Day 184: The First Temple Vision

Ezekiel 8-11

Key Verses

Ezekiel 11:17-20
“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

These chapters record the first of Ezekiel’s two “temple visions.”

Remember… Ezekiel has been prophesying against Jerusalem while he is in exile in Babylon. He isn’t in Jerusalem to see the extent of the abominations performed against God in his own house.

So, through the Spirit, Ezekiel is somehow transported to Jerusalem where he is able to see the temple. The text reads, “the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem” (8:3). 

What Ezekiel sees is breathtaking. It’s as if someone has drawn back a curtain and all things that were invisible are now made visible.

He sees the spiritual realm existing right alongside the earthly realm. He sees leaders worshipping idols in the temple surrounded by the Glory of the Lord. And then tragically, Ezekiel records the slow exodus of the Glory from the temple…

Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house (Ezekiel 9:3).

The Glory is no longer in the Holy of Holies but has moved to the threshold of the house – the gate, the exit.

As the vision continues, we see God’s brutal execution of judgment, but we also see God’s glory inch away from his sinful people…

Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim (Ezekiel 10:18).

God didn’t just… leave. He inched. It’s almost as if Ezekiel’s vision mirrors the longsuffering of God – the longing for repentance, the waiting for repentance. It is only, as the-most-last-resort, that God finally leaves.

Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city (Ezekiel 11:22-23).

And just like that. He is gone.

But.

Just before He left, He made a promise. That he will gather the exiles from the ends of the earth, and give them a heart of flesh…“And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:17-20).

God’s covenant promises are based on nothing but the character of God. His promise to “be our God” is not based on OUR ability to be righteous but based on HIS kindness, HIS goodness, and HIS righteousness.

God’s wrath has been poured out. His wrath has been satisfied. We are no longer objects of His wrath – but recipients of His grace!

Later in the book of Ezekiel, he has a second “temple vision.” But this vision is not of God leaving His people – but of Him gathering His people and establishing a New Jerusalem. What a day that will be!! I. Can’t. Wait!

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Day 183: Death Turned Upside-Down

Ezekiel 6-7; Acts 7:44-60

Key Verses

Ezekiel 7:27
“The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord.”

Acts 7:55-56
But [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

I am attending a funeral today. It’s my second one in a month. Death. I really hate death.

We were created to never have to endure death. We were supposed to live in the Garden, in perfect communion with God and each other. Death was unthought of back then, but sin changed all that.

Today we read of the church’s first martyr. Stephen died with the vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. It’s the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is described as “standing” instead of sitting at God’s right hand.

Death is a strange thing. On one hand, it is odious – something that was never supposed to be. But on the other hand, God turns it upside down and somehow uses it for good. Stephen’s death was a catalyst for church growth. Death impassions people. God has consistently used persecution and death as a means to grow his church.

Recently, I was reading a Romanian pastor’s doctoral thesis on suffering, martyrdom and the rewards of heaven… He argues that suffering on earth advances the Kingdom of Heaven – the prime example being Jesus, Himself. If we are called to suffer and/or die for the Kingdom, it is a great Eternal victory!

And I think there lies the key. Eternal. An Eternal Perspective changes everything.

Sometimes when I read passages of judgment like the ones we find in today’s reading from Ezekiel, I become indignant. “Why did the children have to suffer and die right along with their apostate parents?” And then I might go even further and question God’s goodness that He might bring about suffering AT ALL!!

But when I entertain those types of thoughts, I know I’ve lost my eternal perspective.

Wouldn’t I choose to suffer for a little while on earth and gain eternal bliss – rather than have earthly bliss and suffer an eternity of torment???

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Our dot of an existence on this earth must be invested wisely for the sake of our eternities. If that means we must suffer to bring about repentance and a character that is more like Christ’s – well so be it! I don’t think Stephen, who is alive with Christ in heaven, regrets his choice to suffer for the sake of the Truth. Do you?

Day 154: Secure

2 Kings 18-20; John 10:22-42

Key Verses

2 Kings 19:15, 19
And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. […] So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.”

John 10:27-29
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

As believers in Christ, our eternity with God is secure. This is a Truth that makes me marvel… Jesus promises in today’s New Testament passage that no one can snatch us out of His hand!

Today’s Key Verse from the book of John is dripping with theology. The source of understanding, faith, and eternal life is God himself. We are powerless to gain eternal life – it is God’s gift to His sheep. If we are powerless to earn it, we are also powerless to lose it. God is our assurance of life eternal!

Hezekiah’s story in 2 Kings illustrates the theology of Jesus’ words.

Where was Hezekiah’s security? As Jerusalem was surrounded by the great Assyrian army and King Sennacherib shouted his threats of destruction, where did Hezekiah turn? Did he trust in his own strength or wisdom? No. He humbled himself and went to the house of the Lord.

The Lord delivered Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem from the hand of the Assyrian king.

God also delivers his children from the snares of sin and sets them safely upon the rock of salvation! He has delivered me, and I am beyond grateful!

