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.

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Hebrews 12:2, 3, “Looking Unto Jesus.”

[2]looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
[3]For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.
(NKJV)

The writer has just gone through a whole list of “faith-worthies,” many of whom did great things or who suffered great things.  But then, as it were, he shifts gears.  While he does want his readers to know about these ancestors in faith, he doesn’t want their attention focused on them.  There is someone else to whom they were to look, and so are we:  Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

The word translated “author,” refers to a founder, author, prince or leader.  I think the word “founder” gives the best idea here.  Moses and the prophets didn’t “found” Christianity, in spite of those who look to them for guidance.  They indeed laid the groundwork, as it were, foreshadowing and prophesying that One who would come and fulfill all those types and shadows.  However, there is no pattern, no blueprint, for how we are to do things.  There is no salvation in those OT things; there is salvation only in the One who came to fulfill them.

We don’t like that idea in this day of “diversity” and “inclusiveness.”  We want to believe that “all roads lead to heaven,” that the pagan who worships nature or the woman who sacrifices her baby to a river or a person who follows a religion that denies and contradicts every teaching of Scripture, these are all “children of God.”

However, our Lord said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.  Later on, standing before the leaders of the nation, Peter affirmed this, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12.  And there is coming a time when this will be universally and unequivocally acknowledged.  Men may have put Jesus on the Cross, may reject Him and ridicule His claims, even deny His existence and do all they can to stamp out every mention of Him in society, but Paul wrote that God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, Philippians 2:9-11.

Some believe that these verses in Philippians teach that everyone will eventually be saved, but that view contradicts Scripture, which teaches otherwise.  The verses simply mean that there’s coming a time after it’s too late that unbelievers and skeptics will be forced to admit who Jesus is, that He was and is who He claimed to be.  After all, they will stand before Him in judgment.  But there will be no salvation for them, no “second chance” after death.

But there’s more in Hebrews 12:2:  He is the “finisher” of our faith.  A couple of things here.  First, there is no word corresponding to “our” in the original language.  Jesus is the Founder and “finisher” of faith.  It’s common in our time to hear of “faith-based” works or organizations.  It’s become a synonym for “religion.”  However, there are many works and religious organizations that have nothing to do with Scripture.  But there is only one “faith,” the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints, Jude 3, and the Lord Jesus was the One who revealed it.  And He did that through the Scriptures.

Not only did He reveal it, but He “completed” it.  That’s the meaning of the word translated, “finisher.”  “Faith” isn’t about what men say or do.  It’s about what He did.  There’s nothing to be added to what He did.  Some churches blasphemously teach that there are things which we must do in addition to what the Lord did on the Cross:  we must be baptized, or we must offer the “unbloody sacrifice of the Mass,” or a host of other things.  Or they falsely teach that they, too, have a revelation from God.  They have their own prophet or founder.  Or they teach that theirs is the only accepted group.  Only with them is there truth and salvation.  Several groups teach that.  But there is only one Name that God will accept as Savior and Lord, and it’s not the name of some church or denomination or religious group.  It is the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  No one, no one, comes to God except through Him.

for the joy set before Him.

I’ve read at least one person who believed that it’s wrong to serve God for the sake of “reward.”  Such an attitude is selfish, it is said; we should serve God simply because we love Him.  And it’s true, we should serve God out of love; I doubt if any other motivation is acceptable to Him.

At the same time, though, it’s said of our Lord that He was anticipating a reward for His suffering: “the joy set before Him.”  You see, His death wasn’t just some haphazard affair, with its outcome left to fallible and sinful men.  Nor was it “a mistake,” as Schweitzer claimed.  It was carefully planned in every detail well before Genesis 1:1.  Cf. 1 Peter 1:20.

It was this hope, this expectation, that enabled our Lord to endure the cross, “despising the shame.”  We’ve never seen a crucifixion.  It was an awful and bloody thing.  We’ve cleaned it up and sanitized it, with a cloth strategically covering His body.  One branch of the church even boasts that there is no blood in their pictures.  But in addition to the torture of the whipping He received before the Crucifixion, a whipping that often killed those who endured it, and the agony of the spikes which held Him to the Cross, He hung naked, open to the gaze of all who looked at Him.

