A Vision of God’s Glory

As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. – Ezekiel 1:4-14 ESV

It was while Ezekiel was exiled to Babylon, living near the Kebar River, that God came to visit him in a vision. Little did Ezekiel know that his role as a priest was about to be expanded to that of a prophet. A long way from home and far from the ruins of the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Babylonians, Ezekiel was going to receive a vision and a commission from God Almighty.

Ezekiel would later describe this life-changing event in very intimate terms.

the hand of the Lord was upon me there – Ezekiel 3:22 ESV

…the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. – Ezekiel 8:1 ESV

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 ESV

God revealed Himself to Ezekiel in an unforgettable and virtually indescribable manner. This was no burning bush encounter like the one Moses experienced in the wilderness. Ezekiel was given a much more intense and comprehensive glimpse of the Almighty, and it began with a vision of what the dumbfounded prophet describes as four living beings.

As I looked, I saw a great storm coming from the north, driving before it a huge cloud that flashed with lightning and shone with brilliant light. There was fire inside the cloud, and in the middle of the fire glowed something like gleaming amber. From the center of the cloud came four living beings – Ezekiel 1:4-5 NLT

One can only imagine Ezekiel’s shock as he witnessed these strange-looking apparitions appear before his eyes. The text does not reveal whether this bizarre vision took place while Ezekiel was awake or came upon him in the form of a dream. But the strange and surrealistic nature of what Ezekiel saw must have left him shaken and more than a bit scared.

A powerful thunderstorm suddenly appeared on the northern horizon, accompanied by lightning and brilliant light. This was no ordinary storm and that face was quickly confirmed by the sudden appearance of the four creatures. Ezekiel’s attempt to describe these bizarre beings reveals just extraordinary they were. He had never seen anything like them before and was at a loss as to how to describe them. To his eyes, they were an other-worldly amalgam of human and animal characteristics that were beyond belief.

At first glance, they appeared to be human but, upon closer examination, Ezekiel saw that they each had one head with four faces. “Each had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back” (Ezekiel 1:10 NLT).

Ezekiel is given no explanation for this disturbing combination of facial features. But it would seem that each was meant to represent something significant about God’s creative order. Man was meant to be the apex of all the living creatures God created. The lion was the king of the beasts, the most powerful of all the wild animals. The ox was the most valuable of all the domesticated animals, a creature equipped with great strength and intelligence. And the eagle was considered the king of the skies, a majestic bird of prey whose keen vision and powerful talons made him a mighty hunter.

According to Ezekiel, these four-faced creatures each had four wings and human hands. They used one pair of wings to cover their bodies, while the other pair of wings were fully extended with the tips touching the wings of the creature next to them. It seems that the four creatures formed a square so that “each one moved straight forward in any direction without turning around” (Ezekiel 1:9 NLT).

But even as mesmerizing as these creatures were, Ezekiel’s attention was drawn to something that appeared in the midst of them.

In the middle of the living beings was something like burning coals of fire or like torches. It moved back and forth among the living beings. It was bright, and lightning was flashing out of the fire. – Ezekiel 1:13 NET

It is difficult to ascertain whether this light emanated from the creatures themselves or from something else. But it seems as if the vision was meant to draw Ezekiel’s eye ever higher, exposing him to something far more significant than the creatures themselves. As fantastic as these heavenly beings appeared to be, they were not the focus of the vision. They were simply a preview of what was to come.

“These spiritual beings who were part angel, part human, and part animal were fitting representatives of the whole created order. Their activity affirmed the relationship of God to his creation as Lord of all things. This idea was vital in helping Ezekiel and the captives in exile and the people in Judah understand that in the midst of the storms of life, God was still on his throne. He was not oblivious to their circumstances.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

God was setting the stage for what was to come. These divine apparitions were meant to get the prophet’s attention and prepare him to receive the message God had in store for him. God could have just appeared to Ezekiel, but He chose to preface His appearance with a supernatural outpouring of signs that accentuated His power and glory. In the midst of all the doom and gloom of captivity in Babylon, Ezekiel was being given a veritable light show designed to remind him of Yahweh’s majesty and holiness.

The God of Israel was manifesting His presence in the midst of His exiled people. He had not forgotten or forsaken them. He had always promised to remember and redeem them, and He had communicated those intentions to the prophet Jeremiah.

“When the time for them to be rescued comes,”
says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
“I will rescue you from foreign subjugation.
I will deliver you from captivity.
Foreigners will then no longer subjugate them.
But they will be subject to the Lord their God
and to the Davidic ruler whom I will raise up as king over them. – Jeremiah 30:8-9 NLT

As Ezekiel’s vision will make clear, God was still on His throne and fully in command of all that was going on in the world. The captivity of His chosen people had been part of His plan, and their future redemption would also come about just as He had promised. Ezekiel was being given a much-needed reminder of God’s glory and greatness so that he might receive, believe, and deliver God’s message for the helpless and hopeless living in exile in Babylon.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Sincerely Wrong and Deceptively Deadly

10 Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, 13 suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. 2 Peter 2:10b-16 ESV

Who were these false teachers? What were they like? Peter gives us a rather unflattering portrayal of them and wastes no time trying to hide his true feelings about them. He describes them as bold (tolmētēs) and willful (authadēs), two words that portray them as presumptuous and self-willed. Having convinced themselves that their opinions are right, they boldly and arrogantly propagate those heretical opinions to anyone who will listen. And Peter even describes them as blaspheming the glorious ones. The Greek word he used is doxa, and it had a variety of meanings. It is most often translated as “glory,” but can also be used to refer to “that which belongs to God.” But when considering the context of this passage, it appears that Peter was using it to refer to the majesty or glory of angelic beings. Evidently, these false teachers had been in detrimental terms about angels, possibly even questioning their actual existence. This would have aligned their official doctrine very close with that of the Sadducees, a religious/political party that held the majority of the seats in the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish religious council of the day. The Sadducees had played a major role in the Sanhedrin’s opposition to and eventual elimination of Jesus.