Keeping up with the Kings

  • Judah: Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa (good), Jehoshaphat (good), Jehoram (son of Jehoshaphat), Ahaziah (killed by Jehu), Queen Athaliah, Jehoash (only surviving son of Ahaziah: good), Amaziah (good), Azariah (Uzziah, good), Jotham (good), Ahaz, Hezekiah (good)
  • Israel: Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram (or Joram, son of Ahab), Jehu, Jehoahaz, Jehoash, Jeroboam II, Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah, Hoshea

Day 123: David’s Eternal Throne

2 Samuel 23-24; Luke 21:1-19

Key Verses

Luke 21:5-6
And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

2 Samuel 23:5
“For does not my house stand so with God?
For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things and secure.”

2 Samuel ends in today’s reading. Chapter 23 begins with “David’s last words,” a poem reaffirming the Davidic covenant, the promise that his throne would be established forever.

The book ends with David purchasing the threshing floor on which the temple would one day be built…

So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings (2 Samuel 24:24-25).

Fast forward to today’s reading in Luke – and there we find Jesus – in the temple – teaching the values of the Kingdom.

Jesus is the son of David standing in the city of David in the temple that was rebuilt on the very site that David sacrificed to the Lord. How amazing is that?

And what was Jesus teaching? That the temple would be destroyed. Consider this… What was the purpose of the temple? The temple was where the priests led the people in worship through the sacrificial system. And the temple was where the presence of God dwelled.

Can you see how Jesus’ final sacrifice and resurrection made the need for the temple obsolete? Do you think David could have imagined the future? The splendor of Solomon’s temple being destroyed and rebuilt and then desecrated by the moneychangers of Jesus’ day and then ultimately, David’s heir would sit on the eternal throne and because of His suffering and atoning death – open the way to the Holy of Holies to all people from all nations?

Never could David have imagined anything so terrible and wonderful! And neither can we imagine the wonder of the end of the age when Jesus will come again and make all things new!!! There will be no sun, for his glory will give light to the world. There will be no temple because the dwelling place of God will be with man. There will be one King – who will reign in peace forever!

Yes, David’s throne is established forever… in Jesus!!!!

Day 121: An Eternal Hope

2 Samuel 19-20; Luke 20:27-47

Key Verses

2 Samuel 19:1-4
It was told Joab, “Behold, the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people, for the people heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” And the people stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

The bible is definitely not escape literature! On the contrary, it painstakingly characterizes the dark and light of real life… 2 Samuel is real life at its grittiest. We see David go from valiant to broken and his kingdom go from strong to divided. Today’s reading starts with an undercurrent of rivalry between Israel (the northern tribes) and Judah to the south… and ends with the gory details of Joab murdering Amasa.

This is the world we live in. A world filled with terrorist bombers and extreme poverty. A world where governments murder refugees and starvation abounds. It’s ugly. The bible doesn’t ignore the harsh reality of life in this world.

But in the midst of the ugliness, Jesus offers hope.

Today’s reading from Luke 20 finds Jesus in the middle of Passion Week. The religious leaders are trying to trap him into incriminating himself. They think they are so clever, but it’s impossible to outwit Jesus! And right in the middle of Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees is a nugget of hope!

Jesus teaches that the Patriarchs of the faith – Abraham, Isaac, and David – are not dead – but alive with God, “for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection (Luke 20:36).

This world is not our final destination! Just like Abraham, Isaac, and David, we are bound for resurrection after death – so that we might live in the new heaven and the new earth in perfect communion with God.

In other words, we need an eternal perspective to persevere through the mire of this life. Our eyes must be focused on the future – where there will be no more pain and no more sorrow and no more death… only life eternal that will never be marred by sin!

Day 365: Grace

Malachi 1-4Revelation 22

And we are left with one.

One last day.

One last book.

One last chapter.

The book of Malachi makes me uncomfortable. Malachi wrote to the uninspired Jewish exiles. They had returned from captivity and rebuilt their temple and city – yet God seemed to not come back with them. There was no evidence of His Presence. And all of the promises of the grand restoration seemed to go unmet. The people doubted God’s goodness so they slipped into complacency. 

The sins of the exiles hit too close to home…Malachi accused the people of half-hearted devotion. Whether it be the sin of not giving God their best (1:8), compromising God’s holy standards (2:11), or bitter disappointment with difficult circumstances (3:14-15), God was displeased with their lack of faith. He challenged the people to trust him – to test His faithfulness (3:10)!

Which leads me to: One last question.

Are you willing to take God at His Word?

Despite your difficult circumstances or unanswered prayer – or the fact that God seems distant. Maybe you’ve sinned so greatly, you don’t believe God could forgive you. Or maybe you’ve strived to live a holy life, yet your world seems to be crumbling beneath you. Whatever this temporal and visible world might be screaming at you, are you willing to take God at His Word?

