Christ

I Am – Part 2

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:13-14 ESV

58 “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” – John 8:58 ESV

This is the second half of our discussion regarding Jesus and His self-identification as the great “I AM.” Over the last few posts, we have been dwelling on the central role that identity played in the life of our Savior. It began with a look at the words of Paul found in Philippians 2. In his letter to the small community of believers in Philippi, a congregation he had helped to start several years earlier, Paul emphasized their need for community and gave them the following challenge: “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And for Paul, the evidence or proof that they were living worthy of the gospel would be clear when he received the news that they were “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27 ESV).

In chapter two, Paul encouraged them to make this outcome their goal; for their own good, God’s glory, and so that his own joy regarding them might be complete.

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:2-4 ESV

But the key to any of this taking place would not be found in their ability to “do what Jesus did.” In other words, personal effort, self-determination, and sheer will power were not going to be enough. All Paul’s talk about by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and having one mind was not a call to behavior modification. Yes, he had called them to humbly consider others more important than themselves. He had challenged them not to be selfish or to try to impress others. But Paul knew that the secret to their success would be a change in their way of thinking, not just their behavior.

let this mind be in you that is also in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 2:5 YLT

For the fourth time in a span of ten verses, Paul uses the Greek word phroneō, which can be translated as “think” or “be of the same mind.” Another important meaning of the term is “to have an opinion of one’s self, think of one’s self” (Outline of Biblical Usage). Within the context of the passage, Paul has been emphasizing the need for the Philippian believers to live in unity while facing increasing opposition. And their ability to pull that off would be based on their willingness to share the mindset of Jesus. Paul wanted them to have a proper opinion of themselves, that begins with a healthy awareness of their true identity. And Paul pointed to Jesus as someone whose own sense of self-awareness allowed Him to suffer willingly, serve selflessly, humble Himself gladly, and obey His Father’s will completely – even to the point of death.

Jesus was the Son of God. Paul makes that point quite clear. He describes Him as “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:5-6 ESV). Paul opens up chapter two by using the Messianic title of Christ when referring to Jesus. Then in verse five, he calls Him “Christ Jesus.” But in verse 11, Paul switches to the designation, “Jesus Christ.” The word “Christ” is not a name, but a title, and is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word for Messiah. “Jesus” was the human name given to the Son of God. So, Paul’s use of the title “Christ” before the name “Jesus” appears to support His emphasis on the incarnation – God becoming a man. Of first importance in this 11-verse section of Paul’s letter is the title or identity of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God sent to be the Savior of the world.

Jesus, though a man, was on an equal level with God because He was the Chosen One, the long-awaited Messiah, and the second person of the Trinity. And He was fully aware of who He was and what He had been sent to do. Paul stresses that Jesus willingly “emptied himself” or gave up His divine privileges and prerogatives to do the will of His Father, which included His death on the cross. He knew His identity, and He was clear on His job description. There was never a doubt in Jesus’ mind about His position and purpose. And that seems to be Paul’s point. Which is why he calls the Philippian believers to share that same mindset or outlook. But how?

It all ties back to the willingness of Jesus to humble Himself completely, serve others selflessly, and give His life sacrificially – even though He was the Son of God. Jesus suffered no diminishment in His value or worth by doing these things. His decision to become a slave did not make Him any less the Son of God. His choice to become human did not impact His holiness. While His earthly existence could be viewed as a form of demotion, Jesus never saw Himself as any less than who He was: The Son of God who enjoyed unbroken community and unity with His Heavenly Father.

While Jesus lived on this earth, His actions were never intended to make Him feel better about who He was. He did not do the things He did in an attempt to impress others or win their approval. He didn’t suffer from low self-esteem or struggle with self-worth. He had no doubts about His value and felt no pressure to maintain an air of superiority. So, loving, serving, giving, sacrificing, and even dying came easy for Him.

And they should for us as well, if we share His outlook regarding identity. And this is where the primary message in Paul’s letter comes home. Jesus knew who He was and was fully aware of His purpose in life. But are we? Do we have a strong awareness of our identity and a clear understanding of our God-given purpose in life? If not, we will find it difficult to live out our faith consistently and joyfully.

So, in the remaining time we have, I want to provide you with a list of clear and compelling identity markers found in the pages of Scripture. I doubt you will see anything new. But it is my prayer that, as you read through this list, you will begin to see yourself from a new perspective: The way God sees you. As we begin to grasp the significance of our true identity, we will be better able to recognize the lies of the enemy, who is constantly whispering in our ears, “If you are the son of God…”

He wants to convince us that we are not enough, that we don’t measure up, that our God doesn’t love us, our pain is a form of divine punishment, and that we deserve better and more. He is constantly tempting us to see ourselves as something other than who we are in Christ. He wants to hear us say,

“I am…important”

“I am…a success”

“I am…happy”

“I am…satisfied”

“I am…significant”

“I am…deserving”

But Paul would have us view ourselves quite differently, and he offers us the mindset of Jesus as the means by which we can live as Jesus did. We too can reject the temptations of the enemy to seek false identities and to pursue any other purpose for lives other than the one given to us by God.

When Jesus answered the charges of those who attempted to question His identity, He simply stated, “I am.” With those two simple words, Jesus conveyed His confident awareness of who He was and what He had come to do. Nothing could dissuade Jesus from knowing His true identity and from accomplishing His God-given mission. And the same can be true for us. So, the next time Satan whispers in your ear, “Do you know who you are?” you can confidently respond:

I am…forgiven (Ephesians 1:7)

I am…redeemed (Ephesians 1:7)

I am…God’s child (Ephesians 1:3-8)

I am…a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)

I am…a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)

I am…God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10)

I am…a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I am…justified by Christ’s blood (Romans 5:9)

I am…the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)

I am…set free from sin (Romans 6:18)

I am…free from condemnation (Romans 8:1)

I am…adopted into God’s family (Romans 8:15)

I am…more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37)

I am…a member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27)

I am…of great value to God (Matthew 5:26)

I am…the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)

I am…an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)

I am…a saint (Ephesians 1:1)

I am…wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)

I am…complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10)

I am…part of a chosen race (1 Peter 2:9)

I am…washed clean (Isaiah 1:18)

I am…holy and without blame (Ephesians 1:4)

I am…reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18)

I am…one with Christ (John 17:21-23)

That’s quite a list, and it doesn’t even begin to cover the many promises found in Scripture regarding our identity in Christ. We are blessed beyond belief, and yet, the enemy still manages to distract our minds from these great truths and cause us to seek our identity and purpose elsewhere. Unwilling to focus on who we are in Christ, we begin to look for other forms of identity in a vain attempt to feel better about who we are. But the identities the world offers us are inaccurate at best and unholy at worst. They bring out the worst in us. They are based on pride and self-exaltation. They tend to focus on what we do, who we know, or what we possess, rather than who God made us to be. Possessions, positions, prominence, power, pleasure and the perceptions of others become the measuring rods by which we assess our value and determine our purpose. But Paul would encourage us to…let this mind be in you that is also in Christ Jesus. Think of who you are by viewing yourself through the lens of your God-given identity. And when you do, you will be able to say, because I am, I can.

Our security regarding our identity is what allows us to serve selflessly, love sacrificially, obey willingly, give graciously, live in community, and avoid the pitfalls of selfish ambition, pride, and conceit. Because I am…I can.

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

 

Filled with the Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Signs In “The Times”

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 ESV

The Thessalonian believers are living in what Paul refers to as “the times.” This is what may also be referred to as the church age or the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24). It is the period of time between Christ’s first and second advent. The phrase, “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled,” used by Jesus in Luke 21:24, refers to the period leading up until His second coming. He used it in direct reference to Jerusalem, indicating that the holy city would remain predominantly under Gentile control or influence until He returned to set up His Millennial Kingdom at the end of the seven years of Tribulation.

Paul wrote of this same time period in his letter to the church in Rome, telling them, “I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way, all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26 ESV). Paul seems to indicate that there is a specific number of Gentiles who will come to faith in Christ, but it is only known to God. When the full number of Gentile converts is reached, the day of the Lord will begin, and it will commence with the Rapture of the church. 

The Thessalonian believers were excited about the possible return of Jesus, but they were also confused by what appeared to be His delay. So, Paul has reassured them that God has a plan and that they were living in “the times” leading up to the day of the Lord. But God has provided no date or length of time by which to measure its arrival. As Jesus told His disciples, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know” (Acts 1:7 NLT).

So, rather than worry about things God has chosen to keep a mystery, Paul points his readers back to God’s clearly revealed will.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification… – 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

While it was proper for them to eagerly long for the Lord’s return, they were not to allow their anticipation to turn into preoccupation or lull them into a sense of spiritual complacency. While they waited, they were to walk in a manner worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1) and to work hard to show the results of their salvation (Philippians 2:12). They had work to do. And if God delayed the return of His Son, that was up to Him. In the meantime, they were to stay actively engaged in the pursuit of holiness. Which is why Paul told them, “So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded” (1 Thessalonians 5:6 NLT).

Paul was all about practical holiness. It wasn’t meant to be some kind of pie-in-the-sky in the sweet by and by mentality that leaves you heavenly minded but of no earthly good. That’s why he challenges them to show respect to those who minister among them. This would have included Timothy, their elders, and any other God-ordained leadership in their local congregations. Notice that Paul doesn’t tell them to respect their leaders if they deem them worthy of it, but because of their work. This had less to do with the leader than with God’s calling on that leader. As Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus, spiritual leaders within the body of Christ are to be seen as gifts provided by Christ Himself.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

These individual have been given authority by God to lead and, sometimes, admonish. They were shepherds who had the responsibility to lead, feed, protect, and, if necessary, discipline the flock of Jesus Christ. And they were to be treated with honor and respect.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He calls them to live in harmony with one another. They were to pursue peace at all costs. There was no place for disunity within the body of Christ. Paul shared this same advice with the believers in Rome.

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18 NLT

The author of the book of Hebrews gave similar counsel.

Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life. – Hebrews 12:14 NLT

But the presence of peace is not an absence of conflict. It is impossible to live in close proximity with other people and not experience some degree of disagreement. So, Paul provides them with steps to deal with the inevitable threat of disunity. He tells them to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV). These four admonitions run the gamut, covering everything from reproving the lazy and strengthening the timid to caring for the weak and showing patience to all. That about covers every possible relationship scenario in the local church.

Paul wanted them to know that their survival was dependent upon their mutual care and concern for one another. There was no place for backbiting and payback. Instead, they were to seek the good of one another. That requires selflessness. It demands that each individual put the needs of others ahead of his own. And Paul knew that kind of lifestyle was only possible if they remained prayerful, joyful, and thankful.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV

As soon as they lost the ability to rejoice in the unbelievable reality of their salvation, they would become myopic and self-focused again. And if they failed to pray, they would tend to live according to their own wills, rather than God’s. If they became ungrateful to God for all He had done for them, they would become envious and jealous of others. And that would lead to quarreling, conflict, and disunity.

Failure to rejoice, refusal to pray and a reluctance to give thanks will only stifle the work of the Spirit of God among the people of God. When believers begin to live selfishly, ungratefully, and prayerlessly, the Spirit’s power is diminished in their midst, like water poured on a flame. Paul referred to this as living according to the flesh, and he described it in these terms to the Galatian believers:

…the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other. – Galatians 5:17 ESV

A believer’s decision to give in to their fleshly desires will end up stifling the transformative power of the Spirit in his or her life. And it will do damage to the body of Christ.

Paul also provided the Thessalonians with what appears to be a very specific word regarding prophecy. It appears that there were some in the local congregations who were rejecting the idea of someone having a direct word from God. In the 1st-Century church, there were those who were given the gift of prophetic utterance, the ability to hear from God and to share that word with the local congregation. This was before the finalization of the Scriptures. Evidently, in their worship services, it was not uncommon for someone to stand up and share a word from God. And it appears that the Thessalonians were reluctant to accept that these individuals were speaking on behalf of God. But Paul warns them to test the words of these people, not to reject them. If these people actually spoke for God, it would be proven true in time. God would validate their words. And whatever God validated, they were to hang on to it as having come directly from Him.

And Paul wraps up this section with the simple, yet profound, phrase: “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22 ESV). They were to avoid sinful behavior like the plague. But not only that, they were to have nothing to do with anything remotely associated with evil. Paul provided the Ephesians believers with a similar word of admonition.

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. – Ephesians 5:10-14 NLT

The Christian life is comprised of acts of commission and omission. There are things we are to do and other things we are to refuse to do. There are activities we are to pursue, and there are those we are to avoid like a plague. This is part of what it means to be in the world but not of it. In His High Priestly Prayer, recorded in John 17, Jesus addressed the awkward reality of the believer’s presence in this fallen world.

