Daily Thoughts from Numbers: If God Be For Us

And now, behold, I am going to my people. Come, I will let you know what this people will do to your people in the latter days.”

And he took up his discourse and said,

   “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered:  I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near:  a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.  Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.  Israel is doing valiantly.  And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!”

Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said,

   “Amalek was the first among the nations, but its end is utter destruction.”

And he looked on the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said,

   “Enduring is your dwelling place, and your nest is set in the rock.  Nevertheless, Kain shall be burned when Asshur takes you away captive.”

And he took up his discourse and said,

   “Alas, who shall live when God does this?  But ships shall come from Kittim and shall afflict Asshur and Eber;  and he too shall come to utter destruction.”

Then Balaam rose and went back to his place. And Balak also went his way.  (Numbers 24:14-25 ESV)

Before Balaam leaves he feels compelled to prophesy concerning Moab, Balak’s kingdom, and a couple of other power-houses in the region.  Like the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 who crushes the head of the serpent, Israel’s king, unnamed but powerful, will crush the head of Moab and the surrounding territories.  Amalek, the Kenites, and Kittim will reap destruction from God.

The prophecy of Genesis 3:15 is fulfilled in stages with an expectation of one final and ultimate fulfillment in the end days.  Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the Genesis 3:15 prophecy but along the way there are offspring of the woman (Eve) who win in conflict over the offspring of the serpent.  The serpent’s offspring are unwitting pawns in Satan’s program to destroy God’s promised seed, the Messiah, in order, he hopes, to defeat God’s kingdom.

All the kingdoms mentioned by Balaam were subdued to some degree under Joshua’s leadership and then 400 years later more completely by king David.  One day the Lord Jesus will subdue all kingdoms under his own.  How Israel came to possess this prophecy we do not know, but it serves still as an encouragement that when God is with you none can stand against you.  And it is a foretaste of Christ’s coming victory.

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).


Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Not a Second Time

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 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 9:23-28, ESV)

Once again we are reminded that the earthly sanctuary, the Tabernacle and by extension, the Temple, was a copy of the heavenly holy places.  Consequently, a better offering, better blood, than that of animals, must be offered in this heavenly sanctuary.  And that is what Christ offered, his own blood.

But he only had to do this once, unlike the high priest of Israel who had to make this offering every year.  Were he merely a sinless human he might could have made this atonement by offering himself over and over again forever, but as the Son of God, very God himself, his death, his offering of himself through the eternal Spirit (9:14), made his one offering acceptable forever for any and all who need redemption.

His coming for this signals the end of the ages.  The present evil age is now withering and dying and the age to come is coming.  And just as one’s death is followed by judgment (there are no second chances after death), so Christ’s death signifies that judgment is coming as well.  His next coming will not be to “bear the sins of many” again but to bring his kingdom to earth and save us from the judgment that comes with that and from a world has been at war with him far too long.  I’m eagerly waiting!

Mr. Mark Kagan, speaking at one of the Advent Testimony meetings, said that when on a visit to Palestine he and some other Christians gathered together in an upper room within the city wall of Jerusalem, to remember Christ’s sacrifice and death. After the meeting was over, he and another friend went to the Mount of Olives; and as they passed along they caught up a with a Jewish man who said that he also was going to the Mount of Olives. “We orthodox Jews,” he said, “as we watch the things that are happening in the world, cannot come to any other conclusion than that the Messiah’s coming must be near at hand. On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, and I am going there every day that I may be ready to give Him a welcome.”

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Reaching Our Potential

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,

          “What is man, that you are mindful of him,

or the son of man, that you care for him?

You made him for a little while lower than the angels;

you have crowned him with glory and honor,

putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:5-9, ESV)

The author of Hebrews says he is speaking about God subjecting the world to the Son.  We haven’t seen anything specifically mentioning that, but from the perspective of the Jews it is obvious.  The coming of Messiah is the signaling of the coming kingdom of God to earth.  It is God’s taking full rein of earth’s affairs, which says that at present His rule is more subdued than it will be then.  It is like a king who has been forced to flee from his realm but is still influencing things from afar, awaiting the day when he will return and be openly declared king again over a submissive realm.  It is Jesus, not angels, that has this responsibility.

Psalm 8 testifies that human beings were made lower than angels but were the ones given responsibility over the earth to fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:27).  The Messiah, Jesus (the first mention of his name in Hebrews is in this passage), is the ultimate human, just as he is the ultimate king.  So though Psalm 8 was understood by the author and original readers to be referring to the human race in general, they also understood and expected the Messiah to fulfill this passage in a deeper way.  These prophecies are like the waves hitting the shore at low tide, spectacular to be sure, but nothing like high tide.  Jesus is the high tide fulfillment of these low tide prophecies.

For now, however, we can’t see the subjection of all things to ourselves or to Jesus.  It still seems that things are out of control.  We are still responsible for ruling our world for good but we have in major ways failed to do that.  But Jesus, our supreme representative of humanity, has already been crowned with glory and honor in heaven with his ascension as a reward for suffering death on our behalf.  His exaltation will be ours one day.  He is bringing us along toward the destiny that was ours and forfeited in the beginning.  How can we go back to that old way of life!!

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.

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: