Thursday, November 28, 2013

Jesus Christ: Teacher of Wisdom

At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank You for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever (intelligent, learned, or proud), and for revealing them to the childlike (the humbled disciples). Yes, Father, it pleased You to do it this way! My Father has entrusted everything to Me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” Then Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you. Let Me teach you (learn from Jesus), because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:25-30 (NLT)

In His prayer, Jesus mentioned two kinds of people: the “wise” and the “little children (see also Mark 10:13-16; Matthew 18:3; Luke 18:15-17). The “wise” are those arrogant in their own knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 3:7), while the “childlike” are those who accepts the truth of God's Word as a gift and have a total dependence and full trust with God (see Proverbs 3:5-6). People full of pride and wisdom in their own eyes often reject the truth of God’s Word. Jesus was opposed to those who were intellectually and spiritually proud (being wise in one's own eyes) (Luke 10:21-22). These people are often prideful, selfishness or self-centered with a “know-it-all” attitude (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16).  Our world worships power, influence, and wealth but not Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ rewards and blesses our obedience to God, love of others, selflessness, wholehearted devotion to God, and truth. Moreover, He welcomes and accepts all those who have humbly, obediently, and genuinely accepted Him as Lord and Savior by simple faith and seeks Him.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible (unsearchable) it is for us to understand His decisions (judgments) and His ways (paths)! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts (mind)? Who knows enough to give Him advice? And who has given Him so much that He needs to pay it back? For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)

As God in human flesh, Jesus is all wise and knows all the answers of life (Matthew 12:41-42; Luke 11:31-32; see also Philippians 2:1-11). Jesus possesses the fullness of God and reveals the fullness of God’s wisdom (Colossians 2:3, 9). God has absolute power and absolute wisdom (Romans 11:33-36).  He manages the universe and our lives with perfect wisdom, justice, and love. God is all wise and all knowing; therefore, we can wholeheartedly trust God with our lives. We can obtain God’s wisdom by “the fear of the Lord.”  The “fear of the Lord” means wholeheartedly respecting, loving, and obeying God and fleeing evil and wickedness (see Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7-9; Proverbs 3:7; Proverbs 9:6, 10; Proverbs 14:1 ). As we stay intimately close to God, knowing Him, and learning His ways, we find wisdom (Deuteronomy 4:6). “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to turn from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28, HCSB).  If we have trouble fearing God and departing from evil, we can ask God for His wisdom. God graciously and generously gives His wisdom by sending His Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Wisdom – to those who genuinely and wholeheartedly ask Him (James 1:5). God’s Holy Spirit equips and empowers God’s people with discernment, human skills, and wisdom.

God wants everyone to depart from evil and follow His righteous path (Deuteronomy 4:6; Acts 5:32). God’s Holy Spirit gives us the power of God to flee evil and obey God within our hearts. To disobey God’s Word is to forfeit one’s wisdom (Jeremiah 8:8-9). The teachings of Jesus (mainly proverbs and parables) culminates with His command to love God and love one another (see Matthew 22:34-40; John 13:34-35; John 15:12, 17; 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30; Colossians 2:3). The laws of love revealed in our everyday attitudes, activities, and relationships towards God and others are central to the Old Testament and New Testament and the crown of God’s wisdom teaching (see Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:5; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Mark 12:29-31; Romans 13:8 and Galatians 5:14).

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. Proverbs 3:3-7 (NIV)

According to Apostle Paul, Jesus Christ is our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:3). Jesus Christ not only fulfilled the Old Testament law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17) but He also fulfilled the wisdom books of the Old Testament (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs) (see 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30; Colossians 2:3). Even more, Jesus Christ is “greater than Solomon,” the writer of Proverbs (Matthew 12:42). As Christians, we are now to faithfully and intimately follow Jesus Christ as our Teacher in His path of wisdom (see Matthew 11:28-30). In Jesus Christ’s words, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you. Let Me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT). Jesus Christ wants us to come to Him, become His disciple, and learn from Him. In the wisdom books of the Old Testament, wisdom was given to people through the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (see Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). But becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is wisdom because to possess wisdom is to possess Jesus Christ. Thus, to walk the path of wisdom means to walk the path of Jesus Christ and embrace His teaching. God gives generously to everyone Jesus Christ’s wisdom who seeks and trust Him as Lord and Savior (Proverbs 2:1-10; cf. James 1:5).

God the Father reveals Himself to the God Son (Jesus Christ), and Jesus Christ reveals Himself and the Father to all who are humbly willing to come to Him in wholehearted faith (the disciples). The disciples of Jesus Christ are often called little children or childlike. But more generally, disciples are humble followers of Jesus Christ who learn from Jesus Christ as their Teacher.  Sadly, the religious leaders of Jesus Christ’s day placed “heavy burdens” on people’s shoulders by insisting on a legalistic interpretation of the God’s Law (see Matthew 23:4).  The yoke of Jesus (His teaching) are light in comparison with the burdensome teaching of the religious leaders of His day (see Matthew 23:4).

Why are Jesus Christ’s teachings light? Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to empower and teach His disciples the truths and wisdom of God (John 14:17, 25-26; John 16:12-14; see also Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Holy Spirit writes or indwells the wisdom and truth of God within the hearts of Jesus’ disciples (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Ephesians 1:17). As we stay close and intimate with Jesus, He empowers and strengthens His disciples to obey God’s righteous standards found in the Law (John 15:1-8). Jesus Christ is the true Word of God (John 1:1-5, 14). Again, God’s righteous standards are summed up as wholehearted faith in God that expresses itself in love for God and love for others (Galatians 5:6; see also Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Romans 13:8-10).

Apostle Paul:  I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ Himself. In Him (Christ) lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments. For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong. And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him (Jesus Christ). Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Do not let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the Head over every ruler and authority. Colossians 2:1-10 (NLT)

According to the Apostle Paul, we find in Jesus Christ all the treasures of wisdom (Colossians 2:3). Even more, Jesus Christ’s wisdom protects us from false philosophies, beliefs, and teachings. We defeat false teaching and beliefs by staying intimately close and united with Jesus Christ through personal Bible study, diligent church attendance, worship, obeying the Holy Spirit, and prayer. In the Old Testament, God’s wisdom on display was creation (see Proverbs 3:18-20; Proverbs 8:22-31). Creation revealed the wisdom of God. But now in Jesus Christ, creation and redemption have joined and now the great example of the wisdom of God is not creation but how God has accomplished redemption for His people through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross to save us (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In summary, who am I in Jesus Christ?  The Apostle Paul tells us that through our wholehearted trust and obedience in Jesus Christ we are made not only made holy, righteous, and redeemed, but also made wise (see 1 Corinthians 1:2; 30; see also 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1Thessalonians 4:3-7).Thus, if we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior by faith, we have wisdom, holiness – God’s Holy Spirit, and a new life (see Acts 1:8; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Colossians 3:1-4, 16; Galatians 3:27-29; Galatians 5:22-23; Titus 3:5-7). Our intimate, spiritual, and living union with Jesus Christ brings true and lasting wisdom – that is divine wisdom. Divine wisdom far exceeds any human wisdom, philosophies and knowledge.  In close faith and intimacy to Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God is revealed in our daily lives. Divine wisdom is not just the gaining of academic skills and other talents but the gaining of spiritual discernment based on the wisdom of God as demonstrated in the Cross. Human wisdom, philosophies and beliefs do not have the power of God to change lives. This power comes only from the pure, simple message of the atoning work of Cross (Romans 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18). The atoning death of Jesus Christ on the Cross opened the way for God to extend His grace to sinful humanity, and pour out upon humans such benefits as wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, etc. without measure.

