Saturday, February 28, 2015

A prophecy for then and Now

Read Daniel 8.

Two years past when God gave Daniel this second vision.  Some of the events in this chapter were future to Daniel and history to us.  Other prophesies were future to Daniel and remain unfulfilled.

This is the third time in the book that the same sequence of empires is presented in a dream or vision.  See also chapters 2, 7.  Each time the interpretation is included within the chapter.  In chapter 8, the LORD instructed the angel Gabriel to explain what Daniel saw.  The prophet observed a ram with two horns in verse 3.  In verse 20, we are told that this represented the kings of Media and Persia.  Next, in verse 5, a goat appeared with a powerful horn that broke the horns of the ram.  In verse 21, the goat is identified as Greece and the first powerful king was Alexander, the Great.  After Alexander, the empire was divided among four generals (vv.8 and 22).

As predicted in verses 23-25, one of those generals, Antiochus Epiphanes, became intolerant of any who did not conform to Greek culture.  He especially hated the Jews.  He stormed the Temple in Jerusalem and offered a pig on the altar to desecrate the holy place.

What remains unfulfilled?
Some of the statements do not match the historical events.
Three times in verses 16-19 alone, it is stated that the vision is for "the time of the end", "at the latter end of the indignation", and "the appointed time of the end".  In Matthew 24-25, some of these events were still future to Jesus.  While Antiochus did fulfill what Daniel saw, he only foreshadowed a similar evil ruler to come at the end of time.  The final period of wrath, or indignation, will come during the Great Tribulation.  The Antichrist will possess the same attributes and perform similar acts of hatred against Israel.

So, what do we learn from this?
1. God will not tolerate pride. (vv.4, 25)
Where is the once powerful Medo-Persian empire?  Where is the seemingly non-stoppable empire of Greece?  Their downfalls came due to the same basic root.  When a person becomes self-deceived into thinking they are great, they live only to please themselves, and they do not need God, their downfall becomes certain.

2. God can use unbelievers to accomplish His purposes. 
Though, as empires, these leaders did not honor God, He used them to fulfill His plans.  "Surely the wrath of man shall praise you." (Psalm 76:10a)  We do not have to live in fear of what evil others may do.  "Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!" (Psalm 37:7)

3. God has a plan for restoration.
The exiled Jews in Daniel's day looked forward to being restored to their homeland, the Temple being rebuilt, and their relationship with God renewed.  Even in the toughest of personal times, God is in the business of renewal and restoration.  The key is repentance of sin.  Elihu was spot on with his counsel to Job when he said, "Then  man prays to God, and he accepts him; he sees his face with a shout of joy, and he restores to man his righteousness.  He sings before men and says: 'I have sinned and perverted what is right, and it was not repaid to me.  He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.'" (Job 33:26-28)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Who is the Son of Man?

Read Daniel 7.

It was Daniel's turn to have a prophetic dream from God.  In the previous chapters, he only interpreted the dreams of others.  Here, he saw four beasts rising up, one at a time, out of the Mediterranean Sea.  And, as in the past, we are not left in doubt as to what it all means.  Daniel provided the interpretation.

The meaning and message is the same as Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter two.  God revealed the succession of empires that would rule from Babylonia to Medo-Persia to Greece to Rome.  No one ever conquered the Roman Empire.  It fell from within and, according to the Bible, it has never ceased to exist.

There is coming a day when the Anti-Christ, the little horn with the big mouth (vv.8, 20), will wage war against the saints.  But greater than he will be the coming of the "son of man" (vv.13-14).  When the Messiah appears in His second coming, all the earth's kingdoms will be under His control.  "All peoples, nations and languages" will serve Him.

Why did Messiah come the first time?
"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10)

Why did the religious leaders crucify Messiah?
"...Again the high priest asked him, 'Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?'  And Jesus said, 'I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.'  And the high priest tore his garments and said, 'What further witnesses do we need?  You have heard his blasphemy.  What is your decision?'  And they all condemned him as deserving death." (Mark 14:61-64)

How should we respond?
"Jesus...said, 'Do you believe in the Son of Man?'  He answered, 'And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?'  Jesus said to him, 'You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.'  He said, 'Lord, I believe,' and he worshiped him." (John 9:35-38)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

When your faith is under attack

Read Daniel 6.

