Doubting God’s Presence

1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” – Exodus 17:1-7 ESV

Since leaving Egypt, the Israelites have displayed a clear pattern of behavior when encountering what they believe to be unexpected and undesirable difficulties. As soon as things take a perceived turn for the worse, they express their disapproval to Moses and Aaron. At Marah, they discovered that the water was undrinkable, so they took their dissatisfaction with the situation to the two brothers.

So the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What can we drink?”Exodus 15:24 NLT

Rather than reprimand them for their mistreatment of His appointed leaders, God miraculously transformed the bitter water of Marah into fresh drinking water. But He also gave them a warning about their ongoing behavior. He demanded that they begin to do what is right and obey His commands or they could find themselves suffering some of the same plagues that befell the Egyptians. His constant care for them came with conditions.

Not long after that event, as the people made their way through the desolate wilderness of Sin, their supply of unleavened bread ran out, and their growing hunger caused them to lash out in frustration yet again.

The entire company of Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger!” – Exodus 16:2-3 NLT

Once again, God intervened and performed yet another miracle. He provided them with quail each evening and a bread-like substance every morning that would supply all their nutritional requirements for the rest of their journey. But just days later, when the people arrived at a place called Rephidim, they found another reason to complain. There was no water. It seems that the water they had gathered at Marah had run out and now Moses and Aaron had led them to yet another desolate and dry spot that provided no hope of quenching their thirst. So…

…the people were very thirsty there for water, and they murmured against Moses and said, “Why in the world did you bring us up from Egypt—to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” – Exodus 17:3 NLT

In each successive encounter, their complaints become increasingly darker and more desperate. Their inflammatory rhetoric reflects their growing disillusionment with the entire enterprise. They expressed their regret of having ever left Egypt and accused Moses and Aaron of leading them on a virtual death march into the God-forsaken wilderness.

The further they got from Egypt and the closer they got to Canaan, they began to second-guess the leadership of Moses and the reliability of Yahweh. Despite all that God had done for them, they questioned the very nature of His “deliverance” by declaring it to be headed to certain failure. In their minds, each difficulty they faced provided further evidence that this problem-plagued trip to the promised land had been a huge mistake.

Driven by thirst and fear, they accused Moses of trying to kill them. Their deliverer had become their executioner. But what they failed to understand was that Moses was simply following directions. He was being guided by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. These manifestations of God’s presence were always with them and had been guiding them all along the way. Their arrival in Marah had not been a mistake. God had led them to a place where the water was undrinkable. He had known all along that their bread would eventually run out and their hunger would cause them to question His goodness.

God was not lost. He had not become disoriented in the trackless wilderness of Sin. He knew exactly where He was going and what He was doing. He was testing His people to see if they would trust Him. He was placing them in situations that were designed to expose their doubts and fears. And here at Rephidim, He provided them with yet another test of their confidence in Him. There was no water. But the pillar of cloud remained at the head of their column. As they made camp, the divine presence of God was visible for all to see. He had not left them or forsaken them.

But the people had their doubts. They could not understand why this God of Moses and Aaron would allow them to suffer. If this Yahweh was so powerful and great and if He truly was with them, why did they keep ending up in less-than-satisfactory situations? Did He not know that Rephadim had no water source? But rather than take their questions and concerns to God, they turned on Moses and Aaron, and their anger was so intense that Moses feared for his life.

“What will I do with this people?—a little more and they will stone me!” – Exodus 17:4 NLT

But, once again, God intervened. He gave Moses the following instructions:

“Go over before the people; take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go. I will be standing before you there on the rock in Horeb, and you will strike the rock, and water will come out of it so that the people may drink.” – Exodus 17:5-6 NLT

God could have acted on His own, but He chose to use His servant Moses as the means of addressing their perceived problem. As the elders looked on, the pillar of cloud moved from the camp and repositioned itself above a particular rock. In a desert filled with rocks, this relocation of God’s divine presence provided Moses with a clear indication as to which rock he was to strike. Not just any rock would do. In fact, God clearly indicates that His presence will reside over “the rock” in Horeb.

This rock had already been set apart by God as the source of their sustenance. He had known all along that Rephidim would be an arid region devoid of water. But “the rock” was already in place and ready to deliver what the people needed. So, when Moses obeyed the command of the Lord and struck the rock, water poured from it in a steady stream. That ordinary-looking rock became a source of life-giving refreshment in the midst of a barren wilderness. And it became a symbol of God’s salvation that, centuries later, the apostle Paul would use as a foreshadowing of Jesus

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 NLT

This divine deliverance would be repeated multiple times during the peoples’ wilderness journey. God delivering water from a rock would become a symbol of His providential care and life-sustaining power. Even in the midst of a waterless desert, God could provide salvation from the most unlikely of sources. But would the people trust Him? Would they stop judging His character based on the nature of their surroundings?

God knew that the real problem with the people was not a lack of water, but a lack of trust. Despite the pillar of cloud, the manna and quail, and the miracle at Marah, the Israelites continued to doubt the presence of God.

they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” – Exodus 17:7 ESV

And to commemorate this place of testing, Moses gave it two different names: Massah and Meribah. Massah means “place of testing” and Meribah means “place of murmuring or discontentment.” It was a place of testing because the people tested the patience of God. But it was also a place where God tested the faith of His people and, sadly, they failed. Rather than recalling God’s past provision in times of difficulty, they murmured and complained. Instead of trusting in God’s proven ability to provide for all their needs, they allowed present circumstances to raise doubts about His power and presence.

Reluctantly and rather slowly, they were learning to trust in God. He was sufficient to supply all their needs. There was no circumstance too dire, no enemy too great, or difficulty too large that God could not overcome. But that lesson would take years for the Israelites to learn.

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.

Behold the Lamb!

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

14 “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. 17 And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. 18 In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.”

21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. 24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25 And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord‘s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

28 Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. – Exodus 12:1-28 ESV

What happens next is most significant. God had chosen to redeem His people from their slavery and suffering in Egypt but before that event could take place, He needed to further separate them from the Egyptians. From the time they had arrived in the land of Egypt nearly four centuries earlier, they had lived in the land of Goshen. And during the outpouring of the last nine plagues, God had provided divine protection for His people, preventing them from experiencing the vast majority of the judgments that befell the Egyptians.

When the swarms of flies invaded the land, God somehow sealed off Goshen.

The Egyptian homes will be filled with flies, and the ground will be covered with them. But this time I will spare the region of Goshen, where my people live. – Exodus 8:21-22 NLT

God told Pharoah, “I will make a clear distinction between my people and your people. This miraculous sign will happen tomorrow” (Exodus 8:23 NLT). The Israelites and their livestock would be spared the debilitating effects of the biting flies. No pain would be felt. No discomfort would be experienced with the borders of Goshen.

With the fifth plague, God continued His divine preservation policy. Moses informed Pharaoh that a deadly disease would inflict all the livestock belonging to the Egyptians but all the livestock in Goshen would be spared.