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. – John 17:15-19 ESV

Living in “the times” was not going to be easy for the Thessalonians, but it was also not impossible. They had all they needed to live as lights in the darkness. And Paul was convinced that they could and would.

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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

Encouraging Words For Discouraging Times

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV

In an effort to prepare His disciples for His coming death in Jerusalem, Jesus provided them with some encouraging news:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:1-3 ESV

Jesus had repeatedly emphasized that His death was inevitable and unavoidable. It was part of God’s redemptive plan and, as an obedient son, Jesus was obligated to carry out the will of His Father. It was the reason behind His incarnation, a point that Jesus made perfectly clear when He said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NLT).

Without Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, the sin debt owed by mankind would remain unpaid and a sentence of death would still hang over the heads of each and every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. But Jesus did die. He was buried. He rose again and was see in His resurrected state by hundreds of His followers. Paul emphasized these facts in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen… – 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 NLT

But the story of redemption didn’t stop there. We know from the gospel accounts that after Jesus appeared in His resurrected form to His disciples, He commissioned them to take the gospel message to the nations. And then He ascended back into heaven, right before their eyes. Luke gives us a glimpse of that moment in the book of Acts.

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

Jesus returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But the redemptive story doesn’t end there. As the disciples stood staring up into the sky, two angels appeared and gave them some very important words of encouragement.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:12 NLT

Jesus died. He was buried. He rose again. He appeared. He ascended. And, one day, He will return. This is the very event to which Paul refers in this section of 1 Thessalonians 4. He reminds His audience that there is another important event that looms on the horizon of redemptive history. The return of Christ for His bride, the church. This is the event commonly referred to as the Rapture. This word, while not actually in the Bible, is derived from the Latin translation of the Greek word, harpazō,  translated as “caught up” in verse 17. In the Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament, this word became raptura, from which we get the term, Rapture.

The Rapture, while often confused with the Second Coming, is a completely separate end times event. It refers to the return of Christ for His bride, the church, and it will take place at the end of what is called the church age – a period of undisclosed length that includes the time in which we live. It began with the coming of Jesus and will end with His return for the church, when He takes all those who have believed in Him to join Him in His Father’s house in heaven.

All of this fits into the wedding imagery that Jesus used concerning He and the church. He is the groom and we are His bride. Technically, according to the traditional Jewish concept of marriage, we are the betrothed on Jesus. The marriage has yet to be consummated, but we are legally bound to Him, having been given to Him by His Father, just as in a traditional Jewish wedding (John 17:12). During the betrothal period, the bride and groom are legally married, but remain separated from one another.  It is only just before the actual wedding itself that the groom returns for His bride and takes her to his father’s house, where the wedding ceremony and feast are held. Jesus, having returned to His Father’s house, is preparing a place for He and His bride. Then, when the time is right, he will return for her and take her to His Father’s house, where the ceremony and the celebration  will take place.

That is the event to which Paul is referring and he appears to be bringing it up because there was confusion among the believers in Thessalonica. They had all be longing for and eagerly waiting on the Parousia or coming of Christ. The early church lived with a sense of immediacy and imminence when it came to Christ’s return. They expected it to happen any day. And Paul and the other apostles encouraged this outlook. Paul to the believers in Corinth:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

But the Thessalonians were beginning to have second thoughts. Some of their fellow believers had died and Jesus had not yet returned. That raised some significant questions in their minds: Where did their deceased friends and relatives go? What was their eternal fate? Was Jesus ever coming back?

And Paul addresses these concerns by providing them with much-needed assurance of the coming of Christ. For Paul, the deaths of their friends and relatives was cause for mourning, but not despair. Sadness is a natural human reaction to loss but, for believers, our loss is to be accompanied with hope. Because we have the resurrection of Jesus as a constant reminder of our future destiny.  Jesus’ death was followed by His resurrection and, by virtue of our faith in Him, we have the same outcome awaiting us. Paul told the believers in Rome:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:5 ESV

And he told the believers in Corinth:

It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. – 1 Corinthians 15:52 NLT

Notice what Paul says here. Those who have died will be raised to live forever. And those who are living when Jesus returns for the church will also be transformed. That is the very same message Paul is delivering to the Thessalonians. The dead have not missed the boat. Their souls have gone to be with Jesus in heaven. Just as Jesus told the criminal on the cross, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NLT). Those believers who die prior to the Rapture go to be with Him. But the day is coming when they will return with Him and receive their new resurrected, glorified bodies. Again, Paul addressed the reality of this incredible promise in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! – 1 Corinthians 15:50-51 NLT

As Dr. Thomas L. Constable so aptly puts it: “the translation of living Christians and the resurrection of dead Christians will take place at the same time.” It is at the Rapture that all those in Christ, the living and the dead, will receive their glorified bodies, custom-made for the eternal state. As Paul puts it, “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT).

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to maintain their hope, even in the face of loss. Their loved ones were not gone, they had simply gone on ahead. And the day is coming when all believers, those who have died and gone to be with the Lord and those who are still living, will be reunited and will received their resurrected, glorified bodies. And the apostle John provides us with further words of encouragement regarding that day.

Dear friends, we are already God's children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

With this fantastic news in mind, encourage one another with these words.

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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

We Were Once…

1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:1-7 ESV

For the believers on Crete to live consistently godly lives, they were going to have to be constantly reminded of what that kind of life looked like. Their natural human tendency would be to fall back into their old habits and to follow the patterns of this world. So, Paul charged Titus with the task of holding accountable the Christ-followers under his care. Christ-likeness does not come naturally or without effort. They would not become more like Christ without a willing desire to put to death the habits associated with their old way of life. Their new position in Christ should result in a determination to be like Christ. Which is why Paul told the Colossian believers:

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don't be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. – Colossians 3:5 NLT

But Paul knew that the task of putting to death the old nature was impossible without the supernatural assistance of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. – Romans 8:13 ESV

The Holy Spirit provides the power, but the believer must cooperate with and submit to that power. In his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul referred to this partnership as walking, living, and being led “by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 18, 26). It is a relationship built on dependence and reliance. The believer supplies the desire to put away their patterns and behaviors associated with their former lifestyle, and the Spirit provides the power to make it possible. It is impossible to defeat the flesh in the flesh. The Holy Spirit’s power is indispensable.

But Paul knew that the human sin nature was a powerful foe, capable of deluding and distracting believers and keeping them mired in spiritual mediocrity.  That is why he put such a high priority on behavior. It wasn’t that their actions could earn them favor with God or make them more acceptable in His sight. It was that the full hope of the gospel message was to be experienced in the Christian’s daily victory over sin. The power of the gospel was to be visibly manifested in life change. And that life change was to have positive and negative expressions.

As Christians, they were to willingly submit to the authorities in their lives, including those within the Roman government. They were to live lives marked by obedience, not just to God, but to those whom God had placed over them, which meant Titus, the elders of the church, and all governmental authorities. And they were to be constantly prepared to do the right thing – what God would have them to do. That is what it means to walk, live and be led by the Spirit.

But godly behavior is also to be characterized by an absence of negative actions. And Paul points uses slander and quarreling as examples. Speaking ill of anyone, especially those in authority, is not acceptable behavior for the Christian. “Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone” (Titus 3:2 NLT).  One of the important distinctions here is that a lack of slander is not a proof of gentleness or humility. The absence of quarreling in the life of a believer does not necessarily mean they are filled with love. Slander must be replaced with words of encouragement. The desire to quarrel, driven by the need to be right, must be superseded by the desire for unity, and the willingness to die to one’s rights.

Paul knew this call to righteous living was not easy, especially when surrounded by those who were outside of Christ and motivated by their sin natures. And Paul wanted the believers on Crete to know that the only thing that set them apart from their unbelieving neighbors was their relationship with Christ. Before coming to know Christ as Savior, they had all been hopelessly and helplessly lost and incapable of living up to the standard to which Paul was calling them. 

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. – Titus 3:3 NLT

Their former, pre-salvation condition had not been a pretty one. But something had happened. They had been miraculously transformed by the message of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us… – Titus 3:4-5 ESV

God saved them. And not because of anything they had done to earn that salvation. Their best deeds done on their best day and with the best of intentions were nothing to God. No, God saved them “according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 ESV). Their salvation had been undeserved and unearned. They had gone from being enemies to heirs of God. They had experienced the unbelievable miracle of redemption, made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross on their behalf.

Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:7 NLT

That reality produced in Paul a visceral reaction. He couldn’t help but respond to the unbelievable truth of what God had done for him by doing everything in his power to live in grateful obedience to God’s expectations of him. He lived to please God. He wanted his life to be a constant expression of his thankfulness to God for the priceless gift of salvation. Because God had graciously provided eternal life for Paul, the least Paul could do was live in grateful submission to God’s will in this life. And it was this attitude of gratitude that led Paul to say:

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

Paul never got over the shock of what God had done for him. And he wanted the believers on the island of Crete to share his awe of God’s grace by living lives that demonstrated their gratefulness through Spirit-empowered acts of righteousness. God gave His Son so that sinful men and women might experience abundant life – not just in some future eternal state, but right here, right now. His Son died in order to pay the penalty for our sins. He was raised back to life to guarantee our future resurrection, but also as a sign that we have died to sin and share in the power of that resurrection made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit. 

Paul was not calling the believers on Crete to do the impossible. He was reminding them that God’s power to save them was also meant to sanctify them – to transform them into the likeness of His Son. They had been redeemed by Christ, and now they were to seek to live like Christ.

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

Unity in Diversity

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.– Philippians 1:18-2:4 ESV

Paul has expressed his desire to return to Philippi one day, and he has let them know that, while he would prefer to die and be with the Lord, he was of the impression that he would eventually be released from his house arrest in Rome. And that would be a good thing. It would allow him to continue his ministry of the gospel and to continue to encourage all the churches he had played a role in starting.

But, at the moment, Paul’s greatest concern was the spiritual well-being of his brothers and sisters in Philippi. And while he knew they would rejoice over the thought of him returning to see them one day, he had more pressing matters in mind.  It would seem from the content of this next section of Paul’s letter, that there was some serious disunity taking place in the congregation in Philippi. Paul is going to stress the idea of oneness. Three times in eight verses, Paul will use the word, “one.” He longs to hear that they are “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27 ESV).

Like any of the other churches of that day, the Philippian congregation was relatively new and trying to hold its own in the midst of a pagan and sometimes hostile culture.  They were constantly facing outside opposition. As a Roman colony, Philippi was filled with a plethora of false gods. One of the keys to Rome’s successful domination of the world was its willingness to accommodate and tolerate the gods of the nations they conquered. They allowed their subjects to continue the worship of their own particular deity(s). While this policy of tolerance made the management of Rome’s far-flung empire with its ethnically and religiously diverse populations much easier, it could also create an atmosphere of polarization and antagonism. In the atmosphere of forced pluralism, each group would go out of its way to maintain the distinctives of its religious traditions, resulting in a culture of conflict and competition.

And here was this fledgling congregation of relatively new believers trying to hold its own in an atmosphere that favored religious pluralism but actually fostered intolerance and open hostility. Christians were the new kids on the block. They were usually unwelcome and misunderstood. Some viewed them as a sect of Judaism, while others tried to portray them as a dangerous cult. And, each and every one of the members of the Philippian congregation would have been a convert to Christianity from some other and much older faith system. In accepting Christ as Savior, they had turned their backs on their former religion and, in doing so, alienated friends and family members who still held firmly to that ideology.

For Christians living in the 1st-Century, coming to faith in Christ was about much more than a decision to accept Jesus as their Savior. It could be an extremely risky and potentially deadly choice that had long-term and life-altering implications. And no one understood this better than Paul. His relationship with Christ had cost him dearly. And in his second letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul outlined all that he had suffered as a result of his faith.

Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.[c] I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 NLT

Being a follower of Christ was not easy. And Paul knew that the key to the Philippian church’s survival was going to be their unity. They had to see themselves as a family. They were in this together. And they needed to see themselves as distinct and different from the culture around them. Which is why he pleads with them to “live as citizens of heaven” and to conduct themselves “in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ” (Philippians 1:27 NLT). This was a corporate call, addressing the entire congregation, not individual believers. They were to do this together, not alone. Their display of unity in the face of adversity and hostility would strengthen their faith and spread the news of the life-transformative nature of the gospel. That this diverse group of people from all walks of life and a variety of religious backgrounds could live together with one mind and one spirit would be a testimony to the power of the gospel.

