The Faithful Few

13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. – Malachi 3:13-18 ESV

The returned exiles found life in Judah difficult and far below their expectations as God’s chosen people. After having made the arduous journey from Babylon to their former homeland, things had not turned out quite as they had hoped. From their perspective, God had not done His part, having left them relatively defenseless and struggling to make ends meet while the nations around them prospered and threatened their very existence.

As a result, they had taken matters into their own hands, compromising their convictions by worshiping the false gods of their pagan neighbors. They defended their actions as just and necessary, even convincing themselves that they were better off because of the things they had done. To them, God was part of the problem, because they believed His laws to be too restrictive and any attempt to keep them to be far from beneficial.

“What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins?” – Malachi 3:14 NLT

This attitude led them to minimize their need for obedience or repentance. They refused to alter their behavior or even admit that they were out of step with God’s will. Instead, they arrogantly boasted about their decision to live their lives in a way that was antithetical to the commands of God.

“From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.” – Malachi 3:15 NLT

They had come to the conclusion that God was either powerless to do anything about their behavior or altogether indifferent as to what was going on in Judah. Having wrongly determined that God was not keeping His end of the covenant agreement, they had chosen to go their own way. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

But years earlier, God had delivered a powerful indictment against such flawed thinking. This was not the first time that the people of Israel had decided to establish a code of conduct that was diametrically opposed to God’s law. Long before God brought the Babylonians to destroy Judah, He had warned His people about their arrogant tendency to establish their own standard of righteousness.

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT

Spiritually speaking, things were looking bleak in Judah. But according to Malachi, things were not yet hopeless. He indicates that there were a faithful few who remained committed to maintaining their covenant relationship with Yahweh. Evidently, this righteous remnant regularly met together to encourage and motivate one another to remain faithful. While everyone around them was compromising their convictions and joining in the spiritual apostasy of the prevailing culture, these few were determined to stand their ground in the face of overwhelming odds. And God took notice.

God was anything but indifferent or distant. He heard their discussions and took note of their plight. And Malachi indicates that He had each of their names recorded for posterity.

In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name. – Malachi 3:16 NLT

These people stood out from the crowd. They were outliers in the midst of a nation that had sold out and given in to moral compromise. While everyone else was calling evil good and good evil, this small contingent of believers remained dedicated to God, choosing to show Him reverence and honor by living according to His will rather than their own. They too were suffering, but they refused to blame God. Their lives were just as difficult as anyone else’s, but they were unwilling to turn their backs on God or blame their circumstances on Him. He had repeatedly proven Himself to be faithful and they were willing to continue placing their trust in Him.

And God responded, “They will be my people” (Malachi 3:17 NLT). Having recorded their names in His scroll of remembrance, God assures that their faithfulness will not be forgotten or go unrewarded. He doesn’t promise immediate deliverance or a timely display of compensatory blessings. No, He indicates that their reward will come in the form of deliverance on the coming day of judgment.

“On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. – Malachi 3:17 NLT

Malachi opened this chapter with a reminder from God concerning the coming “messenger of the covenant,” stating, “who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (Malachi 3:2 ESV).

And God vowed that, in that coming day of judgment, He will hold the people of Israel accountable for their actions. Their conduct will be exposed, judged, and condemned.

“At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me.” – Malachi 3:5 NLT

God is warning of a future day of retribution and reward that will take place at the second coming of Christ. The tiny remnant who honored and revered His name in the face of growing opposition will stand before God and be rewarded for their faithfulness. But all those who chose to treat His law with disdain and dishonor the holiness of His name will be held accountable.

Before His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus provided His disciples with a vivid description of His return and the day of judgment that will take place for all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. – Matthew 25:31-33 NLT

There will be a separating of the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the unrighteous. This judgment will not involve those who came to faith in Christ after His ascension. But it will include all the Old Testament saints and everyone else who has lived since the beginning of time. That small remnant of faithful Yahweh followers will be included in the vast crowds that will stand before the Lord. And they will find that their names have been recorded in God’s scroll of remembrance, deeming them free from condemnation and worthy of the reward of eternal life.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.’” – Matthew 25:34 NLT

The key differentiator between the sheep and the goats will be their behavior. But it will not be their behavior that saves them. It will be their faith in God as illustrated by their willingness to live in keeping with His will. These individuals will have displayed a trust in God that manifested itself in a selfless display of care and concern for others. Rather than putting their own needs first, they will have sacrificed their security and comfort for the benefit of others. These people are the ones who offered the full amount of their tithes and offerings so that all the oppressed among them, including the widows, orphans, and foreigners might be cared for. And that is exactly what Jesus describes in His depiction of the day of judgment.

“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:35-40 NLT

The righteous remnant will be rewarded. Not because they have a righteousness of their own, but a righteousness based on their faith in the promises of God. Their unfailing belief that God was faithful and true motivated them to live their lives in keeping with His commands and trusting in His future reward.

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

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

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

Cleansed As By Fire

1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:1-5 ESV

The Israelites had dared to question the justice of God. They had willingly violated His commands and had suffered no consequences. So, in their minds, He was either impotent or indifferent to their behavior. But they were in for a rude awakening. Just because God had not yet punished them for their sins did not mean He was powerless to do so. He was the very same God who had sent them into exile 70 years earlier for having committed many of the very same sins against Him. He was gracious and merciful, but He was also righteous and just and determined to hold His people to their covenant commitments. God could not and would not leave their sins unpunished.

These verses deal with the present spiritual condition of the people of Israel by pointing to a future judgment to come. Through His messenger, Malachi, God warns of another messenger who will appear on the scene in the future, declaring the coming of the Lord.

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. – Malachi 3:1 NLT

The God they seem to believe was distant and disinterested was going to show up in their city and make an appearance in the temple.

Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. – Malachi 3:1 NLT

The Lord was going to make His presence known in the very place where they were offering blemished and unworthy offerings to Him. Malachi warns the people that the day was coming when Yahweh would make a personal appearance in His holy temple. And it’s important to note that the people of Israel had expressed their sorrow and confusion over His seeming absence and silence when they had offered their sacrifices to Him.

You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. – Malachi 2:13 ESV

God would not always remain silent or hidden. He would one day respond to their sins and reveal Himself in all His might and power. But God states that His appearance will be preceded by “my messenger” (malʾakhi). While this is a variation of the prophet’s name, it does not refer to Malachi. Verse 5 of chapter 4 reveals this messenger’s identity.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. – Malachi 4:5 ESV

Malachi is recording a prophetic pronouncement from God that has a now-not-yet aspect to it. The reference to this future messenger and his designation as Elijah are all cleared up by a series of statements made by Jesus concerning John the Baptist.