Apostle Paul:  Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And He chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made Him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; He made us pure and holy, and He freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NLT)

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan,1992.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. New York: Zondervan, 2008.
Douglas, J.D. and Tenney, Merrill. NIV Compact Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1989.
LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush. Old Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.
Schwab, George. The Book of Proverbs: Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7Carol Streams, IL:  Tyndale House Pub., 2009.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament. Victor Books, 2001.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant

“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put My instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know Me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NLT)

Jeremiah’s prophecy has provisional application for the returning exiles but ultimately his prophecy looks far beyond to Israel’s ultimate gathering under the new covenant (“testament”) (see Jeremiah 31:31–34; see also Jeremiah 32:38-40). A covenant is an agreement between God and His people. Another word for covenant is “testament.” The essence of the old covenant is the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were signed by the finger of God Himself on stone tablets in the Old Testament (see Exodus 23:3-4; Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:15-16, 19; Exodus 34:1-4, 27-29; Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 5:22).  The remaining laws, regulations, and decrees of the old covenant were the details. The old covenant made clear that these rules and regulations were meant to penetrate a person’s heart. Unless the law became part of a person’s inner attitude, it would probable make no different.

The new covenant is the zenith of God’s covenant-making with Israel. The establishment of this new covenant was Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:6). Both the new covenant and the old covenant were based upon love, particularly wholehearted love for God and love for others (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 12:28; Mark 12:28-34; John 3:16; Romans 13:8-10). The old covenant repeatedly emphasized we are to wholeheartedly love and trust God and be faithful (fidelity) to Him as the only true God. We were to intimately and personally share our lives with God. Examples of this intimate heart relationship were seen in Abraham (Nehemiah 9:7-8) and David (1 Samuel 13:14; Psalm 86:11; Acts 13:22). Later, God sent the prophets Elijah, Hosea, Ezekiel, and many others to compare our covenant relationship with God as a marriage union. In fact, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 when He gave the most important commandment as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (see Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30).

In the Holy Bible, love is more than a feeling. Love is a decision to serve another person’s interest and does not harm to others. Godly loves seeks all goodness, justice, patience, forgiveness, kindness, righteousness, and mercy towards others as these are the very qualities of God (see Exodus 34:6-7; Nehemiah 9:17). God is “compassionate and gracious . . .  slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7, NIV). God has always required these internal motives or heart actions in both the old and new covenants (e.g., see Isaiah 1:10-20; Isaiah 66:3; Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:22-23; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 23:23-26). Both the old and new covenant expressed God’s love for His people (see Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 10:15; Deuteronomy 23:5). In return, God asked for obedience to Him based upon our faithful love, not on a sense of duty. God wanted His people to faithfully love Him and cling to Him. God wanted not just an outward conformity, but an obedience that comes from our hearts. The new covenant would create a singleness of heart and action to faithfully love God above all else (see also Matthew 6:33).

“And I (God) will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship Me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship Me, and they will never leave Me. I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land.” Jeremiah 32:39-41 (NLT)

The old covenant stated directly, “the Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees (laws) and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive” (Deuteronomy 6:24). In other words, the old covenant laws were given for the Israelites own well-being and goodness. God wanted to protect the people from the harm that comes from idolatry, neglect of worship, lying, adultery, greed (covetousness), murder, and breakdown of the family (see Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Moses and many other Old Testament prophets repeatedly warned God’s people to place God’s laws upon their hearts and teach them to their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7) that it would go well for them and their families (Deuteronomy 28). Finally, the prophet Jeremiah predicted that God would place these laws on His people’s hearts through His Holy Spirit (see Jeremiah 31:33-34 quoted at Hebrews 8:8-12). The old covenant was useful and God-given. But as Israel’s history proved, the old covenant did not have the power to transform peoples’ inner attitudes (heart) and their thinking. The apostle Paul amplified the contrast of the old covenant and the new covenant at 2 Corinthians 2:12-3:18. The new covenant came with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ fulfilled and completed the old covenant began at Mount Sinai (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:27, 44-49). Jesus summarized the old covenant by commanding everyone to love God and to love each other as love summarized the entire old covenant (Matthew 22:34-40).   

Like the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants (Abraham 15:9-21; 2 Samuel 7:5-16), the new covenant foretold by the prophet Jeremiah is unconditional (or absolute) (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This new covenant rendered obsolete (outdated) the old Mount Sinai covenant given to Moses. This old covenant served as the manual of procedure for carrying out the moral, civil, and ceremonial regulations to Israel in the pre-Christian era (Deuteronomy 7:6–11; Hebrews 8:7–13). But this old covenant with its many rituals, feasts, and rituals were just a copy or mere shadows expressing the reality to come in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the original and He revealed once and for all the meaning of the old covenant sacrifices, laws, and regulations. Because of Jesus Christ, sacrifices are no longer necessary (Hebrews 10:11-12), and God’s laws are now written in our minds and hearts of His faithful people (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Nevertheless, some features of the old covenant (“testament”) are carried over into the new covenant. First of all, the new covenant stressed the importance of the unchangeable principles of God’s law. However, these principles are now written not on stone tablets but on the hearts of God’s people. In other words, God’s new covenant will become part of the people’s inward code for living, and will conform in all respects to the moral law of the Holy Scriptures. God Himself would internally give His people the desire and heart to obey His laws through His Holy Spirit. Accordingly, the ideal that the old covenant called in external commandments will now be internalized inside the heart under the terms of the new covenant. Second, with the establishment of the old covenant at Mount Sinai, Israel had become nationally God’s people (Exodus 6:6-9; Exodus 19:5-6). As such, the people of Israel were to be a wholeheartedly faithful and obedient people that reflected God’s standards in their daily lives (Deuteronomy 26:16–19). Under the new covenant, the people had a closer intimacy to God than under the old covenant as a full and living experience. Even more, not just Israelites were God’s people but all believers (Jews and Gentiles) who wholeheartedly love and trust God are called under the new covenant God’s people (Jeremiah 31:34; see also Galatians 3:6–9, 26–29). By faith in Jesus Christ, Gentile (non-Jews) also became the spiritual seed of Abraham and members of the family of God (Galatians 3:26–29; Ephesians 2:1–3:6).  Third, the new covenant has an added feature of forgiveness. God forgave people of their sins under the administration of the Mount Sinai covenant (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 86:15; Joel 2:13). However, under the new covenant, God will remember our sins no more (past, present, and future). God’s people now have full and continuous forgiveness of sin (1 John 1:8-9). Under the old covenant, God’s people approached God in their worship experience through human priests, mediators, or prophets (e.g., Exodus 20:19). But with the new covenant, God’s people now have direct access to God by faith because of the finished redemption by Jesus Christ on Calvary’s Cross (Hebrews 4:14-16; see also 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Titus 3:5–7). The new covenant rests on Jesus Christ’s atonement (or punishment) for humankind’s sins on the Cross (see Matthew 26:27-28; Hebrews 8:10–12).