These wealthy members of the Jewish aristocratic class were extremely self-sufficient and tended to downplay the involvement of God in everyday life. They also denied the doctrine of a bodily resurrection and they would later oppose the apostles’ preaching that Jesus had risen from the dead. Since they refused to accept the possibility of resurrection after death, they denied the existence of an afterlife, teaching instead that the soul simply perished alongside the body. So, it only made sense for them to conclude that there was no form of reward or punishment after life ceased. And this same way of thinking led them to deny the existence of a spiritual world, including the existence of angels or demons. Everything that was to be experienced and enjoyed had to take place in this life because there was nothing that would follow death.

It seems apparent that the false teachers to whom Peter refers had been influenced by this same kind of thinking. Far from shy and anything but unsure about their views, these over-confident “teachers” were promoting their man-made ideas among the vulnerable and sometimes gullible believers who populated the fledgling faith communities of the day. And Peter was genuinely concerned about their growing influence.

He compares them to “irrational animals, creatures of instinct.” Like wild beasts, these individuals were driven by their basest animal urges. Their behavior was motivated by their own self-satisfaction. Jude makes a similar accusation in his letter, saying, “these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively” (Jude 1:10 ESV).

Because these men were so confident in their views, they spoke flippantly and facetiously about things they didn’t understand. There are some scholars who believe their disbelief in angelic beings had led them to speak satirically about the angels who fell alongside Satan when he attempted to rebel against God. The word Peter and Jude both used is βλασφημέω (blasphēmeō) which means “to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile” (“G987 – blasphēmeō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org).

Again, Peter speaks of them blaspheming “the glorious ones,” using the term, δόξα (doxa), a term that be used to refer to angels. In this case, Peter could have been talking about those angels who fell from their once glorious position in heaven and were cast down by God. These false teachers were evidently belittling these fallen angels or denying their existence altogether. But as a way of contrast, Peter indicates that angels – ἄγγελος (aggelos) – “though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord” (2 Peter 2:11 ESV). Here he appears to be referring to those angels who still reside in heaven. These “good” angels do not speak reproachfully to God about those angels who have fallen. Yet these false teachers do. Jude explains that they blaspheme all that they do not understand. They discount or dismiss what they do not know. Peter says they blaspheme “about matters of which they are ignorant.” Blasphemy, at its root, refers to “stupid speech.” It is to speak authoritatively, yet ignorantly, about things you do not understand. And just like the false prophets to whom Peter referred earlier, these men would “be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing” (2 Peter 2:12-13 ESV).

It seems apparent that these overconfident purveyors of false doctrine were spouting opinions about a wide variety of matters. They were also conducting their lives in a manner that was inconsistent with true faith in Christ. Peter accused them of wrongdoing, of reveling in the daytime, having eyes full of adultery, and an insatiable appetite for sin. They were hedonistic, driven by their sinful desires, and addicted to the finer things in life. Peter’s reference to their eyes being full of adultery would seem to indicate that their minds were overflowing with thoughts of unfaithfulness to God. While it could mean that they were involved in literal adultery, it makes more sense within the context to see this as an indictment of their faithfulness to God and His Word. Their unfaithfulness was deceiving and leading astray those who had “unsteady” or unstable souls. The spiritually immature were especially susceptible to the teachings of these individuals.

Jude’s description of them is quite revealing.

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted;  wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 1:12-13 ESV

They were like waterless clouds. They appeared to bring much-needed rain but were simply blown by the wind, never delivering that which they promised. They were like fruitless trees, dead and uprooted, capable of providing nothing in the way of real nourishment. They were like crashing waves, loud and impressive, but ultimately destructive. And like wandering stars, they were unreliable as guides to the lost. They could not be relied upon for direction in life because they were inconsistent and constantly changing their opinions.

Both Peter and Jude accuse them of following “the way of Balaam.” This refers to a story in the Old Testament when Balaam, a false prophet, was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the people of Israel. When God prevented Balaam from doing so, the false prophet counseled Balak to invite the people of Israel to join the people of Moab in a feast to honor their false god. The book of Numbers records what happened: “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord” (Numbers 31:16 ESV).

The Moabites were known for their practice of prostitution as part of the worship of their god. The Israelites, under the deceptive influence of Balaam, soon found themselves participating in the immoral festivities associated with the worship of the false gods of Moab.

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. – Numbers 25:1-3 ESV

So the false teachers, like Balaam, were guilty of leading the people of God astray. He “loved gain from wrongdoing.” He had been in it for what he could get out of it. And like Balaam, these false teachers would obstinately walk in their own sinful state of delusion, refusing to listen to the words of God and the warnings of His prophets. These false teachers had developed a false sense of security, ultimately believing that what they were saying was true. Their greatest danger was the sincerity and sense of authority they evoked. They appeared to believe that what they taught was true. They came across as confident and sure of themselves. But as Jude describes them, they were like “hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves” (Jude 1:12 ESV).

They were dangerous. They were subtle and seductive. They were self-serving and focused only on satisfying their own desires. So, Peter warned that these people were to be avoided at all costs. They were to be exposed and expelled from the church. They were not bad teachers. In fact, most of them were very good at what they did. The problem was that they were highly influential and inspirational. They were persuasive and their teaching came across as reasonable and right. But that was the hidden danger behind all their sophisticated rhetoric. The bottom line was that they had “wandered off the right road” (2 Peter 2:15 NLT). They had taken the wrong path and were teaching an errant gospel.

In what appears to be a rather humorous self-reference, Peter takes his readers back to the Old Testament story of Balaam. He reminds them that Balaam “was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice” (2 Peter 2:16 NLT). God had intervened and prevented Balaam from cursing the people of Israel. In a highly unlikely miracle, Balaam received a divine word of warning from his own talking donkey. God used this “irrational” and unthinking animal to declare truth to a revered prophet who was blind to the danger he faced. It seems that Peter was portraying himself as the donkey, an unlikely instrument in the hands of God, who was attempting to warn the blind and susceptible believers of the potential danger they faced.   

