ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TRAITS OF THE TRIBES
by I. McKee
THE LAMB IN REVELATION
by W. Banks
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KING JEHOSHAPHAT
by J. Hay
A DECLARATION OF THOSE THINGS
by D. Williamson
COMFORT FOR CHRISTIANS IN A CHANGING WORLD
by R. Reynolds
THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH
by T. Muir
ANANIAS GOES TO STRAIGHT STREET
by R. Barton
by J. Riddle (England)
THE FIRST BOOK OF PSALMS
No.49: PSALM 29 (Part 2)
In the previous Paper we saw that the three sections of the Psalm are: first, “Worship the Lord” vv.1,2; second, “The voice of the Lord” vv.3-9; third, The peace of the Lord, vv.10,11. We considered the first section, and will now look at the remaining two.
“THE VOICE OF THE LORD” vv.3-9
Psalm 29 has been called “The Psalm of the seven thunders” (Franz Delitzsch)1, reminding us that the “mighty angel come down from heaven … cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices” Rev.10.1-4. This section of the Psalm may be divided as follows:
- 1 Keil, C.F. and Delitzsch, F. “Commentary on the Old Testament”.
- The Power of His Voice – vv.3-9a
- The Proclamation of His Glory – v.9b
If the “temple” v.9, is in heaven, as some commentators believe, then the sub-headings could be amended to
- The Power of His Voice on Earth
- The Proclamation of His Glory in Heaven
The Power of His Voice – vv.3-9a
We have already noticed that these verses describe the power of the Creator. “The God of glory thundereth” v.3. The expression “The God of glory” is found only once elsewhere: “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia” Acts 7.2. David describes the path of the thunderstorm as it sweeps in from the sea, and then sweeps the whole length of Canaan from north to south. But is that all? It is most illuminating to notice the effect of “the voice of the Lord”, which occurs, as noted, seven times in the Psalm. It does seem that His voice is uttered in judgment. The irresistible power and majesty of the thunderstorm reminds David of the irresistible power of Divine judgment. As we have already noted, John also heard the sevenfold roar of Divine thunder: “And [he] cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices” Rev.10.3.
Let us look at the seven references to “the voice of the Lord” in this Psalm:
First, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters” v.3. In the words of J.M. Flanigan2, “At its first sounding the thunder is heard distantly upon the waters.” Isaiah tells us that “the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt” Isa.57.20. John saw the “judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters”, with the explanation, “The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” Rev.17.15. We are therefore reminded that the affairs of the nations are not out of control, and that God will judge human wickedness: “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters”.
- 2 Flanigan, J.M. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
Second, “The voice of the Lord is powerful” v.4. The fact that the voice of the Lord is heard judicially in this Psalm reminds us that He will “speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure” Ps.2.5, and that He will “smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked” Isa.11.4.
At the same time, the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that the Lord Jesus upholds “all things by the word of His power [dunamis]” Heb.1.3. His powerful voice is heard in the gospel message, as well as in creation: “the gospel of Christ … is the power [dunamis] of God unto salvation” Rom.1.16. The word dunamis signifies ‘might’ or ‘ability’. The “word of God is quick, and powerful [energes, meaning energetic or efficacious], and sharper than any twoedged sword” Heb.4.12.
Third, “The voice of the Lord is full of majesty” v.4. Again, in judicial terms, when God speaks, men will “go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty, when He ariseth to shake terribly the earth” Isa.2.19; see also v.21.
It should be said that we must carefully avoid anything that in any way misrepresents the majesty of the gospel. The gospel is called “the glorious gospel of Christ” A.V., or “the glad tidings of the glory of the Christ” 2Cor.4.4, J.N.D. It is equally “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” A.V., or “the glad tidings of the glory of the blessed God” 1Tim.1.11, J.N.D. The gospel must therefore not be debased in any way by those who proclaim it.
Fourth, “The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon. He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn [‘buffalo’ J.N.D.]” vv.5,6. Sirion is Mount Hermon. See Deut.3.9: “Which Hermon the Sidonians call Sirion”. The cedars of Lebanon are renowned for their height and stateliness. Isa.2.12,13 refers to them as an emblem of pride: “For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low: and upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up”. This passage “foresees the day of the Lord when cedars and mountains, with everything that man finds impressive, will finally be brought low”3.
- 3 Kidner, D. “Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72”. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester.
We must never forget God’s hatred of pride. A “proud look” is the first of seven things that God hates in Prov.6.16-19. Peter tells us that “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” 1Pet.5.5. Pride subsists in self-sufficiency and self-assertiveness.
Fifth, “The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire” v.7. This is a clear reference to lightning. It has been suggested that the sense is “The voice of Jehovah splits the rocks, it hews them as with flames of fire”4. This certainly occurs in Ps.144.5,6: “Bow Thy heavens, O Lord, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. Cast forth lightning and scatter them: shoot out Thine arrows, and destroy them.” His voice is irresistible. The ‘fire-power’ of the world’s military machine cannot be compared with the immense power of God.
- 4 St. John, H. “The Collected Writings of Harold St. John – Vol. One”. Gospel Tract Publications, Glasgow.
We are reminded that the word of God can break the hardest substances, of which the greatest is the human heart. Compare Jer.23.29: “Is not My word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?”
Sixth, “The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh” v.8. As we have noted, Kadesh was in the far south. It was there that the children of Israel twice camped prior to entering Canaan. On the first occasion, Deut.1.46, they were turned back because of unbelief, and “the Amorites, which dwelt in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do” Deut.1.44. On the second occasion, the king of Edom refused them passage through his territory: see Num.20.14-22. We are therefore reminded that God will “recompense tribulation to them that trouble you” 2Thess.1.6.
Seventh, “The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth [‘layeth bare’ J.N.D.] the forests” v.9. In the first case, the kids are born prematurely out of fear. According to J.M. Flanigan5, “it is an authentic fact that the terror of a violent thunderstorm has been known to cause animals to bring forth their young prematurely.” The Lord Jesus described the state of mind at the end time as follows: “Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth” Lk.21.26. According to Derek Kidner6, some authorities, followed by the R.S.V., but not by the N.E.B., modify “the traditional vowels (which were not written in the original text) to read ‘oaks’ instead of ‘hinds’”, with the resulting translation, “The voice of the Lord makes the oaks to whirl” R.S.V. Kidner suggests that “this avoids the bewildering leap from the tremendous to the obscure and unrepresentative …” However, as in other cases, this looks rather like an attempt to amend the text to make it, seemingly, more logical!
- 5 Flanigan, J.M., ibid.
6 Kidner, D., ibid.
In the second case, the forests are stripped of leaves through the ferocity of the storm. This reminds us of the fact that mankind will be stripped of everything. Men will have no hiding place and be unable to camouflage themselves in the day of God’s wrath. God’s power over animal and plant life is stressed here.
The Proclamation of His Glory – v.9b
“And in His temple doth every one speak of His glory.” There is probably a striking contrast here. It may be read as follows: ‘The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and layeth bare the forests; whilst in His temple doth every one speak of His glory.’ Outside, fear and destruction; inside, peace and calm. In the midst of the storm, there is a place of security and serenity, reminding us of the hymn:
- How calm the judgment hour shall pass
- To all who do obey
- The Word of God, and trust the blood,
- And make that Word their stay!