In essence, the new covenant is now operative and causes God’s law to be written on the hearts of His people. The indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit within a person’s heart causes full provision for obedience to God’s laws. This obedience causes faithful and victorious living (see Titus 2:11-14; Titus 3:4-7). Obedience to God’s laws do not earn anyone salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10). Rather, obedience to God’s laws is a natural response from a person who has experienced God’s forgiveness and love found in Jesus Christ (See 2 Corinthians 3:6). When we genuinely turn our whole hearts to God, then God’s Holy Spirit creates within us a new heart and a desire to faithfully obey Him (see John 3:5-16). Nevertheless, the full recognition of the new covenant awaits the second coming (advent) of Jesus Christ (Revelation 21:1-9). 

KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan,1992.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. New York: Zondervan, 2008.
Douglas, J.D. and Tenney, Merrill. NIV Compact Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1989.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book of Isaiah and God’s Salvation

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! The watchmen shout and sing with joy, for before their very eyes they see the Lord returning to Jerusalem. Let the ruins of Jerusalem break into joyful song, for the Lord has comforted His people. He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has demonstrated His holy power before the eyes of all the nations. All the ends of the earth will see the victory of our God. Isaiah 52:7-10 (NLT)

The book of Isaiah has been called an Old Testament masterpiece of prophetic literature. In fact, the New Testament quotes the book of Isaiah more than 400 times, more than all other prophets combined. No other book can match Isaiah’s rich voluntary and use of imagery. In some respects, the book of Isaiah is the theological textbook of the Old Testament that stresses complete faith and trust in an all Holy God (see Isaiah 11:1-5; Isaiah 48:12; Isaiah 63:15-17). Within these pages, we see the full dimension of God (God the Father, God the Son – Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit) and His salvation.

The prophet Isaiah is considered a giant in Jewish history and one of Israel’s greatest prophets. However, he spent his days in the hallway of power as an advisor to kings of Judah (Israel’s southern kingdom) and helped shape the course of his nation. Yet during his lifetime, Isaiah saw people using their power to hurt the poor, oppressed, and widows (Isaiah 1:23). Men went around drunk while women only cared about their clothes while ignoring the needs of others. The people only gave lip service to God with a good outward appearance of religion. There was no shortage of prayers, religious celebrations, and offerings during Isaiah’s times but the people did not have a heart of true obedience for God and His ways. Although the prophet Isaiah moved in royal circles, he warned the people to turn to God and away from sin.

As to the authorship of the book of Isaiah, the traditional view states that the prophet Isaiah wrote this entire Old Testament book bearing his name. However, many critics today argue that the book of Isaiah with its sixty-six chapters is really two books (Isaiah chapters 1 through 39 and Isaiah chapters 40 through 66), usually called “First” and “Second” Isaiah. Further study of the book by some biblical scholars finds three books within Isaiah, chapters 1 through 39, chapters 40 through 55, and chapters 56 through 66. Yet, no ancient manuscript or version gives any indication that the book of Isaiah existed in two or more parts. In the Jewish listing of canonical books, Isaiah has always counted as one book. The New Testament writers clearly regarded the book of Isaiah as one book (see Matthew 3:3; Matthew 12:17-18; Luke 3:4; John 12:38–41; Acts 8:28–34; Romans 10:16, 20.) Therefore, the book of Isaiah needs to be studied as a single work, in spite of the countless ways in which the book may be analyzed.

Within the pages of this grand masterpiece, the prophet Isaiah gives us a picture of the Lord God high and lifted upon His throne surrounded by heavenly beings all declaring God’s holiness (Isaiah 6:1-13; see also Revelation 4:1-9). God gave the prophet Isaiah this vision of His heavenly court (see also Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Psalm 82:1; Psalm 89:5-7). As a true prophet of God, Isaiah was made privy to God’s heavenly court, as were the prophets Micaiah (1 Kings 22:19-20) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:18, 22; see also Amos 3:7). Isaiah’s vision contained a revelation of the All Holy One with infinite and supreme holiness seated on the throne “high and lifted up,” clad in a robe whose hem filled the Temple (see also Leviticus 11:44). Angels called seraphim serve to guard the throne, worship Israel’s Great King, and minister to Isaiah’s sinful need (Isaiah 6:5, 7; see also Revelation 4:6-9). In the midst of God’s holiness, the prophet Isaiah realized he was a sinner living in the midst of sinners (Isaiah 6:5-6), in need of mercy because his eyes “seen the Great King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah’s vision declared both God’s freedom to make Himself known and the forgiveness of sin for His people. More than anything, Isaiah’s vision declared that God’s glory and sovereignty fills the whole earth (Isaiah 6:3; Isaiah 40:15-24; see also Numbers 14:21-22; Psalm 72:18-19; Ezekiel 1:28). Then, God touched Isaiah’s mouth and commissioned him as a prophet of God (Isaiah 6:7; see also Jeremiah 1:9).

