, will.  They could think.  They could “feel”.  And they could make decisions.  And God gave them simple and clear instructions; they could eat of any tree in the garden except one.  They couldn’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

It just really struck me that the tree was about good as well as evil.  We have to remember that Adam and Eve were in a state of innocence.  Though they hadn’t yet sinned, they were not “sinless” as we understand that.  We might say that, in a sense, they were a blank slate.  They had no “experience” to draw on, nothing to tell them about things except God.  And we’re told nothing about what He said except as it pertains to their fall.

When Satan tempted Eve to disobey God, he implied that they could decide for themselves what was “good” and what was “evil”.  They wouldn’t need God.  We’ve seen, and see, the results of that.

However we may understand the answer to the question of evil now, there is coming a time when we will indeed see that God’s dealings with Adam and with every one of his descendants have been and are just and true.

However, all this isn’t just some arcane discussion reserved for clerics and scholars in musty halls of academia.  The question is asked, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?”  It brings us out into where we are and what we are doing right now.  It brings us face to face with a God who alone is holy.

Holiness isn’t about experience, or the name of a religious group.  It’s about essential nature and character.  Though used in a variety of ways, the word “holy” means “separate from defilement or impurity.”  It refers to a state of being morally and spiritually clean and pure, absolutely clean and pure.  No hint of impurity or impropriety.

Only God is like that.

We are anything but….

This is why the question is asked, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord?”

There is coming a time when the heavens will not be silent.  When men will no longer be able to ignore or reject the God of heaven.  Even on this earth, to say nothing of what will happen to us after death.

“For all nations shall come and worship before You.”

Zechariah 14 gives us a graphic description of this:

And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left all of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts…, v. 16.  And this will be mandatory, as vs. 17-19 tell us.

But all of that is yet future.  What about today, this Tuesday morning that I type this, or the day that you are reading this?  One day you will stand before God to give an account of this life.  Are you ready?  Oh, that you might consider this, that apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no hope for any of us, but only, as Hebrews 6:2 puts it, a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.  Modern culture may not believe in a God who would do such things, but that doesn’t nullify what God said.

But God sent His Son to do what we can’t:  live a perfect, sinless life and die a death that would satisfy the requirements of the Law.  The Resurrection is God’s assurance that the price has been paid, and that all those who receive the Lord Jesus by faith are saved.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Revelation 3:7-13, The Church in Philadelphia: The Church With an Open Door.

“And to the church in Philadelphia write,
‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”:   ‘I know your works.  See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.  Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie – indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.  Behold, I am coming quickly!  Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.  He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.  I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem,which comes down out of heaven from My God.  And I will write on him My new name.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”‘ (NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, v. 7.

The city got its name from Attalus II, 159-138 B.C., whose truth and loyalty to his ailing brother Eumenes won for him the epithet, Philadelphus (“brother-loving”).  Philadelphia was founded as a center for the consolidation and spread of the Greek culture and language, so was a “missionary” city from the beginning.

The city obtained world-wide fame through a disaster.  Philadelphia lay on the edge of a now extinct volcanic field, but in AD 17 a severe earthquake destroyed 12 cities, including Sardis and Philadelphia.  Evidently, the aftershocks continued for some time and so terrorized the inhabitants that most of them remained outside the city.  Those who did return to the city lived in constant fear of another earthquake.

The Emperor Tiberius helped these stricken cities and in commemoration of his generosity, Philadelphia took on a new name:  “Neokaisareia,” “New Caesarea,” though this name was gradually abandoned.

Philadelphia was distinguished from the other cities by several things:  it was a “missionary” city, there was constant danger, much of the population remained outside the city, and the city took on a new name from the imperial god.

In the last stages of the struggle of the decaying Roman Empire and the growing Turkish power, Philadelphia played a heroic part and held aloft the Christian banner long after the surrounding countryside had been conquered.  During the fourteenth century, it stood practically alone against the entire Turkish power as a free and self-governing city against and amidst the Turkish lands which surrounded it.  Twice, Turkish armies reduced the city to starvation, yet the city stood.  Finally, about 1370-1390, it fell to a combined Turkish and Byzantine army.  What the Turks could not do by themselves, they did by taking advantage of the division and jealousy among the Christians.

2. The Christ of the Epistle, v. 7.

His Personality,

1. “Holy.”  This refers to His inward character.  As Hebrews 7:26 puts it, He is holy, harmless, undefiled.