This is a story of a man who would be god versus one who was God's man.

While Cyrus, the Persian, served as head of the empire, Darius, the Mede, had been appointed as king.  The pagan Babylonian advisers continued to have access and influence.  Their jealousy of Daniel, and their hatred of the Jews in particular, provided the basis for this bizarre episode.

By this time, Daniel would have been about 80 years of age.  His reputation as a wise and faithful man had been impeccable.  After a lifetime of top-level government service to the Babylonians and now to the Medes and Persians, Darius planned to promote Daniel to very highest position in the kingdom (v.3).  The adversaries could find no fault in which to accuse him.  So, they plotted against him spiritually.  They used a legal tactic to prohibit Daniel from the free exercise of his faith, though it had nothing to do with his job performance.  In short, they tried to make it illegal to worship God.  They observed Daniel's spiritual disciplines and lied to the king about Daniel's loyalty (v.13).

What did Daniel do under such a threat of death?
-Should he have sued these advisers for slander?
-Should he have attempted to negotiate a compromise?
-Should he have conceded that his critics may have a valid point?
-Should he have changed his spiritual disciplines and kept his faith secret?
He did none of these.  "He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously." (v.10)

What should we do when our faith is under attack?  Be on guard.
1. Guard your personal conduct.
"That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world." (Philippians 2:15)

2. Guard your public conduct.
"Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." (1 Peter 2:12)

3. Guard your prayer commitments.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4:6)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Some people never Learn

Read Daniel 5.

This is the story of a king who did not learn from history, he did not learn from his own family, he did not learn life's most important lessons, though all the information had been given to him.

Belshazzar, a son of Nebuchadnezzar, became the king of the Babylonian Empire in 553 B.C.  Some years had passed and Daniel was no longer serving in his once high position.  It appears that he was almost forgotten.  The events recorded in this chapter take place in a single evening.

While the king hosted a drunken party, the Persians along with the Medes had already surrounded the city.  But that did not seem to have phased Belshazzar.  Why not?  His pride proved beyond that of his father's.  He thought the city to be indestructible and, with all their defenses in place, he was untouchable.  So, instead of preparing for battle, the king threw a drunken party.  He ordered the gold vessels that had been taken from the Temple in Jerusalem to be brought and used for their wine.  Using these things dedicated to God for a pagan party was an affront to the Living LORD.  To make matters worse, the crowd began lifting the vessels in praise of earthly, inanimate elements as their gods.    

God will be heard even by those who do not wish to listen.  Belshazzar was going to get the message.  The handwriting was on the wall (v.5).

As his father discovered, none of the so-called wise men of astrology, wizards and enchanters proved of any help.  Daniel again was called to the scene because spiritual things may only be rightly appraised by someone who has the Spirit of God within them (vv.10-12).  Daniel was quick to point out that Belshazzar did not learn the lesson against pride that God dramatically gave his father (v.22).

The downfall and transition of the once great Babylonian Empire requires only two verses (vv.31-32).  One hundred and fifty years earlier Isaiah 47:9 prophesied this taking place in a single day.  The Medes and the Persians then ruled from India to Africa.  The partnership of these two corresponds to the next part of the image Nebuchadnezzar saw in chapter two.

At the root of Belshazzar's pride was his belief that he was in control of his life.  Daniel's message from God in verse 23 was this:
1. God owns our life.
"in whose hand is your breath"  James 4:14-"yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes."

2. God owns our life's journey.
"and whose are all your ways"  James 4:13 and 15-"Come now, you who  say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'--"Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'"

3. God is to be honored as the Owner.
"you have not honored him."  We are stewards of life and are being held accountable for how we use the time and resources the Owner has allowed to please Him.

Belshazzar did not listen or learn.  "He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing." (Proverbs 29:1)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Some lessons are learned the hard Way

Read Daniel 4.

The LORD will bring about the necessary life circumstances so that His voice will be heard.  But pride can keep us from hearing what God is saying.

Twice God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a dream, foretelling what would take place in the future.  In chapter two, the LORD revealed the evolution of world empires over the ensuing centuries.  He did this by presenting a visual of a human statue.  According to Daniel's interpretation of the dream, the king was the head of gold.  In chapter three, the king made such a statue.  But instead of using it as a teaching tool for the Omniscient God of Heaven, he made it about himself and demanded to be worshiped.

