Revelation 22:6-21, “Even So, Come, Lord Jesus!”

6] Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true,”  And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.

7] “Behold, I am coming quickly!  Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

8] Now I, John, saw and heard these things.  And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things.

9] Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that.  For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book.  Worship God.”  10] And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of this prophecy, for the time is at hand.  11] He who is unjust, let him be unjust still;  he who is filthy. let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”

12] “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every one according to his work.  13] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”

14] Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.  But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

16] “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches.  I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”

17] And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let take of the water of life freely.

18] For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19] and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

20] He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”

Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

21] The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen. (NKJV)

Verse 6 is a witness to the authenticity of Revelation.  It says a lot about the wickedness of human nature that, over and over, God has to assure us that He can be trusted and that His word is true.

The second clause refers to the Lord God of the holy prophets, reminding us of 2 Peter 1:21, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.  That’s why His word is “faithful and true.”  It isn’t just the product of man’s wisdom or imagination.  “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

The Lord refers to His coming three times in this chapter, in vs. 7, 12 and 20.  In v. 7, it’s in connection with the prophecy of this book.  This doesn’t mean that prophecy is something to speculate or argue about or to sensationalize or trivialize.  It’s to assure us that the future is in His hands and that He has everything under control.  In v. 12, it’s in connection with His purpose to give everyone according to his work.  It’s too easy for us to seek a reward in the approval and praise of mere men, but the only praise that will amount to anything is the commendation of the One who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.  The interesting thing is that He says it’s His “Reward.”  Unbelievers and skeptics, those who scorned Him at His First Coming and hanged Him on a Cross, and those down through the ages who have rejected Him or corrupted His teachings will discover that He is the Judge, not them!

Both the godly and the ungodly will find this to be true.  The godly, those who do His commandments, v. 14, will enter the city.  The wicked, described in v. 15, will never enter that city.  There will be nothing that corrupts or defiles allowed into that eternal paradise.

V. 15 says these things are to be testified in the churches.  Yet how seldom is this true, that churches are given the message in this book.  I know there is a lot of discussion, sometimes heated, about what that message is, but if nothing else, it concerns what is the emphasis in these verses:  that the Lord Jesus will return to this earth, that there is coming a time of reward or punishment, and that the invitation is freely given to “Come.”  I don’t have access to the original language at this time (I’m actually on vacation), but I wouldn’t be surprised if this word isn’t an imperative, that is, a command, for folks to come to the Savior.  This is similar to Acts 17:30, which says, God commands all men everywhere to repent.

There’s some discussion as to whether the Gospel is an offer or an invitation.  I think it’s actually a proclamation from the Court in Heaven that men are under condemnation because of their sin, but God, the High King of Heaven, has made a way of escape through His Son and those who repent of their sins and trust in Him for salvation will receive a full and complete pardon for those sins.

Verse 11 troubles some people:  He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.  Some might think that the verse means that God is ok with unjust and filthy lives.  Perish the thought.  We think our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 13 is the answer.  In this chapter, He is describing the Kingdom of God using various similes and pictures.  In vs. 24-30 he uses the analogy of a man sowing wheat in his field.  An enemy comes along and sows tares in that same field.  BTW, the NIV version saying “weeds” is terribly inadequate and misleading.  Our Lord isn’t talking about something like dandelions!  No, no, the idea is that tares are almost indistinguishable from true wheat until harvest, hence, the reference to harvest in v. 30.

The meaning is that we can’t infallibly tell the heart condition of anyone.  Some looked down on in “church” might actually be godly individuals, while some who have huge ministries but whose praise is from men might find that that is all the reward they will ever get, and the Lord will tell them to depart from Him, Matthew 25:41.  This does not mean that there can be no church discipline or that we can’t “judge” brethren whose lives don’t measure up to Scripture.  It does mean that we are neither infallible nor omniscient.

There is also a solemn warning against tampering with the contents of this Book.  There’s some discussion about whether this warning is only for Revelation or for the whole Bible.  I think it’s the latter.  This book is God’s Word, and it’s a terrible presumption and a great wickedness for anyone to believe that it can be improved upon.  There has been no revelation since John closed his writing and to say otherwise is a wicked sin.

We can have no better close for this  post and this series than the one John gave to his own writing:

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.

Revelation 22:1-5, Paradise Regained.

1] And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  2] In the middle of its street,and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  3] And there was no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  4] They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.  5] There shall be no night there:  They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.  And they shall reign forever and ever.  (NKJV)

These verses continue and finish the description of “the new heaven and the new earth” begun in chapter 21.  So far we’ve seen something of the New Jerusalem and of the inhabitants of the new earth.  Now we see something of the blessings of that eternal life.