Alternatively, the reference could be to the heavenly temple; see, for example, Ps.11.4: “The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven”; Ps.18.6-9: “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: He heard my voice out of His temple … He bowed the heavens also, and came down”. Support for this may well be found in v.10: “the Lord sitteth King for ever”.
These words are rendered by Darby, “and in His temple doth every one say, Glory!”, with the footnote, “Or perhaps, ‘everything saith’”. Some render this, “every whit utters His glory” (quoted by Harold St. John7). Whatever the exact rendering, one thing is clear: a temple is a place in which God is glorified.
- 7 St. John, H., ibid.
This should be true of the believer’s body: “What! Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” 1Cor.6.19,20.
This should be true of the local assembly: “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” 1Cor.3.17.
This is true of the Church: “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord” Eph.2.21.
As Derek Kidner8 observes, “every part of such a sanctuary should cry, ‘Glory!’”
- 8 Kidner, D., ibid.
THE PEACE OF THE LORD – vv.10,11
The final two verses of the Psalm appear to allude to what has already been said in vv.3-9. We should notice, firstly, the Lord acting in judgment, v.10, and, secondly, the Lord acting in blessing, v.11.
The Lord Acting in Judgment – v.10
“The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.” The word translated “flood” (mabbul) only occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament in connection with the Genesis flood. It occurs twelve times in Genesis chapters 6-11, and nowhere else. There was no question of any defiance when the Flood came, and there will be no question of defiance when Divine judgment again engulfs the world. We should notice that “the Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.” Compare Ps.2.4: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh”. How reassuring, when kings, presidents, politicians and world leaders come and go so rapidly, to know that “the Lord sitteth King for ever”.
It is interesting to note that the Revised Version employs the past tense here: “The Lord sat as king at the Flood”, leading J.M. Flanigan9 to observe that “then the thought is that He who presided in supremacy over that deluge of old is the same who now sits, and will forever sit, as King, in control of all things”.
- 9 Flanigan, J.M., ibid.
The Lord Acting in Blessing – v.11
“The Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.” The same God Who delivered Noah and his family from the flood that deluged the world will deliver His people from all adversity.
In the midst of the tempests and storms of life, whether in the personal realm or the international realm, God’s people have that very peace, enabling Paul to say, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” Phil.4.7.
Franz Delitzsch10 puts it nicely in saying, “This closing word, with peace is like a rainbow arch over the Psalm. The beginning of the Psalm shows us heaven open …; while its close shows us His victorious people upon earth, blessed with peace in the midst of the terrible utterance of His wrath.” In New Testament language, “Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us …” 2Thess.1.6,7.
- 10 Delitzsch, F., quoted in Kidner, D., ibid.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Ian McKee, N. Ireland
Zebulun – in the New Testament
Nazareth, in the tribal area of Zebulun, became a place apart, nondescript yet privileged and special. It was where the angel, Gabriel, revealed to Mary God’s purpose regarding the birth of the Saviour, Lk.1.26-38. It was where Joseph and Mary had their home, Lk.2.39; Matt.2.23. It was the village with its carpenter’s shop, the place of the Saviour’s earthly residence of longest duration. Forever it will be remembered as “Nazareth, where He had been brought up” Lk.4.16.
Fulfilment of prophecy should cause thanksgiving and appreciative wonder, marking, as it does, the onward progress of Divine purpose. Days foretold by Isaiah come to pass: “Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, He departed into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon, and Nephthalim: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up” Matt.4.12-16.
Matthew’s Gospel next records the calling of Peter and Andrew, James and John. Were they from Zebulun? Indeed, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, all of the disciples may have come from Zebulun and Naphtali. We recall the words of Moses, “Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and Issachar, in thy tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain …” Deut.33.18,19. The disciples were blessed to hear the ‘manifesto of the kingdom’ on elevated ground: “And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him: and He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying …” Matt.5.1,2. Then followed ‘The Sermon on the Mount’.
Did Moses have a foreview of that seen by Isaiah in relation to Zebulun and Naphtali, Isa.9.1,2, with fishermen called to preach first to Jews and later to Gentiles to “suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand” Deut.33.19? Isaiah used similar words: “the Redeemer shall come to Zion … and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee” Isa.59.20; 60.5.
Zebulun was privileged. This tribal area gave the Saviour an earthly home and was the scene of His first miracle: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him” Jn.2.11. What blessing commenced in Zebulun with the familiar scenes of its everyday life used as illustrations in the preaching of Jehovah’s perfect Servant!
It is so personal to remember the various homes we have lived in. But a greater wonder is the Lord recalling from glory the simple homesteads of Zebulun and Naphtali. Remember, it was from heaven that He announced Himself to Saul of Tarsus as “Jesus of Nazareth” Acts 22.8.
“Zabulon” will contribute, in a later day, twelve thousand to the one hundred and forty-four thousand servants of God who will be sealed, Rev.7.8.
ISSACHAR AND ZEBULUN – THE NEW TESTAMENT APPLICATION
We have considered Issachar and Zebulun and their tribal history, noting the close association of these two tribes in Moses’ blessing, Deut.33.18,19. We shall now consider James’ practical application. James’ Epistle, written to first-century Jewish Christians, also applies to us, as the character traits of the twelve tribes are replicated in personalities today. He writes to encourage his readers to rise above natural tendencies and manifest Christian virtues in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The portion in James’ Epistle best reflective of the tribal traits of Issachar and Zebulun is that from Jms.2.14-26.
We recall that Jacob’s deathbed prophecy about these tribes is: “Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens; and he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute” Gen.49.14,15; and “Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon” Gen.49.13.
Also, we remember that Moses’ conjoined blessing is: “Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand” Deut.33.18,19.
So Jacob foresaw in Issachar a capability to discharge responsibility coupled with a temperamental lack of willingness, with a maritime association for Zebulun. Moses later foresaw a complementary balance in these two tribes with, first, Zebulun having an outward-facing attitude and Issachar having care at home; and, second, with primacy of worship complemented by fishing and digging. Issachar was generally a complacent, easy-going tribe that relied on the activity and sacrifice of others. Zebulun was more disposed to mobilise to counter invaders and contribute to the well-being of national life. So we have the contrast between self-interest and acting in the interest of others; between indifference and industry.
James writes to adjust such contrasting attitudes, mentioning “faith” and “works” together ten times in thirteen verses, Jms.2.14-26, to show that inoperative faith has no value. He asks, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can [his, or that] faith save him?” Jms.2.14. What good is a profession of faith with no appropriate conduct thereafter? The reality of faith can only be evidenced by characteristic activity. James then poses an entirely relatable situation of a fellow believer, whether brother or sister, lacking the necessities of life, being poorly clothed and undernourished, and where “one of you say unto them, ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled;’ notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” Jms.2.16. This is suggestive of an Issachar attitude, with the strong ass, in sight of need, lying down to rest, propped up by full saddlebags on either side! James’ terse conclusion is: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” Jms.2.17. Real faith is always accompanied by good works. If professed faith has no outward manifestation it can safely be concluded that it is dead. In other words, if the ‘salvation’ professed has not affected the life, it has not saved the soul.
James anticipates an objection: “Yea, a man may say, ‘Thou hast faith, and I have works’” Jms.2.18. The objector seems to be suggesting that faith and works can have equal stand-alone worth. However, they cannot have independent existence. Hence James’ challenge to the objector, “Shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” Jms.2.18. Moses’ conjoined blessing of Zebulun and Issachar, in going out and staying home, suggests that it is not a matter of either/or but both, as complementary attitudes or dispositions. So James is asserting that authentic faith and beneficial works cannot exist in separate either/or compartments! A professed faith without associated activity is nothing more than a frozen, sterile orthodoxy. A professed faith with associated beneficial works has the warmth of spiritual life. The reality of faith, which in itself is invisible, must be authenticated by complementary activity.
