Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Protection from God’s Judgment

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’” And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself to Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. Or else, if you will not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants and your people, and into your houses. And the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. Thus I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen.”’” And the LORD did so. There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants’ houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies. 

Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” But Moses said, “It would not be right to do so, for the offerings we shall sacrifice to the LORD our God are an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us? We must go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as he tells us.” So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you must not go very far away. Plead for me.” Then Moses said, “Behold, I am going out from you and I will plead with the LORD that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, tomorrow. Only let not Pharaoh cheat again by not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.” So Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD. And the LORD did as Moses asked, and removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; not one remained. But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go.  (Exodus 8:16-32 ESV)

Geb was the Egyptian god over the dust of the earth and Khepri was the god of creation and rebirth, whose head was represented as the head of a fly.  Yahweh was showing that none of Egypt’s gods was His equal and it becomes apparent to Pharaoh’s magicians that this is the case when they cannot in any way duplicate Moses’ calling up of the gnats from the dust of the earth.  Despite trying to warn him Pharaoh hardens his heart yet again, forcing Moses to call up swarms of flies, giving further evidence of Yahweh’s favor on Israel by keeping them free of the plague.

Pharaoh tries to bargain with Yahweh and keep the people in the land but Moses not only shows the logistical problems with that but the obedience problem with that.  Yahweh has told them to do this.  Though Pharaoh indicates he won’t go back on his word this time, he does.  The plagues will be ramped up.

When God brings judgment on our foes He knows how to protect us in the midst of that judgment.  This is very important for understanding His outpouring of judgment yet future as depicted in Revelation.  Believers will likely feel the impact of those judgments indirectly, but they will be protected by God from the actual judgments, as Israel was in Egypt.  We don’t need to fear the judgments poured out by God.  We need to trust Him to take care of us during them.

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God’s Judgment Events – The Judgment at Death

There are several judgment events promised in Scripture:

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28, ESV)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10, ESV)

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. (Matthew 25:31-33, ESV)

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV)

The first judgment we must face is when we die (Hebrews 9:27).  Jesus depicts one such experience for two men, Lazarus and the rich man he begged from (Luke 16).

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31, ESV)

It appears from this passage and others that when we die there is a separation made.  Those who know the Lord and trust in Him are assigned a place of rest and peace.  Our bodies are dead (“asleep” in Christian parlance), but our spirits are now with Jesus (see, Are My Husband and Father in Heaven Yet?).  Before Jesus took Paradise to heaven, this is where Lazarus was carried by the angels (see, Did Jesus not go to heaven immediately upon death on the cross? and, Did Jesus visit Hell?).  The rich man, on the other hand, went to a place of torment called Hades.  This is the Greek term equivalent to the Old Testament term Sheol.  It is a holding place for those who do not know the Lord until the final judgment (Revelation 20).

Do we actually make an appearance before God to receive our placement orders upon death?  We are not told.  But there is a judgment that has occurred that has determined that we either did indeed trust in Christ for our rescue or did not.  Hebrews 9:27, quoted above, seems to indicate that there are no exceptions.  No one’s ghost hangs around waiting for resolution of some earthly issue.  No one gets to come back and have a do-over.  If you did not embrace Christ in this life you have no chance to do so in the life to come.

For further reading:

What is Purgatory?

Ephesians 2:4-7 — Conversations with God

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Father, this doesn’t explain why You have such great love for me that You would show me mercy, indeed, rich mercy, but I am so grateful.  Making me alive in Christ (spiritually resurrected to new life in connection with His resurrection) and raising me and seating me in the heavenlies in Christ (in connection with His ascension and magesterial enthronement) has been the greatest thing that ever happened to me.  Oh, that You would do this for everyone!

It is incredible to think that not only did You rescue me from Your own well-deserved wrath but You are looking forward to showering me with Your riches because You have such grace and kindness toward me.  I do not deserve it, Father, but I sure want it.  I want to bask in Your love like the warm sun and receive Your healing kindness.  There is no one I’d rather be with than You.  I look forward to ages upon ages of relationship with You.

Life and Death Christians (Theology for Living from Philippians)

For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. (The letter of Paul to the Philippians, chapter 1, verse 21)

Most of us are probably more familiar with the 1984 NIV (New International Version) translation of this passage, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  The version quoted at the outset is the 2011 NIV.  This new version does make Paul’s meaning more explicit.  But there is something powerful about the pointedness and pithiness of the ’84 translation.