In Psalm 46:4, the Psalmist wrote, There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.  We believe this is a prophetic reference to “the pure river of water of life” John described in v. 1.  By the way, this river flows “out of,” not “by,” the throne, as one religious song used to put it.

However, John describes some things the Psalmist didn’t mention.  V. 2 might be translated, “Between its avenue on this side and its river on that side was the tree [or, wood] of life bearing fruit twelve times, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree [or, wood] were for the healing of the nations.”

John describes what we would call a lush, beautiful park.  The Greek word is, “paradise,” hence the title.  As in the beginning, God fellowshiped with our first parents in a park, so throughout eternity He will do so in the New Jerusalem.

The leaves of the tree are for the “healing” of the nations.  The Greek word is where we get our word, “therapy”.  I don’t understand what might be involved in that thought, but Adam and Eve ate before the Fall.  Our Lord ate in His resurrected body, though it wasn’t necessary to His well-being.  Though the saints will have glorified bodies, there will be others who, though perfect and sinless, will have ordinary physical bodies, which perhaps will need some care.  As I said, I don’t really know.

V. 3-5 gives us the reason why eternity will be perfect for God’s people:  “there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.”  Never again will the glories of Heaven be marred by the intrusion of rebellion.  “They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”  Only once or twice in Biblical history have men been allowed anywhere near to the God of heaven and that was only very briefly.  Here such association will be forever.

There are records of men having been caught up into heaven and telling their stories.  I make no judgment on these stories, but after being caught up into the third heaven, Paul wrote that he heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful to utter, 2 Corinthians 12:4.  The ESV translates this, he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.   There is only one source of “heavenly things” and it’s not the minds or experiences of mere men.  Besides, these things “cannot be told.”  How could we?  What do we have in this life or world to compare?

It will be a time of continual day, with no need of artificial light, v. 5.  Cf. 21:23.  We will have the “true light,” that One who said, “Let there be light…,” Genesis 1:3.  God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.

We live in a time when Christians are increasingly disregarded, even despised.  In some countries, the tag is a death sentence.  Somewhere in this world, a brother or sister may be killed while you read these words.  We won’t read or hear about them because, in the world’s eyes, they’re not important, maybe even deserve to die.

The time is coming when that won’t be true:  “they shall reign forever and ever.”  The devil will not forever have his way in this world.

This verse closes our view of the future.  Vs. 6-21 deal with other things.  We only have a brief glimpse of things which must shortly take place, v. 6.  Again, we don’t believe the angel was telling John that these things would happen soon, as we’ve said elsewhere.

But…

They will happen.

Revelation 2:8, The Christ Who Was Dead And Is Alive.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
“These things says the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life.”

It’s with good reason that the Lord starts each letter with a reference to Himself.  Especially in this day of mega-churches and “personalities” (“Chrislebrities,” ugh! what a terrible word!), Jesus seems almost irrelevant.  Of course we believe in Him – we are Christians, after all – but with all the programs and projects and politics and all our efforts for the betterment of mankind, He kind of gets put on the back burner until something goes wrong, and then we run to Him, wondering why He doesn’t do something.  (Although, in this day of fast foods and microwaves, I wonder how many people know what a “back burner” is.  Anyway.)  If Christ were indeed to go away, how many churches would notice the difference?

I don’t mean to be critical, though I am, but without the Lord Jesus, there is no reason for “church.”  There is no salvation.  There is nothing.

Our Lord is simply reminding each church of that fact.  After all,

He is –

– “The First and the Last.”

Several cities in the Roman Empire claimed the title, “First (of something).”  There were several different categories for this.  Ephesus, Smyrna and Thyatira were among these cities.

I think the Lord was simply reminding them that long before Smyrna had been thought of, He could say, “I AM”, and long after the last ember of this planet has burned out, cf. 2 Peter 3:10, He will still be able to say, “I AM”.

We forget that.  Like Smyrna, there are places of incredible beauty and awe-inspiring scenery in this world.  Some of you have traveled all over it.  I’ve just seen a little of this country.  The vastness of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, fall colors in the Ozarks, the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains and Pikes Peak (the mountain in the header of this blog), the impressive vista of the Black Hills of South Dakota, the awesome feeling of the world’s highest suspension bridge holding sway 1000+ feet over the Royal Gorge and the Arkansas River.

And it does sway (move).  royal-gorge-bridge-again

Just a little….

You used to be able to drive over the bridge, but that’s long gone.  Cars got too big and heavy.

It’s enough to walk over it.

As an aside possibly only of interest to me, my grandfather worked in the steel mill in Pueblo CO where the steel cables were made that support the bridge.

