Obedience Proceeds Blessing

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.” Haggai 1:7-11 ESV

God doesn’t mince any words. He had waited 16 years for the returned exiles to do what they were supposed to do. He had prearranged their return from exile in Babylon long ago and one of the main objectives behind their return was the reconstruction of the destroyed temple in Jerusalem. Long before the southern kingdom of Judah had fallen to the Babylonians, God had used the prophet, Isaiah to warn the people of the judgment that was coming for their disobedience. But He also foretold of their eventual return to the land and their task of rebuilding the temple.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
    who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
    who alone stretched out the heavens,
    who spread out the earth by myself…
who confirms the word of his servant
    and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
    and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
    and I will raise up their ruins’…
who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
    and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;
saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
    and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” – Isaiah 44:24, 27, 28 ESV

And hundreds of years later, when the people of Judah found themselves living as exiles, just as God had predicted, they were given remarkable news that the Persian king, Cyrus, was going to allow them to return to their homeland. And he was very specific about the purpose behind their return.

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:2-4 ESV

God used this pagan king to accomplish His sovereign will concerning Judah. The Almighty divinely inspired this powerful monarch to release a sizeable portion of his nation’s slave labor so they might return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. That had always been God’s plan. He had brought about their fall and the destruction of their capital city and its glorious temple. But He had also made plans for their eventual return. God had clearly foretold His intentions to discipline His disobedient and rebellious people, but He had declared His plan to restore them. The prophet, Jeremiah had communicated God’s sovereign plan hundreds of years before it ever came to fruition.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. – Jeremiah 29:10-14 ESV

But their return to the land was to be marked by a renewal of their relationship with God. It was to be a time of repentance and a realignment of their priorities. They would be expected to rededicate themselves to God and honor His glory and goodness by rebuilding Jerusalem and its temple. With the completion of the temple, they would be able to reinstitute the sacrificial system and restore their spiritual purity as a people.

Yet, 16 years later, the temple was still a heap of rubble because the people had procrastinated and put off their God-given responsibility to reconstruct His house. And as Ezra makes clear, the king of Persia had made an official proclamation concerning the rebuilding of the temple. He had even funded its construction out of the royal treasury.

“Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices were offered, and let its foundations be retained. Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, with three layers of great stones and one layer of timber. Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple that is in Jerusalem, each to its place. You shall put them in the house of God.” – Ezra 6:3-5 ESV

But despite the royal decree, the financial backing, and the divine mandate from God, the people of Judah had chosen to build their own homes while leaving the house of God in a state of perpetual ruin. So, God responded, “Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:7 ESV). He wanted them to take serious stock of their behavior. What they were doing was unacceptable and He was no longer going to tolerate it. Speaking through His prophet, Haggai, God made His demands known.

“Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. – Haggai 1:8 ESV

They had the money to fund the construction. They had even set the foundation in place. But now they were going to have to complete the project and it would require effort on their part. And God was very clear about the purpose behind the reconstruction of the temple. They were to accomplish this take for God’s pleasure and glory. This wasn’t going to be about them. It was all about the God who had set them apart as His own and who had graciously returned them to the land. This house was to be a monument to His goodness and glory.

They had missed the whole point of their return to the land. The main reason they had been cast out of the land in the first place was that they had defiled and defamed God’s name. They had failed to live in obedience to their covenant commitment to God. Rather than worship Him alone, they had chosen to commit spiritual adultery by bowing down to the false gods of the nations that surrounded them. But God had chosen to restore the integrity of His name by returning His disobedient people to the land He had given them as their inheritance. But, as the prophet, Ezekiel makes clear, God was not doing this because they deserved it.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign LORD: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.” – Ezekiel 36:22-24 NLT

Despite God’s promise, their time back in the land had been far from productive or fruitful. In fact, God pointed out that their efforts to rebuild their former lives had been cursed.

“You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses.” – Haggai 1:9 NLT

Their sixteen years of disobedience had resulted in God’s judgment. He had brought drought to the land so that their grain, grapes, and olives withered in the fields. They longed for fruitfulness but reaped misery instead. They had expected to fill their homes with the fruit of the land but found themselves suffering from hunger and starvation. All because they had chosen to disregard the will of God. They wanted His provision but didn’t seem too concerned about building a house for His presence. They wanted God on their side but were far less interested in having Him in their midst. So, they had to be reminded that unless they obeyed the will of God by rebuilding the temple of God, they could forget about enjoying the blessings of 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.

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

Consider the Source

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dwelling Place of God

1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. And all the men of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the ark. And they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles. And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. 10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. 1 Kings 8:1-11 ESV

After nearly seven-and-a-half years of construction, the temple was finally completed. The only thing left to do was to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant from its resting place in the City of David and transfer it to its new home within the Most Holy place of the new temple. But while this might sound like a relatively easy task after all the time, energy, and effort that went into building the temple, it actually a very difficult and dangerous endeavor. As the son of David, Solomon would have been well aware of the stories surrounding his father’s past attempts to transport the Ark.  And he was not interested in repeating his father’s mistakes.

God had given very specific instructions to Moses regarding the proper way to move the Ark from one place to another. Because it was considered to be holy, it had to be handled with extreme care and treated with deep reverence. And God had provided clear guidelines concerning both how and who was to transport the Ark and the other holy vessels.

When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles.… And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry. – Numbers 4:5-6, 15 ESV

All during the 40-year period when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, long before they settled in the land of Canaan, this was how the Ark was moved from place to place. But after Israel had finally settled in the land, the Ark had come to rest in the town of Kiriath-jearim, and was kept under the care of a man named Abinadab. When David had become the second king of Israel and established Jerusalem as his capital, he determined to relocate the Ark and the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle). So, he consulted with all his officials, including the generals and captains of his army, then he announced his plans to the people of Israel.

“If you approve and if it is the will of the Lord our God, let us send messages to all the Israelites throughout the land, including the priests and Levites in their towns and pasturelands. Let us invite them to come and join us. It is time to bring back the Ark of our God, for we neglected it during the reign of Saul.” – 1 Chronicles 13:2-3 NLT

Having received the unanimous support of the people, David organized an elaborate parade to accompany the Ark on its journey from the home of Abinadab to Jerusalem. It was a festive and joyous occasion, featuring music, dancing, and worshipful celebration of God.