And Paul commends them for “standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News” (Philippians 1:27 NLT). He has heard of their unity, but he knows that the enemy is always seeking to divide and conquer. They must not allow that to happen. Paul flatly states, “Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies” (Philippians 1:28 NLT). There were outside forces pressing in on this young congregation and Paul wanted them to remain unified in their love for one another and their commitment to the cause of Christ. This unwavering display of oneness in the face of opposition would be proof of the ultimate victory Christ-followers will enjoy. As Jesus told promised Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 ESV).

Suffering was going to be a normal part of their faith experience. In fact, Paul tells them that they should see their suffering as a privilege, on equal footing with the privilege of trusting in Christ. For Paul, suffering was a necessary part of salvation. It came with the territory. And a bit further on in his letter, Paul will boldly declare, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NLT). This was not an isolated statement by Paul. He held this view throughout his life and shared it frequently. To the believers in Rome he wrote: “if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:17 NLT). He told the Colossian church, “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church” (Colossians 1:24 NLT). And the apostle Peter shared Paul’s sentiments regarding suffering.

…be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.  – 1 Peter 4:13 NLT

Paul viewed the Christian life as a struggle. It was not meant to be easy. We are aliens living in a strange land. We are emissaries for the King and have been sent to declare the message of His Kingdom to a world that stands opposed to Him. We have the good news regarding Jesus Christ, but the majority of those with whom we share it will find it repulsive and simply reject it. And they will reject the messengers as well.

So, in order to survive in this hostile environment, we will need to remain unified and share a single-minded commitment to our mutual mission as the body of Christ. With all that the believers in Philippi were facing, Paul wanted them to understand that their shared faith in Christ had real value. Which is why he states, “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy” (Philippians 2:1 ESV). Paul is not raising doubts concerning the efficacy of faith in Christ, he is doing just the opposite. There IS encouragement in Christ. There IS comfort that comes from Christ-like love. There IS real value in living together in the power of the Holy Spirit. There IS true affection and sympathy to be found in this thing called the body of Christ.

But all of this is available only when believers choose to accept the non-negotiable reality of their role as members of that body. Which is why Paul encourages the Philippian believers to be, “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2 ESV). There was no place for selfishness or self-centeredness in the body of Christ. Pride was out of bounds and of no value. Conceit and ego were to be seen as deadly to unity.

In order to survive and thrive, the believers in Philippi were going to have to have a different kind of attitude about life. It was going to require a counter-cultural take on what it means to succeed in life. And, just so they don’t miss what he means, Paul spells it out for them.

Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Philippians 2:4 NLT

And in the very next verse, Paul will provide them with the key to pulling all this off. It will not be accomplished in their own strength or according to their own standards of humility and unity. Christ is to be our model for living in Christ-likeness. He sets the standard for what it means to “live as citizens of heaven.”

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

New and Improved

17 “For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem
    and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
    and the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,
    and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
    and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain
    or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
    and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
    while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
    the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
    and dust shall be the serpent's food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord. – Isaiah 65:17-25 ESV

As we saw in yesterday’s blog, God gave the faithful remnant of Judah His assurance that they could expect Him to do something new. And here He gets specific. He tells them that the day is coming when He will create new heavens and a new earth. While this statement most likely left the people of Judah scratching their heads in wonder, it would have reminded them of the very first verse in the first chapter of the first book of the Pentateuch: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 ESV). Their God, the one who created earth and heavens as they knew it, was going to re-create all things. And the point seems to be that the same power used to form the universe out of nothing was behind the promise to do a new thing for them. If God could create the universe ex nihilo, literally, out of nothing, and He had plans to create an all-new heavens and earth, then fulfilling His promises to the faithful remnant would prove to be no problem.

God assures His people that one day He will replace the old, sin-damaged universe with something new and pristine, and there will be no longing for what used to be.  God is going to make all things new, including the city of Jerusalem and the heart of every person who lives in it. The apostle John describes the vision he was given of this new Jerusalem.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. – 21:1-2 NLT

And the prophet Ezekiel records the promise concerning God’s renovation or recreation of the hearts of His people.

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:26-28 NLT

This news was meant to bring joy to the people of Judah. As they faced the prospect of a coming invasion by Babylon, their hopes for the future looked bleak. But God was letting them know that He had a much better plan in store for them. He knew something they didn’t know. He had insights into their future to which they were blind and oblivious. And His pronouncement concerning the recreation of the heavens and earth, the city of Jerusalem, and the hearts of His people, was meant to encourage them. He wanted them to know that He was in full control of their fate and that they had reason to rejoice, rather than to despair.

God describes a day when there will be no more sorrow or tears. The painful results of living in a fallen and sin-fractured world will be non-existent. Infant mortality rates will rise dramatically because babies will no longer die just days after birth due to disease. Rather than experiencing premature and unexpected deaths, people will live to ripe old ages. In fact, God states that the average lifespan will be “like the days of a tree” (Isaiah 65:22 ESV). And people will live their extended lives in homes they have built and harvest grapes from the vineyards they have planted, without any fear of invasion from outside forces. 

No longer will they have to fear that all their hard work will be in vain. There will be no enemies to confiscate their goods or plunder their property.  And the older generation won’t have to worry about the next one squandering their inheritance through misfortune or misbehavior. God’s blessing will span the generations.

For they are people blessed by the Lord,
    and their children, too, will be blessed. – Isaiah 65:23 NLT

Think about the sheer magnitude of this promise. It means that there will never be another occasion for anyone to write or read the following words:

And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10 ESV

When God states that they will be His people, and He will be their God,” He means it. And He gives them an example of what that new relationship will look like.

“I will answer them before they even call to me.
    While they are still talking about their needs,
    I will go ahead and answer their prayers!” – Isaiah 65:24 NLT

No more broken fellowship due to sin. No more unanswered prayers because of unfaithfulness and infidelity. They will enjoy the same kind of unhindered fellowship with God that Adam and Eve experienced in the garden before the fall. The entire creative order will be restored to its former pre-fall glory, with even the animosity between animals and mankind removed.

But all of this amazing imagery begs the question: When will all of this take place? It is easy to deduce that what God is describing here remains as yet unfulfilled. We still live in the same fallen world and experience all the pain and suffering that accompanies it. The descendants of the peoples of Judah and Israel live in the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, but it is safe to say that they don’t experience the things promised in these verses. They are surrounded by enemies and plagued by the constant threat of attack. In his commentary on the book of Isaiah, Franz Delitzsch states:

But to what part of the history of salvation are we to look for a place for the fulfillment of such prophecies as these of the state of peace prevailing in nature around the church, except in the millennium? (Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah).

God is describing a future day that remains as yet unfulfilled. It will part of the Millennial Kingdom established by Jesus Christ when He returns to earth in His second coming. In that day, all that God has promised will be fulfilled. His Son will set up His Kingdom on earth, will He will reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem for a thousand years. And, as part of that Kingdom, a remnant of the people of Israel will return to the land and be restored to a right relationship with God, just as these verses have promised. But it is important to note that this future physical and literal manifestation of Christ‘s Kingdom will be the culmination of the spiritual aspect of His reign that began with His first advent.

When God invaded the darkness of this world through the incarnation, the Kingdom made its entrance into the world. Jesus was just as much the King then as He is now and will be when He returns. But His subjects, the Jewish people, rejected Him as their King. They refused to acknowledge Him as who He claimed to be, the Son of God and their long-awaited Messiah. But their rejection of Him did not in any way diminish the reality of His right to be King of kings and Lord of lords.

He rules and reigns in the hearts of all those who have placed their faith in Him as their sin substitute and Savior. It is true that those of us who call Him Lord do not always submit to Him as such. We don’t always allow Him to be the King of our lives. But when we do submit to His authority over our lives, we experience the blessings that come as a result. We enjoy the peace that comes with submission to His will. We experience the joy that accompanies obedience to His commands. We have the privilege of knowing, in part, what it will be like in those future days. We get to experience a foreshadowing of the promises yet to come. As the apostle Paul put it:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 NLT

All that God has described in these verses reflects the love of God. He has expressed His great love for mankind through the gift of His Son. And, one day, He will send His Son again, as a further and final expression of His love, renewing the world He has made and restoring mankind to a right relationship with Himself. And God punctuates His promise with the following statement:

“In those days no one will be hurt or destroyed on my holy mountain.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Isaiah 65:25 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

The Binder of the Broken.

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him.

19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. 22 Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”

23 And he will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. In that day your livestock will graze in large pastures, 24 and the oxen and the donkeys that work the ground will eat seasoned fodder, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. 25 And on every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water, in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. 26 Moreover, the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when the Lord binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

27 Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar,
    burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke;
his lips are full of fury,
    and his tongue is like a devouring fire;
28 his breath is like an overflowing stream
    that reaches up to the neck;
to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction,
    and to place on the jaws of the peoples a bridle that leads astray.

29 You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart, as when one sets out to the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel. 30 And the Lord will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen, in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire, with a cloudburst and storm and hailstones. 31 The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the Lord, when he strikes with his rod. 32 And every stroke of the appointed staff that the Lord lays on them will be to the sound of tambourines and lyres. Battling with brandished arm, he will fight with them. 33 For a burning place has long been prepared; indeed, for the king it is made ready, its pyre made deep and wide, with fire and wood in abundance; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of sulfur, kindles it. – Isaiah 30:18-33 ESV

In the first half of this chapter, God made it quite clear what the people of Judah needed to do if they wanted to escape the coming judgment.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:

“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.” – Isaiah 30:15 NLT

But, like rebellious children, they had repeatedly refused to listen to the words of God’s prophets; instead, they had turned to false gods and sought help from foreign powers. They truly believed they could somehow avoid all that God had decreed against them. But God revealed the foolishness behind their arrogant belief in any form of salvation apart from Him. The destruction was going to come, whether they liked it or not. God’s discipline for their sin was going to fall on them no matter what they believed or what they did to escape it.

And yet, in these verses, God lets the people of Judah know that He is patient. In spite of their extreme hubris and blatant disregard for His calls to repent, He would wait.

So the Lord must wait for you to come to him
    so he can show you his love and compassion.
For the Lord is a faithful God.
    Blessed are those who wait for his help. – Isaiah 30:18 NLT

When reading these Old Testament passages that reveal the stubbornness of the people of God, we can easily overlook God’s incredible patience with them. Time and time again, He sent His prophets to warn the people about His anger with them. He repeatedly called them to repent of their sins and come back to Him. Generation after generation of Israelites heard His heart-felt pleas, but had rejected His generous offer of forgiveness if they would only return to Him.

God desired to show them love and compassion. He wanted to fulfill His covenant promises to them. But, because He is a holy God, He could not ignore their sin. It was impossible for Him to turn a blind eye and act as if nothing had happened.

Which is why Isaiah tried, yet again, to persuade the people of Judah to reject their plans to trust in Egypt and, instead, to call out to God.

He will be gracious if you ask for help.
    He will surely respond to the sound of your cries. – Isaiah 30:19 NLT

All they had to do was ask. It was that simple. But perhaps it all sounded too simple the people of Judah. It may have come across as nothing more than wishful thinking. After all, they were facing the threat of invasion by the Assyrians. No one had been able to withstand their army or escape their destruction. Which is what had prompted the people of Judah to cry out to Egypt for help and protection. But what they failed to realize was that their predicament was the direct result of their disobedience to God. He is the one who had sent the Assyrians. And He would be the one to send the Babylonians long after the Assyrians had returned home.

What God’s people failed to understand was that their suffering was His doing. It was He who had given them “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction” (Isaiah 30:20 ESV). But all for good reason. First, it was to punish them for their blatant rejection of Him. But secondly, it was to teach them to trust Him and Him alone. While they were going to suffer greatly because of their sin, He was not going to abandon them. In fact, Isaiah promises them, “your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher” (Isaiah 30:20 ESV). There would be a period of divine punishment, marked by adversity and affliction, but followed by restoration.

This promise was partially fulfilled when God arranged for the people of Judah to return to the land after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Because the nation of Judah would remain stubborn and refuse to call out to God for help, He would allow them to be defeated by the Babylonians in 587 BC. The city of Jerusalem was be ransacked and plundered, the temple would be destroyed, and many of the people would be taken back to Babylon as prisoners. But after 70 years, in keeping with God’s promise, He would allow a remnant to return to the land, in order to rebuild the city, its walls and gates, and reconstruct the temple. And, once the temple was completed, they could institute the sacrificial system after seven decades marked by no atonement for sin.

