The Apostle Paul: Blind, but Seeing.

6” But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:6–9)

Following this initial encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus then commanded Saul to get up and go to Damascus. This newly converted man, who knew exactly what he was going to do in the Syrian capital moments before, now had new orders. Jesus instructed Saul that once he arrived in Damascus, he would be told what he would be responsible to do.

Luke then provides the reader with further information about this scene. The other men who were with Saul stood speechless. They heard the Lord’s voice but did not see anyone. While the others heard a sound, they did not understand what Jesus had said to Saul.

Acts 22:6-9 says, “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.”

Saul got up but was now blind. Moments before, Saul could physically see but was spiritually blind. Now, he could spiritually see but was physically blinded by the brilliant brightness of the glory of God. In the Scriptures, God sometimes struck people with blindness either to prevent them from sinning or to get their attention (Genesis 19:11; 2 Kings 6:15-20).

Acts 22:10-11 says, 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.”

Saul’s companions led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. While there, he remained blind and did not eat or drink for three days. One commentator writes, “Three days was not uncommon for a fast; but without water one would become dehydrated, and to continue without water would eventually lead to death. New Testament examples usually conjoin fasting with prayer, but fasting was commonly an expression of mourning or repentance. According to this narrative, Saul does not change religions; he learns the true way to follow his Jewish religion.”

Saul intended to bring judgment upon the followers of Jesus. He had been a man void of grace. Now, instead of the judgment of God he rightly deserved, Saul received the grace of God which he ill deserved.

Author Jerry Bridges writes, “What turned a once proud Pharisee into a humble apostle of Christ? It was Paul’s understanding of the grace of God. He understood God’s grace to be more than undeserved favor. He saw himself not just undeserving but ill deserving. He knew that in himself, apart from Christ, he fully deserved the wrath of God. Instead, he had been made a herald of the message he once tried to destroy. That is why he followed his assessment as the least of the apostles by the statement “but by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). That is why he would say, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given” (Ephesians 3:8). He saw himself as a prime example of the grace of God, and his theology of grace produced his humility.”

More to come.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Apostle Paul: His Conversion.

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:1-5).

“Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road also represented his calling to serve as a missionary to the nations. The Lord made it clear when Paul was converted that he was “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Paul’s role as a missionary is captured by the words Jesus spoke to him on the Damascus Road according to Acts 26:18: “…to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Paul was God’s chosen instrument to bring God’s saving message to the ends of the earth.” Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lousiville, KY.

The region of Damascus, Syria is a barren and dessert land. There is little to see because it is a desolate wilderness. As Saul approached the city, suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. On two separate occasions, Paul recollected this event.

Acts 22:6 says, “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me.”

 Acts 26:12-13 says, 12  In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me.”

At the noon hour, the sun is at its apex and is blindingly bright. However, the greater light which shone around Saul was brighter than the noon day sun. At this moment, Saul fell to the ground.

It was then that he also heard a voice speaking to him which said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” The voice repeated Saul’s name for emphasis. Saul responded and said, “Who are you, Lord.?” The answer was clear and direct. ““I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Acts 22:7-8 says, And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.”

Acts 26:14-15 says, 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”

The phrase, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” is only found in Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa. One commentator writes, “Kicking against the goads” was a Greek proverb about fighting a god, possibly originating with the classical Greek playwright Euripides. It is not cited in the other accounts of Paul’s conversion, but it is appropriate in an address to Agrippa, who had an ample Greek education.”

Saul believed he was serving the Lord in persecuting followers of Jesus Christ. The irony was that the Lord who he believed he was serving was the very Lord who he was persecuting. It was also true that Saul was hurting himself as he additionally persecuted the Lord.

Dr. John Walvoord writes, “The question, Why do you persecute Me? (cf. Acts 9:5) is filled with significance for it shows the union of Christ with His church. The Lord did not ask, “Why do you persecute My church?” The reference to “Me” gave Saul his first glimpse into the great doctrine of Christians being in Christ. This same truth was implied earlier by Luke when he wrote that the Lord continues His work on earth in the church (1:1). Also, Ananias’ lie to Peter was a lie to the Holy Spirit (5:3). Luke, with Paul, saw Christ and the church as the Head and its body.”

It was at this moment that the legalistic Saul of Tarsus was justified by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. He no longer seeking acceptance before God by his legalistic good works, but rather he became a sinner saved by the grace of God who would now begin living by his good works of gratitude unto the Lord.

