Filled With the Spirit

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. – 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 ESV

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. – Acts 1:8 NLT

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. – John 14:16-17 NT

We have been and we are sanctified. It is a past action that has present ramifications. And while we may find it difficult to see ourselves as fully righteous, that does not change the fact that we are. Our problem is that we have a limited perspective, and find it hard to see beyond the limits of the fallen world in which we live and the ever-present reality of our sin nature. We think bad thoughts. We do wrong things. We commit acts that we know are out of God’s will for us as His children. And when we do, we conclude that our righteousness has diminished and needs to be restored. So, we get to work in a vain attempt to refill our righteousness tank and restore our holiness before God.

But we need to have the same attitude Paul had. He saw his life as completely dependent upon the saving work of Jesus Christ, from start to finish.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

When Paul failed, and he did, he didn’t attempt to manufacture his own brand of righteousness, but instead, he relied on the righteousness provided for him by Jesus. He wouldn’t allow himself to fall back into the old habit of works-righteousness, where he would try to restore his broken relationship with God through self-effort.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

He went back to the reality of faith. The Christian life begins and ends with faith. It is completely dependent upon faith. And one of the most critical areas of the Christian’s life where faith is often in short supply is in when it comes to embracing our holiness before God. In light of the undeniable presence of sin our lives, how can we possibly know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are righteous? The answer is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. If we are in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit of God living within us.

A. W. Pink raises a logical and important point:

The coming of this divine and glorious Person to indwell one who is depraved and sinful is both a marvel and a mystery; a marvel that he should, a mystery that he would. How is it possible for him who is ineffably holy to dwell within those who are so unholy? – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

The very thought of the holy, perfectly sinless Spirit of God to take up residence within a fallen, sin-saturated human being seems impossible. But He does. The question is, how? For God’s Spirit to take up residence within the life of the believer indicates that the “house” has been cleansed and made pure enough for His presence. Paul rhetorically asked the believers in Corinth: “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God” (1 Corinthians 6:19 NLT). And earlier in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul clarified that the corporate body of Christ is the temple of God Himself.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NLT

In verse 9 of chapter 3, Paul refers to the church as “God’s building.” In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul confirmed, “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16 NLT). He wrote the believers in Ephesus: “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22 NLT).

So, God sends His Spirit to dwell within the life of each individual believer and, by extension, the corporate body of Christ. And for that to happen, the “house” or “dwelling” must be cleansed and purified. All of this was foreshadowed with the tabernacle in the wilderness. When Moses and the people of Israel had made all the parts of the tabernacle according to God’s instructions, they erected it for the first time, then God commanded Moses:

 “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy. You shall also anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, so that the altar may become most holy. You shall also anoint the basin and its stand, and consecrate it. Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.” – Exodus 40:91-5 ESV

Just a few verses later, Moses records what happened once the tabernacle was erected, anointed, and purified.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. – Exodus 40:34-35 ESV

The tabernacle, built according to God’s instructions and purified according to His commands, was made a suitable dwelling place for His presence. In the same way, God purifies the believer, sprinkling Him clean with the blood of Christ, making him a worthy house for the presence of His Holy Spirit. The author of Hebrews compares the efforts of Moses to cleanse the people and the temple with that of Jesus cleansing the believer.

For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:19-22 ESV

Just as the tabernacle had to be purified before God’s glory could enter, Jesus purifies the believer with His blood, making his life a fitting dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. As the author of Hebrews states, our hearts have been sprinkled clean and our bodies have been washed. God has prepared us to be the home of His Holy Spirit. Which is why the author of Hebrews tells us:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22 ESV

Whether we feel like it or not, each believer is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and His presence is proof positive that we are fully righteous and acceptable before God. He would not send His Spirit to live in an unacceptable and unsanctified house. And it is the indwelling presence of the Spirit that gives us the confidence and right to draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”

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

 

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Here I Am. Send Me!

1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”– Isaiah 6:1-8 ESV

This chapter seems a bit out of place. It provides details concerning Isaiah’s divine call, but appears after the first five chapters, which contain a summary of Judah’s sin and God’s coming judgment. It would appear that Isaiah wanted to begin his book with a clear description of the state of affairs in Judah so that the people would understand the nature of his message to them. Now, in chapter six, he reveals that he is a messenger sent from God. He has received a commission from Yahweh Himself, and has been tasked with the responsibility to warn the people of Judah of what God has ordained, unless they repent and return to Him.

Isaiah prefaces this chapter by providing the date of his calling. It was in the year King Uzziah died. That would have been around 740 B.C. It’s interesting to note that King Uzziah was one of the few godly kings to reign in Judah since the split of the kingdom after Solomon’s reign. He reigned over Judah for 52 years, but like so many of the other kings of Judah, Uzziah failed to remain faithful to God. He enjoyed the blessings of God, but allowed them to go to his head.

But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the Lord, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!” 2 Chronicles 26:16-18 NLT

Don’t miss the details concerning Uzziah’s sin. He had entered the sanctuary of the temple and burned incense on the altar of incense. In other words, he had taken on the role of the priest and, in doing so, had violated the law of God. He had committed the very same crime that had resulted in King Saul’s removal and replacement by David (1 Samuel 13:9).

When confronted by the high priest, Uzziah had reacted with rage, screaming at Azariah and the other priests. As a result of his actions, God struck him with leprosy. And the text tells us that he remained a leper until his death.

So King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in isolation in a separate house, for he was excluded from the Temple of the Lord. His son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land. – 2 Chronicles 26:21 NLT

His God-ordained disease banned left him unclean and banned from ever entering the temple again. He spent the remaining years of his life in quarantine, secluded in a separate house and unable to govern the people of God.

And in the year of his death, Isaiah was given a vision by God. It is not coincidence that Isaiah saw God in His holy temple, the actual temple in heaven. He was given a glimpse into the actual Holy of Holies where God sits on the mercy seat. The author of Hebrews wrote of the existence of the true temple in heaven where God dwells.

That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals.

For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. – Hebrews 9:23-24 NLT

The earthly temple was modeled after the heavenly one. And while Uzziah, in his pride, had entered into the earthly temple and offered unlawful sacrifices to God, Isaiah was allowed to see into the heavenly temple where God’s presence dwells. And he describes it in great detail.

I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. – Isaiah 6:1 ESV

Isaiah, like John in the book of Revelation, was given the privilege of seeing God Almighty in all His glory. And Isaiah describes God as sitting on his throne, the mercy seat located in the Holy of Holies. We know this is the location of God’s throne because of Isaiah’s description of his immediate surroundings.

Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. – Isaiah 6:2 ESV

Over in the book of 1 Kings, we have a very similar description of the Holy of Holies in the temple Solomon constructed.

He made two cherubim of wild olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary. The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long. The two cherubim were identical in shape and size; each was 15 feet tall. He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room. He overlaid the two cherubim with gold. – 1 Kings 6:23-28 NLT

These two cherubim are not to be confused with the two that were located on the top of the ark of the covenant. Notice their size. They were 15-feet tall and on permanent display in the Holy of Holies. It was inbetween these two massive statues that the ark of the covenant was to be placed.

Then the priests carried the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant into the inner sanctuary of the Temple–the Most Holy Place–and placed it beneath the wings of the cherubim. – 1 Kings 8:6 NLT

But, while the cherubim in Solomon’s temple were lifeless statues, the two that Isaiah saw standing above the throne of God in heaven were living creatures. And they cried out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3 ESV). This is very similar to the scene John saw in his vision of the heavenly throne room.

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!” – Revelation 4:8 ESV

In both visions, the emphasis is on the holiness of God. The whole earth is full of His glory. He is all-pervasive. Yes, He sits on His throne in the Holy of Holies, but He is not restricted in any way. God’s glory fills the entirety of His creation. And it is that fact that makes the sins of Judah so much more egregious. The reaction of Isaiah reveals that he fully understood the dramatic contrast between the holiness of his God and the sinfulness of his own people.

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”  – Isaiah 6:5 ESV

He even saw himself as unworthy to stand before a perfectly holy and righteous God. Even his lips were contaminated by his sinfulness, making him unworthy to sing the praises of his God. And he was not alone. The entire population of Judah was marred by sin. Like Uzziah, who found himself covered with leprosy and banished from the temple, the people of Judah were covered by the guilt of sin and unwelcome in God’s presence. It was their sin that separated them from God. Their unrighteousness kept them from approaching the righteous King, the Lord of hosts.

But with Isaiah’s confession of guilt came cleansing and forgiveness. One of the cherubim touched his lips with a hot coal from the altar of incense and pronounced:

“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6:7 ESV

The apostle John reminds us that this incredible opportunity is available to any and all who will simply confess their sins to God.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. – 1 John 1:9 NLT

Isaiah required cleansing before he could act as God’s spokesperson. He needed to have his own sins forgiven before he could deliver God’s message to the people of Judah. We see this lived out in the life of Aaron, the original high priest, who, each year on the day of atonement had to offer sacrifices on his own behalf before he could intercede for the people of God.

Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. – Leviticus 16:11-13 ESV

Once cleansed from his own sins, Aaron could then offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. And, after having received cleansing for his sins, Isaiah was ready to serve as God’s messenger to His people.

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” – Isaiah 6:8 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

The End of the Age.

1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 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 24:1-14 ESV

Destruction-of-the-Temple-Foretold-by-Jesus-2.pngIn one of our earlier readings this week we saw the anger of Jesus leveled against those who would keep people from experiencing the blessing of the Kingdom He had come to offer. But you need to understand His heart, and you see it clearly in His words spoken in regards to Jerusalem.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks under beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” ­–  Matthew 23:37-39 NLT

Jerusalem, as the city of God, had a track record of rejecting the message of God. Jesus had come as the King they had long waited for. He had come as the perfect sacrifice that would forever replace their need for further sacrificial offerings in the temple. He had come as their perfect High Priest, interceding on their behalf before God. But they would refuse to accept Him. And Jesus had prophetically warned:

“And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” – Matthew 23:38 NLT

This was a prophetic judgment. Jesus was leaving. He was going away. He was going to  literally walk away from the temple and the city, but His departure would have an even greater significance. This all reminds me of a vision given to the prophet Ezekiel hundreds of years earlier. It also involved the temple and the city of Jerusalem:

Then the glory of the LORD moved out from the door of the Temple and hovered above the cherubim. And as I watched, the cherubim flew with their wheels to the east gate of the LORD’s Temple. And the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them.Then the glory of the LORD went up from the city and stopped above the mountain to the east. – Ezekiel 10:18-19; 11:23 NLT

As an illustration of God’s coming judgment, His presence left the temple and the city. God removed Himself from their midst. Now fast-forward to this point in Jesus’ life. He was also threatening to abandon the temple and the city. The Son of God was going to remove His presence from their midst and, as a result, judgment would come.

Look at how Matthew chapter 24 starts out: “Jesus left the temple and was going away…” (Matthew 24:1 ESV). Sounds eerily similar to the Ezekiel passage. “Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house…” (Ezekiel 10:18 ESV). As they walked away from the temple, the disciples remarked about the temple grounds:

“Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.” – Mark 13:1 NLT

Jesus gave them a bit of shocking news:

“Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Mark 13:2 NLT

Naturally, the disciples wanted to know WHEN all this was going to happen?

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?” – Luke 21:7 NLT

In response, Jesus gave them a two-part answer. There would be some things that happened in the not-too-distant future, and there would be other things that took place long after the disciples were gone. Some of the things that were to happen in the more immediate future would serve as patterns of things to come later. For instance, the temple was going to be destroyed in 70 AD just as Jesus had predicted (Luke 19:41-44). But this would be a pattern of what is yet to come. The destruction of the temple by the Romans was NOT going to be the end. It would simply be a foreshadowing of the coming future judgment.

Jesus and His disciples made their way out of the Temple grounds. It is likely that they left through the Eastern gate on their way to the Mount of Olives.

Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the Temple. – Mark 13:3 NLT

Again, eerily similar to what we find in the book of Ezekiel.

Then the glory of the LORD went up from the city and stopped above the mountain to the east. – Ezekiel 11:23 NLT

Mark tells us that it was Peter, James, John and Andrew who privately questioned Jesus about the timing of the temple’s destruction. They were obviously concerned. They wanted to know if the temple had to be destroyed as part of Jesus’ Messianic plan – when would it happen? So, Jesus begand what has come to be known as His Olivet Discourse. He was sitting with His disciples on the Mount of Olives just outside the city walls of Jerusalem. They could see the temple grounds just beyond the valley and just over the walls

What Jesus was about to tell them can be highly confusing. It was prophetic in nature and included both short-term and long-term predictions. And it was focused primarily on the Jewish nation. Jesus was going to talk about the end.

“Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.” – Matthew 24:6 NLT

Jesus was talking about a future point in time. But before THAT TIME arrived, there were going to be some things to look for ­ – some signs

Sign 1: False Messiahs  – Matthew 24:4

Jesus discussed events that would happen after His resurrection and ascension. When He left, there would be those who showed up claiming to be the Messiah. Basically, they would claim, “the time has come!” (Luke 21:8). Don’t Jesus warned that the disciples were not to believe them.

Sign 2: Wars, threats of wars, and insurrections – Matthew 24:6

Those future days would be marked by increasing instability and uncertainty. Things would appear shaky. But Jesus encouraged His followers not to panic because all these things were necessary. Yet their presence did not mean the end would immediately follow.

Sign 3: Actual global conflict – Matthew 24:7

The time of which Jesus spoke would NOT be a time of peace. It would be marked by increasing conflict around the world. Sin would continue to exhert a powerful influence over the lives of man. But again, Jesus told His disciples not to be surprised by all this.

Sign 4: Natural disasters – Matthew 24:7

Creation itself would be in turmoil. Natural disasters would increase, not diminish, and would serve as the early signs before the end. –Jesus compared them to a woman’s contractions during labor, steadily increasing in intensity before she finally gives birth. But interestingly, Jesus told them once again not to be concerned about these things.

Personal Persecution – Matthew 24:9

Now, Jesus shared with the disciples some really disturbing news that directly involved them. He told them about the upcoming persecution they would suffer after His departure. This is virtually a word-for-word repeat of what He had told them back in Matthew 10. He told them they would be dragged into synagogues, put in prison and eventually tried in a court of laws. Their own families would betray them. Some of them would be killed. Everyone would hate them. And it would all be because they were His  followers. And this would all commence as soon as Jesus returned to heaven. His disciples would experience all of this, to one degree or another.

Denial of Christ and Spiritual Apathy – Matthew 24:10-12

Jesus informed the disciples that many who claimed to be His followers would desert and betray Him. We know that this took place even before His trials began in Jerusalem. At His arrest, the disciples all fled. At His trial, Peter denied Him and ran away. Judas had already made an agreement with the high priest to betray Him. All those people who had shouted, “Hosanna!” at His arrival in Jerusalem at the beginning of the week, would turn on Him, shouting instead, “Crucify Him!” But these events would extend far beyond the time in which the apostles lived. These things were to be ongoing, extending even into our own lifetimes. And they will continue until He returns.

The Perseverance of the Saints and the Spread of the Gospel – Matthew 24:13-14

But in spite of the fact that many would end up deserting and denying Jesus, there would be those who endured and persevered to the end. They would remain faithful, resulting in the spread of the good news about the Kingdom throughout all the world. This includes the period of time from Jesus’ ascension all the way to the END. And it would be at that time that Jesus would return.

This incredible passage provides us with a glimpse into the future of not only Israel, but the world. Jesus is preparing His disciples to think globally and eternally. He is attempting to move their point of reference from the here-and-now to the yet-to-be. These men had been obsessed with their own immediate context. They had hoped that Jesus was going to establish His Messianic Kingdom in their lifetimes. They had a difficult time accepting His repeated warnings that He was going to die in Jerusalem. And the very thought of the temple being destroyed was unfathomable to them. It was inconceivable and unacceptable. But Jesus had a long-term perspective that was focused on God’s eternal plan of redemption. He was not done yet. He had to die. He had to rise again. He had to return to His Father’s side. And then, one day, when it was time, He would return to earth and complete His Father’s will.

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.

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

The Battle Lines Are Drawn.

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. –  Matthew 21:14-17 ESV

tissot-he-heals-the-lame-in-the-temple-740x545After having cleansed His Father’s house, Jesus proceeded to return it to its rightful status as a place of healing and hope. When Solomon had prayed the prayer of dedication over the original temple, he had asked of God, “listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:30 ESV). Solomon deeply desired that the magnificent building he had constructed would be a place where God’s presence dwelt and where those who approached God in humility could find forgiveness and restoration. Which is why he had prayed, “whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind)” (1 Kings 8:37-39 ESV).

With His cleansing of the temple, Jesus had made the temple a place of prayer once again. As He walked through its courtyards, the crowds came to Him, the blind and the lame somehow made their way to Him. And Matthew simply states, “He healed them.” And these would be the last healings Jesus would perform in His earthly ministry. Here in His Father’s house, he was extending mercy and grace to those who come to Him with their physical afflictions. And, as Solomon had prayed, Jesus, who knows the hearts of all the children of mankind, saw past their physical infirmities and longed to restore their more serious spiritual condition. Which is why, within days, He would offer Himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

But the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees speaks volumes. Matthew states that when these men saw “saw the wonderful things that he did,” they became indignant. The Greek word translated as “wonderful” refers to something miraculous or marvelous, and worthy of admiration. But instead, these men were filled with indignation or displeasure. The were appalled, not awed. Rather than rendering worship to God for what they were seeing, they reacted with anger. They were offended by the shouts of the children who were declaring, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And they asked Jesus if He was hearing what the children were saying.

And Jesus calmly responded to them, quoting from one of the psalms, of which they would have been familiar.

You have taught children and infants
    to tell of your strength,
silencing your enemies
    and all who oppose you. – Psalm 8:2 NLT

Earlier, when Jesus had first entered Jerusalem, the crowds had shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV). And the Pharisees had demanded the Jesus rebuke them. But Jesus had told them, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40 ESV). The reality of Jesus’ identity was going to be revealed one way or the other. And now, the children were crying out and declaring that Jesus was the Messiah. These innocent, humble children saw what the well-educated, religious leaders could not see.

These men were not stupid. They could see that much of what was taking place around them was further proof of Jesus’ Messiahship. But they refused to admit it or accept it. The shouts of the children were a verbal confirmation, echoing the sentiments of the crowds surrounding Jesus. But the scribes and Pharisees remained stubbornly opposed to Jesus, and blind to the evidence taking place all around them. And yet, they could sense the tide was turning. They were losing control. The influence of Jesus was increasing with each passing day. And as it did, their anger grew and their desperation to do something about this threat to their power and influence escalated dramatically.

There is a spiritual battle taking place behind this somewhat idyllic scene. We picture Jesus healing the lame and the blind. In our mind’s ear, we hear the praises of the children. But behind this peaceful and harmonious scene lie the wreckage and confusion left by Jesus as a result of his angry assault on the moneychangers and vendors He had found in the court of the Gentiles. Among the overturned tables and amidst the bleating sheep and bellowing oxen, there were vendors trying to restore order to their once lucrative booths. And there, lurking in the dark corners, were the religious leaders of Israel, shaking their heads in indignation and disgust. Jesus had once again disrupted the status quo. He had invaded their turf and rocked their religious world. And behind these men stood the prince of this world, Satan himself. He saw Jesus as a threat to his rule and reign, and was willing to do anything to eliminate Him.