Before the prophet Isaiah saw the true and living God, the prophet declared to the people (Judah and Israel) their rebellious sins against God (Isaiah 1:1-16) and the promises of God’s redemption (recovery, healing, and blessings) for those who would repent and turn to God (Yahweh). The prophet reminded the people that God did not like the people’s pride, idolatry, and heartless devotion to Him (Isaiah 2:6-10). God would condemn anyone that exploited others (Isaiah 5:8-10); had repeated drunkenness (Isaiah 5:11-12); pride and self-importance (Isaiah 5:18-19); immoral standards (Isaiah 5:20); arrogance (Isaiah 5:21); and distortion of justice and brides (Isaiah 5:22-24). Isaiah reminded the people that God demanded justice, righteousness, and mercy towards others and not bloodshed, hatred and selfishness (Isaiah 5:7). God wanted the people to bear good fruit and to be a light of goodness to the nations (see also Matthew 5:14-16; Matthew 7:20). Like today, Israel and Judah had become unfaithful to God and that unfaithfulness was specified as social abuse of others, exploitation of the powerless, and violence against one’s neighbors (Isaiah 1:21-26). God wanted the people to enjoy life, but not sin (see 1 Timothy 6:17).The prophet Isaiah called the people to turn from their lives of sin and warned them of God's judgment and punishment if they failed to do so.

Geographically, Isaiah 1 through 39 centers in Judah and especially in Jerusalem, its capital. In these chapters we see the westward marches of the Assyrian army first under Tiglath-pilser III and then the ravaging of Judah by the Assyrian king Sennacherib. The prophet Isaiah used these foreign invasions to teach basic principles about God’s ways. First, the prophet noted that God’s land was full of crimes of all sorts:  rebellion, heartless religious ceremonies, outright idolatry, flagrant injustice of others, selfish reliance, arrogance, and drunkenness. God would allow foreign invasions into the land to judge His people and their leaders’ wickedness. Second, the prophet Isaiah set up a contrast between two kings who faced the foreign threats, King Ahaz and King Hezekiah. King Ahaz wavered between God’s command to “stand firm in faith” with God (Isaiah 7:9) and his trust in self and other alliances. King Hezekiah, however, did not waver in his approach to foreign threat. Instead, King Hezekiah pleaded with the Lord God, “Save us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone are the Lord” (Isaiah 37:20). In turn, Hezekiah hears the Lord’s promise:  “For I will defend this city to save it, for My own sake and for the sake of My servants David” (Isaiah 37:35). These two events of Ahaz and Hezekiah from the book of Isaiah teach the importance of wholeheartedly trusting God and obeying God’s Word in all circumstances. 

Also, Isaiah chapters 1 through 39 address God’s complete sovereignty of the nations. The Lord God used the foreign aggressors – first Assyria and then Babylonia to purify His people of their wickedness. But God’s divine hand set limits on the foreign aggressors. Through the prophet Isaiah, God wanted the people to know that He was the true Ruler of all nations. God will judge all nations for their pride, evil worship, and inhumane treatment of people. Moreover, God wanted to assure His people that they must trust and be wholeheartedly faithful to Him and not self and foreign alliances. The prophet Isaiah looked into the future and saw that God was universally in control of all nations (see Isaiah chapters 24-27; 34-35). Sometimes, Isaiah chapters 1 through 39 are called Isaiah’s Apocalypse.

The book of Isaiah is filled with patterns of praise and prayer to celebrate central role of wholehearted faith and trust in God (see Isaiah 26:3; see also Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 37:16-20). Prayer and praise become the central emphasis in the book of Isaiah because prayer and praise demonstrate what God wanted from His people in anticipation of God’s sure victory.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the Eternal Rock. He humbles the proud and brings down the arrogant city. He brings it down to the dust. The poor and oppressed trample it underfoot, and the needy walk all over it. But for those who are righteous, the way is not steep and rough. You are a God who does what is right, and you smooth out the path ahead of them.
Isaiah 26:3-7 (NLT)

When we turn to Isaiah 40, the prophet informed the reader that God’s judgment for sin has taken placed on Israel and Judah. Isaiah 40 through 55 announces the end of God’s punishment for sin (Isaiah 40:1-2) and God’s restoration and blessings to His covenant people (Isaiah 40:6-8; Isaiah 44:22-23; Isaiah 55:10-11). God’s restoration would be like a new exodus out of Egyptian bondage (Isaiah 43:2, 16-19; Isaiah 52-10-12) as God redeemed and saved them (Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 49:8). This restoration and blessing reveals God’s gracious forgiveness of sins that comes with genuinely returning, repenting, and being renewed in God (Isaiah 43:25). God had sent Israel and Judah away from the Promised Land due to their continual sin, unfaithfulness to God, and disobedience. The prophet Isaiah predicted God raise up a new leader, Cyrus of the Persian Empire, to bring about the punishment of Judah and Israel’s foreign enemies (Isaiah 44:28). God would return His people from foreign exile into the Promised Land to begin restoration and the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Isaiah 44:28-45:7).

God:  “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for My own sake and will never think of them again.”  Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)

Many of the people feared God’s continuing judgment for their sins. However, the prophet Isaiah reminded the people that God was ready to do a new thing in transforming their life and destiny (see Isaiah 40:21-31; Isaiah 42:5-9; Isaiah 44:24-28). Israel and Judah’s suffering were not due to God’s neglect, as some had complained, but to God’s divine activity to stop the people’s rebellion, unfaithfulness, idolatry, pride, and disobedience (see Isaiah 44:9-20; Isaiah 45:20; Isaiah 46:1-7). Yet, God through the prophet Isaiah called the people, whose sin had forced a painful but temporary punishment, to a new union marked by God’s everlasting love and compassion with Israel’s new salvation to be found in a Sovereign-Savior (Isaiah 54:4-8; see also Luke 4:8). 

The next section of the book of Isaiah is Isaiah chapters 56-66. In these last chapters, the reader is introduced to God’s glorious light and presence (Isaiah 60) and restoration (Isaiah 61). Also, the prophet Isaiah reminded the people that God continued to demand righteousness, justices, mercy, and obedience along with honoring God’s Sabbath day (Isaiah 56:1-2; Isaiah 58:13-14). God wanted the people to care for the needs of the oppressed and the poor (Isaiah 58:6-12) while stopping all greed and dishonesty in the law courts (Isaiah 59:1-8). Finally, God demanded all profane acts of worship to be eliminated (Isaiah 65:1-7). The prophet Isaiah reminded the people again that God wanted holiness (see also Isaiah chapters 1 through 39).

The book of Isaiah stresses the holiness of God. “The Holy One of Israel,” is referred to twenty-five times in the book. “Holy” means to be “separate, set apart.” During the Mosaic period, the word holy intended a moral or ethical connotation. At Mount Sinai, God said to Moses: “You [Israel] shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). God wanted His people to constitute the Lord’s kingdom (the people who acknowledged Him as their King), and like priests, were to be wholly consecrated (holy) to His service (see also Isaiah 61:6; 1 Peter 2:5). This relationship required fidelity to God and obedience to His moral code as specified in the covenant (God’s Word). Israel’s holiness, then, implied being separated to God in belief and action. The prophet Isaiah stressed to the people the moral or behavioral nature of holiness more than its ritual significance.