As Paul personally shared in Philippians 3:5-9,  “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

More to come.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

The Apostle Paul: Phillip and Saul.

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:1-5)

The beginning of Acts 9 must be understood in the light of the preceding context of Acts 8:40 which says, “But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” The faithful preaching ministry of Philip on behalf of the gospel is in direct contrast to the murderous persecution waged by Saul against the gospel. No two men could have been more different but at the same time very similar.

Phillip was one of the original seven deacons chosen by the early church to ensure that the practical and physical needs of the Hellenistic widows were being met (Acts 6:1-2). Along with Stephen, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Pharmenos, and Nicolaus, Phillip was a man full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom (Acts 6:3-6). Phillip’s ministry included proclaiming the gospel in Samaria and then not only explaining the gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch but also baptizing him (Acts 8:1-39).

In contrast, Saul was ravaging the church (Acts 8:3). The word ravaging (ἐλυμαίνετο; elymaineto) means to severely injure and to cause great harm to someone. The grammar indicates that Saul did this personally, consistently and continually. He also was forcibly dragging people off and actively delivering believers in Christ to prison.

Today’s text says, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Apparently, Damascus had a large population of Jews, including Hellenist believers in Christ, who fled Jerusalem because of Saul’s initial persecution (Acts 8:2).

Acts 9:1 begins with the statement that Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. In this context, the word breathing (ἐμπνέων; empneon) is a euphemism, or synonym, meaning to strongly threaten and or to make firm threats. This was done to the point of, and including, murder. How ironic it is that Saul, who was seemingly so devoted to the Old Testament, perceived it to be appropriate to violate one the Lord’s most familiar commands: “Thou shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13).

At this moment in time, the church and believers were known as belonging to the Way. This description occurs several times in Luke’s account of the early church (Acts 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). Dr. John MacArthur comments that, “This is an appropriate title because Christianity is the way of God (Acts 18:26), the way into the holy places (Hebrews 10:19-20), and the way of truth (John 14:6; 2 Peter 2:1-2).”

People may wonder how Phillip and Saul were similar? First, they were committed men. Second, they were passionate men. Third, they were men who took their passionate commitment beyond the City of Jerusalem and the confines of their Jewish religious culture. Phillip would venture into Samaria while Saul was ready, willing and able to travel to Damascus, the capital of Syria, located 160 miles northeast of Jerusalem.

However, while Phillip was obediently serving the Lord, Saul was mistakenly in conflict with the same Lord. That was all about to change.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

The Apostle Paul: His Youth.

Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul approved of his execution” (Acts 7:58-8:1a).

“We must not forget that as we study the life of the man they called Paul, we must brace ourselves for some rather gruesome surprises. The first pen portrait of Paul (whom we first meet as Saul of Tarsus) is both brutal and bloody. If an artist were to render it with brush and oils, not one of us would want it hung framed in our living room. The man looks more like a terrorist than a devout follower of Judaism. To our horror, the blood of the first martyr splattered across Saul’s clothes while he stood nodding in agreement, an accomplice to a vicious crime.  The better we understand the apostle Paul’s dark past, the more we grasp his gratitude for grace.”  — Charles R. Swindoll

When we first meet the man who would become known as the Apostle Paul, he is identified by Luke the historian as a young man named Saul. He is complicit in the stoning and martyrdom of an early church deacon named Stephen (Acts 6:1-7). Beyond this brief statement, what else do we know of Saul’s birth and youth?

According to Acts 9:11, 21:39 and 22:1-3, Saul was Jewish born in the city of Tarsus, an important city in Cilicia. Cilicia is still located in southern Turkey, extending inland from the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea. Tarsus is also approximately 1,100 miles from Jerusalem.

Tarsus’ ancient traditions and position in the Roman Empire justified the pride with which Paul claimed to be “a citizen of no mean city” (Acts 21:39). As one historian writes, “It is probable that his (Saul’s) forefathers had been among the Jews settled at Tarsus by Antiochus Epiphanes, who, without sacrificing nationality or religion, became citizens of a community organized after the Greek model. On what occasion and for what service Roman civitas (citizenship) had been conferred on one of Paul’s ancestors we cannot say; this only we know, that before his birth his father had possessed the coveted privilege (Acts 16:16:35-40; 22:22-29).