And yet, there are aspects of this divine promise that have yet to be fulfilled. Isaiah goes on to tell them, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21 ESV). This seems to paint an image of a restored relationship with God that features obedience on the part of the people, because Isaiah goes on to describe them destroying all their idols and icons to false gods. It is a picture of national renewal and revival like nothing ever seen in Judah before or to this very day.

In verses 23-24, Isaiah describes what must be a future day, when God will bless them not only spiritually, but physically.

And he will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. In that day your livestock will graze in large pastures, and the oxen and the donkeys that work the ground will eat seasoned fodder, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork.

This is a description of God’s gracious provision for all their needs, from consistent rain and abundant produce to rich pasturelands where their flocks would grow fat on green grass. But notice the seemingly out-of-place reference to “the day of the great slaughter” found in the very next verse. This statement provides us with insight into the fact that all of these images are linked to a future day in time and history that has yet to have happened. Isaiah is referencing the end times, when Jesus Christ will return a second time and set up His millennial kingdom on earth.

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John was given a vision of this yet-future day.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse. And the vultures all gorged themselves on the dead bodies. – Revelation 19:19-21 NLT

John is describing the great battle of Armageddon. And after that event takes place, Jesus will set up His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem from which He will reign for 1,000 years. It will be during that time that a remnant of Jews who will be redeemed during the seven years of the Tribulation, will enjoy the benefits of Christ’s righteous reign on earth. It will be a time of great abundance. It will be marked by peace and joy, and a complete lack of sorrow or tears. Even the light of the moon and sun will be enhanced. There will be abundant water in a land where water was often scarce and drought a constant reality.

But in the closing verses of this chapter, Isaiah shifts the focus from the distant future to the more immediate concerns of the people of Judah. He describes what God is going to do for them regarding the threat of Assyria. The people of Judah have no reason to fear, because God was going to take care of their enemies.

The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the Lord, when he strikes with his rod. – Isaiah 30:31 ESV

Whether we focus on the more immediate context or the distant future, we can see the hand of God at work. He is in control of anything and everything. He is sovereign and He has a plan in store for the world, His people Israel, and the church. We have nothing to fear and every reason to rest in His promise to bind up the brokenness 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

We Will Sing.

1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

“We have a strong city;
    he sets up salvation
    as walls and bulwarks.
2 Open the gates,
    that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
3 You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
4 Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
5 For he has humbled
    the inhabitants of the height,
    the lofty city.
He lays it low, lays it low to the ground,
    casts it to the dust.
6 The foot tramples it,
    the feet of the poor,
    the steps of the needy.”

7 The path of the righteous is level;
    you make level the way of the righteous.
8 In the path of your judgments,
    O Lord, we wait for you;
your name and remembrance
    are the desire of our soul.
9 My soul yearns for you in the night;
    my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.
For when your judgments are in the earth,
    the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. – Isaiah 26:1-9 ESV

The prophet, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, continues to reveal a future day when a remnant of Israel will be restored to the land and Jerusalem will once more be the city of God. While some aspects of this prophecy have been fulfilled, in part, through past events, the majority of what Isaiah reveals in these verses speaks of “that day” – a reference to the end times. By the descriptions given in this passage, it would appear that Isaiah is speaking of the Millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, spoken of in Revelation 20. In God’s great redemptive plan, there is a day coming when His Son will return and set up His Kingdom on earth, ruling from the throne of David in Jerusalem.

And Isaiah is given a glimpse of what that great day will mean to the Jews who survive the seven years of the Tribulation, and are alive when Jesus returns. They will sing a song of joy, praise and thanksgiving.

“Our city is strong!
    We are surrounded by the walls of God’s salvation.” – Isaiah 26:1 NLT

Unlike their ancient ancestors, the Israelites will recognize God as the source of their strength and salvation. It will be readily apparent to them that the walls of Jerusalem were not what had kept them safe and secure. During the second half of the Tribulation, a period known as the Great Tribulation, the Antichrist will turn his hatred against the people of God, even desecrating their temple by erecting an idol to himself in the Holy of Holies. He will put an end to all sacrifice and begin a pogrom of extermination aimed at all those who follow God, having refused to take the mark of the Antichrist and worship him as a false god.

So, when Christ returns and defeats the kings of the earth and Satan, the prince of this world, the Jews will rejoice. And they will call all the righteous to join them in the city of Jerusalem where the Messiah has set up His throne. It will be a time when all who have remained true to God will be able to rejoice over the faithfulness of God.

“You will keep in perfect peace
    all who trust in you,
    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” – Isaiah 26:3 NL

This verse, which has been quoted by so many of God’s people over the centuries, would have been meant to provide encouragement to the people in Isaiah’s day. It was intended to be a reminder that they remain faithful and true to God, no matter what was happening around them. They were in the midst of their trials and tribulations, but God was with them. All He asked in return was that they trust in Him and keep their thoughts fixed on Him. The song of the saints who come out of the future tribulation makes this point perfectly clear.

“Trust in the Lord always,
    for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.” – Isaiah 26:4 NLT

The whole purpose behind Isaiah’s vision of Jerusalem’s future restoration and Messiah’s ascension to the throne of David was to challenge the people of Judah to remain true to God. He wanted them to trust God, rather than put their hope in an alliance with another nation. Their circumstances were intended to turn them back to God, not to false forms of hope and pseudo-salvation. And these prophetic visions of future salvation were meant to remind God’s people that He was, is and always will be faithful.

He humbles the proud and arrogant. He destroys the powerful cities of the enemies. But He cares for the downtrodden and poor. He avenges the oppressed and restores the fortunes of the faithful.

“But for those who are righteous,
    the way is not steep and rough.
You are a God who does what is right,
    and you smooth out the path ahead of them.” – Isaiah 26:7 NLT

The difficulty every child of God faces is the seeming disconnect between the promises of God and the nature of our circumstances. Because, too often, the road we walk seems extremely steep and rough. And it does not always appear as if God is doing what is right. We question Him constantly, doubting His goodness and love because we have a difficult time seeing Him in the midst of all our trials. Rather than a smooth path, we see a rocky road, filled with faith-jarring potholes and seemingly pointless twists and turns that serve no purpose.

But Isaiah would have us remember that God is there, and He has a plan. That plan, much to our chagrin, goes far beyond our immediate need for relief from suffering. God has far more planned for us than simply our immediate happiness. A big part of what Isaiah was trying to get across to the people of Judah was their need to be obedient to God. Their suffering was due to their disobedience. They had allowed their love for and obedience to God to wain. Love of the world and love of self had replaced their love for God.

But the saints who weather the storm of the Tribulation will sing of their obedience to God and their desire to glorify His name, even in the midst of the worst suffering this world will ever know.

“Lord, we show our trust in you by obeying your laws;
    our heart’s desire is to glorify your name.
In the night I search for you;
    in the morning I earnestly seek you.
For only when you come to judge the earth
    will people learn what is right.” – Isaiah 26:8-9 NLT

Notice that last line. It says it all. We will never fully understand the ways of God until He completes His grand plan for this world and all who live on it. One of the reasons the Bible is filled with prophetic visions of the future is so that we will keep our eyes focused on the entirety of God’s redemptive plan. As human beings, we have a severely limited perspective on life. It tends to focus on our immediate context and produces in us a myopic sense of self-importance. It ends up being all about us. Our problems. Our suffering. Our pain. Our loss. Our desire for happiness and our demand that all our troubles be eliminated right here, right now.

But the apostle Paul, like Isaiah, would remind us to look up and look forward.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT

As he told the believers in Rome:

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
 – Romans 8:18 NLT

And Peter adds his words to the mix, encouraging us to see our present suffering as a natural part of our life as followers of Christ. But there is a day coming when God will make all things right.

…be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. – 1 Peter 5:8-10 NLT

And, once again, Paul reminds us to keep our eyes focused on the larger plan of God. This world is not all there is. What we see now does not represent the full scope of God’s redemptive plan. 

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

And like the saints in the Millennial Kingdom, we will sing and rejoice as we share in all 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

Mighty Is the Lord God.

9 And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas! Alas! You great city,
    you mighty city, Babylon!
For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.

14 “The fruit for which your soul longed
    has gone from you,
and all your delicacies and your splendors
    are lost to you,
    never to be found again!”

15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

16 “Alas, alas, for the great city
    that was clothed in fine linen,
        in purple and scarlet,
    adorned with gold,
        with jewels, and with pearls!

17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”

And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,

“What city was like the great city?”

19 And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out,

“Alas, alas, for the great city
    where all who had ships at sea
    grew rich by her wealth!
For in a single hour she has been laid waste.
20 Rejoice over her, O heaven,
    and you saints and apostles and prophets,
for God has given judgment for you against her!”  – Revelation 18:9-20 ESV

Kings, businessmen and commercial shippers will all mourn the loss of Babylon. The fall of this great city will have devastating implications on all who live on the earth. But the question remains as to whether John is seeing a vision of the fall of the literal city of Babylon or merely its commercial, political and religious representation. Some commentators turn to passages like Isaiah 13:19-22, which prophesies the destruction of Babylon, indicating that it will become uninhabitable.

19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
    the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
    when God overthrew them.
20 It will never be inhabited
    or lived in for all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there;
    no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there. – Isaiah 13:19-21 ESV

This passage, taken out of its context, makes it sound like Babylon was to soon be destroyed and never rebuilt or re-inhabited. But if we look a few verses earlier, we see that the prophecy indicates that its destruction is tied to “the day of the Lord.”

Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
    as destruction from the Almighty it will come! – Isaiah 13:6 ESV

Just a few verses later, Isaiah expands on the nature of that day.

9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
    cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
    and to destroy its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
    will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
    and the moon will not shed its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
    and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
    and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. – Isaiah 13:9-11 ESV

The use of the phrase, “the day of the Lord”, is almost always tied to the end times or the final days where God intervenes directly into the affairs of mankind, bringing judgment on the earth for its sins. Jeremiah 51 is another Old Testament passage that prophesies the fall of Babylon and it infers that its fall will be sudden and unexpected.

Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken;
    wail for her! – Jeremiah 51:8 ESV

And the prophet makes it clear that it will be God who brings about the fall and destruction of this once great city.

12 “Set up a standard against the walls of Babylon;
    make the watch strong;
set up watchmen;
    prepare the ambushes;
for the Lord has both planned and done
    what he spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon.
13 O you who dwell by many waters,
    rich in treasures,
your end has come;
    the thread of your life is cut.
14 The Lord of hosts has sworn by himself:
Surely I will fill you with men, as many as locusts,
    and they shall raise the shout of victory over you.” – Jeremiah 51:12-14 ESV

But this event has yet to take place. The city of Babylon has never experienced the kind of sudden fall and complete devastation outlined in these verses. Babylon was eventually overtaken by the Assyrians, but they did not destroy the city. They simply re-purposed it for their own use. The city of Babylon remained in existence for generations. It was the nation of Babylon that fell. The city itself simply became the property of those nations that ruled long after the fall of the nation of Babylon. This included the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman, and Sassanid empires.

The sudden and final destruction of Babylon has yet to happen, and that is exactly what John is seeing foretold in this vision. John is seeing the aftermath of the great city’s eventual fall at the hands of God Almighty, and he is told that it will take place suddenly.

For in a single hour your judgment has come. – Revelation 18:10 ESV

It seems evident that the city of Babylon will be rebuilt and repopulated during the days of the tribulation. Located in what is today the nation of Iraq, the rebuilding of Babylon began during the long reign of Saddam Hussein. There is no reason to doubt that the Antichrist might not choose to locate his government in this significant geographic region. And with the vast financial resources at his disposal, he will have more than enough money to complete the rebuilding process.

There will be much mourning over the sudden loss of this prosperous and powerful city. The rulers of the earth will have benefited greatly from their association with the Antichrist’s government. The merchants of the earth will weep over the loss of revenue as a result of the city’s fall. Even those who ship goods, including the sailors on the ships, will mourn her loss, saying:

“Alas, alas, for the great city
    where all who had ships at sea
    grew rich by her wealth!
For in a single hour she has been laid waste.” – Revelation 18:19 ESV

But it will be another matter in heaven, where there will be rejoicing over her demise.

“Rejoice over her, O heaven,
    and you saints and apostles and prophets,
for God has given judgment for you against her!” – Revelation 18:11 ESV

In fact, in the opening verses of the very next chapter, John hears the following words emanating from heaven.

1 “Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
2     for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
    who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” – Revelation 19:1-2 ESV

The prophet Jeremiah foretold of this great day and the rejoicing in heaven that it would bring.