After each spiritual challenge, Nebuchadnezzar rightfully acknowledged who God is and even made declarations for the empire (2:47, 3:28-29, 4:3).  While he appears to know the truth, his commitment is half-hearted.  Babylon was always the center of poly-theism and the king chose never to rid himself of the false spiritual advisers who surrounded him.  Again, Daniel stepped in to help the king understand what God was trying to say to him.  The king would undergo seven years of a type of insanity but in the end would be completely restored.  Why?  And, what was God's message to him?  It was all about his personal pride.

After God clearly warned him, he did not change.  A year went by and, perhaps, he thought the LORD had changed His mind or nothing would really happen.  He stood on the palace roof top and declared that the empire was all his and by his own doing.  "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?" (v.30).  Note the words "I" and "my".  He offended God's sovereignty and robbed God of His glory.  Immediately,  God responded and the seven years of insanity followed.

At least three times (v.17, v.25, v.32) the purpose of the king's downfall was explained.  It was to teach him once and for all concerning God's sovereign rule over nations, leadership, and individual lives.  "...until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will." (v.32)

It took a long time, but the king literally came to his senses (v.34).  In the last recorded words of Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible, he said, "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble." (v.37)  A painful lesson learned the hard way because he did not listen and make a wholehearted commitment to the LORD.

The key principle: "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6b)
The key requirement: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

Friday, February 20, 2015

4 prayer requests when our faith is Challenged

Read Daniel 3.

How should we respond when our faith is challenged?  After some time, King Nebuchadnezzar built a monument based upon his dream.

Daniel interpreted the gold head of the image to be Nebuchadnezzar.  However, he overlaid the entire 90' statue of himself with gold.  This is probably and indication that he wanted his empire to endure, rather than the changing empires of his dream.  Second, he had dismissed his spiritual statements of chapter two concerning God and made this statute an idol above all the multiple gods of Babylon.  To dedicate the statue, the king convened all the governmental leadership of his empire.

Bowing before royalty has always been a common gesture.  But Nebuchadnezzar demanded worship, perhaps in the same sense the Pharaohs were treated as deity.  It is obvious from reading the book of Daniel that the pagan advisers never forgot their embarrassment in chapter two and the promotion of captive Jews over them in leadership.  In their first retaliation, they accused Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego of not worshiping the idol. The accusation was true.  These servants of the one and only true God would not violate their spiritual commitment (vv.16-18).

Nebuchadnezzar's foolish ego led to a senseless, angry response.  His instructions on executing the three Hebrews caused some of his elite guard died in the process.  But, again, God is shown to be faithful.  He miraculously delivered the three men by a preincarnate appearance of Christ Himself (v.25).  Then, Nebuchadnezzar made his second acknowledgment of God's sovereign superiority (2:47) and issued a royal decree for the empire.

This is not an example of merely being stubborn about one's spiritual commitment to God.  We want others to see and understand the difference the Lord has made in our lives.  Here is how to pray when our faith is under attack.
1. That they will see we are true servants of God. (v.26)
2. That they will see the ineffectiveness of their actions against God. (v.27)
3. That they will see the undeniable power of God. (v.28a)
4. That they will see the depth of our love for God and want to know Him also. (v.28b)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

This is one for the Ages

Read Daniel 2:25-45.

In a dramatic answer to prayer, God gave Daniel the same message He had given to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream.  God revealed to the king what would happen in the future.  "...he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days" (v.28a).  This chapter unfolds some essential world history in advance.

The dream was of an image of a man from head to toes.  As Daniel explained, each part of the body represents a world empire.  Ever since Nebuchadnezzar's defeat of Jerusalem, until the current generation, the land of Israel has been ruled by Gentile powers.
1. Head of Gold. (vv.37-38)
Daniel said this symbolized Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire.  Historically, the empire ruled from 605-538 B.C.

2. Chest and Arms. (v.39a)
The Medes and Persians defeated the Babylonians and ruled from 538-331 B.C.  This was a partnership between two powerful nations.