We don’t think anything of nudity in our debased society, some even extol it, but back then it was a terrible thing, a thing of “shame.”

Our Lord “despised the shame” because He knew that this wasn’t the end of things.  In some ways, rather, it was the beginning.  A look at the future isn’t the purpose of this post; I’ve done that enough in other posts, but it was “the future” which enabled the Lord to “endure” the present.

And make no mistake; He “endured” the Cross.  It was no walk in the park for Him.  It was no little thing, this matter of crucifixion.  Even though the Romans were concerned about “justice,” and there were some restrictions about who could suffer this or that treatment, there was no such thing as “criminal rights” in that day.  There was no concern about “cruel and unusual punishment” like we have in our day, in which any punishment seems to be considered cruel and unusual.  Some men took days to die on a cross.  That’s why Pilate was so surprised when Nicodemus came to ask for the body, and why Pilate had a centurion verify Jesus’ death.

But beside the physical suffering, about which we might have some idea, there was also the suffering because He bore the weight of God’s wrath against sin, about which we have no idea, no standard of comparison.  We read of no outcry when they whipped Him, or when they drove the spikes into His wrists and feet.  We read of no response to the ridicule of the leadership as they scoffed at Him, and mocked His claims.  It was only His treatment by the Father that forced an anguished cry from His lips,

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?!”

Ah, that goes far beyond any mere human experience.

We think we know so much with our “Drs. of Theology,” and our arguments over various doctrines and teachings.  I’ve done a lot of that in this blog.  And I’m not against “education.”  I just wish it was more about the Bible itself, reading the Scripture itself and seeing what it says, and less about what men say that the Bible says.  But when it comes to the Cross, we likely know even less about the sufferings of our Savior than a newborn infant knows of the suffering of his mother in bringing him to birth.  I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to understand anything of that suffering.

That suffering was tempered by the fact that His suffering wasn’t the end of things.  It was not in vain.  It was not “meaningless”.  There was “joy” beyond.  Joy that will last for an eternity….

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning, Psalm 30:5.

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.

 

March Memories: “Look Now Toward Heaven.”

When my wife and I were first married, we started each evening to read a chapter of the Bible before we went to bed, beginning in Genesis.  We would alternate verses.  We hadn’t been doing this for very long when we came to Genesis 15.  As we were reading through this chapter, I noticed something I had never seen before.  It made me exclaim aloud, “Now, wait a minute!”  As I looked at this thought, the chapter, as well as the Bible’s teaching on faith, opened up to me in a way that was unbelievable.

One word of caution.  There’s a standard understanding of this chapter that’s pretty much universally held.  I held it myself.  In fact, I’ve never seen or heard the approach to this chapter that I now hold.  I believe that my view is right.  It’s just that every so often someone comes up with some new teaching “from Scripture” – some hare-brained idea that’s all the rage for a couple of weeks, and then fades back into the woodwork.  I’m not interested in novel ideas about the Scripture.  I agree with Paul in Romans 4:3, where he asked the question in another connection, What does the Scripture say?

..really say?

So, before you go any further in this post, I’d like for you to read Genesis 15 – yes, right now.  Close your laptop and open your Bible.  Read Genesis 15.  It’ll just take a few minutes.  Or look it up online, if you’re inclined that way.  I’m an old geezer myself and prefer books, though, obviously, I do use a computer. 🙂

I wonder how many will actually do that.

Anyway, the usual reading of this chapter concludes with the idea that Abraham goes out at night and looks at the starry heavens.  “Whoa!” he says.  “That’s a lot of stars.”