And, for Peter, that danger was both real and potentially deadly. That’s why he continued to express his strong feelings about these deceptively dangerous promoters of heresy.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Good Shepherd Has Come

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. Luke 2:8-21 ESV

For the third time in his gospel account, Luke records the appearance of an angel delivering a divine announcement. Zechariah and Mary had both received visits from the angel Gabriel, who delivered to each of them the news regarding the pending births of John and Jesus respectfully. But with the actual birth of Jesus, God sends another angelic messenger to earth to announce the news of His Son’s arrival. And this time, the audience didn’t consist of family members or even close relatives. Instead, God sent His messenger to a group of unnamed shepherds who were “keeping guard over their flock at night” (Luke 2:8 NLT).

Everything about this story is intended to display the sovereign will of God. The timing of every event has been according to His will. God sent each of the angelic messengers with a specific message for a particular individual. And as each divine announcement was made, the pieces of God’s redemptive plan began to fall into place. Now, with the birth of Jesus, God sends yet another angel with a message “for all the people” (Luke 2:10 ESV). The timing of this particular message was the middle of the night and the recipients just happened to be a group of lowly shepherds

Because of our familiarity with this story, it’s easy for us to overlook the fact that more than 30 years will separate the angel’s announcement to the shepherds and the actual beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. God chose to have His Son born in the obscure and diminutive village of Bethlehem. He selected an unknown and inconsequential Jewish girl to be the mother of the Messiah. Then He decided to have the “good news of great joy” regarding His Son’s birth announced to a ragtag group of men whose occupation put them well outside the ranks of polite society. Shepherds were the garbage collectors of their day. No self-respecting parent wanted their child to grow up to be a shepherd. It was considered a bottom-rung career choice that was a dead-end when it came to financial or social advancement.

And yet, more than 3 decades before His Son would actually begin His earthly ministry, God made the sovereign choice to send an angel to this nondescript collection of nameless men. And their divine encounter would be far greater and more spectacular than anything Zechariah and Mary had experienced.

As these men were enduring yet another long and mind-numbing night of shepherding sheep in the middle of nowhere, their world was rocked by the appearance of an angel. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the dark night sky was filled with a bright light that Luke attributes to the glory of the Lord. The entire hillside was lit up like a scene from Friday Night Lights, and this spectacular display left the shepherds in a state of shock and petrified with fear. But the angel quickly addressed their concerns.

“Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12 NLT

Much to the shepherds’ relief, the angel was there to bring them good news. Based on the circumstances, it would have been easy for these men to assume the worst and to think their lives were over. But the angel was there to proclaim joyful news that even lowly, uneducated shepherds would have understood. The heavenly messenger announced the birth of their Savior, someone he described as the Christ. And this message did not escape the shepherds. The Greek word Christ is the equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah. These Jewish shepherds were being told that their Messiah, Lord, and Savior had just been born in the city of David. The long-awaited Messiah of Israel had finally come.

And as if to put an exclamation point of the night’s proceedings, the angel was suddenly joined by a vast, heavenly army. The night sky was filled with a numberless host of angels declaring:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:14 NLT

The angels declare the glory of God because this news was the result of His glory, grace, and goodness. It was God who had chosen to send His Son (John 3:16). This was all the work of God and it had been part of His plan from the very beginning. And with the arrival of His Son, mankind would be able to know true peace for the first time. Jesus was entering a world plagued by sin and marked by turmoil. It was characterized by darkness and under the dominion of the evil one. Jesus would later declare Himself to be the light that illuminates the darkness.

“…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” – Luke 3:19 ESV

His arrival was meant to be good news. But the sad fact is that many would refuse to accept Jesus as the light of God. They would continue to prefer living in the darkness of sin rather than accepting the sin-exposing, life-transforming light of the world.

The heavenly hosts declare that God is offering peace, but only to those with whom he is pleased. This is a somewhat confusing statement that can easily be misunderstood. Are the angels suggesting that God’s peace can be earned? Can sinful men be restored to a right relationship with God by doing righteous acts? A better translation of verse 14 is “peace to men on whom his favor rests” (NIV). With the coming of the Messiah, there would be those who believed in Him as their Savior, but there would be many more who would reject Him. Not all would enjoy the peace He came to offer, but as Jesus Himself said, “whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15 ESV). They can be made right with God through faith in the Son of God. They can enjoy restored peace with God by placing their hope and faith in the Savior sent by God.

Whether the shepherds fully understood what the angels had said is not clear. But they sought to know more and left their sheep in order to verify what the angel had told them. Luke records that the men “went with haste” to Bethlehem where they soon discovered the infant, Jesus. It seems likely that they would have found the surroundings of Jesus’ birth to be a bit incongruous. If He was the Messiah and Savior of Israel, why had He been born in such lowly circumstances? Where were the priests and dignitaries? Why had a host of angels announced His arrival, but no one bothered to show up to welcome Him?

But despite all their questions, these men were impacted by what they had heard and seen, and they began to spread the news of Jesus’ arrival.

the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. – Luke 2:20 ESV

Little did they know that 30 years would pass before anything of significance happened. They probably expected to hear further news of the Messiah’s birth in the days ahead. They must have assumed that word would get out and the arrival of the Savior of Israel would begin to spread. But while their story of the angelic visitation made people wonder, it would do little to change anything about the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel. The people remained in a state of moral darkness. The shepherds went back to their field and flocks. Life went on as usual. And “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 ESV).

Eight days later, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised, according to the requirements of the Mosaic Law. At that time, they announced the name of their newborn son. While His name was a common one, its meaning holds particular significance: “Yahweh saves.” This Jesus would be unlike any other Jesus. His was more than a name, it was His identity and mission. He was the Savior of Israel and He had come to earth on behalf of His Heavenly Father so that He might redeem and restore those who were enslaved by sin and death. But for the next three decades, the Messiah would live in relative obscurity among those He came to save. The Savior had come, but His mission had not yet begun. The arrival of the Good Shepherd had been announced to a group of earthly shepherds, but it was not yet time for His work to begin. But that day would come soon enough.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He Has Risen

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8 ESV

Jesus was entombed by Joseph and Nicodemus sometime on Friday evening before the official commencement of the Sabbath that began at sundown. And it would not be until early the following Sunday morning that three women returned to the tomb. According to the gospel writers, at least two of these women had watched from a distance as the body of Jesus had been buried, hoping to return once the Sabbath had passed. So, after sunrise on Sunday, morning, they made their way to the tomb. And Mark makes clear the motive behind their early morning expedition.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. – Mark 16:1 ESV

Mark mentions that three women went to the tomb that morning. And the fact that they were carrying spices to anoint the body of Jesus reveals that they were fully expecting to find a corpse, not a risen Christ. They even discussed how they were going to gain access to the tomb because of the massive stone that blocked its entrance. But there were totally unaware of another obstacle that could put a damper on their plans. Matthew records that the Jewish religious leaders made an appeal to Pilate, requesting permission to post armed guards at the gravesite to prevent the disciples from stealing the body and claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:62-66 ESV

But when the women arrived at the scene, the guards were long gone, and the entrance to the tomb was completely open. Matthew provides further details about what had happened just prior to the women’s’ arrival.

