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


Shaking Things Up

I was born and raised in Southern California, so earthquakes were are part of life, sometimes an exciting part. I was never hurt, never in a building that was damaged, I was never that close to dangerous ones. But, on the third floor of a cinder block dormitory, feeling the outer wall I was leaning against sway…well, that was creepy.

I was able to accept earthquakes as something that happens, and knew what to do. Even so, there is still something that rocks you to your core to have the earth on which you walk, move. Your mind simply finds it difficult to accept that the “unmovable” just did. I believe that is true, to some extent, regardless of how many earthquakes a person has been through.

The writer of Hebrews refers to God shaking the earth and heaven quoting Haggai:

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.

Hebrews 12:25-27 NASB

Comparing the presence of God in heaven with His appearance at Sinai was to be encouraging. But the call to remain faithful continues with this warning. The reference to His voice shaking the earth “then” is probably Sinai (Exodus 19:18), but the passage in Haggai 2:6 isn’t a reference to Sinai. The reference in Haggai is part of the passage below:

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 (Emphasis mine)

This is the translation from Hebrew, and the text in Greek (Septuagint) is only slightly different than the Hebrew. So the Greek text of Haggai doesn’t really fit the quote in Hebrews either (at least not the edition of the Septuagint I have access to). Which leaves us wondering to what the writer is truly referring.

Haggai is writing to encourage the people witnessing the second temple in Jerusalem who remembered the Temple Solomon had built. The second temple was not as magnificent as the first, but God promises that “the latter glory of this house will be greater than the former.” From the context in Haggai, it also seems that “glory” means “wealth” or the beauty enhanced by gold and silver. This isn’t the point of the writer of Hebrews.

The writer of Hebrews is pointing out a more “end-times” perspective. The point he makes is that the shaking of the heavens and the earth will destroy the “created things”, leaving the “things that cannot be shaken”. He is pushing his audience to focus on the “unshakable” kingdom he has described as the Heavenly Temple. The second temple of Jerusalem was never again as splendid as Solomon’s. But the Heavenly Temple may be considered as never being as plain as Solomon’s either.

We have something indestructible to look forward to. This is another encouragement to focus on the sure promise of God through Jesus: promise of unlimited access to our Creator, promise of forgiveness from all unholiness, promise of an eternal city where our Savior intercedes for us. It’s another push to endure because this is not all there is, and what is to come is unimaginably superior to what has been.

So, if this world, this country, or even your community has shaken you up, consider the unshakable kingdom of our Savior, and press on. Press on in your love for others. Press on in your faith in your Creator and Savior. Press on in your hope of an eternal unshakable city. Press on.

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

What Is Faith

In John’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus, Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?”. Ironically, earlier while Jesus was in the upper room with His disciples celebrating the Passover, He told His disciples that He is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. Jesus answers the question, “what is truth” in Himself. But faith isn’t about truth, it’s about belief.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1 NASB

This sounds simple enough. Faith is the “assurance”, or, as the King James Version puts it, “substance” (which is more correct). These are translations of the Greek word, “hypostasis” which you can look up here. Because of his previous use of this word writing of Jesus’ nature (Heb. 1:3), the writer here connects “substance” to “faith”.

In his previous use of the word, Jesus is the exact struck image of God’s “substance”, as if they were both coins struck from the same mint. Think about that in relation to faith. If faith is the “substance” of hope in the same way that Jesus shares the substance with God, how connected is faith to hope?

What is hope? Isn’t hope an expectation that a desire will be realized? For Paul and the other writers of the Christian Scriptures, hope relates to Jesus’ appearing, to heaven. So, hope implies that we desire heaven. Faith makes that desire real. Without that desire, though, there is no hope, and faith has nothing to substantiate.

Do you believe that Jesus died on a cross? Do you believe He rose from the dead? Do you believe that Jesus is presently interceding with the Father as the divine High Priest? If so, great. But so do demons, rebellious angels ruling the nations of this earth. They also believe and tremble (James 2:19).

The question isn’t whether you believe these people exist or whether these events happened. The question is whether you believe you are part of them. Are you a partner with Jesus? Are you a participant in His suffering? Are you seeking the place He has prepared for you? When you are involved in the things of Scripture, then faith has substantiated hope. Does that sound more like James than Hebrews? It’s both!