2. “True.” – “genuine,” as opposed to the claims of “those who say” in v. 9.  This refers to the outward manifestation of the inward character.  In the final analysis, what we do is determined by what we are.

His Power, “opens” and “shuts” and no one hinders.  We greatly need the assurance of this in our day.  There’s too much of the idea that we can somehow “hinder” or “frustrate” the God who created everything.  While we in no way deny our responsibilities or that our actions have consequences, we do deny that these in any way “mess up” the God of heaven.  I firmly believe this is why the churches – and indeed, the world – are in the shape they’re in.  We have the (false) idea that we can “mess Him up”.  The end and obvious result of such a view is the blatant skepticism and atheism we see all around us.  Who wants so feeble a god?

3. The Content of the Epistle, vs. 8-13.

The letter has three promises here:

Operation, “An open door”.  This clause is a perfect participle, meaning that the door is still open.

“able to shut,” implying that someone or is trying to shut the door and stop the missionary effort, but is not able to interfere with the Lord who keeps it open.

“no one” – not even Satan, though he certainly would like to.
1. No one can shut the door because the church “has a little strength”.  This is a great encouragement.  The church was evidently small, unimportant and feeble, especially when compared to the church at Pentecost, yet there is nothing but commendation.  No church can be judged, or may judge itself, by any other church.
2. No one can shut the door because the church “kept My word.”  Cf. John 14:23.  This implies obedience to, as well as, belief in Scripture.  This is a great responsibility.  Too much of our preaching and teaching is out of some commentary – what men say about the Bible.  While such things have their place and can be useful, we need to go to our primary source, the Word of God itself.  What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3, not “what does this source or that source say the Scripture says.”
3. No one can shut the door because the church has not “denied My name.”  With reference to the typical teaching from the church, perhaps this is a hint as to the great hour of trial yet to come upon the world – to deny Christ by receiving the “mark of the beast”.

Vindication, v. 9.  There are two interpretations of this verse:
1. The Jews will be forced to confess to the truth of Christianity at the Judgment, or,
2. Some Jews, now opponents, will be saved.

Both interpretations might be said to be true, though we believe the first one is more correct.

Many people, including Christians, forget that this life is not all there is to life.  A preacher of another generation, Rolfe Barnard, used to tell a story, something like this:

“There was a little country church surrounded by the fields of an ardent atheist.  One year, he decided to show his contempt for the church and what it taught.  The church had no air conditioning and so, in the spring and summer, had to have its windows open.  This atheist decided to plow his fields on Sunday, to cultivate his crops on Sunday, and finally, to harvest them on Sunday.  When the season was over, he wrote a letter to the paper in that town.  He said, ‘I planted my crops on Sunday, took care of them on Sunday, and harvested them on Sunday.  And I have a bumper crop.  A bumper crop.’
“The editor replied, ‘My friend, God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October’.”

“God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

Countless millions have died, and are dying at this very moment, and their graves are unsung and unhonored.  Their names are cast out as evil.  Perhaps a believer will be killed while you read these lines.  Even those who aren’t called on to give their physical life are often called on to suffer persecution in one form or another.  Even in our culture, businesses are forced to close because the owners will not do things which violate their faith.  Things which once were unthinkable are now said to be “rights” and woe to those who don’t agree.

God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.

There is coming a time, however, when He will settle those accounts, a time when righteousness is at home, 2 Peter 3:13.  Many Scriptures speak of this and it is unwise indeed to expect real justice in a time when justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off.  For truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.  So truth fails and he who departs from iniquity makes himself a prey, Isaiah 59:14, 15.  Though Isaiah was speaking directly to his own time, what he said of his nation and culture is applicable to this one.

“a synagogue of Satan.”  Because they had rejected the Messiah, no longer was their worship acceptable to God, nor was their synagogue of God, even though they carried the name “Jews,” and nominally worshiped Jehovah.  I wonder if God thinks that of those churches of our day and time which deny every truth of His Word.

“but lie”.  Romans 2:28, 29 describe a “real” Jew:  one who not only has the outward symbol of circumcision, but the inward reality that his circumcision symbolizes – the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in his life.

Separation, v. 10, “I will keep you from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole earth.”

There are several elements to this.