“This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’” – Matthew 11:10 ESV

And Jesus went on to explain that John the Baptist was the “Elijah” of whom the prophets spoke.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. – Matthew 11:13-14 ESV

In a later exchange with His disciples, Jesus further clarified John the Baptist’s role as the “messenger” of God who would prepare the way for His coming.

And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. – Matthew 17:10-13 ESV

And even before John the Baptist’s birth, an angel of the Lord had appeared to Zechariah the priest, declaring that his barren wife would bear him a son.

“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:16-17 ESV

The people of Israel longed for a divine “messenger” who would appear on the scene and reestablish the glory days of Israel. They were familiar with all the prophetic passages that spoke of a coming one who would be a son of David and set up His kingdom on earth. They dreamed of the day when this mighty warrior-king would make his appearance and put Israel back on the geopolitical map. They had no king and were living in the shadows of their more powerful pagan neighbors. So, they would have understood Malachi’s mention of  “the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight” as a reference to this long-hoped-for Messiah or savior.

And while God assures them that the Messiah is coming, He warns that His appearance will not be quite as joyful for them as they had hoped.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.” – Malachi 3:2-3 NLT

Their idea of the messenger of the covenant was a deliverer who would fulfill all of the blessings that God had promised as part of His covenant commitment. But they failed to remember that the covenant was bi-lateral in nature. God’s blessings were contingent upon their obedience.

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

But as Malachi has already pointed out, they had not kept their part of the agreement. Like their ancestors, they had continued to disregard God’s laws and dishonor His holiness by bowing down to false gods. So, when this messenger of the covenant appears, He will come to purify and cleanse the people. He will be like a refining fire that purges all the dross from the gold so that what remains is pure and undefiled. This agent of God will perform a miraculous cleansing of God’s people so that they are able to come before Him in sinless purity.

“Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.” – Malachi 3:4 NLT

God will do for them what they were incapable of doing for themselves. He will purify and cleanse their hearts. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of this coming day of the Lord and the miraculous life-altering ministry of the Messiah.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 ESV

In order for cleansing to take place, judgment will have to be leveled against all those who stand before God as impure and defiled by their sins. That is why God warns that, in the future, when the Messiah comes, He will “draw near to you for judgment” (Malachi 3:5 ESV). This cannot be speaking of Jesus’ first coming because Jesus clearly stated, “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47 ESV). But at His second coming, Jesus will come as judge. In His righteousness, He will expose all sin and deal a blow to Satan and his demons.

In the present, Malachi is warning the Israelites that their sins are offensive to a holy God. And in the future, those sins will be exposed and dealt with. In order for cleansing to take place, all their sins will need to be revealed, confessed, and burned away. God wanted His people to understand that their current sins will one day face a future judgment. Their unrighteousness was a problem that needed to be addressed. They couldn’t ignore it or continue to justify it. Because God’s judgment of sin is inevitable and inescapable.

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

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

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

A Sign of Things to Come

20 The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. 23 On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” Haggai 2:20-23 ESV

In these closing verses of Haggai’s prophecy, he records a somewhat enigmatic statement made by God concerning Zerubbabel. Up to this point, all that has been revealed about Zerubabbal is his role as the governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1, 14; 2:2, 21). But Haggai has repeatedly described Zerubbabel as “the son of Shealtiel” (Haggai 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2). While it was not uncommon to describe someone’s patriarchal lineage in this manner, Haggai’s repeated mention of Zerubbabel’s “father” is particularly interesting and will take on greater significance as we examine these closing verses.

Zerubbabel’s designation as the son of Shealtiel establishes him as a grandson of King Jehoiachin of Judah. Jehoiachin was a direct descendant of King David and one of the last kings to sit on the Davidic throne ruling over the southern kingdom of Judah. Jehoiachin shared David’s bloodline, but not his great-great grandfather’s love for Yahweh. The book of 2 Chronicles describes his short reign and ignoble end.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. In the spring of the year King Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought him to Babylon, with the precious vessels of the house of the Lord, and made his brother Zedekiah king over Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:9-10 ESV

According to the book of 1 Chronicles, Jehoiachin had a number of sons. Two of them play important roles in Haggai’s narrative. One was Shealtiel and the other was Pedaiah. A close look at the following passage reveals an important clue to Zerubbabel’s identity and provides insights into the final four verses of Haggai’s prophecy.

The sons of Jehoiachin, who was taken prisoner by the Babylonians, were Shealtiel, Malkiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama, and Nedabiah.

The sons of Pedaiah were Zerubbabel and Shimei. – 1 Chronicles 3:17-19 NLT

Zerubbabel was actually the son of Pedaiah, the brother of Shealtiel. This would have made Zerubbabel the nephew of Shealtiel. But it would appear that there is something else going on here. In ancient days, it was important that the family name be preserved because the inheritance was passed down from father to son. In Deuteronomy 25:5-6, the Mosaic Law describes what is often referred to as levirate marriage.

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 25:5-6 ESV

The word levirate comes from the Latin word levir, which means “a husband’s brother.” A levirate marriage, therefore, is literally a “marriage with a brother-in-law.” According to the 1 Chronicles 3 passage, it would appear that Pedaiah, the son of Jehoiachin, died not long after his wife gave birth to Zerubbabel. Then his brother, Shealtiel adopted Zerubbabel as his own son, in order to help preserve his brother’s lineage. Or, it could be that Pedaiah died before Zerubbabel was born, and according to the law of levirate marriage, Shealtiel married his brother’s widow and she bore Zerubbabel. Either way, Zerubbabel would have been a direct descendant of King David and a rightful heir to the Davidic throne.

What makes the idea of levirate marriage a likely explanation to Zerubbabel’s heritage is the way God refers to him in these closing verses of Haggai’s book. On the very same day that God vowed to bless the people of Judah, He had Haggai deliver a very specific and highly personal message to Zerubbabel. God tells the governor of a coming day when He will “shake the heavens and the earth” and “overthrow kingdoms” (Haggai 2:21-22 ESV). On that future day, God would “destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother” (Haggai 2:22 ESV).

It is important to note that God gave this message directly to Zerubbabel and not to Joshua the high priest or the people. For some reason, God has set apart the governor and made him the sole recipient of this message of future divine judgment. What is significant is God’s repeated mention of kings and kingdoms. He promises Zerubbabel that a day is coming when He will overthrow and destroy all the kingdoms of the nations. This message is being given to a man who rules as governor over the disheveled and demoralized nation of Judah. They have no king. They can muster no army. And they are surrounded by enemies who constantly harass and threaten them. But God predicts a day when the tables will turn. And, amazingly, God informs Zerubbabel that he will have a role to play in that future reversal of fortunes takes place.