47 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming
    when I will punish the images of Babylon;
her whole land shall be put to shame,
    and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her.
48 Then the heavens and the earth,
    and all that is in them,
shall sing for joy over Babylon,
    for the destroyers shall come against them out of the north,
declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 51:47-48 ESV

This passage makes clear that the destruction of Babylon will be sudden and complete. Three separate times, John is told that it will all take place in an hour.

For in a single hour your judgment has come. – Revelation 18:10 ESV

For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste. – Revelation 18:17 ESV

For in a single hour she has been laid waste. – Revelation 18:19 ESV

In just a matter of minutes, God will completely and utterly destroy this great city and remove from it all the trappings of wealth and prosperity for which it was known. He will eliminate its political and military power, transforming it into a smoking wasteland.

In his first letter, John warned his readers to not fall in love with the things this world offers. He described them as “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV). Each of those are representative of the city of Babylon, which God destroys in the last days. It becomes the icon for worldliness and immorality. But John also warned his readers to remember that “the world is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17 ESV), and that is exactly what we see happening in this 18th chapter of Revelation. The world system, represented by the physical city of Babylon, will be destroyed. All that mankind has placed its faith and hope in will be destroyed in less than 60 minutes of time. The luxury, wealth, power, prestige, and god-like successes of man will be laid waste by the God of the universe – “for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her” (Revelation 18:8 ESV).

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

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

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

 

Blinded By the Light.

1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.. – Acts 9:1-9 ESV

Luke first introduced us to this latest character back at the end of chapter seven, at the stoning of Stephen.

His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.
– Acts 7:58 NLT

And in the very next chapter, Luke made mention of the fact that, before Stephen’s body had been long in the grave, Saul had begun his intensive persecution of the followers of Christ.

But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. – Acts 8:3 NLT

And if we fast-forward to chapter 21, Luke provides a detailed account of a speech that Saul gave to the crowd that had gathered as a result of his arrest by the Roman authorities in Jerusalem. Saul provided a first-hand explanation of his role as a persecutor of the church of Jesus Christ.

4 “And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. 5 The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.” – Acts 22:4-5 NLT

It is not clear whether Saul set out on his mission to rid the world of Christians on his own, or whether he had been commissioned by the high priest and the Jewish council from the get-go. It is obvious that at some point, he received orders and official paperwork from the high priest and the Sanhedrin, sanctioning his efforts as a self-proclaimed bounty hunter. Saul had taken his work seriously. He saw the followers of “the way” as nothing but religious radicals and troublemakers. As a devout Pharisee, he was determined to protect the religious way of life that had been passed down for generations. He would not tolerate what he believed to be a threat to Judaism, and so he had made it his mission in life to eradicate any and all Christ-followers from the face of the earth. And that had been his objective when he had set out for the city of Damascus that fateful day.

But Saul’s plans were about to run headlong into God’s providential will for his life. He set out that day with one goal in mind: To arrest and imprison Christians. But God had a different outcome in store for him. Saul had plans to arrest Christ-followers, but God had a plan to arrest Saul’s efforts and make him a follower of Christ. What is so fascinating about the story of Saul’s conversion is how it so radically displays the sovereign work of God in this man’s spiritual transformation. At no point in the story do we see Saul portrayed as a seeker or displaying any interest whatsoever in having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Saul despised Jesus, and he hated all those who believed in His name, or preached about His resurrection and claimed that this man could provide forgiveness for sins and everlasting life. Saul wanted nothing to do with Jesus. He wasn’t seeking salvation. He wasn’t interested in having his sins forgiven or his life made right with God. As a Pharisee, he would have seen himself as righteous before God because of his status as a Jew, his obedience to the Mosaic law, and his zeal for the ways of God. Luke provides us with a glimpse into what the mindset of Saul would have been prior to his conversion.

"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today.” – Acts 22:3 NLT

4 “As the Jewish leaders are well aware, I was given a thorough Jewish training from my earliest childhood among my own people and in Jerusalem. 5 If they would admit it, they know that I have been a member of the Pharisees, the strictest sect of our religion.” – Acts 26:4-5 NLT

9 “I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. 11 Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities.” – Acts 26:9-11 NLT

Saul had been a self-righteous, law-abiding Pharisee. He had not been looking for a Savior that day he set out for Damascus. He had been on a mission to seek and destroy Christians. But again, Luke’s recounting of Saul’s conversion provides us with a powerful reminder of the sovereign work of God in the redemption of men. In fact, Saul himself would later write in his letter to the Romans, quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures:

10 “None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.” – Romans 3:10-12 NLT

Saul had not been a God-seeker that day. In his mind, he thought that what he was doing would bring glory and honor to God. He was attempting to earn favor with God by doing everything in his power to honor God through his actions. But he was blind to the truth. What he believed to be righteous deeds, done to please God, were actually nothing more than proof of his sinful, hopeless condition. And it was going to take God Almighty to alter the trajectory of Saul’s life. In his letter to the Romans, Saul would go on to quote from the psalms, most likely recalling his own pre-salvation condition.

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery. – Romans 3:15-16 ESV

The path on which Saul had set out was going to end in ruin and misery, not just for those he sought to arrest, but for himself. His current life plan was going to end poorly. But then Jesus Christ stepped into his path.

3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” – Acts 9:3-4 NLT

Saul had an unexpected, unplanned encounter with the risen Lord. And Luke makes it clear that Saul had run smack-dab into the one individual he least expected to find.

5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” – Acts 9:5-6 NLT

Saul had set out that day looking for Christians, not the Christ. He had made plans to find and arrest followers of Christ, but had no expectations that he would run into Christ Himself. But as the proverb so aptly states: “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9 NLT). God had Saul right where He wanted him. And none of it was what Saul had planned. His self-made goals for his day and his life were suddenly disrupted by Jesus. He would eventually make it to Damascus, but totally blind and in need of assistance just to find his way around. The great persecutor was suddenly powerless and helpless. He found himself to be no match for the risen Lord.

But at this point in the story, Saul had no idea exactly who it was that was speaking to him. He simply asked, “Who are you, lord?” And when Jesus responded, it had to have left Saul in a state of extreme confusion. In his mind, Jesus was dead. How could he be hearing a dead man speak? Saul is left speechless. He doesn’t have a rebuttal or any further questions. He is at a complete loss as to what is going on. So, all he can do is listen to the directions given to him by Jesus and allow himself to be led by the hand into the city, where he will await further instructions.

Luke tells us that Saul had lost his sight, his appetite, and the objective of his original mission. There would be no man-hunt for Christians and no arrests made. Saul’s life, as he had come to know it, was over. Something new was about to begin and it would all be the sovereign work of God. Saul’s life was about to take a dramatic and diametrically different turn. His days of denying Christ were over. His self-important plans to eliminate Christ and His followers were over. And the reality of the words he would later pen in one of his letter to the Corinthians were about to set in.

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

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

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

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

No Doubt About It.

1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. – 2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV

In these verses, Peter is going to deal with some specifics regarding the dangerous content of the message of the false teachers. First of all, they were disparaging the whole idea of Christ’s eventual return. In their estimation, the second coming of Christ was not going to take place. As far as they could tell, if it was going to happen, it already would have by this point. They took a look around and concluded, “From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created” (2 Peter 3:4 NLT). In other words, nothing had changed. This was a case of overstatement, but as far as they could tell, the world just kept rolling along just like usual, with no indication that Christ’s return was eminent or even necessary. Their assessment led them to deny that Jesus was ever going to come back to earth. It was nothing more than wishful thinking propagated by the apostles. But Peter flatly denied this assertion and labeled these false teachers as scoffers or mockers. They were guilty of making fun of the whole concept of the second coming.

But Peter wants his readers to know that these false teachers were contradicting the very words of the prophets of God. These men had predicted the incarnation of Jesus, but also His return.

13 As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14 NLT

44 “During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever. 45 That is the meaning of the rock cut from the mountain, though not by human hands, that crushed to pieces the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God was showing the king what will happen in the future. – Daniel 2:44-45 NLT

3 Look! The Lord is coming!
    He leaves his throne in heaven
    and tramples the heights of the earth.
4 The mountains melt beneath his feet
    and flow into the valleys
like wax in a fire,
    like water pouring down a hill. –
Micah 1:3-4 NLT

4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. 5 You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you did from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all his holy ones with him. – Isaiah 14:4-5 NLT

Not only does the Old Testament repeatedly speak of the return of Christ, so did the apostles.

12 And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. 13 May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen. – 1 Thessalonians3:12-13 NLT

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. – Revelation 1: 7 ESV

Jesus Himself predicted His own return and promised the disciples that it was going to happen.

2 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. – John 14:2-3 NLT

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. – Matthew 24:29-31 ESV

In spite of all of this, these “scoffers” sarcastically ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” “If He’s going to return, where is He?”, they mockingly ask. But Peter warns them that just because they don’t see any sign of His return, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. They can mock and scoff, but that doesn’t eliminate the reality of Christ’s second coming. They can doubt it’s validity, but it won’t do anything to lessen its inevitability. And Peter gives them a convincing illustration. In terms of the creation of the world, God used two essential things: His word and water. Genesis 1:2 tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Genesis goes on to tell us that God separated the waters in order to create the sky.

6 Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” 7 And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. 8 God called the space “sky.” – Genesis 1:6-8 NLT

Then He formed dry land out of the waters.

9 Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. 10 God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:9-10 NLT

Then Peter fast-forwards to the flood. Once again, God used to means to accomplish His will. He used His word and water. But this time, rather than using these two things to create, He used them to destroy. God reversed what He had done at creation, and covered the dry land with water. He spoke, and it happened. And Peter warns that, one day, God is going to speak again. He will utter the word and the world, as we know it, will come to an end.

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

This time, His word will be accompanied by fire, not water. This future judgment will take place after the second coming of Christ. The old earth will be replaced with a new and improved earth. God will make all things new. The creation, which is now groaning because of the curse of sin, will be made new.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. – Revelation 21:1 NLT

20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. – Romans 8:20-21 NLT

These false teachers could mock the return of Christ, but it wasn’t going to keep it from happening. And Peter wants his readers to rest in the reality that Jesus was going to come back and that the redemption of mankind and creation would be finally completed. They could doubt it and even deny it, but they could do nothing to prevent it. And for us as believers, we hope in the return of Christ. And the apostle Paul tells us why we should.

23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) – Romans 8:23-25 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

 

Love Like It.

22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you. – 1 Peter 1:22-25 ESV

For Peter, the love of God should be reciprocal and a motive to express the same degree of love to others. In other words, we should love God and love others. Which is exactly what Jesus said when He had been asked what the greatest commandment was.

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22L37-40 ESV

God has loved us by ransoming us from sin “with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19 ESV). Paul reminds us, “he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32 NLT) and “showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). And Peter points out that it is because God sent His Son, manifesting or revealing Himself in human flesh, then dying in the place of sinful men, that we are able to believe in God. It is through Jesus that we have access to God. Peter puts it this way: “who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Ultimately, Jesus points us to God. It was God who sent Him. It was God who raised Him. So, our faith and hope should be in God. 

And by believing the truth about who Jesus was and what He came to do, and obediently accepting His offer of salvation, we have been purified. On the cross, Christ took our sins upon Himself and transferred His righteousness to us. Not only that, He placed the Spirit of God within us. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, indwells each and every believer – all those whom God has chosen. He is our advocate, comforter, helper, intercessor and source of power required for living the Christian life. That is why Peter encourages us to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 ESV). We have been given the capacity to love like we never could have done before. Prior to our salvation, our lives were marked by selfishness and self-centeredness. That is not to say that we never loved anyone else. But our love was always tainted by sin and an innate desire to get something in return. Human love, apart from Christ, is always a what’s-in-it-for-me kind of love. It is based on a scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of mentality. But Christ-like love is selfless and anything but self-serving. Jesus died for those who hated Him. He loved by giving His life and allowing Himself to be crucified by those for whom He came to provide salvation. And we are to emulate that kind of love, especially among those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

19 We love each other because he loved us first.

20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. – 1 John 4:19-21 NLT

Even Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV). And Peter reminds us that we have been born again. We are new creations. We have been given new spiritual life. And that new spiritual life is eternal in nature, not temporal. It has attached to it an eternal inheritance. Our relationship with God the Father will last forever. So will our relationships with our fellow believers in Christ. Quoting from the book of Isaiah, Peter contrasts the transitory nature of our old nature with that of our new nature in Christ.