An intellectual assertion of faith without reality is no better than demonic knowledge, which can have no effect on one’s character or have any beneficial result: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils [‘demons’] also believe, and tremble” Jms.2.19. James’ anticipated objector has no moral sense, as well as having no living faith: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” Jms.2.20. Faith does not exist in lazy, self-indulgent, frigid orthodoxy.
James then illustrates his assertions from the examples of Abraham and Rahab. The fact that Abraham “believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness” Gen.15.6, was tested to the ultimate, proved beyond doubt, and validated: “now I know that thou fearest God” Gen.22.12. James’ conclusion is: “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” Jms.2.22. Abraham’s faith was made complete (in that the reality of it was unequivocally demonstrated) by what he did; he was never tested in this way again and he was thus beloved as a “friend of God” Jms.2.23. The argument is therefore concluded and the position established: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” Jms.2.24, with the stress on “only”, or ‘alone’.
James again illustrates his point, not now from the life of the esteemed patriarch, but from the life of a woman with an unsavoury past: “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works …?” Jms.2.25. So faith, and its validation by works, is within the capacity of all believers. With Abraham the dynamic of faith and works was with God directly. With Rahab the dynamic was associated with the servants of God: she “received the messengers, and … sent them out another way” Jms.2.25. James then summarises the position: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” Jms.2.26.
Where does this impact most upon us? We, like Zebulun and Issachar, surely are expected to “call the people unto the mountain … offer sacrifices of righteousness … suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand” Deut.33.18,19. There is exercise for all in worship and righteous living, in support of gospel activity and in Bible study. All with their own gifts and capacities can evidence the reality of their faith by the vitality of their works.
May we never become characterised by Issachar’s asinine obduracy, “couching down between two burdens; and he saw that rest was good” Gen.49.14,15. May we ever be like Zebulun and “dwell at the haven of the sea” looking out to the horizon of possibilities, and be “a haven of ships”, with its safety and activity, Gen.49.13.
Let us seek to fulfil our spiritual potential both in faith and works. There is always more that we could usefully do!
To be continued (D.V.)
by Roy Reynolds (N. Ireland)
“And there arose a great storm of wind …” Mark 4.37
How pleasant it would be if the sea of life was always calm but all too often, sometimes without warning, the waves become boisterous and turbulent and anxiety fills our spirits. Peace is replaced by perplexity and panic, and dread of the consequences seizes our minds. The gathering thunderclouds lower in the sky, the darkness descends and so commences a time of sustained attack, “the evil day” envisaged in Eph.6.13.
How often the oppressive burdens of life bring depression, despondency and even despair and we are caused to ask, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?” Ps.42.5,11; 43.5. These difficulties are compounded by the doubts, that God does not really care and has abandoned us to weather the storms alone.
On the occasion referred to in Mark chapter 4 it is blessed to know that the only One Who could help was in the storm with the disciples, except that He was serene and asleep while they were panic stricken. Did His attitude infer that He had no care for them as they suggested? His interest and intervention proved that He really cared and soon the peace they yearned for was experienced, “and there was a great calm” v.39.
- Oh ’twill be a glorious morrow
To a dark and stormy day,
When we smile upon our sorrow,
And the storms have passed away.
“For I am the Lord, I change not …” Malachi 3.6
In the ever-changing landscape of life with its unexpected and relentless variations there is One Who is unchangeably dependable and immutably reliable: “no change Jehovah knows”. As He was yesterday so He will be today, and as He is today so will He be tomorrow and forever. We are so fickle and unpredictable, our moods, our attitudes and our feelings change but He is consistently unchanging; “the same yesterday, and today and for ever” Heb.13.8.
Consequently His Word is timeless and changeless, His promises are wholly dependable, and nothing can ever alter or dim the prospects which He has vouchsafed to us. Events and circumstances can never derail His programme and nothing can ever prevent us from enjoying all that He has in mind for His own. Joshua was conscious of this feature of God when he said to the people, “Not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof” Josh.23.14.
Amid all that is unknown and uncertain in this world, let us trust the unchanging One, for “Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail” Heb.1.12.
- While all things change, Thou changest not,
Forgetting ne’er though oft forgot,
Thy love immutably the same,
Declares the glory of Thy name.
By William M. Banks, Scotland
THE WORK OF THE LAMB – Rev.7.1-17; see v.14
In the previous Paper, we considered the first of the two visions in Revelation chapter 7:
THE SEALING OF THE ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR THOUSAND FROM THE NATION OF ISRAEL – vv.1-8
We now turn to the second vision:
THE SAVED OF THE TRIBULATION (THE GREAT ONE) AND THREE PAEANS OF PRAISE – vv.9-17
This second vision cannot be divorced from the first though there are marked contrasts in numbers, nationality (Jews in the first and mainly Gentiles in the second), and the time frame envisaged (before and after the Tribulation period). The service (preaching) of the first group has led to the salvation of the second.
The First Paean of Praise – vv.9,10 (v.10), involving “a great multitude”
The Multitude Who Offer the Praise – v.9
The greatness of their number is clearly expressed: “a great multitude, which no man could number” v.9a. It is innumerable, such that John repeats the phrase used earlier in chapter 6 to express his wonder: “I beheld, and, lo”. The power of the gospel in circumstances of suffering is very evident; compare Ex.1.12; Acts 16.12-40. Perhaps the indifference and lethargy of today’s society militates against a large numerical response to gospel preaching.
The sources from which they come are tremendously diverse: “of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” v.9b. Thus the diversity of backgrounds is geographical, racial and cultural. The gospel is for all and it brings dignity of standing wherever it is accepted. The saved are found “before the throne, and before the Lamb” v.9c. What a contrast from their tribulation experience; compare Matt.24.21. Unlike those of 6.12-17, they are “able to stand”!
Two things mark those who stand “before the throne”. The first is the suitability of their condition: they are “clothed with white robes” v.9d; compare v.14 and 19.8. This is indicative of the victory of faith and the righteousness of Christ. The second feature is the evidence of joy and prospective tranquillity: “palms in their hands” v.9e; compare Jn.12.13; Lev.23.40: now Christ is going to have a rightful crown.
The Praise Which They Offer – v.10: Salvation to our God
The earnestness of the expression of their praise is that they do it with “a loud voice” v.10a. It is an evidence of their sincerity. The content of the praise is an appreciation of the source of their salvation: “God … and … the Lamb” v.10b,d. At the same time there is recognition of sovereignty, v.10c: “God which sitteth upon the throne”. It is good to remember the settled authority and dignity of the Throne Sitter and to remember that while the turmoil on earth looks out of control everything is in His secure hands.
The Second Paean of Praise – vv.11,12 (v.12), involving “all the angels”; compare 5.11
There are four things predicated of the angels:
The Reverence They Portray in Their Worship – v.11a: “fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped”. In Lk.15.10 they joy over one sinner that repents. Little wonder that their joy is overflowing with such a vast number here! It is good again to see the reverence from such hierarchical beings; surely this is an example for us to follow.
The Object of Their Worship – v.11b: “worshipped God”. In 5.11,12 they worship the Lamb. They are acutely aware of the discernment necessary in each case.