…there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV

Once the guards came to their senses, they must have fled from the scene. Matthew records that they ran straight to the Sanhedrin with news of what had happened.

…some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’” – Matthew 28:11-13 ESV

So, by the time the women got to the gravesite, they found the tomb unguarded and unsealed. According to John, Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive on the scene, and  “she went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  (John 20:2-3 NLT). But the other women were shocked to find an angel guarding the entrance to the tomb. Sensing their fear and apprehension, the angel spoke to them.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. – Matthew 28:5-6 NLT

Fearfully, the women entered the tomb and encountered a second angel who provided them further insight and instructions.

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” – Mark 16:6-7 ESV

And Luke reveals that this very same angel gently chastised the women for their lack of belief. He reminded them that Jesus had clearly predicted that all these things would happen.

“Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” – Luke 24:5-7 NLT

Their mournful trip to the tomb and the burial spices they carried in their arms provided ample evidence that they had not believed what Jesus had said. They had come expecting to find a dead body. But instead, they were greeted by two angels and the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. And it all proved too much for these frightened women to handle. Mark records that “they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 NLT).

But Matthew reveals that it wasn’t long before the reality of what had happened set in. Their fear was turned to joy.

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. – Matthew 28:8 NLT

And they were in for one more unexpected surprise. As they eagerly made their way to tell the disciples the good news, Jesus Himself appeared to them.

…as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” – Matthew 28:9-10 NLT

The angel had reported that Jesus had risen from the dead. But up until this moment, the news was nothing more than a rumor. Other than the empty tomb, they had no evidence or proof. And John reveals that the women weren’t the only ones who would have a difficult time grasping the significance of what had taken place. He reports that Mary, upon finding the tomb empty, ran to tell the disciples what she had seen. And what she had to tell them was less-than-encouraging news.

“They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” – John 20:2 NLT

Peter and John made a mad dash to the tomb, with John arriving first. “He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings” (John 20:5-7 NLT). Eventually, John got up the courage to enter the tomb, “and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9 NLT).

The two disciples left the scene, leaving Mary Magdalene alone at the graveside. With tears in her eyes, she peered into the empty tomb, only to find it occupied by the two angels. When they inquired about her tears, Mary replied, “they have taken away my Lord,…and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:13 NLT).

Even the presence of the angels did nothing to assuage Mary’s doubt and depression. Jesus was gone, and so were all her hopes. But as she turned to leave, she was confronted by another “stranger” who, noting her tears, gently asked, “Who are you looking for?”

And Mary, assuming this man might have had something to do with the missing body of Jesus, said to him, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him” (John 20:15 NLT). But much to her surprise, this man was not a gardener, but her resurrected Lord and Savior. Jesus had risen from the dead, and He revealed Himself to her. She was beside herself with joy and disbelief. This was all too good to be true. But it was also too good to keep to herself, so Jesus commanded her to take the news of His resurrection to the disciples, which she promptly did. And when she found them, she joyfully declared to them her exciting news: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18 NLT).

Jesus was alive. And that unbelievable message would begin to spread among His followers, leaving some of them beside themselves with joy, while others wrestled with disbelief and doubt. The impossible had taken place. The one who had died and been buried had been restored to life. Their martyred Messiah had risen from the grave. Death had been defeated. And over the next few days, their risen Lord and Savior was going to repeatedly reveal Himself to them so that they might know and believe that He had conquered death and truly was who He had always claimed to be: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A False Assumption and a Faulty Conclusion

18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.” Mark 12:18-27 ESV

Driven by their mutual hatred for Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians had set aside their long-standing differences and joined forces in a vain attempt to bring His ministry to an end. But they had failed. They had tried to expose Jesus as a political insurrectionist who stood opposed to the Roman government and its excessive taxation of the people of Israel. But these men had misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom. It was not of this world. He had not come to free Israel from slavery to Rome, but from slavery to sin and death. And His mission was spiritual in nature and not political. 

When the Pharisees and Herodians returned to the Sanhedrin and reported the results of their less-than-successful mission, they were replaced by a contingent of Sadducees. These men would form the second phase of their well-orchestrated attack on Jesus. The Sadducees were a powerful religious/political sect made up of the wealthy and influential upper class of Israel. They held the majority of the 70 seats in the Sanhedrin and controlled much of what happened in and around the temple. Their aristocratic mindset caused them to disdain the common man and to elevate themselves as members of the religious and political elite.

In order to preserve their superior status within the nation, the Sadducees had become reluctant partners with Rome, willingly accepting their presence as a necessary evil. Compromise with Rome allowed them to maintain their control over the nation of Israel. The Sadducees were essentially a political party that dabbled in religion. And while they expressed strong belief in the books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy), they rejected many of the established doctrines of the Hebrew religion.

For instance, they denied any resurrection of the dead. And this led them to reject the concept of an afterlife. They had concluded that the soul perishes at death, so this eliminated any idea of rewards or penalties. Therefore, in their theology, there was no heaven or hell. And to top it all off, they discounted any belief in an invisible spiritual realm populated by demons and angels. In a sense, they were the religious progressives of their day, espousing liberal views on a wide range of important doctrines that put them at odds with the more traditional Pharisees.