3. Middle and Thighs. (v.39b)
The Grecian Empire rose in power when Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire.  The Greeks ruled the world, India to Africa, from 331-146 B.C.

4. Legs of Iron. (v.40)
Then, the Romans defeated the Greeks and became the most powerful empire in the world from 146 B.C-476 A.D.  This empire was never defeated.  It imploded due to its own moral and political corruption.

5. Feet and Toes of Iron and Clay. (vv.41-43)
This obviously is not a very stable mixture.  The Roman Empire never ceased to totally exist.  Instead, it separated into inferior parts with no real cohesion.  The book of Revelation predicts that such a confederation of ten nations will come to power and they will struggle over the land of Israel.  The finality will come at Armageddon.

6. The Stone. (vv.44-45)
In a shattering defeat, at that time, God will set up His kingdom.  The Apostle Peter preached, "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:11-12)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

3 qualities of a godly leader facing Adversity

Read Daniel 2.

When there is a problem and no one has an answer, it is a God-given opportunity for those who know Him.

God gave Nebuchadnezzar a troubling dream.  It troubled him because he knew it contained a message but he did not know what it meant.  Since the days of the Tower of Babel, Babylon had been a center for every kind of satanic and false beliefs.  The king's closest advisers were known as magicians, enchanters, and Chaldeans (astrologers in v.27).

Evidently, Nebuchadnezzar knew that these so-called wise men conspired in the past to make up interpretations to please the king or to promote themselves.  He no longer trusted them.  Hence, the test to not merely interpret the dream but to even tell him what the dream was.  This would mean the end of their pretense of wisdom and guidance.  The advisers had been exposed.  Frustrated, the king's solution was to get rid of all of them.  The decision included Daniel and his three friends.

Like he did in chapter one, Daniel immediately recognized that this was an opportunity for God to demonstrate His power and His wisdom to an unbelieving culture.  Notice three things about Daniel's character.
1. He maintained a respectful attitude. (v.14)
These were his captors.  Now, they set out to kill him.  He did not rail against them and he did not panic.  His response to the captain was "with prudence and discretion."

2. He confidently demonstrated his faith. (v.16)
It appears he had access to the king.  Daniel asked the king for the assignment and to set the time for a meeting.  Though Daniel did not have an answer, He fully trusted God to provide what he needed and on time.

3. He involved others to pray with him. (vv.17-23)
The dire circumstances moved them to first pray for God's mercy.  God's compassion upon them would mean that He would supply the solution to the problem.  And, the LORD answered their prayer!  Daniel's subsequent prayer of thanksgiving reveals his faith in God's sovereign control of all things.

There is nothing like a dramatic answer to prayer to give one great boldness.  Daniel walked into the meeting with the king at the exact time to deliver God's message.  The results:
-Nebuchadnezzar bowed down to Daniel. (v.46)
-Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that the God of Daniel was the over all in heaven and earth. (v.47)
-Daniel not only spared his own life, but the lives of the false advisers as well. (v.48)
-Daniel and his three friends were rewarded and promoted to leadership positions within the most powerful empire in the world. (v.49)

For the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is always hope.  God is in control of even the worst circumstances.  There is great reward for those who trust Him.

Monday, February 16, 2015

3 insights for living in an ungodly Culture

Read Daniel 1.

The original purpose of this book was to give the exiled Jews, who had lost everything, hope for their future.  God had not forgotten His promises to them.  While many of the prophecies in Daniel have been literally fulfilled (over 100 in chapter 11), many remain to be seen.

In a series of three military campaigns, the Babylonians destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah and took many Jews into captivity back to Babylon.  Ezekiel was one of those captives.  He lived not far from Babylon.  But Daniel and his three friends were taken right into the courts of King Nebuchadnezzar.  The reason appears to be that these four were of royal or noble birth, educated, and were accustom to palace life (vv.3-4).

The Babylonian strategy was simple.  Take the cream of the crop of the Jews out of their environment.  Give them Babylonian names, feed them Babylonian food, give them the best in Babylonian education, and when they become adults they will no longer think of themselves as Hebrews but one of the Babylonians.

Three insights from living in a culture that pressures a godly person to conform.
1. Changes of life give us opportunity to commit ourselves to what is truly important. (vv.1-7)
Because they were away from home and in a pagan culture, these young men recognized this as a test of their faith in God.  While others sought to blend in and literally gobble up what the culture handed to them, these four rededicated themselves to be faithful.