“…the Lord will again make a distinction between the livestock of the Israelites and that of the Egyptians. Not a single one of Israel’s animals will die! – Exodus 12:4 NLT

The seventh plague brought more judgment upon the land of Egypt, in the form of a massive hailstorm that destroyed virtually all the vegetation in Egypt. “The only place without hail was the region of Goshen, where the people of Israel lived” (Exodus 9:26 NLT). God’s personally placed a dome of protection over the land of Goshen, preventing the hail and lightning from so much as touching a single leaf or stalk of grain.

With the eighth plague, an apocalyptic infestation of locusts followed the hailstorm and it would appear that the land of Goshen was spared yet again because God was very specific concerning the target of the locusts.

Raise your hand over the land of Egypt to bring on the locusts. Let them cover the land and devour every plant that survived the hailstorm.” – Exodus 10:12 NLT). Since the hail only fell outside the borders of Goshen, the locusts only attacked those plants that had survived the damage done by the storm. The land of the Israelites was shielded and their crops were passed over by the locusts.

Then when the ninth plague sank the land of Egypt in a deep and impenetrable darkness, the land of Goshen was drenched with sunlight.

“…darkness covered the entire land of Egypt for three days. During all that time the people could not see each other, and no one moved. But there was light as usual where the people of Israel lived. – Exodus 10:22-23 NLT

Now, in chapter 12, Moses records yet another instance of God setting His people apart for special favor. He was instructed by God to institute a new religious practice among the people of Israel that was to become a permanent and perpetual ritual.

“From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you. Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household. – Exodus 12:2-3 NLT

According to God’s instructions, this lamb “must be a one–year–old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no physical defects” (Exodus 12:5 NLT). This distinction ensured that this was an animal of great worth. Its purity would have qualified it to serve as breeding stock that could help to improve the overall quality of the flock. But this lamb was to be set apart for a completely different purpose.

On a predetermined evening, all of the families living in Goshen were to “slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight” (Exodus 12:6 NLT). Then they were “to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal” (Exodus 12:7 NLT). Having completed this rather strange ritual, the people were to wait inside their homes until God had sent his tenth and final plague upon the people of Egypt.

This time, the land of Goshen would not be spared, but the people living in Goshen could be exempt from God’s judgment as long as they obeyed His command.

The tenth and final plague would bring death to the people of Egypt. God would take the life of every firstborn, in every household in the land of Egypt, including that of Pharaoh. The loss would be significant. No family would escape this outpouring of God’s judgment unless they followed God’s plan. And that plan probably sounded a little far-fetched, a little bit strange, even to the people of God.

They were to take a 0ne-year-old lamb or goat, the best of their flock, without blemish, sacrifice it, then sprinkle its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their homes. Then they were to remain inside their homes so that the angel of God would pass over their homes, sparing their firstborn from death. This plan also included odd instructions concerning unleavened bread and the purging of their homes of all leaven. But all those who obeyed God’s instructions would be spared the loss of their firstborn. Those that did not would be visited with death and loss.

In his commentary on Exodus, John Gill has this to say about the Passover lamb. “This lamb was a type of Christ, who is therefore said to be our Passover sacrificed for us, comparable to a lamb for his innocence and harmlessness, for his meekness, humility, and patience, for usefulness both for food and raiment, as well as for being fit for sacrifice; and who is a lamb without spot and blemish, either of original sin, or actual transgression, holy in his nature, harmless in his life” (John Gill, Exposition on the Entire Bible, The Book of Exodus).

Jesus has done for us what each Passover lamb did for the children of Israel. He died so that His blood could cover our sins.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT

Jesus gave His life so that death would not visit our doorstep. Death was coming to every household in Egypt – regardless of their nationality, status, religious disposition, or moral standing. It was inevitable and unstoppable. But it could be avoided by following God’s of salvation. The same holds true today. Death in the form of eternal separation from God is coming to every household and person who lives today. But that death sentence can be avoided by accepting God’s plan of salvation – the gift of Jesus Christ as our sin substitute.

To many, it sounds odd and even ridiculous that this plan is the only plan. For others, they doubt that death is really coming, so they ignore the offer of salvation. Many think they can save themselves. I am sure that there Israelites who believed the same things during the time of Moses. They refused to believe Moses’ warning. Some decided to do it their way and save themselves. Others thought all this talk of lambs, blood, unleavened bread, and death was silly. They rejected God’s plan of salvation and lived to regret it. They suffered great loss.

But those who obeyed were spared. They were also delivered and blessed. Not only were they able to leave their slavery behind and walk away as free men, but they did so with their pockets full of the treasure of the Egyptians. God had blessed them with abundance – wealth beyond their wildest dreams. But this wealth was for a reason. God had a plan for that plunder. It would be used to build a tabernacle or dwelling place for Him.

As believers, we have been set free, released from slavery to sin, and are able to walk in freedom, thanks to the blood of Jesus Christ. And God has blessed us beyond belief.

How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we belong to Christ. – Ephesians 1:3 NLT

We who were poor are now rich in Christ. He has blessed us and filled us with His Spirit. He has made us His heirs. He has called us His children. We have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We are walking witnesses of His grace, mercy, power, and the truth of His redemptive plan.

Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. – 1 Corinthians 5:7 NLT

Jesus, our Passover Lamb, was sacrificed for us, and we have been set free.

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.

Just As He Promised

13 Thus says the Lord God: “This is the boundary by which you shall divide the land for inheritance among the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph shall have two portions. 14 And you shall divide equally what I swore to give to your fathers. This land shall fall to you as your inheritance.

15 “This shall be the boundary of the land: On the north side, from the Great Sea by way of Hethlon to Lebo-hamath, and on to Zedad, 16 Berothah, Sibraim (which lies on the border between Damascus and Hamath), as far as Hazer-hatticon, which is on the border of Hauran. 17 So the boundary shall run from the sea to Hazar-enan, which is on the northern border of Damascus, with the border of Hamath to the north. This shall be the north side.

18 “On the east side, the boundary shall run between Hauran and Damascus; along the Jordan between Gilead and the land of Israel; to the eastern sea and as far as Tamar. This shall be the east side.

19 “On the south side, it shall run from Tamar as far as the waters of Meribah-kadesh, from there along the Brook of Egypt to the Great Sea. This shall be the south side.

20 “On the west side, the Great Sea shall be the boundary to a point opposite Lebo-hamath. This shall be the west side.

21 “So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel. 22 You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. 23 In whatever tribe the sojourner resides, there you shall assign him his inheritance, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 47:13-23 ESV

In this brief, yet critical, passage, God provides Ezekiel with a detailed description of the tribal land allotment in the Millennial Kingdom. With the people of Israel returning to the land, there will need to be a reassignment of the boundaries that will determine each tribe’s portion of the newly reconstituted nation. Over the centuries, those boundaries have all but been eliminated, and in its current state, the land of Palestine no longer reflects the territorial boundaries that God had given to Moses.

Prior to entering the land of Canaan for the first time, Moses received a detailed description from God as to what the actual boundaries of the “Promised Land” would be.