1. A recognition of past faithfulness, because you have kept My command to persevere….  Contrary to what a popular Gospel song used to teach – that the Christian life is “without a care,” we’re called upon not simply to “believe” something, but to live as if that something were true.  While it’s certainly true that we have responsibilities in this present world – we’re children, siblings, parents, spouses, neighbors, employees, bosses, etc. – we have an ultimate responsibility with a view to the next world:  it is appointed for men once to die, but after this, the judgment, Hebrews 9:27.  It isn’t always smooth sailing, sometime we have to go through flood or fire, figuratively speaking, Isaiah 43:2.

2. A promise of future protection, I also will keep you from the hour of trial….  In Luke 21:18, after a description of what the disciples would be likely to suffer, even to death, our Lord promised that “not a hair of your head shall be lost.”  But in v. 19, he finished, “By your patience [endurance] possess your souls.”  All that’s not limited to the first disciples.  I think we see it playing out before our very eyes.  In parts of this world, men and women are suffering unbelievable, indescribable, things for the name of the Lord Jesus.  But they will stand before Him perfect, complete, whole, having lost nothing, but having gained everything.

As far as “the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world,” I’m not sure exactly what that might have meant to the actual church at Philadelphia.  Severe persecution under Diocletian was on the way.  It might have been that.  Or something else we don’t know about.  As far as any typical teaching might be concerned, and again, there is discussion about this, it seems to me that the Lord is promising that believers will be spared from that coming time of trouble  in which He said that unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, Matthew 24:22.

3. a plea for present faithfulness, v. 11, “Hold fast.”  It isn’t enough that we can look back and see how the Lord has blessed us, or what service we might have performed.  Nor is it enough simply to look ahead to that time when “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  Right now, there’s something for us to do.  To be.

The reason for that is that there’s a danger of loss.  Not our salvation, as some teach, but our Lord warned the Philadelphians that they could lose their “crown,” that is, lose the rewards they might have had.  John had something to say about this in one of his epistles.  In 2 John 8, he was concerned that his readers receive a full reward.  And Paul gives the picture of a person going through the judgment and discovering that everything he did was nothing but wood, hay and stubble, and losing everything, though he himself is saved, [yet] as through fire, 1 Corinthians 3:15.

As an encouragement, the Lord said He is coming “quickly.”  From the world’s standpoint, it’s been a long time since these words were written.  From an eternal standpoint, it’s only been a second or two.  Jesus may come before this day is over, or I finish writing this post, or you finish reading it.

John closes this letter with our Lord saying some things that it’s difficult to understand, to picture.  I won’t even begin to attempt it.  But there’s a feeling of permanence, of “belonging,” of things this world knows nothing about.  Our “hope” isn’t in this world, but in the One coming to straighten things out in it.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Hebrews 11:32-38, Faith: Paradox and Promise.

[32]And what shall I say more?  For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jepthtah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:  [33]who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, [34]quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  [35]Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  
[36]Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  [37]They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword.  They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – [38]of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

Hebrews 11 has been called “the hall of heroes.”  Men and women who did great things for God and were themselves great saints.  Yet this portion starts with men that we might not put into that category.  Here are some men of whom we might say, “What?!  Wait!  Why are they included?”

Gideon did indeed bring a great deliverance to Israel, but then led her into idolatry, Judges 6-8.  Barak, probably the least known of the four, was a man who reluctantly obeyed God, Judges 4, 5.  Jephthah is a man about whom the world and even many Christians have nothing good to say, Judges 11.  I’ve done a post on him if you’re interested.  He certainly isn’t one who is thought to be a “hero.”  Samson, who did do some mighty things, yet is perhaps best remembered for his dalliance with Delilah and his eventual death while a prisoner of and serving to amuse the enemies of his people and his God, Judges 13-16.

Here’s the first paradox.

To have faith doesn’t mean to be perfect and without faults.

There’s only ever been One who was able to say, “I always do those things that please Him,” John 8:29, emphasis added.  All the rest of us fall way short.

God doesn’t deny the faults of His people.

But then, neither does He define His people by those faults….

The second paradox is found in the rest of our text.

Some of God’s people may indeed do great things, vs. 33-35a.  While it’s difficult to know exactly who, if anyone, the author had in mind on some of these things, still, it could be said of Joshua that he conquered kingdoms.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel, even David, received great and wonderful promises.  Daniel certainly is one who stopped the mouths of lions.  His three friends quenched the violence of fire.  More than once, a badly outnumbered Israel turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  At least one grieving woman saw her dead raised to life again.  There are a lot of people the author could have had in mind.