Then David and all Israel went to Baalah of Judah (also called Kiriath-jearim) to bring back the Ark of God, which bears the name of the Lord who is enthroned between the cherubim. They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house. Uzzah and Ahio were guiding the cart. David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals, and trumpets. – 1 Chronicles 13:6-8 NLT

But the joy quickly turned to sorrow. The dancing was replaced by mourning. Because David had violated the commands of God. In his zeal to move the Ark of the Covenant, he had neglected to do so according to God’s clearly revealed will. And, as a result, tragedy struck.

But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God. – 2 Samuel 6:6-8 NLT

God had never commanded the Ark to be transported by a cart pulled by oxen. But David had come up with this ingenious plan as a way of expediting the process of transporting the Ark. In his mind, it would be a much quicker and easier way of getting the job done. But his plan resulted in Uzzah’s death. As the oxen stumbled and the Ark began to fall, Uzzah attempted to steady the Ark with his hand. And, in doing so, he violated the command of God.

“…they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.” – Numbers 4:15 ESV

David was angry and frustrated over Uzzah’s death. But he was also confused and wondered how he would ever get the Ark safely transported into Jerusalem. Unsure of what to do, he simply ordered the Ark to be moved to the house of Obed-edom of Gath, where it remained for three months. Eventually, David was informed that the presence of the Ark had resulted in great blessings for Obed-edom. This bit of news seems to have prompted David to take another chance at moving the Ark, but this time he chose to do it God’s way.

So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration. After the men who were carrying the Ark of the Lord had gone six steps, David sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns. – 2 Samuel 6:12-15 NLT

Fortunately, Solomon was able to use his knowledge of these past events and the wisdom given to him by God to make the right decision. He chose to follow God’s commands and treat the Ark of the Covenant with the honor and reverence it deserved.

…the priests took up the ark. And they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. – 1 Kings 8:3-4 ESV

And when the priests had successfully moved the Ark into the Most Holy Place of the new temple, something significant happened. Because they had followed God’s instructions, they received a visible sign that God was pleased with their efforts.

…a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. – 1 Kings 8:10-11 ESV

God showed up. He entered the Most Holy Place, in the form of a cloud, and settled over the Mercy Seat which covered the Ark of the Covenant. This visible manifestation was meant to assure Solomon and the people of Israel of God’s glory and presence. And it was a tangible reminder of how God had revealed Himself to their ancestors in the wilderness hundreds of years earlier.

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

Solomon had managed to build a one-of-a-kind structure of unsurpassed beauty. But it was the presence of the cloud that transformed what was an opulent but ordinary building into the dwelling place of God. Solomon had built a building. But only when God showed up did it truly become a temple. And the apostle Paul would later remind his fellow believers in Christ that they too had become temples of God because of the presence of the Spirit of God within them.

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? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

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

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

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

No Figs. No Glory.

12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. 

15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. Mark 11:12-19 ESV

After His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus had done a quick tour of the temple complex then returned to Bethany with His disciples. Evidently, they were staying at the home of Lazarus in Bethany. The next morning, Jesus and His disciples returned to the city, passing through the Kidron Valley and into the eastern gate. But Mark records a somewhat strange incident that took place as they made their way back to the city. He makes special note of Jesus’ hunger. This fact could have only have been known to Mark if it had been revealed to him by one of the disciples he interviewed for his gospel account. And the only way the disciples could have been aware of Jesus’ hunger is if He had said something about it that morning.

Having made known His hunger, Jesus spied a leaf-covered fig tree in the distance and made His way to it “to see if he could find anything on it” (Mark 11:13 ESV). The context indicates that He was looking for fruit to satisfy His hunger. But when He and the disciples arrived at the tree, they found it had leaves but no fruit. This point is significant because when the leaves of a fig tree began to appear, the fruit was not far behind. But this tree, while covered in leaves, was devoid of any figs. And Mark makes sure his readers know that “it was not the season for figs” (Mark 11:13 ESV).

The tree gave off the appearance of fruitfulness. Because it was covered in leaves it left the impression that it also bore the fruit that typically appeared at the same time. This tree had bloomed out of season. And while, from a distance, it appeared to be a fruit-bearing tree, it proved to be a disappointment. It failed to have what was necessary to satisfy Jesus’ hunger. So, Jesus cursed it.

“May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” – Mark 11:14 ESV

At first glance, it might appear that Jesus had either an eating disorder or an anger problem. After all, He cursed a tree for failing to bear fruit out of season, and all because He was hungry. But this entire scene was orchestrated by Jesus to drive home a point to His disciples. In doing what He did, Jesus was subtly recalling the words of the prophet Hosea.

They have deeply corrupted themselves
    as in the days of Gibeah:
he will remember their iniquity;
    he will punish their sins.

Like grapes in the wilderness,
    I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree
    in its first season,
    I saw your fathers.
But they came to Baal-peor
    and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame,
    and became detestable like the thing they loved. – Hosea 9:9-10 ESV

Hosea was warning the people of Israel about God’s pending judgment because of their sin and rebellion against Him. While at one time they had been faithful and fruitful, they had ended up seeking other gods and committing spiritual adultery. They had been like a fig tree that bore fruit in season and then had suddenly lost its capacity to bear fruit at all.

This entire scene was designed by Jesus to be a powerful object lesson for His disciples. But it would come in two parts. The real point of the lesson would not be revealed until sometime later. In the meantime, Jesus and His disciples continued their walk to the city, most likely entering the eastern gate which opened directly onto the temple grounds. Once inside, Jesus encountered a familiar scene that caused His blood to boil. There, in the Courtyard of the Gentiles, were the same moneychangers and other vendors He had cast out a year earlier. During the Passover season, tens of thousands of pilgrims would make their way to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple. Because many of them were forced to travel great distances, they were not able to bring their sacrificial animals. So, the priests had set up a market within the Courtyard of the Gentiles where sacrificial animals could be purchased at exorbitant rates. And since only the local currency was accepted, pilgrims were required to exchange their foreign coinage with one of the temple-approved vendors. And, of course, these official moneychangers charged high fees for their services.

Jesus was infuriated by the carnival-like atmosphere and the blatant displays of greed and graft that filled the temple grounds. And, just as He had done before, Jesus cleaned house.