“On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:23 ESV

This message must have struck Zerubbabel like a ton of bricks. It was unexpected and must have come across as highly unlikely. A simple glance around him would have revealed to Zerubbabel a scene of disarray and disappointment. The city of Jerusalem remained in a state of disrepair. The construction of God’s house was incomplete and the nation was still suffering from the impact of the recent drought. And yet, here was God declaring to Zerubbabel that he was his chosen servant. He describes Zerubbabel as His “signet ring” – the symbol of a king’s authority and power. Affixed to the ring was an emblem that represented the king’s house. That emblem was impressed into wax in order to seal official documents and to designate them as authentic.

God was telling Zerubbabel that he would play the role of a signet ring or the official representation of kingly authority. What makes this so significant is the curse that God had placed on Zerubbabel’s grandfather, Jehoiachin.

“As surely as I live,” says the Lord, “I will abandon you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah. Even if you were the signet ring on my right hand, I would pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek to kill you, those you so desperately fear—to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the mighty Babylonian army. I will expel you and your mother from this land, and you will die in a foreign country, not in your native land. You will never again return to the land you yearn for.” – Jeremiah 22:24-27 NLT

Jehoiachin had proven to be an unfaithful king and a lousy bearer of God’s image. He was like a signet ring that no longer bore the image of its owner. Useless as a symbol of God’s authority, power, and honor, Jehoiachin had been set aside by God. But an unlikely descendant of this discarded king would be used by God to bring about the destruction of the kingdoms of the earth.

In this passage, Zerubbabel is presented as a type of Christ. He is a descendant of David and a rightful heir to the throne. And through him would come the Messiah, the one true servant of God who would fulfill all the promises and prophecies concerning Israel and the nations. The gospel of Matthew records the lineage of Jesus, and in it, we find the name of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel.

After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah. – Matthew 1:12-16 NLT

Zerubbabel appears in the family tree of Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And what makes this so remarkable is that God had placed a curse on Zerubbabel’s grandfather, Jehoiachin.

“This is what the Lord says:
‘Let the record show that this man Jehoiachin was childless.
    He is a failure,
for none of his children will succeed him on the throne of David
    to rule over Judah.’” – Jeremiah 22:30 NLT

But remember, according to 1 Chronicles 3:19, Zerubbabel was actually the son of Pedaiah. Yet, according to God’s sovereign will, He had arranged for Zerubbabel to be raised by his uncle, Shealtiel. Rather than Zerubbabel being the result of levirate marriage, it seems more likely that he was born to Pedaiah. But when his father died, Zerubbabel become the ward of his uncle, Shealtiel, and was raised like his son. This would have effectively bypassed the curse placed on Shealtiel by God.

Through Zerubbabel, God would raise up another unlikely heir who would sit on the throne of David and fulfill all the promises found in verses 21-22 of Haggai 2. Like a signet ring in the hand of God Almighty, Zerubbabel would become a seal of divine authority and power, guaranteeing the authenticity of God’s promises for the future.

Zerubbabel would die long before Jesus was born. Yet, his name is memorialized in the lineage of Jesus. He lives on as a symbol of God’s power and authority, like a signet ring that bears the image of its owner and authenticates His sovereign will over all things. God was not done with Judah. He had restored them to the land but He had far greater plans in place for them as a nation. Through the tribe of Judah was come the Lion of Judah. Zerubbabel was another in the long line of unlikely and undeserving individuals whom God used to accomplish His grand redemptive plan of salvation. And one day, God will fulfill His promise “to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders” (Haggai 2:22 ESV).

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

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

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

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

Well Worth the Wait

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV

The false teachers were raising doubts about one of the most important doctrines the apostles taught concerning Jesus:  His Second Coming. They did so by questioning the reason for its delay.

Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” – 2 Peter 3:4 ESV

Peter and his fellow apostles had been teaching about the coming Day of the Lord ever since Jesus had ascended back into heaven. Before His departure, Jesus had repeatedly told them He would be going away but He also assured them would be returning one day. But it still had not happened yet, and its delay had caused the false teachers to question the validity of the doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming. And because the members of the congregations to whom Peter wrote found themselves suffering for their faith, their hopes for Christ’s return had already begun to fade. This made them vulnerable to any teaching that cast doubts about some future day when Jesus would return and make all things right.

To make matters worse, the false teachers had begun to propagate the idea that there was no future judgment. This led them to mock and scorn the teachings of the apostles. With no fear of coming judgment, they followed their own sinful desires (2 Peter 3:3). They promised freedom but were slaves of corruption themselves (2 Peter 2:19). They seduced others to abandon godly living. Without the fear of God’s judgment, they promoted a lifestyle based on sinful passions of the flesh (2 Peter 2:18). They operated on the philosophy of “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”

But Peter had some bad news for these people. They were deluded by their misinterpretation of God’s future plans. Peter fully admitted that the return of Christ had not yet occurred, but that did not mean it should be ruled out altogether. Peter saw the delay as a sign of God’s patience and grace.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9 ESV

To those who were having to endure unexpected suffering for their faith, the delay in Christ’s coming seemed unfair and unnecessary. If His return was supposed to make all things right and restore righteousness to the world, why was He waiting? From their perspective, there was no better time than the present for Jesus to return and set up His Kingdom. But Peter reminds his readers to “not overlook this one fact … that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 ESV).

Time isn’t an issue with God. Because He is eternal, He exists outside of time and is free from its constraints. From man’s temporal perspective, it appears as if God is taking His sweet time when it comes to the return of His Son and the final redemption of His creation. But God is in no rush. And Peter tells us why.

…he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:9 NLT

It is not God’s desire to destroy people. He does not love condemning the disobedient and rebellious to hell. But as a holy, just, and righteous Judge, He is obligated to do so. It is His moral responsibility to deal with the sinfulness of men. To not do so would be in violation of His godly character. He would love to see all men repent, but He knows that will not happen. As a matter of fact, without God’s sovereign intervention, no one would repent. Jesus Himself said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44 ESV). In that same chapter, Jesus stated, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them” (John 6:65 NIV). And He also claimed, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37 ESV).