The paradox is this:

Some of God’s people may suffer great things, vs. 35b-38.

We live in a time when, at least in this country, folks on TV tell us that health and prosperity and all good things are the lot of the Christian.  Great ministries have been built on this premise.  The truth is that while these things may and do come to Christians, more often than not their history has been written in their own blood.  This is especially true of those times when “the church” has sat on the throne.  This was true both of Rome and of the Reformers.  And suffering Christians, of whom the world [is] not worthy, live today in a large part of the world, and always have.  We just don’t see it on the 6 o’clock news.

The Apostle Peter put it like this, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you, 1 Peter 4:12, emphasis added.  The word translated “strange” doesn’t mean “unusual,” but “foreign.”  Some folks seem to have the idea that any idea of “suffering,” whether personal or otherwise, should be “foreign” to them.  But you can’t really read the New Testament without seeing that this is not true.

But, if this world is all there is, as some think, or if we’re all headed to “a better place,” as others think, why would people endure such things?  The answer’s found in v. 35, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Now, that word “might” doesn’t mean “might or might not,” as if there’s some question about it.  It speaks to purpose, not just possibility.  Faith understands the paradox, but rests on the promise.  As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God.  Or Peter, We according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells [is at home], 2 Peter 3:13.

For the Christian, this world is neither our home, our heaven or our hope.

 

Hebrews 11:30, 31, Faith and the Walls of Jericho

]30]By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.  [31]By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she received the spies with peace.

In these verses, the writer looks at Israel’s entrance into the land with two vivid and very different examples of faith.

1. Jericho.

Jericho has been the subject of much speculation and doubt down through the years.  Skeptics have said that the story in Joshua was just a folk tale designed to explain the ruins at Jericho.  Others have scoffed that Israel could not have defeated a well-fortified and supplied city like Jericho.

Others have dated the evidence in those ruins and claimed that the destruction was by Egypt and not by Israel, at a time much earlier than the Bible says.  They have been shown to be wrong, though.  The evidence of the ruins shows that Jericho was destroyed at the time the Bible says that it was, by whom it was, and not earlier.

I remember seeing pictures of this event, with Israel marching around a level city with one wall.  Archaeology tells us it wasn’t like that at all.

Jericho was well-fortified, make no doubt about it.  The area of the city wasn’t “flat” but surrounded by and built on an earthen mound or embankment almost 50 feet high, with a stone retaining wall at its base.  Aerial photos of this mound are impressive, to say the least. This retaining wall, which followed the slope of the mound, was 12-15′ high.  On top of this was a mudbrick wall 6′ thick and 20-26′ high.  At the crest of the embankment was a similar wall, whose base was about 46′ above the ground where the Israelites marched.  The top of this second wall would have been 60-70 feet above that ground, or about the height of a 7-story building.  In Deuteronomy 9:1, Moses told the people that they would encounter cities great and fortified up to heaven.  We’re used to skyscrapers hundreds of feet high, but to the Israelites, Jericho must truly have seemed to reach “up to heaven.”

Furthermore, there was an abundant spring, which still exists, so the people would have had plenty of water to drink.  And, it was harvest time, Joshua 3:15.  Archaeologists found many storage jars full of grain, so the people would have had plenty to eat, as well.  Grain was a treasure, so the fact that there was so much left shows both the swiftness of the destruction and the fact that, except in one instance, Israel obeyed the injunction that the plunder of the city belonged to the Lord and they weren’t to take it for themselves.

The city could have survived for years.

Yet, Joshua 6:24 says that Israel burned the city and all that was in it with fire in seven days.   Archaeologists found layers of burned ash and debris about 3′ thick.

What happened?

God intervened.

In the words of the old song, “The walls came a-tumbling down.”

What about those walls?

Joshua 6:20 tells us that the wall fell down flat.  A more accurate reading would be, “the wall fell beneath itself.”  What happened?  Some believe that the tramping of the Israelites around the city for seven days and the blowing of the trumpets on the seventh day loosened things so that the walls collapsed.  Maybe.  Others believe that God sent an earthquake to destroy the walls.  There is some evidence in the ruins to support that view.  Some have objected that there are no fissures, but there aren’t always fissures when the ground rumbles.   The idea of an earthquake doesn’t automatically rule out the idea that God was behind it all – that it wasn’t a “miracle,” after all.  It just means that God used what we might call a “usual” occurrence in an unusual way. And at exactly the right moment.