Jesus, in a last display of His divine powers, healed the blind and the lame. Satan, in a last-ditch attempt to thwart the plans of God, would use his influence over the spiritually blind and those sickened by sin, to turn them against the Messiah. The forces of wickedness were gathering against the Son of God. The battle for the souls of mankind was about to take place. And here, in the temple courtyard, we see the primary participants in this epic struggle gathering for what will be a spiritual showdown in the city of Jerusalem.

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

From Holy Day to Holiday.

12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” –  Matthew 21:12-13 ESV

Jesus clearing the templeThere are few scenes related to the life of Jesus that are more recognizable than the one of Him cleansing the temple. But the image of the Savior of the world wielding a whip in His hands and angrily clearing the temple courtyard is difficult for most of us to reconcile. It seems so out of character. Just a few verses earlier, Matthew described Jesus riding serenly on the colt of a donkey, basking in the adulation and praise of the crowd. People were shouting His praises, declaring Him to be “the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:16 ESV).

But here we see the prophet doing what prophets were prone to do: Calling the people of God to account. He walked into the temple, His Father’s house, saw the unacceptable carnival-like atmosphere, and was appalled.

It’s important to remember what the people had said about Jesus as He made His way into Jerusalem. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV). Jesus was a descendant of David and the legal heir to his throne. And as such, He had a God-given responsibility to protect the integrity of God’s house and name. Here is what God had said to Solomon, David’s son and heir, after he had dedicated the newly constructed temple.

And the Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins.” – 1 Kings 9:3-8 ESV

Solomon was responsible for the protection of the temple but, more importantly, he was responsible for protecting the integrity of his own walk. He was to be a model son of God and king of the people of God. But he failed. And, as a result, God would bring about the destruction of His own house. And the book of 2 Kings tells us exactly how it happened.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. – 2 Kings 25:8-9 ESV

And here was Jesus, walking into Herod’s temple, a far-less-luxurious version of the original temple, and seeing signs of Israel’s sordid spiritual condition yet again.

second_temple1.jpgThis scene most likely took place in the Court of the Gentiles. This was the only place on the temple grounds where non-Jews were allowed to gather. The religious leaders had turned this area into a marketplace, filled with money changing booths, as well as vendors selling doves and other sacrificial animals. You would have heard the bleating of goats and lambs, the bellowing of oxen, and been confronted with all the smells that come with domesticated animals. And to top it all off, there was graft and corruption taking place. The priests were responsible for approving the animals brought for sacrifice. And if someone brought an unacceptable animal, they would be sold a replacement, at a healthy profit. Then the priests would take the original “blemished” animal and recycle it for sale to another pilgrim.

It was this atmosphere of blatant sin and corruption that angered Jesus. Quoting from Isaiah 56:7, Jesus emphasized the glaring difference between God’s view of His temple and that of the religious leaders of Israel.

“…these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.” – Isaiah 56:7 ESV

God had been relegated to the background. This had all become a man-made spectacle that had little or no bearing on God’s original intent for the temple and the sacrificial system. God had designed the temple as a place for the people to receive atonement for their sins. Now, they were committing sins within the very gates where sacrifice and forgiveness for sins was to be found.

Hundreds of years earlier, God had expressed His anger through the prophet Isaiah against Israel for their blatant disregard for His holiness and their own unrighteousness.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’” – Jeremiah 7:3-4 ESV

They saw the temple as a kind of security blanket, providing them with comfort and a sense of God’s approval, regardless of how they actually lived their lives. But God had bad news for them.

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 7:8-11 ESV

God accused them of exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows. They were murderers and idolaters. And yet, they continued to come to the temple to offer their sacrifices to God, as if nothing was wrong. They were unrepentant and unapologetic in their sinful behavior.

And, over the centuries, nothing had changed. They had a new temple, but suffered from the same old problem. Jesus was on His way to the cross, to give His life as a ransom for the sins of mankind. He was to be the sacrificial lamb who, as John the Baptist had stated, “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). We can only imagine the anger Jesus must have felt at the spectacle He witnessed. The priests, scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, had turned the sacrificial system of God into a farce. It had become nothing more than a ritualistic, holiday-like scene where the grace and mercy of God had been crowded out and long forgotten.

But Jesus had come to change all that. He came to give His life as a payment for man’s sins. And unlike the sacrifices that took place in the temple, His death would a one-time, and for-all-time sacrifice.

He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. – Hebrews 7:27 ESV

…so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. – Hebrews 9:28 NLT

What an amazing contrast. Here was the sinless Lamb of God having to cleanse the house of God, because the people of God had defiled it once again with their very presence. The place where atonement was to be found had become a spēlaion or hiding place for thieves, idolaters, liars, the immoral and the ungodly. They felt no conviction for their sins. They somehow saw themselves as right with God. But they couldn’t have been more wrong.

Yet, Jesus was going to go through with His God-ordained mission to provide a permanent solution for man’s sin problem. He would die. Not in spite of their sin, but because of it. And His death would do what no other sacrifice could: Provide fallen men with a means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with God.

12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. – Hebrew 10:12-13 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

No Temple? No Problem.

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:9-27 ESV

At this point in his vision, John receives a close-up look at the recently-descended New Jerusalem and his personal tour guide happens to be one of the angels who poured out the bowl judgments on Babylon. The wicked city of Babylon had been destroyed by God. And, as we saw in chapter 18, Babylon had been powerful and beautiful. It had been a city of great influence, politically, economically and spiritually. It had been a city built by the hands of men and filled with the power of Satan, but in virtually no time at all, God had brought it to an end.