“Give these instructions to the Israelites: When you come into the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your special possession, these will be the boundaries.” – Numbers 34:2 NLT

What God described to Moses is similar to what He shares with Ezekiel. The exterior boundaries of the Millennial Kingdom will be virtually the same as those of the Promised Land given to the descendants of Abraham. But the actual tribal allotment will look quite different. There is an order to the arrangement of the tribes that sets it apart from the original layout given to Moses. Things appear to be arranged in a more linear/sequential order, with the tribes dispersed from north to south in a very particular pattern. The boundary to the west is “the Great Sea,” which refers to the Mediterranean Sea. The primary boundary to the east is the Jordan River. The southern boundary extends from Kadesh Barnea to the “Brook of Egypt,” which Jewish tradition takes to be a reference to the Nile. To the north, the boundaries will run from the  Mediterranean Sea (Mount Hor) to Hamath to Zedad.

Within these borders, each of the 12 tribes will receive a new allotment of land to occupy, and at the center will be the special holy allotment that will contain the temple compound in Jerusalem. Ezekiel recorded the layout and dimensions of this holy district in chapter 45.

“When you divide the land among the tribes of Israel, you must set aside a section for the Lord as his holy portion. This piece of land will be 8 1⁄3 miles long and 6 2⁄3 miles wide. The entire area will be holy. A section of this land, measuring 875 feet by 875 feet, will be set aside for the Temple. An additional strip of land 87 1⁄2 feet wide is to be left empty all around it. Within the larger sacred area, measure out a portion of land 8 1⁄3 miles long and 3 1⁄3 miles wide. Within it the sanctuary of the Most Holy Place will be located. This area will be holy, set aside for the priests who minister to the Lord in the sanctuary. They will use it for their homes, and my Temple will be located within it. The strip of sacred land next to it, also 8 1⁄3 miles long and 3 1⁄3 miles wide, will be a living area for the Levites who work at the Temple. It will be their possession and a place for their towns.” – Ezekiel 45:1-5 NLT

The tribe of Levi would live within this central section of holy (set apart) land. It would be their portion within the new Millennial Kingdom. But each of the other tribes would receive new allotments, with the two tribes of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) receiving two portions. Just before Jacob died in the land of Egypt, he pronounced a blessing on his sons, including his favorite son, Joseph. As part of that blessing, he swore to adopt Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own, guaranteeing them a right to his inheritance.

“Now I am claiming as my own sons these two boys of yours, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born here in the land of Egypt before I arrived. They will be my sons…” – Genesis 48:5 NLT

The descendants of those two boys did receive their allotment of land in Canaan. And in the Millennial Kingdom, they will also occupy their own tracts of land.

The arrangement of the tribes in the Millennial Kingdom is fascinating to consider. First of all, the tribes of Gad, Asher, Dan, and Naphtali are all located on the northern and southern edges of the land. These were the sons born to Zilpah and Bilhah, the two concubines given to Jacob by his two wives so that he might bear additional sons. The descendants of these four sons will have land in the Millennial Kingdom, but it will be further from the holy district at the center.

The two tribes that will sandwich the holy district where the new Millennial Temple will reside are those of Judah and Benjamin. Those were the two tribes that made up the southern kingdom of Judah after God divided the kingdom of Solomon as punishment for his idolatry. What set the southern kingdom apart was the city of Jerusalem, the nation’s capital and the home of the temple that Solomon had built to honor Yahweh. Even in the Millennial Kingdom, these two tribes will still find themselves in close proximity to God’s house.

It’s interesting to note that every tribe will receive an equal apportionment of the land. No one tribe will have a large portion. God makes it clear that “each tribe will receive an equal share” (Ezekiel 47:14 NLT). And God reminds Ezekiel that this would all be in fulfillment of His covenant promise.

I took a solemn oath and swore that I would give this land to your ancestors, and it will now come to you as your possession. – Ezekiel 47:14 NLT

God will keep His word. He will honor His commitment to the people of Israel by restoring them to the land He promised to their forefather, Abraham.

But this land will not be strictly reserved for the descendants of Abraham. God makes it clear that there will be Gentiles living among His chosen people in the Millennial Kingdom.

“Distribute the land as an allotment for yourselves and for the foreigners who have joined you and are raising their families among you. They will be like native-born Israelites to you and will receive an allotment among the tribes.” – Ezekiel 47:22 NLT

The Millennial Kingdom will into being as a result of Christ’s second coming. He will return at the end of the seven years of the Tribulation, defeat the armies of the world, and reestablish the Davidic line by ascending the throne in Jerusalem, where He will rule for 1,000 years on earth.

With the end of the Tribulation, all those who survived the judgments of God will still remain on earth. That will include Jews who survived the persecutions of the Antichrist, Gentiles who lived through the judgments of God, and all those (Jews and Gentiles) who came to faith in Christ during those terrible days. All of these people will be living on the earth during Christ’s earthly reign. Over the ten centuries of His rule, children will be born and generations will come and go. There will be unbelievers living on the earth with Jesus Christ, the righteous King ruling over them. There will be unbelieving Jews who will be participating in the newly inaugurated sacrificial system in the new Millennial Temple. But salvation will come by faith in Christ alone, not by the blood of bulls and goats. Everything in the Millennial Kingdom will point to Christ. He will occupy the throne of David in Jerusalem from within that holy district that lies in the center of the newly restored land of Israel.

The presence of Gentiles within the land should not surprise us. God will still be redeeming those who are willing to seek salvation through His Son. While the land belongs to the Israelites, the chosen people of God, He sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. All of this is in keeping with the promise God made to Abraham when He first called him.

I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:2-3 NLT

All of this will be a preface for what is yet to come. While the Millennial Kingdom will be 1,000 years in length, it will still be temporary and not eternal. It will be followed by the eternal state. But this future time period is when God will finally fulfill all the promises He has made to His covenant people. He will honor His word by returning them to the land and restoring them to a right relationship with Himself, because He is faithful, righteous, and good.

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 River of Life

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.

Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?”

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. 10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” Ezekiel 47:1-12 ESV

What an amazing picture of God’s faithfulness. Not only is He going to restore the land and the people to it, but He is also going to rebuild the Temple, reinstate the sacrificial system, and renew their hearts. God is going to make it possible for the Israelites to serve Him faithfully so that they can remain in the land. He will give them new hearts and a new desire to serve Him faithfully.

For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36:24-26 NLT

This entire vision that Ezekiel received was about what God is going to do in the future Millennial Kingdom. God will not only change the hearts of the people, but He will also change the nature of the land of Israel.

In his vision, Ezekiel sees a river flowing from the Holy of Holies, the innermost room of the temple. This river will flow out from the temple grounds and into the Jordan Valley, slowly growing larger and deeper as it makes its way to the Dead Sea. And as its waters flow into the Dead Sea it will transform this lifeless body of water into a fish-filled, tree-bounded paradise. This river of life will dramatically alter the topography of the land.

At the present time, the region around the Dead Sea is a barren wasteland, but in the Millennial Kingdom, it will be transformed into a lush and fruitful paradise. Trees will grow where no trees exist right now. Fish will swim where no fish can exist right now. The aptly named Dead Sea will become a place of life and fruitfulness. Ezekiel is given a glimpse of the transforming power of God. He will make all things new.