Besides, God simply tells us that the walls collapsed without giving us any details about how.

There are a couple of other things here, as well.

Remember that there was a 12-15′ high retaining wall around the embankment.  There are remains which indicate that the lower wall collapsed over this retaining wall, forming a sort of ramp over which the Israelites could scramble.  And Joshua 6:20 says that the people went up into the city – up over the retaining wall and the ruins of the lower wall, up the slope of the embankment, and up over the ruins of the upper wall and into the city.

One final thing about this event.  Archaeology has confirmed that there is one area of the lower wall which didn’t collapse.  And there are houses built with this wall as part of their structure.  This brings us to the second example of faith.

2. Rahab, 11:31.

In one of these houses lived a woman, described as a harlot.  Joshua 2 records her story.   Apparently, she had neither husband or children, because they’re never mentioned, either here or in 6:23.    We’re really told very little in this story, only that she was willing to protect these foreign interlopers.  In Joshua 2:8-11, she tells us why.  As she was hiding the men from the soldiers who were looking for them (vs. 2-7,) she told them, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He  is God in heaven above and in earth beneath.”

Rahab provides an interesting contrast to the Israelites themselves.  While it’s true that this generation of Israelites was being obedient to God, much of Israel’s history proves that this is an exception to a generally dismal picture of their relationship with God.  Indeed, they hadn’t been in the land very long when they began to revert to their old ways and brought the same judgments on themselves that they had given out to the Canaanites.

The illustrations Rahab gives of God’s power are at either end of Israel’s wilderness experience, but the Israelites seem not to have profited very much from their experiences.  Cf. Hebrews 4:2.  Exodus and Numbers, the two books which deal with Israel’s travels more than the other writings of Moses, show repeated rebellion and failure on Israel’s part.  Because of this failure, it had taken Israel 38 years to complete what ordinarily was an 11-day journey, Deuteronomy 1:2.

On the other hand, here was a woman who, in the words of Ephesians 2:12, was an alien from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  She was a member of a race condemned to destruction because of their sin.  Yet she and her family were spared.  Not only that, she became an ancestor to Israel’s Messiah, that One who would ultimately deliver all His people from their sin, Matthew 1:21.

You see, she had been willing to take a chance.  Perhaps, if she helped and protected God’s people, she – and her family – could escape judgment.  True, we’re not told her reasoning on this, just what she did.

Perhaps we could learn from her.

John 3:18 says, He who believes in [the Lord Jesus] is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

We live in an age where this verse is not believed.   We’re taught that everyone is a child of God, that we’re all headed to “a better place.”

That’s not what the Scripture teaches.  It teaches that, because of our sin, we’re under a much greater judgment than what the Canaanites were under.  It teaches us that we, too, in the words of Ephesians 2:12, have no hope and [are] without God in the world.

In ten days, as I write this, it will be Easter.  Here, too, the world has substituted its own meaning into the day, a meaning that has nothing to do with redemption or salvation.  As far as the world is concerned, it’s all about eggs or clothes.  It’s about the arrival of Spring.  Only a few people seem to understand that it’s about an empty Cross and an empty tomb.

In Rahab’s time, the Cross was still a distant promise.  We’ve seen that promise fulfilled.  We’ve seen that there was One who came to take the place of sinners, to take their place of condemnation and to suffer what they should suffer.  To die on a Cross.  And those who believe in Him are no longer condemned, but have everlasting life.

It’s not just about “religion.”  There was plenty of “religion” in Canaan.  There had been plenty of “religion” in Egypt.  And there’s plenty of “religions” in our own day and time.  Only one has an empty Cross and an empty tomb.

Only one has a Savior.