With all that, there’s a great deal of beauty in this country that I haven’t seen.

Doesn’t matter.

One day, it’ll all be gone.

The Lord Jesus will still be the First and the Last.

But He also is the One –

“Who was dead and came to life.”  The Greek reads, “Who became dead and lived.”

It’s a study in itself just to consider the Lord’s “becoming.”  That’s why we split this letter into two parts.

In the first place, He became flesh, John 1:14.

The thing about this is, who was He before He became flesh, before He was born to the virgin in Bethlehem?  Everything rides on the answer to that question.

If, as some who knock on your door insist, He was just another created being, albeit maybe a little higher than you or me, if that’s true, then there’s no hope for any of us.  As and if only a creature like us, He would be completely responsible to God for Himself.  He would have to be perfection Himself in order not to be condemned.  His life would have value in this way only for Himself.  He would have nothing left over, as it were, for anyone else, or you or me.  We’d be doomed.

But John 1:1 says that before He became flesh, He was God.  Those same folks who knock at your door insist that John meant that Jesus was only “a god.”  It is true that in the original, there is no article, no “the,” before “God” in John 1:1.  If there were, then the Word would be the God, and the “oneness” folks are right.  But there is no article before the word, “God.”  In the Greek, there is no indefinite article, no “a,” and thus no way for John to write “a god.”

So?

The difference might be seen in comparing these two phrases:  you are the human; you are human.  The first phrase, “You are the human,” indicates a particular person.  It’s true, in English, to say, “You are a human” is possible, meaning that you are one among several, or as distinguished from them, but in NT Greek, you can’t say that.  To them, “You are human” would mean that you have the characteristics of a human, as opposed, say, to fish or birds.  And, no, we are not animals, although that’s another post.

What John is saying is that, whatever characteristics God has, the Word has.  He is God, not “a god.”

But these same folks again, persistent, aren’t they, will say, “Yes, but Jesus Himself said that the Father is greater that He is, John 14:28.  According to them, this means that He isn’t equal with God.  He isn’t Jehovah God.

Is that true?

Not at all.

When the Word became flesh, He laid aside His divine prerogatives, His “rights,” and came to this earth as a human being.  And He was truly human, not a phantom or apparition, as some teach.  In doing so, He did not cease to be God.  He just quit acting like it, for the most part.  Walking on water isn’t ordinarily a human thing.  When He comes back, He will act like it.

As a man and as a Jew, He was born under the Law, Galatians 4:4, and was as responsible to obey it as any other Jew.  In this way, because He was truly human, the Father was greater than He.  This doesn’t deny His deity at all, but merely affirms His humanity.

Further, He didn’t come to glory and fame.  He wasn’t born in Rome to a wealthy or noble family, but in Bethlehem, to a poor family from a despised race.  How do we know His family was poor?  When His mother, Mary, made the required offering after His birth, she offered turtledoves or pigeons, the offering prescribed for the poorest Jew, Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:8.

He made Himself of no reputation, Philippians 2:7.

But more than all that, and the reason for it, He became a sin offering, Hebrews 9:26, but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  

Then there’s 2 Corinthians 5:21, For He [God] has made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  I don’t even begin to understand all that’s involved in that.  I don’t think we ever will.

But the cross and the tomb weren’t the end of it.

“He became alive.”

This was the message of the apostolic church, And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, Acts 4:33.  It’s what they were supposed to preach:  Then He [Jesus] said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations,” Luke 24:46, 47, emphases added.

Why go through all this “doctrine”?  Why emphasize it?  Because if that isn’t who Christ was to Smyrna, they had no hope.  They were suffering for nothing.  And if that isn’t Christ to us, we have no hope.   Indeed, as Paul put it, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable, 1 Corinthians 15:19.

(photo credit:  2roadsdiverged.com)

Revelation 1:9, “Stone Walls Do Not A Prison Make”

I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  

The title of this post is taken from a well-known phrase in the last stanza of a poem written by Richard Lovelace, an Englishman, in 1642.  He was in jail for opposing the idea that bishops should not have civil authority.  His poem has the viewpoint that, because of his love for a woman and her love for him, those who wine and dine festively, or the fish who swim in the sea, or the birds who soar through the air, didn’t enjoy the liberty he did.

While John certainly never knew this poem, he did know the liberty of which it speaks.  Though imprisoned himself, he had a freedom in spirit that the world knows nothing about.