The prophet, Zechariah, also alludes to this new water source that will suddenly show up when Christ returns to earth at His Second Coming.

On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. – Zechariah 14:4 NLT

As a result of Christ’s dramatic and earth-shattering arrival to earth, the topography surrounding the city of Jerusalem will be permanently altered. A spring will open up in the Holy of Holies and flow out of the sanctuary, through the courtyard, and out the gate of the temple complex.

On that day life-giving waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half toward the Dead Sea and half toward the Mediterranean, flowing continuously in both summer and winter.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. – Zechariah 14:8-9 NLT

This life-giving spring will turn into two rivers that will transform the landscape, delivering the water of life to the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. Jesus Christ will reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem, for a period of one thousand years. And during this time, Jesus, the author of life, will be the source of life and sustenance for all who live under his righteous rule.

This future condition of life and fruitfulness stands in stark contrast to the assessment God made of His rebellious people during the days of Jeremiah the prophet.

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me— the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all! – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

In the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, living water will flow from Mount Zion, transforming the landscape of Israel. It is a picture of the life-cleansing, sin-atoning work of Jesus on the cross.

In His encounter at the well with the Samaritan woman, Jesus informed her: “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water” (John 4:10 NLT). The woman, confused by what Jesus had said, asked, “Where would you get this living water?” (John 4:11 NLT). And Jesus, pointing to the nearby well, responded, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (John 4:12-13 NLT). 

This future Kingdom will be like nothing the world has ever seen before. The righteous administration of Christ will govern like no other government that has ever existed. Zechariah describes an environment where the city of Jerusalem will rise above the newly formed plains that surround it. The city will be filled to the brim with citizens anxious to live under the righteous rule of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

All the land from Geba, north of Judah, to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become one vast plain. But Jerusalem will be raised up in its original place and will be inhabited all the way from the Benjamin Gate over to the site of the old gate, then to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s winepresses. And Jerusalem will be filled, safe at last, never again to be cursed and destroyed. – Zechariah 14:10-11 NLT

But the river flowing from the inner recesses of the Millennial Temple should remind us of another river that will exist in the eternal state. The apostle John was given a vision of this life-giving river and he describes it in the book of Revelation.

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. – Revelation 22:1-2 NASB

In this future scene, which takes place at the end of the Millennial Kingdom, John sees the river flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb. This vision reveals the New Jerusalem, which will descend out of heaven and come to rest on earth. From this celestial city, God and His Son will reign over all the earth. And from their thrones will flow the river of the water of life.

God is all about restoring life and bringing about healing, and these things flow from His throne. He is the source of life. Only through Him can men be restored to new life. He can take what was once dead and bring it back to life. He can transform dead lives and renew lifeless seas. That’s the God we serve, and He remains the same, now and forever.

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.

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

17 Then he brought me into the outer court. And behold, there were chambers and a pavement, all around the court. Thirty chambers faced the pavement. 18 And the pavement ran along the side of the gates, corresponding to the length of the gates. This was the lower pavement. 19 Then he measured the distance from the inner front of the lower gate to the outer front of the inner court, a hundred cubits on the east side and on the north side.

20 As for the gate that faced toward the north, belonging to the outer court, he measured its length and its breadth. 21 Its side rooms, three on either side, and its jambs and its vestibule were of the same size as those of the first gate. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 22 And its windows, its vestibule, and its palm trees were of the same size as those of the gate that faced toward the east. And by seven steps people would go up to it, and find its vestibule before them. 23 And opposite the gate on the north, as on the east, was a gate to the inner court. And he measured from gate to gate, a hundred cubits.

24 And he led me toward the south, and behold, there was a gate on the south. And he measured its jambs and its vestibule; they had the same size as the others. 25 Both it and its vestibule had windows all around, like the windows of the others. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 26 And there were seven steps leading up to it, and its vestibule was before them, and it had palm trees on its jambs, one on either side. 27 And there was a gate on the south of the inner court. And he measured from gate to gate toward the south, a hundred cubits.

28 Then he brought me to the inner court through the south gate, and he measured the south gate. It was of the same size as the others. 29 Its side rooms, its jambs, and its vestibule were of the same size as the others, and both it and its vestibule had windows all around. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 30 And there were vestibules all around, twenty-five cubits long and five cubits broad. 31 Its vestibule faced the outer court, and palm trees were on its jambs, and its stairway had eight steps.

32 Then he brought me to the inner court on the east side, and he measured the gate. It was of the same size as the others. 33 Its side rooms, its jambs, and its vestibule were of the same size as the others, and both it and its vestibule had windows all around. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 34 Its vestibule faced the outer court, and it had palm trees on its jambs, on either side, and its stairway had eight steps.

35 Then he brought me to the north gate, and he measured it. It had the same size as the others. 36 Its side rooms, its jambs, and its vestibule were of the same size as the others, and it had windows all around. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 37 Its vestibule faced the outer court, and it had palm trees on its jambs, on either side, and its stairway had eight steps.

38 There was a chamber with its door in the vestibule of the gate, where the burnt offering was to be washed. 39 And in the vestibule of the gate were two tables on either side, on which the burnt offering and the sin offering and the guilt offering were to be slaughtered. 40 And off to the side, on the outside as one goes up to the entrance of the north gate, were two tables; and off to the other side of the vestibule of the gate were two tables. 41 Four tables were on either side of the gate, eight tables, on which to slaughter. 42 And there were four tables of hewn stone for the burnt offering, a cubit and a half long, and a cubit and a half broad, and one cubit high, on which the instruments were to be laid with which the burnt offerings and the sacrifices were slaughtered. 43 And hooks, a handbreadth long, were fastened all around within. And on the tables the flesh of the offering was to be laid. Ezekiel 40:17-43 ESV

The temple complex in Ezekiel’s vision revealed an outer wall with three gates or entrances; one to the north, another to the east, and a final one to the south. The wall surrounding the temple was over ten feet wide and ten feet tall. The eastern gate, which faced the Kidron Valley across from the Mount of Olives, had a set of steps leading up to its gate. This was the main entry point to the temple complex and led to an outer court. On the perimeter of the wall’s interior were a series of rooms that lined its northern. eastern, and southern sides. No explanation is given for the purpose of these rooms.

The distance between the outer eastern gate and the inner eastern gate that led to the inner court was 166 feet. This expanse formed the outer court. In Solomon’s temple, this would have been called The Court of the Women. But in his vision, Ezekiel is provided with no designation for this expansive space.

Upon entering the outer court, the three entrances to the inner court came into view. These three inner gate complexes were similar in size and design to the outer gates and provided access to the temple itself. There is a repeated pattern or design intended to regulate entrance into God’s presence. And upon passing through one of these three gates, one would find themself inside the inner court and the place of sacrifice. A room was dedicated to the washing of the animals planned for sacrifice. The priests would purify each animal before offering it up to God as a burnt offering. On the outside of this room were eight stone tables, where the sacrificial animals were slaughtered for the burnt offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. Four additional stone tables held the priests’ butchering implements and were where the prepared meat was placed before being offered as a sacrifice.