16 “Alas, alas, for the great city
    that was clothed in fine linen,
        in purple and scarlet,
    adorned with gold,
        with jewels, and with pearls!
17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” – Revelation 18:16-17 ESV

But the once great Babylon has been replaced with the city of God, the New Jerusalem. And John once again describes seeing it as “coming down out of heaven from God.” This is a repeat of the very same phrase used in verse 2. Unlike Babylon, this city has not been built by the hands of men, but by God. Perhaps, this is the very place to which Jesus was referring when He told His disciples:

2 “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  – John 14:2-3 NLT

We are not told when the New Jerusalem came into existence. It could be that it has always been there, but makes its earthly appearance at the end of the millennium. But the important thing to note are the many words and terms used to describe its uniqueness. It comes down from heaven. It is holy and called the bride of the Lamb. It contains the glory of God Himself and it is His glory that provides all the light needed for life. There is no night in the city and no presence of anything unclean, impure, immoral, sinful or unrighteousness. This is the ideal city. And it is fascinating to note the difference between what God provides and what mankind attempt to provide on its own. One can’t help but contrast the scene recorded in Genesis 11, when the people of earth chose to disobey God and, rather than spreading across the face of the earth, being fruitful and replenishing it, they chose to stay in one place, build a city and a great tower and make a name for themselves. Moses records that “the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built” (Genesis 11:5 ESV). They had been successful. They had turned their dream to “build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4 ESV) into a reality. Over and over again, we read their ambitious words, “let us make” and “let us build.” Notice that the creation of their city and its great tower were their doing. They built up. But God’s city came down. It descended from God and, as a result, it contained the glory of God.

As he has done so many times before, John attempts to provide us with a detailed description of all that he is seeing, but he’s constrained by the limits of human language and the inadequacy of earthly images as comparisons. The point of his description is not that we might have a detailed architectural rendering of the city, but that we might begin to grasp its sheer glory. This city is massive in size and magnificent in design. There is order to its every detail. There is meaning behind every aspect of its shape, size, and structure. But when it comes to the exact dimensions, it would seem that John is not trying to give us precise architectural measurements so that we might be able to recreate the city on a piece of paper. The whole chapter seems to suggest that this city is unable to be replicated by man. It is one-of-a-kind and divinely unique in nature and appearance. All the mention of gold and precious jewels are meant to provide us with some idea of just how beautiful and priceless this city will be. It will be massive in size and scope, and yet filled with precious metals and priceless stones, which happen to be used as construction materials, not simply adornments.

The other significant aspect of John’s description of the city is the inclusion of references to both the people of God, Israel, and the church. There will be 12 gates guarded by 12 angels, and above those gates will be engraved the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. And the wall of the city will have 12 foundations upon which will be written “the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14 ESV). Paul refers to this very same thing in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. – Ephesians 2:20 NLT

The people of God and the church of Jesus Christ are represented in this city. And while it is referred to as “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9 ESV), that does not mean the city is a representation of the church. This is the city of God, and it will include all the people of God, including the remnant of His chosen people, the nation of Israel, as well as all those chosen or elect in Christ. And we are told that the nations of the earth will come in and out of the city, bringing their glory with them. This is not a reference to their own personal glory, but the glory they bring in order to honor God. The focus of the eternal state will be God and Him alone. No longer will men self-glorify or make much of creation. They won’t be tempted to magnify self or worship something other than God. Idolatry will have no place in the eternal state. There will be no false gods. The New Jerusalem and the new earth will be filled by all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

And one of the most significant aspects of this new city is found in verse 22. In almost a flippant, throw-away sense, John simply states, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” This is hugely significant. Both the tabernacle and the temple were primary structures in the religious mindset of the Israelites. These were the places where the people came to offer their sacrifices to God. The Holy of Holies contained the mercy seat, over which the glory of God hovered, and upon which the yearly atonement was made for the sins of the people. But in the New Jerusalem, there will be no temple. There will be no holy place or holy of holies. Because, as John states, its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. No longer will men have to try and earn access into God’s presence, because His presence will permeate every aspect of life. We will have unlimited, unhindered access into the presence of God and His Son, at all times. Their glory will surround us, in the form of light. Their grace will be constantly available to us. There will be no darkness to obscure our view of them. There will be no sin to separate us from them. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this very day and his words provide us with God’s promise that the vision of John will one day become a reality.

19 The sun shall be no more
    your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
    give you light;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
20 Your sun shall no more go down,
    nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of mourning shall be ended.
21 Your people shall all be righteous;
    they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
    that I might be glorified.
22 The least one shall become a clan,
    and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the Lord;
    in its time I will hasten it. – Isaiah 60:19-22 ESV

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

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

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

 

Victory Over Death.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
    and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17 ESV

John now sees another group of individuals made up of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9 ESV). This is obviously a different group than the 144,000 mentioned in the first eight verses. John describes this group as innumerable and comprised of people from every tribe, nation and tongue. In other words, these are non-Jews or Gentiles. And while the 144,000 were located on earth, this group is in heaven “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” So, this begs the question: Who are these people? Do they represent the church, as some have speculated? They are described as wearing white robes, waving palm branches, and crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They sound like they could be Christians, and they most likely are. But the real question is whether they comprise the church that was raptured before the tribulation began. John is at a loss as to who these people are, which is made clear when he is asked by one of the 24 elders to tell him their identity. John seems to know intuitively that the elder has the answer to his own question and so he responds, “Sir, you know.” And the elder clears up any confusion as to who this vast crowd may be.

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” – Revelation 7:14 ESV

While the 144,000 Jews are on earth, these individuals are in heaven, and it would seem that they are there as a result of their martyrdom. They are described as wearing white robes, a sign of their righteousness. And their righteousness is a result of the blood of the Lamb. They have been washed clean, purified by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Which indicates that they had come to faith some time during the tribulation and were put to death because of their belief in Jesus. This appears to be the same group John saw back in chapter six.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. – Revelation 6:9 ESV

They are shown holding and waving palm branches, a symbol of victory and joy. They are celebrating and worshiping their salvation. But they are also crying out for vengeance. They want to know when God will avenge their persecution and deaths at the hands of of the Antichrist.

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” – Revelation 6:10 ESV

They are grateful for their presence in God’s Kingdom, but they want to know when He is going to deal with those on earth who persecuted them for their faith and murdered them for the decision to follow Christ. This makes it clear that there will be many who become Christians during the tribulation, and it is likely the 144,000 witnesses who will help bring this about. These Jewish converts to Christianity will become God’s ambassadors, witnessing to the Gentile nations regarding the salvation made possible through faith in Jesus Christ, their Messiah.

But John hears what appears to be bad news. These martyrs are told that they must be patient. God will deal with all those on earth who oppose Him and who persecute His chosen ones. But that time has not yet come. The exact moment for His Son’s return to earth has not arrived. So, in the meantime, there will be additional converts to the faith and, sadly, even more martyrs, “until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (Revelation 6:11 ESV).