During Israel’s wilderness years, holiness was bound up with the ritual and sacrificial system. Such elaborate details of the sacrificial system were designed to impress upon the Israelites that disobedience to the Law alienated them from God, and required atonement or reconciliation. But these religious sacrificial rituals had become an empty form.  The term “unclean” came to be used with references to ceremonial or ritual uncleanness than to immoral behavior or disobedience to God’s Law. Isaiah sought to reestablish the relationship between worship and obedience. So, God sent the prophet Isaiah to instruct the people to return to God and listen to His Word (Isaiah 6:9; see also Isaiah 1:2-6, 10-17). Without obedience to God the elements of worship were meaningless (Isaiah 1:11-15; see also Amos 5:21-24). What God wanted from the people were moral or proper behavior (Isaiah 1:16). The people had lost their moral qualities – justice and righteousness (Isaiah 1:21) – consistent with its relationship with a Holy God. The moral character and behavior of the worshipper were more important than the number of their religious activities (Isaiah 1:11-15; Isaiah 66:3; see also Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:22-23; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8).

These are the visions that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. He saw these visions during the years when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah. Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against Me. . . .  What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship Me, who asked you to parade through My courts with all your ceremony?  Stop bringing Me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts Me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting— they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to Me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of My sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool. If you will only obey Me, you will have plenty to eat. But if you turn away and refuse to listen, you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies. I, the Lord, have spoken!” See how Jerusalem, once so faithful, has become a prostitute. Once the home of justice and righteousness, she is now filled with murderers. Once like pure silver, you have become like worthless slag. Once so pure, you are now like watered-down wine. Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows.”  Isaiah 1:1-2, 11-24 (NLT)

Isaiah’s name means “God saves” (similarly as Joshua and Elisha) which may partly explain why Isaiah has such great interest in salvation. God is the only true Savior (Isaiah 43:3, 11). As the only true and living God, God is full of continual compassion, mercy, and faithfulness (see Exodus 34:6-7; Nehemiah 9:17; Lamentations 3:22-23; John 4:2). These qualities of God never changes and stays the same generation after generation (Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17). Idols and other gods are unable to save (Isaiah 46:7); so are sorcerers and astrologers (Isaiah 47:13). In Isaiah chapters 40 – 55, righteousness is connected with salvation. In Isaiah chapters 56 – 66, salvation calls for a response of doing justice and righteousness (Isaiah 56:1). Salvation is wrought with reward, redemption, deliverance, and victory (Isaiah 59:16; Isaiah 62:11).  The prophet Isaiah also stresses that God as Redeemer as seen in Isaiah chapters 40 – 55. As Redeemer, God will make His people victorious and joyous (Isaiah 41:14-16). Yahweh is the only true and living God and His glory fills the whole earth (Isaiah 6:3). Therefore, any other gods are nothing (Isaiah 2:8, 18, 20): “They were no gods, but the work of human hands – wood and stone” (Isaiah 37:19). Yahweh is the only protector and sustainer of His people and controller of all nations (Isaiah 40:11, 13-17).  

The book of Isaiah has more to say about the Holy Spirit than any other Old Testament writer (see e.g., Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 32:15-16; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 63:10).  Obviously, the book of Isaiah contains nothing like the fullness of the New Testament doctrine of the Spirit. Nonetheless, the book of Isaiah represents a marked advance in the revelation concerning the Spirit over what had been given previously.

He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:3-5 (NKJV)

The most significant figure in the book of Isaiah is the “Servant of God.” The prophet Isaiah predicted the coming of Messiah, our Immanuel (see Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6, 7; Isaiah 11:1–10; Isaiah 42:1–9; Isaiah 49:1–9; Isaiah 50:4–11; Isaiah 52:13–53:12). A King descended from David (the Messiah) will reign in righteousness (Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 32:1). All nations will go to the holy mountain of Jerusalem, the “City of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:14) as He would be a Light to the entire world (Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 42:6; see also Luke 2:31-32). God’s Kingdom on earth, with the earth’s Righteous Ruler and His righteous subjects is the goal toward which the book of Isaiah steadily moves. The restored earth (a new creation: Isaiah 65-66) and the restored people will then be conformed to God. All will result in the praise and glory of the Holy One of Israel for what He has accomplished.

Many biblical scholars assigned Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:1-6; Isaiah 50:4-9; and Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as the “Servant Songs.” This Servant will perfectly serve God, having “borne our infirmities and carried our disease” (Isaiah 53:4). He is the One who made Himself an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10) and made many to be declared righteous (Isaiah 53:11). It is through the suffering of this Servant that salvation in its fullest sense will be achieved to deliver humankind from the prison of sin (Isaiah 52:13-53-12). This Servant described by Isaiah is the true Israel, who fulfilled to the upmost the will of God and the purposes which God had in mind when He chose Israel. Even more, He is the obedient Servant of God and was obedient unto God to the point of death (see also Philippians 2:7-8). Amazingly, the prophet Isaiah foretold of God's redemption, salvation, and holiness through the Servant – Jesus Christ. Like Israel, we too have sinned repeatedly, in thought, word, and deed. We need a Savior to save us from our sins and make us holy like God (Isaiah 63:16; see also 1 John 3:3). As we repent of our sins and turn to God found in the Suffering Servant (Jesus), we are made holy, righteous, and children of God (see also 1 John 3:1-10).  

The Father has loved us so much that we are called children of God. And we really are His children. . . . Christ is pure, and all who have this hope in Christ keep themselves pure like Christ. The person who sins breaks God’s law. Yes, sin is living against God’s law. You know that Christ came to take away sins and that there is no sin in Christ. So anyone who lives in Christ does not go on sinning. Anyone who goes on sinning has never really understood Christ and has never known Him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you the wrong way. Christ is all that is right. So to be like Christ a person must do what is right. The devil has been sinning since the beginning, so anyone who continues to sin belongs to the devil. The Son of God came for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s work. Those who are God’s children do not continue sinning, because the new life from God remains in them. They are not able to go on sinning, because they have become children of God. So we can see who God’s children are and who the devil’s children are: Those who do not do what is right are not God’s children, and those who do not love their brothers and sisters are not God’s children.
1 John 3:1, 3-10 (NCV)

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. New York: Zondervan, 2008.
LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush. Old Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Understanding Prophecy

Moses continued, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you yourselves requested of the Lord your God when you were assembled at Mount Sinai (Horeb). You said, ‘Do not let us hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore or see this blazing fire, for we will die.’ “Then the Lord said to me, ‘What they have said is right. I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put My Words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on My behalf. But any prophet who falsely claims to speak in My Name or who speaks in the name of another god must die.’ “But you may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?’ If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s Name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.
Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (NLT)

The Holy Bibles describes a prophet as one who receives and speaks a Holy Word from God through a direct prompting of God’s Holy Spirit (Deuteronomy 18:18). Essentially, a prophet is the true and living God’s mouthpiece and representative on earth. Only God placed His words in a true prophet’s mouths, which they in turn would share with God’s people. Any attempt to prophesy or speak for God without God’s Holy Word was false prophecy (Jeremiah 14:14).  