Ezekiel was also shown two rooms, one was “for the priests who supervise the Temple maintenance” (Ezekiel 40:45 NLT) and the other was for the priests in charge of the altar” (Ezekiel 40:46 NLT). And Ezekiel was informed that these priests are “the descendants of Zadok—for they alone of all the Levites may approach the Lord to minister to him” (Ezekiel 40:46 NLT). In other words, this future temple will be administered according to God’s original command. He had ordained that the tribe of Levi would serve as keepers of the tabernacle and later, the temple.

…the Lord your God chose the tribe of Levi out of all your tribes to minister in the Lord’s name forever. – Deuteronomy 18:5 NLT

From among the Levites would come the priests who were tasked with offering the sacrifices on behalf of the people. Zadok was a descendant of Levi and had served during the reign of King David. It will be the priestly descendants of Zadok who serve in this future millennial temple. This is another sign that God will restore everything to the way He had intended it to be from the beginning.

But there is one question that comes to mind when considering the presence of the temple, priests, and blood sacrifices in the millennial kingdom. Why would God reinstitute this ritual when the book of Hebrews states that Jesus offered His life as a final, once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of mankind?

So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrews 9:11-12 NLT

The original sacrificial system was intended to purify the ungodly, including the priests themselves, making them worthy of coming into God’s presence and capable of receiving His forgiveness.

For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.

That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. – Hebrews 9:22-23 NLT

Jesus provided a better sacrifice, a new-and-improved way of being made right with God. He offered His own life, shedding His own blood, in order that sinful men and women might receive new life and a restored relationship with God.

Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. – Hebrews 9:28 NLT

So, why is Ezekiel given a vision of what appears to be a renewed sacrificial system in the millennial temple? The author of Hebrews provides insight into this seeming contradiction. He states that the Old Testament priests served “in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven” (Hebrews 8:5 NLT). In other words, their priestly duties, including the blood sacrifices they offered as atonement for the sins of the people, were a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ultimate and final sacrifice. They pointed forward to something far greater. It seems that in the Millennial temple, these sacrifices will look back, commemorating the atoning work of Jesus. Rather than redemptive in nature, they will be commemorative. Much like the New Testament Church celebrates the death of Christ through the ordinance of the Lord’s Table.

The author of Hebrews goes on to state that the blood sacrifices “actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4 NLT). But in the future, those very same sacrifices will be used to remind people of their Savior.

Again, the author of Hebrews provides helpful insight into this future scene that Ezekiel was privileged to see.

“This is the new covenant I will make
    with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

Then he says,

“I will never again remember
    their sins and lawless deeds.”

And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. – Hebrews 10:16-18 NLT

There will no longer be any need to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins because Christ has paid the full and final price for those sins. Yet, there will be ample reason for people to offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving for the gracious gift of eternal life they have received.

As the author of Hebrews makes clear, “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NLT). But in Ezekiel’s vision, he is shown that the blood of bulls and goats can do what it was always intended to do: Point to the blood of Christ that made possible mankind’s full and complete redemption and restoration to God. As the apostle, John reminds us, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 2:17 ESV).

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.

God versus Gog

17 “Thus says the Lord God: Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them? 18 But on that day, the day that Gog shall come against the land of Israel, declares the Lord God, my wrath will be roused in my anger. 19 For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare, On that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. 20 The fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field and all creeping things that creep on the ground, and all the people who are on the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence. And the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground. 21 I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Lord God. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. 22 With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him, and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples who are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur. 23 So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 38:17-23 ESV

Far too often, we read the Old Testament as if it was simply a record of ancient history. We tend to look at books like Ezekiel as prophetic only in the sense that they contain detailed descriptions of what God was going to do against Israel and her enemies, and that He has already done. We view them as past tense, filled with old news about already fulfilled events that have little impact on us today, except for any insights they may provide regarding God’s character.

But in Ezekiel 38 we are given a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. This enigmatic passage describes a situation in which Israel finds itself back in the land of promise, experiencing God’s rich blessings, and prospering in an atmosphere of peace and abundance. God says that in that day, which has yet to happen, a mighty nation will rise up with thoughts of plunder and plans to take advantage of the seemingly defenseless people of God.

“On that day when my people Israel are living securely, you will take notice and come from your place, from the remote parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a vast army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud covering the earth.” – Ezekiel 38:14-16 NET

They will rise up against Israel but are totally unaware that God is about to use them as a visual lesson of His holiness and wrath. God then describes a scene filled with cataclysmic, end-of-the-world-like supernatural disasters.

“I will punish you and your armies with disease and bloodshed; I will send torrential rain, hailstones, fire, and burning sulfur!” – Ezekiel 38:22 NLT

It is a vivid description of God’s final judgment on all those who oppose Him and His people here on this earth. And He makes it clear that this devastating, lopsided victory has a purpose.

“In this way, I will show my greatness and holiness, and I will make myself known to all the nations of the world. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 38:23 NLT

But when will all this take place? When will this event finally be fulfilled? There have been many views proposed over the years, but the one that seems to make the most sense is based on the book of Revelation. In it, the apostle John describes a final battle that will take place at the end of Christ’s millennial reign on earth. For a period of 1,000 years, Christ will rule as the righteous King of kings and Lord of lords over all the nations of the earth. He will mete out perfect justice and administer righteousness from the throne of David for all the citizens of earth. And, according to John’s vision, at the beginning of Christ’s earthly rule, Satan will be imprisoned and prevented from using his powers to influence the nations of the world.

The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while. – Revelation 20:3 NLT

Imagine a period of 1,000 years without the presence of the enemy whose soul “purpose is to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 NLT). The great deceiver will be out of commission all during those days and the people on earth will experience what it is like to live under the godly rule of a sinless and perfectly righteous leader. Yet, John describes what happens when Satan is released from his imprisonment at the end of Christ’s 1,000-year reign.

Now when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to bring them together for the battle. They are as numerous as the grains of sand in the sea. They went upon the broad plain of the earth and encircled the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and devoured them completely. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:7-10 NET

Christ will have returned as the conquering King and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, sitting on the throne of David. He will have fulfilled God’s promise to give David a descendant who would sit on his throne and rule in righteousness forever – for a period of 1,000 years. At the end of that time, Satan will be released and wage one last war against God. He will deceive the nations and cause them to rise up against God in an attempt to remove Christ from the throne. This vast army will attack Israel, but fail miserably. God will defeat them once and for all, making Himself known to all the nations of the world through His infinite, unmatchable power. When the dust settles from this last epic battle, everyone will know that He alone is God. Case closed.

In the message God gave to Ezekiel, He addressed Gog directly, asking this future world leader, “Are you the one I was talking about long ago, when I announced through Israel’s prophets that in the future I would bring you against my people?” (Ezekiel 38:17 NLT). This rhetorical question is meant to remind Ezekiel and his audience that all history is the fulfillment of God’s sovereign will. His Word is filled with messages that pronounce future events well in advance of their actual occurrence. The rise and fall of Gog will not be left to chance or be a byproduct of blind fate. God has ordained it and declared its eventual inevitability. It is all part of His divine redemptive plan.