For the believer, whom Paul represents in his statement, life in this body is all about Jesus Christ, or should be.  When we measure ourselves against this pronouncement there is surely some room for critical personal inventory.  How do we evaluate fun, rest, sleep, vacation and a host of other seemingly non-Christ oriented activities?  If to live is Christ, or as the new translation says, “means living for Christ,” then this means He is surely our highest priority.  He is the one who rescued us from condemnation, who made it possible for us to have peace and purpose, who gave us a life worth living.

So when I sit down to play a video game or watch a movie, in what way am I living for Christ?  Part of the answer comes from understanding that my body does need rest.  God did not make these marvelous machines to work without food, sleep and rest.  Not only do our bodies need these but our minds do, too.  We can use this, of course, to justify overeating, laziness and wasting of precious time.  If any of these needs begin to take over lives and reduce our effectiveness in serving Christ, then, to that extent, they are harmful and sinful.  They are robbing us of what God made us to enjoy.

We were made for rulership in God’s world.  We were made to make a powerful difference for good in the lives of those around us.  We cannot be satisfied as couch potatoes.  We were made for adventure.  And if we find ourselves settling for less than this we will also tend to find ourselves losing our compassion, losing our confidence, getting depressed and losing our sense of pursposefulness.  We were made for so much better.  You don’t put a warhorse in a petting zoo and expect it to thrive.  We are warhorses!

What is hardest for us to comprehend is that “dying is even better.”  Death has always been our greatest dread.  God built into us a fear of pain and dying to keep up from giving up too easily, I suppose, when things get really tough.  And we have experienced the seering pain of losing those we love in death.  But for the follower of Christ the “sting of death,” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:53-57, has been removed.  When Jesus dealt with our sin and removed our guilt before God by His death in our place, He made death the passage to eternal life in His presence.

This means that death is gain.  Paul does not say all he can say here.  There is much implied.  In other places he tells us that death means to be in the presence of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:8).  It means the end of our sinful, selfish desiring (Hebrews 12:22-24).  It means the end of suffering and pain (Revelation 21:4).  These blessings are incalculable.  There is nothing that compares to life in the presence of Jesus, fulfilling our warhorse potential as we live out all we were meant to be.

No one enjoys the progress toward death.  It is fraught with pain and loss of function and a growing inability to take care of our most basic needs.  It often means unusual vulnerability, discomfort and limitation.  This is the time when we learn in a new way what it means to live for Christ as we are so near death’s door.  It is for the most part a learning to long for that which is truly lasting in life, our relationship to God and to those he has put in our lives.  And for this dual perspective Christians are most aptly suited.  We are truly life and death Christians.

For further reading:

 

Lessons From the Old Testament: Jesus in the Old Testament

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When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. (Hosea 11:1,2)

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. (Isaiah 7:13-16)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 22:1)

What do these passages have in common?  Each is an utterance by a prophet speaking about current history that in context do not seem to be related to Jesus at all, but that are quoted in the New Testament as being fulfilled by Jesus. What’s going on?

Though there are direct prophetic predictions relating to the Messiah, many, if not most, of the predictions of the Old Testament concerning Messiah are in fact indirect predictions.  And here is how it works.  A person in Israel whose role in some way anticipates a role the Messiah will play is spoken of or spoken to in ways that do relate directly to that person, but because that person is in some way a foreshadowing of the Messiah, the prophetic implication is that their experience relates to Messiah.  Another way to say this is, they are types of Messiah and their experiences are typical of Messiah.  By a type we mean that they are historical clues put in the life of God’s people by God to build expectation of the coming Messiah and to illustrate what the Messiah’s life will be like.

So, for example, Israel, the nation as a whole, is an illustration of Messiah.  The Messiah is intended to be the ultimate representative of the nation and the nation’s experience will in some way be played out in the experience of the Messiah.  So when Israel is rescued out of Egypt by Yahweh there is an expectation that the Messiah’s history will include a sojourn and rescue from Egypt.  Hosea wasn’t attending to this meaning when he wrote 11:1,2, but if you asked him if his depiction of Israel could have an impact on what happened to the Messiah, he would undoubtedly have said yes.

When Isaiah predicts that a virgin (in this case, his wife, whose child is born according to the next chapter as the sign Isaiah predicted) will have a child and his name will be Emmanuel (meaning, God with us), the immediate application of the prophecy is for King Ahaz to realize that God will deliver Judah from the alliance of nations Ahaz fears before Isaiah’s son is more than a few years old.  But if you asked Isaiah whether the life experience of his son, as a prophet, could be predictive of what Messiah’s life would be like, he could say yes.  Whether he would have understood that Messiah’s experience would be an advance on his son’s experience, I don’t know.  Mary was literally a virgin and bore the Messiah without a human father.  The Messiah’s experience always goes beyond the type’s experience in some way.