24 As the Scriptures say,

“People are like grass;
    their beauty is like a flower in the field.
The grass withers and the flower fades.
25 But the word of the Lord remains forever.” – 1 Peter 1:24-25 NLT

God has loved us with an everlasting, never-ending love. He has promised us an eternal inheritance. And we will share that inheritance with those who have also been chosen by God. We are now part of a family and we are to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Each of us has received the good news regarding new life in Christ. That news changed everything about us: Our natures, our hearts, our destinies, our hope for the future, our source of help for the present, and our ability to love those whom God has chosen and whom He has placed in our lives. What we must come to grips with is the reality that our adoption into God’s family is permanent. It will last forever. And all those with whom we share the remarkable reality of adoption by God will be our brothers and sisters for eternity. That’s why we must begin learning to love them now.

Over in his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides a stark list of the works or deeds that come out of a life lived according to the flesh or our old sinful nature.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Notice how many of them are relational in nature. Sexual immorality is by definition, relational. It involves another individual. Lust is the same way. Hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, and envy – they’re all relational in nature. When we forget what Christ has done for us and that what He did was God’s idea, we allow our old nature to raise its ugly head. It becomes all about us again. Our needs, wants, and desires take precedence over our love for others. And this is especially true when we find ourselves suffering or struggling with trials of any kind. Difficulties drive us inward in our thinking. We become obsessed with ourselves. We become myopic in our outlook, thinking that we are alone and demanding that everyone minister to us. But Peter recommends selflessness, even in the face of life’s trials and tribulations. We have been born again to eternal life. The difficulties of this life will not last, but our love for one another should. Love is eternal, because it is a quality of our eternal God. In fact, it is more than a character trait of God, it is the essence of His being. God is love. It’s not something He does. It is who He is. And as His children, the same thing should be true of us. We are to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 ESV). Or as the apostle John puts it:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 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

Blessed Is God.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. – 1 Peter 1:3-12 ESV

Having introduced himself and having identified his audience, Peter now turns his attention to God. After all, his identity as an apostle of Jesus Christ and their position as the elect of God, are both directly attributable to God alone. Peter had not made himself an apostle. His readers had not made themselves children of God. He had been appointed and they had been adopted. Peter begins his address with a reminder of the sovereign role of God in the redemption of mankind. He is the one who is and is to be blessed. He is worthy of praise, glory and honor, because He is the instigator and provider of our salvation. And the apostle Paul would echo that sentiment.

4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

4 But—When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. – Titus 3:4-5 NLT

It was God who provided His Son as the payment for man’s sin. It was God who showed mercy to sinful mankind, offering His sinless Son as a substitute, a stand-in, who took the sins of the world upon Himself, so that the righteous wrath of God mighty be satisfied. And Peter makes it clear that, had Jesus not died, and had not God raised Him from the dead, there would have been no salvation possible for mankind. In fact, in the Ephesians passage above, Paul makes it clear that God provided us with a means of salvation while we were dead. He brought us from spiritual death to spiritual life, all because He raised His crucified Son back to life through the power of the Spirit.

4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4 ESV

Peter wants his readers to understand that , beyond a shadow of a doubt, their salvation was the work of God. And it was accomplished through the obedience of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ obediently followed God’s will and gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He willingly gave His life, suffering a humiliating death on the cross in order that we might have new life (Philippians 2:8). It had been Peter who preached the following words to the crowds gathered during the Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples.

32 “God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. 33 Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today.” – Acts 2:32-33 NLT

And Peter reminds his readers that there is a huge benefit that comes as a result of all of this.

3 …we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. – 1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

We are, as Paul says, “his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory” (Romans 8:17 NLT). All because God chose us. All because Christ died for us. All because the Spirit indwells us. But not only has God saved us, He is preserving and protecting us. Our salvation is completely in His hands. Which means, according to Peter, it is permanent and beyond even our ability to lose or screw up. Peter reminds us:

“God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.” – 1 Peter 1:5 NLT

Our salvation is not ours to lose. It is God’s and He finishes what He starts. Paul told the Philippian believers: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 2:6 NLT). He told the believers in Corinth the same thing. “He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns” (1 Corinthians 1:8 NLT).

This was an important detail to Peter and he went out of his way to make sure his audience grasped its full import. He knew they were facing significant issues in their lives. They were suffering for their faith. They were experiencing difficulties in the form of persecution and trials. So, he tells them, “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while” (1 Peter 1:6 NLT). There were going to be bumps along the way. They were going to face hard times. But they could rejoice in the fact that they were saved and that status was not up to them. It was God’s doing. The trials they faced were not signs of God’s disappointment with them or discipline of them. No, Peter reassures them, “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold” (1 Peter 1:7 NLT). The trials were not intended to raise doubts regarding their salvation. They were meant to purify and strengthen their faith as they watched God work in and through the trials. The difficulties of life would make them increasingly more dependent upon God. Paul had learned this invaluable lesson, which is why he was able to say:

“So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

And Peter tells his audience that there was a day coming when they would be able to look back and see that their faith had remained strong, because they had endured to the end. But even that endurance would be the gift of God. It would not be self-manufactured or the result of their own inner-determination. By constantly trusting in God and His saving power, they would be able to endure anything and everything the world could throw at them. And one day, they would stand before God Himself, and receive “much praise and glory and honor.” Not because of what they had done, but because they had kept their faith firmly planted in what Christ had done for them.

Peter makes an interesting observation. He tells them, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy” (1 Peter 1:8 NLT).  That is the essence of faith. They had placed their hope and trust in someone they could not see. They were returning love to one they had never met. And they were learning to rejoice, even in the midst of trial and difficulties, because their faith was in someone who was not limited or restricted by time and space. His salvation has a future and a present aspect to it. He has saved us, is saving us and will one day, permanently and completely save us. He who began a good work in us will complete that work. He is not yet finished. But we can rejoice as if it is already done. What Paul told the Ephesians applies to the recipients of Peter’s letter, and to us as well.

6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:6-7 NLT

Peter points out that the Old Testament prophets had written about this incredible gift from God, long before it ever happened. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, they had prophesied concerning the coming Messiah, not fully understanding the significance of their own words. They wanted to know more about the coming Messiah. They longed to know when He was coming and how He would appear. But that part remained a mystery to them. But, Peter points out, “now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen” (1 Peter 1:12 NLT). We have not only heard the Good News, we have been the beneficiaries of it. We have chosen by God, and been given new life in Christ. The suffering Peter’s audience might be experiencing was nothing compared to the glory they had received in Christ. And the apostle Paul fully concurred with Peter’s assessment of the situation.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
 – Romans 8:18 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

God’s Will. God’s Way.

Concerning Damascus:

“Hamath and Arpad are confounded,
    for they have heard bad news;
they melt in fear,
    they are troubled like the sea that cannot be quiet.
Damascus has become feeble, she turned to flee,
    and panic seized her;
anguish and sorrows have taken hold of her,
    as of a woman in labor.
How is the famous city not forsaken,
    the city of my joy?
Therefore her young men shall fall in her squares,
    and all her soldiers shall be destroyed in that day,
declares the Lord of hosts.
And I will kindle a fire in the wall of Damascus,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.”

Concerning Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon struck down.

Thus says the Lord:
“Rise up, advance against Kedar!
    Destroy the people of the east!
Their tents and their flocks shall be taken,
    their curtains and all their goods;
their camels shall be led away from them,
    and men shall cry to them: ‘Terror on every side!’
Flee, wander far away, dwell in the depths,
    O inhabitants of Hazor!
declares the Lord.
For Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon
    has made a plan against you
    and formed a purpose against you.

“Rise up, advance against a nation at ease,
    that dwells securely,
declares the Lord,
that has no gates or bars,
    that dwells alone.
Their camels shall become plunder,
    their herds of livestock a spoil.
I will scatter to every wind
    those who cut the corners of their hair,
and I will bring their calamity
    from every side of them,
declares the Lord.
Hazor shall become a haunt of jackals,
    an everlasting waste;
no man shall dwell there;
    no man shall sojourn in her.”

The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning Elam, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, the mainstay of their might. And I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven. And I will scatter them to all those winds, and there shall be no nation to which those driven out of Elam shall not come. I will terrify Elam before their enemies and before those who seek their life. I will bring disaster upon them, my fierce anger, declares the Lord. I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them, and I will set my throne in Elam and destroy their king and officials, declares the Lord.

“But in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam, declares the Lord.” –  Jeremiah 49:23-39 ESV

Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, and Elam. Not exactly household names to most of us. But in Jeremiah’s day, they were cities of renown. They each were famous for their own reason. Damascus was the capital city of Aramea, and is even referred to by God as “That famous city, a city of joy” (Jeremiah 49:25 NLT). We are not provided with any details regarding the source of their fame, but Damascus located on a vital trade route known as the King’s Highway that extended from the capital city through Moab and Edom to the Gulf of Arabah. No doubt, Damascus was a cosmopolitan city, filled with the sounds of trade, the languages of many languages, and all the excesses that come with financial success. But God informs them that their destruction is immanent. Their fifteen minutes of fame are about to come to an end. And, according to God, their demise is as good as done.

“Damascus has become feeble,
    and all her people turn to flee.” – Jeremiah 49:24 NLT

The Arameans had long been a source of contention for the people of Israel. All the way back to the reigns of David and Solomon, the Arameans and a coalition of other city-states, had been a thorn in the side of the Istaelites. David would conquer and capture the city (2 Samuel 8:5-6), but they would later cast off Israelite sovereignty during the reign of Solomon. But the city of Damascus, known for its beauty, would become a wasteland, forsaken and forgotten.

“Her young men will fall in the streets and die.
    Her soldiers will all be killed,”
    says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
“And I will set fire to the walls of Damascus
    that will burn up the palaces of Ben-hadad.” – Jeremiah 49:26-27 NLT

And now God turns His attention to the people of Kedar and Hazor. What was the significance of these two relatively obscure cities? Well, it seems that they were not cities at all, but the names of two different Arabic tribes. If we turn to the book of Genesis, we find out that the Kedarites were actually the descendants of Ishmael, the half-brother of Isaac.

These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's servant, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. – Genesis 25:12-15 NLT

We know little about the Hazorites, but must assume that they were yet another Arabic tribe that had partnered with the Kedarites to form a strategic alliance. Unlike the people of Damascus, the Kedarites and Hazorites were nomadic people who were, for the most part, sheep herders who dwelled in unwalled cities consisting primarily of tents. What part had they played in the life of the people of God that would warrant God’s wrath and their destruction? God refers to them as “the warriors from the East” (Jeremiah 49:27 NLT). They were part of an alliance of other nation states and tribes, including the Midianites and Amalekites, who joined forces to attack the people of Israel during the days of the judge, Gideon.

Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, marauders from Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east would attack Israel, camping in the land and destroying crops as far away as Gaza. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat, taking all the sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys. These enemy hordes, coming with their livestock and tents, were as thick as locusts; they arrived on droves of camels too numerous to count. And they stayed until the land was stripped bare. So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. – Judges 6:3-6 NLT

And God makes it very clear what their punishment would be:

“Their flocks and tents will be captured,
    and their household goods and camels will be taken away.” – Jeremiah 49:29 NLT

They had harassed the people of God in order to feed their flocks and camels, leaving the Israelites in a state of starvation. Now, God was going to pay them back. He would bring King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, who would strip them of all their flocks and possessions. They would end up running for their lives in an attempt to escape the wrath of God in the form of the Babylonian forces. But they would fail.

Finally, God wraps up this oracle with a word concerning Elam. The Elamites occupied the land which is now part of modern Iran. They were the descendants of Shem, one of the sons of Noah (Genesis 10:22). They lived in the area known as Mesopotamia and it is not exactly clear why they are included in this oracle of judgment by God. But it is safe to say, that God had His reasons. One of the interesting facts is that the Elamites at one time conquered the land of Ur, the ancestral homeland of the Israel patriarch, Abraham. Perhaps this played a role in God’s decision. We don’t know and are not provided with details. We do know that they played a part in an attack on the city of Jerusalem and were known for their archers and chariots (Isaiah 22:6). Which is why God says, “I will destroy the archers of Elam—the best of their forces” (Jeremiah 49:35 NLT). According to the book of Isaiah, Elam was one of the places to which the people of Israel were exiled and from which they would return

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time
    to bring back the remnant of his people—
those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt;
    in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam;
    in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands. – Isaiah 22:11 NLT

Whatever their role had been, the Elamites would be held responsible by God. Their poor treatment of God’s people had not gone unnoticed and would they would go unpunished.