Because all men are dead in their trespasses and sins, each is condemned to die and to spend an eternity separated from God. That is the righteous punishment reserved for them by God. But God has made it possible for some to be saved. His desire would be that all be saved, but that will not happen because not all will accept His offer of salvation through faith in Christ. But God is graciously delaying His judgment on all mankind until all who are going to be saved have been restored to a right relationship with Him. And according to Paul, God knows the exact number of those who will be saved. He assured the believers in Rome:

I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. – Romans 11:25 NLT

There is a divinely appointed number of those who will be saved. And when all those who have been called by God have been restored to a right relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ, then His Son will return. Jesus Himself said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 ESV). So we should view God’s delay as a sign of His grace, not as a reason to deny to His coming judgment.

Peter assured his readers that God’s judgment was coming. There was no reason to allow its delay to lead to its denial. It would come according to God’s divine timeline and when it came, it would catch everyone unaware, like a thief in the night. Even Jesus had admitted to His disciples that He was not privy to God’s schedule for His own return.

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” – Matthew 24:36 ESV

That’s why Jesus told them, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 ESV). And Peter gave his readers similar advice:

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. – 2 Peter 3:11-12 ESV

Jesus is coming back. Judgment is coming. God will finish what He has started. So, as we wait for the promised fulfillment of His plan, we are to live holy and godly lives. Our hope is based on God completing His redemptive plan for mankind and the universe. God is going to make all things new, but before that can happen, He will destroy the former things so that He can make a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13 ESV).

Jesus spoke of this divine destruction and recreation of the heavens and the earth. He told His disciples, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35 ESV). He knew that His Heavenly Father had long-term plans to renew and restore all that He had made, including the heavens and the earth. And Peter reminds his readers, “we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13 NLT). He wanted them to understand that their hope was not to be based on this world. They were to focus their attention on the new world to come. Jesus was not coming back to fix all their personal problems or mitigate their present trials and suffering. God had a far greater future in store for them.

Peter wanted them to understand that God’s final judgment would have to take place before His plan for the glorification of His creation could happen. Just as Jesus had to suffer and die before His glorification could take place. As followers of Christ, they were having to endure suffering in their present life, but they could rest in the hope of their future glorification. And they could live with the end in mind. And the apostle Paul provides all believers of all times with these encouraging words:

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 NLT

This earth and all it contains will one day be destroyed. But, as followers of Christ, we know how the story ends. After the Second Coming of Christ, God will make a new heaven and a new earth. And then He will have the grand opening of His masterpiece, the new city of Jerusalem, which He has been preparing from before the foundations of the world. And in that remarkable city, God will make His permanent dwelling place with man, just as the apostle John described it.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:1-5 ESV

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

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

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

You Can Doubt God, But Never Discount Him

1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV

Peter feared that the “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV) of the false teachers would take their toll on those who were spiritually immature. He even declared that these men “entice unsteady souls” (2 Peter 2:14 ESV) and lead them down a path of destruction. Driven by greed and the need for power and influence, these false teachers will say anything that might entrap the weak-willed and spiritually vulnerable.

With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. – 2 Peter 2:18 NLT

Peter seems to indicate that the ones most susceptible to these attacks will be the newly saved. They lack the spiritual maturity and strength to withstand the assaults on their faith that will come in the form of deceptively alluring lies. And, as a result, they will find themselves being lured back into their old ways of life, marked by slavery to sin rather than freedom in Christ.

when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. – 2 Peter 2:20 NLT

Peter used two old and probably well-known proverbs to describe such people.

“The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” – 2 Peter 2:22 ESV

These two visual metaphors were meant to be vivid reminders of the unacceptable nature of spiritual apostasy. Peter wanted his readers to be appalled at the thought of falling away from the faith. He compared it to a dog eating its own vomit – a thoroughly disgusting image that was meant to illustrate just how unacceptable it was for a believer to become enslaved by sin again.

The author of Hebrews describes how difficult it can be for a fallen believer to return once again to faith. It is not impossible, but it is highly improbable.

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come— and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. – Hebrews 6:4-6 NLT

Peter and James are not suggesting that believers who are enticed to return to their old sinful ways have lost their salvation. But they are clearly stating that it is possible for an immature Christ-follower to be lured back into their pre-conversion state of slavery to sin. The potential for “backsliding” was an ever-present reality for every follower of Christ, and this is why the apostles so strongly promoted the need for ongoing sanctification.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:5-10 NLT

Failure to put off the old and put on the new would eventually result in spiritual regression, not spiritual transformation. It would be like a cleanly washed sow returning to the mud and the mire. Unaccustomed to the value of cleanliness, a pig will return to its old familiar and comfortable habits. It’s only natural. And the same thing is true of a believer who fails to supplement his faith with moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5-7).

There is no place for complacency in the life of a believer. The Christian life is not intended to be static or stagnant. Growth is expected and intended as a sign of spiritual health and well-being. The presence of the Holy Spirit within the life of a believer is intended to result in heart transformation that produces behavior modification. But the believer who fails to make progress will eventually regress. The constant presence of their old sin nature will lead them to return to the “vomit” of their former life. And though cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, they will find themselves covered in the muck and mire of sin once again.

All of this is why Peter makes such a big deal out of the false teachers. He knows they will find a ready and willing audience, and he also knows that some within the congregations to whom he was writing would follow the way of the dog and the pig. So, as he opens up the next section of his letter, he reminds his readers that this is the second time he has had to write them. In his former letter, he spent a great deal of time teaching them about the difference between their current suffering and their future inheritance. He knew that they were undergoing difficult trials because of their faith in Christ. But he also knew that they could live with great expectation because they had “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter1:4 NLT).

Peter had wanted them to know that, despite all that was happening to them in this life, they could rejoice because God had something incredible in store for them in the next life.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

And Peter had told them that the prophets of written about this coming salvation, even though they couldn’t fully comprehend its meaning or significance.

They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward. – 1 Peter 1:11 NLT

But their inability to understand the scope of God’s promises did nothing to invalidate the reliability of God’s word. Those men had written under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, declaring the truth concerning God’s redemptive plan – a plan that included the glorious inheritance to which Peter had referred in his first letter. That’s why Peter wrote in his second letter: “I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2 NLT). He was taking them back to those promises penned by the prophets and then declared by him and his fellow apostles. Peter and his companions had come to understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and that there was far more to His kingship than a temporal reign in the city of David. Jesus had come to do something far more spectacular than return Israel to power and prominence. He had come to redeem fallen mankind and to one day restore all creation to its former glory. 