This is evident in David’s life also.  Even though he feels God has abandoned him to his enemies (they have figuratively pierced his hands and feet like dogs attacking a victim, Psalm 22:16), that is not actually the case.  God has not abandoned him but has indeed allowed him to experience attacks from his enemies only to be rescued eventually (see verses 22-24).  But in order for Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins He must literally be abandoned by the Father as the penalty for our guilt.

There are many prophecies that can be understood in this way in the Old Testament.  Interestingly there are similar “types” in other cultures, as evidenced in Don Richardson’s books, Eternity in Their Hearts and Peace Child.  In the latter he chronicles a means of assuring peace between two warring native tribes in one culture by the chief from one tribe giving his son to be cared for by the other tribe, thus guaranteeing the end of warring.  This “peace child” became Richardson’s key to opening the meaning of the gospel to this people when he described Jesus as God’s peace child offered to us.  God has built the expectation of a Messiah in many different cultures, but most clearly in Israel’s culture as recorded in the Old Testament.

Jesus as King

Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Matthew 27:37)

As a descendant of David with regard to his human nature, Jesus has the lineage and legal right to be a king over Israel.  Matthew’s genealogy in Matthew 1 is concerned to demonstrate that fact.  He is thus able to fulfill the prophecies that predict an eternal kingship for David’s offspring and predict a ruler who will bring Israel back to a place of favor and power with God among all the nations.

This is the kind of king Israel was expecting their Messiah to be.  When Jesus comes announcing that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, anticipations are that the oppressive rule of Rome will be thrown off and Israel will become the power broker in the mid-east.  But Jesus deliberately takes the edge off of that expectation.

In Luke 17 Jesus tells the Pharisees, when they want to know what the cosmic signs will be of the kingdom’s coming, that the kingdom in its present form is in their midst and is known by the lives it changes.  But then he tells his disciples that the future kingdom will come with quite impressive signs, but only after he, the king, first suffers and is rejected by the present generation.  There is a “now” aspect to the kingdom and a “coming” aspect to the kingdom.  Like when one company buys out another but only later begins to change out personnel, so the kingdom of God has come in Jesus the king, but all the expected changes are still in the future.

As king, Jesus requires full obedience and love.  “If you love me,” he told his disciples, “you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  When we pray, as Jesus taught us, that God’s kingdom would come (Matthew 6:10) we are praying for Jesus to come (Revelation 22:20).  Paul tells us that he will deliver the kingdom over “to God the Father after destroying  every rule and every authority and power, for he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24,25).

Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).  There is no one whose authority is above his, except God the Father.  His reign now is made most evident in our obedience.  We are subjects of this loving king who willing give our whole lives over to such a benevolent dictator.

Jesus, the Alpha and Omega

Symbol of Jesus Freaks; Alpha and Omega
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Jesus was not part of a Greek fraternity, but if he had been it would have to be Alpha Omega.  These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and a title given to both God the Father (Revelation 1:8) and to Jesus (Revelation 22:13).  It is this last passage that defines the meaning of the symbol, alpha and omega.  Jesus says “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

For those of us who are used to thinking of Jesus as God, these words do not particularly stir our thinking or emotions.  But for those who were Jews, the idea of Jesus being the beginning and the end, the first and the last, was a notion they were used to attributing only to Yahweh.  In fact, in Isaiah 44:6, this is Yahweh’s way of identifying His uniqeness.  He is the first and the last.

For Gentiles, who were used to thinking of their gods as mostly dwelling in heaven and only occasionally coming down to earth to mess in the affairs of men, it was very strange to think of God taking on human nature, participating in both birth and, most embarrassingly, in death.  They would be equally offended by Jesus claiming to be the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

In so describing himself, Jesus is at once claiming to be Yahweh of the Old Testament, and yet a separate personage from the Father and the Spirit.  But because he and the Father and the Spirit share the same essence, each may legitimately be called God and be called the Alpha and the Omega.  Of each it may be said that they are the origin of all that is and the One who will bring all that is to its determined end.

Before anything existed, there was Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit, in the beginning (John 1:1), distinct individuals, yet one in essence, in perfect fellowship with each other and the authors of all that came to be.  Though during his earthly ministry Jesus purposely did not access his infinite knowledge (see Mark 13:32), once he ascended to heaven after his resurrection, he resumed participation in all the characteristics of deity, including infinite knowledge of all things from beginning to end.

So we have a Savior who is the author of all, the Creator God, who is at the same time in possession of a human nature just like us.  He has truly bridged the gap between us and God in his own person and made the way for us to have a saving relationship with God through his own sacrifice.  He is for us the beginning and the end of everything good in our lives.  He is the Alpha and the Omega.  What a fraternity of souls that is!