“I myself will go with Elam’s enemies to shatter it.
    In my fierce anger, I will bring great disaster
    upon the people of Elam,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 49:37 NLT

But God makes an interesting disclosure at the very end of this oracle concerning Elam. He tells them that He will restore their fortunes in the days to come. We are not told why. But it provides a picture of God’s grace and mercy, even in light of the wickedness of the nations. There is a future point in time, at which God will restore things to their original state. He will send His Son a second time, this time to rule and reign on the earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He will set up His Kingdom in Jerusalem and restore the people of Israel to power and prominence. No longer will the nations rise up in opposition to Israel. Instead, they will bow down in submission to the God of the Israelites.

Turn to me so you can be delivered,
all you who live in the earth’s remote regions!
For I am God, and I have no peer.
I solemnly make this oath—
what I say is true and reliable:
‘Surely every knee will bow to me,
every tongue will solemnly affirm;
they will say about me,
“Yes, the Lord is a powerful deliverer.”’”
All who are angry at him will cower before him.
All the descendants of Israel will be vindicated by the Lord
and will boast in him. – Isaiah 45:22-25 NLT

God will win the day. His Son will rule the world. The nations will bow down before Him. And God’s promises and plans concerning the people of Israel will be fully and completely fulfilled. Why? Because God is faithful and true.  

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 God of David.

Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years. He reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established. – 1 Kings 2:10-12 ESV

And David died. His long, circuitous life came to an end. The book of 1 Chronicles adds the detail: “Then he died at a good age, full of days, riches, and honor” (1 Chronicles 29:28 ESV). David had been king for 40 years and had experienced all the ups and downs that come with life. He had enjoyed his fare share of great victories, but had also known what it was like to suffer defeat. He had enjoyed the accolades of the people and then stood by and watched as they turned their backs on him. He had been blessed by some and cursed by others. He had lauded as a great king and accused of being a usurper to the throne. David had been a man of great faith, but he had also shown signs of doubt and displayed a tendency to take matters into his own hands. He could be decisive and, at the same time, doubtful. At times, he was impulsive and driven by his desires. At other times, he was unwilling to act until he had heard from God. David was a man of God and a murderer, a man of great faith and an adulterer. He loved God, but he also had an inordinate love for women, marrying far too many of them and disobeying God in the process. David had a heart that beat fast for God, but that, at the same time, struggled with ungodly desires. In other words, David was human. He was just a man.

Too often, we deify someone like David. We turn him into a saint and place him on a pedestal, treating him as an icon rather than seeing him as a living illustration of what it means to walk with God. David was not perfect. He is not presented to us in Scripture as a super-saint or intended to be some kind of unapproachable model of holiness. In the life of David, as portrayed in the pages of the Scriptures, we are given a vivid glimpse into all his faults, failures, weaknesses, and sins. Nothing is held back. We are not given a neatly sanitized version of his life, an autobiographical treatment complete with all the less-than-flattering parts removed. No, we are treated to a warts-and-all, no-holds-barred chronicle of his life. The good, the bad and the ugly. Most of us would be mortified if we knew that our entire life’s story was going to be put in a book for all to read, for generations to come. All our dirty little secrets would be put in print and outlive us for thousands of years. But that’s exactly what happened to David.

David was not an icon of virtue. He was not a perfectly pious saint. He was a man, chosen by God, and commanded to serve as the shepherd of God over the people of God. This was not a position for which David aspired. He had not asked to be chosen. He had been content shepherding his father’s sheep. But one day he was protecting his sheep from predators, and the next he was standing face-to-face with a Philistine giant. David’s life was one of extremes. He would go from the peace of the pasture to the political intrigue of the palace. He would become a warrior of great renown. But he would also become a fugitive with a bounty on his head. David would know what it means to succeed and fail, to experience the heady thrill of glory and the heart-breaking darkness of defeat and disappointment. He would know the pleasure of life in the palace and the uncomfortable reality of life in a cave.

The real hero in the story of the life of David is not David, it’s God. He is the one who chose David. He is the one who stood beside David, through all the ups and downs of his life. God is the one who lovingly disciplined David and graciously equipped and empowered David for each and every victory he enjoyed. God remained faithful to David throughout his life. God never abandoned David or turned His back on him. Yes, there were moments when it appeared as if God had walked out on David, but He was there. God was watching over him, protecting him, teaching him, molding and making him into the kind of man he was meant to be. David, like all men, had rough edges that needed to be smoothed out. He had sinful dispositions that needed to be exposed and eliminated. And David recognized that God was intimately involved in his life, lovingly disciplining him in order that he might be the kind of man God had called him to be. That is why he could write the words:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

David loved God and trusted Him to do what was right and just. He didn’t always obey God. He didn’t always rely on God. But when all was said and done, David always came back to God help, hope, strength, and direction. He knew his life was nothing without God. He knew his future was directly tied to the power and promises of God. His life would end, but the covenant God had made with him would last long after he was gone.

David was a man of faith. He trusted God. In fact, his name in mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11, the Great Hall of Faith, where the names of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament are given as examples of unwavering faith in the promises of God.

How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. – Hebrews 11:32-34 NLT

Like Abraham, David believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. He trusted in the promises of God. He knew that God was going to preserve his kingdom and place a descendant on his throne, ensuring that his kingdom would have no end. Like all the other Old Testament saints, David would die long before he saw this promise fulfilled in its entirety. But thousands of years later, God would send His Son, Jesus, born as the son of Mary and as a descendant of David. He would be the legitimate and legal heir to the throne of David. Yet, Jesus would die a criminal’s death on the cross. He would be buried in a borrowed tomb. But He would be raised back to life and return to His rightful place at His Father’s side. And one day, He will return. And when He does, He will return as the conquering King and the rightful heir to the throne of David. He will rule from Jerusalem over His people, Israel, and all the nations of the earth will bow before Him as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—
    to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and blessing.”

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
    belong to the one sitting on the throne
    and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb. – Revelation 5:11-14 NLT

The story of David is the story of God. He is the faithful, covenant-keeping God who chooses to use men like David to accomplish His will and bring about His divine plan for humanity. God doesn’t need us, but He graciously uses us. Yet, we need Him. We must trust and rely upon Him, knowing that He will do what He has promised and complete what He has started. Our lives may end, but His work will not. We are temporary, but He is not. And our future is in His hands.

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 Just and Righteous King.

Now these are the last words of David:

The oracle of David, the son of Jesse,
    the oracle of the man who was raised on high,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
    the sweet psalmist of Israel:

“The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me;
    his word is on my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken;
    the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men,
    ruling in the fear of God,
he dawns on them like the morning light,
    like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
    like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.

For does not my house stand so with God?
    For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
    ordered in all things and secure.
For will he not cause to prosper
    all my help and my desire?
But worthless men are all like thorns that are thrown away,
    for they cannot be taken with the hand;
but the man who touches them
    arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear,
    and they are utterly consumed with fire.” – 2 Samuel 23:1-7 ESV

 

The psalm of David, recorded in chapter 22, is now followed by the last words of David. The former represented the establishment of his kingdom, when he was delivered from Saul and crowned king of Israel. The latter, written at the end of his life, are David’s reflections on his unique relationship with God. His legacy as a king and the future dynasty are both tied directly to God. In this last testament, David passes on what he has learned about serving as the king of Israel, the God-appointed shepherd of His people.

David is described as the “son of Jesse”, a reflection of his humble beginnings. David had not come to the throne of Israel due to royal birth or a high pedigree. He was just a commoner, the youngest son of Jesse, and a shepherd of sheep. And yet, God had called him and anointed him to be the next king of Israel. He “was raised on high” by God. Not because he deserved to be, but because God chose to do so. It would be easy to assume that because God had referred to David as a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), that this was the reason he had been chosen by God. But this would have made God’s choice of David based on works or merit, something that does not gel with the rest of Scripture.

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:10 ESV

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

David had a heart for God, but that does not mean he somehow deserved to be king. He had not earned his way into the position. As we have clearly seen from his life’s story, David was capable of sin, just like any other man. He had committed adultery and murder. He had been impulsive. He had parented poorly. He had struggled with procrastination and exhibited less-than-stellar leadership skills at times. He was far from perfect. And yet, God had chosen him. God had anointed him. And God had made him His spokesman. David wrote, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2 ESV). This isn’t a case of David bragging or tooting his own horn. He is expressing amazement at the fact that he had been given the privilege and responsibility to speak on God’s behalf. As king, he had been God’s mouthpiece. And one of the things God had said to David had to do with righteous leadership.

The one who rules righteously,
    who rules in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning at sunrise,
    like a morning without clouds,
like the gleaming of the sun
    on new grass after rain. – 2 Samuel 23:3-4 NLT

David had not always done this well. But, by the end of his life, he had learned that a king who rules righteously, fearing God, radiates joy and blessings on his people. David had learned the hard lesson that, when a king rules unrighteously, he plunges his people into darkness and despair. His failure to fear God results in pain and suffering for the people under his care. And that truth is played out over and over again in the history of Israel’s kings. Obedience brings blessings. Disobedience brings curses. Righteous rulers bring light. Unrighteous rulers bring darkness.

David’s next statement is a reflection of his understanding of the promise God had made to him.

Is it not my family God has chosen?
    Yes, he has made an everlasting covenant with me.
His agreement is arranged and guaranteed in every detail.
    He will ensure my safety and success. – 2 Samuel 23:5 NLT

Yes, God had chosen David’s family. God had clearly told him:

Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.…And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. – 2 Samuel 7:11-12, 16 NLT

But remember what David had said. God expected His king to rule righteously. And while Solomon, the son of David, who would ascend to the throne after him, would rule well for the majority of his reign, he would not end well. He would end up worshiping false gods. And God would divide his kingdom. The nation of Israel would be split in two. And these two nations, Israel and Judah, would end up living in a state of constant tension, marked by hostility and warfare. They would see a succession of kings, whose reigns would not be marked by a fear of God, but by wickedness and idolatry. There would be a few good apples in the barrel along the way. But for the most part, the kings of both nations would be far from what God had expected of His kings. And the result would be spiritual darkness among the people and, ultimately, the discipline of God as He would send both nations into captivity for their sin and rebellion against him.

Almost prophetically, David writes:

But the godless are like thorns to be thrown away,
    for they tear the hand that touches them.
One must use iron tools to chop them down;
    they will be totally consumed by fire. – 2 Samuel 23:6-7 NLT

Godless leaders would produce godless people, who would find themselves living in exile because of their stubborn, rebellious hearts. And yet, the everlasting covenant to which David refers, will be kept by God. He is faithful and never goes back on His Word. What He says, He does. What He promises to do, He accomplishes. God had made a covenant with David. He had promised to establish his throne forever. But since the days when the nations of Israel and Judah went into captivity in Assyrian and Babylon, there has been no king of the throne of David. So has God failed to keep His word? Was His promise to David nullified by the sinful actions of the kings of Israel and Judah? No. God would and did keep His word. The apostle John tells us exactly what happened.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 NLT

After hundreds of years of spiritual darkness, God broke through, sending His Son as the light of the world. Jesus, a descendant of David and God’s appointed successor to the throne of David, came into the world. The light of God penetrated the darkness. Yet, He was met with rejection by His own people. They failed to recognize Him as the Messiah, the Savior sent by God. Jesus will even reveal that the people loved the darkness over the light. They would prefer living in sin over freedom provided by faith in Him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:18-21

David was a good king. He may even be considered a great king. But he as not the one true King. He was not the Savior of Israel. That role was reserved for one who would come years later. Jesus, a descendant of David, was God’s appointed heir to the throne of David. He was sent by God to do what David and the other kings of Israel and Judah could have never done, provide freedom from slavery to sin and restoration to a right relationship with God. David could win victories over the Philistines, but he could not defeat sin and death. David could provide his people with periods of relative peace and tranquility, but he could not give them peace with God. Jesus came to do spiritual battle with the forces of evil. The selfless sacrifice of His sinless life on the cross broke the power of sin and death over the lives of mankind. But some would refuse His offer of salvation. They would prefer to live in darkness, rather than enjoy the light of freedom and joy of forgiveness.

David would eventually die. His son would ascend to the throne. His kingdom would end up divided and eventually, his people would end up living in captivity in a foreign land. But God would not be done with Israel or with David’s throne. He would not break His promise to David. Despite the unfaithfulness of the successors to David’s throne, God would prove faithful, sending the one who would be the consummate man after God’s own heart. He would send His Son. And He would bring the greatest victory any king could ever hope to deliver.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-56 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

Why Have I Found Favor?