The Content of Their Worship – v.12a: “Amen … Amen”. The sevenfold doxology of praise begins and ends with “Amen”! It includes “[the] blessing, and [the] glory (radiance of the Divine Person), and [the] wisdom (Eph.3.10), and [the] thanksgiving, and [the] honour (public appreciation), and [the] power (evident in the vast multitude), and [the] might (redemptive presence in the events of history)”. Six of them are the same as 5.12, with “thanksgiving” here replacing “riches”.
The Abiding Nature of the Content of Their Worship – v.12b: “for ever and ever”. Little wonder that there are two Amens!
The Third Paean of Praise – vv.13-17 (vv.15-17), involving “one of the elders”
The Introductory Questions and Answers – vv.13,14
The kindly elder of v.13 seems to have been anticipating John’s question or observing the need for an explanation. He “answered” without a question being asked (note that it was one of the elders)! John gives a reverent response: “Sir [‘my Lord’] thou [emphatic] knowest” v.14a. This results in the appropriate explanation being given, v.14b,c, which must have been a comfort to John to know that such a multitude could emerge from circumstances of judgment.
That source is described as “the tribulation the great one”1 v.14b. There are only five direct references to this event in the Scriptures: Jer.30.1-9 (in the context of restoration); Dan.12.1,2 (resurrection); Matt.24.4-28 (refuge); Rev.3.10 (recompense); and here, Rev.7.14 (reverence). The basis for their presence is clearly specified: they “have washed [aorist tense, indicating cleansing from filth and clearing from guilt at conversion] their robes, and made them white [aorist]” v.14c. In other words they had availed themselves of the value of the atoning sacrifice of Christ: the “blood of the Lamb” refers to the price paid for a finished work giving access to the throne of God; compare Heb.9.14; 1Jn.1.7. It is of course the central theme of the gospel message in all ages.
- 1 Allen, J. “What the Bible Teaches – Revelation”. John Ritchie Ltd., 1997.
The Worship and Praise Resulting – v.15
The “great multitude” are aware that the privilege of being “before the throne of God” v.15a, has only one basis: the blood of the Lamb. It brings them nearness and access, v.15b. Note the repetition of “before the throne” from vv.9,11. The throne is likely to be in Jerusalem, Jer.3.17, although the suggestion has been made that it might be moral rather than local. The former seems to be more in keeping with the context.
The word “serve” v.15c, indicates the nature of their service, that is, ‘worshipful service’ reminiscent of Anna in Lk.2.36-38. This of course should be the feature of all service for the Lord, Matt.4.10, and certainly will be in the future, Rev.22.3. Their worship is continuous and uninterrupted: “day and night” v.15d, again like Anna. They worship “in His temple” v.15e. The question arises as to which temple reference is being made: the Millennial temple of Ezekiel chapters 40ff.; Isa.2.2-5; or one in heaven, for example Rev.11.19? The Tribulation is past; Millennial conditions are to the fore. It seems likely therefore that Ezekiel’s temple is the one to which reference is made. There is no temple in eternity, 21.22. While Millennial conditions are being described in this verse, the city has eternal features.
During their worship they will be adequately protected: “He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them [‘spread His tent over them’ C.E.V.]” v.15f. This is a lovely thought reminiscent of Ex.40.34 and 2Chr.7.1-3. It thus ensures shelter and protection from all harm with His presence, Isa.4.5,6. Comparison should also be made with Zeph.3.17: “… He will refresh your life with His love” C.E.V.
The Awareness of Adequate Provision – vv.16,17: Kingdom blessings
The chapter closes with an assurance of kingdom blessings for those who have suffered severely: the glory that shall follow! There are four negatives, v.16; compare Isa.49.10, and three positives, v.17. There will be no more hunger, v.16a, and no more thirst, v.16b. They would experience these during the Tribulation: see Matt.25.35; 5.6; Jn.6.35. There would be no more sun, v.16c, to beat down relentlessly; see 16.8. God will be their shelter, v.15. There would be no more scorching east wind, v.16d.
The chapter closes with three positives: the Lamb “shall feed [shepherd] them” v.17a, with sovereign authority from the midst of the throne; compare Jn.10.11 and contrast Rev.2.27. The Lamb “shall lead them unto living fountains of waters [‘fountains of waters of life’ J.N.D.]” v.17b. There will be no lack; see Jn.4.14; 7.37,38; Isa.12.3. The chapter finishes beautifully: “God shall wipe away all tears [‘every tear’ J.N.D.] from their eyes” v.17c; see 21.4; Isa.25.8. No doubt there would be many tears during their Tribulation experience, perhaps wiped away by friends and relatives; the circumstances are different now: the hand of their God in intimate kindness is providing the loving service!
To be continued (D.V.)
By Jack Hay (Scotland)
Paper 5 – MICAIAH’S VISION
THE PROPHECY OF MICAIAH
We considered the background to this prophecy in the previous paper. Although under pressure from his guard as to what he should say, Micaiah had maintained that he would adhere strictly to God’s message for the hour, and he was now at attention before Ahab, 2Chr.18.14. Quizzed about an assault on Ramoth-gilead, his positive reply was so ‘tongue-in-cheek’ as to be patently ironic. However, the response that it elicited from Ahab is enlightening. It appears that he had encountered Micaiah on numerous occasions, always insisting that the prophet would tell him nothing but the truth of God, v.15. How strange that a man so degenerate was curious about the mind of God! He was not unique; the wicked King Zedekiah interrogated the prophet Jeremiah, “Is there any word from the Lord?” Jer.37.17. Herod also “heard [John] gladly” Mk.6.20. Although evil characters, they had a conviction that these men were in touch with the living God, but they had no inclination to comply with any commands from heaven. We have known sinners who love to hear the gospel and can tell a good presentation from a poor one, but have no desire for the transformation that conversion brings. We have known saints who are expert sermon tasters with a facility for passing judgement on whether the Lord’s servant ‘got help’ or not! Let us beware!
And now for the truth from Micaiah: in pictorial language the prophet predicted the demise of Ahab, the “shepherd” and “master” of Israel. Amazingly, though scattered in battle, the “sheep” would return to their own houses, 2Chr.18.16,17. A complete fulfilment of the prophecy developed. The Syrians were not intent on slaughter; they were under orders to ignore the “sheep” and target the “shepherd” only, and eventually a stray arrow brought Ahab down, vv.30,33. “For ever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven” Ps.119.89. “The scripture cannot be broken” Jn.10.35, and so Micaiah’s prophecy had an accurate fulfilment: the sheep were spared and the shepherd perished.
THE PARLIAMENT IN HEAVEN
Micaiah’s vision was of the angels in conference, and top of the agenda was the terminating of Ahab’s life. This convention is not unique to this Scripture. In Job chapter 1 there is a similar event, with Satan in attendance, just as there is a lying spirit here. Daniel chapter 4 is another occasion when angelic “watchers” made decrees affecting events on earth, but on each occasion the Almighty sanctioned the decisions made.
The Lord was on His throne, 2Chr.18.18. The primary auditors of this account were sitting on their thrones, pretentiously attired in their royal robes and stationed publicly for all to view their regal majesty, v.9! The reminder of the Lord on His throne surrounded by “the host of heaven” should have made these pompous characters aware that they were “as grasshoppers” in His sight, Isa.40.22. But no; conceit and self-importance are traits that are embedded in the human psyche. Isaiah’s awareness of the majesty and holiness of the Sovereign on His throne reduced his own estimation of himself, and the man who had persistently pronounced “Woe unto them” in chapter 5 of his prophecy now appreciates his own nothingness and confesses, “Woe is me” Isa.6.5. Arrogance disqualifies us from the service of God; self-humbling makes us useful: “Here am I; send me” v.8.