Jesus entered the temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple courts. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts… – Mark 11:16 NLT

We can only imagine the chaos that Jesus caused as He ransacked the stalls of the various vendors, upsetting their tables, and letting loose the sacrificial animals. He became a one-man wrecking machine, disrupting this Sanhedrin-sanctioned display of corruption and vice. And all the disciples could do was stand back and watch in slack-jawed amazement. But had the disciples understood the motivation behind Jesus’ actions, they would have joined Him in His efforts.

It is important that we consider where all of this took place. It was in the Courtyard of the Gentiles. This was the only area on the entire temple complex where non-Jews were allowed to enter. Any Gentiles who wished to worship the God of the Jews were free to do so, but they were restricted to this one area of the temple. In a sense, they were treated as second-class citizens. And the transformation of their courtyard from a place of prayer into a place of commerce was more than Jesus could stand. His righteous indignation was motivated by His understanding of His Father’s love for all people. And Jesus quotes from Isaiah 56 to reveal the nature of His wrath.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
    and holds fast my covenant—
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 56:6-7 ESV

The temple priests were more than willing to profit off the Gentiles who came to offer their burnt offerings and sacrifices to Yahweh. They would gladly sell them sacrificial animals way above market value and fill the temple treasury with the tidy profits they made. But in the midst of all the chaos and confusion, the prayers of the people were drowned out and the anger of the Son of God spilled over.

He accused the religious leaders of Israel of turning His Father’s house into a “den of robbers.” Once again, Jesus borrows from the writings of the prophets. This time He quotes from the book of Jeremiah.

“‘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, 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? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 7:8-11 NLT

God had condemned the people of Israel for their hypocrisy and condemned their tendency to treat the temple as some kind of talisman or good luck charm. They were guilty of living lives that violated every one of God’s commands and then returning to His temple as if they were innocent of any wrong-doing. In a sense, they were using the temple like a hideout, a place of sanctuary that they hoped would protect them from the punishment they deserved for their crimes against God.

And here, hundreds of years later, Jesus was echoing the words of His Heavenly Father and condemning the Jews of His day for continuing the apostasy of their ancestors. Nothing had changed. And the proof can be seen in the reaction of the religious leaders.

And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. – Mark 11:18 ESV

Rather than displaying remorse, these men seek revenge. They show no signs of regret or even a hint of conviction. In their minds, Jesus was the guilty party. He was the one who deserved to die. So, with this last public outburst by Jesus fresh on their minds, they began to plot His demise. But Jesus simply walked away, leaving a path of destruction in His wake. He walked out of the temple grounds, never to return again.

The departure of Jesus from the temple recalls another instance when the prophet Ezekiel was given a vision from God. In that vision, Ezekiel was given a glimpse of the glory of God filling the temple.

…the cloud of glory filled the inner courtyard. Then the glory of the Lord rose up from above the cherubim and went over to the entrance of the Temple. The Temple was filled with this cloud of glory, and the courtyard glowed brightly with the glory of the Lord. – Ezekiel 10:3-4 NLT

But as Ezekiel continued to watch, something truly significant happened. The glory of God slowly moved toward the east gate, which opened onto the Kidron Valley. And then, the glory of God departed. God Almighty vacated the premises.

Then the glory of the Lord moved out from the entrance 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. – Ezekiel 10:18-19 NLT

And Mark records that when evening came, Jesus and His disciples “went out of the city” (Mark 11:19 ESV). Jesus walked out the same gate He had walked in. And He would never enter the temple grounds again. The glory of God had left the temple, never to return. And that same temple, which the Jewish people revered and worshiped, would soon become a pile of rubble, destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. And to this day, the Jews have no temple. The glory of God, as revealed in the Son of God, has taken up residence in all those who have become the children of God. We are His temple, His dwelling place.

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

That You May Believe

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” John 11:1-16 ESV

Chapter 11 marks a major point of transition in John’s gospel account. Jesus has left Jerusalem and returned to the area near the Jordan where His ministry began. His face-to-face confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders have come to an end, but not their quest to see Him put to death. And with the opening lines of chapter 11, it is clear that death, including His own, will become the primary theme of the second half of the book.

Jesus has already broached the topic of death before, insisting that He was the key to victory over death and the source of eternal life.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – John 5:24 ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” – John 8:54 ESV

Back in chapter four, John records the occasion when Jesus healed the official’s son who had been “at the point of death” (John 4:47 ESV). The young man had been restored to health – in an instant and from a distance. Whatever his illness had been, it had come close to taking the young man’s life. But at the father’s impassioned plea for help, Jesus had interceded and provided an instantaneous and full recovery. That story is important to consider when reading the details of all that takes place in chapter 11.

John records that Jesus received a report that His good friend, Lazarus, was sick. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, had sent word to Jesus informing them of their brother’s illness. Unlike the official from Capernaum, Mary and Martha make no mention of the severity of their brother’s condition. Their message to Jesus, while urgent, does not suggest that their brother is near death. Even Jesus seems unconcerned, suggesting that Lazarus’ condition is not life-threatening.

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” – John 11:4 ESV

But there is far more to this statement than the disciples of Jesus understood. Perhaps they recognized something familiar in Jesus’ words. On an earlier occasion while still in Jerusalem, they had come across a blind man and had asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV). And Jesus had responded, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV).

Here we have Jesus making a similar statement regarding the illness of Lazarus. Once again, He seems to be indicating that there is a sovereign plan unfolding right before their eyes. A divinely ordained encounter was about to take place that would reveal the glory of the Son of God like never before. While giving the gift of sight to the beggar who had been born blind was proof that Jesus was doing the works of His Father, something even more glorious was about to take place.

The next verses create a rather strange image of Jesus. John reveals that Jesus had a great love for Lazarus and his two sisters. And yet, rather than drop everything and head to their home in Bethany, Jesus chose to delay His departure for two days. This was clearly a conscious decision on Jesus’ part – a premeditated plan designed to  allow the events to unfold “so that the Son may be glorified.”

After the two-day delay, Jesus informed His disciples that it was time to go. But they resist, questioning the wisdom of making the trip to Bethany, which was just two miles east of Jerusalem. With respect and a bit of poorly veiled incredulity, they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” (John 11:8 ESV). Jesus’ decision to return to the vicinity of Jerusalem so soon after His less-than-pleasant run-in with the religious leaders made no sense to them. It was risky at best and potentially deadly at worst.