In writing to the Philippian Church, Paul shared some autobiographical and pre-conversion information about himself. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6).

From this brief self-description, we may glean the following facts. First, Saul was circumcised according to the Old Testament Law (Genesis 17:12). Second, he belonged to the Tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1). Perhaps, this explains his name because Israel’s King Saul also belonged to the Tribe of Benjamin (I Samuel 9:1-2). Third, he was proud of his Hebrew heritage. He maintained the Hebrew traditions and language. Fourth, he belonged to the religious group known as the Pharisees. The Pharisees were legalistic fundamentalists of Judaism. Saul may have come from a long line of Pharisees (Acts 22:3; 23:6; 26:4-5).

Saul’s/Paul’s use of the Greek language confirms that he was a Hellenistic Jew. Therefore, he was comfortable in the Greco-Roman world. It was in this world and culture that Saul also learned the trade of tent-making (Acts 18:1-3). Following his conversion and later ministry for the gospel, Paul would financially support himself by this trade (I Corinthians 9:6; I Thessalonians 2:9).  

Saul would have been educated in his home, by his father. At about the age of six, he would begin attending the synagogue school. This would be for instruction in the Old Testament Scriptures and the Hebrew language. He learned from the respected Rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem. In Acts 22:3, Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.”

Saul of Tarsus was also, in his opinion, blameless as to righteousness under the Old Testament Law. Dr. John MacArthur comments that the righteousness under the law was, “The standard of righteous living advocated by God’s law. Paul outwardly kept this, so that no one could accuse him of violation. Obviously his heart was sinful and self-righteous. He was not an OT believer, but a proud and lost legalist.”

Finally, Saul’s zeal or passion was persecuting the church of Jesus Christ. Zeal, deep and extreme devotion, was the highest, single virtue of the Jewish religion. Zeal is a combination of both love and hate. Saul loved Judaism and therefore hated anything which might be a threat to Judaism (Galatians 1:13, 23; I Corinthians 15:9; I Timothy 1:13).

Acts 6:8-10 says, And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”

If is very possible that Saul was among those who disputed with Stephen. He may have been those who were from Cilicia. It would explain why Saul was present at Stephen’s martyrdom  (Acts 7:58).

Acts 8:1b-3 says, And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”

It would be this zealousness which would prompt Saul to pursue and persecute disciples of the Lord Jesus in Damascus, Syria intending to bring them to Jerusalem for trial and imprisonment (Acts 22:4; 26:9-11). His decision to make this trip would forever change his life and the life of the church.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Apostle Paul: His Self-Identification.

“In discussing the Apostle Paul, the historian is dealing with a subject important for its own sake, even aside from the importance of what if presupposes about Jesus. Unquestionable, Paul was a notable man whose influence has been felt throughout all subsequent history. That influence has been exerted in two ways. It was exerted, in the first place, during the lifetime of Paul; and it has been exerted, in the second place, upon subsequent generations through the medium of the Pauline Epistles.” Dr. J. Gresham Machen

Beginning this study of the life, conversion, ministry and theology of the Apostle Paul, I became curious as to what were his most common statements when identifying himself? How did he view himself? What words did he most frequently use to summarize his life, ministry and theology following his conversion?

I began to read each of Paul’s Epistles in order to glean from his opening statements the answers I sought for the questions I had. What follows is what I discovered.

  • “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” (Romans 1:1).
  • “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus,” (I Corinthians 1:1).
  • “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” (2 Corinthians 1:1).
  • “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— “(Galatians 1:1).
  • “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” (Ephesians 1:1).
  • “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:1).
  • “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,” (Colossians 1:1).
  • “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,” (1 Thessalonians 1:1).
  • “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,” (2 Thessalonians 1:1).
  • “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,” (1 Timothy 1:1).
  • “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,” (2 Timothy 1:1).
  • “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,” (Titus 1:1)
  • “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,” (Philemon 1).

First, Paul’s most frequent self-identification is the word apostle. An apostle, from the Greek word ἀπόστολος; apostolos, means, in a general sense, a special messenger, an envoy, or an individual who is sent by someone to herald a message. This word is found in nine introductions of Paul’s 13 epistles.

However, the word apostle also refers to a select number of individuals who held the office of apostle. It was a select and restricted group, the exact number variously totaled (Matthew 10:2; Acts 1:2, 26; Acts 14:14; 1Corinthians 12:28, 29). It also should be noted that the office and responsibility of an apostle was sourced and originated from God alone.

