Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: July, 2014

THE JEWISH EXPECTATION

“He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.”

                                        John 1:11

    When Jesus came into the world 2,000 years ago He was not stepping into a religious vacuum. He lived and taught and performed miracles in Israel, a people with a unique religious tradition of monotheism and a lofty moral code. They were expecting a Messiah, but then when that Messiah came they rejected Him. It was one of the most tragic paradoxes in history.

    On one level it was all a part of God’s plan. Jesus came specifically to die on the cross as an atonement for human sin. Thus His rejection was all a part of the plan. But on another level the Jewish response to Jesus was unfortunate. He came bearing a message of divine love and salvation – and they rejected it, much to their own detriment. Their Savior was put to death on a cross.

    What were they expecting? As we have seen there were numerous biblical prophecies foretelling a day when a king in the line of David would come and establish a reign of peace and righteousness. But how and when it would happen was a much debated question. This was especially true when Jesus lived here on earth. Various competing groups offered different theories.

    After winning its independence at the beginning of the First Century B.C. Judaea quickly fell into internal dissension. Eventually the Romans intervened and installed Herod as king in 40 B.C. During this period a variety of Jewish sects sprang up that were very much troubled by these developments. Inevitably they turned back to Old Testament prophecy for clues about what might happen in the future.

    One group, the Pharisees, were the dominant party at the time of Christ, and like other Jews they looked forward to the coming of Messiah. But they saw the Messiah primarily as a national Deliverer. He would destroy the Roman power, Israel would be regathered, a resurrection of the dead would take place. Enemies would attack Jerusalem and be repulsed, and then the Messianic kingdom would be established. The Pharisees saw that Israel’s calamity was the result of sin, and that what was needed was repentance and a more faithful attention to the law. What was missing, however, in this conception of the Messiah was the idea of an atonement for sin and salvation for the world as a whole.

    But there were other groups, more radical than the Pharisees. Some of them were actively preparing for the final war between good and evil. In one of the Dead Sea Scrolls a final conflict is described in which “the sons of light” battle the “sons of darkness.” The war culminates in a final battle. In the various military operations the priests and Levites play a conspicuous role, but interestingly, there is no mention of a Messiah!

    What the Jews of Jesus’ day failed to recognize is the Messiah’s role as a priest. God is holy, and we are sinners by nature. “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness. / Nor shall evil dwell with You” (Ps. 5:4; NKJV), and “. . . the righteous God tests the hearts and minds” (Ps. 7:9). “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, / O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130.3). “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day . . .” (Lu. 24:46). In order for the kingdom to be realized the problem of our sin had to be dealt with, and that required an atoning sacrifice that could only be offered by the Messiah Himself. Jesus’ contemporaries could not see that, and were only working for a political deliverer.

    And is that not our problem today? We are concerned about the direction of our country, and are looking for a political solution. We want a religion that will comfort, renew and restore. But we fail to recognize the deeper problem that lies within our own hearts. It is our own selfishness and indifference, our preoccupation with things of this life and our disregard for the will of God, that is the real problem. We need a Savior and not just a political Messiah. God is calling us to repentance and humble obedience. Will we listen?

THE PROPHECIES OF DANIEL

 

The Prophet Daniel

The Prophet Daniel

    The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament has intrigued and perplexed interpreters for literally thousands of years. It records, among other things, a number of visions and dreams about the future. What makes the book intriguing is that it give us an overview of history, along with an indication of how it will all end. But interpreting the details – that is the challenge!

    Daniel lived during the period of Israel’s exile in Babylon. A devout Jew, he lived in the midst of a pagan society led by a succession of Babylonian and Persian monarchs.

    For Daniel and his fellow Jews in exile it must have been a trying experience living as Jews in a foreign, pagan land. But how could it have happened to God’s chosen people? How would one explain this theologically?

    It is at this juncture that God revealed Himself in a special way to Daniel. Sometimes Daniel was called upon to interpret a dream for the king; sometimes he had visions himself. The various dreams and visions often contained bizarre imagery and obscure symbolism. But in them a panorama of human history unfolded.

