Salvation unto Israel My Glory

The tiny nation of Israel has been a flashpoint in the Middle East for a very long time, and that ought not be puzzling to those who know the Bible.  Genesis 21 gives us the account of the friction between Ishmael and Isaac, the putative heads of the Arab and Jewish peoples, respectively.  Galatians 4 recounts to us this quarrel between Hagar and her son Ishmael on the one side, and Sarah and her son Isaac on the other, in the presence of Abraham, the reluctant arbiter who caused the trouble in the first place by acting in the flesh with Hagar at Sarah’s instigation.  The apostle Paul speaks there of Ishmael’s attitude toward Isaac as “persecution”, and while he was using this ancient story as an allegory to make a larger doctrinal point, it is evident to any observer that the underlying friction between the two parties has never been resolved.

A majority of Christendom (i.e., those from the historical Protestant denominations, Catholicism, and Eastern Orthdoxy) would deny or question Israel’s right to exist as a nation in their own homeland, for a variety of reasons. Recently, I heard a recorded address by an educated convert to a very conservative segment of the Anabaptist movement, in which the speaker denied that God had anything to do with Israel’s return to its ancient land.  While he could not account for why that amazing in-gathering actually did occur, he sought to make this point against the teaching of dispensationalism and “Modern Zionism”, and I paraphrase here:  It could not have been God that brought the Jews back to their land in the 20th century because they and their advocates did not and still do not adhere to the teaching of the Lord Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7). Now, this is just one example of the faulty reasoning used by the “Christian Palestinian” movement, and by those who espouse Covenant or Replacement Theology.

Two of the overarching principles of a dispensational understanding of the prophetic Scriptures are these:  (1) That Israel and the church of God are two completely separate entities, dealt with very differently in the purposes and ways of God, and (2) that Israel must return to its homeland in the latter days, where Jehovah will deal with them, first in judgment, then in marvelous grace.  Bible teachers like John Nelson Darby and others even predicted many decades in advance that the Jews (but not the 10 “lost” tribes) would return to their land in unbelief before the “Great Tribulation”, because they believed the prophecy and warning of the Lord Jesus in passages like Matthew 24:3-28 simply cannot apply to the church, for it is entirely heavenly in its character and destiny.

It may be easy enough for a Christian believer to think in terms of a heavenly inheritance, in contrast to an earthly one that includes real estate. However, we should not project our own heavenly point of view upon the child of Israel, who was always promised earthly blessing and an earthly kingdom.  One can hardly read through the last dozen chapters of Ezekiel without being impressed by the clarity of God’s promise to His earthly people to raise them up, give them spiritual life, and bring them back into their land (chapters 36-37), to judge their enemies before them (chapters 38-39), to cause a magnificent physical temple to be built (chapters 40-42), and to endow that temple and the whole, enlarged land of Israel with His own glory and blessing (chapters 43-48).

There is a glorious day yet coming for this earth, after the bride of Christ is taken home to be with Him forever, when Jehovah will fulfill all His promises to Israel, including this precious gem: “I will give salvation in Zion, and unto Israel my glory.”¹  The Lord Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, will have His excellence and majesty placed on display through His earthly people, before a wondering world that once rejected and crucified Him.

 

¹  Isaiah 46:13, JND translation

The Morning Star: Can You See It?

IMG_0317 brightI do not spend much time stargazing, but I often have the privilege of enjoying a clear, starry sky in the early morning hour when light is creeping up over the horizon in the east. Recently I enjoyed such a scene in which I was able to capture in one frame the first five planets from the sun, with planet Earth in the foreground, of course.

When reference is made to “the morning star”, it is often the planet Venus that is being referred to, because for many months at a time the bright orb appears as a harbinger of the dawn.

As is the case with many other things in God’s wonderful creation, in both the terrestrial and the celestial realms, we find the demonstration of a spiritual principle in the morning star’s appearance while the sun remains hidden below the horizon.

In Revelation 22:16, we find one of the many beautiful names of the Lord Jesus Christ, “the bright and morning star”.  Jesus introduces Himself to us in this special and even mysterious way at the end of the very last book of the Bible after He promises to “come quickly”, and just before He closes the Scriptures by reiterating that promise so precious to the hearts of millions of believers: “Surely I come quickly.”