Indeed, although the Lord could have brought it about any other way He chose, without John’s experience on Patmos, we might not have the Revelation.  It’s a testament that, in the words of Psalm 48:14, God will be our guide, even to death, though it wasn’t yet time for that for John.  Still, Psalm 23:4 indicates that the paths of righteousness of 23:3 may lead through the valley of the shadow of death.  Unless the Lord comes back first, they will lead through that valley.

Revelation 1:9 opens the second part of the chapter, which deals with the vision John saw that opens the book.  Verses 1-8 give us the verification of the truth, accuracy and authority of the book.

Our verses tell us –

What he was suffering:  tribulation.

Literally, “the tribulation,” that is, a particular one.

Perhaps a look at the mental and religious climate of the times might help us to understand this phrase.

“Religion” was the binding factor of ancient society, with each nation or region having its own gods.  Rome was faced with the fact that it was an international empire with a multitude of peoples, civilizations, languages, customs, histories and religions.  Rome tried to solve this problem and give a sense of unity to such diversity by personifying the State under the name of the goddess Roma.  Rome still tolerated other religions, although considering them to be inferior, seeing this as a logical and reasonable way to foster unity.  Rome felt that one more god, the imperial god, wouldn’t bother the polytheism of the day.  She even went so far as to recognize the unusual stubbornness of the Jews, who would not worship any god but theirs.  Gradually, however, the emperor became the focus of worship, with this finally become mandatory under Domitian, during whose reign John was imprisoned.

For a time, Christianity was viewed as merely another sect of Judaism and shared in Roman toleration, as we see in the life of Paul, who used his Roman citizenship more than once to his advantage.  Yet the violent hatred of the Jews for the “sect of the Nazarene” showed that these two beliefs differed radically.

Rome generally frowned on any club or society, viewing them with suspicion because of the ease with which such organizations could hide or foster unrest.  Clubs had to register, they could not have a leader and they could not meet more than once a month.  It’s doubtful that local assemblies of believers followed any of this.

There were several other puzzling aspects of this new belief, as well.  Christianity was neither a local or national religion, but spread rapidly among all the nations of the Empire.  Worse, it spread among all classes, even among the countless slaves, who were always a possible source of trouble.  At the same time, it wasn’t long before even members of the household of Caesar named the name of Christ, cf. Philippians 4:22.

Furthermore, Christians kept aloof from much of ordinary society.  The worst thing about them, though, the thing that finally led to their attempted destruction, was their absolute refusal to give the customary reverence to the Emperor.  To the Roman, this was no big thing; it was merely showing loyalty to the State.  We might call it “patriotism.”  The first-century Christian viewed it as an act of blasphemy, with a narrowness the Roman officials couldn’t understand, though the records show that they tried to reason with them.  It all boiled down, especially in the eyes of the Christian, but finally also to the Roman, if in opposite directions, to this:  Who is superior, Christ or Caesar?

As we mentioned above, emperor worship rose gradually.  Julius Caesar was the first to be deified after his murder in 4 BC, and his adopted son and heir was called “son of god.”  Emperors after him had varying attitudes toward this practice, most accepting it, though some didn’t take it very seriously.  Domitian was the first to demand divine honor and saw in Christianity a threat to his claim.  Serious, widespread persecution began during his reign.

It’s true that Nero had persecuted Roman Christians in about 64 AD, blaming them for the burning of Rome, but his persecution, though cruel beyond words, was confined to Rome and believers suffered for supposed crimes, not for their faith.  After Domitian had become Emperor, he executed his own cousin, Flavius Clemens, and banished his own wife, who was also his niece, Flavia Domitilla.  They had become Christians.

It was under the persecution by Domitian that John was sent to Patmos.  And we know that John suffered as a Christian because he was imprisoned for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

I’m afraid we’re headed in that direction ourselves.

Revelation 1:6, “Kings and Priests”

And has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen. (NKJV)

For the most part, we live in the moment.  That’s all any of us really have.  The past is over with and done, and we have no guarantee of the future, even to our next breath.  So this, right now, this is it.  That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t plan for the future, but simply that we realize, as James 4:15 says, If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.

And we live in the flesh, that is, our natural bodies.  This means that we see and know and experience what our physical bodies are able to see and know and experience, abilities which can diminish or be destroyed.  And even in this world, we know that there are things we can’t see or hear, things in the light spectrum or as sound, things which animals or other creatures can see or hear.  When it comes right down to it, even with all the advances mankind has made over the centuries, I’m not sure we really know any more about our environment than an ant knows about its.

This is especially true about this thing we call salvation.  Without getting into any of the other things we could think about, when was the last time you heard a sermon or read something on our verse today?

What does it mean:  “kings and priests”?

The second word is easy:  “priests”.