Back in chapter seven, John sees these very same individuals enjoying the protection provided by God as they stand in His presence. They serve Him day and night in His holy temple in heaven. And though, while they were on earth, they suffered greatly for their faith, they now enjoy complete safety and freedom from pain and suffering of any kind. John is told:

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat. – Revelation 7:16 ESV

Later on in this very same book, John will reveal the marvelous reality that, for those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ, eternity will be a time of great peace. There will be no more pain, suffering or sorrow of any kind.

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. – Revelation 21:4 ESV

John echoes this sentiment in chapter seven as he views this scene of rejoicing taking place in the heavenly temple.

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. – Revelation 7:17 ESV

When the elder disclosed to John the identity of these people, he described them as having come out of the “great tribulation.” This the very phrase Jesus used in His Olivet Discourse when referring to the second half of the seven year tribulation.

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21 ESV

According to the book of Daniel and the words of Jesus in His Olivet discourse, the first half of the seven years of tribulation will be marked by relative peace. The Antichrist will appear as a global political leader who brokers a peace treaty with Israel. But at the midway point or three-and-a-half years into the seven year period, he will break his covenant with Israel, unleashing a devastating persecution against the people of God. Daniel alludes to this very time in his prophecy.

“And he [Antichrist] shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” – Daniel 9:27 ESV

All of this will be revealed in greater detail as the book of Revelation unfolds. But in this vision, John is seeing the results of Antichrist’s work in the second half of the tribulation period. He will put to death countless individuals who have placed their faith in Christ. And he will persecute the Jews without mercy, all in an attempt to wipe them from face of the earth. Which raises the question: Why? What would cause the Antichrist to spend so much time and energy attempting to destroy the Jewish people? He seems to know that they are a key element behind the Lord’s eventual return. If he can eliminate them, he believes there will be no reason for Christ to come back. If there are no people to redeem and restore, there will be no purpose behind the Lord’s return. But the Antichrist is mistaken. He operates under the power and influence of Satan, but even Satan has no clue as to how all this is going to turn out. At one time, he believed he had defeated Jesus by having Him crucified. But that seeming victory was turned to defeat when God raised Jesus back to life. And there is the day coming when Satan will yet again attempt to thwart God’s plans and put an end to Christ’s return. But he will fail.

The very fact that John sees 144,000 Jews protected by God from the assault of the Antichrist shows us that God is in control of all that is going on during these days. And that John sees these martyred believers standing in the very presence of God reminds us that death is not a dead end for those who place their faith in Jesus. As Paul told the believers in Rome:

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:37-39 ESV

Which is why the martyred saints can stand before God and shout with unabandoned joy and thankfulness:

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” – Revelation 7:12 ESV

 

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

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

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

 

The Righteous One.

44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?’

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” – Acts 7:44-53 ESV

Having been accused of blasphemy against Moses and God, Stephen refuted those charges by showing his reverence for both. At the same time, he revealed that it was his Jewish brothers who had failed to truly honor Moses. In fact, he gave proof that they, like their ancestors, really rejected Moses, refusing to listen to his prophecy regarding the coming Messiah. Not only that, they were guilty of idolatry, just like their ancient ancestors. In fact, they had made idols out of the land of Judah, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of God. Which is the next topic in Stephen’s message. He had been accused of speaking against the Temple and of having taught that the resurrected Jesus was going to tear it down. These were false accusations, but that didn’t keep Stephen from using them to teach those in his audience an important object lesson regarding the Temple.

He starts out discussing the Tabernacle, the temporary, portable structure that God had commanded Moses to build during Israel’s years in the wilderness. This structure had been of God’s design and had a definitive, God-ordained purpose. The book of Exodus records for us how the Tabernacle was to be used.

34 Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. 35 Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.

36 Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. 37 But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. 38 The cloud of the Lord hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys. – Exodus 40:34-38 NLT

It was designed to function during their journey from Egypt to the promised land. Inside, in the Holy of Holies, was contained the Ark of the Covenant, on top of which was the Mercy Seat, the place of atonement. It was over that spot that the cloud hovered that signified God’s presence. Inside the Ark of the Covenant were the tablets of stone that contained the testimony of God, the Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mount Sinai. God’s law and God’s presence went before the people of Israel, guiding them both morally and literally. Whenever the cloud of God’s presence moved out of the Holy of Holies, the people were to pack up the Tabernacle and follow wherever He led, taking the law with them as they went.

And Stephen points out that this had been the pattern all the way up until the people arrived in the land promised to Abraham by God. At that point, the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, had ended up in Shiloh. The book of Joshua records: “Now that the land was under Israelite control, the entire community of Israel gathered at Shiloh and set up the Tabernacle” (Joshua 18:1 NLT). Evidently, the Ark and the Tabernacle remained in Shiloh until the day that Israel determined to treat the Ark like a good luck charm and take it into battle against the Philistines. It was captured and, seven months later, returned. But it did not go back to Shiloh. Instead, it ended up in a place called Kiriath-jearim.

1 So the men of Kiriath-jearim came to get the Ark of the Lord. They took it to the hillside home of Abinadab and ordained Eleazar, his son, to be in charge of it. The Ark remained in Kiriath-jearim for a long time—twenty years in all. During that time all Israel mourned because it seemed the Lord had abandoned them. – 1 Samuel 7:1-2 NLT

It seems that the people of Israel had a somewhat spotty relationship with the Tabernacle and the Ark. These items had become little more than symbols of God’s power and presence. And God would use their loss of respect for the Tabernacle and the Ark to remind their future descendants that He takes obedience to His will quite seriously. Consider these sobering words, spoken by God to His prophet, Jeremiah, and intended for the people of Israel who had seen the Temple as the modern-day version of the Tabernacle.

1 The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “Go to the entrance of the Lord’s Temple, and give this message to the people: ‘O Judah, listen to this message from the Lord! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:

“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the Lord’s Temple is here. They chant, “The Lord’s Temple is here! The Lord’s Temple is here!” But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, 10 and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again?” – Jeremiah 7:1-10 NLT

God went on to tell Jeremiah to give the following message to the people:

“Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.” – Jeremiah 7:12 NLT

Shiloh, the former home to God’s Tabernacle, lay in ruins when God spoke these words to Jeremiah. The town’s claim to fame of having once held the Tabernacle of God, was not enough to stop its destruction for its unfaithfulness. And God wants the people of Israel to know that Jerusalem would not fair any better, just because it contained the Temple.

The fact was, the Temple had been David’s idea, not God’s. Which is the point that Stephen seems to be making. It was David who had proposed the idea of building God a great house in which to dwell. But God had responded to David’s grand scheme with the following words:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’” – 2 Samuel 7:5-6 NLT

God would eventually allow David’s son, Solomon, to build the Temple, which Stephen points out. But Stephen showed that it was not a house that God desired, but obedient people. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah to make his point.

