Revisiting the Shake

Sometimes, when I write in the mornings, I am not able to sit and write without interruption. On weekends, it’s easier. So, this morning, I’m going to revisit my previous post. Not that my Master couldn’t use it in someone’s life, He can use anything. In fact, He can use nothing and still be effective. I simply need to pull something out of my noggin that’s been reverberating around in all that open space.

What does it mean that God will shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the wilderness?

The writer of Hebrews, Nicodemus, as I’ve been calling him, moves from the encouraging contrast between God in heaven, and God as He revealed Himself at Sinai, to prodding his audience to obey out of fear. Verses 25 through 29 of Hebrews 12 are nothing short of a threat. That may seem like an extreme way to put it, but it’s clearly a “stick” not a “carrot”. They want to be part of the unshakable kingdom, not the one to be destroyed by shaking.

They are saved from destruction by obedience, not refusing the voice of God. The implication is that they are trending toward rejecting or refusing the voice of God, and the writer is trying to reverse that trend. The entire book has been focused at precisely that goal, reversing the trend away from God. And yet, this is a strange way to pull their attention back on track. Quoting this passage in Haggai is a strange choice, especially at this point. As intentional as Nicodemus has been so far, this has to be intentional.

What did it mean for Haggai that God will shake the heavens, the earth, the sea and the wilderness?

On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!’ For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I will give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”

Haggai 2:1-9 NASB

This is the entire context of the quote (or reference) in Haggai. It may be familiar to you from the claim of the future glory of the temple, or you may have heard the quote, “the silver is Mine and the gold in Mine”, usually used completely out of context. But the entirety of this passage you have probably not heard. It hasn’t truly been fulfilled, not completely, at least not yet. Herod the Great tried, and the temple in Jerusalem that he built was impressive. But it wasn’t Solomon’s Temple, with the gold hammered into the walls and so on.

Nicodemus is probably pointing to the “Temple” in heaven as the fulfillment, although it existed before the building in Jerusalem. Even so, his use of the “shaking” seems disconnected from what Haggai had in mind. Haggai seems to have in mind “shaking out a bag of coins.” Look at the result, “I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations,” that is about money, and the splendor it can enable. Clearly the shaking results in wealth coming to Jerusalem to make the temple beautiful again.

So, when God shakes the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the desert, He is not destroying as much as “rearranging” them, or “re-appropriating” their wealth to His temple in Jerusalem. For Haggai, the fulfillment happens in the Jerusalem in which he lived. For Haggai, the “shaking” is something that Yahweh does to the Gentiles to bless the Jews. Yet, the wealth doesn’t show, the shaking doesn’t seem to happen like Haggai says. Or does it?

A case can be made that return of the Jews to Jerusalem under Cyrus did, in fact, bring with it the wealth of the nations. The items of the temple were returned, and wealth besides. While the temple wasn’t what they had remembered, it hadn’t been what it was when Solomon built it for over a hundred years before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it in 586 BC. It had been plundered several times prior to the final destruction.

So, the shaking out the wealth of the Gentiles to bring it to Jerusalem is clearly not what Nicodemus had in view. What does he have in view?

What did it mean for the writer of Hebrews that God will shake heaven and earth?

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12:25-29 NASB

The warning is an application from the comparison of Sinai and heaven, and is clear: Don’t be like those guys! Don’t refuse your Savior! If the Creator of the entire cosmos cares enough to speak with you, listen! It is dangerous not to. If the ones who heard Him at Sinai died before reaching the land because of their disobedience, then how will they (or we) escape Him? Why would they (or we) think they (or we) would be spared? That is essentially the point here for Nicodemus.

He pivots from applying the comparison to shaking. The word that Nicodemus chose to use for “shake” initially is different than “shake” used in the quote from Haggai, even though in English they’re the same. Nicodemus uses a word for shake that can have disastrous consequences (Acts 16:26), or refer to something shaken together to mix it (Luke 6:38).