This simply means that, through the Lord Jesus, every single believer has direct access to God.  This is called, “the priesthood of the believer.”  This is something largely lost in the denominational view of the church that has sprung up over time.  But there is no NT office known as “priest” which divides believers into “laity” and “clergy.”  This is an idea which was born out of the effort to mold NT believers by an OT pattern.

There are men who are called as pastors and such, but that doesn’t give them a monopoly on God’s presence.  Through the Lord Jesus, the humblest believer in the pew has the same access to God as the man behind the pulpit.  The believer out in the middle of nowhere has the same access as the believer in the most ornate cathedral, and perhaps more, because we tend to get distracted by all the glitter and pomp and ceremony in such places.

Through the Lord Jesus, we can come directly into the presence of God.  We don’t need saints or ceremony or our Lord’s mother.  There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, 1 Timothy 2:5.  Through Him alone, we come to God.

But we must come through Him.  There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 4:12.  Without Him, we are shut out from the presence of God.  With Him, we are completely welcome.

The other word is a little more difficult:  “kings”.

After all, look at John himself.  He was no “king” as the world counts it, but a criminal, exiled onto a tiny and barren island in the Aegean Sea.

To the Corinthian church, Paul wrote, For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.

There aren’t many among the world’s intelligentsia and elite who name the name of Christ in truth.  There are a few, but not many.  For the most part, God’s people are made up of those whom the world ignores or hates.

So what does it mean?

“Kings”?

I think it’s a promise.

It’s a promise for the future.

Without getting into all the discussion about the future – I do that enough, as it is – let me just say that Scripture says that this world isn’t the end-all and be-all of our lives.  There is coming a time when wickedness and error will be put away, and righteousness and truth will be all there is.  And Scripture seems to indicate that believers will have a key role in the administration of things in that future time.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about all the troubles they were having in their midst, Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?…Do you not know that we shall judge angels? 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3.  Cf. also our Lord’s parable in Matthew 25:14-30.

But I think it’s also a promise for the “right now, this is it.”  It may be that, with the Psalmist, we can say that the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, Psalm 16:6.  This was a reference to the division of the land early in Israel’s history, as also seen in v. 6, with the reference to inheritance.  But it may be that, like Daniel in the lions’ den or his three friends in the furnace, Daniel 6 and 3, we have to spend some time in less than pleasant places.

God said to Israel, “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel:  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.  For I am the LORD your God…,” Isaiah 43:1-3a.  While it’s true that the whole chapter is addressed directly to Israel, I think we can take shelter under a corner of the promise in these verses because God refers to “everyone who is called by My name,” v. 7.  While that also refers to descendants of those in vs. 1-3, are not true believers also called by the name of Christ-ians?

The promise in Isaiah doesn’t mean that Israel won’t suffer as it goes through the river or the fire.  And it doesn’t mean that believers won’t suffer in this world.  As I write these words, and as you read them, many are suffering in ways that words can’t describe.  Many throughout church history have suffered.  And the idea of “kings” doesn’t mean that we “rule” these things.  We still live in a world in which Satan is its “god.”  As his presence becomes increasingly evident, as it has recently in the political and social upheavals, I expect things will get worse for Christians.

Some Christians seem to have the idea that life should be “without a care,” as a “gospel” song I’ve mentioned before says.  It should all be health and good times.  But Scripture and life itself tell us that that isn’t so.  I think Paul gives us the idea in Romans 8 when he wrote, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Some Christians seem to think that God’s love can’t possibly include such things.

But Paul continues:   As it is written:  “”For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, Romans 8:32-39, emphasis added.

The word “kings” does have a promise for the future, but it has a promise for the present.  It means that God has made it so that we can rise above whatever our circumstances might be.  Sometimes when one is asked how they are doing, they’ll reply, “Under the circumstances….”  That’s a terrible place to be.  God intends for us to be above the circumstances.

There’s nothing that life can throw at us that, by the grace of God, we can’t catch.

Hebrews 6:19-7:28, A Tale of Two Priests.

[6:19]This hope we have as an anchor of the souls, both sure and steadfast, and which enter the Presence beyond the veil, [20]where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
[7:1]For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, [2]to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” [3]without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.
[4]Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.  [5]And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; [6]but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.  [7]Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.  [8]Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives.  [9]Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, [10]for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
[11]Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?  [12]For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.  [13]For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.
[14]For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.  [15]And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest [16]who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life.  [17]For He testifies:  “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
[18]For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, [19]for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.  [20]And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath [21](for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him:  “The LORD has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'”), [22]by so much better Jesus has become surety of a better covenant.
[23]Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing.  [24]But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.  [25]Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
[26]For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens;  [27]who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.  [28]For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever. (NKJV)