The trouble with this idea is that men HAD counted the stars, or so they thought.  The ancient Egyptians catalogued 1025 stars.  That’s not a very large posterity – not even really a good sized town.  Even as late as 1627, the German astronomer Kepler had only catalogued a little over a thousand stars.  It’s only been with the invention and improvement of the telescope that science has discovered that there are innumerable galaxies, each one with innumerable stars.  Just in passing, how did the “ignorant goat-herder” who is alleged to have written Scripture know about innumerable stars, when only a handful, relatively speaking, are visible to the naked eye?

There’s another, even more interesting, challenge to the usual understanding of the chapter.  That’s why I asked you to read it.  There are two phrases which caught my attention that long-ago night, and forever changed my conception of the chapter.  Did you notice them?

God told Abraham, “Look now toward heaven….”  Some of the later versions omit the word, “now,” but I think my interpretation is still valid.

After the conversation in v. 5, we read in v. 12, now when the Sun was going down, and in v. 17, when the Sun went down and it was dark….  My wife would have read v. 12 and I would have read v. 17.

Now, I don’t know if it was the reading of those phrases, or hearing them read out loud, or what, but they caught my attention.  They caused me to exclaim, “Now, wait a minute!”  To me, these phrases indicate that it was broad daylight when God told Abraham to look at the stars.

Now, I hear you say, “Wait a minute!”

It doesn’t make sense, does it?  The idea that God would ask someone to count stars in the daytime?

It seems to me that there are several lessons we can learn from this incident.  There are a lot of things in Scripture that don’t “make sense.”  That’s why unbelievers and skeptics have so much trouble with them.  God told Noah to build a huge boat because a flood was coming, and it have never even rained up until that time.  God told Israel to walk around Jericho for seven days, and on the seventh day they were also to yell real loudly.  What kind of warfare is that?  The Lord fed 15,000 or more people with a few sardine-sized fish and a couple slices of bread.  Pretty slim pickings.

Yet, in each case, “sense” was wrong, or at least very inadequate.

In addition, Abraham had to choose between what he could see, or what God said.  To do that, he had to go against the “science” of his day.  That’s still true.  At least here in the US, it seems that God hardly exists.  Violence and immorality are increasing.  Atheism has pretty much become the law of the land and the Bible is illegal in a good portion of our society.  As for science, no comment is needed.

But there’s more.

Abraham was a shepherd.  He’d spent a lifetime of nights under the stars.  And he could expect to spend a lot more nights under them.  But God said, “Look now….”  Abraham couldn’t look to his experiences.  God said, “Look NOW.”  He couldn’t count on his expectations.

As Christians, we can look back and see how God has blessed us.  For example, the way I met my wife involves about 7 years, four states, quitting a job, a long move, several people, a telephone book, and a phone call.  But that’s a story for another time….

We can see many times that God has been with us.  And, by His grace, we look forward to an eternity which will infinitely eclipse the things of this world.  It’s the “now” that’s the problem.

I’ve known and know people going through things I can’t even begin to imagine.  And this blog has led me to people who are also suffering.  For all these, “now” is anything but enviable.

“All” Abraham had to go on was the naked word of God.  There was no “tangible, verifiable evidence” – the kind skeptics and unbelievers are always asking for – just God and His promise.  But you see, that’s what “faith” boils down to: an absolute reliance on and trust of, God and His Word, even when everything around us says, “Why?”  Why do you think there are such attacks on the Bible?  “Faith” isn’t about us getting God to do what we want, it’s about trusting His Word and what He says He will do.

Abraham had to wait 13 years for the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise.  He did some foolish things in the meantime, things which echo today in the Middle East.  Even though Abraham was foolish, God was faithful to His promise.

For all believers, Paul wrote, the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us, Romans 8:18.

Let me encourage you, dear readers of this blog.  I don’t know anything about your “now,” but God does.  I don’t know what to say to ease your burden.  I just hope and pray that He will use these few words to encourage and bless you.

Look now toward heaven….
___________________

(originally published March 26, 2013.)  edited.

“Why All This Hammering and Cutting?”