2. Challenges of belief force us to determine whom we will obey. (vv.8-9)
They determined in advance that they would not compromise God's expectations of them.  But notice their approach was to ask and give God an opportunity to work,  Because of their respectful demeanor, "God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of eunuchs."
It is a reminder for believers in Jesus today to "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15)

3. Choices of faith causes us to trust God for the outcome of our obedience. (vv.9-21)
They made their faith commitment known.  The test was on.  Daniel wanted this overseer and those around him to "see" the difference obeying God makes in real life (v.13).  God was faithful to them.  They passed the test and changed the culture around them (v.16).  For years to come, these four had influence at the highest levels of the Babylonian Empire.
The cultural changes around us are as challenging to us today as it was to them.  The Apostle Paul's urging must be our personal commitment.  "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Changing the name of Jerusalem

Read Ezekiel 48.

Those who want to treat Ezekiel's prophecies as symbolic will find it an impossible task.  For nine chapters, in this vision, an angelic guide has taken Ezekiel on a tour of future Israel.
1. The Messiah will establish His throne in Jerusalem.
2. Exact measurements and details of the new Temple are provided.
3. The reinstituted priesthood, led by the family of Zadok, is named.
4. King David will have an important role as prince in Jerusalem.
5. A river will flow from the Temple mount to nourish the land and change the Dead Sea into fresh water.
6. The boundaries of where the land will be divided among the 12 Tribes is all here.

None of these things has taken place in all of history.  If one believes in the truthfulness of God's promises, as verified by the exactness of every prophecy that has been fulfilled, then there is only one view left.  The LORD will literally oversee each detail.

Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Matthew 5:17-18)

One more unfulfilled prophecy closes the book of Ezekiel in verse 35.
7. The name of the city of Jerusalem will be changed.  No longer will it be called the "city of peace" but, with Jesus on the throne, it shall be renamed "The LORD is There."

For believers in Jesus, today we can say, "The LORD is here."  "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

More future promises from God

Read Ezekiel 47.

During the thousand years that Christ will reign on earth, the Temple will be rebuilt, the Levites will again serve, and memorial sacrifices will take place.  The angel that has guided Ezekiel in this vision since chapter 40 took him outside the Millennial Temple.  There the prophet was given a view of God's blessings related to the future of the land of Israel.

Water began to flow from the Temple that was only ankle deep.  Every 1,000 cubits the water increased in depth until it became  an impassable river.  It flowed from the south side of the Temple, down the Kidron Valley, into the Jordan River Valley (Arabah), and into the Dead Sea.  This same prophecy is corroborated in two other books.  Joel 3:18-"And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Valley of Shittim."  Zechariah gave even more information as he saw the river flowing both toward the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean.  "On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea.  It shall continue in summer as in winter." (Zechariah 14:8)

The rest of this chapter provides a glimpse into God's benefits and blessings for Israel.
1. The Dead Sea will become fresh water. (vv.8-10)
This large body of water that is saltier than the ocean has no life in it.  But in that day it will be teeming with fish.  Fishermen will occupy the shoreline.

2. The land will become fruitful. (v.12a)
With such abundance of fresh water, the dry desert areas will be rich with agriculture.

3. The leaves will become medicinal. (v.12b)
This statement is not explained.  In someway, the leaves from those fruit trees will have a healing property to them.

4. The land will be divided again. (vv.13-23)
God's promise to Abraham was made based upon "two unchangeable things" (Hebrews 6:13-18): His unchangeable word (Number 23:19) and His unconditional covenant (Genesis 15).  That promise according to Ezekiel 47:14 will still be in place during the Millennium.  The land will be divided once again among the 12 Tribes.  Even non-Jews, who may desire to live in Israel, will be welcomed (v.22).

The LORD indeed has many wonderful things in store.  Our future is as bright as the promises of God.  The fulfillment of those promises are dependent upon God's faithfulness.  The enjoyment of those promises are dependent upon our faithfulness.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

He is God of planning and Order

Read Ezekiel 46.