Just to remind ourselves of the purpose of Hebrews, the writer sought to explain, exhort and encourage.  His believing Jewish audience had indeed professed Christ, but for whatever reason were being tempted to return to the beloved and familiar OT ritual and sacrifices.  He writes to them not to do that, not to risk their eternal souls with such a grievous mistake and sin, 10:32-39.  He explained to them that the person and work of the Lord Jesus were the fulfillment of all those sacrifices and ceremonies, which were only a shadow of what was coming, 10:1.  He encouraged them that, though they were suffering persecution and would suffer more, 10:32, 33; 11:12-14, they weren’t following some pipe dream, mere doctrines of men, or “cunningly-devised fables,” as Peter put it, 2 Peter 1:16.  They were following the One who was the Creator of the universe, the One who will ultimately complete and consummate that for which the universe was created.

Again, a key word is “better.”  The immediate context, from 3:1, deals with the priesthood of Christ.  It is “better” than the Levitical priesthood of Moses and Aaron for several reasons the writer lists through 10:18.

The priesthood of Christ was briefly introduced in 2:17, Christ and Moses were compared and contrasted, and then in the section ending in 6:20, the writer applied the preeminence of Christ to the lives of his readers, before again returning to the priesthood of Christ.

Beginning in 7:1, he continues his teaching:

1.  The type of the priesthood of Melchizedek,7:1-10.
2.  The temporary nature of the Aaronic priesthood, 7:11-28.

1. Type of the priesthood of Melchizedek, 7:1-10.

The Historical Incident, vs. 1-3.  Genesis 14:18-20 is the only place Melchizedek actually appears, and nothing is known of him except what is mentioned there and in Hebrews 7:13.  There are those who believe, from Hebrews 7:3, that Melchizedek was, or is, actually Christ (remains a priest continually).  However, there are some difficulties with that view and for the following reasons, we believe that Melchizedek was an ordinary man, highly blessed though he may have been.

1.  Both Genesis and Hebrews call him “king of Salem.”  While it is true that “Salem” is a form of “shalom,” (“peace”), and Jesus is “the Prince of Peace,” we believe this is simply a reference to Jerusalem.

2.  Note vs. 3, which says that Melchizedek was made like the Son of God (emphasis added).  It doesn’t say that he was the Son of God.  In Christ, there arises another priest, after the likeness of Melchizedek, v. 15 (emphasis added).  Melchizedek was merely a type, a foreshadowing, of the coming Son of God.

3.  What about v. 3, which describes Melchizedek as being without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end or life?  Doesn’t this prove Melchizedek to have been Christ?  I don’t think it does.  After all, as a man, Christ had a father (though virgin-born, Joseph was His “legal” father), and mother, a genealogy (two of them, in fact: both Joseph’s and Mary’s), birth and death.  He had all those things which Melchizedek is said not to have had.

4.  Note again in v. 3, “made like”.  For the purpose of Scripture in treating Melchizedek as a type of Christ, none of these things is mentioned.  7:6 implies that he did, in fact, have a genealogy, distinct from that of Aaron.

The Practical Application, vs. 4-10.  So, we might say, what is the purpose of these references to Melchizedek?  Simply this, as a “priest of the Most High God” (was Aaron ever called this?), Melchizedek was not dependent on Aaron or his priesthood for his own priesthood.  Neither was he dependent on the Mosaic Law.  He lived more than 400 years before Moses and Aaron.

Remember what the author taught in the last part of ch. 6.  He spoke of our two-fold “hope” of inheriting God’s promise:  the oath of God Himself with regard to that promise, and the priestly ministry of Christ, which rises out of that promise.  As Melchizedek was independent of the Mosaic Covenant and the Aaronic priesthood, likewise the promise of God and the priesthood of Christ are independent of them.

The writer develops that thought in vs. 4-10.  Usually used in connection with trying to enforce tithing on Christians, this portion actually has nothing to do with either the practice or the applicability of tithing.  It simply points out that the Levitical priesthood (so named after “Levi,” a son of Aaron) descended from Abraham, and so could be said to be “in him” in Genesis 14.  Under the Law, the Levitical priesthood received tithes; this was their means of livelihood as well as the upkeep of the Tabernacle.  “In Abraham” they paid tithes, hence, the writer argues, Melchizedek was superior to the Levitical priesthood.  Typically shown, therefore, Christ is superior to Aaron.

2.  The Temporary Nature of the Aaronic Priesthood, 7:11-28.

As seen by it’s “imperfection,” vs. 11-15.