1 This is what the Lord says:

“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?
    Could you build me such a resting place?
My hands have made both heaven and earth;
    they and everything in them are mine.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!

“I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts,
    who tremble at my word.” – Isaiah 66:1-12 NLT

God desired obedience to His word, not a place in which to dwell. He didn’t need a house. He needed His people to humbly submit to His will. And, as Stephen is attempting to point out, Gods will was that they submit to and accept Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. God had chosen to dwell among them in the form of His own Son. Jesus, the Son of God, had become God incarnate, God in human flesh. And as the apostle John pointed out in his gospel, “the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14 NLT). The glory of God no longer hovered over the Ark inside the Temple. And with Jesus’ departure, the glory of God had come to rest on those who had placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior. God dwells within those who have accepted His Son as the sacrifice for their sin debt. He indwells them in the form of His Holy Spirit. And the author of Hebrews provides us with some exciting news.

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”  – Hebrews 10-11-17 NLT

God now writes His law on the hearts of men, not on tablets of stone. He resides in the hearts of men, not buildings made of brick and mortar. And yet, that was the very thing the people in Stephen’s audience refused to accept. So, he blasts them for their stubborn refusal to recognize the hand of God working in their midst. He exposes them as stubborn and stiff-necked, a people who “always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51 ESV), just as their ancestors had.  Even the Old Testament prophets, who had announced the coming of the Righteous One, had been killed by the people of Israel. And Stephen accuses the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin of having betrayed and murdered Jesus. Just as their ancestors had received the law and had refused to keep it, they had received the Messiah and had refused to accept Him.  The glory of God had appeared right in their midst, and they had ignored Him. Now, the glory of God had shown up in the form of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by signs and wonders, and they refused to believe it. It does not appear that Stephen was attempting to change their minds. He was not trying to convince them to accept Jesus as their Savior. He already knew that their minds were made up and their rejection of Him was permanent and irreversible. And their reaction to Stephen’s words will prove him right.

 

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

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

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

All Is Lost.

In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard, who served the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord, and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down all the walls around Jerusalem. And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive some of the poorest of the people and the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the artisans. But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen.

And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the Lord, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried all the bronze to Babylon. And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the basins and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service; also the small bowls and the fire pans and the basins and the pots and the lampstands and the dishes for incense and the bowls for drink offerings. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. As for the two pillars, the one sea, the twelve bronze bulls that were under the sea, and the stands, which Solomon the king had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these things was beyond weight. As for the pillars, the height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, its circumference was twelve cubits, and its thickness was four fingers, and it was hollow. On it was a capital of bronze. The height of the one capital was five cubits. A network and pomegranates, all of bronze, were around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with pomegranates. There were ninety-six pomegranates on the sides; all the pomegranates were a hundred upon the network all around. – Jeremiah 52:12-23 ESV

It can be quite easy to read the description of the fall of Jerusalem in a flippant and somewhat disconnected manner. The prophet, Jeremiah, is quite stingy in his use of words, painting a quite matter-of-fact image of the city’s fall. But if we look at other passages in the Scriptures, we get a much fuller and more terrifyingly chilling depiction of all that went on during the nearly 20-month-long siege of Jerusalem and its eventual fall. The book of Lamentations records a particularly disturbing aspect of the siege.


Those killed by the sword are better off

    than those who die of hunger.
Starving, they waste away
    for lack of food from the fields.

Tenderhearted women
    have cooked their own children.
They have eaten them
    to survive the siege. – Lamentations 4:9-10 NLT

The residents of the city had been forced to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. These were not easy days. Starvation was an everyday reality. Parents had to stand back and watch their young children die. And when the walls were finally breached, the death and destruction was like nothing the people of Judah had ever witnessed before. In their weakened state, there was nothing they could do to defend themselves against the Babylonian troops who had were more than ready to seek their revenge on the stubbornly rebellious people inside the walls. The book of Lamentations provides another grisly look at just how bad things were when the walls fell.

Our enemies rape the women in Jerusalem
    and the young girls in all the towns of Judah.
Our princes are being hanged by their thumbs,
    and our elders are treated with contempt.
Young men are led away to work at millstones,
    and boys stagger under heavy loads of wood. – Lamentations 5:10-13 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar took many of the people as captives, leaving nothing but the poorest of the poor to occupy the destroyed city. He stripped the city bare, taking all that was of value, including the treasures of the palace and the temple, as well as the most gifted of all the people. We are provided with a detailed description of the items taken from the temple. The Babylonians left nothing of value untouched. Every ounce of gold, silver or bronze was stripped away and taken as plunder. The sacred vessels, set apart by God for use in the sacrificial system, were hauled off as booty. Not only that, we read in the next section of this chapter that “Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took with him as prisoners Seraiah the high priest, Zephaniah the priest of the second rank, and the three chief gatekeepers” (Jeremiah 52:24 NLT).

The detailed description of the items taken by the Babylonians is similar to what we read in the book of 1 Kings, that describes Solomon’s painstaking and extremely costly construction of the temple many years earlier.

So Solomon finished building the Temple. The entire inside, from floor to ceiling, was paneled with wood. He paneled the walls and ceilings with cedar, and he used planks of cypress for the floors. He partitioned off an inner sanctuary—the Most Holy Place—at the far end of the Temple. It was 30 feet deep and was paneled with cedar from floor to ceiling. The main room of the Temple, outside the Most Holy Place, was 60 feet long. Cedar paneling completely covered the stone walls throughout the Temple, and the paneling was decorated with carvings of gourds and open flowers.

He prepared the inner sanctuary at the far end of the Temple, where the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant would be placed. This inner sanctuary was 30 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet high. He overlaid the inside with solid gold. He also overlaid the altar made of cedar. Then Solomon overlaid the rest of the Temple’s interior with solid gold, and he made gold chains to protect the entrance to the Most Holy Place. So he finished overlaying the entire Temple with gold, including the altar that belonged to the Most Holy Place.

He made two cherubim of wild olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary. The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long. The two cherubim were identical in shape and size; each was 15 feet tall. He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room. He overlaid the two cherubim with gold.