It is significant that “the host of heaven” was seen “standing” beside Jehovah’s throne, for angels always stand in His presence. “Above it [God’s throne] stood the seraphims” Isa.6.2. “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God” Lk.1.19. “Sit on My right hand” was an honour reserved for the Son and never for angels, Heb.1.13. We do read of angels sitting at the empty tomb. It is clear evidence that He was not there; if He had been there they would certainly not have been sitting!
The “lying spirit” who volunteered to entice Ahab to his death actively energised the false prophets. God allowed it, but not without warning Ahab and Jehoshaphat that these men were under the influence of such a wicked spirit. The warning went unheeded. Zedekiah was the main spokesman for these pseudo-prophets; he expressed outrage at Micaiah’s assertion that he was stimulated by a “lying spirit”, and so he assaulted the prophet, 2Chr.18.23. Jehoshaphat stood silent, and offered no rebuke, and neither did he protest when Micaiah was imprisoned on a diet of bread and water, v.26. How could he complain? The companionship he had fostered had closed his mouth as far as testimony was concerned. When Peter stood with the Lord’s enemies, he dared not raise his voice in protest when his Saviour was ridiculed and smitten. Beware lest the company we cultivate and the standards we adopt leave us open to the charge of hypocrisy should we take a stand against injustice, or support what is honest and Biblical. Sadly then, Jehoshaphat became complicit in Ahab’s scheme, tamely consenting to every whim of the northern monarch, and it almost cost him his life. “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not” Prov.1.10.
THE PLAN FOR THE BATTLEFIELD
It appears that Ahab assumed that he would be the specific target of the Syrians. Furthermore, Elijah had passed the death sentence upon him, now ratified by Micaiah, so he was nervous. Subtly, he went into battle in disguise, and encouraged Jehoshaphat to enter the fray in his kingly garments. He did so as if conferring on him the honour of being commander-in-chief. It was only a ploy to deflect attention from himself, but Jehoshaphat was taken in. If you get too involved with those who “hate the Lord” 2Chr.19.2, expect treachery rather than loyalty! Their integrity can never match that of a child of God. Ahab wanted Jehoshaphat’s support, but he regarded him as disposable! Years later, the Godly Josiah employed Ahab’s tactics of disguise when confronting the Egyptians. It ended badly and he too was taken out by an arrow, 2Chr.35.22,23. It can never be good to imitate the strategy of one so cunning and malicious as Ahab.
As expected, the Syrians mistook Jehoshaphat for Ahab, and surrounded him to effect his capture or death, 2Chr.18.30-32. In the emergency, “Jehoshaphat cried out”. I take it that it was an urgent appeal for Divine help, to which God responded instantly. What an evidence of His grace! His servant had compromised with the ungodly and yet God mercifully preserved him. He was equally patient with Jonah. The prophet had wilfully disobeyed Him and yet when he “prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly” God responded and spoke to the fish “and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land” Jonah 2.1,10. I hope that it is an encouragement to us all. While not condoning unfaithfulness among God’s people, it is so good to know that “He abideth faithful” 2Tim.2.13, and He treats us kindly despite our waywardness.
- O hope of every contrite heart,
- O joy of all the meek,
- To those who fall, how kind Thou art;
- How good to those who seek.
- (Bernard of Clairvaux)
THE PROTECTION OF JEHOSHAPHAT
The Divine titles employed in 2Chr.18.31 are instructive. When Jehoshaphat “cried out”, Jehovah “helped him”. In Exodus chapter 6, God revealed that “Jehovah” has a significance that had not been fully known before, and the context shows that He is the God Who keeps His promises, and so we call Jehovah the covenant-keeping God. So this God Who cannot lie safeguards His people’s interests. In a “time of need”, we can “come boldly unto the throne of grace” Heb.4.16. He may not always intervene in a miraculous way as He did here, but just as He “helped” Jehoshaphat so we will “find grace to help”.
While it was Jehovah Who helped the king, we are told that it was Elohim Who “moved [the Syrians] to depart from him”. It is the same Person, but the change in language points us to the God to Whom we are introduced in the first line of the Bible, the God Whose power is such that He “created the heaven and the earth”. It was nothing to Omnipotence to divert the Syrians and banish their misunderstanding. Let us rejoice that there is nothing too hard for Him, Gen.18.14; Jer.32.17, that there is nothing impossible with Him, Lk.1.37. It may not always be His will to be involved dramatically; He allowed the martyrdom of James while rescuing Peter, Acts chapter 12, but the principle of Scripture is that if He wills, He can, Mk.1.40.
Ahab’s attempt to outmanoeuvre God failed spectacularly. The random arrow found the target, penetrating at a join in his armour. A Divine finger directed it just as surely as a Divine hand deflected Saul’s javelin as he attempted to impale David. Men reap what they sow, and just as wild dogs licked the blood of the slaughtered Naboth, so they would lick the blood of his persecutors, 1Kgs.21.19. Jehoshaphat’s dalliance with Ahab almost cost him his life. Let us learn the lesson: unhealthy associations always end in tears.
To be continued (D.V.)
“A declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us” Luke 1.1
by Dennis Williamson, N. Ireland
THE LORD’S DEATH
Many aspects of the death of the Lord Jesus are expressed or alluded to in the Word of God. The particular mention in 1Cor.11.26 (which provides the title to this Paper) appears in a context where there is a sevenfold reference to the Lordship of Christ, thus highlighting for us the value of that death because of the Person Who died. For this reason also, the continual remembrance and proclamation of His death is enjoined upon us, and this is to prevail until He comes. This surely reflects upon the value God places upon that death compared with all others.
There are times in the Bible when that death is looked at from God’s standpoint, as for example in Isa.53.10: “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief”, or Zech.13.7: “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man that is My fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the Shepherd”. On other occasions that death is viewed and reflected upon by the Lord Himself, as in Ps.69.2: “I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing”, and again in v.4: “then I restored that which I took not away”. In Ps.22.15 He said, “Thou hast brought Me into the dust of death”. Anticipating Calvary, His words were, “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” Jn.17.4. Then, on the cross, He said, “It is finished” Jn.19.30. The attitude of His enemies is also recorded for us; it was one of mockery: “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross that we may see and believe” Mk.15.31,32. The thieves also reviled Him in that hour, although we know that one of them repented afterwards.
History has never known a death like His death, nor been faced with such widespread ramifications. It was indeed the Lord’s death and even in the realms of death He remained the Author of life. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” Jn.12.24. One has rightly said of that death that:
- Of all times it is the turning point;
- Of all love it is the highest point;
- Of all worship it is the central point;
- Of all salvation it is the starting point.
We can certainly join with John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress, when he said as he viewed the cross: “Blest cross! Blest sepulchre! Blest rather be the Man that there was put to shame for me.”