From biblical times to today, God uses people of different cultures, character, and status in order that His Word will be available to all people. The Holy Bible reveals many different kinds of prophets (e.g., Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Zechariah). Prophets were not just men, they also included women such as Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14). Moreover, some prophets were also God’s priest such as the prophets Samuel, Ezekiel and Zechariah.

All true prophecy, like the rest of the Holy Scriptures, have Jesus Christ as their main focus and theme (Luke 24:44-49). The central message of all true prophecy points to Jesus Christ and His glory (Luke 24:26, 44; Acts 3:18-21; 1 Peter 1:10-12). Especially today, the heart of a true prophet’s messages is the Good News about Jesus Christ. A true prophecy believes and acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 16:16; 1 John 22) and obeys (abides) in Jesus' Word (John 8:31, 47). A prophet of God shows us our need for a Savior and God’s redemptive plan for humankind (past, present, and future) through Jesus Christ. God allows a true prophet access into His redemptive and sovereign plan for humankind (Amos 3:7). Since God’s redeeming purpose climaxes in Jesus Christ, all true prophecy points to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ fulfills all prophecy and all prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Moreover, a true prophet seeks God and the spiritual benefits of God's Kingdom rather than material goods of the world (see Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:21, 29-31). A false prophet speaks lies and is filled selfishness, self-pleasing, and pride (John 8:44-47). Bottom line, a false prophet does not stand for TRUTH because they are full of tricks, deception, and murder (death).God’s Holy Spirit lives within a true prophet because such prophet speaks and walks in truth (John 4:24; John 14:17).  All three Persons of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son-Jesus Christ, and God the Spirit) are linked to truth (Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16; John 14:6).   

I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put My Words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. Deuteronomy 18:18 (NLT)

True prophets received their call directly from God to declare His Word to the people. Only God commissioned or called the prophets to their task, and God’s Holy Spirit empowered a true prophet’s work on God’s behalf (Numbers 11:24-30; Zechariah 4:6). Prophets received God’s Word through many means such as direct declarations, visions, dreams, or an appearance of God. Once receiving God’s Word, some prophets delivered God’s Word by writing (Isa. 8:1; Jeremiah 1:5-9; Ezekiel 43:11) while others delivered God’s Word through deeds (personal actions) and verbal proclamation (e.g. preaching).

“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, be very careful not to imitate the detestable customs of the nations living there. For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering. And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. It is because the other nations have done these detestable things that the Lord your God will drive them out ahead of you. But you must be blameless (fully devoted) before the Lord your God. The nations you are about to displace consult sorcerers and fortune-tellers, but the Lord your God forbids you to do such things.” Deuteronomy 18:9-14 (NLT)

In a popular sense, a “prophet” is someone who can predict or foretell the future. “Prophecy” means predictions of things to come. However, biblical prophets and prophecy involve much more than just foretelling the future. Prophets were also forth-tellers who declared the Word of God in the Name of God. The true prophet spoke in God's Name and gave only God's message for God's glory and for the good of God's people because God puts words in the mouth of a prophet (see Deuteronomy 18:18; Isaiah 6:1-7; Jeremiah 1:9; Galatians 1:11-12).

Nevertheless, God specifically forbids occult practices that seek spiritual help or guidance from any sources other than Him (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). Only God knows the future and gives correct guidance for all life issues. A true prophet never controls or forces God because God controls a prophet’s words and life (e.g. Jeremiah 20:7). In fact, God teaches us not to even meddle with these occult practices (see also Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:26, 31; Leviticus 20:6, 27). The Holy Bible expressly condemns divination, sorcery, omens, witchcraft, castings spells, and mediums as detestable to God. False prophets practiced fortune-telling, sorcery, performed magic, engaged in witchcraft, functioned as mediums or psychics, or called forth the spirits of the dead (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). All these things God specifically detested as WRONG ways to communicate with God and to discern the future. The will and purposes of God was to be discovered through a God’s prophets and not through a diviner, a magic worker, or a spiritist.

Moreover, Jesus warned about false prophets and the apostles warned about false teachers (Matthews 7:15-23; 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 11-13; 2 Peter 2). A false prophet seeks after other gods (Deuteronomy 13: 2, 6, 13). In Deuteronomy 13, Moses described prophets who could predict a future event and this event happened, which was the sign of a true prophet (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). Yet, Moses warned that if that same prophet invited the people to worship other gods (e.g., money, possessions, status), then that is NOT a true prophet of God (Deuteronomy 13:1-18; Colossians 3:5-6). A true prophet direct people to love, worship and obey the true and living God of all heaven and earth.

In fact, the Holy Bible repeatedly warns people never to follow “a successful religious leader” without testing their teachings and decision by the Holy Bible (Truth). Moses made it clear that God’s Holy Word was true no matter how many miracles or signs a prophet might perform. We do not test a prophet’s message by supernatural events and miracles. Instead, we test a prophet’s message by God's Word. Evil people can perform miracles (see Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 12:9). False prophets and magicians are able to replicate these feats to a degree and thus sometimes lead people away from God (see Exodus 7:11, 22; Exodus 8:7). True prophets encourage everyone to obey God’s Word and walk blamelessly before God. “Blameless” means not sinless perfection, but a heart totally devoted to God. A true prophet will continually points people to walk wholeheartedly faithful and obedient to God with humility, justice, and mercy (e.g., see 1 Samuel 15:22-23; 1 Kings 18:21; Isaiah 1:16-17; Jeremiah 22:3; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 7:9).

From the Old Testament history, Moses has been called Israel’s greatest leader and prophet. The New Testament calls Moses a prophetic prototype or model (Acts 3:21-26; Acts 7:37). Moses spoke with God “face to face,” meaning God spoke to Moses clearly and not in riddles, visions and dreams (Exodus 4:11-16; Numbers 12:8; Deuteronomy 34:10). Moses had an intimate or close relationship with God. Also, Moses appeared with the prophet Elijah in the Transfiguration with Jesus Christ (Matthew 17:1-8). Moses wrote the Law of God and was regarded by God as a prophet without equal (Deuteronomy 34:10-12). After Moses’ death, Israel steadily looked for a future prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 34:10).