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

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

Step Through, Together

How many scenes in Hollywood films have portrayed a group of kids, holding hands, and stepping through a “portal” together? There’s a shimmering blue flat wall or membrane, and they need to be on the other side. It’s scary, so they hold hands, and step through the…what is it? Could it be a “veil” concealing another world?

Before Hollywood, the writer of Hebrews posited this same scene (sort of) to describe our approach to the Father. We approach through the “veil” to the Throne of God.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:19-22 NASB

What’s on the other side of the “membrane” is the Throne Room of heaven. It’s like the High Priest passing through the temple or tabernacle “holy place”, the outer chamber, into the Holy of Holies. Only now it’s us and we stumble into Heaven itself, right before the throne of our Creator and Savior. It’s another world. This was the experience of Isaiah when he enters the temple only to stumble into the very presence of God (Isaiah 6), and it’s supposed to be ours. 

We think of prayer as communing with God, but do you think of it as entering through the temple courts, past the altar, through the golden walls of the Holy Place with the lamp and table, past the incense altar, through a heavy drape. But it’s not a “heavy drape”, it’s lighter, and light streams through from the other side.

Our Savior, Jesus, has made a way, a path for us to follow Him, into the presence of the Father. And there He intercedes for us, there we have the ear of the Creator of the universe, and He gives us His attention. It is a terrifying place with creatures who’s voices shake the earth as they praise their King, and yet we are invited, we are called, we are compelled to go! But not alone…

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25 NASB

We go together! There is power in being together. We are bolder together, stronger, often smarter. We can encourage each other as we pass through the temple into the throne room, together. Is your worship like this? Shouldn’t it be? Why can’t our experience be the very presence of our Creator, the Son, our Savior, the four creatures and the unnumbered throng worshiping the One having saved us from death? Shouldn’t that be the very definition of worship? I suppose if it were, there would be fewer of those who were in the habit of not assembling together.

It may be more difficult now, assembling together, perhaps it’s online, Zoom, or Facebook. However your congregation meets, meet! Sing the songs, read along with the Scripture, take notes on the sermon, participate in every opportunity. Worship our King together, because even apart we are joined together through the One Spirit, and we enter into the same room before the same throne, and bow before the same King.

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

Passion Week XXVIII

Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him.  And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing.  And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently.  And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.  Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.  (Luke 23:8-12 NASB)

For some reason, Herod Antipas is a character on whom Luke spends time.  The other Gospels barely mention him except in relation to John the Baptist.  Matthew 14 and Mark 6 are the other two Gospel references to this “tetrarch”.  But Luke has chapters 9, 13, and 23 in his Gospel.  The “Herod” later in Acts is most likely Agrippa I.  For Luke, the Herodian line of rulers holds interest.  It’s very possible that they would also hold interest for Luke’s audience or at least for Theophilus.

Luke also seems to know something of the household of Antipas.  Knows enough to know that this ruler wanted to see Jesus, had heard of Him, and sought to see a miracle (sign).  We can only surmise why that might be, but the life in Roman and regional politics offers lots of opportunities to become jaded toward anything truly supernatural.  On the other hand, the opportunity for entertainment through the miraculous is also a possible reason.  Either way, or some other, Jesus decides to not play along.  Herod gets nothing out of Him, no sign, no words, no defense, no entertainment or proof of any sort.

Antipas then joins in the derision of Jesus, possibly lending weight to the “entertainment” reason for wanting to see a sign.  Herod’s soldiers and he treat Jesus with contempt and mock Him.  Herod throws a “gorgeous” robe on Him, and Jesus is sent back to Pilate.  It had to be somewhat depressing, and real “killjoy” for this wealthy center of attention.  There is a game rulers play called “puppet master”, where the king and those around him attempt to get everyone else to be their “puppet” and do what they want.  Trickery, lies, intimidation, and even torture are valid methods to achieve success in this game.  Jesus refuses to play.

Ironically, the chief priests and scribes are playing the game.  They like it too, only they play the “Jewish Leadership” version, which has more rules for religious hypocrisy, subterfuge, and mob control.  It’s often a popular edition widely available in churches today.  This group stands and accuses Jesus of everything they can think of, and somethings suggested by others on the way to Herod’s.  Again Jesus just stands at the center of the swirling maelstrom of vehemence and contempt, totally at peace.

Jesus’ peace came from a teleological perspective.  He had already given up His will to avoid what is coming.  He had only the view point of the end.  For Him, the end passed through being tortured to death, and separation from the substance of God.  But able to see beyond, He had a resurrection and ascension on which to focus.