But since the Pharisees and Herodians had failed in their mission to entrap Jesus, the more liberally minded Sadducees were given their chance. And they approached Jesus with a very carefully concocted and convoluted story that was meant to expose His more conservative and antiquated religious views. These men knew that the majority of the peasant class also clung to the more traditional views on the doctrines of the afterlife and resurrection. So, they made up a hypothetical story that was meant to reveal the absurdity of these beliefs.

But like the Pharisees and Herodians who preceded them, the Sadducees were going to meet their match in Jesus. While they viewed Him as nothing more than an uneducated peasant from the backwater village of Nazareth, He would prove to be far more knowledgeable of the Scriptures and more than able to defend the doctrines of the resurrection and the afterlife.

And it is important to remember that Jesus had made many comments about eternal life. In fact, Jesus had told Nicodemus, a member of the Pharisees, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). He had offered the Samaritan woman water that would permanently satisfy her thirst and provide her with eternal life.

“…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14 ESV

And most recently, Jesus had told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, that her dead brother would rise again.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

These statements, and others like them, would have made their way back to the Sadducees. Jesus’ persistent claims regarding eternal life and the resurrection of the dead would have infuriated them. So, they decided to use their superior intelligence and vast knowledge of the Scriptures to expose Him as an uneducated fool.

They set up their trap by recounting a well-known law of Moses.

“Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name.”  – Mark 12:19 NLT

They were referring to the levirate law, as outlined in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. This law required that the brother of a man who died without a male heir was obligated to marry his brother’s widow. The primary purpose of the law was to preserve the name of the deceased and to prevent the widow from becoming destitute.

But in an attempt to expose the ridiculous nature of belief in the resurrection, they created a convoluted and highly unlikely story. It involved a woman who ends up marrying seven different brothers, each of whom dies unexpectedly and prematurely, leaving her a widow without a male heir. Their strange tale ends with the death of the woman who had the unfortunate burden of being widowed seven different times. And they summarize their story with a question:

“So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.” – Mark 12:23 NLT

You can almost see the smug expressions on their faces as they drop this bombshell on the unsuspecting Rabbi from Nazareth. They had Him. There was no way He would be able to answer this confusing conundrum and maintain His naive belief in the resurrection.

Little did they know that their whole story was built around a false premise. Jesus was about to expose their ignorance regarding the doctrine of the resurrection and it was because they did not understand God”s Word.

“Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.” – Mark 12:24-25 NLT

Jesus gave them a one-two combination that must have been a devastating blow to their overinflated egos. First, He accused them of not knowing the Scriptures. Then He added that they had no idea of the nature of God’s power. Because they could not fathom the idea of life after death, they had simply discounted it. And in spite of all their careful study of the books of Moses, they had been unable to appreciate the fact that nothing was impossible for God. They worshiped a God of limited power whose only interactions with mankind were relegated to this life.

They were trying to take an earthly-oriented law and apply it to eternal matters. But it was as Jesus had told Nicodemus: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12 ESV). These men were incapable of understanding eternal truths. They were trying to comprehend the ways of God by looking through the cloudy lenses of their earthly perspective. And, had he been around, the apostle Paul would have told them, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33 NLT).

Their limited understanding had led to a limited view of God. They could not conceive of an afterlife because they viewed it as implausible and impossible. They were intimately familiar with death and probably feared it. And since they could not see what lie beyond the grave, they simply refused to acknowledge that anything was there. This life was all there was. But the whole story they had concocted had been based on misconceptions and misinterpretations of the Scriptures. Jesus informed them that there would be no marriage in the afterlife. So, it really didn’t matter how many husbands the fictitious widow had in this life. There will be no marriage because there will be no need to procreate. By virtue of His vast power, God will give resurrected and glorified bodies to all those who live in His eternal Kingdom. Men and women will no longer be expected to bring new life into the world. Their God-given order to fulfill the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply will no longer apply.

And Jesus adds another not-so-subtle point of clarification that was meant to blow holes in one of the Sadducees’ other errant beliefs. He states that, in their eternal state, men and women will be much more like angels than human beings. They will be divine creatures who have the capacity to live in unbroken fellowship with God the Father for eternity. And like the angels, they will focus all their time and energy on His glory and offering Him their ceaseless praise.

Jesus ends His response with a lesson on the Old Testament Scriptures. He takes them back to the writings of Moses, recounting the story of the burning bush as recorded in the book of Exodus. It was there in the Midianite wilderness, that God appeared to Moses and called him to be the deliverer of His people. Out of the burning bush, God had declared to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6 ESV). By the time Moses had come along, all three of these men had been long dead, and yet God refers to Himself as their God – present tense, not past tense. Jesus was trying to reveal to these so-called experts in the Pentateuch what they had missed. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not gone, they had just been relocated. They were in the presence of their God.

Like the Pharisees and Herodian before them, the Sadducees failed. They proved no match for Jesus, the Son of God. They had put all their hope in this life, so when Jesus appeared offering the gift of eternal life, they could not bring themselves to believe what He had to say. But the doctrine of the resurrection was a central tenet of Jesus’ teaching. And it would be His own resurrection from the dead that would give His offer of eternal life validity. The apostle Paul summed it up well.

…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:13-20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Good News and Bad News.

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Revelation 14:6-13 ESV

John is shown yet another vision or scene. He starts out this section with the familiar “then I saw”, which in Greek is kai eidon. It signals a change in content marked by a change in what John is seeing. He sees “another” angel, which means another of the same kind. This is another and different angel other than the seven introduced in verse 2, and it will be the first of six angels introduced in the rest of this chapter. This angel is described by John as flying in mid-heaven and proclaiming “an eternal gospel.” When we hear the term “gospel”, we most often associate with good news and the proclamation of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ. But in this context, it has to do with God’s coming salvation, but His judgment as well. It is eternal in that the impact of its message is ageless and not restricted by time. It was good news to the believers living in John’s day and remains good news to all of us hearing its message today. The angel is proclaiming the good news “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (Revelation 14:6 ESV). He is flying through mid-heaven, so evidently, as he circumnavigates the globe, all on earth will hear what he has to say. And the content of his message is very specific, leaving no doubt as to what God demands.

“Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” – Revelation 14:7 ESV

He calls on the people of earth to fear God. They are to reverence Him for who He is. He is God Almighty, the God of the universe and the creator of all things. In his book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote of the kind of fear this angel was demanding.