Hebrews 10:38-11:1, “The Just Shall Live By Faith”

[10:38]“Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”  [39]But we are not of those who draw back, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
[11:1]Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  (NKJV)

We haven’t particularly noted the change in emphasis in the book, which occurs in 10:19.  The first portion was basically an explanation of the preeminence of the Lord Jesus, both as the Revelation of God and as the Redeemer of His people.  From 10:19, the writer in effect answers the question, “So what?” – what does this mean to the believer – or to the unbeliever, for that matter?
As for the believer, there are responsibilities to God, to ourselves and to others, 10:22-24.  For the unbeliever, there is only “judgment and fiery indignation,” 10:27.
To his readers, the writer urges that they remember all that they have suffered for the Gospel’s sake, and not to throw it all away, but to persevere under God’s will, looking for the coming of the Lord Jesus, vs. 32-37.  In 6:12 and in 10:22, 23, the writer mentions “faith,” especially in reference to the “promises.”  Now he continues with that theme.
In our portion, we note two sections:

1. The Necessity of Faith, 10:38, 39.
2. The Nature of Faith, 11:1.

  1. The Necessity of Faith, 10:38, 39.

In quoting from Habakkuk 2:3, 4, in the Old Testament, the writer again shows that he isn’t introducing something “foreign” to the Word of God.  Even in the Old Testament, faith was essential.

Seen in the Bible, v. 38.
1. witness, the just shall live by faith.  We hear much today about “exercising faith,” but the writer isn’t referring to some sort of “decision” in which a person “decides” for Christ, although there is a time in the life of God’s people when they are brought to faith in Him.  No one is “born saved.”  “Faith” doesn’t refer to a one-time act which “seals the deal,” but to a “life:” the just shall live by faith.  This “life” is characterized by daily reliance on and obedience to God.  To such a one, there is no division between sacred and secular.  He is the same on Monday as he is on Sunday, and lives his life in the light of God’s eternal Word and not in the ephemeral “fads” of today.  Such a one knows that “contemporary Christianity” is likely to be a contradiction of terms.
2. warning, if any man draw back….  The word translated “draw back” here means “to shrink,” “to withdraw,” and doesn’t refer to a momentary stumbling from weakness (as Peter in Galatians 2:12, where the same word is translated, “withdrew”).  It refers to a habitual character, a settled determination.  Such a one was never truly saved, but is a spiritual descendant of those mentioned in John 2:23-25.  These are solemn verses.  May we hear what they say to us:
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.
On the surface, these verses seem to speak of great success for our Lord: “Many believed in His name,” v. 23.  Many would rejoice today in such a result and do rejoice and even boast in their abilities and of the “success” of their ministries.  However, vs. 24, 25 follow v. 23 and warn us that all that glitters is not gold, and not all “belief” leads to salvation.
The words “believed,” v. 23, and “commit,” v. 24 are translations of the same word.  Many “believed” in Jesus, but He did not “believe” in them.  How can this be?  The answer is given in v. 24:  Jesus knew what is in man.
Jesus didn’t need a “testimony meeting” about their “belief.”  He didn’t need them to “like and share” a Facebook meme about how much they loved God, or to type “amen” to it.  He knew men, that they are easily swayed and deceived.  These men were following Him only because of His miracles.  He was “ministering to their needs.”  Now, there’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but as soon as Jesus began to press spiritual truths on His hearers, they left in great numbers, John 6:60-66.
We see a similar example of this in John 8:30-59.  In v. 30, many believed in Him.  But by the end of the chapter, these “believers” took up stones to throw at Him, v. 59.
If we dilute the message in order to have a “greater” ministry, then we’re only deceiving ourselves and those who follow us.
My soul shall have no pleasure in him.  Here is the crux of the matter.  Our main audience isn’t those men and women who hear us, or read our posts, but God Himself.  We do indeed have a responsibility to those who hear or follow us – a very great responsibility.  Spurgeon used to say that the idea of the multitudes who listened to him crushed him to the ground.  It is no small thing to serve in eternal realities.  Even Paul was moved by this: who is sufficient for these things? 2 Corinthians 2:14-16.  And it is no small thing to listen to eternal realities.  Over and over again, our Lord warned those who heard Him to pay attention to how and what they heard.  Woe to us if we only dabble in these things!

Seen in the Believer, v. 39.
As with similar statements in the book (6:4-6, etc.) the writer boldly states that what he has said about “drawing back” doesn’t refer to his readers, whom he describes as “believing to the saving of the soul.”  The word translated “saving” is interesting:  one aspect of its meaning is “to preserve.”  The word itself is a compound of two words literally meaning “to make around,” and perhaps refers to the preservation and protection of something by its being enclosed.
Here, then, is the glorious teaching of the “preservation of the saints.”  And note, this preservation is through faith.  We’re not kept by what we do, but, as Peter put it, we are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, 1 Peter 1:5.  We are preserved by what God has done on our behalf.