And yet, there were false teachers who were questioning the truth of God’s Word as proclaimed by the prophets and contradicting the teachings the apostles had received from Christ Himself. Peter continued to warn that “in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires” (2 Peter 3:3 NLT). And he provided a specific example of how they will question the writings of the prophets and the words of the apostles. They will say:

“What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” – 2 Peter 3:4 NLT

Notice the subtlety of their line of questioning. The apostles had been teaching that the writings of the Old Testament prophets had clearly proclaimed the second coming of Jesus. But these false teachers were arguing that everything remained just as it was when those men had penned their words. Nothing had changed. Jesus had not returned and, by inference, they were suggesting that He never would. The false teachers were propagating a form of deism. They believed that God existed but that He did not involve Himself in the daily affairs of man. In their estimation, Jesus had been nothing more than a godly man whose good life could be emulated. But He had not been God in human flesh who sacrificed His life for sinful mankind.

In essence, the false teachers were accusing the apostles of lying and twisting the words of the prophets. They were suggesting that Peter and his companions had fabricated the whole God-in-human-flesh idea and had made up the story of Jesus’ resurrection. These arrogant men were denying the teachings of the apostles but, more than that, they were calling into question the veracity of God’s Word. Peter boldly declares:

They deliberately forget that God made the heavens long ago by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. – 2 Peter 3:5-6 NLT

Whether they believed it or not, God had intervened in the affairs of the world before, and He would do so again. While the false teachers would go on questioning divine intervention and future judgment, it did nothing to alter the reality of either one – a point that Peter made perfectly clear.

by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. – 2 Peter 3:7 NLT

Just because they had not yet witnessed the second coming of Jesus did not mean it was a figment of the apostles’ imaginations. It was easy for them to point out that Jesus had not yet returned. But Peter attempted to keep their focus on the promises of God. If God said it, He could be trusted to do it. It didn’t matter whether these men believed God or not. God was not hindered by their lack of faith. He was in no way hampered by their doubts about His sovereignty and providential power. God had judged the world before and He would do so again. And, according to Peter, the false teachers were “being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed” (2 Peter 3:7 NLT).

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

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

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

Consider the Source

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

In writing this letter, Peter was fully aware that its message might find an unreceptive audience. He knew that there were false teachers influencing the local congregations to whom he wrote and that these individuals had purposefully undermined his authority and questioned his teachings. They showed no regard for his position as an apostle of Jesus Christ, but instead, they contradicted and even refuted much of what he had taught. And even if one of the local congregations had not yet come under the influence of these false teachers, Peter knew it was inevitable. He had seen it happen time and time again.

That’s why he declared that he would continue to remind these local congregations of their need to display the character of Christ in their lives, and he would do so with his dying breath.

…it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live. – 2 Peter 1:13 NLT

And Peter reminded his readers that he was not just another teacher proclaiming his own personal version of the truth. He had been one of the original disciples of Jesus Christ. With his own ears, he had received the fateful invitation from Jesus: “Follow me” (Matthew 4:18-19). He had sat under the teachings of Jesus and had watched Him perform amazing miracles. Peter had been an eyewitness to some of Jesus’ most astonishing displays of divine power, including the raising of Lazarus from the dead. So, when he had declared the “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” it had not been the “cleverly devised myths” of men (2 Peter 1:16 ESV). He had been speaking from first-hand experience. Which led him to boldly declare: “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV).

And it seems obvious that, with this statement, Peter had Jesus’ transfiguration in mind. He, James, and John had been privileged to witness this unprecedented moment in the life of Jesus. Matthew records this seminal moment in his gospel account.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. – Matthew 17:1-3 ESV

Peter described that life-changing event in his own words.

We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. – 2 Peter 1:16-17 NLT

Of course, Peter conveniently leaves out the rather rash and presumptuous statement he made on that epic occasion.

“Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” – Matthew 17:4 ESV

Peter, blown away by the experience of seeing the long-since-deceased Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, had wanted to prolong the moment for as long as possible. But his words had been interrupted by a voice from heaven.

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” – Matthew 17:5 ESV

And it was to this word from God Almighty that Peter refers to in his letter.

…the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased…” – 2 Peter 1:17 ESV

Peter had heard the voice of God, and he had seen the glorification of Jesus, the Son of God. But not only that, he had stood before two of the most revered prophets of God. So, the message he had declared to the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia had been anything but a cleverly crafted story devised by men. Peter had been an intimate companion of Jesus Christ Himself. His words had more than ample credibility and validity because, as he put it, “we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:18 ESV). None of the false teachers could make the same claim. 

But the real point behind Peter recalling that story was that it provided him, James, and John with validation of the prophetic messages concerning the Messiah. He put it this way:

Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. – 2 Peter 1:19 NLT

They had seen two of the Old Testament prophets actually conversing with Jesus, and Luke records what their discussion had entailed.

They appeared in glory and spoke about His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.… – Luke 9:31 BSB

These two men had a long-standing association with the coming Messiah of Israel. Moses had declared that the day would come when God provided another prophet who would lead His people.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” – Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV

“And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’” – Deuteronomy 18:17-18 ESV

And it was said of Elijah that he would be sent by God before the “great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5 ESV). And the prophet Malachi went on to describe the role of this God-appointed herald.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

And Jesus would later declare that this prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” – Matthew 11:13-15 ESV

For Peter and his two companions, their experience on the Mount of Transfiguration had been a life-altering experience. It had provided a tangible and irrefutable link between the prophets of old and Jesus, their Rabbi and teacher. If there had been any doubt in their minds as to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, that moment had helped to eradicate it once and for all time. And Peter encouraged his readers to go back and search the Scriptures for themselves. He wanted them to pour over the prophecies concerning the Messiah and understand that Jesus had been the fulfillment for each and every one of them.

You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. – 2 Peter 1:19 NLT

One day, they too would see the glorified Jesus, just as Peter, James, and John had. But the event to which Peter referred was the Rapture of the church, the day when Jesus would return for His bride. The apostle Paul describes this end-times event in his letter to the church at Thessalonica.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

The “morning star” was actually a planet (most likely Venus) that appeared in the pre-dawn sky and signaled the beginning of another new day. In the same way, the Rapture will signal the beginning of “the day of the Lord” – that point in human history when God will usher in the final phase of His redemptive plan.

The words of the prophets had not only declared Christ’s first coming, but they had pointed to His eventual second coming when He will right all wrongs and bring His Father’s redemptive plan to its consummate conclusion. That is why Peter argued that the words of the prophets were so important to understand and obey. They were divinely inspired and wrote of things they could not have understood without the help of the Spirit of God.