It should be observed that both the office, and function, of apostle was obtained at the discretion of the individual. You did not apply or volunteer to be an apostle. God sovereignly called individuals to be an apostle. Paul frequently used the phrase “by the will or command of God” to properly convey the idea that the position and responsibility he had was not his own choice, but rather the LORD’s.

The second most frequent title Paul used in referring to himself was the word servant. In all occurrences (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1), the word for servant is the Greek word δοῦλος; doulos meaning a willing slave or bondservant. Like the word apostle, Paul referred to himself as a servant belonging solely to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The third and final designation was the word prisoner. A prisoner (δέσμιος; desmios) refers to one under arrest (Matthew 27:15; Mark 15:6; Acts 16:25; 23:18; 25:14; Ephesians 3:1; 4:1; 2Timothy 1:8; Philemon 1, 9). In Paul’s case. He was arrested by either the Roman of Jewish governments. His crime was for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

All three designations were used by Paul to communicate a humble servant who God called for a particular task and responsibility. Our perspective in serving the LORD should be the same. Let us seek to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, who followed the example of Jesus Christ.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

The Apostle Paul: A Servant of Jesus Christ.

“For two millennia, the apostle Paul and his writings have been central to the history of the Christian faith. No other biblical author has received so much attention, so much study, so much controversy in the history of the church as this apostle and his writings.” Dr. Erik Herrmann, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Arguably, when a discussion is held regarding who are the greatest theologians in the history of the church, the names of Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, Carl Henry, and J. Gresham Machen, among others, are listed. Often added to this stellar list are such recent additions including Francis Schaeffer and R. C. Sproul.

However, without a doubt the single, greatest theologian, aside from the LORD Jesus Christ, who has most benefited the church and contributed to its spiritual health, well-being and theological orthodoxy would have to be the Apostle Paul. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul is responsible for nearly half the New Testament canon.

Frankly, I at first was unsure as to what subject to pursue following the conclusion of our examination of the Book of Isaiah. Suddenly, the thought came to my mind of researching and examining the life, ministry and theology of the Apostle Paul. A study of Paul seemed to be a good counterbalance to the study of the Prophet Isaiah. The most significant Old Testament prophet followed by the most significant New Testament apostle seemed like a good fit.

It is certainly not because there is a dearth of materials about the apostle. There are a host of resources available about Paul. Some are evangelical, scholarly and well worth the investment of time and money. Others, not so much for they tend to be less than orthodox and much more revisionist in their viewpoint as to the Pauline authorship of many of the epistles which bear his name.

I want to study the life, ministry and theology of Paul for my own spiritual benefit and understanding. I am increasingly captivated by the goal of knowing as much as I can about this former persecutor of the church who became one of the staunchest defenders and preachers of the gospel. Perhaps there are some of you who regularly follow this column who think and feel the same way.

I have already discovered some facts about the life of Paul that either I did not know, or had forgotten. I am sure there will be more information to glean and to gather, which will fit into either of these two categories, in the days to come.

Finally, it is not my intention for either myself, or you, to simply store up information about the apostle and leave it at that. I want to be impacted and strengthened by his example and his understanding of the gospel; more so now than ever before. I want to saturate my mind with as thorough a comprehension of Paul’s epistles as is possible; especially his epistle to the Romans. I trust you will embark upon this quest with me with an equal, or greater, passion.

I encourage you to either open, or acquire, a good study Bible and begin reading the introductions to Paul’s epistles. You will discover background information, not only about each epistle, but also about Paul himself. It is a good place to start our journey into the life and ministry of this servant of Jesus Christ.

And so we begin.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

Isaiah: Judgment and Salvation for Israel.

Isaiah 65-66 forms the LORD’s response to the Prophet Isaiah’s prayer contained in Isaiah 63-64. The LORD not only repeated the warnings of judgment but also the blessings of salvation. This oracle of judgment and blessing was not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. Today, we examine God’s present and future work among Israel (65:2–16, 18–19; 66:1–5, 7–14, 18–21)

Regarding the LORD’s present work within Israel, there are those who remain rebellious ((65:2–7, 11–15; 66:3–4). Their perversions include idolatry (65:2–3), witchcraft (65:4), and hypocrisy (65:5; 66:3).  They are a stench in God’s nostrils because they choose their own ways.