2. The Nature of Faith, 11:1

 This verse is not a definition of faith, although it’s often quoted as such.  It’s a description of faith and its results in the life of the believer.  It expands what the writer meant when he wrote, “the just shall live by faith,” examples of which follow in the rest of the chapter.  Salvation is so much more that mere consent to a creed, or agreement with a few historical or doctrinal facts.  Salvation is life from the dead, spiritual resurrection by the power of God, spiritual energy by the Spirit of God, energy leading to activity with reference to God, not just to “religion.”

Faith does not boast of its claims on God, as certain people teach.  It recognizes God’s claim on it!  It doesn’t say, “God, this is what I want you to do!” as if God were no more than our servant, anxiously hovering around until we give Him something to do.  No, no.  It says with Paul on the Damascus Road, “What do you want me to do?”

The just shall live by faith.

Hebrews 10:1-25, The Way to God, part 2

In this post, we’ll quote only from Hebrews 10:11, since we covered the first 10 verses in the last post.

[11]And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. [12]But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, [13]from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.  [14]For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
[15]But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after that He had said before,
[16]“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My laws in their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” [17]then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  [18]Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
[19]Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, [20]by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, [21]and having a High Priest over the house of God,  [22]let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  [23]Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  [24]And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, [25]not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

In the previous post, we saw that Hebrews is a book of contrasts between the First, or Old, or Mosaic, Covenant, and the New Covenant.  We saw that the First Covenant was the preparation for the New Covenant.  We noted that verses 1-25 divide into two sections:
1. Preparation for the way to God, vs. 1-18.
2. Participation in the way to God, vs. 19-25.
With reference to this preparation, three things were seen.  By way of review, they are:

Giving of the Law, vs. 1-4.
1. as the “foreshadowing of good things to come,” v. 1.  This was seen in
a. the sacrifices foreshadowing forgiveness by God, and
b. the tabernacle foreshadowing fellowship with God.
Both deal with the ultimate accomplishment of what God began in the Garden of Eden.
2. as the “failure” of human merit or effort to earn or deserve salvation.
The Law cannot take away sin.  It was given to show the sinfulness of sin and the sentence for sin, in order that we might more appreciate salvation from sin.

Generating ofa body,” vs. 5-8.  Since no OT sacrifice of an animal could take away sin, and no human sacrifice would have worked either, since no human could meet the requirements of perfection in a sacrifice, God “prepared” a human body that could meet the qualifications, the body in which the Lord Jesus was conceived in the womb of a virgin.

Giving of the Sacrifice, vs. 9, 10.  He came “to do” God’s will, perfectly satisfying once and for all both the precepts of the Law, and the penalty of the Law, in both instances serving as the Substitute for His people.  This He did by receiving as His by imputation their sin and guilt and suffering for it, and working for them a righteousness to be imputed to them, by which they could come before God without condemnation.

So much by way of review.  Now to the rest of our Scripture, which continues the discussion about sacrifices.

Finality of the Sacrifice, vs. 11-18.
This is seen in:

1. the contrast between Old and New Covenant sacrifices, vs. 11.
a. multiplicity of the OT sacrifices, v. 11a, “daily…oftentimes.”  The altar was never dry; it was always wet with blood.
b. futility of the OT sacrifices, v. 11b, “can never take away sins,” though they did in a manner of speaking “cover” them.