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” – Ruth 2:8-13 ESV

When Boaz had arrived on the scene, he immediately noticed the young woman following behind his reapers in the field. He didn’t recognize her, so he asked his foreman who she was. He replied, “She’s the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the region of Moab” (Ruth 2:6 NLT). He explained to Boaz how she had shown up and asked for permission to follow the harvesters and gather up any grain left on the grown. According to the foreman, Ruth had worked long and hard. “Since she arrived she has been working hard from this morning until now—except for sitting in the resting hut a short time” (Ruth 2:7 NLT). Whatever business had brought Boaz to the field that day suddenly took a back seat as he became intrigued with this young Moabite woman. There is no sense of sexual attraction or love at first sight in the passage. Boaz had simply heard the stories about his young lady and was fascinated to find her gleaning in his field. He had obviously been positively impacted by what he had heard about her loss and her commitment to accompany Naomi all the way back to Bethlehem. And now, here she was gathering grain in order to feed her mother-in-law. He later told Ruth:

“I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband—how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” – Ruth 2:11-12 NLT

When Boaz first spoke to Ruth, he called her “daughter,” using the Hebrew term bath, which is a term of endearment. We know from Ruth 3:10 that Boaz was probably older than Ruth and so his use of this term makes sense. It was a common form of greeting used by older men to younger women. At this point in the story, it seems that Boaz’s interest in Ruth is purely platonic and he simply wants to show her compassion and do what he can to lighten the load she taken on of caring for her widowed mother-in-law. He gives her free reign to glean anywhere in his field and a guarantee of his personal protection.

The actions of Boaz leave Ruth a bit surprised. She is amazed at the incredible kindness and favor of Boaz. And yet, that very morning she had asked permission of Naomi, saying, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor” (Ruth 2:2 ESV). The Hebrew word she used was chen and it refers to grace, favor or acceptance. And yet, when Boaz treated her the way he did, she fell on her face before him and asked, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10 ESV). She used the same Hebrew word again. She had left that morning hoping to experience grace and favor, but she was surprised when she experienced it. It caught her off guard. After all, she was a foreigner. She was a widow. She was poor. Evidently, back in the land of Moab, the kind of response she had received from Boaz would have been rare or simply non-existent. The very fact that Boaz, a well-to-do Jew, would even acknowledge her presence, let alone show her favor, was mind-boggling to Ruth.

This story is reminiscent of another encounter between a Jewish man and a foreign woman. When Jesus was traveling through Samaria, He encountered a Samaritan woman drawing water at a well. He struck up a conversation with her, asking her for water. She too, was shocked that this Jewish man would notice her, let alone speak to her. She replied to Jesus, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans)” (John 4:9 ESV). Jews not only viewed Samaritans as foreigners, but as the lowest of the low. They despised them. And yet, here was Jesus, a Jew, asking a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. And just like Boaz, Jesus would go on to show this woman unexpected and undeserved favor, offering her “living water.” Jesus told her, “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV). That woman’s life was radically and permanently changed that day. She became a believer in Jesus Christ and discovered the living water that would remove her unquenchable spiritual thirst once and for all.

Ruth too, was about to have her life changed. She was just beginning to experience what grace and favor look and feel like. She was a foreigner. She was poor and had nothing to offer Boaz by way of payment for his kindness. Not only that, Ruth was a Moabite, and as such, she was looked down upon and despised by the Jews. She was even forbidden to enter the assembly to worship the God of the Jews. This poor woman was destitute, defenseless, despised and in desperate need of mercy. And she would find it in Boaz.

As this story unfolds, we will see many similarities between the kindness, grace, and mercy of Boaz and that which we have received from Christ. In fact, Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, that we were once in a very similar state as that of Ruth.

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT

The undeserved favor of God. Those of us who know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior have experienced it firsthand. And it is partially the result of Boaz showing favor to Ruth that our Savior was eventually born in Bethlehem, the city of David, as a descendant of Ruth and Boaz. As Boaz showed favor to Ruth, he was actually extending the favor of God to all mankind, paving the way for the arrival of the Messiah and His offer of living water.

The Wonderful Ways of God.

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. – Ruth 1:1-5 ESV

Like many of the Old Testament books, this one bears the name of one of the primary characters whose life makes up a great portion of the narrative. But while Ruth plays a significant role in the story, she was not intended to be the main focus of the story. The special honor goes to God. He is the silent, unseen protagonist of this book, moving behind the scenes and orchestrating events in such a way so that His divine will is accomplished and His plan for the redemption of mankind, developed in eternity past, would come to pass just as He preordained it. This story must be read with a searching eye, looking for the invisible hand of God. And it should be read with an understanding of the larger, overarching story contained in the Bible. Otherwise, it becomes nothing more than a story about a widowed Moabite girl and her somewhat serendipitous and fortuitous marriage to a well-to-do Hebrew man. But there is so much more going on here.

We are told that the story takes place, “In the days when the judges ruled…” This refers to the period of the judges before Israel had a king. In the Hebrew Bible the book of Judges and the book of Ruth were companion books. Many believe they were written by the same author: Samuel. But there is no solid evidence for the authorship of Ruth. All we know is that it chronicles a period of time when God was using judges to rule over His people. This was a period of extreme turmoil and instability. The book of Judges records the up-and-down nature of the Israelites and their relationship with God. Their faithfulness to Him ebbed and flowed. Their obedience was spotty at best and when they turned their back on Him, God would send judgment in the form of foreign nations. When the people cried out to Him in desperation, God would raise up a judge to lead and deliver them. This would result in a period of relative peace and spiritual solidarity. But in time, the people would rebel again and the cycle would repeat itself. It was during this rather unstable and spiritually volatile period that the story of Ruth took place.

The opening verses introduce us to Elimelech and provide us with an extremely important detail about his life that can be easily overlooked, but that would have been like a red flashing light to the books original Hebrew audience. We are told that Elimelech was “a man of Bethlehem in Judah” and he and his sons were “Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah.” This is an extremely important point and is vital to understanding the true import of this story.

On his deathbed, Jacob blessed each of his twelve sons, but gave the following blessing to his son, Judah:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. – Genesis 49:10 ESV

His words carried a prophetic pronouncement of a king who would come from the tribe of Judah. While this blessing would be realized in the life of David, a descendant of Jacob, the prophet Micah, long after David was dead and gone, provided details regarding another king who would be born in Bethlehem just as David was, and rule over the nation of Israel.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace. – Micah 5:2-5 ESV

The prophet, Jeremiah, would give further details regarding this future king:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. – Jeremiah 23:5 ESV

So when we read that Elimelech was a member of the tribe of Judah and a native of the city of Bethlehem, it should gives us pause. It should act as a warning sign that there is something going on in this story that is far greater than might normally be expected. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, are forced to leave their homeland because of a famine. The mention of this natural disaster should remind us of supernatural and sovereign oversight of God over His creation. This is not the only time in Scripture that a famine has played a significant role in God’s providential plan. A famine was the cause of Abraham’s flight into Egypt (Genesis 12:10). His son, Isaac, would also find himself facing a famine, but would be commanded by God not to go to Egypt (Genesis 26:1-5). Years later, Isaac’s son, Jacob, would be commanded by God to take his entire family to Egypt to escape the famine in the land (Genesis 46:3-4).

Now we find Elimelech and his family facing yet another famine and being forced to flee for their lives – this time to the land of Moab. The Moabites were close relatives of the Jews, since Moab was the son of Lot, the nephew of Abraham (Genesis 19:37). Moab was located to the east of Judah, on the other side of the Dead Sea. It was evidently a very fertile land. In fact, we read in the book of Genesis, that when Abraham gave his nephew, Lot, the father of the Moabites, the first choice of all the land, he chose well.

And Lot lifted up his ” eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. – Genesis 13:10-11 ESV

So Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, leave Judah for Moab and settle there, intending to wait out the famine in Judah. But Elimelech dies, leaving his wife a widow, living in a foreign land. In time, her two adult sons take wives from among the Moabites – “one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth” (Ruth 1:4 ESV). And then, ten years later, the two sons die, leaving Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws alone and without any source of provision of protection.

These opening lines are a divine setup for what is to come. This is not a case of fate or bad karma. This is not about three unlucky women and their series of unfortunate events. It is the story of God and His divine, supernatural, all-powerful and providential plan for the coming of the Messiah. In the middle of the genealogy of Jesus provided in the first chapter of the book of Matthew, we read, “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David” (Matthew 1:5-6 ESV). Then it concludes: “Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah” (Matthew 1:17 ESV). Jesus was a descendant of David, but He was also a descendant of Ruth, a widow from Moab. And the book of Ruth provides us with a glimpse into God’s orchestration of His sovereign will and unstoppable plan for the future redemption of a list and dying world.

It’s An Inside Job.

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. – Ephesians 6:5-9 ESV

As Paul continues to discuss the application of walking as children of light, in love and in submission to one another, he brings up a particularly difficult relationship for us as modern believers to understand. He has already addressed husbands and wives, and children and their parents. But now he takes on the relationship between slaves and their masters. There are those who would label Paul as a proponent of the institution of slavery, because he does not speak out against it. But Paul, like Christ, was not out to revolutionize civil institutions or bring about social upheaval. He was interested in redeeming the lives of those who made up the society. So while it is true that Paul does not speak out against or condemn the socially accepted practice of slavery in his day, this does not mean he was a supporter of it. In fact, in his letter to Philemon, he appeals to his brother in Christ regarding one of his slaves, a man called Onesimus. Evidently Onesimus had run away from Philemon and had somehow ended up meeting Paul and, under his influence, had become a believer. He ended up ministering to Paul while he was a prisoner there. And Paul had encouraged Onesimus to do the right thing and return to Philemon, his master. Slavery was legal in Paul’s day and Onesimus was obligated to return to Philemon or face severe punishment. But Paul wrote his letter to Philemon to explain the change that had taken place in the life of Onesimus and to ask Philemon to see his former slave as what he now was, a brother in Christ.

For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

This is exactly the kind of context Paul is addressing in his letter to the Ephesians. Slavery was a socially accepted, legally sanctioned part of the culture of the day. And yet Paul was calling slaves and masters who came to know Christ to radically change their perspective regarding this institution – from the inside out. The interesting thing is that slaves, who were viewed as property and sub-human in many ways, were coming to faith in Christ. Not only that, they were becoming members of the local churches. It was not uncommon for a 1st-Century church to have slaves and their masters as part of its congregation. And within the context of the church, there was a unity and equality that was unheard of anywhere else in the culture of that day. Which is why Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia: “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NLT). In the context of the body of Christ, everyone was on an equal footing. But while coming to faith in Christ set someone like Onesimus free from sin, it did not free him from slavery. In fact, Paul wrote to the Corinthians and told them, “Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ” (1 Corinthians 7:20-22 NLT).

Paul’s primary concern was the behavior of believers. He was focused on their walk – the daily living out of their faith within the context of their existing social relationships. Which he wrote to the church in Ephesus, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ” (Ephesians 6:5 NLT). We see once again, that their motivation was to be Christ-centered, as if they were serving Christ. He became a slave, a servant on their behalf, even dying in their place so that they might be freed from slavery to sin. Now He was calling them to serve their earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Rather than forced subservience, Paul was calling them to willing submission. Paul gives them some very specific instruction about how their faith should manifest itself in their relationship with their masters.

Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. – Ephesians 6:6-7 NLT

Notice that Paul encourages them to do the will of God with all their heart. What would the will of God be in their particular situation? To walk as children of light. To walk in love. To walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Yes, even within their context as slaves. Because in reality, they were slaves of Christ. Their earthly situation was temporary. So they could work with enthusiasm, performing their earthly responsibilities as if they were doing it for the Lord, knowing that “the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free” (Ephesians 6:8 NLT).

But Paul is not done. He also addresses those individuals in the churches in Ephesus who happened to be masters. He tells them, “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:9 NLT). Their faith in Christ was to have a relationship-altering impact on their lives. Their slaves were now their brothers. And everything they did was to be done as to the Lord. This was a game-changing, life-altering moment in the lives of these individuals. Can you imagine what kinds of renewing of the mind and shifting of their paradigm was taking place as they wrestled with the new-found faith in Christ and the reality of the social construct in which they found themselves? This particular relationship between slaves and masters would put the daily application of faith in Christ to the test like no other. 

Jesus did not come to revolutionize the structures of society, but the lives of the people who make up that society. He did not come to radically alter institutions, but to redeem individuals. Political change or legal sanctions do nothing to remedy the condition of the heart. Overthrowing the evil social structures of a society through rebellion or civil disobedience may bring about external change, but it will never fix the problem of sin. Believers living as children of light in the midst of darkness, loving unconditionally, submitting to one another willingly, and obeying Christ joyfully are the true change-agents in the world.