The LORD will punish them for their sins (65:6–7). They pay for their sins and for the sins of their ancestors. They will be cut down by the sword (65:11–12): They are destroyed because they did not listen to the Lord. They will suffer from hunger and thirst (65:13), they will cry out in sorrow (65:14), they will become a curse among the people (65:15), and they are ultimately responsible for all these things because they did not listen to the LORD (66:4).

However, the LORD reminds us that He always has a remnant. These are His righteous ones. Throughout the ages they will be preserved and made prosperous in the land (65:8–10), they will be esteemed by God for their humility (66:1–2), and they will hear God’s reassuring voice (66:5).

With respect to the LORD’s future work within Israel, the nation will be reborn in a single day (66:7-9). Additionally, the people will be totally forgiven (65:16).  God will put aside his anger and forgive their evil, and Jerusalem will be rebuilt and filled with rejoicing (65:18–19). There will be no more crying in the city. Also, the city will enjoy financial prosperity (66:10–12). The wealth of nations will flow to the city, and it will be blessed with peace. The people will be comforted by God himself (66:13). He will comfort them as a mother comforts her child. Finally, the people will rejoice (66:14) when they see their city and they will be filled with joy. The people will also see God’s glory (66:18–21). They will come from every nation to his holy mountain.

Dr. John Walvoord writes, “As the climax to the book, this chapter (66) fittingly describes the millennium, the time toward which history has been looking, which was promised to Abraham.  Israel will be as enduring as the new heavens and the new earth. All mankind (i.e., people from all nations) will worship the Lord, bowing down before Him. As Isaiah had frequently written, these righteous ones will contrast greatly with those who rebelled against the Lord. They will suffer eternal torment (cf. Mark 9:48). This awesome way in which the majestic Book of Isaiah concludes points to the need for unrepentant people to turn to the Lord, the only God, the Holy One of Israel.”

 Dr. R. C. Sproul comments that, “Isaiah conveys the glorious blessing of the new heavens and earth in today’s passage when he says “some of them also I will take for priests” (Isa. 66:21). He is referring to the Gentiles, and this would have been incredible for the original audience to hear. Most Jews could not be priests, but the fact that God would make some Gentiles priests points to the equality of Jew and Gentile under the new covenant. In Christ, we are all priests to the Most High God.

 Soli deo Gloria!  

 

Isaiah: Judgment and Salvation for the Heathen.

Isaiah 65-66 forms the LORD’s response to the Prophet Isaiah’s prayer contained in Isaiah 63-64. The LORD not only repeated the warnings of judgment but also the blessings of salvation. This oracle of judgment and blessing was not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. Today, we examine God’s present and future work among the Gentiles (65:1, 17, 20–25; 66:6, 15–17, 22–24).

The LORD’s present work among the Gentile nations is stated in 65:1: “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.  I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name.” God is revealing himself to non-Jewish people, and for a while he is choosing saved Gentiles instead of Israel to perform his will (Romans 9-11).

But what of God’s future dealings with the Gentiles? Isaiah addressed this issue in 65:17, 20–25; 66:6, 15–17, 22–24). The entire world will be subjected to universal punishment and then to perfection.

The punishment will take place during the tribulation (66:6, 15-17). God will take vengeance upon His enemies. He will come to the earth and bring His judgment.

What will follow will be peace of the Millennial Kingdom (65:17, 20–25; 66:22–24). Some features of the Millennium include:

  • There are no infant deaths (65:20a).
  • All but the rebellious live to celebrate their 100th birthdays (65:20b): Only sinners die young.
  • A time of great prosperity (65:21–23): They live in their own houses, eat from their own vineyards, and are blessed by the Lord.
  • A time when prayers are instantly answered (65:24): Before the prayers are spoken, God answers them.
  • The wolf, lamb, lion, and ox dwell in perfect harmony (65:25).
  • The permanent creation of new heavens and earth (65:17; 66:22): No one thinks of the old ones anymore, for the new ones are so beautiful and will last forever.
  • Universal worship of God (66:23): Everyone worships God regularly.
  • A sober reminder of the holiness of God (66:24): The rebellious are devoured by worms and are destroyed by fire.