Christians sometimes wonder why they have to suffer so much.  And there are a whole flock of people making a good living convincing them that they don’t have to, that they should have everything they want, if they only had “faith.”

Dear friends, some of you are suffering things I can’t begin to imagine.  Over the Labor Day weekend, my wife and I went to visit a dear, dear sister who was recently diagnosed with ALS, after a lifetime of suffering with lupus, among other things.  I think she blessed us with her cheerful spirit more than we blessed her.  I can not imagine being completely unable to do ANYTHING for yourself, but having to depend on others for EVERYTHING, though, thankfully, she can still talk – and smile and laugh.

So, why suffering?

If we could imagine a block of stone suddenly finding its voice, we might hear something like the following:

“Oh, why all this hammering and cutting on me?  This chipping and sanding and buffing?  Why me?”

The artist replies, “Be patient.  There’s a beautiful statue inside you.”

Of course, there is a considerable difference between a block of stone and a human being.  The stone is sometimes better at being a stone than we are at being human.  The stone doesn’t fight the sculptor, nor try to make something else beside what the sculptor wants.  And the stone is inanimate, without will or emotions or intellect.  It is just a stone.  It just sits there.

There’s another difference, too.  There’s no “beautiful statue” inside us just waiting to be let out.  Oh, I know.  People talk about “the divine spark” in us that just needs a little fanning to burst into a brilliant blaze.  They talk about “human potential,” as if there’s some god-like ability within ourselves to make something of ourselves.  And there is a certain amount of truth to that, though we’re not at all “godlike.”  There are some who rise to heights of amazing heroism.  Alas, though, there are others who sink to depths of unbelievable barbarism and wickedness.  Some of us are “devil-like.”

Most of us can probably, at least to our own satisfaction, find someone whom we believe is worse than we are.  And we might be right.

The problem is, compared to Jesus, we’re all worse.

God has nothing to “work with.”

He doesn’t come to us and fix us up a little bit.  He doesn’t just slap on a new coat of paint or put down a new carpet.  He makes us a “new creation.”  As in the original creation, He started with nothing, so in the new creation, He starts with nothing.

But “in Him,” we have everything.

And He will finish what He started.  He chips, and cuts and hammers and buffs and polishes to get rid of what we are in order that we might see a little of what we are to become.

Beloved, now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.

 

The Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Book of Revelation has always been a puzzle to its readers.  Though I may do a series of posts on it some day, it’s not my intent here to enter into a discussion of the meaning of the book, or of how to interpret it.

The book is often divided into three parts, based on our Lord’s instruction to John in 1:19, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are, and those that are to take place after this” (ESV).

Using the same three divisions, but keeping in mind that the book is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” not just from Him, but about Him, I divide the book like this:

1.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Reader, ch. 1
2.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Churches, chs. 2, 3.
3.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to the World, chs. 4 – 22.

I was struck one day by the significance, if you will, of the first chapter.  Though I’ve been thinking about doing a post on this for some time, it was brought to a head, so to speak, by an exchange I recently had with a fellow-blogger about “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”  Her point was that Jesus was indeed gentle and mild.  And she’s right.

He was gentle to the downtrodden, the outcast, the tax-collectors and publicans, folks on the bottom rung of the ladder – or not even near it.  He stopped a funeral procession in its tracks and turned unbearable grief into unspeakable joy.  He could hold His own and then some with the scholars of His day, but spoke so that the common people heard Him gladly, Mark 12:37 (NKJV).  He fed thousands of people with a boy’s lunch, and saved the day at a wedding.  He prayed for the men who drove the spikes into His hands and feet.

We never read that He laughed.  We do read that He wept.  At the same time, we mustn’t think that He was a sourpuss.  We read in John 15:11 that He was concerned that His joy might abide in His disciples.

So the Lord was like sunshine on a warm Summer day.

Oh, but He could also be lightning and thunder!  Hear His denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves, Matthew 23:15.  He called them fools and blind, v. 17.  He berated them for loading people with heavy burdens of rigid legalism, but never giving them anything to help them carry those burdens, v. 4. He called them serpents, brood of vipers! and asked them how they thought they could escape the condemnation of hell? v.33.