The truth is, there have been many “Gogs” in the world. Over the centuries, countless rulers have shown up on the historical timeline who have exhibited Gog-like characteristics. They have all shared a common trait: their disdain for God and their hatred for His chosen people. But the events described in this chapter foretell a future world leader who will rise up against a recently revitalized Israel living in perfect peace and tranquility within the borders of the promised land. This “Gog” will dare to come against the people of God in a vain attempt to wipe them off the face of the earth. But he will fail.

“…this is what the Sovereign Lord says: When Gog invades the land of Israel, my fury will boil over! In my jealousy and blazing anger, I promise a mighty shaking in the land of Israel on that day. – Ezekiel 38:18-19 NLT

The book of Ezekiel is not ancient history. It is a glimpse into the eternal plan of the Sovereign God of the universe. His plan is not yet complete. His work is not yet done. But that day is coming because His Son will one day return, and the certainty of that coming event assures us that the victory is certain.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

He has declared His intentions and He will carry them out. This assurance of God’s sovereign will was meant to encourage Ezekiel and his fellow exiles. They had no reason to worry about the future because God has all things under control. The Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, and even the nations of Meshech and Tubal would prove no match for God Almighty. Satan himself will eventually discover the painful truth regarding God’s unequaled greatness and holiness.

“I will show my greatness and holiness, and I will make myself known to all the nations of the world. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 38:23 NLT

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.

That They May Be One

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ 17 And join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. 18 And when your people say to you, ‘Will you not tell us what you mean by these?’ 19 say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand. 20 When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, 21 then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. 22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

24 “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. 25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” Ezekiel 37:15-28 ESV

For generations, Israel had been a divided nation. During the reign of King Solomon, God had announced His intention to divide the kingdom in two as a result of Solomon’s promotion of idolatry in the land. The wealthy and wise king had made the mistake of marrying many foreign princesses who brought their false gods with them into the marriage. As a result, Solomon ended up embracing these pagan deities and he erected shrines and altars to them all over the kingdom of Israel. But God was not pleased.

The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord’s command. So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.” – 1 Kings 11:9-13 NLT

The result of this divine division of the kingdom was two separate nations. Solomon’s son would rule over the southern kingdom of Judah in the south, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The northern kingdom would maintain the name of Israel and consist of the other ten tribes. This separation would last for centuries, leaving the once-unified tribes in a state of open animosity and competition with one another. The ten northern tribes, under the leadership of a long line of ungodly kings, would stand opposed to the two southern tribes. While there would be short periods of peace between the two nations, their relationship would be marked by both physical and spiritual warfare. While the southern kingdom would continue its worship of Yahweh in the temple in Jerusalem, the northern kingdom would establish a separate religious system with its own gods and places of worship. The two nations would remain divided all the way up to the day when the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.

More than a century later, in 586 B.C., the southern kingdom would fall to the Babylonians. This tragic event is what Ezekiel has been prophesying about throughout his book. And at this point in the narrative, it has taken place. Jerusalem has fallen to Nebuchadnezzar’s forces and the city and its glorious temple have been destroyed. Yet, God has been communicating through Ezekiel His plans to redeem and restore His scattered people. He has promised to return them to the land one day and, more importantly, to radically alter their hearts so that they might finally serve Him faithfully.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

Ezekiel was to deliver this wonderful message of redemption and restoration to the former citizens of Jerusalem who were living as exiles in Babylon. His audience would have been up entirely of Jews from the southern kingdom of Judah, and they would have been thrilled to hear that God had plans to return them to their homeland. Yet God wanted them to know that His gracious offer of restoration was for all His chosen people, not just the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. He intended to restore that which had been divided because of Solomon’s sin, and He commanded Ezekiel to communicate this plan through yet another visual demonstration.

“Son of man, take a piece of wood and carve on it these words: ‘This represents Judah and its allied tribes.’ Then take another piece and carve these words on it: ‘This represents Ephraim and the northern tribes of Israel.’ Now hold them together in your hand as if they were one piece of wood. – Ezekiel 37:16-17 NLT

God’s instructions seem to indicate that Ezekiel was to place the two pieces of wood end to end, holding them together with his hand. This act would demonstrate that what God had once divided would be reunited and held together by His sovereign hand. He would rejoin the 12 tribes, forming them into a unified whole; a single house under the rule of one king and all serving the one true God.

I will make them one piece of wood in my hand.” – Ezekiel 37:19 NLT

“I will unify them into one nation on the mountains of Israel. One king will rule them all; no longer will they be divided into two nations or into two kingdoms.” – Ezekiel 37:22 NLT

In this message, God declares that He will reunite the nation of Israel and place over them one king.

“My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees.” – Ezekiel 37:24 NLT

But David would have been long dead by this point. How does God intend to fulfill this seemingly impossible promise? The answer lies in another promise God made to King David.

“‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do. But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight. Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:11-16 NLT

Solomon was the initial fulfillment of God’s promise, but his reign did not end well, and his kingdom ended up divided. But God states to Ezekiel that the day is coming when the kingdom will be reunified and another “son of David” will sit on the throne in Jerusalem. The prophet, Jeremiah, reveals how this reestablishment of the Davidic line will come about.

“The day will come, says the Lord, when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them.

“In those days and at that time
    I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line.
    He will do what is just and right throughout the land.
In that day Judah will be saved,
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
And this will be its name:
    ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’

For this is what the Lord says: David will have a descendant sitting on the throne of Israel forever. – Jeremiah 33:14-17 NLT

That “descendant from King David’s line” will be none other than Jesus Christ, the rightful heir to David’s throne. The genealogies of Jesus recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, establish Him as a descendant of King David. The apostle Paul confirms Jesus’ royal heritage when he writes, “In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4 NLT).

For the Jewish exiles in Babylon, the thought of another king like David would have been exhilarating news. He represented Israel’s glory days. It was under his reign that the nation enjoyed its greatest period of expansion and global dominance. So, God assures them that the good old days are about to return.

“…my servant David will be their prince forever. And I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and I will put my Temple among them forever.” – Ezekiel 37:25-26 NLT

Jesus, the Son of David and the Messiah of Israel, will return to earth one day and conquer all the enemies of Israel, establishing His kingdom in Jerusalem and ruling over the world for 1,000 years. This millennial kingdom will feature a reunified Israel, a restored temple, and an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity as King Jesus rules the earth in perfect righteousness, meting out justice from His royal throne.

But the millennial reign of Christ will eventually end and be replaced by the eternal state. The apostle John describes this epic end times event in his book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:1-5 NLT

It is this final event to which God alludes. There is a final phase to God’s great redemptive plan and it will involve His chosen people. But in His final kingdom, people from every tribe, nation, and tongue will be united as one, sharing a common faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of David and the King of kings and Lord of lords.