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV

Notice that the fear of God is accompanied by obedience to His commands. This angel is letting the inhabitants of the world know God demands obeisance and obedience, reverence and submission to His will. And that will require that they give Him glory, repenting of their wrong perceptions regarding Him. They must turn from worshiping the Antichrist and acknowledge God as the one true God, who alone is worthy of glory and honor. They must worship Him alone as their God. And the motivation for their worship is His coming judgment. And as we will see in the remaining chapters of John’s book, there will be those who hear and heed this message, bowing down before God in worship.

Who will not fear, O Lord,
    and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
    All nations will come
    and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed. – Revelation 15:4 ESV

But there will also be those who refuse to listen to the angel’s message, rejecting his call to worship the one true God.

…and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. – Revelation 16:9 ESV

People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. – Revelation 16:11 ESV

…and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. – Revelation 16:21 ESV

As has been the case throughout the centuries, the good news regarding God and His offer of salvation from the wrath to come will be rejected by many. They will curse Him rather than repent and turn to Him. Instead of worshiping and glorifying Him, they will utter blasphemous curses against Him.

This angel is followed by a second one who is proclaiming yet another message.

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” – Revelation 14:8 ESV

This is a message of premonition, revealing what is about to happen. As of the moment John heard this angel’s message, Babylon had not yet fallen. But it would. It was inevitable and unavoidable. God was going to judge Babylon. And that begs the question: What exactly does the angel mean by “Babylon”? Is it the literal city of Babylon or a more figurative reference to something else? The answer is probably, “Yes.” It appears that during the period of the tribulation, the ancient city of Babylon will be restored and reassert itself as a global player during the end times. It will also become synonymous with the political and religious powers of the day. Throughout the Scriptures, the name, “Babylon” has become closely associated with ungodliness and rebellion against God, ever since the fall of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).

God announces the coming destruction of Babylon. Not only will the city itself be destroyed, but all that it represents, including the religious and political systems that arise out of the city. The angel describes Babylon as an immoral woman, who has seduced the people of the world, enticing them to commit spiritual adultery against God. Chapter 17 will deal with the guilt and well-deserved destruction of Babylon in greater detail.

“Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” – Revelation 17:1-2 ESV

Then John sees yet another angel, whose message is directed at all those who chose to take the mark of the beast or Antichrist and worship him. And it is difficult to see the content of this message as good news, because the angel clearly states to all who bear the mark of the beast, “he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10 ESV). As bad as this sounds, it is not a reference to hell or the Lake of Fire. This is going to be some form of temporal punishment meted out by God on all those who rejected His offer of salvation and turned to the Antichrist as their false messiah. These people will suffer unparalleled pain and suffering and it will be in the very presence of Christ and the holy angels. Their suffering will take place while they are forced to look on the one who offered His life as a sacrifice for their sins. But they rejected Him.

John is told that their torment will be eternal, “forever and ever.” They will have no rest from their punishment. And this stands in direct contrast to the statement made by Jesus. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV). Jesus came to earth, offering weary sinners with eternal rest and comfort. And the first angel offered them a form of rest, complete with “springs of water”, but they refused. Now, they will “have no rest, day or night.”

But this angel has a call to all of those who have placed their faith in Christ during the great tribulation. This includes the 144,000. They are to remain faithful to the end. All of this is to be good news to them, because it reveals that their God is going to deal justly and righteously with all the injustice in the world. Their suffering will soon end. Their persecution as a result of their faith will be eliminated once and for all. The tables will turn. So, they are called to endure. To remain strong and not lose faith. God is going to act on their behalf.

Finally, John hears a voice from heaven, proclaiming a message to all those who will suffer and die during the great tribulation. He is told to put this message in writing, so that it will last.

“Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” – Revelation 14:13 ESV

This is both a warning and a blessing. John is being told, in no uncertain terms, that there will be many believers who die in the remaining days of the great tribulation. They will die as a result of their faith in Jesus. Their faithfulness to Him will merit the wrath of the Antichrist. Their refusal to accept the mark of the beast and to worship the Antichrist will bring about not only their persecution but, ultimately, their deaths. But they are told that they will be blessed. They will receive rest from their labors. This is not saying these believers will receive blessing or salvation because of their labors. It is not promoting a kind of works-salvation. It is simply saying that their efforts to remain faithful on this earth during the dark days of the tribulation will be followed by the blessing of eternal rest. Their good deeds will follow them in the sense that they are the proof of their salvation. Jesus refers to this in His Olivet Discourse.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ – Matthew 25:24-40 ESV

These believers, living during the final days of the tribulation, will exhibit their faith through acts of kindness to others. They will reveal their transformed hearts through clear signs of transformed living. Even at the risk of great persecution, they will show love to others. It is not their acts of kindness that will save them, but those acts will be the proof that they have been saved. And their visible expressions of love for others will be tangible proof of their love for Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Free To Obey.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. – Galatians 3:19-22 ESV

There’s that word, “offspring” again. Paul continues to unpack the true meaning behind Genesis 22:18 where God made His promise to Abraham: “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” According to Paul, the “offspring” to whom God referred in His promise was Jesus. It would be through Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. And the law was given by God after He had made the promise to Abraham. Why? In order to expose the extent of mankind’s sinfulness. God gave His chosen people the law “because of transgressions.” The law clearly articulated God’s holy and righteous expectations of men. There could be no debate. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7 ESV). Prior to the giving of the law, man could have rationalized away his sin or simply claimed ignorance. But the law made it perfectly clear what God expected and demanded of mankind, especially His chosen people. In Romans, Paul indicates that the very presence of the law acted as an impetus to sin, not causing man to sin, but provoking man’s sin nature to rebel against it. When the law said, “Do not…”, man’s sin nature automatically and reflexively responded, “But I will…”. Paul went on to say, “sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:8 ESV). Indwelling sin, which opposes God, stands opposed to His holy law. It rejects the law and entices man’s fleshly, sinful nature to disobey it. Like a parent telling their child not to touch a hot stove, the prohibition creates in the child an even deeper desire and curiosity to do that which has been denied.