This didn’t serve to make Him popular with these religious leaders!  As a result of His rebuking them on another occasion, Luke 11:53 records, the scribes and Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently…. There was no such thing for Him as “dialogue” with the enemies of truth.

Our culture pretty much ignores this side of our Lord.  He had no time for those who actively opposed His ministry and preaching.  And Scripture says that when He comes again, He will do so in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Thessalonians 1:8.  When was the last time you heard a sermon on that text?

The people to whom John wrote his book needed to know they served a Christ Who was greater than what they were going to go through.  They needed to know that what they were suffering, and were going to suffer, wasn’t just some “accident of history.”  They needed to know that when Satan did his worst, he was still a defeated foe and that his would not be the final word.

We need this today, as well.  We live in terrible times.  I was going to write “unprecedented times,” but that’s not true.  The rivers of Christian blood shed down through the years bear eloquent testimony to that fact.  Other times have been much worse than these times, but I think we’re getting there.

There may yet come a time when Christians – indeed, in parts of the world the news tells us that it’s already here – when Christians are led like sheep to the slaughter, Psalm 44:22; Romans 8:36.

We’re going to need to be settled as more than just a nice thing to believe, or good verses to memorize, 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 8:38-39.

When we’re kneeling, waiting for the sword to sever our head from our body….

The Gospel According to Job

Wait!

What?

Job?

Gospel!?

Job’s about bad stuff!  No way! …

Way!

There does seem to be a negative attitude toward this book.  Possibly that’s because those who are against it have never really read it.  And, I suppose, that might be understandable.  It’s a difficult book to get your mind around.

Just lately, I’ve read comments that the book puts God in a bad light.  Others say that it teaches that God isn’t sovereign, after all.  One blogger recently went so far as to say that he believes that the sovereignty of God is the greatest trick that Satan has ever put over on Christians (!)  Needless to say, I don’t agree with that statement!  Nor, I think, does Scripture.

Now it’s true that Job and his friends didn’t have “the Gospel” as we understand it, but they knew a great deal more about spiritual things than they generally get credit for. That’s due in part to a popular teaching in fundamentalist Christianity that between the Fall of man and the giving of the Law at Sinai, men and women were left to the guidance of their own consciences.  There was no revelation from God.  They were on their own.

That’s not true.

While we for the most part don’t have actual records of what might have transpired, there are enough incidental references to show that there was an abundant revelation from God between the times of Adam and Moses.  To quote just one example among many, in Genesis 26:5, God said of Abraham that he “obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”  What’s He talking about if there was no revelation before the Law?  Abraham lived a long time before Sinai.

Job also lived a long time before Moses and Sinai.  There’s no mention of Israel or Moses or the Ten Commandments.  There’s no priesthood – Job himself offered sacrifices on behalf of his children and later for his friends.  He knew spiritual truth, cf. Job 1:1.  How could he “fear God” if he didn’t know anything about Him?

Even Job’s “friends” knew spiritual truths.

1.  They knew that man is sinful. 

In Job 25:4-6, Bildad said, “How then can man be righteous before God?  Or how can he be pure who is born of woman?  If even the moon does not shine, and the stars are not pure in His sight, how much less man, who is a maggot, and a son of man, who is a worm?”

I remember hearing a radio preacher railing against such “worm theology.”  He didn’t like it at all!  After all, man is pretty good – made in God’s image.  There must be some spark of divinity, some trace of goodness, in man that just needs to be fanned a little to become a bright flame and show what man really is.

And I imagine most of us “aren’t so bad;” we can find someone we think is worse than we are.

The problem is those three words, “righteous before God.”

Paul put it like this:  There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God, Romans 3:10, 11.

Habakkuk describes God like this:  He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness, Habakkuk 1:13.  He just couldn’t understand how such a holy God could use the vile Chaldeans to judge Israel for their sin.