Perhaps the best use can be found in the “Little Apocalypse” of Jesus (Matt. 24:29, Mark 13:25, Luke 21:26), where the “heavens will be shaken”. This is very likely what Nicodemus is drawing from in his use. But why quote Haggai? Nicodemus seems to have something very different in view than Haggai. While an end-of-all-things is clearly where Nicodemus is going, Haggai is pointing to a restoration-of-all-things. So, where’s the connection?

What it means for us that God will shake the heavens and the earth

The journey we are on while sojourning on this world may not be fun, but the final destination makes it all worth while. The day is coming when what we see will be completely remade, and we will know the life in the Garden we started with. That is the point. The new temple will be of greater splendor than Solomon’s because it will be the heavenly temple. The shaking of the world will dump from the nations all the rebellion against the Creator, and what is left will be holy and wholly His. There will be a “new heaven and new earth”:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1-4 NASB

That’s the result of the shaking. It will be the end of this world, and the beginning of the next. It will be when “tabernacle of God is among men”. The destination is what gives the journey meaning and purpose. What enables enduring this crazy world? Sure the Spirit of Jesus enables us, and He gives us purpose here and now. I don’t want to take away from that.

So, when it gets tough, and the purpose of our Savior for us includes pain, suffering, anguish, and loss, what makes it worth it? You see, the Spirit uses the promise of eternity to help us endure. He Himself is the guarantee of heaven. The destination makes the journey worth the effort, the pain, the frustration, and the suffering.

I think that’s a better treatment of “shaking” than the previous entry. Sorry it’s so long though. Thanks for pushing through to the end.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

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In Retrospect

It gets said a lot, but it’s true: Things make more sense after the fact, looking back, in retrospect. Sometimes, the context of the whole event span of time enables understanding of the event with more clarity. I wish that were always true, but sometimes, things will not make sense before we stand in the presence of our Creator in heaven.

I play an online video game that arranges two teams in competition. I believe it really struggles to fairly balance teams, and members it puts into contests. But I also believe that is a “feature” not a “flaw”, at least from the designers perspective. I’m pretty sure that they count on players getting frustrated loosing and opting to spend money on the game to improve their competitive abilities.

Until I remember that, I can get very frustrated. But, eventually, I get it, I remember that it’s a game, that this is supposed to be somewhat unbalanced. But something inside me still cries “That’s not fair!” And it isn’t. But it’s not supposed to be either.

Being disciplined can be like that too. Often, we don’t see what’s happening as “beneficial” except in retrospect. And this isn’t just true for our relationship with our Savior either. Think about how brilliant your parents become the older you get. So, we should not be surprised when we discover, in retrospect, the wisdom of our Savior in His treatment of us. The first-century disciples of Jesus struggled with this very thing, and here’s how the writer of Hebrews addressed it:

Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Hebrews 12:9-11 NASB (Emphasis mine)

In retrospect, it often makes sense. A lot of the time, looking back, the context of the entirety (or as much of it as we can see) gives meaning to what our Savior does. Is it a “universal truth”? No, unfortunately not. We don’t have the full context yet, and even then, we may not really understand everything. But this we can be sure of, our Creator, our Father in heaven, disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness.

Knowing that may not make it easier to endure. Being told to just wait it out, endure to the end, may not ease the pain any. It probably makes it more painful. We want to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know it’s not a train. Sometimes, it is a train. But as we are “run over” by that train, remember this:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

2 Corinthians 4:7-11 NASB (Emphasis mine)

We’re not home yet, and so, there’s still work to do, struggles to endure, and a bright shining home ahead. One day we will stand in the presence of our Creator and Savior. One day He will wipe the tears from our eyes. We will be a part of a “mega-church” worship like we can never imagine. We will all be changed. But for now, we trudge sod of this world, joyfully seeking the next.