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. – 2 Peter 1:20-21 NLT

And, in the same way, Peter and his fellow apostles had only been teaching and preaching what they had heard from Jesus. Their message had not been self-fabricated. It had come from the lips of Jesus, who had come from the throne room of God Almighty. And Peter’s main point will be that, just as there had been false prophets in the days of Elijah and Moses, New Testament believers would count on the presence of false teachers in their churches. It was inevitable but the deleterious influence of their message was avoidable.

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

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

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

Work While You Wait

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV

One thought that Peter and the other apostles couldn’t get out of their heads was the words Jesus had spoken to them not long before He left them.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” – John 14:1-4 NLT

While they didn’t fully understand the gist of His message at the time, the promise contained in it had stayed with them. And their eager anticipation of His return can be found throughout their writings. Peter clearly reveals his belief that Jesus’ return, which will signal the end of this age, could not be far away: “The end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV). But he was not alone in that estimation. James wrote:

You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. – James 5:8 NLT

The apostle Paul, writing with equal intensity and eager anticipation, put it this way:

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. – Romans 13:11-12 NLT

John understood that the Antichrist and the persecution he would bring would precede the return of Christ. He could sense the increasing intensity of persecution and suffering in the world and believed that the end was nearing.

Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. – 1 John 2:18 NLT

And the author of the book of Hebrews encouraged his readers to eagerly await the return of Christ.

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, 28 so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:27-28 NLT

Each of these men lived with a sense of anticipation and expectation. They understood that that the return of the Lord was a vital part of God’s redemptive plan. As Paul put it, “the day of salvation” was tied directly to the second coming of Jesus. His return was an essential and non-negotiable requirement for the Kingdom to be restored, and each of these men still longed to see that happen in their lifetimes. Jesus’ departure had delayed but not diminished their hopes. He had promised to return and they believed Him.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.” – John 14:27-29 NLT

At the time Peter wrote his letter, the apostle John had not yet received his vision from God that eventually produced the book of Revelation. Late in his life, John found himself living on the desolate island of Patmos. He had been exiled there by the Roman Emperor as a punishment for his continued promotion of “the Way” – the derogatory name used by the Romans to refer to the Jewish sect that still followed the martyred Rabbi, Jesus. But as John sat imprisoned on Patmos, he was given a divinely inspired vision of the future, delivered to him by an angel of God.

This is a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the events that must soon take place. He sent an angel to present this revelation to his servant John, who faithfully reported everything he saw. This is his report of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. – Revelation 1:1-2 NLT

Notice that he too believed that the things he saw and later recorded would “soon take place.” John was not given a detailed timeline for the events described in the revelation he received from Jesus. But it seems clear that he believed he would live to witness their arrival. And, once again, he was given ample reason to reach that conclusion when he heard and wrote down the last words Jesus spoke in his vision.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20 ESV

John and his fellow apostles lived with a deep longing to see their Savior again. They had been faithful to fulfill the commission He had given them and had taken the gospel of the Kingdom to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The size of the church had increased significantly but so had the persecution. And these 1st-Century saints found motivation and determination in the promise of Christ’s return. They lived with the end in mind.

That’s why Peter told his readers to “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV). According to Peter, the end of all things was close at hand. In other words, the return of Christ was imminent. It could happen at any moment. Peter knew that his readers were undergoing intense persecution and it would be easy for them to become fixated on their circumstances and lose hope. So, he called them to refocus their attention on the promise of Christ’s return. This was going to require that they think clearly and evaluate their circumstances soundly. The apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Colossae to have the same kind of attitude about life.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. – Colossians 3:1-4 NLT

A clear-headed understanding of Christ’s place of power and prominence at God’s right hand would result in a much-needed reminder of His sovereign control over all things, including their suffering and persecution. Nothing they would endure in this life would prevent their experience of eternal life. But, as Peter warns, the failure to think clearly about the present and the future would negatively influence their prayer lives. When believers lose sight of the goal, their prayers become focused on their present problems and their hope for the immediate gratification of their desires. This life becomes all there is. That’s why Paul said, “set your sights on the realities of heaven.”

It was Jesus who provided His disciples with a model prayer designed to refocus their petitions to God.

“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:7-10 NLT

Even Jesus promoted a future-minded mentality. It is by focusing on the reality of the future, as prescribed by God, that believers can make sense of the present. Jesus went on to encourage prayers for daily provision, forgiveness, and protection from temptation. But all these requests are intended to provide the endurance necessary to survive in this world while waiting for the next. They are focused on the end.

But Peter went on to encourage a lifestyle marked by grace-based love, complaint-free hospitality, and a God-glorifying use of their spiritual gifts. They were to love as they had been loved by God. They were to open their hearts and homes, providing the same gracious and warm welcome into the family of God that they had received. And they were to use the gifts given to them by the Spirit of God in order to bless the people of God. As they waited for the return of the Lord, they were to remain busy about the business of doing good.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. – Galatians 6:9-10 NLT

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

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

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

 

Sufferings and Subsequent Glories

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:10-13 ESV

According to Peter, the trials and difficulties of this life become more understandable and even endurable when one considers “the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9 ESV). He doesn’t mean that the sufferings we endure while living in the present age will be any less difficult but he provides a way to put them in the perspective of eternity. He encourages us to keep our eye on the prize, just as the apostle Paul did.

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:14 NLT

And this ultimate salvation of our souls, as Peter puts it, is something about which the prophets spoke and wrote. As Peter penned this section of his letter, he must have reflected back on the scene that took place just days after Jesus’ resurrection. He and the other disciples were gathered together in a locked room somewhere in the city of Jerusalem. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, Jesus was standing in the room with them.

Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 NLT

Their resurrected Lord and Savior gave them a whirlwind Old Testament survey class, providing them with a comprehensive overview of the Law, the writings of the prophets, and the Psalms. Jesus went methodically through the Hebrew Scriptures, pointing out all the prophecies and predictions concerning Himself. For the first time in their lives, the disciples were able to see the full scope of God’s plan concerning the Messiah. Like all Jews, they had focused all their attention and hopes on those passages that predicted the glorification of the Messiah, while failing to recognize the many references to His suffering. For centuries, the Jewish people had waited for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

They had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of this descendant of David who would restore the fortunes of Israel and bring peace to the world. But they had conveniently overlooked the other prophecies of Isaiah that told of “a man of sorrows… acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV), who would endure tremendous pain and humiliation on behalf of His people.

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth. – Isaiah 53:5-7 NLT

When Isaiah penned these words, he had no idea of their full import. Peter indicates that all the prophets “wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward” (1 Peter 1:11 NLT). These men had no way of understanding how all these prophecies fit together. They were operating under the influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but that did not mean that they were given insight into God’s timeline concerning the Messiah. Even Jesus Himself spoke of how the prophets and the Old Testament saints would have longed to see and hear all that to which the disciples were given access.