Let us think of some aspects of that death, and lift our hearts in gratitude to God while we do so, for His marvellous grace that has caused us to have an interest in it:
It was a singular mystery in that it was unwarranted. The Psalmist reveals this in Ps.69.4 when he says, “They that hate Me without a cause are more than the hairs of Mine head: they that would destroy Me, being Mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty”. Pilate, the vacillating judge, said, “I find in Him no fault at all” Jn.18.38. The thief who hung beside Jesus on the cross said, “And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss” Lk.23.41. Both Pilate and Herod agreed that “nothing worthy of death is done unto Him [‘by Him’]” Lk.23.15. The centurion who stood by the cross said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” Mk.15.39. Judas Iscariot admitted, “I have betrayed the innocent blood” Matt.27.4. Many times the Lord Himself told how He would be rejected, and suffer many things, and be killed, Lk.9.22; Matt.16.21. Peter tells the men of Israel in Acts 3.14,15, “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.”
In the face of all this evidence, and much more, that nation, represented in its leaders, said, “Away with Him” and “We have no king but Caesar” Jn.19.15. Thus a faultless One was led out to die. It was the greatest miscarriage of justice ever witnessed by His own nation. As we muse upon it, we think: ‘How could it ever have been allowed?’ That is, until we analyse our own hearts in the presence of God!
Think of the Lord’s death and its solitary dignity. As I have said, it was the Lord’s death. The death of a unique Son, of a true Shepherd, of a wonderful Saviour and of a perfect Servant. In 1Cor.2.8 the apostle Paul contrasts the wisdom of this world with God’s wisdom. Of the latter he says, “… had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”. Under the guilt of innocent blood, the nation of Israel has suffered ever since, Deut.19.13. The shedding of innocent blood also defiled the Land, Num.35.31-33. And because of that defilement the land has “spued [them] out” Lev.18.28. Peter says, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye [Jews] have taken, and by wicked hands [of the Gentiles] have crucified and slain” Acts 2.23. Dr. Binnie1, writing on Psalm 22, says, “In one respect, the psalm stands alone in the Scriptures, and indeed in all religious literature. It is a cry out of the depths, the sorrowful prayer of one who is not only persecuted by man, but seems to himself, for the time, to be utterly forsaken of his God. Yet there is no confession of sin, no penitent sorrow, no trace of compunction or remorse.” Yes, He alone understood the cost.
- 1 Binnie, William. “The Psalms: Their History, Teaching and Use”.
Come with me again to that death, and its sacrificial purity. When a man sacrifices his life, he sacrifices but a few days or years. Unlike all others, the Lord’s death was a choice whether to live or die. I repeat: the Lord was never subject to death. His spotless, inherent purity proves this. Six times we read in the New Testament that He “gave Himself” or “hath given Himself” Gal.1.4; 2.20; Eph.5.2,25; 1Tim.2.6; Titus 2.14; therefore, He died voluntarily. He “offered Himself without spot to God” Heb.9.14, when on the cross. He was obedient unto death (not that He became subject to it, but His life was one of absolute obedience to the very extent of the cross). He, in His obedience to the Father, went all the way. He was indeed the perfect Servant.
There was a satisfying glory about the Lord’s death. He was once offered, Heb.9.28. There is one sacrifice for sins, Heb.10.12. He is the one mediator between God and men, 1Tim.2.5. We are informed in Hebrews chapter 10 that the sacrifices of the Old Testament could never make the offerer perfect, could never purge the conscience, could never please God and there was no possibility of them taking away sins. In a word, they could not satisfy. In contrast, the Lord’s death has fully and eternally satisfied the righteous claims of the throne of God. He “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” Heb.9.26. What a sweet savour that death has been in the realms above, Eph.5.2!
The saving efficacy of the Lord’s death is altogether unlimited. It is the infinite work of an infinite Saviour. The unfathomable work of Calvary needs no man’s mathematical analysis to scale its boundaries or assess its value. It is, and will forever be, beyond man’s computation. It will be seen to reach the very ends of the universe itself, in its eternal value and efficacy. It is, after all, the Lord’s death! To appreciate this, even in our limited measure, is to enjoy that fundamental basis upon which our salvation rests secure, for it does not rest upon feelings, or emotions of any kind, but on the work itself.
Let us note its substitutionary ability. I am fully aware that the word ‘substitution’ is not found in the Bible, but, just as we said about the word ‘trinity’, the truth is found throughout God’s Word. If propitiation has the idea of the value of the work of Christ Godward, and we believe it has, enabling Him (we say it reverently) to act righteously and justly, and to move (so to speak) in the light of His own holy throne towards us for eternal benefit, this should make us marvel again as we peruse the various Scriptures in the New Testament dealing with the subject: Lk.18.13; Rom.3.25; Heb.2.17; 1Jn.2.2 and 1Jn.4.10. However, as might be expected, substitution views the value of the Lord’s death manward. We are on safe ground always if we treat the death of Christ as it is presented in the Scriptures without allowing our minds to be taken up with this ‘-ism’ or that, which at best give unbalanced views of the comprehensive character of that enormous work. Let us glory in the inerrant Word of God in these matters, and then we shall not go astray. Peter says He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree [not ‘to the tree’]” 1Pet.2.24. Paul says in Rom.5.6: “in due time Christ died for the ungodly”. Again, in Gal.2.20: “the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me”. John, in his First Epistle, records: “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” 1Jn.1.7. Eph.5.2 reminds us: “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour”. The freshness of the Word of God will outlive all theories about it; and they are many.
Finally, let me say a word on its special memory. That death is remembered by God: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name” Phil.2.9. It is remembered by the devil, for He “destroy[ed] [‘rendered powerless’] him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” Heb.2.14. Even on resurrection ground it is remembered by the Lord: “I am He that liveth [‘the living one’], and was dead [‘who became dead’]; and, behold, I am alive for evermore” Rev.1.18. We too, as saints, have the privilege of remembering Him, and we gladly “shew the Lord’s death till He come” 1Cor.11.26. Maranatha!
To be continued (D.V.)
Being an answer given to the editor of a local paper, who asked the question: “What do you judge the church was like in apostolic days?”
by Thomas D.W. Muir
T.D.W. Muir (1855-1931), a faithful preacher of the gospel in North America, was for most of his life based in Detroit, Michigan. He saw assemblies established, and also wrote hymns we still sing, including “Hark! sinner, hark! we have tidings so true”, “O child of God, there is for thee” and “We love to sing of the Lord who died”. Although this article was written many years ago, its message is no less pertinent today.
For nearly two thousand years there has been in the world that which claims to be ‘the church’. From its earliest beginning, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, its professed mission has been to represent God, in the midst of men. Hence, it is quite natural to ask: is ‘the church’, as we know it today, indeed representing Him? Is it carrying on the work for which it was called into existence? Are the results such as would be expected, from what is found in the Scriptures? These and such questions arise, as one ponders upon present conditions, with apostolic precepts and practices before them, as recorded in the Bible. For instance, in Scripture it is seen that:
1. The apostolic church was heavenly in its character, testimony and destiny.
They who composed it were “not of the world, even as [Christ was] not of the world” Jn.17.14-16. Hence the world “knew [them] not”, even as “it knew Him not” 1Jn.3.1. They were in the world, but not of it in the sense of being sharers of its ambitions, thoughts, purposes and ways.
2. The apostolic church was a witness for God in the world, Acts 1.8.
Like their Master, they testified that the works and ways of the world were evil, and that judgment was ahead, Jn.15.18-25. Like Him, also, it did not seek to influence the moral or political conduct of the world, by legislation, but preached the Word of God, that the conscience and heart might be reached, and the individual led to repentance, Acts 20.20,21.