The LORD of heaven is the God of order.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, "For God is not a God of confusion but of peace," "But let all thing be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40).  This is true of how He wants things organized and even how worship is to be conducted.  Therefore, He is not a God of disorder and neglect.

Reading of the various offerings at the Temple may not be the most inspiring material for us today.  However, overarching all these instructions is the fact of God's attention to every detail.  He cares about the days things are to be accomplished.  He is explicit in the use of gates to be shut and opened.  He has the traffic flow of the people worked out (vv.9-10).  The types and amounts of offerings are provided.  Instructions are given concerning inheritances of property in Israel (vv.16-18).  The locations of the kitchens and cooking instructions are all here (vv.19-24).

What a Bible reader learns quickly is that God is not watching us from a distance, but is up-close and personal.  He did not create elements and allow chaos to take over.  He has a plan and expects us, as stewards of His property, to manage things in ways that please Him.

And, He has a plan for our lives.  As someone once said, "God does not make junk."  "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)

Monday, February 9, 2015

2 moral requirements of Leaders

Read Ezekiel 45.

What a future is in store for the nation of Israel!  Under a new covenant and a restored relationship with God, the Jews will worship at a new Temple in Jerusalem.  During this Millennial reign of Christ on earth, land will be designated for the priests.  The area will be approximately 8 1/2 miles by 6 1/2 miles.  Here they will live and serve.

Turning from spiritual service, this chapter addresses civic leadership also.  Two issues are raised.

1. God demands honesty. (vv.7-12)
The governmental leaders, the princes, are scolded for oppressing the people, instead of serving them.  They abused their power and authority in using violence to rule.  They abused their position for personal gain through dishonest dealings.    The LORD requires honest business transactions and accounting by using exact weights and measures.

2. God demands purity. (vv.21-22)
David, the prince (see chapter 34), will have a special role in this new earthly kingdom.  He will join with the people in presenting offerings for his own sin.  

Those types of character and moral requirements are not just for leaders.  Being right with God and treating others rightly is expected of everyone.  "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

The good news of personally knowing Jesus is that the text does not end there with condemnation.  When one places their eternal faith in Him, life-change takes place.  "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God." (1 Corinthians 6:11)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

God is in the Details

Read Ezekiel 44.

As the formal priesthood will be active for Israel during the Millennium, God has promised that the sons of Zadok will be in charge (v.15).  The exactness of the Temple's future structure and the naming the family of those who will serve underscores again how literally this prophecy will be fulfilled.

Moses' brother Aaron was appointed by the LORD to be the first high priest.  He was of the tribe of Levi and his tribal family of Levites ministered on behalf of all the other tribes of Israel.  In this chapter, the reinstituted priesthood will also be led only by those descendants of Levi.  But over 2400 years have passed since this promise was made.  The Jews have been scattered throughout the world.  With intermarriage and time, it seems impossible that a Jew could actually prove they belonged to any specific tribe of Israel.  That is not a problem for God.

An obvious example is found in the book of Revelation.  In chapter 14, during the Great Tribulation, Jesus will stand on Mount Zion and with Him will be 144,000 evangelists.  Who are these proclaimers?  Revelation 7 identifies them.  There will be 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.  These, then, are Jewish tribulation believers who physically are descendants of those exact tribal families.  This can only be attributed to the omniscience of God.

It reminds us again that the LORD is not distant in His dealings and care of people but is truly up-close and personal.  He is a God of details.  When Jesus taught His disciples not to fear, He said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:29-31)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

2 indispensable elements of Worship

Read Ezekiel 43.

Greater than the structure of the Millennial Temple was what Ezekiel saw next.

This visionary tour began in chapter 40.  An angel led the prophet through the facility and grounds, carefully providing the exact dimensions.  The entire area will be about the size of thirteen football fields.  But a building alone does not have any spiritual value at all.

Merely describing the details is not inspiration reading today for most believers in Jesus.  However, for the Jews who had lost their Temple due to the Babylonian destruction, this vision gave them hope.  In addition, God had a spiritual purpose in mind.  The loss of the Temple had been due to their sin.  Revealing these building plans reminded them of their sin and shame (vv.10-11).  God will use that guilt to bring all Israel to Himself.

Now, two more elements will be added to bring about Israel's spiritual transformation.