Passion Week XV

And He said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them.  When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.”  (Luke 21:8-9 NASB)

In order to study this passage, I broke it up into nine sections.  Eight of these sections are some sort of preview of the future.  Of these “previews” only one of them is clearly answering their question about when the temple would be destroyed.  Rather than do eight posts (I don’t have time for that), I’m going to cluster them to a degree.

This first section almost reads like a prequel.  Essentially there will be lots of people popping up claiming to be Jesus returned.  It sort of reminds me of the ’70s, with one “messiah” or another springing from the fertile ground of the “Jesus Movement”.  That wasn’t the first rash of them, but that’s one I lived through.

But Jesus rounds off His statements with, “…but the end does not follow immediately.”  It’s sort of anticlimactic, or perhaps building tension.  Either way, the disciples asked about the temple, and Jesus replies about the “end of time”.  Or does He?  I suppose it doesn’t really have to be about the “end of the world” as much as about the “end of the temple”.  He just says “the end”.  It’s the heel of bread, but which loaf?

Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. (Luke 21:10-11 NASB)

Matthew 24 and Mark 13 also have a statement like this, but Luke’s is slightly different.  It’s similar enough to know it’s the same reference, but different enough to stand out as Luke’s.  That tells me that the Gospel writers had some latitude in what they wrote of these things.  This is where my interpretation of this passage settles for security.  It’s not a lot of security, but it’s some.

One of Luke’s unique choices is in the word, “terrors” that will appear in the heavens.  The word is only used here in all of the Christian Scriptures, and once in Isaiah in the Septuagint.  So it’s rare, and Luke is not quoting or referring to Isaiah, it’s a very different use there (Isa. 19:17).  The word Luke uses is “phobatron” which sound like the name of a “Transformer”.  It refers to something (event or object) which terrifies.

These events of wars, earthquakes, plagues and so on happen in the First Century.  So they could very well be the precursor to the destruction of Jerusalem.  But the terrors and signs from heaven aren’t necessarily things we have records of from this era.  So it’s possible Jesus is still answering their question directly.  But that changes.

“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.  It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.  So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.  But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name.  Yet not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives.  (Luke 21:12-19 NASB)

There’s a lot in this next section which can either be the persecution which began with Stephen’s death, or it could be later on after the destruction of Jerusalem.  If this is supposed to be sequential (and that’s not necessarily required here), then this could refer to persecution throughout the Roman Empire of Christians by both Jews and Gentiles.  But we really don’t have such a reference to an empire-wide persecution later on in Acts.

The reference to “synagogues” along with courts, before kings and governors, and so on does make a valid argument for being prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.  After that synagogues are not going to hold much local sway or influence in Gentile communities.  That persecution leads to an opportunity for testimony is not new either, as Luke refers to this before in chapter 12 (Luke 12:11,12).

But there is a rather strange set of comments Jesus makes which Luke either left this way or constructed (which is weirder).  Jesus says they will put some of you to death, but then says that not a hair of your head will perish.  It seems a strange literary construction.  In Matthew and Mark this combination doesn’t occur, which is why I wonder if it’s a construction of Luke.  How can it be both, and what did First-Century believers understand when they heard/read this?

But the final statement here is very interesting. It’s part of where I get my “Theory of the Last Man Standing”, which is my answer to the theological question of “can salvation be lost?”.  My typical reply is that if you want to know if someone is truly saved, look for them in heaven, until then it’s not my problem.  The interesting thing about Luke’s version of this is his grammatical construction.  It’s not Matthew’s (10:22) or Mark’s (13:13), which are more familiar.  Luke quotes Jesus telling them how to save their “souls”.  Luke literally has, “In your endurance obtain your souls.”  It means essentially the same thing as Matthew and Mark, but the wording is more empowering for the person.  It is more up to us than as Matthew and Mark have it “the one enduring to the end will be saved” which is more passive.

Tomorrow I will get through the next three sections wherein lies my problem with this passage.  No promises on some sort of solution, so I approach it with some concern and trepidation.

Please share your views on these passages.  I welcome your view through the knothole!