“I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it. – Matthew 13:17 NLT

What Peter wanted his readers to understand was that the prophets had provided a comprehensive and detailed overview of Jesus’ life, writing of “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Peter 1:11 ESV). In other words, they had not left out the unattractive and unappealing parts of His life’s story. Yes, there would be glorification, but not before He endured great humiliation. That is exactly what Jesus had told the disciples as He stood before them in His glorified body.

“Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. – Luke 24:46 NLT

And the apostle Paul would later explain the sequence of events that unfolded in the life of Jesus. There had been a non-negotiable order to all that had taken place, and it had begun with His humiliation.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

Jesus was required to leave His Father’s side in glory and take on “the humble position of a slave.” Yet, He did so willingly. He gave up His divine rights and privileges so that He might take on human flesh and dwell among men. And while in human form, He suffered greatly. He was regularly rejected and ridiculed. He went without food and sleep. Jesus even said of Himself, “the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head” (Luke 9:58 NLT). And the downward trajectory of His life culminated with His death on a Roman cross. Yet, Paul went on to explain that Jesus’ humiliation was followed by glorification.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

Humiliation preceded glorification. Jesus had to be lifted up on a cross before He could be elevated to the place of highest honor. It was necessary that His character be slandered before His name could be honored. He had to be vilified before He could be glorified.

And Peter reminds his readers that “this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Peter 1:12 NLT). Through the Spirit-inspired preaching of the apostles, the believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia had heard the gospel message and had responded in faith. They had been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT). And that priceless inheritance was being “kept in heaven…pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT).

Just as the prophets were unable to comprehend every last detail of their own writings, so Christ-followers will not fully understand the significance of God’s eternal plan for their lives. While we have been given access to the full Canon of Scripture and provided insights into God’s future plans for His creation, there is much we will never understand until it actually happens. And Peter indicates that it’s all “so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen” (1 Peter 1:12 NLT). The plan of God is unfolding all around us and all according to His sovereign, immutable will. Nothing can stop it and no one can delay it. So, what should we do in the meantime? Peter answers that question in a single sentence.

…prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. – 1 Peter 1:13 NLT

And he will spend the rest of his letter unpacking and explaining what that should look like in everyday life. Once again, we are to live with our eyes on the prize. We are to focus our hope on the gracious salvation to come. But as we wait for the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world, we must live with the same attitude He displayed in His earthly life.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2 BSB

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

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

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

 

More Than Alive

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:50-53 ESV

What’s Up with the Ascension?Luke is a stickler for details. So, it’s not surprising that he adds a very subtle but significant factor when describing the final moments of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He points out that Jesus led His disciples “out as far as Bethany” (Luke 24:50 ESV). This was the same village, located just a few miles east of Jerusalem, where Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. He was returning to the very spot where He had earlier told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:25-26 NLT).

According to the apostle Paul, between the time Jesus walked out of the tomb to the moment He stood before His disciples in Bethany, He had appeared to hundreds of individuals in His resurrected form.

He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 5:4-8 NLT

So, as He stood among His disciples in Bethany, the scene of Lazarus’ death-to-life transformation, there was little doubt in their minds that He truly was “the resurrection and the life.” He was the literal epicenter for all hope of resurrection. Lazarus had been raised from death to life, but he had not been resurrected. His earthly body had been resuscitated, which is a miracle in and of itself, but he would live to die again. In other words, Lazarus’ new life was nothing more than his old one regained.

But what Jesus had said to Martha regarding the resurrection was something altogether different. He told her, “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:26 NLT). To experience the resurrected life was to enjoy eternal life – a never-ending experience of life without pain, suffering, or physical death. It’s fascinating to consider that Jesus chose Bethany the point of departure for His ascension back to heaven. He had a new body that was prepared for its eternal existence with God the Father. Yes, He still retained the scars and visible wounds He had suffered during His crucifixion, but His “earthly tent” had been transformed into into its glorified state. The apostle Paul talked about this “eternal body” and its implications for all believers.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this… – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

I don’t think it’s farfetched to consider that Lazarus was in the crowd that day. He was a faithful follower of Jesus and was eternally grateful for the miracle of new life that Jesus had given him. But as Lazarus looked on, he was still inhabiting his old earthly tent, while Jesus stood before him in His new “house,” a heavenly body prepared for the joys of eternal life.

For Jesus, the goal was not restored life, but resurrected life. While Judas was living proof that Jesus could raise the physically dead back to life, that had not been His primary objective. New life was not enough. What sinful man really needs is resurrected life.  The apostle Paul would drive home this point in his first letter to the believers in Corinth.

…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. – 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 NLT

Belief in a reanimated of a formerly dead Jew was not going to be enough. Jesus wasn’t just another Lazarus – a dead man who had been restored to life. He was the resurrected and glorified Son of God. And it was His resurrection, not His resuscitation that made the difference. Consider what Paul wrote.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 NLT

The point Paul was trying to make was that Jesus was not simply alive. He is the living hope for all those who have died. His resurrection was not an offer of renewed life on this earth but of eternal life in the coming Kingdom of God. And His resurrection was to stand as a guarantee of all the resurrections to come.

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

And then, Paul went on to compare Jesus to Adam.

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.– 1 Corinthians 15:21-23 NLT

What’s important to consider is an often overlooked exchange that took place between Jesus and His disciples as they gathered together in Bethany. Luke records this conversation in the opening chapter of the book of Acts.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” – Acts 1:6 NLT

As they stood looking at the resurrected Jesus, all they could think about was the fact that He was alive. Just days earlier, Jesus had been a corpse in a tomb. But now, He stood before them in the peak of health and what they hoped would be full fighting form. Their question reveals that they were still hoping Jesus was going to set up His kingdom on earth. They had not given up hope that Jesus would finally declare His Messiahship by overthrowing the Romans and establishing His reign over Israel. Now that He was alive, there was no time like the present.

But Jesus burst their bubble by announcing, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8 NLT).

They had their sights set on a display of military power that would put Israel back on the map. But Jesus promised them a far different kind of power – that which would come from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And the only way that kind of power would become available was if the resurrected Jesus returned to His Father’s side. And according to the gospels and the book of Acts, that is exactly what happened. 