In contrast to the holiness of God, Eliphaz described man like this:  “What is man, that he could be pure?  And he who is born of woman, that he could be righteous?  If God puts no trust in His saints, and the heavens are not pure in His sight, how much less man, who is abominable and filthy, who drinks iniquity like water!”  Job 15:14-16.

They knew the truth that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.

2.  Job knew man couldn’t “fix” the problem. 

Job said, “Truly I know it is so, but how can a man be righteous before God?  If one wished to contend with Him, he could not answer Him one time out of a thousand,”  Job 9:2, 3.

There’s no way that we could ever really account for what we’ve done with the lives God has given us.  At our best, we’re still not good in the sight of God.

3.  Job knew they needed a mediator, a “go-between.” 

Job said, “For He is not a man, as I am, that I may answer Him, and that we should go to court together.  Nor is there any mediator between us, who may lay his hand on us both,” Job 9:12, 13.  

Job may not have known directly of the Lord Jesus, but he knew the need for Him. Further than that, though –

4.  Job knew he had a Redeemer. 

He said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth,” Job 19:25.

We don’t know how much Job knew of “salvation,” but he said in 13:16, “He [God] also shall be my salvation.”  Every sacrifice spoke of Him and of Christ’s victory over sin, death and Satan, cf. Hebrews 2:14, 15.  He knew enough.

5.  Job knew of the resurrection. 

Continuing the thought in #4, Job said, And after my skin is destroyed, I know that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:26, 27.

“How my heart yearns within me!”

Job could teach us a thing or two, couldn’t he?

6.  Job knew of the coming of Christ.

Again, we don’t know exactly what Job knew, but he knew that his Redeemer would stand at last on the earth, v. 25.  While this may refer to Christ’s first coming, we believe it has more reference to His second coming – which wouldn’t have happened without the first coming.  The first time, Jesus came to be ignored, rejected and murdered, though He did so willingly.  The second time – ah, that will be a different story! Zechariah 14 describes that coming more fully.  There will be no doubt who He is, no escaping Him.

7.  Job expressed extraordinary faith in God. 

In 13:15, he said, “THOUGH HE SLAY ME, yet will I trust Him.” (emphasis added!)  What a contrast to much of today’s thought, where “health and wealth” are expected as ordinary consequences of faith.  I recently heard one of these false prophets say that because Moses lived to be 120 without his natural vigor decreasing and Caleb, though 85, was as ready and able to conquer his enemies as he had been at 45, that that was what the Holy Ghost wanted for you – this speaker’s audience.

Tell that to the dear sister in her mid 70s who has suffered lifelong with lupus and who was recently diagnosed with ALS.  She has become paralyzed and needs around the clock care.  A joy to know, a faithful witness for God – paralyzed and unable to do for herself.  Or tell that to Joni Eareckson Tada, paralyzed from the shoulders down and for 30 + years confined to a wheelchair.

Some dismiss this as a “lack of faith.”

Away with such thoughts!!

It takes a great deal more “faith” to be a Job or a Joni or a Julie (not her name) than it does when the sun shines and all goes as we think it should!

After all, Job had already rebuked his wife when she told him to “curse God and die,” when he said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” Job 1:10.

We’re more than ready to “accept the good;” the “adversity” – not so much.

It amazes me that one of the greatest “confessions of faith” in Scripture is found in the Old Testament.  Another such confession is in Habakkuk 3:17, 18.

8.  Job received witness from God. 

A lot of people sneer at Job, saying he accused God falsely.  I wonder how they – or we – would do under similar circumstances.  We’re more likely be like his wife than him, I’m afraid.

When rebuking his three friends, God said to them, “My wrath is aroused against you… for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.  Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job will pray for you.  For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as my servant Job has,” Job 42:7, 8.

God “accepted” him.  What else needs to be said?

9.  Job stands as God’s object lesson.

Job stands as proof that there are those who serve God for Himself, not for what they can get out of Him!  While it’s true that Job received double what he had lost, he didn’t know that going through everything.