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 Unbreakable Bond Between Belief and Behavior

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:8-11 ESV

Paul has just reminded Titus of the core message of the gospel: Jesus Christ appeared in human form as a visible expression of God’s goodness and love. And Jesus proved the love of God by offering His own life as payment for the sins of humanity. His death made salvation possible, not based on mankind’s efforts to live righteous lives, but because of the mercy of God the Father. The death of Jesus on the cross provided a means for sinful man to be forgiven, cleansed, and restored to a right relationship with God the Father. And after His resurrection and return to His Father’s side, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers. The result was their “new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NLT). And the Holy Spirit’s presence within the life of each and every believer is a guarantee of the eternal life awaiting them.

And Paul tells Titus that this is a trustworthy saying. In Greek, the phrase is pistos logos. It means that these are words that can be relied upon and believed in. They are true and worthy of our trust because they hold the key to our present effectiveness and our future hope.

The reason Paul can place such high expectations upon the believers living on Crete is because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. His death has made possible a life filled with a never-before-available power to live above and beyond the norms of everyday life. A Christian is a new creation whose purpose for life has been radically changed because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. And Paul expects Titus to hold the believers on Crete to the higher standard that comes with their newfound status as God’s children. Jesus died in order that sinful men might be saved but His death also makes possible their ongoing spiritual transformation. He doesn’t just provide them with a clean slate, wiped free from the sin debt they owed, but He also makes it possible for them to live righteous lives. So, Titus was to “insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8 NLT).

The good news regarding Jesus Christ is not just about gaining entrance into heaven someday. It’s about the daily manifestation of our faith through tangible works that reveal the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Notice what Paul told the believers in Ephesus:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

Paul insists that every believer is the handiwork of God. The Greek word he used is poiēma, and it refers to “the thing that is made.” Each believer is the work of God. No one saves themselves. No one becomes a Christian. The work of salvation is entirely up to God, from beginning to end, just as Jesus told the believers in Rome.

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

Paul was consistently emphatic when declaring man’s non-existent role in salvation.

Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:9 NLT

The believer owes his salvation entirely to God.

because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV

But while man’s works cannot make him a Christian, they can certainly provide evidence that he is one. Which is the point of Paul’s letter to Titus. He wanted the believers on Crete to live their lives in the power of the Spirit, fulfilling the preordained plans God had in place for them. There was work to be done. There were lost individuals who needed to hear the gospel message. There was a divine strategy in place that called for all believers to live in obedience to God’s will and in total submission to His Spirit.

All that Paul has been sharing with Titus was to be considered good and beneficial. This wasn’t pie-in-the-sky-sometime rhetoric. Christianity wasn’t to be viewed as some future escape plan from eternal torment. It was to be the key to abundant life in the present, and Paul lived his life that way. This is why he could so boldly state:

I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

Paul fully believed that his old self was crucified alongside Christ, “so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless” ªRomans 6:6 BSB). He regularly experienced the reality of his own teaching in his own life.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. – Galatians 5:24 NLT

And if those old passions and desires have been nailed to the cross, it is essential that they be replaced with new passions and desires. The believer’s new nature in Christ should come to the fore, giving evidence of the power of God’s Spirit residing in him. So, all that Paul has instructed Titus to teach the believers on Crete is tied to the good works God has created them to accomplish. That includes submission, self-control, love, patience, temperance, kindness, sacrifice, and a host of other qualities that are in short supply in this world. Paul wanted the behavior of all believers to reflect what they said they believed.

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

Paul expected them to believe and behave in a way that displayed their new status as God’s adopted sons and daughters. From God’s perspective, they were new creations, so why would they continue to live according to their old natures? God had new things for them to do. He had a radically different lifestyle in mind for them that was intended to prove the reality of their new identities.

Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:24 NLT

But the sad reality was that many of the believers on the island of Crete were struggling. There were those who were causing dissension by teaching unadulterated lies. Arguments were breaking out within their gatherings. Sides were being taken, damaging the unity of the church. And Paul makes it brutally clear what Titus was to do with those who caused divisions within the local church.

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him – Titus 3:10 ESV

Remember, the point of Paul’s letter is godly behavior. He is calling all professing Christians to live as who they are: The sons and daughters of God. As such, they were to reflect the character of Christ. They were to devote themselves to good works. Anything that distracted from the objective was to be avoided at all costs. Anyone who distorted or took away from that goal was to be rejected for being warped, sinful, and self-condemning. These people were guilty of twisting and perverting the trustworthy words of the gospel, and their actions condemned them. As a result, they were to be avoided like a plague. The spiritual well-being of the body of Christ was at risk and the believers on Crete would find it nearly impossible to accomplish the good works God had prepared for them to do as long as these individuals were allowed to remain in their midst. As Paul warned the believers in Galatia, there was no place for tolerance or complacency when it came to anything that threatened the truth of the gospel.

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you. – Galatians 5:9-10 NLT

Paul had no tolerance for false teachers and neither should they. Right living becomes virtually impossible when wrong doctrines are allowed to exist. Accomplishing good works is difficult when bad teaching is left unchallenged in the church. The church must always take the truth seriously and deal with falsehood decisively. The world may be filled with lies, driven by deception, and motivated by selfishness, but the church of Jesus Christ is to be the rock-steady foundation of God’s truth. And Paul was providing Titus with the same powerful reminder that he had given Timothy, so that both men might “know how each one must conduct himself in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 BSB).

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.

Just Do It

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. – Titus 2:11-15 ESV

Paul has just given Titus detailed descriptions of the kind of conduct he is to expect from those who have been exposed to sound doctrine. But now, Paul makes it clear that it is not the teaching of sound doctrine that produces life change. An understanding of theology doesn’t save anyone. A good grasp of doctrine will never earn anyone a right standing with God, and it can’t truly transform anyone’s behavior.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day knew doctrine and theology, but Jesus regularly referred to them as hypocrites. They knew the Hebrew Scriptures that prophesied about the coming of the Messiah but failed to recognize Him when He was standing right in front of them. The reason Paul emphasized the teaching of sound doctrine was because he knew that God had equipped each and every believer with the capacity to apply that doctrine to their lives and experience true life change. And it was all because “the grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11 ESV). This is a clear reference to the incarnation of Jesus, the Messiah. Paul made a similar reference when he wrote his second letter to Timothy.

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. – 2 Timothy 1:9-10 NLT

God revealed His grace by sending His son to provide mankind with a means of salvation. And notice what Paul says: God saved us and called us to live a holy life. That is exactly what Paul just finished describing to Titus; what a holy life looks like for each and every believer in his local congregation. From the oldest to the youngest, male and female, and even bondservants; there was an expectation of godly behavior made possible by the grace of God. Jesus came, not only to bring salvation but to make possible the ongoing process of sanctification. Paul describes it this way: “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12 ESV).

The salvation provided for us by the grace of God and made possible through the death of His Son, is not to be viewed as some kind of entry ticket to heaven. It isn’t a future pass into His Kingdom that has no present significance. No, Paul makes it clear that the grace of God includes our present and continuing transformation into the likeness of Christ. We are to grow in godliness – in the present age.