But Jesus, in His inimitable way, answered their question with a cryptic response that had to have left them staring at one another in confusion.

“Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” – John 11:9-10 ESV

Jesus’ disciples were clearly concerned for His safety. They knew that Jewish religious leaders were out to kill Him, and they were simply trying to protect Him. But Jesus was indicating that as long as He was acting in accordance with His Father’s will (walking in the light of the day), He was perfectly safe. And as long as they remained in step with Him, they would not stumble.

Jesus’ words are in keeping with what He said concerning the man who had been blind since birth.

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:4-5 ESV

He had repeatedly told His disciples that He was the light of the world and that as long as they walked with Him, they would be safe.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

Jesus knew that their fear of the religious leaders was justifiable. But He also knew that His fate was securely in the hands of His Heavenly Father. The time was quickly coming when the light of the world would be extinguished but until then, He had work to do. And the illness of Lazarus was part of God’s divine plan that would jump-start the final days of Jesus’ ministry and life.

The disciples were works in process. Their understanding of Jesus was incomplete and not always accurate. In their hearts, they truly believed Him to be the Messiah, but their comprehension of what that meant was clouded by their preconceived and somewhat selfish preconceptions. They were expecting Jesus to be a conquering hero, a warrior-king like David had been, who would deliver the nation of Israel from the oppression of Rome and restore God’s people to power and prominence. But Jesus was slowly exposing their misconceptions and preparing them to embrace the true purpose behind His mission and their calling.

Jesus, knowing exactly how His disciples would understand His words, informed them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11 ESV). And they didn’t disappoint Him. They responded, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover” (John 11:12 ESV). In their minds, there was no longer any reason to risk a trip to Bethany. If Lazarus was sleeping soundly, that was good sign that he was on his way to a full recovery. But, as usual, Jesus was saying far more than they realized, and John points out the gap between Jesus’ meaning and the disciples’ understanding.

Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. – John 11:13 ESV

But Jesus, refusing to leave them in the dark, explained exactly what He meant.

“Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” – John 11:14-15 ESV

It is so easy to read this statement and miss the impact it must have had on Jesus’ disciples. We know how the story ends, but they did not. In their minds, Jesus’ words must have sounded callous and confusing. How in the world could He be expressing joy at the news that His friend has died? Now, rather than going to Bethany to witness the healing of a sick man, they would be attending a funeral. And one that could have easily been prevented.

But Jesus informs them that there was a purpose behind His delay and Lazarus’ death: Their belief. Jesus was preparing them for what was to come. This entire scenario was intended as a precursor for an even more significant event that would soon be taking place. What they were about to witness would establish Jesus as the Son of God in a way that would have been unimaginable and impossible.

Yet, after informing the disciples that Lazarus had died, Jesus told them, “let us go to him” (John 11:15 ESV). And Thomas, aiming his words at his fellow disciples, responded with what appears to be pessimism and sarcasm: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16 ESV). There are those who believe Thomas was expressing his expectation that Jesus was headed to His own death at the hands of the religious leaders, and was declaring his willingness to die alongside Him. But it seems much more likely that Thomas was expressing his belief that, if they followed Jesus’ plan, they would all end up dead, just like Lazarus. In other words, in Thomas’ mind, this trip was a suicide mission. But his fears were unjustified because the light of the world was still shining, and as long as they walked in the light, they would remain safe and be witnesses to the glory of 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.

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

The Light of the World

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:12-20 ESV

In this passage, Jesus issues the second of seven “I am” statements recorded in the book of John. Standing in the treasury of the temple, He states, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12 ESV). These declarations by Jesus are intended to clarify His unique relationship with mankind as the Savior of the world. In the course of time, Jesus will portray His identity as the Messiah sent from God using these seven descriptive and declarative statements:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:9 ESV

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

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

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5 ESV

Each of these statements reveals a relational aspect of Jesus’ ministry. He presents Himself as a source of sustenance, illumination, access, care, life, and fruitfulness. With each one of them, He clarifies His unique role as the Father’s personal emissary who had come to offer sinful mankind a means of being restored to a right relationship with a holy God. It is only through Him that sinners can discover all they need to be made right with God.

Chapter six records Jesus’ offering His body and blood as the sole source of spiritual nourishment that, when consumed, produces everlasting life. But this gift of eternal life is predicated on belief. Jesus clearly stated, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35 ESV). Yet, sadly, Jesus revealed the truth about those who had witnessed His power but had failed to accept His claim to be from God:  “you have seen me and yet do not believe” (John 6:36 ESV).

Now, Jesus announces Himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12 ESV). In doing so, He reinforces the theme that John used to begin his Gospel.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

Jesus has compared Himself to water and bread, two non-negotiable staples necessary for sustaining life. Without bread and water, human life is unsustainable. Jesus, the author of life, came to earth so that He might offer Himself as the sole source of eternal life. His body, which He would willingly sacrifice on behalf of sinful mankind, would become the means by which all those deprived of righteousness might “be filled.”

Now, Jesus uses the metaphor of light to describe the illuminating nature of His incarnation. He was God in human flesh. And, as John wrote in his first letter, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). As the Son of God, Jesus manifested the sinless perfection of His Heavenly Father. With His appearance in human form, Jesus brought the light of God’s presence to earth, making the full glory of God visible and accessible. The author of Hebrews describes put it this way:

The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God. – Hebrews 1:3 NLT

That is why Jesus was able to say, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 ESV). He made the light of God’s glory visible. But one of the unique qualities of light is its ability to both illuminate and expose. With His incarnation, Jesus brought the glory of God to earth and, in doing so, His very presence exposed the darkness that had enveloped the world. Darkness is the absence of light. And when the light of life appeared, the pitch-blackness of man’s spiritual condition was dramatically exposed.

The prophet Isaiah had written about the day in which the darkness would be penetrated by a great light.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:2 ESV

It would be Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist who, upon hearing of his wife’s pregnancy, would testify regarding his son’s ministry.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79 ESV

Jesus brought the light of God’s glory to bear on the darkness of man’s condition. His sinless, fully obedient life stood in stark contrast to the sinful and disobedient character of fallen humanity. As a man, Jesus provided the perfect example of godliness lived out in daily life. He was the model man, accomplishing what no other man had ever been able to do: Live in sinless, perfect obedience to the will of God.