I think we’ve largely lost that teleological perspective.  We can have it too, but 2,000 years just seems so long to wait.  So much has happened to jade our view of the miraculous.  We too, now focus on entertainment over substance.  We content ourselves with the “games people play” rather than the “…prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

There is an alternative.  We can consider heaven.  We can dream of it.  We can imagine the Descent of the Lord, the shout of heaven, the voice of the archangel, the trumpet of God, and the rising of the dead in Christ.  But we don’t.  We should, but we don’t.  Instead we fall into the quagmire of “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” theology that seeks “relevance” marketed as a “good-return-on-investment”.    As if what we receive here is worth going through what we go through here.  It’s not, and it can never be.  Friendship with the world is hatred toward God.  So, it’s time to dream of something else.

Jesus looks at the splendor of Herod, the wealth and power of the religious leaders, and the military might of Pilate and the Romans.  He does see it.  But He also sees the glory of heaven, the brilliance of the armies of God, and the sheer overwhelming power of the Giver of Life.  His perspective is different.  But Jesus shares this perspective with us!  He doesn’t keep it to Himself, He doesn’t bogard the riches of His Kingdom, He does not consider equality with God to be plunder.

The real question is whether or not we will avail ourselves of the perspective of Jesus.  Will we take the long view?  Because the view of where we are from where we are is really depressing.  Isn’t it much more sensible to look at where God is?  Isn’t the face of Jesus a much more pleasant view?  What would happen here if we were more concerned about what’s happening there?  Probably not what you think.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What’s yours?

The Cost You Don’t See

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”  When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  (Luke 18:21-23 NASB)

Back in Luke 14 (25-33) Jesus describes the cost of discipleship.  Here this cost is illustrated.  Jesus discusses with this ruler the way he can inherit eternal life.  The ruler believes that the association necessary to inherit this gift is through something he does. Since he already follows the law, Jesus notes that he recognizes that isn’t enough.  So Jesus adds another, give up everything and follow Me.

Sometimes we think of those extravagant costs Jesus notes as excessive and naively believe He can’t be serious.  But think of that challenge in this way, for what are we willing to sell eternal life in heaven, or for what will we trade heaven later to gain now?  Economically, that’s what we do.  We sell heaven for stuff we have here, but notice what Jesus says, “…and you will have treasure in heaven;” it’s a trade!  But the ruler sold heaven for what he had at hand.

This is the same thing we do when we look at the cost of discipleship and choose something else.  When we decide not to study, to pray, to meet together and make those things priorities; we sell heaven for whatever we do instead.  I’ve heard it lots of times from a wide variety of people that this view is legalistic.  I believe that too is an excuse to ignore it.  Because when I ask them what it means to them, they still aren’t doing even what they believe it means.  But at least they aren’t legalistic.

The truth is that “goods” aren’t always the problem, the thing that keeps us from devotion to Jesus.  But for many, and in our culture many more than most, the ease of our lives takes priority over the discomfort of being a disciple.  I know it does for me.  I know that for many of the decisions I make, my comfort winds up being the priority.  So, I see where my Master is revealing these things to me, where He is moving me, prodding me off my comfortable couch and easy chair, and into His kingdom work.

What keeps you distracted from obedience?  For what are you “selling” eternal life?  For what will you trade to get it, or get it back?  What’s your view through the knothole?

Some Rich Guy…And Lazarus

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.  And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.”  (Luke 16:19-21 NASB)

This parable isn’t one of the more difficult to understand, it’s just one of the more disturbing that Jesus tells.  It’s possible there are some literary genius elements in it, like that Lazarus is the only named character between the two, but never speaks.  But other points, primarily the details of the setting after death are particularly troubling.

For instance, does it bother anyone else that heaven and hell are within sight, and close enough to discern actual people?  Does it bother anyone that in heaven it’s possible to see tormented people in hell?  I think, if you’re like me, you sort of figured that they would be “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” for eternity.  I just never thought about it actually.  You, know, except for now.

Does it bother anyone that Abraham and the unnamed rich-guy can talk across the gulf that no one can travel across?  There’s no bridge, but they can shout at each other.  Isn’t that a bit too close for “comfort”?  How is the blessed existence of heaven possible when you can witness the torment of those who refused the kingdom of God?  That sounds a bit morbid or at least sadistic in nature.

So now the real question: If all that is accurate about the parable, did Jesus intend for it to be an accurate depiction of heaven, what John saw from Patmos?  I have heard it various ways: heaven & hell prior to the cross, heaven & hell prior to the final “new heaven/new earth” (during the “church-age” – nonsense), and so on.  Jesus simply leaves that question unanswered.

John’s vision on Patmos was different in a lot of ways, but some details he simply didn’t mention.  For instance, John mentions the “lake of fire” but doesn’t say whether it was visible from the “New Jerusalem”.  He has an abyss, but again it sounds like a lockable hole, temporary place for the Devil prior to the final battle.  Still no mention as to the “layout” and whether there was this “chasm fixed” that no one can cross.  So, it’s possible that John’s vision and this parable describe very similar settings.  How’s that for uncomfortable?

One of the real problems here is how this depiction seems to cast God in a unloving light, at least by our definitions of love.  Even if people in rebellious ignorance chose to go there, why leave both places within sight of each other for eternity?  Can you imagine an eternity of worship before the Throne of God with tormented souls as “backup”?  You can see them and hear them while worshiping with an unnumbered throng before the throne.  Seems some how discordant.

So what do we do with this depiction?  My favorite choice is to go with the main point, and trust God for the setting.  The main point is that the wealthy need to reach out to the poor in recognition of the Sovereignty of God; viewing themselves as equal with the poor.  It’s a matter of responsibility with the resources God has provided us, rich, comfortable, getting by, barely making it, stretching, or homeless.

If I focus on the obvious point, and let God worry about the “setting” after this life, then I’m not distracted sitting as judge over the Maker of the entire universe.  See the problem?  When we call God’s character into question, we do so at a very core level.  It erodes our faith just to do so.  If we believe that Scripture is inspired, that Jesus actually said these things, then draw the conclusion from those beliefs that Jesus reveals God as a very unloving harsh God; we reject other passages that say otherwise.

Part of the problem we face on this side of the “afterlife” is that we have little idea what we will be like on that side.  It could be that “the glory to be revealed” so far surpasses our ability to comprehend now that any vision of the torment of others actually becomes incorporated into the glory of God and His character.  To say that’s not possible from this side is fine, but impossible to actually know.  So the challenge is to learn the obvious lesson, and also hang on to what we already know about God.

That’s my view through this knothole…you?  What do you see?

Theology of The Last Man Standing

 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’ (Revelation 2:17 NASB)

The British SAS have a motto of “Who Dares Wins”.  It’s a good motto for those who’s life is spent preparing and then daring to enter the most dangerous situations imaginable.  But Scripture has a different approach to winning.  The word in the passage above for “overcomes” is the Greek word for “win”.  It’s the verb form of the Greek word, nike.

The context of this statement ties this “victory” to “repentance” (change of mind).  But a scary aspect of this word is that it’s singular, meaning the one who wins gains the prize.  That’s not an expectation of a crowd in the “winner’s circle”.  On the other hand, it could very well be that every one who wins gains the prize.  It doesn’t have to be exclusive, but it does make it difficult to blame another for either being or not being included.  You either win or you don’t.

So, how is this nike attained?  Is repentance the only avenue to find the way to win?  This word is used in several of the Letters to the Churches in Revelation.  In each case, the criteria for winning isn’t the point, but rather the prize.  So here too, the point is more about what is gained.  But in 1 John 5, we’re told that our victory is our faith.  Or, another way to think of that is our tenacious “bulldog” belief in Jesus.  Therefore enduring belief is what brings victory.  The one winning gains the prizes offered to the churches in Revelation.

This is usually my answer when the discussion about losing salvation turns to my belief.  My answer is typically, “yes, and no”, which also typically bothers both sides.  I consider their discomfort an entertaining side benefit.  What I see in Scripture is that the concern of Jesus is not whether someone along the way at any point is or isn’t “saved” but rather whether or not they will be among those standing before His throne in the end.  The one enduring to the end will be saved, not necessarily the one along the path doing x or y, or believing like I do, or holding this position or that.  The one who’s faith is in Jesus at the end wins.  We may not be terribly comfortable with such an answer, but Jesus seems to be.

So, the call from this passage is to remember the “hidden manna” and “white stone” await us, but we have to get to the end of the race to get them.  The crown, the escape of the second death, the chance to eat from the Tree of Life, to be a pillar in the Temple of God in Heaven, and so much more.  All these things are reserved for the one who wins.  The call and challenge is to win, to remain faithful and steadfast to the end.  “Run with endurance the race set before us.” It’s hard to do with entangling sin and encumbering thinking.  Set them down and get running.  See you in the winner’s circle!