Paul even seems to indicate that rather than making heaven our hope, we should focus our attention on the inevitable return of Jesus Christ. We are to “look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:13 NLT). It is the hope of that promise that should motivate us to live godly lives here and now. And it is the grace of God that provides us with the power we need to pull it off. The apostle Peter reminds us: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

Jesus Christ died for us, not just to get us into heaven, but to redeem us from the power of sin. And that process begins in this lifetime, not the next. Paul clearly states: “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds” (Titus 2:14 NLT).

Committed to doing good deeds when we get to heaven? No, right here, right now. Jesus Himself stated: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). That abundant life begins at the point of salvation, not when we arrive in heaven. It is an ongoing process of transformation that takes place from the moment we place our faith in Jesus as Savior, and it continues until He returns or the Father takes us home at the point of death. And Paul was so confident in God’s promise to transform each and every one of His children into the likeness of Christ, that he told the believers in Philippi: “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Titus was to teach these truths to his people. He was to demand that they live lives of godliness, not in their own strength, but in the power and grace of God. Life change is possible. Character transformation is expected of each and every believer. And as far as Paul was concerned, a lack of change within the life of a professing believer was to be met with rebuke, not indifference.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food” (Hebrews 5:12 NLT).

Paul had to remind the believers in Corinth, “when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT). Spiritual growth in the life of a believer is not optional. Life transformation is an undeniable expectation and unavoidable outcome of the grace of God. Jesus did not die to leave us like we are. He set us free from slavery to sin. That’s why Paul provides the believers in Rome with these powerful words of reminder:

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. – Romans 6:12-14 NLT

The grace of God has set us free from the power of sin. We live under the freedom of God’s grace as provided by the death and resurrection of His Son. And Paul goes on to say, “Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living” (Romans 6:17-18 NLT).

We have been given the grace to live godly lives in the here and now, not just the hereafter. So, let’s do it.

 

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.

Silencing the Ungodly

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. – Titus 1:10-16 ESV

Like Timothy, Titus was one of Paul’s protégés. He was a Greek Gentile whom Paul had evidently led to Christ. This young man had actually accompanied Paul on several of his missionary journeys. Over time, he earned the apostle’s trust, so that Paul was confident in sending him out on his own on numerous occasions. In fact, Paul had sent him to the island of Crete to appoint elders and establish some sense of order among the congregations there.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. –  Titus 1:5 NLT

As he had done with Timothy, Paul provided Titus with advice on how to deal with false teachers who had become a recurring problem within the fledgling churches on Crete.

Titus found himself ministering in a place where the reputation of the inhabitants was far from stellar. Paul even quoted Epimenides, a 6th Century BC philosopher and religious prophet who happened to be from Crete and who held a low view of his fellow Cretans.

Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. – Titus 1:12 ESV

Paul concurred with Epimenides’ assessment and went out of his way to paint a less-than-flattering picture of the people of Crete. He described them as  “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” (Titus 1:10 ESV). Evidently, the false teachers were not the only people of poor repute on Crete. So were some of the members of the local churches. That’s why Paul spends a great deal of time in his letter talking about good works. He wanted Titus to understand just how important good character and moral behavior were to be in the life of a believer.

Paul commanded Titus to deal harshly and firmly with those whose lives were marked by laziness and lying. He didn’t want his young disciple to tolerate the disorder and chaos these kinds of people were bringing into the church. He told Titus to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13 ESV). Rebuking and restoration were both to be a part of Titus’ ministry on Crete.

Paul’s objective was for these individuals to become “sound in the faith,” because they were spreading false and deceptive ideas concerning faith in Christ. Paul’s use of the term “faith” refers to eternal salvation made possible through belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. The false teachers were confusing and even contradicting what Paul, Titus, and others had taught regarding what it means to have faith in Christ, experience forgiveness of sins, and have a restored relationship with God.

Rather than teaching faith alone in Christ alone, these false teachers were proclaiming novel messages regarding salvation that were contradictory to the gospel proclaimed by Paul and the other apostles, and it was weakening the faith of the Cretan believers. They didn’t know who or what to believe anymore.

One of the qualifications for elders that Paul gave Titus was “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV). These men were to be knowledgeable of the truth so that they might refute falsehood and rebuke those who taught it. As far as Paul was concerned, sound faith was totally dependent upon sound doctrine.

But these false teachers were teaching “what they ought not to teach” and all “for shameful gain” (Titus 1:11 ESV). Paul refers to them as being from the circumcision party. This is a reference to Jews who had expressed faith in Christ, but who held to the idea that Gentiles who became believers in Christ must also keep the Law of Moses and undergo the rite of circumcision in order to be truly saved.

Paul fought this heresy with every fiber of his being. And Paul’s fear was that, based on the reputation of the Cretans, they would easily accept this false teaching, and end up “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 ESV).

The Cretans were easily swayed by the “commands” or teachings of these people, readily accepting what they had to say about circumcision, abstinence from certain foods, the keeping of Jewish feasts and festivals, and adherence to the Mosaic law. But Paul warned Titus that these false teachers “claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good” (Titus 1:16 ESV).

Paul made it clear that the real problem with these false teachers was their hearts.

Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted. – Titus 1:15 NLT

They were obsessed with the externals: the keeping of laws and commands and adherence to rituals and religious rules.

There was an occasion when Jesus was approached by a group of Jewish religious leaders who wanted to know why His disciples didn’t follow their man-made tradition of ceremonial hand-cleansing before they ate. Jesus responded to them:

“And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:3-9 NLT

Jesus went on to say: “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth” (Matthew 15:11 NLT).

These self-righteous religious leaders had missed the point. They were so busy keeping external rules that they missed the real issue: The condition of their hearts. And Paul knew that the false teachers who were so negatively impacting the churches on Crete were suffering from the same problem. Their minds and consciences were defiled. Their hearts were hardened to the truth regarding faith in Christ. They were convinced that there had to be more to salvation. Faith alone in Christ alone was not enough. Works of self-righteousness were necessary. But Paul describes them as defiled and unbelieving. They were wrong and they were dangerous.

So, Paul tells Titus to rebuke them sharply. He was to deal harshly with the false teachers, and he was to rebuke the Cretans who were so easily buying into their lies. Sound doctrine and sound faith go hand in hand. The Word of God is not open to our interpretation. We are not free to add to the gospel or alter the truth of God in any way. And we are not to tolerate those who attempt to mislead by misinterpreting what God has said. Again, that is why Paul told Titus an elder must “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT).

Paul had also written to Timothy, telling him that the purpose of his letter was that “you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). The church and its leaders were to adhere to and uphold the truth of God, especially as it relates to the message and means of salvation. There is no other gospel except the one we have been given: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 ESV).

We live in the midst of an ungodly world and there is an ongoing need for godly men who will step forward and provide leadership and protection for the flock of God. The church needs men of character who are led by the Spirit of God and committed to the Word of God. Disorder and disruption are all around us. That’s why qualified men are in great need, even today.

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.