The apostle Paul provides a stark contrast between the life of Adam and Jesus.

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. – Romans 5:19 ESV

But the righteousness Jesus offered was going to require sinful men and women to place their hope and trust in Him, rather than relying on their own ability to live up to God’s holy standards. Jesus required complete dependence upon Him. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV). Those who would reject Him as the light and the source of eternal life would condemn themselves to a life of eternal darkness, separated from God and doomed to suffer the consequences for their rebellions against Him.

But the Pharisees rejected Jesus’ words. As far as they were concerned, His testimony was worthless because it was based on His own opinion. They did not believe He had corroborating testimony to support His claims. In essence, they called Him a liar.

“You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” – John 8:13 ESV

But Jesus rejects their assessment, defending His claims as true because they are fully supported by His Father in heaven. This line of defense must have infuriated the Pharisees because it was further proof that Jesus was a heretic and a blasphemer. By declaring Himself to be the Son of God, Jesus was claiming to be on equal standing with God. For them, this was proof of Jesus’ guilt. But for Jesus, it was evidence of His deity and divine calling.

Jesus accused them of judging according to the flesh. In other words, they were limited in their perspective. They couldn’t see the truth of who He was because their eyes were blinded by sin. When they looked at Jesus, all they could see was a man standing in front of them. But Jesus was declaring Himself to be the very light of God’s glory, shining in the darkness that permeated the nation of Israel and the lives of those who claimed to be children of God.

As far as Jesus was concerned, He knew His claims were true because He had the full support of His Heavenly Father. And, according to their own laws, two witnesses were all that was required to support the veracity of a claim.

“Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.” – John 8:17-18 NLT

But the Pharisees subtly reject His claim to be the Son of God by asking, “Where is your father?” (John 8:19 ESV). They may have intended this as a slap in the face to Jesus, raising the rumors concerning Jesus’ “illegitimate” birth. It had probably become known that Joseph had not been Jesus’ birth father, which had led to rampant speculation that His birth was the result of an adulterous affair. But this question further illustrates their ignorance of who Jesus really was. A fact that Jesus makes perfectly clear.

“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” – John 8:18 ESV

These were strong words coming from the lips of Jesus. He accused these self-righteous religious leaders of having no knowledge of Yahweh. Because they were ignorant of God, they were clueless as to the identity of the Son of God. The light of God’s glory was standing right in front of them, but they remained blinded by sin and doomed to walk in darkness.

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 Bar Is Raised

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:17-20 ESV

Jesus knows that what He is saying is going to be misunderstood and misconstrued by His hearers. He is well aware that the content of His message is going to sound controversial, even heretical to some. So, He takes just a few minutes to assure them that He is not promoting something contrary to their Scriptures, which is what He means by “the Law or the prophets.” His message was radical, but not in that sense. In fact, Jesus is about to show them that His words are well within the teaching of the Law, and His own life was a fulfillment of all the prophets had written. For Jesus, everything He had to say was based on a proper interpretation of Scripture and not in conflict with it.

Much of the opposition Jesus would face in His ministry would be due to a misunderstanding of the Scriptures on the part of the Jewish people. And their ignorance regarding their sacred writings was due to the teaching of their own religious leadership. Later on in His ministry, Jesus would confront the Jewish religious leaders – the scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law – telling them, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life” (John 5:39-40 NLT). These men were renowned for their knowledge of God’s Word but were ignorant of its true meaning and content. Years later, Jesus would expose the Pharisees for their rampant abuse of God’s law.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” – Mark 7:6-8 NLT

For generations, these men had taken the Laws of God and interpreted them for their own benefit. They had twisted God’s words and added to them their own traditions and man-made laws designed to lessen God’s requirements. And as much as they may have known about the coming Messiah, they completely missed who Jesus was because He did not fit their interpretations and expectations. Years later, when Jesus had been resurrected and returned back to His Father’s side in heaven, Stephen would preach a powerful message to the Jews that would end up with his death by stoning.

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 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, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” – Acts 7:51-53 NLT

So, Jesus assures His listeners that He is not contradicting the Word of God, He is actually fulfilling it. The Jews saw the Law as an end unto itself. In other words, it was their ability to keep the Law that brought them approval by God. They understood that their capacity to live up to God’s law was what brought them God’s blessings. So, they developed workarounds and loopholes to make compliance easier. Jesus would accuse them of this very thing.

“You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.” – Mark 7:9-13 NLT

The law was intended to point the people to their need for a Savior. The law was holy, righteous, and impossible to keep. All it could do was expose sin, not remove it. No man, no matter how knowledgeable he was of the law, could keep it perfectly. That is, until Jesus came. The apostle Paul, a former Pharisee and an expert regarding the law, would make this point clear in his letter to the Galatians.

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. – Galatians 3:19 NLT

Jesus claims that He did not come to abolish or do away with the law but to fulfill it. He didn’t come to refute what the prophets had said generations ago, but to bring about all that they had written. The Old Testament Scriptures, the Law and the prophets, pointed toward Jesus. They predicted His coming. They revealed the kind of life that God required, one that no ordinary man was capable of living. They showed the level of righteousness required for man to receive God’s approval. And Jesus, the Son of God, came to live that life and demonstrate that kind of righteousness in human flesh.

Taking a direct stab at the religious leaders in His audience, Jesus says, “So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:19 NLT). In other words, if you attempt to diminish, dilute or alter God’s requirements in any way, you have no part in His Kingdom. Obedience was the key – perfect obedience.

“But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” – Matthew 5:19 NLT

Then Jesus drops the bombshell that had to have left the heads of those in His audience spinning in confusion and disappointment.

“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! – Matthew 5:20 NLT

What? Was He kidding? Had He lost His mind? How in the world could anyone be more righteous than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees? These men were considered the spiritual elite of their day. They were the crème de la crème, the top dogs, the religious rock stars of Israel. But Jesus is speaking of a different kind of righteousness altogether. He is juxtaposing the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees with the internal righteousness that He came to bring.

Jesus is speaking of a different kind of righteousness altogether. He is juxtaposing the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees with the internal righteousness that He came to bring.