 Dr. John Walvoord writes, In several ways the Lord’s response to the remnant’s prayer sums up the message of the entire Book of Isaiah. The Lord said that though He had constantly been presenting His love to Israel, they had rejected Him which made judgment necessary (65:1–7). However, in that judgment, a remnant will be preserved (vv. 8–12). The consequences of righteous living differ from those of wicked living (vv. 13–16). The Lord will establish a glorious kingdom in which peace and righteousness will flourish (vv. 17–25). Throughout the chapter, as well as throughout the book, the prophet implicitly pleaded for the people to place their trust in the Lord, their covenant God, and to live righteously.”

Have you placed your God given faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ in order to be justified by grace alone, through faith alone? If not, repent of your sin and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior (John 1:12-13).

Soli deo Gloria!

Isaiah: Remember Not Iniquity Forever.

9” Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people. 10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. 11 Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins. 12 Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord? Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?” (Isaiah 64:9–12)

Isaiah, in the context of praising God for His mercy (Isaiah 63:7-9) and for His faithfulness as in the days of old (Isaiah 63:10-14), offered a prayer of repentance on behalf of God’s people because of their desolate, spiritual condition. The prophet’s prayer also comprises all of chapter 64. The prayer is reminiscent of the Prophet Daniel, which also was on behalf of God’s people, Israel (Daniel 9).

In the midst of praying and acknowledging the LORD as the sovereign potter, and His created people as His clay, the Prophet Isaiah then pleads that God would hear his prayer, forgive Israel of their sin, and heal the land (see 2 Chronicles 7:14).

Isaiah is foretelling the condition of the land and the nation prior to its actuality. The prophet is not lamenting about what has happened to God’s people, temple and city, but rather what is going to happen in the future.

Dr. John MacArthur writes, “Through prophetic revelation Isaiah uttered these words many years before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. Yet, he lamented over the fallen state as though it had already occurred. God’s people were in desperate straits and their prayers urgent and persistent: “How can you stand by when your people and your land are so barren?”

Israel’s unworthiness for God’s mercy is clear. The prophet’s appeal for forgiveness and restoration and reconciliation was based totally on God’s grace. This continues to this day.

Soli deo Gloria!

Isaiah: The Sovereign Potter, and His Molded Clay.

8 “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)

Isaiah, in the context of praising God for His mercy (Isaiah 63:7-9) and for His faithfulness as in the days of old (Isaiah 63:10-14), offered a prayer of repentance on behalf of God’s people because of their desolate, spiritual condition. The prophet’s prayer also comprises all of chapter 64. The prayer is reminiscent of the Prophet Daniel, which also was on behalf of God’s people, Israel (Daniel 9).

Of all the symbols, metaphors and similes in the Scriptures regarding the character of God, one of the most prominent is the image of God as the potter and His created people as clay which He controls, molds and shapes for His glory.

It is an image found in Isaiah 64:8 which says, But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” This same thought and doctrine is also found in Psalm 2:9; Isaiah 29:5-16; 30:14; 45:9; Jeremiah 18:1-6; Lamentations 4:1-2).

However, there are those who recoil at this image. Many believers within the church find the image of God as a potter and His people as clay, and its implications, offensive. The metaphor explicitly asserts the sovereignty and providence of God: not only over the physical universe but also with respect to the salvation of sinners.

Romans 9:19-24 says, 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”

The theological significance of the metaphor of God being the potter, and we being the clay, is that God is sovereign and completely in control of the destiny of everything and everyone. He alone rules over the future of all people. We exist to be molded and shaped by Him. It is not up to us to mold and shape God into a benevolent being we can control.

Notice the present active state of being verbs in Isaiah 64:8. The prophet acknowledged that he, and the people, are like clay and God is like the potter. This metaphor affirms not only the personal existence and inherent characteristics of created individuals and the creator God, but also how these characteristics relate to each other.

Created and individual people are not God. Additionally, God is not a created figment of someone’s imagination. We are the work of His hand, so to speak, and not the other way around. The LORD is sovereign, which means that created people are not. Therein lies the problem for many. They want to be the potter of their own clay-like existence. However, God will not relinquish either His position or His power.

How do you react to the doctrine of God being a sovereign potter and you being His clay, which He molds and shapes according to the good pleasure of His will (Ephesians 1:11)? Do you find peace and comfort, or agitation and anger? Take time today to repent of any self-exalting sin and affirm God’s absolute sovereign rule in your life. Affirm today that He is not only the potter, but your potter and you are His molded clay.

Soli deo Gloria!