3. The apostolic church had one remedy for all spiritual ills: the gospel.
They preached the ruin of man by nature, Rom.3.10-19. They pressed home on men the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the claims of God’s righteous throne, and the cross of Christ as the one all-sufficient answer to both human guilt and Divine righteousness, 1Cor.1.23,24.
4. The apostolic church had no questions as to the authenticity and credibility of the Scriptures of truth, 2Tim.3.16.
They quoted from the writings of Moses, David and the prophets freely, and claimed that they were the words of God, pressing upon the consciences of those who heard them, with telling power, so that men were “pricked in heart”, and led in conviction and contrition to Christ, Acts 26.22,23.
5. The apostolic church did not seek to entertain the world.
Their mission was the salvation of men, not their amusement, Mk.16.15,16. Fairs, bazaars, concerts (sacred or profane), grab-bag socials and petty theatricals had no place in the mission or work of the ‘early church’. Hence their meetings were punctuated, not with the laughter of delighted merry-makers, but with the sighs and groans of repentance, coming from broken hearts that God was ever ready to heal, Acts 2.37.
6. The apostolic church was poor – but powerful!
The apostle Peter had to say to the helpless beggar at the Beautiful gate, “Silver and gold have I none”, but could add, “such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” And the man was immediately made strong, and walked, leaped and praised God, Acts 3.6-8. Thus the influence they had among men was not because of wealth, or social position, but because of the power of God that was with them.
7. The apostolic church gave the Holy Spirit of God His place in their midst.
They were absolutely dependent on Him for all things. He it was who convinced men of sin, Jn.16.8; quickened them into life, Eph.1.13; enabled them to walk with God, Gal.5.16; energised them for service, 1Thess.1.5; and led and empowered them in their worship, Jn.4.24; Phil.3.3. In other words, they had no ecclesiastical machinery that could run and do the work as well, if not better, without God than with Him.
8. The apostolic church was composed of saved people.
They were “saints in Christ Jesus” Phil.1.1, etc., who had been “washed … sanctified … justified in the name of the Lord Jesus” 1Cor.6.11. They had been “born again” through the gospel, 1Pet.1.23-25; hence were “children of God by faith in Christ” Gal.3.26. They had been “baptised in one Spirit into one body”, of which Christ was and is the Head, 1Cor.12.13; Eph.1.22,23. Certain might creep into their assemblies who were not true Christians, but they did it “unawares” Jude v.4. As a rule the power of God was so amongst them that “of the rest durst no man join himself to them” Acts 5.13. They neither asked for nor received help from the world, 3Jn.vv.5-8. And yet there is no claim to perfection; no indication of that ‘perfect church’ that would-be reformers have sought to produce. They were composed of “saints”, it is true, yet there was no halo about the head of any, as men would depict them. They were men and women, “subject to like passions as we are” Jms.5.17, yet saved by grace, Eph.2.8, and kept by power, 1Pet.1.5, but needing help, shepherding, instruction and correction by the Word of God, because they were real men and women liable to failure and error. Hence, while the Acts of the Apostles tells of the planting of churches of God, as the result of gospel testimony, the Epistles are filled with matter to build them up, and, where needed, to correct their behaviour, that they might walk worthy of God.
9. The apostolic church made much of the name of the Lord Jesus.
They preached repentance and remission of sins in His name, Lk.24.47. They proclaimed salvation in His name, even as, in the power of that name, they had done works of might and healing, Acts 4.10-12. They brought down blessing on themselves and others in answer to prayer in His name, Acts 4.29-31. They baptised those believing the gospel, in His name, Acts 19.5, and they gathered together, in His name, Matt.18.20; 1Cor.5.4. If any among them gave a place to other names, even those of honoured servants of Christ, the Spirit of God condemned it in unmeasured terms, 1Cor.1.12-15. The people of God were one and the name of the Lord Jesus that which distinguished them, not from one another, as sectarian names do, but from the world, out of which God, in grace, had called them. As with Israel of old, they were called by the name of the “Lord” Deut.28.10, which was to be a testimony to the world around them.
10. The apostolic church were as strangers and pilgrims, looking for the return of the Lord Jesus from heaven, 1Pet.2.11,12.
Hence they made no attempt to settle down here. Some who had houses and lands sold them and used the proceeds for the spread of the truth, Acts 4.34-37. A simple upper room or loft answered their purpose for a gathering place. Their ‘place of worship’ was the “Holiest of all”, where Christ, their great High Priest, was gone, Heb.10.19-22, and not any temple made with hands down here.
The promise of the Lord that He was coming again for them, Jn.14.1-3, they believed. That He would come back again in like manner as He had gone, they had been assured, Acts 1.11, and so the attitude of the church was one of waiting for Him, 1Cor.1.7; 1Thess.1.9,10, etc. Before the Book is closed, the Lord thrice reminded His church that He was coming quickly, Rev.22.7-12,20. So, as long as the church maintained her freshness and unworldly character, His “Coming” was her hope. It was the motive power in service, 1Cor.15.58; the incentive to holiness in life, 1Jn.3.1-3; and their solace in days of bereavement, 1Thess.4.16-18.
These, then, are some of the characteristics and practices of the apostolic church. Characteristics that should appear today in that which claims to be His. Practices that would still be found to have His blessing in the twentieth as in the first century of the Christian era. But do they appear? Are these the practices of our day? Alas, we must, with shame, answer ‘No’, for, from being the chaste bride of Christ that God purposed His church should be, 2Cor.11.2, much of that which professes to be His is so truly in and of the world that He calls the confused and confusing mass by the name it suggests: “Babylon”, from which He commands His people to “come out” Rev.17.5; 18.4.
Is it not true that what calls itself ‘the church’ today is, in most cases, simply part of the “religious world”?: a term, by the way, very suggestive and appropriate. For while “religious”, it is still “the world”, of which the true church is not a part. Is it not true that instead of being a witness against the world and its ways, ‘the church’ feasts with it? That instead of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, every conceivable topic in social, commercial and political life is raked over, in the effort to find something ‘new’? That in an increasing ratio, men, claiming to be servants of God, are apologising for, if not absolutely denying, or overthrowing the Word of God, instead of preaching it? That, because of the majority being “of the world” who form the professing church, the entertainment and not the salvation of man is prominent, while material prosperity is sought, rather than the power of God. Is music and oratory not looked upon as more necessary than the presence and power of the Holy Spirit? Is there not more effort made to secure it?
It is no longer necessary in most ‘churches’ to be able to declare how, when and where God saved one, ere the hand of fellowship is given. Hence, the oft-used term ‘the invisible church’ indicates that those who are most ‘visible’ and prominent, do not necessarily belong to the real church. As for the blessed hope of His speedy return, how can it exist amid such surroundings? Where are they who are looking for Him? Have not thoughts of other kinds filled the heart? And, hence, that which God intended as a heavenly witness for Himself down here has become a mere accommodation to the ‘religious nature of man’, as it is called. The remedy therefore, we may say in conclusion, for all this failure, individual or collective, is to get to the Word of God, there to find what God says about the church, and His purposes concerning it; but only such as are the children of God, and are indwelt by the Spirit of God, would have the desire to do so, or the ability to profit by it. “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, ‘The Lord knoweth them that are His.’ And, ‘Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity’” 2Tim.2.19.
by Roderick Barton, England
The tenth verse of Acts chapter 9 begins, “And there was a certain disciple”. As with Saul earlier in the chapter, God again is revealing another person who has specifically been chosen to carry out His Divine will, a man called Ananias, meaning ‘Jehovah is gracious’. He is to undertake a task in which none other in the New Testament is yet to engage. He is to be the first person to be used of God in the welfare of the foremost persecutor and tormentor of the Church, Saul, this person who has caused such havoc and turmoil amongst the early believers, Acts 9.1,2.