In verse 19, Paul says the law “was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” Moses provides us with some insight into the meaning behind Paul’s statement. Just prior to his death, Moses gave a blessing to the people of Israel, saying, “The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand” (Deuteronomy 33:2 ESV). Angels played a mediatory role, while Moses played an intermediatory role. The law was given and it placed responsibilities on God and upon man. God was obligated and committed to bless when men obeyed His law.

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

But He was also required to curse or punish when man disobeyed.

But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

In contrast, when it came to the Abrahamic covenant, the promise God made to Him regarding his “offspring”, the sole responsibility of the covenant fell upon God. There was no intermediary. It was a unilateral covenant. The promise was made by God and would be fulfilled by Him. Moses could add nothing to the equation. He was simply required to believe God, and Paul writes in Romans, “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:20-22 ESV).

The law did not stand opposed to or somehow replace the promise of God. It was not intended to be a substitute for the promise. And it was never designed to produce in man a righteousness that could restore him to a right relationship with God. What it did was show men just how sinful and helpless they really were. Whether motivated by genuine love for or fear of God, men were incapable of keeping His righteous decrees. The law simply confirmed that they were law breakers.

Paul tells us the law was designed to be temporary in nature. It was to be in effect until the promise was fulfilled and “the offspring” came. With the coming of Jesus and His death on the cross, the law’s binding hold on man was released. Jesus became the fulfillment of the law, having obediently kept every single requirement. He did what no other man had ever done. And His sinless perfection made Him the perfect, blameless sacrifice that God required to atone for the sins of mankind. Jesus paid it all. His sinless, unselfish sacrifice of His own life satisfied the just demands of a holy God.

In Romans, Paul writes of the unbelievable impact of Jesus’ death on our behalf:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. – Romans 5:6-9 ESV

Law-keeping is not the answer to man’s sin problem. The law was never intended to provide salvation. It was designed to show man His sin and place him under God’s holy, just condemnation. The law was not even capable of driving men to God. As Paul indicated, it actually inflamed man’s sin nature and drove him further from God. Law-breakers hate the law. They look for ways to disobey it and get around it. They see the law as oppressive and unnecessary. But Jesus came to free men from the law. He came to provide a means by which they could be made right with God apart from the law. And Paul makes it very clear that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. We didn’t see our need for a Savior and run to Him. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were blinded by our own sin natures and by Satan himself. And yet God, in His grace, opened our eyes to see the glory of the offer of the gift of His Son’s death. The scales fell off our eyes and His Spirit gave us the supernatural ability to say yes to that which we, if left to ourselves, we would have always said no.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV

Even our faith is a gift from God, otherwise it would be a work. It is not our doing, but a gift from God.  Our salvation is the sovereign work of God, from beginning to end. As when Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, shouting, “Lazarus, come forth!”, God calls us out of the death and darkness of sin, providing us with not only life but the capacity to obey. That is truly amazing grace.

Subjected For Our Sake.

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. – Hebrews 2:5-9 ESV

The longer Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, was gone from the face of the earth, the easier it became for the believers living when this letter was written to forget about Him. It was a case of the old adage: out of sight, out of mind. Most, if not all, of the recipients of this letter would never have seen Jesus face to face. They would have come to faith in Him some time after His death and resurrection. And it would appear, based on the author’s emphasis on drifting away, that there were those who were having second thoughts regarding either the deity or exclusivity of Jesus. They were running the risk of taking lightly what Jesus had done for them, which is why the author warned them not to “neglect such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3 ESV).

They say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but that is not always the case. And it most certainly did not seem to be the case in this instance. This entire letter is a defense of Jesus – His divinity, incarnation, mission, message, sacrifice, ascension, exaltation, and coming return. Using the Old Testament Scriptures to point the way, the writer presents Jesus as the divine agent of redemption for mankind. Quoting from Psalm 8:4-6, he writes, “You made him for a little while lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:7 ESV). Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of the universe, left His place at the right hand of God the Father and took on human flesh. He humbled Himself by becoming a man in order that He might accomplish what no man had ever been able to do: Live in sinless, selfless obedience to the commands of God.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.  Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

But the author of Hebrews wants his readers to know that Jesus, while He was a man, was also fully divine. He was God in human flesh. He was the God-man. And after He had accomplished His Father’s will and given His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, He was raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit of God and returned to His rightful place at His Father’s side. His time on this earth, when He was made “a little lower than the angels,” was short. As a result of His accomplishment of His Father’s will, God “crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet” (Hebrews 2:7-8 ESV). Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians:

Though he was God,he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:6-11 ESV

Jesus may be out of sight, but He is far from out of control. And He should never be out of mind. We read that, “in putting everything in subjection to him, he [God] left nothing outside of his control” (Hebrews 2:8 ESV). Yes, it’s true that, from our perspective, it would appear that some things are outside of His control. The world does not appear to be living in submission and obedience to Christ. But we must always remember that God’s plan in not yet complete. Christ’s job is not yet finished. When He said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:20 ESV), He was speaking of His God-given mission to become the atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He had accomplished that part of His assignment. But He is not done. He is still at work. And one day He is coming back to fully complete the assignment given to Him by His Father from before the foundation of the world.

One day, everything and everyone will be under His subjection. He will rule and reign over all. He will be King of kings and Lord of lords. But we must never grow cavalier or complacent regarding His subjection on our behalf. It was His suffering that led to His glorification. “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death” (Hebrews 2:9 ESV). He suffered for our sake. Paul puts it this way, “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Romans 4:25 NLT). His resurrection and exaltation made possible our justification. We are right with God because Jesus satisfied the just demands of His heavenly Father. He fully paid the debt we owed with His own life. And God raised Him from the dead as proof of His acceptance of that payment. By the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for everyone, so that we might have life – eternal life.

Our Incomparable Christ.

But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”

And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? – Hebrews 1:8-14 ESV

Angels are ministers. They are servants of God. Like the wind, they blow according to His will. They are worshipers and are never to be worshiped by men. But the Son of God is different. As the author expressed earlier, “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God” and “he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command” (Romans 1:3 NLTa). He holds a “place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven” (Romans 1:3b NLT). And as a result, “the Son is far greater than the angels” (Romans 1:4 NLT).