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. – Acts 1:9 NLT         

and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. – Luke 24:50-51 NLT 

When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. – Mark 16:19 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke records that they “worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God” (Luke 24:52-53 NLT). But it seems that in between the time he wrote his gospel and then penned the book of Acts, Luke had gained further details concerning that fateful day. Through interviews or word of mouth, he discovered that the disciples had experienced one last divine encounter. Two angels had appeared and confronted them about their apparent delay in returning to Jerusalem.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:11 NLT

They were standing there, probably slack-jawed and dumbfounded, as their able-bodied, fully alive Messiah slowly disappeared from sight. They had been hoping He would stay and fulfill all their hopes concerning the Kingdom of God. But He was leaving so that they might one day experience the reality of their own resurrections and the joy of life in His eternal Kingdom. And it was news of His promised return that filled them with joy and sent them back to Jerusalem in a state of heartfelt worship and praise. And we too should rejoice and worship the King for the unwavering promise of His return.

“Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20 ESV

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

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

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

Signs of the (End) Times

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.  Luke 21:29-38 ESV

One can only imagine the look of shock and dismay on the faces of Jesus’ disciples as He continues to disclose the Father’s grand plan of redemption. Ever since they began to follow Jesus, these men had been driven by a shared hope that He was their long-awaited Messiah. Over time, they grew in their confidence that He was the anointed one of Israel, the seed of Abraham and the son of David who would ascend to the throne and re-establish the Davidic dynasty and restore the nation of Israel to power and prominence once again. But in His Olivet Discourse, Jesus seemed to dash their hopes by revealing aspects about the future that did not line up with their expectations. He had already told them that He would be arrested, tried, and put to death in Jerusalem.  But now, He was telling them that they too would suffer at the hands of the same men who would put Him to death.

“… they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.” – Luke 21:12 ESV

Then He added insult to injury by declaring that the city of Jerusalem will be invaded and the house of God will be destroyed. He warned them that “there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people” (Luke 21:23 ESV). Then He added…

“…there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity…” – Luke 21:25 ESV

“…people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world…” – Luke 21:26 ESV.

“…the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” – Luke 21:26 ESV

But all of these devastating signs and disturbing events will culminate with His return.

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” – Luke 21:27 ESV

We tend to read these pronouncements with a sense of apathy because we know how the story ends. We have the completed canon of Scripture and, thanks to the book of Revelation, have been given a glimpse into God’s plan for mankind’s future. We have been given additional details that help make sense of what Jesus was telling His disciples on that fateful evening. They found His words to be cryptic and difficult to comprehend because these cataclysmic events had not been part of their religious training. They were mentally and emotionally unprepared for such things.

But Jesus was attempting to open their eyes and help them develop a long-term perspective regarding His Kingdom. They were focused on the here-and-now, and having trouble understanding that the talk of His coming death in Jerusalem was anything but bad news or something to be avoided at all costs. This entire chapter contains the surprising and difficult-to-comprehend words of Jesus as He reveals the bigger picture regarding God’s plan of redemption. Jesus’ death on the cross would be just the beginning of the much larger, comprehensive plan of God. It would also include His resurrection as well as His return to His Father’s side. But, even more importantly, it would require His eventual return to earth as the conquering King.

And while Jesus knew that there would be a long delay before His return would take place, He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager anticipation. If they expected it to happen and kept their eyes open, looking for the signs of its approach, they would be able to endure the struggles that were coming their way.

After deluging His disciples with a tidal wave of disturbing news concerning future events, He gave them a brief respite by telling them a parable. In effect, it was a visual lesson. As they sat on the hillside on the Mount of Olives, there was likely a fig tree nearby. So, Jesus took advantage of its close proximity and said, “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees” (Luke 21:29 ESV).

By diverting His disciples’ attention to the tree, Jesus was using something from the temporal and natural world to convey eternal and spiritual truths. He used the visual lesson of a fig tree in order to help the disciples understand that there would be visible, recognizable signs associated with His coming. The budding of a fig tree was a natural indication that summer was drawing near. It was an unmistakable and irrefutable fact of nature. In the same way, Jesus stated that the signs of His return would be undeniable. He even assured them that “this generation will not pass away until all has taken place” (Luke 21:32 ESV).

But what does that mean? Was He saying that the events associated with the end times would take place during the lifetimes of His disciples? The answer would seem to be no. The appearance of leaves on a fig tree was a sign that summer was approaching. It did not mean that summer had arrived. It simply served as a presage or foreshadowing of what was to come.

Jesus is using this natural phenomenon to disclose that, while they were alive, they would begin to see the early signs of His return. The budding of a fig tree provides a premonition or portent of something else to come. The buds do not mean summer has arrived, but that it is coming. In the same way, the disciples would live to see signs that would point to His eventual and inevitable return. They would not be alive when He returned, but they would be given clear indications that it was going to happen.

Each generation of believers has been given signs that point to His imminent and inevitable return. These signs act as assurances of God’s faithfulness and are meant to encourage us to continue to wait eagerly and hopefully.

Jesus was letting His disciples know that the earth would continue to go through all kinds of struggles, including earthquakes, famines, floods, disasters, and even wars. The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth: “Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away” (1 Corinthians 7:31 NLT). The apostle John wrote, “this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave” (1 John 2:17 NLT). Even Jesus, earlier in this very same discourse, warned His disciples:

“…you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” – Matthew 24:6-8 NLT

But while there will be clear signs along the way, the actual day and date of the Lord’s return will remain a mystery. We will be given assurances of its coming, but we will not know the exact time. That’s why Jesus commanded them to “stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place” (Luke 21:36 ESV). The days ahead would be difficult. And while the years following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension would be marked by great joy at the birth of the church and its global expansion, Christ’s followers would also encounter tremendous persecution and opposition.

His referral to “this generation” in verse 32 seems to be an indication that the disciples represent a new dispensation or age among mankind. They will become the first fruits of those who make up the church age. But they will also represent all those who live after the cross and who face the choice between salvation through faith in Christ alone or the condemnation and death that come through disbelief.

“This generation” includes all those who will witness Christ’s ascension and all those who will see His second coming. They and the world they inhabit will not be destroyed until all these things take place. Believers and unbelievers will inhabit this planet until the bitter end. And Jesus assures His disciples that they can trust His words. His word will prove more lasting and permanent than the universe itself.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” – Luke 21:33 ESV

The signs they saw along the way were meant to remind them that God’s plan was not yet done. There was more to come. Any persecution they encountered was intended to remind them that He would one day return and complete the redemptive work that God had given Him. In the meantime, while they waited, they were to live with their hopes firmly focused on the promises of the future and refuse to be distracted by the temporal cares of this world.

“…watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” – Luke 21:34 ESV

The signs would come. The difficulties would be real. But the return of the Lord would take place just as God had planned.

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

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

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