For it is especially to the heart that the Spirit of God speaks when we are first introduced to the morning star by the Apostle Peter.  Referring to the preview of the coming kingdom that he and the sons of Zebedee were given on the mount of transfiguration, Peter encourages his Christian brethren with these words: “We have the prophetic word made surer, to which ye do well taking heed . . . until the day dawn and the morning star arise in your hearts“.¹  Some have taken this as an allusion to the rapture of the church prior to the long-prophesied dawn of the millennial day of glory, when the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2).  I believe this is a lovely application of Peter’s words, but it is still preeminently to the heart that the Holy Spirit speaks by the underlined phrase above.  It seems that even the word order in that verse, which inverts the natural chronology of a morning star arising before the dawn, would indicate to us that the event of the Lord’s coming for us is not what is primarily in view here; the Lord Jesus desires that He Himself be the object of our hearts’ affections and gaze. When that is true of our hearts, then I suggest we are much better able to enjoy His final promise to us:  “Surely, I come quickly.”

Finally, I would just notice one more reference the Lord Himself makes to the morning star, in speaking to the overcomer in the church at Thyatira,² which represents an adulterous segment of Christendom soon to be judged by “great tribulation”. While they await judgment who are taught by that morally bankrupt “Jezebel” (the figurative embodiment of evil teaching), “he that overcomes” and is taught of God has for his portion the “Morning Star”, while he waits for, and watches by faith the approaching of, that great day of judgment and reward.³  What a wealth of comfort and hope may be found for our hearts in this enchanting figure of Him who is soon to come: “The Bright and Morning Star”!

 

¹  II Peter 1:19 (JND trans.)     ²  Revelation 2:18-29    ³  Luke 12:31-38; Hebrews 10:25

 

 

 

Freedom, Independence, and the Confederate Flag

Traveling the back roads of the American South affords a window into the history and culture of the region, perhaps more vividly than in any other part of the United States.  On display frequently in front yards, in windows, and on vehicles is the Confederate battle flag, which carries with it a potent reminder of what it stood for more than 150 years ago, and what it still represents in the minds of many today: the quest for independence from the impositions of a distant regime with foreign ethics.

Americans are used to thinking of freedom and independence together, and many celebrate freedom on Independence Day.  But while freedom from tyranny has thankfully been the result of some independence movements in history, these two ideas (freedom and independence) are not intrinsically bound together, as though one naturally flows from the other. For instance, personal freedoms may be very much limited in politically independent nations. The American Civil War was sometimes called the War for Southern Independence, but to have tied the ideal of freedom to that struggle for political independence would have belied the human bondage and slavery its position defended.

Obtaining independence from established authority is never held up as an ideal to be aspired to in the Word of God. (Avoiding practical dependence on others is admirable¹, but that is a entirely different matter.)  God created man and put him under the responsibility of obedience, and the concepts of independence and obedience are really mutually exclusive. When we are told in both the 17th and 21st chapters of the book of Judges that “in those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes”, it is not because Jehovah found delight in the Israelites being able to exercise their freedom in independence from kingly authority.  We are given this repeated epitaph to the sad decline in Judges to show that the spirit of independence leads not to true freedom, but rather, it tends toward bondage to sin and to self. Peter writes of those who “despise government”, are “self-willed”, and “not afraid to speak evil of dignities”, as being those who promise others liberty, while they themselves are slaves of corruption (II Peter 2:10-19).

It is a paradox that true moral freedom is inseparably connected to the principle of obedience. “Now, having got your freedom from sin, ye have become bondmen to righteousness.”²  The natural man looks to gain freedom through independence from authority, like Eve in Eden, like the children of Israel at various times in their history, and perhaps like many young people under their parents’ authority, but real freedom will not be gained through independence. The Apostle Paul knew what true freedom was, and enjoyed it as perhaps very few of us do, while at the same time writing of the need for “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5).

Obedience to God by faith, and a respect for the authority structures He has ordained in this world, affords the enjoyment of Christian liberty to the new creature in Christ³, as no flag and all it may represent ever could. “Christ hath made us free . . . [for] ye have been called unto liberty” (Galatians 5:1, 13). Freedom from the principle of sin in the flesh, which faith in Christ brings, allows the “new man” to do what it wants to do by its very nature: to please God through obedience.

 

¹ Galatians 6:4-5; II Corinthians 11:9     ²  Romans 6:18 JND trans.    ³ II Corinthians 5:17