    The visions describe a succession of world empires, the fourth of which is apparently Rome. Out of this empire would arise a charismatic leader who utters blasphemies and persecutes the saints. He, in turn, is replaced by a Person described as “One like the Son of Man,/ Coming with the clouds of heaven” (Dan. 7:13; NKJV).

        “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,

         That all peoples should serve Him.

         His dominion is an everlasting dominion,

         Which shall not pass away,

         And His kingdom the one

         Which shall not be destroyed” (v. 14).

    The last two chapters of the Book of Daniel record a vision that describes an ongoing conflict between “the kings of the North” (the Seleucid dynasty in Syria) and “the kings of the South” (the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt). There is one particular king of the North who is described as “a contemptible person” (Dan. 11:21; NIV;ESV), who almost certainly is Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the ruler of Syria from 175 to 164 B.C., who among other things desecrated the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. This event is referred to in our text as “the abomination of desolation” (11:31), a phrase that reappears later in Jesus’ teaching.

    Finally we are told that

        “. . . there shall be a time of trouble,

         Such as never was since there was a nation . . .” (12:1).

After that there will be a resurrection of the dead, “Some to everlasting life, / Some to shame and everlasting contempt” (v. 2), and “Those who are wise shall shine / Like the brightness of the firmament . . .” (v. 3).

    The prophecies of the Book of Daniel continued to be discussed and debated by devout Jews for many years afterward, and these discussions and debates form the backdrop of Jesus’ own teaching about the end times. How and when will “the kingdom of the saints” come into being? As we shall see Jesus picks up the language of Daniel in His own discussion of the kingdom and the last times.

    Much of what is in the Book of Daniel is obscure, but what is clear is the central theme of the book. As Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar himself was led to confess:

        “For His [i.e., God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion,

         And His kingdom is from generation to generation.

         All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;

         He does according to His will in the army of heaven

         And among the inhabitants of the earth.

         No one can restrain His hand

         Or say to Him, “What have You done?”

                        (4:34,35)

God is sovereign, and our destiny, both individually and collectively, is in His hands. We would do well to take heed to what He says.

THE KINGDOM – ITS MORAL IMPLICATIONS

Asher B. Durand: Kindred Spirits

Asher B. Durand: Kindred Spirits

To return to the subject of the end times (“The Reign of Messiah,” June 13) as we have seen biblical prophecy calls for a reign of the Messiah over the earth in peace and righteousness. What is often overlooked, however, is what that demands of us in personal conduct. If the Messiah will establish His kingdom “with judgment and justice,” what does that mean for the human race, and for us individually?

    The first thing to be observed is that as a reigning monarch the Messiah will administer justice.

        “But with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

         And decide with equity for the meek of the earth,

         He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,

         And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.”

                                (Isa. 11:4; NKJV).

When it says “He shall judge the poor” it means that He will ensure that the weak and vulnerable classes of society will receive their just due. In other words, during the reign of the Messiah there will be no more exploitation of the poor and helpless. The primary task of a righteous king is to defend those who are too weak to defend themselves.

    It is also important to emphasize that morality originates with God Himself. In a remarkably prophetic passage the Messiah (the Servant of the Lord) is pictured as saying,

        “Listen to Me, My people;

         And give ear to Me, O My nation:

         For law will proceed from Me,

         And I will make My justice rest

         As a light of the peoples.” (Isa. 51:4)

In other words the Messiah will instruct us on how we should live.

    But what exactly does the law (Torah) of God require? Space will not permit a full explanation of biblical ethics, but it is worth mentioning here a few basic principles. Social justice is a major concern, and that has a bearing on how we treat each other.

        “‘These are the things you shall do:

         Speak each man the truth to his neighbor;

         Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice and peace;

         Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor;

         And do not love a false oath.

         For all these are things that I hate,’

         Says the Lord.”    (Zech. 8:16,17)

In other words, our dealings with each other must be marked by complete honesty. We are not to defraud each other in any way whatsoever. Justice begins with the way we treat others. Significantly the passages emphasizes what goes on in our hearts – our secret thoughts and motives. We are not to “think evil in your heart” or “love a false oath.” And the reason we are not to do these things is that “‘these are the things that I hate,’ says the Lord.” Our conduct is to be governed and regulated by God’s own character, and there are certain things that are just plain obnoxious to Him. He loves justice and compassion and hates cruelty, oppression and inhumanity of every kind.