In Acts chapter 9, Luke writes nothing of the background of Ananias, only that he is “a certain disciple”, a believer, and, as such, a vessel ready for Divine service. Such was his spirituality that when the Lord called his name in a vision, v.10, his reply was, “Behold, I, Lord.” He acknowledged the call as a man who was listening for the Lord’s word to him, ready for Divine instruction, totally submissive to his Lord and Saviour. Is this the attitude we have today? Are we unconditionally ready to respond in service for God? Ananias was, but the task of going to the aid of the number one persecutor of the Church no doubt seemed rather daunting.
It is particularly interesting and challenging to observe that Ananias does not plead his frailty or decline the call, but questions the dreadful conduct of Saul against the saints in rampant persecution, vv.13,14. The Lord in reply graciously tells Ananias to go his way and explains His great purposes for Saul, expressed in three principal statements: firstly, “he is a chosen vessel”, v.15; secondly, the Lord says that he is “to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings and the children of Israel” v.15 (the order, with Gentiles first, before Jews, is most significant); thirdly, he is to suffer great things for “My name’s sake” v.16.
After hearing such monumental purposes from the mind of God, Ananias hastened to the home of Judas on Straight Street in Damascus, v.11. He could not ask anyone for advice; God had spoken, and that was enough for him. What a display of faith and selfless commitment! This is the hallmark of a faithful servant of God.
The first recorded words by Ananias as he entered the house are, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me” v.17. There is a lovely picture of grace here, displayed by a man moving with Christ-like character towards a believer, once of an appalling ungodly reputation but now redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. What a testimony to the power of the gospel! Ananias acknowledges, without hesitation, that Saul is undoubtedly now a brother in Christ. The past life of Saul has been dealt with forever through the finished work of Christ upon the cross at Calvary. There is no question whatsoever about the conversion of Saul or his position as a brother in Christ. In addition, Ananias clearly states that he is there by Divine command: God has told him to go to Saul, and that is sufficient.
The testimony of Ananias is a lesson in carrying out the will of God even if the circumstances are daunting, unique or somewhat challenging. Ananias is also an example to us in having confidence in what God has done, in not doubting His purposes, and in showing fellowship to another believer whatever the circumstances of his or her former life.
Ananias went home from Straight Street having accomplished a work for God. He would have had little concept of the significance of his visit to the home of Judas and his meeting with Saul upon the lives of so many for eternity in the centuries ahead, down through world history. He passes off the pages of the Word of God and we hear nothing of his life thereafter. No doubt the memory of the visit to Straight Street stayed very precious to Ananias for the rest of his life. Surely too Saul, later Paul, had a special place in his heart and prayers for the dear saint who first acknowledged him as a brother in Christ. Years later, he warmly commended him: “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there” Acts 22.12.
Ananias left a delightful testimony, of one who did the work he was given to do, faithfully, seeking no personal glory or reward. He is one whose example every believer should follow.
What a moment it must be for a prisoner when, at last, the penalty for his or her crime has been paid in full and he or she can walk free and enjoy liberty that has been rightly denied him or her for months or years! To feel the fresh breezes of freedom and know that not another moment will be spent behind bars!
Conversely, what a horrendous moment it must be when, after examining the evidence presented, a verdict is reached, guilt is established and the sentence is passed! It may mean a long term in prison, deprived of freedom, or in some countries the death penalty may be the fearful price to pay. Even in our lax society where standards have dropped alarmingly, it is recognised that certain crimes merit severe punishment.
It is, however, hugely disappointing, even after having served my sentence, to discover that the law can never totally erase the stain of guilt and if, on a future occasion, I fall foul of the law I will have a criminal record and previous misdemeanours will be taken into account and result in a less lenient attitude towards me.
Do you realise that you are guilty even if you have never committed a serious crime? God’s Word says “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” Romans 3.19. You may wish to protest your innocence and say that this message does not apply to you but the solemn, non-negotiable fact is that “there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” Romans 3.22,23. Such is the sad plight of the entire human race that we entered this world with the dark blot of sin deeply ingrained in our soul. How humbling to realise that we are sinners from the very beginning and the malady soon manifests itself in a multiplicity of ways. “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” Psalm 58.3. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” Psalm 51.5. The old adage is true: we are not sinners because we sin but we sin because we are sinners.
You may argue that you are not responsible for being born in sin. That is true, and God, Who is righteous, will not punish you for that. However, He, at infinite cost, has made provision that you may, in your lifetime, have your sins forgiven, and if you refuse that provision, and thus die in your sins, you are responsible for that, and you will be punished. Forgiveness of sins is not optional but an absolute necessity if you want to escape the eternal punishment your sins deserve. Failure to have this serious matter dealt with will mean banishment from God and missing Heaven forever. “These shall go away into everlasting punishment …” Matthew 25.46.
How can God pardon the guilty and cleanse the defiled if He is righteous? He found a willing Substitute to bear the punishment in our stead. It was necessary for that Person to be without sin, absolutely guiltless, and the only One Who could take our place was the Lord Jesus, God’s “only begotten Son” John 3.16; “His own Son” Romans 8.32. It was an incalculable price to pay but the wonder of the gospel is that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” John 3.16. The full penalty of our sins must be borne or we can never be free. Paul announced to people in Corinth, “Christ died for our sins” 1Corinthians 15.3. The same man wrote in Romans 5.8, “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
No effort on your part will ever be sufficient for God to pardon you but if you take God at His word and trust Christ, accepting that He did all that God demanded for your eternal freedom, you will no longer be under condemnation; you will walk free and “if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” John 8.36.
- “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe. The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as a high wall in his own conceit” Proverbs 18.10,11
- Clearly these two verses are parallel. Both contain the word “strong”, but what a contrast there is between them! The first speaks of the true refuge of “the righteous”, the latter of the false refuge of “the rich”. The former trusts in “the name of the Lord”, the latter in his own “wealth”, mistakenly supposing that it will defend him, like a “high wall” does for a “strong city”. However, “the righteous” person does not look to his own resources, but to the Lord, Who is like “a strong tower”, to which he can speedily run in any time of danger and know that he “is safe”. David said, “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; the God of my rock; in Him will I trust: He is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; Thou savest me from violence” 2Sam.22.2,3.
- “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” 1Cor.11.31;
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” Gal.6.1
- We should be rigorous in judging ourselves and gracious in judging others.
- John Wesley
- “And were beyond measure astonished, saying, ‘He hath done all things well: He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak’” Mark 7.37.
This confession from the observers of the Lord’s healing of the deaf man with a speech impediment, Mk.7.31-37, draws our attention to the past, indeed, right to the beginning, where we read that “God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good” Gen.1.31. Thus, the Deity of the Lord Jesus is here stated. It also takes us to the future, for Isaiah prophesied that in the Messianic age, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” Isa.35.5. So, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, is here giving a foretaste of His coming reign. And we can apply it, spiritually, in the present, for, like the man in the story, our ears have been opened, and our tongues have been loosed, v.35, to praise Him. “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name” Heb.13.15.
- Now in a song of grateful praise
To my blest Lord my voice I’ll raise;
With all the saints I’ll join to tell –
My Jesus hath done all things well.
- Now in a song of grateful praise