2. the completeness of the New Covenant sacrifice, vs. 12-14.
a. its extent, v. 12, “one sacrifice for sins, “sat down….”  In contrast to the innumerable sacrifices of the OT.  Further, the OT priest could never “sit down” in the course of his duties; his work was never done.  Our Lord “sat down” because, as He cried out on the Cross, “It is finished!”  This wasn’t the exhausted whimper of defeat, but the triumphant shout of victory!
b. its expectation, v. 13, “waiting till His enemies be made His footstool,” or as the KJV has it, “expecting.”  So, what is He waiting for, or expecting?  It is a complete victory over His enemies.  Further, we believe it deals with the realization of His rightful place as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” a phrase connected only with His Second Coming.  According to His own words in the Gospels (Matt. 8:11; 19:27-29; 20:20-23; Mark 14:24, 25; Luke 22:15-18, 29, 30, among others), He is looking for more than many are willing to grant Him.  These would rob Him of His glory by reducing His “kingdom” to a nominal Headship over a church which, because of its acceptance of infant baptism (in which the great majority of professing Christians believe), has a fair percentage of lost people, who are not, thus, under His headship at all.  We do recognize that many who are indeed the Lord’s own accept the label “Reformed” and disagree with this viewpoint.  Nevertheless, we believe that the Reformed doctrines of the church and the future have, over the centuries, done grave damage to the cause of Christ and the Gospel.
Scripture is clear that the Lord Jesus will “rule [with a rod of iron] in the midst of His enemies,” Psalm 110:2, also Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:26, 27; 19:15.  If this is just “the church,” why is such severity necessary?  No, no, there is coming a time when Washington and London and Moscow and Tehran and every other capitol of this world will acknowledge, perhaps unwillingly, the Lordship and rule of the Lord Jesus.  That One Who hung naked on a Roman cross, and whom the world rejects and ridicules, will one day, and soon, we hope, be revealed as the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 1 Timothy 6:15.
c. its endurance, v. 14, “perfected forever”.  As we’ve said before, God’s purpose doesn’t just include the few minutes of our lives.  It includes everything that will ever happen.  This includes what will happen to us.  In fact, so certain is God’s purpose that Scripture tells us that, in the mind and purpose of God, we’ve already been “glorified,” Romans 8:30.  We only need to look in the mirror to know that that hasn’t yet happened!  But it will happen – as surely as that the Sun will rise tomorrow morning.  The one sacrifice of the Lord Jesus made it certain.

3. Content of the New Covenant, vs. 15-17.
a. its authority, v. 15, “the Holy Spirit” – not the teaching of men, not the “consensus of scholarship.” but the very declaration of God.  There is no other way to God!  The previous reference in Hebrews to this Scripture (8:8-12) refers to the temporary nature of the First Covenant; this reference is to the finality of the New Covenant.  It has nothing to do with the church “supplanting” Israel in the promises of God, as some teach.
b. its activity, vs. 16-17.
1). renewal (regeneration), v. 16, “I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” says the Lord.  The First (Mosaic) Covenant has no such promise.  In fact, after rehearsing all that the Lord had done for Israel in bringing her out of Egyptian bondage, Moses said, “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day,” Deuteronomy 29:4.  This is why Israel so quickly fell into sin and rebellion and why they complained so often.  They had no capacity really to understand what they were seeing and hearing.  One day, they will.
2). remission (forgiveness of sins), v. 17, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  In our reading, my wife and I have just read Numbers 23 and 24.  We both commented on 23:21, He [God] has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel.  Israel had nothing but “iniquity” and “wickedness.”  And God certainly knew that.  And He judged them severely for it.  At the same time, as the Psalmist put it, “God is my defense,” Psalm 7:10; 59:9, 17; 94:22.  As Paul put it later, Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?  It is God who justifies [who has declared them righteous], Romans 8:33.  God wouldn’t allow a wicked prophet like Balaam or a wicked king like Balak to talk against His people.
While it isn’t yet true of Israel – it will be – God looks at believers through His Son.  When our firstborn son was just an infant, I was someplace where there was a crying baby – not ours!  Now, I had never particularly cared for crying infants – except ours! – but as I looked at this red-faced little fellow, somehow I saw my own son, and it was alright.  So it is, when God looks at us, He sees His Son, cf. Ephesians 1:5-7.  Again, as the Psalmist put it, He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.  The reason for that is that He dealt with and punished Christ according to them.  He was our Substitute and our Sacrifice, to the point that, as the Psalmist continued, As far as the east is from the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us, v. 12.  We can rejoice in that truth now.  Israel will rejoice in it one day.

3. Consequences of the New Covenant, v. 18.  Once sin is forgiven and the debt paid, there is no need for another sacrifice or payment.  Christ died once.  That is all that’s necessary!  To say anything otherwise is blasphemy.

The question remains, how do we participate in the blessings of the New Covenant?  While a complete answer must wait for the next post, let me say here that we participate by faith.  The just shall live by faith, Hebrews 10:38.  This, by the way, is a quote from Habakkuk 2:3, 4.  Though it’s more clearly delineated in the NT, salvation by grace through faith was known in the OT.