What’s your view through the knothole?

Disentangling Metaphors and Similies

And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20 ESV)

One of the teaching techniques I use is pretty cheap and easy.  In fact I use the term “technique” rather loosely.  What I do is try to use a completely different setting or circumstances to explain a concept I’m trying to teach.  The trick is to pick a new setting or circumstance the person understands better than the one I’m explaining, and to describe the concept  with the scant understanding I have of their setting/circumstance.  I have to say the results are mixed.  Usually I accomplish a thorough revealing of how ignorant I am of something in which they spend most of their lives.  So picking a workable metaphor or simile is difficult.  Jesus did it a lot, but for us today it’s not really that easy to follow, sometimes.

In this passage I see two or three things that immediately jump out at me and one which forms Jesus’ main point.  First, the seventy were so effective that they got Satan’s attention in a bad way.  Second, they have more power and protection than they knew, and third, and more important, their lives are secure with God in heaven, so they can safely risk everything and lose nothing.

Now, the thing that draws me into this passage, arrests my attention and captivates my mind is the reference to Satan.  It’s a statement that includes a simile, but is it itself a metaphor, or maybe it isn’t.  Did it actually happen right then?  If it did, what does that reveal to me about this enemy?  If it didn’t, what does that reveal to me about this enemy?

Here’s the problem: Jesus says He “saw” in the ESV, NIV and NLT, “was watching” in the NASB, “watched” in the HCSB, and “beheld” in the KJV (of course).  The problem is that the Greek tense here is the “perfect” tense.  Usually what this means is the action has completed, but still has a present and possibly future effect.  So, did Satan fall while the seventy were running about or way before during the war in heaven?  How far back did the fall happen?  It happened in the past, but so did the work of the seventy.  I believe Jesus referred to a recent past “falling” of the enemy.

“Why do you ask?” you ask. Or as my wife often puts it, “So what?”   But the timing is a valid question. The simile compares the enemy to “lightning” which is bright, but merely a flash and is gone.  The statement is in response to the joyful return of the seventy, so timing of the fall is important to make sense.  And lightning is an earthly event, so Jesus’ point of view to make the simile work would be earth, not heaven.  In other words, the way in which Jesus uses and times His statement about this enemy gives the distinct impression that it happened while He was waiting for them to return.

You may find Satan tramping about heaven difficult to accept, but this enemy seems to wander heaven at times accusing the people following God whenever the sons of God come meet in heaven for a council (see Job).  Paul mentions that our “fight” is against the “spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms” which means that enemies of God seem to exist in heaven, including Satan.

Here’s why I think Jesus may have said this with a very amused grin or laugh.  If this enemy, in response to the work of the disciples, has to “fall like lightning from heaven”, then it would seem he got caught with back door open or something.  Something about what the seventy were doing was so damaging to this enemy kingdom that he had to rush back to repair the damage or bolster his defenses.

Can you imagine what it would be like if this were happening a lot through our churches across the world?  What if some activity we were doing were so damaging to our enemy that he had to rush back to help fight?  When’s the last time you’ve heard of something that impressive being done by churches, especially in the Western “First World”?  Sometimes I get the impression that, in America, the churches are sort of “behind enemy lines” in a way.  We’ve capitulated the territory and don’t even notice any more, fooling ourselves that “we’re okay”.  What would have to happen to get Satan’s attention here instead of in those Third-World countries where the dead are being raised in Jesus’ name?

I would think one of the best things we could do to support our brethren in these oppressed regions is be so on fire here and so diligent in working in the power of the Spirit here, that we get the enemy’s attention off of them for a bit.  They’d probably really appreciate the break, however long it might last.

What do I need to do to do that?  Perhaps letting my faith replace my fear would be a good place to start.  On the other hand, I think the obedience of the seventy preceded their faith.  Go fearful and let my faith be grown.  I wonder.  I think I may need to go talk to my neighbors, I feel some grilling and “fellowship” coming on.

What’s your view through the knothole?

What Can You Do For Me…Today?

Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. (Luke 6:23 NASB)

People want to know what they gain by following Jesus, but their language is important.  Whenever I hear, “How is He relevant today?” I’m immediately suspicious that I’m dealing with someone for whom heaven is not much of a motivator.  When it comes to our relationship with God, that’s a problem.

Continue reading “What Can You Do For Me…Today?”