Using the Old Testament Scriptures as a proof-text for his thoughts, the author of Hebrews presents the Son of God as having royal pedigree, ruling over an everlasting kingdom that is marked by righteousness. He is eternal, having always existed as God and having no beginning or end. Rather than having been created, He was the creator of all that exists. And, as God, His nature is unchanging. The fact that He came to earth and took on human flesh in no way diminished or altered His divinity in any way. He sits at the right hand of God the Father, ruling in righteousness over all that exists. For the writer of Hebrews, the deity of Jesus is essential and non-negotiable. He is the Son of God and, as such, He shares the nature and character of God. He is royal, immutable, all-powerful, sovereign, righteous and, ultimately, the victor in the battle over sin, death and Satan.

Part of what the writer of Hebrews is going to try and do is promote the superiority of the new covenant over the old one. And since the average Jew believed the old covenant was brought to them from God by angels, they placed a very high value on angels. But the point of this letter is to establish the superiority of Christ in all things. He is greater than angels. The new covenant in His blood is superior to the old covenant which was based on works. His service to men through the offering of His life as a payment for sin is far superior to any service the angels may offer up.

The angels, while important, pale in significance when compared with Christ. In fact, they exist “to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14 ESV). They serve God’s people. And we serve Christ. He is the head of the body of Christ. He alone deserves our worship and full attention. Angels could bring “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10 ESV). But they could not save anyone. The could announce the arrival of Jesus on the scene, but He would still have to sacrifice His own life to make salvation possible to men. And while angels were the ones who told the women at Jesus’ empty tomb, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6 ESV), they were simply messengers of some very good news. Without Jesus, there would have been no news at all. Apart from Jesus, salvation would be impossible for all men. Had Jesus not died and rose again, there would be no victory for anyone. But Jesus DID come. He DID die. He WAS resurrected from death to life. He HAS ascended back to heaven. And He WILL one day return.

Day 127 – Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53

No Other Way.

Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53

“But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” – Matthew 26:56 NLT

It had to happen this way. The moment had finally arrived for Jesus to be arrested and turned over the authorities. This would set in motion a chain of events that would usher in His death. To the disciples it was a nightmare come true. It was their worst fears realized. Their Messiah was being arrested and, to make matters worse, it was at the hands of the religious leaders. The men who had come to arrest Jesus were not Roman soldiers, but members of the Temple Guard who answered to Caiaphas, the high priest. They were shocked at what they witnessed happening. They offered to put up a fight. One of them even took a sword and attacked a slave of the high priest, slashing off his ear. We know from John’s account, that this was Peter, always the impulsive one. It’s interesting that he attacked the one person there who was probably unarmed. Peter didn’t go after one of the members of the Temple Guard. But his action reveals how he felt about what was going on. This was not what he or the other disciples were expecting. It was not how they had dreamed this grand adventure with Jesus was going to turn out.

But Jesus viewed the night’s events from a different perspective. He told Peter to put away his sword and assured him that He didn’t need His help. “Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” (Matthew 26:53 NLT). To Peter’s shock and dismay, Jesus was revealing that this was NOT a case of helplessness or powerlessness. Jesus was not being caught off guard or left with no other options. No, this entire evening was exactly as it was meant to be. Jesus could have called down the angelic forces to defend Him, but that was NOT part of God’s plan. Remember, just a few minutes before in the garden, Jesus had prayed three different times, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Matthew 26:39 NLT). Every single aspect of this night’s events were part of a well-orchestrated plan by God. They had been prophesied by God centuries earlier. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before his shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away” (Isaiah 53:7-8 NLT). Jesus made it clear that if He chose to call down angels and wipe out those who had come to arrest Him, it would prevent the fulfilling of the plan. “But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?” (Matthew 26:54 NLT). Even the timing of His arrest was part of God’s plan. They had had every opportunity to arrest Jesus before, but it was meant to happen on this night and in this manner. “But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures” (Matthew 26:56 NLT).

From this moment on, every single aspect of Jesus’ arrest, His trials, beatings, crucifixion and death, were all in fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan. This was not a last-minute, knee-jerk reaction on God’s part. He was not responding out of desperation or attempting to counter the actions of the religious leaders. He was not caught off guard. He was behind every move being made, including the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. What was about to happen in the coming hours was fully under the control of our all-powerful, all-knowing God. He had planned the following sequence of events from before the time when the world was made. Because He knew this would be the only way to redeem mankind to Himself. Once mankind had sinned against Him, there would be no other way to restore them to a right relationship with Himself, unless a high price was paid. His perfectly holy, righteous and sinless Son would have to take on human flesh, live among those He had created and yet who had turned against Him, and then die in their place on a cross. He would take on their sins and the punishment they deserved at the hands of a fully just and righteous Judge, providing them with a way to be reconciled with God. It had to happen this way. As repulsive and repugnant as it all seems to be, it was the one and only solution to man’s dilemma. And Peter had tried to stop it. This was not the first time he had tried to stand in the way of God’s plan. From the first moment Jesus had begun to tell the disciples that He was going to have to die, Peter had taken Him aside and reprimanded Him. He had told Jesus, “Heaven forbid, Lord. This will never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22 NLT). And Jesus responded angrily, “Get away from me Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:23 NLT). By attempting to prevent what was clearly part of God’s plan, Peter was playing into the hands of the enemy. Satan would love nothing better than to prevent Jesus from fulfilling His God-given ministry. But Satan, because he is not all-knowing, had no idea that killing Jesus was part of God’s plan. He thought the demise of Jesus would be the end of the story. But even he had become a pawn in the divine plan of God. It had to be this way. It had to happen just as God had ordained it to happen. There was no plan B. And Jesus knew that His arrest was simply the first stage of the plan. There would be more to come. It would get worse before it got better. But it WOULD get better. Because God had a plan.

Father, it is so easy to forget that You ALWAYS have a plan. You are never caught off guard or surprised by anything that happens on this planet. You are in full control and are never in heaven wringing Your hands in worry. Never let me forget that. Give me the ability to see world events through Your eyes and not my own. Don’t let me be like Peter and see things from merely a human point of view. Help me see Your perspective.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org