God through Moses outlined basic features to determine a true prophet of God (see Deuteronomy 13; Deuteronomy 18:14-22). Moses’ instructions on prophecy in Deuteronomy became the basis for Jesus Christ, our Great God-Angel-King-Priest-Prophet (see John 1:21, 25, 45; John 5:26; Acts 3:22-26; Acts 7:37). In the past, God spoke through the prophets, but now God has spoken once and for all through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrew 1:1-2). In Jesus Christ we have the ultimate revelation of God. Jesus Christ is the fullness of God, the One who made the world, and the reason that everything exists. All mystery, treasure and wisdom are fully found in Jesus Christ and nowhere else (see Colossians 1:15-20; Colossians 2:3).

A prophet has been called a “messenger,” “an angel,” “an evangelist,” or a “person of the Spirit” because they are all sent by God for God’s special purpose. Many prophets, such as Elijah and Isaiah, also gave godly counsel to the kings.  God called prophets in Israel during those times when the people needed to be called back to the faithful worship of God. Biblical prophets often criticized the people’s worship to God (Amos 5:23-24) and priestly failures (Amos 7:10; Malachi 2). Often time, the prophets were called by God to warn the people of their sin, urged them to repent, and pointed people ahead to inevitable judgment if they refused to wholeheartedly follow God. The biblical prophets had a good understanding of God’s Word to lead the people to God (Isaiah 58:6-9; Ezekiel 18; Micah 6:6-8; Hosea 6:6; Amos 2:4; Amos 5:21-24).

The prophets were also mediators (go-betweens) of the promises of God and His people. God’s covenant contained blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. The prophets always urged the people to return to obedience, and warned the people of God’s coming judgment if they continued in sin, evil, and disobedience (e.g. Amos 5:4-15, 24). However, false prophets speak what people want to hear rather than calling people to live according to God’s will. False prophets ignored God’s ways and His holy standards and communicated the false idea that people could continue sinning and still enjoy God’s blessings.

God is holy (see Exodus 3:5; Leviticus 11:44; Romans 6:22; 1 Corinthians 1:2) and God expects His people to strive to in walk and live holy and flee sin (Psalm 15; Psalm 24; Hebrews 12:14). God’s Holy Spirit only resides where there is holiness (e.g. moral purity, separation from sin and disobedience) (e.g., see Psalm 51:10-12). There is no eternal life without holiness (Hebrews 12:14; see also Matthew 5:8; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Peter 1:15-16). We are made holy and righteous through our wholehearted faith and continual obedience in Jesus Christ (John 15:1-17; Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:23; 1 John 5:18-20).

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a Throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the Temple. Above Him were Seraphs (heavenly beings, angels)…. and they were calling to one another:  “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah 6:1-3 (NIV)

Moreover, prophets communicated a hopeful future for God’s people that would extend beyond judgment once they returned to obedience to God. Not only did the prophets bring God’s Word to the people, they also brought the people’s response to God and interceded with God on the people’s behalf (see, e.g., Amos 7:1-6). Many times Abraham, Moses, and Samuel interceded with God on behalf of the people (see Genesis 20:7; Exodus 32:9-14, 30-35; 1 Samuel 7:5-10).

True prophets often placed their lives at risk for the sake of proclaiming God’s Word to the people (e.g., Isaiah 20; Ezekiel 24:15-27). For instance in Jeremiah 26, the prophet Jeremiah placed his own life at risk for the sake of delivering God’s message by encouraging the people to seek God with their whole heart (see also 1 Kings 22:27-28; Jeremiah 38:3-13). However, false prophets will not do such. False prophets tend to behave badly and have poor personal conduct.  As seen in Jeremiah 23:10-11, false prophets abused their power and authority for their selfish purposes and lead the people with LIES, unbiblical teaching, and deception (see also Ezekiel 13:20-23; Micah 2:11). Even more, such false prophets were often engaged in adultery, falsehood (lies), and immorality. The Holy Bible warned the false prophets are expected at the end of the age (see Matthew 24:11, 24; Acts 20:28-35; Revelation 13:11-18).

True prophets also performed miracles which confirmed their message. A true prophet is not a magician. While some prophets like Moses (Exodus 4:1-9) and Elijah (1 Kings 17) worked many miracles, virtually all prophets occasionally saw a miraculous fulfillment of God’s Word (see e.g., Isaiah 38:8). Prophet’s miracle-working capacity also included healing (1 Kings 17:17-22; 2 Kings 5; Matthew 12:22-29). Another important feature of a true prophet is eventual fulfillment of their predictions (see Deuteronomy 13:1-5; Deuteronomy 18:21-22; Isaiah 8:20; Jeremiah 42:1-6; Ezekiel 33:30-33). The fulfillment test is often difficult to apply because there were often long lapses between a prophet’s predictions and fulfillment (Micah 3:12; Jeremiah 26:16-19). A further feature of a true prophet is agreement with previous prophetic’ words (Jeremiah 28:8-9). A prophet’s words must NEVER contradict or deny God’s previous revelation (e.g., God’s Holy Bible) or lead people away from God (Deuteronomy 13). True prophets will honor the written Word of God (Isaiah 8:19-20) and will not lead anyone to follow false gods (Deuteronomy 13:2). Prophets were also to be people like Moses, who continually drew near to God (Deuteronomy 34:10-12; see also Isaiah 6). Because of their close access to God, the true prophets speak with an authority because of God’s Holy Spirit working through their words from God. So, people were responsible for listening to a true prophet’s messages (Deuteronomy 18:19).

Moreover, the Holy Bible reveals that true prophets live a godly and moral life filled with good character (Micah 3:11). Jesus said prophets could be known by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). A true prophet’s actions and deeds exhibit the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT). The true prophets were loyal and obedient to God and God’s Word and directed people to the true and living God and obedience to God alone (e.g., see Joshua 24:14-15; Isaiah 1:16-17; Deuteronomy 13:1-3).

Most important, true prophets were at times allowed to see into God’s Throne Room or Heavenly Court (see e.g. Isaiah 6:1-7; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Jeremiah 23:18-22; compare Amos 3:7; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; 2 Cor. 12:1-4; Rev. 1:1-3; 22:18-19). Prophecy is a window into God’s Heavenly Court for all humankind. All true prophets starting with Enoch (Jude 14), Abraham (Genesis 20:7) through Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, John the Baptist to the ultimate King-Prophet-Priest, Jesus Christ all had access into the Heavenly Court or the Throne Room of God. In essences, there was a face-to-face encounter with the true and living God and His Heavenly Court.