He is contrasting man-made righteousness with Spirit-produced righteousness, something that would be made possible after His death, resurrection, and the Holy Spirit’s coming. He is eliminating any prospect of self-righteousness altogether and revealing that His righteousness alone, which is superior to that of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, is what can make men right with God. Jesus is referring to an alien righteousness, a righteousness that comes from outside of oneself.

There are two kinds of Christian righteousness… The first is alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without.  This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies though faith… – Martin Luther, Two Kinds of Righteousness

The righteousness of man won’t gain God’s approval because it is insufficient. Once again, Paul reminds us:

For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. – Galatians 2:21 NLT

And he elaborates on this very same point in his letter to the Romans:

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT

The very next section of Jesus’ sermon is going to develop this idea of a superior righteousness. He is going to reveal that God’s requirements were more intense and demanding than His audience had ever dreamed. The kind of righteousness God required was unattainable by sinful men and women. Therefore, the list of blessings Jesus opened His sermon with was totally elusive and out of reach for the average Jew.

Or were they? This entire sermon is designed to set up what appears to be an irreconcilable problem, and then provide His audience with an unexpected solution. In fact, He will wrap up His sermon with these words:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” – Matthew 7:13-14 ESV

And later on in His ministry, Jesus will reveal exactly what He meant by the narrow gate.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 NLT

Attaining the blessings of God through human effort was impossible. Earning the approval of God through rule-keeping and self-discipline was not going to cut it. Even the religious leaders of Israel, with all their trappings of spiritual superiority, were wholly deficient in holiness – by God’s exacting standard. The apostle Paul, a former Pharisee himself, would later write: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV).

But the good news was that God had sent His Son to be the Savior for all those who would recognize their sinfulness and relinquish any hope in their own self-righteousness.

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

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

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

A God Who Is Near

1 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today. See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?– Deuteronomy 4:1-8 ESV

God had just reconfirmed that Moses would not be leading the people of Israel into the land of promise. With his little display of self-aggrandizement in the Wilderness of Zin, Moses had angered God by attempting to steal glory from God. In his anger with the people of Israel, Moses had disobeyed God’s commands and attempted to grandstand before the people, leaving them to believe that it was he who was supplying their need for water. Moses was out to win the respect of the people, when he should have been leading the people to honor, glorify, and revere God.

Yet, in spite of the news that he would not be entering into the promised land along with the rest of the people, Moses didn’t shirk his leadership responsibilities. He continued to perform the task assigned to him by God all those years ago in the land of Midian. While Moses had been caring for his father-in-laws flocks, God had appeared to him in the form of a burning bush, telling him:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:7-10 ESV

God was going to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and He was going to use Moses to make it happen. But God’s deliverance of His people would include a deliverance to and not just from something.

“I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Exodus 3:16-17 ESV

Now, more than four decades later, the people had arrived at their final destination: The land of promise. And while Moses would be denied the joy and pleasure of leading them into the land, he was going to make sure that were well-informed as to their obligations to God once the arrived in the land.

God had personally given His laws to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai, and Moses had delivered them to the people of Israel. Those laws remained binding upon the people and were intended to regulate their conduct once they arrived in the promised land. They were not suggestions, but were irrevocable laws that required willful obedience on the part of the people. So, Moses wanted to make sure that the new generation of Israelites, who would be the first to enter the land, would know and obey the commands of God.

“…listen carefully to these decrees and regulations that I am about to teach you. Obey them so that you may live, so you may enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 4:1 NLT

Moses was taking no chances. He was not going to assume that the parents of these people had been affective in passing on the laws and statutes of God. Moses knew that ignorance of God’s laws would be just as deadly as choosing to ignore them. And he also knew that God would not tolerate any alterations or additions to His law.

“Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you.” – Deuteronomy 4:2 NLT

God would not tolerate any deviation from His law. His commands were not up for debate or open to interpretation. And, just to make sure the people understood the gravity of their situation, Moses reminded them of one of the many times when their parents had failed to keep God’s commands. It had happened on the plains of Moab at a place called Shittim. When the people of Israel entered the Moabite territory, Balak, the king of Moab, had attempted to hire a local diviner named Balaam to place a curse on them. But when Balaam discovered that God would not allow him to place a curse on the people of Israel, he came up with an alternative plan. He instructed the king to have the women of Moab seduce the men of Israel. And the book of Numbers tells us exactly what happened.

…some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the LORD’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

This was far more than a display of immorality that angered the Victorian sensibilities of God. It was a blatant violation of His law.

“You must worship no other gods, for the LORD, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you. You must not make a treaty of any kind with the people living in the land. They lust after their gods, offering sacrifices to them. They will invite you to join them in their sacrificial meals, and you will go with them. Then you will accept their daughters, who sacrifice to other gods, as wives for your sons. And they will seduce your sons to commit adultery against me by worshiping other gods.” – Exodus 34:14-16 NLT

And yet, that’s exactly what the people of Israel had done at Shittim. And Moses reminded the people what God had done in response to their disobedience to His commands.

“You saw for yourself what the Lord did to you at Baal-peor. There the Lord your God destroyed everyone who had worshiped Baal, the god of Peor. – Deuteronomy 4:3 NLT

Those same laws still applied and God was not going to allow His people to bend or break them, without suffering the consequences for their disobedience. Moses knew that the abundance and fruitfulness of the land would mean nothing if they people refused to remain faithful to God. The land flowing with milk and honey would become a killing field flowing with blood if the Israelites did not take God’s commands seriously. Partial obedience would not result in partial blessing. It would bring the full wrath of God. Which is why Moses warned them, “Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations” (Deuteronomy 4:6 NLT).

God had a secondary purpose behind His laws. They were to guide and direct the lives of His people, providing them with clearly understood parameters for living in submission to His will for them. His laws were meant to protect them. His laws were intended to assure that they enjoyed His blessings and avoided His curses. But they were also meant to provide the nations living within the land with a visual testimony of what it looks like when men live in a right relationship with God Almighty.

The Mosaic Law was intended to display a never-before-seen relationship between a god and man. The pagan religions of the day featured a plethora of gods who were distant and, for the most part, invisible to their worshipers. Except for carved idols, these gods were nowhere to be seen. And the relationship between the worshipers and their chosen deity was a fickle one, with the people never knowing if their god was truly pleased with their behavior.