1.  as regards it’s “effectiveness,” vs. 11, 18-19.  The very fact that the Law was unable to produce “perfection” demonstrates the need for something that could produce it, cf. Romans 8:3, 4.  The word translated “perfection” doesn’t refer to “sinlessness,” but “completion”.  The Law and the priesthood could not “complete” redemption, therefore the Law only served until the introduction of its replacement, cf. Galatians 3:19.

2.  as regards its “exclusiveness,” vs. 12-15.  There were strict instructions regarding who could be a priest, even in the Aaronic line.  A priest had to be a Levite, but our Lord was of the tribe of Judah, v. 14.  The change from Aaron to Christ also intimates a change of the Law, vs. 12-14.  In this way the temporary nature both of the Mosaic Law and of the Aaronic priesthood was shown.

As seen by its inferiority, vs. 16-28.

1.  in contrast to the commencement of Christ’s priesthood, vs. 16-22.  In all the Law, there is no promise to any particular priest of a lasting priesthood.  Indeed, in the very beginning, God made provision for the passing of the priesthood from father to son, Exodus 29:29.  No oath was ever given to any priest.

2.  in contrast to the continuity of Christ’s priesthood, vs. 23-25.  This goes along with the previous thought.  Only the Lord Jesus has a guarantee of personal perpetuity.

3.  in contrast to the completeness of Christ’s priesthood, vs. 26-27.  Christ was able to do what no Levitical priest could ever do, v. 25.  Though this thought will be developed by the writer further on, here he just points out the unique nature of Christ’s one sacrifice in contrast to the monotonous frequency of OT sacrifices.

4.  in contrast to the character of Christ’s priesthood, v. 28.  Cf. 5:2, 3.  There is no such thing as “infirmity” in the Lord Jesus.  Cf. 7:26.

Hebrews 6:9-20, “Things Which Accompany Salvation”

[9]But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner.  [10]For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister  [11]And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, [12]that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
[13]For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He  could swear by no greater, he swore by himself, [14]saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.”  [15]And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.  [16]For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. [17]Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, [18]that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
[19]This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, [20]where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (NKJV)

In this portion, our writer changes focus.  He has been dealing with his readers’ lack of growth and maturity, and warning them of the dangers of remaining stagnant.  Having said all that, though, he goes on in this portion to assure them that he does have confidence that they truly belong to the Lord, though he spoke “in this manner.”

So, how does he know they’re “saved,” to use our phrase?  Does he look to their “profession of faith,” or their baptism, or their church membership, or any of a number of other things we tend to look at?

Not at all.

These might have their place, but of these Hebrew believers our writer mentions their “work and labor of love,” v. 10.

By this, was he suggesting that these Jewish believers were saved by works?  Of course not.

We’ve dealt with this in other posts, but need to bring it in here as well.  There is quite a discussion in evangelical circles about the place of “faith” and “works.”  Some insist that we’re saved by “faith alone,” and works have no place at all in our being saved.  As long as we “believe,” that’s all that’s necessary.  Others insist that we must have works along with faith in order to be saved.  We must be baptized or keep the Sabbath or any number of others things besides or along with faith in order to be saved.

In his writings, Paul put it like this:  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6.

“Faith” isn’t just some passive intellectual agreement with certain facts or teachings.  It’s not about memorizing the Catechism.  Nor is it some kind of experience by which we’re elevated to some mystical “higher plane of existence.”   As we’ll see from Hebrews 11, faith is an active, obedient response to the Word of God.  So it was with these believers in Hebrews 6.

While it’s true that they “ministered to the saints,” it was really toward God that they were showing love.  This is the “motivation” of love, if you will.  Not to gain divine favor, but because we’ve already received it.  We’ve received it in such abundance that we can’t even begin to understand it.

Though the whole post won’t be finished for a few days, as I write this paragraph, yesterday was Christmas.  Leaving out the celebrations of the world with Santa, red-nosed reindeer, decorations, parties, family get-togethers and what not, how much time do we really spend thinking about “Christmas”?  We might have a “nativity set” on the mantel or out in the front yard.  But it’s likely to share space with Santa or fancy lights or decorations, maybe a snow man or two.  Things which Christmas is really about in our time.

There used to be a TV show in which those who entered a certain place were promised a “world of endless wonder.”  That’s what Christmas is supposed to have – endless wonder that that little Babe was in reality the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  That Mary and Joseph were as dependent on Him as He was on them.  That this little ignored, unknown Infant was in reality the Savior of the human race.  That without Him, there is no hope and no future worth thinking about.  Without Him, there’s not even a “present” worth bothering about.  Not “present” as in “gift,” which is mostly what Christmas is about any more, but as in “the present” – “now,” “today.”  And that He one day will return to this planet in glory and honor.  All that, and infinitely more, is involved in what happened on that day so long ago.  This is what Christmas is really about.