True prophecy is closely associated with the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit (see Numbers 11:23-30; 1 Samuel 10:9-13; Joel 2:28-32). By His Holy Spirit, God empowers His servants for their appointed tasks (see Exodus 31:3; Numbers 11:29; Judges 3:10; 1 Samuel 16:13; Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 42:1). Also, God inspired His prophets for His message and directed their ministries (e.g., see Numbers 24:2-3; 2 Samuel 23:2; Nehemiah 9:30; Isaiah 59:21; Isaiah 61:1; Ezekiel 11:5).

Prophets are usually pictured as somber figures. Sometimes, prophecy is accompanied by ecstatic behavior (e.g. see 1 Samuel 10:5-11; 1 Samuel 19:18-24; Jeremiah 29:26; Hoses 9:7; 1 Corinthians 14:22). On the day of Pentecost, God poured out His Holy Spirit to all who believed and trusted the message of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (Acts 2). The people who witnessed this outpouring thought the people were drunk or mad because of their behavior (Acts 2:13). The focus of this ecstatic behavior is NEVER to bring attention to oneself or self-promotion. God’s Holy Spirit departs from such evil and prideful behavior. All true prophetic behavior must be for God’s glory, honor, and worship! Particularly today, God poured out the Holy Spirit to empower the people to continue spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. Everyone who follows Jesus Christ is called to spread the Good News and point people to Jesus Christ by God’s Holy Spirit (see Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:8). 

True prophets of God speak God’s Word with authority because the Holy Spirit is the power and truth of their inspiration. God commands people to listen to His true prophets (see Deuteronomy 18:14-22; Isaiah 8:19-20). Due to this authority, the role of prophet has been abused. Jesus Christ Himself predicted that such abuses would arise (see Matthew 24:11, 24; see also 1 Corinthians 11:4; 1 Corinthians 14:29-30). Attractive and smart leaders are not always led by God. All true prophets’ messages will ultimately focus on Jesus Christ and agree with God’s Holy Word. New ideas or philosophies from inspiring people may sound good, but we must judge them by whether or not they are consistent with God's Word and point people to wholehearted love for God. We must carefully test ideas and philosophies against the truth of God's Word. God commands people to listen to His true prophets (see Deuteronomy 18:14-22; Isaiah 8:19-20) and NOT false ones (Deuteronomy 13:2-11)! God wants our complete devotion and EVERYONE to fully obey His Word with the help of His Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17).   Any idea or prophecy that celebrates wickedness, disobedience, and deception, that is NOT a true prophet of God (Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 23:26; Micah 3:11). Always ask God’s Holy Spirit to help you discover the true prophet verses the false prophet (Luke 11:13; John 14:17). As our Great Prophet Jesus Christ has instructed us, you will know a prophet by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). A prophet’s actions and lifestyle will reveal an outflow of a life lived in close relationship with God who Son Jesus Christ has purchased our forgiveness and new life. 

Jesus:  “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. Not everyone who calls out to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of My Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to Me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in Your Name and cast out demons in Your Name and performed many miracles in Your Name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you who break God’s laws.’ Anyone who listens to My teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it will not collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears My teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” Matthew 7:15-27 (NLT)

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. New York: Zondervan, 2008.
Douglas, J.D. and Tenney, Merrill. NIV Compact Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1989.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House Company, 2001.
LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush. Old Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Is Heaven Real?

Jesus:   “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust (believe, have faith) in God, and trust (believe, have faith) also in Me. There is more than enough room in My Father’s home (heaven). If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am (Jesus’ seconding coming or advent). And you know the way to where I am going.” “No, we do not know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where You are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus told him (Thomas), “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through Me. If you had really known Me, you would know who My Father is. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him!” John 14:1-7 (NLT)

The Holy Bible clearly teaches that heaven exists!  Heaven is a real place. In the Holy Bible, heaven refers to the atmosphere just above the earth (e.g., Genesis 1:20); to the sky in which the sun, moon, and stars are located (e.g. Genesis 1:17); to God’s home (e.g. Psalm 2:4) and to the home of the angels (e.g. Matthew 22:30). Jesus and the Apostle Paul called heaven paradise (Matthew 27:27-31; 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4) and a place with constant joy and love (Revelation 7:17). Heaven is the spiritual realm or sphere were God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, the spiritual powers (e.g., angels, messengers), and the redeemed of God exist (see Psalm 33:13-14; Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 6:9; Acts 1:11; Ephesians 1:3, 20). 

Everyone who wholeheartedly trusted in God found in Jesus Christ (also called the redeemed of God) will be in heaven with God (John 14:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 21:3). The redeemed will see God – the All Holy-One of heaven – face to face (Isaiah 6:3; Matthew 5:8; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 4:8). God’s presence will be visible to all (Revelation 22:4). There will fellowship with loved ones and the redeemed of God with no unfulfilled desires. In summary, the redeemed of God will see God in and through Jesus Christ face to face with all love, fellowship, heart-peace, rest and worship (Revelation 7:9-10; 15; Revelation 14:13; Revelation 19:1-9) – a never ending paradise (Revelation  22:5). 

Also in heaven, God abides on His throne before the heavenly court. The sons and daughters of God or divine beings also reside with God. These divine beings are called angels. Angels serve in God’s heavenly court and also act as His messengers. To be clear, there is no polytheism; these divine beings are NOT to be worshiped. These divine beings have no authority of their own, and can only do what God commands or permits them to do. 

God created humans to be His imagine bearers and to reflect God’s heavenly court (see Genesis 1:26; see also Genesis 3:22; Genesis 11:7; Isaiah 6:8; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Job 15:8; Jeremiah 23:18).  Humans were created in the image of God and for God’s glory. Access into God’s heavenly court is secret to those on earth. Only certain prophets have received access and revelation into God’s heavenly court (see Amos 3:7). The Holy Bible discusses God’s heavenly court with God enthroned as King (e.g., see I Kings 22:19; Isaiah 6; and Zechariah 3–4). The Holy Bible speaks of true prophets of God being allowed to see into God’s throne room or heavenly court (see e.g. Isaiah 6:1-7; Jeremiah 23:18-22; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Revelation 1:1-3; Revelation 22:18-19). All true prophets starting with Enoch (Jude 14), Abraham (Genesis 20:7) through Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, John the Baptist to the ultimate King-Prophet-Priest, Jesus Christ all had access into the God’s heavenly court. In essences, these prophets received a face-to-face encounter with the true and living God and His heavenly court.

This is what the Lord says: “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. So do you think you can build a house for Me? Do I need a place to rest? My hand made all things. All things are here because I made them,” says the Lord. “These are the people I am pleased with: those who are not proud or stubborn and who fear (respect, honor) My Word. 
Isaiah 66:1-2 (NCV)

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