Yet, the God of Israel, while transcendent and all-powerful, had chosen to insert Himself into the lives of His people, providing them with laws that regulated not only their behavior concerning Him, but with one another. He wanted to influence every facet of their lives, providing them with righteous rules and regulations for every imaginable form of conduct. And as the people of Israel obeyed His laws, they would be displaying their wisdom and intelligence to the nations around them – a wisdom and intelligence that originated from God, not men.

Moses knew that if the Israelites would obey God’s commands, the pagan nations would be amazed at their wisdom.

“How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!” – Deuteronomy 4:6 NLT

But he wanted the Israelites to remember that it would not be their wisdom that set them apart. It would be their God.

“For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:7-8 NLT

The very presence of God’s law was proof of God’s proximity. He was with them. He was intimately involved in their lives and cared about every detail concerning their conduct and character. Unlike the false gods of the nations living in the land of Canaan, Yahweh was real and His relationship with His people was intended to be all-pervasive and highly personal. He was not a distant, disinterested deity, but a loving, caring God who longed to display His glory in the lives of His chosen people.

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

 

 

 

They Shall Declare My Glory

Isaiah 66:15-24

After 66 chapters, it would be easy to assume that the entire book of Isaiah is all about the nation of Judah. And while they are one of the main topics of the book and the key recipient of the messages contained in it, they are not its primary focus. God is.

All throughout the book, Isaiah has communicated the glory and greatness of God. What set the people of Judah apart was their God. He was the reason they were a nation in the first place. He had called Abraham out of Ur and made from him a great nation consisting of descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. The whole purpose behind Isaiah writing the book that bears his name was to express God’s glory and expose the guilt of the people of Judah for refusing to reflect that glory to the nations. They were to have been a living, breathing witness to the rest of the world of what it looks like to live in unbroken fellowship with God Almighty. But they had failed. Instead of bringing glory to the name of God through submission to His will and obedience to His commands, they had displayed an open disregard for His holiness and greatness by pursuing false gods. They had profaned the name of God by their actions and, while God was obligated to punish them, He was still determined to protect the integrity of His reputation by remaining committed to the covenant He had made with them.

Throughout this book, the glory of God is juxtaposed to the sinfulness of humanity. And the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel are highlighted as glaring examples of mankind’s stubborn rejection of God’s revealed glory. He had chosen, rescued, led, protected, and provided for them. He had given them His law as a guideline for living in relationship with Him and one another. He had provided them with the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness when they inevitably failed to live up to His law. And each time God displayed His power among them, showered His grace and unmerited favor on them, and maintained His covenant commitment to them, He was revealing His glory. But rather than responding in gratitude and with a renewed determination to remain faithful to Him, the peoples of Judah and Israel had continued to treat God’s glory with disdain and indifference.

So, the book of Isaiah tells us what God intends to do. It reveals His plans regarding His disobedient children and the rest of mankind who live in open rebellion to Him. While the punishment of Judah is a major theme of the book, the future restoration of Judah and Israel is given far more significance. And the primary point behind their restoration will be the glory of God. Isaiah has already told us what will happen in that day.

And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
    proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
    let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 12:4-6 ESV

Notice that God is the main focus of these verses. He will receive thanks. It will be His deeds that are made known. His name will be exalted. Praises will be sung to Him and about Him. Because He alone is great. God’s restoration of His people will not go unnoticed by the rest of the world. They will recognize His glory and greatness as He displays His covenant faithfulness. But they will also see and experience His glory in the form of His judgment. As Isaiah has made clear, the day is coming when God will reveal His glory as He metes out justice to the nations.

“My mercy and justice are coming soon.
    My salvation is on the way.
    My strong arm will bring justice to the nations.
All distant lands will look to me
    and wait in hope for my powerful arm.
Look up to the skies above,
    and gaze down on the earth below.
For the skies will disappear like smoke,
    and the earth will wear out like a piece of clothing.
The people of the earth will die like flies,
    but my salvation lasts forever.
    My righteous rule will never end!” – Isaiah 51:5-6 NLT

Again, don’t miss the emphasis of these verses: My mercy and justice. My salvation. My strong arm. My righteous rule. It will all be about God and His glory. In fact, verse 18 of this chapter clearly states that the focus of all that happens in the end times will be about the glory of God.

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory…”

The Hebrew word translated “glory” is kabowd and it literally means “heaviness.” But it is primarily used to refer to the weight or significance of something or someone. Used of God, it is an expression of His greatness, magnificence, and majesty. God’s glory is what sets Him apart as the one true God. Isaiah 43:7 tells us that we were made for God’s glory. In other words, our very existence points back to His majesty as the Creator-God. The psalmist tells us that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1 ESV). The apostle Paul reminds us that, as believers, we are vessels of clay in which the very glory of God is contained (2 Corinthians 4:7).

God is all about His glory, and He can reveal His glory in a variety of ways. In fact, all that He does reveals His glory. When He saves, He receives glory. When He judges, He is glorified. When He displays His righteous indignation against sinful mankind, the glory of His character is revealed. God’s merciful and gracious gift of His Son as payment for the sins of man is a manifestation of His glory. And Jesus told His followers that, when they bear fruit, “This brings great glory to my Father” (John 15:8 NLT).

So, back to the closing verses of Isaiah 66. What does any of this have to do with God’s glory? God talks about coming in fire and rendering His anger in fury. He describes His judgment as resulting in the deaths of many. In fact, the very last verse in the entire book states:

“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” – Isaiah 66:24 ESV

And while that description may leave us feeling a bit discomfited, we must not overlook the reality that it too reveals the glory of God. He is going to deal with rebellious mankind once and for all. And less we think that God is being a bit too harsh, we have to remember that He has been extending grace and mercy to the nations for centuries. He has been showing great patience for generations. But the day is coming when His patience will run out and His righteous judgment will be poured out. And, as the book of Revelation reveals, when the period of the Tribulation comes and God begins to pour His final judgments upon humanity, the vast majority of them will refuse to repent.

Everyone was burned by this blast of heat, and they cursed the name of God, who had control over all these plagues. They did not repent of their sins and turn to God and give him glory. – Revelation 16:9 NLT

…and they cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they did not repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. – Revelation 16:11 NLT

And yet, notice what God is going to do. Isaiah reveals that there is a day coming when God will display His glory in yet another way. He will send messengers to all those whom He spares from judgment, giving them a second and final chance to see and experience His glory in the form of salvation.