There are those who want to “keep Christ in Christmas.”  There’s nothing wrong with that, but if we really understood that scene in the manger, we would say, “Nothing but Christ in Christmas.”

But, the writer continues, he doesn’t didn’t want his readers to “rest on their laurels,” as it were.  He didn’t want them to become “sluggish,” but to “show the same diligence” toward the things of God they had started with.  He wanted them to advance “to the full assurance of hope.”

Now, this “hope” doesn’t mean “hope so,” as in, say, buying a lottery ticket and “hoping” to win the jackpot.  It’s a confident certainty about something.  The writer will have more to say about this a little later.

He also wanted them to remember those in faith who had gone before, “those who through faith and patience inherit the promises,” v. 12.  The purpose and promise of God concern so much more than the few minutes we walk on this earth.

Saying that, the writer focuses his attention on Abraham, the first one to receive the promises upon which Israel rested, vs. 13-18, promises themselves which “accompany salvation”.  After he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise, v. 15.  He “patiently endured.”  Was he “perfect”?  By no means!  Did he do things which, in hindsight, would have been better left not done?  Absolutely.  We’ll have a lot more to say about Abraham, Lord willing, when we get to chapter 11.  And we had a bit to say about him in our studies on Genesis, (for example https://nightlightblogdotcom.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/abraham-believed-god-genesis-15-romans-4/).  Abraham waited years for the conception and birth of Isaac.  For all his shortcomings, though, he never turned his back on or denied the God Who promised that son.

The thing I find almost unbelievable is in vs. 17 and 18:  Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God, to lie, we might have strong consolation….

We live in a time where “God” has been brought down to our level, or even below it.  We’re taught that we can mess up His will, or that “He’s done all He can do,” and now it’s up to us, or that He has to wait for us to “do our part” before He can do His part.  In short, He’s been reduced to little more than a humble supplicant at the throne of the human will; He can’t do anything to or with us unless we are “willing.”  I have a hard time even writing that of the God of the universe, but that’s an all-too-common view of Him.

However, Scripture says that God humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth!  May I say that He humbles Himself even further in the things He’s willing to do to convince our stubborn, rebellious selves that He can be trusted.

There used to be a saying that I haven’t seen for a while:  “God said it.  I believe it.  That settles it.”  The only trouble is that it’s not true.  The emphasis is all wrong.  God said it and that settles it, whether anyone believes it or not!  A pagan king in the Old Testament had a higher concept of God than many “Bible-believing” Christians have today.  In Daniel 4:34, 35, Nebuchadnezzar said, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation.  All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.  None can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?'”  Because of this, there are those who say that Nebuchadnezzar was saved, but there’s never any evidence that he called the God of the Bible “his” God.  Indeed, in recounting all the experiences which led to the declaration of vs. 34, 35, he referred to Daniel as “Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god,” even though, in the same sentence, he admitted that “the Spirit of the Holy God” was in Daniel, Daniel 4:8 (emphasis added).

The writer says that “we” have hope.  But this hope doesn’t include a promised land.  Israel entered that land under Joshua, thus beginning a series of gains and losses until she lost it under the Romans until 1948, when she was again granted title to the land – not without continuing controversy and battle.  If I read Zechariah 14 correctly, she’ll lose it again – this time seemingly for good.  Until the Lord sets foot on the Mount of Olives.

No, no.  The writer says that our hope lies in heaven, a strong consolation, v. 18, a hope both steadfast and sure, v. 19.  And that hope is in a Person, even Jesus, who has become High Priest forever…, v. 20.  It’s interesting that the writer has referred to the Lord as Prophet and now as Priest, but he never refers to Him as King.  That’s because He still has work to do as Priest.  Not only did the OT priest make the sacrifice of an animal, but, once a year, the High Priest had to bring the blood of a sacrifice into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it on the mercy seat.

Now we don’t have an earthly tabernacle and mercy seat.  And our High Priest doesn’t function with the pomp and ceremony of an earthly liturgy.  Nor do we need an intermediary to approach the throne for us other than the Lord Jesus.  Not only has the blood of the sacrifice been sprinkled on the mercy seat, but the very One whose blood it was sits there as well – interceding for those for whom that blood was shed.  He is our hope, not us.

I don’t really know how to bring all this to a close.  Shouldn’t the fact that “God said it” be enough for us?  Without His having to take oath about it?  I  understand that unbelievers and skeptics won’t believe it.  They’re just doing what comes naturally.  But believers – that should be a different story.

God said it – that settles it.