1. The Glory of God. (vv.1-9)
Ezekiel was allowed to witness the sight and sound of what will happen when this Temple is completed.  The glory of God will be visible.  The prophet saw it moving from the east to the Temple.  The movement of the glory of God will make a powerful sound.  In chapter 10, the presence of the LORD left the former Temple, but there is coming a day when He will return and fill this place.  God said, "This is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever." (v.7)

2. The Sacrifices for Sin. (vv.10-27)
To a believer in Jesus, this passage describing future sacrifices for sin makes no sense.  Hebrews 9:26 is clear concerning Christ's death on the cross.  "...he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."  As John 1:29 states: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"  No further sacrifices for sin are needed.

In the Old Testament, sacrifices for sin never took away the sin.  They only covered the sin, looking forward to the time when Messiah would come (Isaiah 53).  Since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, we commemorate that payment for our sin by celebrating the Lord's Supper on a regular basis "until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26).  When Jesus returns, it appears that in the Millennium, these sacrifices will serve only as memorial offerings to the Lord, looking back at the full and final debt that was paid.

The presence of God and the celebration of sins forgiven.  Now, that is worship!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Holiness requires a Difference

Read Ezekiel 42.

In this vision of the future Temple in Jerusalem, the angel provided exact measurements that will be followed.  The walls, the gates, the doors, the rooms, the inner court, and outer court are all detailed.  Several times in this chapter the word "holy" is used.  The Hebrew word here means sacred, consecrated, dedicated.  Something holy is set apart, dedicated to the LORD, and treated in a special manner because it belongs to God.

1. There will be holy chambers. (v.13a)
The priests will use these rooms to eat.  Because the meat will be that which was sacrificed to the LORD on the altar, the very room is to be treated as sacred.

2. There will be holy offerings. (v.13b)
The people will come with their animals they wish to give to the LORD as a sacrifice.  Since the offering for sin has been paid on the cross, such offerings would of necessity be ones of thanksgiving and celebration.  These offerings are to be treated as belonging to the LORD and handled in a prescribed, holy way.

3. There will be a Holy Place. (v.14a)
Within the Temple will be an area that is called holy.  This is where the sacrifices and offerings are made on the burning altar on behalf of the people.  This is not to be confused with the Holy of Holies.  The holiest of places was a smaller area behind a thick curtain that housed the Ark of the Covenant and the very presence of God.  That place was so holy that only the High Priest could enter and that only once a year.  When Jesus died on the cross God tore the curtain of the Holy of Holies, allowing all access to Him (Matthew 27:51).  There is no mention of the Ark of the Covenant here.

4. There will be holy garments. (v.14b)
As the priests minister, they will wear special clothing that is not to be worn at any other time.

The main idea of something be holy is to separate it from common usage (v.20).  The Apostle Paul quoted the living God in calling upon believers in Jesus to live as a holy people.  There should be a noticeable difference in the followers of Jesus and everyone else.  "'Therefore, go out from their midst, and be separate from them. says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.'  Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The bread of Life

Read Ezekiel 41.

Ezekiel's visionary tour of the future Temple continued.  The three-story structure will include a surrounding gated wall with a spacious outer court.  Inside will be an inner court with many rooms for storage and priestly usage.  Details of the dimensions and, even some architectural features, are provided.  The one furnishing mentioned in this chapter is an altar referred to as "the table that is before the LORD" (v.22).

It is not clear how this table, or altar, will be used.  The size is larger than either the original "table of the bread of Presence" or "the altar of incense," as described in Exodus 25:23 and 30:1-2.  However, the given name in verse 22 would seem to indicate the former.

According to Leviticus 24:5-9, the priest was to bake twelve loaves of unleavened bread every Sabbath day and place them on the table in two rows of six.  The number of loaves represented the tribes of Israel. The priest would then pour pure frankincense over them.  It was an aromatic "food offering to the LORD."  Symbolically, this served as a reminder that God provided for their physical needs, their daily bread..
Concerning daily needs, Jesus said, "Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:31-33)

But greater than meeting our temporary physical needs, Jesus came to meet our eternal spiritual need.  He taught His followers, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."  "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life."  "I am the living bread that came down from heaven,.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever." (John 6:35, 47, 51)