“I will perform a sign among them. And I will send those who survive to be messengers to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (who are famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to all the lands beyond the sea that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. There they will declare my glory to the nations. – Isaiah 66:19 NLT

God will be glorified as He redeems and restores a remnant of His rebellious people, Israel. But He will also be glorified when He spares and saves a portion of sinful mankind. And the outcome of all God’s activities in those days will be the worship of Him.

“All humanity will come to worship me
    from week to week
    and from month to month. – Isaiah 66:23 NLT

And the apostle John provides us with a marvelous description of that day, when God and His Son will rule over all the earth and their glory will fill the earth.

No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:3-5 NLT

We shall declare His glory.

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

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

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

A Corporate Confession

1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
    you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
    in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. Isaiah 64:1-7 ESV

Isaiah continues his passionate prayer to God, temporarily abdicating his role as God’s messenger in order to speak to God on behalf of his people. In a sense, Isaiah reversed his role and became an emissary for Judah to God, pleading with the Almighty to leave heaven and invade their circumstance with His divine presence and power. He wanted God to show up on the scene and prove to the stubborn and sin-blinded people of Judah that He was real and that His promises to save them could be trusted.

Isaiah’s graphic description of how he envisioned God showing up on the scene reflects his understanding of how God had appeared to the people of Israel in the past. When God first appeared to the Israelites at Mount Sinai in the wilderness, Moses had used similar terminology to describe the scene.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:16-19 NLT

Isaiah longed to see the very same thing because he knew that his rebellious friends and neighbors would have a hard time ignoring a God who revealed Himself in such a dramatic and undeniable way. With that kind of entrance, even the most jaded among the people of Judah would have to sit up and take notice. They would have no excuse to ignore God anymore. In essence, Isaiah is asking that God move from being transcendent to immanent. It is not that God is one or the other at any given time. He exists outside of time and space and is only knowable by men when He chooses to reveal Himself to them. But God has done just that. As Paul states in his letter to the believers in Rome, “what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 NLT).

Over the centuries, God had revealed Himself to men in a variety of ways. On several occasions, God appeared to Abraham and spoke with Him. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. In the wilderness, He revealed Himself to the people of Israel in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. Later on, Moses would make a request of God: “show me your glorious presence” (Exodus 33:18 NLT). And, in response, God gave Moses the following instructions:

“Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”  – Exodus 33:21-23 NLT

Isaiah longed for a similar experience. He had obviously talked with God, but now he expressed His desire to see God with his own eyes. And this yearning was driven by a longing to see God intervene on behalf of His people so that the nations would know that the God of Judah was truly powerful. Not only did Isaiah want the people of Judah to see their God for who He really was, but he also wanted their enemies to shake in their boots at the sight of God Almighty. So, he begged God, “to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:2 ESV).

Isaiah knew that God stood alone. He had no competitors and there were no other gods who could be compared with Him. But he was looking for tangible, palpable proof. He wanted to see God in action with his own two eyes, and he wanted to see Him do “awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations” (Isaiah 64:3 NLT).

But Isaiah knew there was a problem. God was holy and they were not. There were certain requirements that God had placed upon His chosen people. And Isaiah articulated them.

You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways. – Issaiah 64:5 NLT

God demanded righteousness. He expected holiness. He had chosen the people of Israel and set them apart for His glory. They were to live their lives according to His laws and they were to reflect His holy character to a lost world. Even back in Midian,  when God appeared to Moses in the form of the burning bush, He had warned him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5 NLT). Later on, when God allowed Moses to see His glory, He denied Moses the right to see His face. God is holy and He expected His chosen people to live holy lives. But Isaiah knew that was a major problem. 

But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
how can people like us be saved? – Isaiah 64:5 NLT

Here we have Isaiah aligning himself with the people of Judah and asking as their corporate representative. He includes himself as one of the guilty, describing their state as sinners who deserve no salvation from God. And Isaiah doesn’t attempt to minimize the depth of their sinful state. He lays it out in graphic terms that reveal his understanding of their corporate culpability and well-deserved condemnation.

We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

This was not a new recognition by Isaiah of the guilt of he and his fellow Judahites. From the day God had called him, he had expressed his realization that they all stood condemned before a holy God. In fact, he had clearly stated, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips” (Isaiah 6:5 NLT). But it’s essential that we notice what prompted this incredible confession from Isaiah. Chapter six opens up with the words, “It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple” (Isaiah 6:1 NLT). Isaiah had seen God. He had been given a vision of God. In that vision, Isaiah had seen the seraphim surrounding the throne of God and had heard them proclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:2 NLT).

And the immediate impact of that vision on Isaiah was a recognition of his own unholiness. Standing before the perfectly holy God, Isaiah was fully and painfully aware of his own unrighteousness and undeservedness. He had no right to be in the presence of God. He was guilty of sin and unclean as a result. And he knew that the only thing he deserved from God was condemnation and death. Yet, God had sent one of the seraphim with a burning coal from the altar to touch the lips of Isaiah. And the next thing Isaiah heard was the incredible news, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven” (Isaiah 6:7 NLT).

That experience had left Isaiah a changed man. He would never be the same again. And now, years later, he was pleading with God to reveal His holiness to the people of Judah. Why? Because he longed for them to have the same life-changing experience that had transformed him from guilty to forgiven.

Yet, in spite of their undeniable sin and guilt, Isaiah is shocked to admit that “no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy” (Isaiah 64:7 NLT). There was no one willing to confess, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.” And, as a result, Isaiah sadly acknowledges the state of affairs in Judah.

Therefore, you have turned away from us
    and turned us over to our sins. – Isaiah 64:7 NLT

Isaiah was the only one willing to admit the obvious. They were sinners and deserved every ounce of judgment God was bringing upon them. They were a people of unclean lips, but because they refused to admit it, there would be no burning coal to cleanse them and provide forgiveness. Instead, they would face the loving discipline of God. Because they refused to repent of their rebellion against Him, he would punish them for it. But Isaiah was not going to give up. His prayer was not quite finished. He knew what it was like to stand before the holy, righteous God of the universe, and have his life radically altered. And he would not be content until he had interceded with God on behalf of his people.

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