    Isaiah points out how utterly meaningless religion is in the absence of social justice:

        “Is not this the fast that I have chosen:

         To loose the bonds of wickedness,

         To undo the heavy burdens,

         To let the oppressed go free,

         And that you break every yoke?

         Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

         And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;

         When you see the naked, that you cover him,

         And not hide yourself from your own flesh?”

                        (Isa. 58:6,7)

Not only are we not to harm our neighbor in any way, we are positively to help him when we see him in need.

    This, then, poses a serious problem for us personally and individually. If the Messianic kingdom is a reign of perfect righteousness and justice, but we are personally sinners by nature, what will come of us? Are not, by the very nature of the case, excluded from the kingdom?

    The answer is that we must repent – we must change our attitudes and our ways. There needs to be a real sorrow for sin.

        “‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord,

         Turn to Me with all your heart,

         With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’

         So rend your hearts and not your garments;

         Return to the Lord your God,

         For He is gracious and merciful,

         Slow to anger, and of great kindness;

         And He relents from doing harm.”

                        (Joel 2:12,13)

    This, in turn, requires a new heart, which only God can give. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:33,34).

    This is why Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).

AMERICAN FREEDOM – HOW MUCH LONGER?

Independence Hall

Independence Hall

    Today, of course, is Independence Day here in the U.S., the day on which we celebrate our birth as an independent nation. The Signers of the Declaration of Independence took a bold step indeed, not only in that they were challenging established authority and the greatest military power on earth at the time, but because they aimed to create a new government founded on entirely new principles, a government which would, in the words of the Declaration, “derive its just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    Our bold experiment in democracy has now lasted 238 years and has brought us unprecedented freedom and prosperity. Not that we have always been successful. The Republic has weathered its storms – civil war and economic depression among them – and has sometimes failed to live up to its own professed ideals of “liberty and justice for all.” But somehow we survived and we are still free – at least for the time being.

    For the future may not turn out as rosy as the past. We have been a free and democratic society for so long that there are certain things that we take for granted. But if we take them for granted we run the risk of losing them, along with many of the benefits that go along with them.

    As we have learned from recent events around the world there are certain cultural factors that are necessary for a successfully functioning democracy. Chief among them is the capacity of the people for self-government. If political power is to be placed in the hands of the people, and if the people are to enjoy a large measure of freedom from government interference, they must be able to use this power and freedom constructively. They must be able to manage their own affairs capably and not harm others in the process. But this presupposes a certain measure of self-control and individual responsibility. The citizens must be productive enough to meet basic physical needs, wise enough to raise their children to be responsible, law-abiding members of society, and thoughtful enough to respect the rights of others. All of this, in turn, assumes a standard of morality – a basic level of honesty and integrity. People should fulfill their duties and obligations in society simply because it is the right thing to do.

    In other words, democracy works best when there is a strong religious base on which to build. If people are sufficiently motivated by the fear of God to govern their own passions and appetites they will not need a dictator to make the trains run on time. They will work diligently, honor their commitments, obey the law, and provide for their own. But when public morality collapses, when people lack a sense of obligation to anything outside of themselves, they tend to care only for themselves. They will try to “game the system” and take advantage of others. They will lie, cheat and steal in order to get ahead. The eventual result is chaos, anarchy and social disintegration – until the dictator arrives to restore order.

    And so, on this, the anniversary of our nation’s independence, how goes it with us? On the surface things seem normal enough – we work and play and go about our daily routines. But beneath the surface things are not quite so healthy as they may seem. Our economy has been deindustrialized, our family structure has crumbled, our government is paralyzed. The federal government’s finances are a mess. How much longer can such a state of affairs continue? It looks like a prescription for revolution and eventual dictatorship.

    Centuries ago a wise king of Israel put it like this:

        “Righteousness exalts a nation,

         But sin is a reproach to any people.”

                        (Prov. 14:34; NKJV)

Or, as George Washington put it in is Farewell Address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

    The question is, will we turn back before it is too late?

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