He decorated all the walls of the inner sanctuary and the main room with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He overlaid the floor in both rooms with gold. – 1 Kings 6:14-30 NLT

In a case of divine deconstruction, God reversed the process and turned the former glory of the temple into an empty shell. All that had been set apart to Him was now the property of the Babylonians. The vessels and tools, once integral to the sacrificial system, were now the property of pagans. And the not-so-subtle message to the people of Judah was that, in their determination to reject God, they had rejected all that was associated with Him, including access to His temple and the availability of atonement made possible through the sacrificial system. The temple was destroyed. The priests were now prisoners. And the people had no way of receiving forgiveness for their sins. The people were to learn that turning their backs on God would have dire consequences.

Once again, we must turn to the book of Lamentations to get a clearer understanding of how the fall of Jerusalem impacted the people of God. It is believed that Jeremiah was the author of the book of Lamentations and he is often referred to as “the weeping prophet” because of his close association with this book. In the closing verses of the book, we read the following prayer, described as coming from the mouths of the people of Judah.

But Lord, you remain the same forever!
    Your throne continues from generation to generation.
Why do you continue to forget us?
    Why have you abandoned us for so long?
Restore us, O Lord, and bring us back to you again!
    Give us back the joys we once had!
Or have you utterly rejected us?
    Are you angry with us still? – Lamentations 5:19-22 NLT

The devastation had created a renewed dependency on God in the hearts of the people. The destruction they had witnessed had led to a greater desire for God. Isn’t it interesting how that works? When things are going well, we can find ourselves forgetting all about God. We don’t see the need for Him. But as soon as something goes wrong; our health takes a turn for the worse, our finances falter, our marriage goes south, or our sunny skies turn dark and foreboding, we turn to God. We call out. We question His faithfulness. We demand that He restore our fortunes and make everything bright and cheery again. It’s interesting to note that the people accuse God of rejecting them, but they say nothing of their own rejection of God. They feel abandoned and alone. But they don’t seem to understand that their adandonment by God was due to their own abandonment of Him. But they were right in understanding that God is faithful. They were right in turning to Him. He is our hope in time of need. He is our rock when all else around us is shaky and unstable. He is our faithful Father and loving God. But we must be careful to learn an important lesson from the people of Judah. In their prayer, they state, “Give us back the joys we once had!” Notice what is behind that statement or demand. They want things to go back to the way they were. They want restoration of their former good fortunes. In other words, they want a return to the status quo. They want their old lives back, not God. God was simply a means to an end for them. And we can be guilty of treating God the same way. We go to Him, asking Him to return us to health, to restore our marriage, to fix our financial problems, to make all the hurts and heartaches of life to go away. But what God really wants is for us to desire Him. He wants us to long for Him above anything and everything else in life. The people of Judah didn’t need their old lives back, they needed God.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When Rights Are Wrong.

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 ESV

With the opening words of this chapter, Paul reveals that he is answering yet another one of the questions sent to him by the church in Corinth. It had to do with food offered to idols. To modern, 21st-Century Christians, this will sound like a strange discussion that has nothing to do with us, and little in the way of practical application. But Paul’s primary point has to do with knowledge and what we do with it, especially in our interactions with “weaker” or less spiritually mature Christians and with the lost.

There are two major views as to what was going on in the Corinthian fellowship that caused them to raise this question with Paul. The more traditional view is that there were former pagans in the church who had come to faith in Christ and who were still buying meat in the marketplace that had been sacrificed to idols. It was a common practice for pagan priests to offer sell in the market some of the meat left over from a sacrifice to their god. This was considered good, high-quality meat. The converted pagans in the church knew that the meat was good and they also knew that there was no such thing as idols. So their conclusion was that it was perfectly acceptable to buy and eat the meat and even serve it to their believing friends. And Paul confirms their conclusion when he writes, “we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one’’ (1 Corinthians 8:4b ESV). Their “knowledge” or understanding of the matter was correct, but that same knowledge was a source of pride. It was causing them to look past the negative influence they were having on their fellow church members. There were younger, less mature believers in the church who did not yet understand the truth regarding idols. Paul writes, “not all possess this knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8:7a ESV). These people were confused by the actions of their fellow church members. And when they saw what they were doing, they were tempted to sin against their consciences. They could not help but eat that same meat and feel like they were being unfaithful to God. The spiritual arrogance of their brothers and sisters in Christ was causing them to stumble in regard to their faith.

But there is a second view regarding what was going on in Corinth that carries an even more shocking indictment on those who were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. It seems that this was more than just a case of buying meat at the market and serving it for dinner in your home. The problem involved a continuing practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols in the very temple dedicated to that idol. In verse 10, Paul writes, “For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?” It seems that there were those who had gone back to celebrating at the feasts as part of the worship of the false gods. These were common affairs in the Greek culture and were well-attended. They were social gatherings where the community came to worship their god and to share a celebratory meal together. Evidently, there were believers in the church in Corinth who were attending these meals and justifying their behavior based on their “knowledge” regarding the non-existence of idols. Their reasoning was that if idols do not exist and God is the one true god, then what difference does it make whether we eat meat in the temple of an idol or not. And while their logic made perfect sense, they were leaving out the Savior’s admonition that we love one another. They were disregarding the spiritual well-being of those within their fellowship who might be confused by their actions and caused to follow their lead.

For Paul, the issue had little to do with meat sacrificed to idols, eating in temples, or spiritual knowledge. In fact, he simply states, “this ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1b ESV). Their knowledge had led to pride and arrogance, rather than love. They cared more about their so-called rights than they did about the spiritual well-being of their fellow believers. They enjoyed eating meals in the temple. The food was good and the fellowship was great. They got to be with all their pagan friends and act as if nothing had changed in their lives. They may have even used the excuse that being in the temple with their lost friends and neighbors gave them the opportunity to share the gospel. But Paul knew that their actions were motivated by selfishness, not selflessness. They were doing what they did for themselves, not for the sake of others.

Paul makes it clear that the issue has nothing to do with meat. He writes, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (1 Corinthians 8:8 ESV). But the issue is about rights. “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9 ESV). For Paul, it was simple. He would rather give up meat altogether if it was going to cause a brother to stumble. It wasn’t worth it. If our freedoms in Christ cause a brother or sister in Christ to become enslaved to their own sin, we have missed the whole point of the gospel. Not only that, Paul says that we have actually sinned against them and against Christ. We have become a stumbling block in their spiritual path. As Christians, we have certain rights based on our newfound freedom in Christ. But when we let those rights tempt our brothers and sisters in Christ to do wrong, we stand as guilty before God. My rights should never deter another believer in their pursuit of righteousness. It would be better to die to my rights than to die for them.