Do you believe that the curse will be reversed (Rev. 22:3) and God will create a new earth where there will be no more sin and no more pain? Do you believe as one who is redeemed in Christ, that you will one day see Him face to face and reign with Him forever (Rev. 22:4)?

Well…believe it! For Jesus said, “These words are trustworthy and true.”

You might wonder (like me)…How? How could this be true? How could the God of the universe stoop so low to grant His children such a glorious inheritance?”

The answer is one word: grace

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates (Revelation 22:14).

Can we wash our own robes? Can we scrub the mire of our sins away? No. The blood of the Lamb washes away our sins. He clothes us with HIS righteousness so that we might come into the presence of a Holy God. We stand by His grace, alone.

What is the last sentence in the revealed Word of God? The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen!

(Tune in January 1, for my last post – summarizing the greatest lesson I’ve learned from our year through the Bible.)

Day 363: God is the Victor

Zechariah 9-11Revelation 20

Passages of Scripture – like those we are reading today – remind me of my limited human understanding. Faithful and sound biblical scholars disagree over how to interpret the first 10 verses of Revelation 20. Zechariah 11 is probably one of the least understandable chapters in all of the Bible! But in spite of my limitations, by God’s grace, I see Him in these chapters…

I see His promise to judge His enemies and protect His people (Zech. 9:1-8).

I see His promise to send a peaceful King – one who rides on a donkey – to save His people (Zech. 9:9-17).

I know (from our privileged perspective of living in the church age) that when Christ came, He destroyed the power of Satan and has absolute authority over the earth (Luke 10:18; Matthew 28:18; Revelation 20:1-3).

And I know from the book of Revelation that God is the victor. Satan is restrained (20:1-3), he will surely be defeated (20:7-10), and the redeemed rule with Christ (20:4)!!

All the other details of when and how I will leave for the scholars to debate. I will choose to rest in the goodness and sovereignty of our Lord. I will thank Him for dying in my stead. And I will pray for the grace to be a light to the unbeliever.

I can’t imagine what it will be like on that final day when the books are opened. I pray that my children’s names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. I pray for the strength and grace to overcome and be welcomed into the Lamb’s presence. I know that I have done nothing to merit salvation. Most of all, I’m thankful for His grace.

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, Come!

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 362: Mourning turned to Dancing!

Zechariah 7-8Revelation 19

The events of Zechariah 7 took place two years after the visions in the preceding chapters (Zech. 1:1; 7:1) but two years before the completion of the temple (Zech. 7:1; Ezra 6:14-15). As the chapter opens, men came from Bethel to ask whether they should continue their mourning rituals. For approximately 70 years, the people had fasted during specific times to commemorate the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. Since the temple was being rebuilt, the people wondered, “Should we continue to fast?” Listen to God’s answer!

And the word of the Lord of hosts came to [Zechariah], saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace (Zechariah 8:18).

God was changing their mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11)! He promised them the blessing of His presence and favor!! But their joy and gladness was just a foretaste of the joy and gladness His people will experience at the Bridal Supper of the Lamb recorded in Revelation 19!

In this one chapter of Revelation we see the stark contrast of those who are judged and those who are redeemed in Christ. The Great Babylon is destroyed. And then Christ comes to earth. He does not come as a meek lamb – but on a white war-horse brandishing a sword. The battle is swift, and the kings of the earth are killed while the beast and the false prophet are captured!

And the mourning is turned to dancing! Christ has the victor’s crown. He is the King! This is our future – sure as rain. We will gather with all the redeemed and cry out…

Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory (Revelation 19:6-7).

Do you believe it? “These are the true words of God” (Revelation 19:9). May our hope be sure in Christ!!

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 350: Temporal vs. Eternal treasures

Amos 4-6Revelation 7

Revelation 6 ended with the question: Who can stand? For the 7th seal represented the final judgment – the Day of the return of Christ. But before the 7th seal is opened, there is an interlude in which John is shown how the saints are protected in the opening of the seals… In essence, Revelation 7 answers the question raised in the previous chapter…

Who can stand under Christ’s judgment? Only those sealed by His grace.

Revelation 7 gives us a glimpse of both the past and future for the believer. John is shown a scene from the past when God seals His servants. This does not remove them from the suffering to be inflicted on the earth – but preserves them as God’s own for the final day. The 144,000 who were sealed is a symbol for completeness. In other words, “everyone who will be saved and who will persevere through the trials and tribulations of this age is protected by God. Not a single one can be harmed spiritually. What amazing comfort this must have been for those suffering already within the seven churches!” (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg 109). And this is a comfort to us who live in the midst of suffering and evil in today’s world.

Once the complete number of God’s servants is sealed by God, the scene switches to show their glorious future…our future before the throne of God!

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

John goes on to describe our glorious future in Christ!

“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17).

When you consider the future that awaits the believer, the stern warnings in Amos toward Israel become more meaningful. For Israel was trading the true God for powerless idols. They were offering the true God their bare minimum while oppressing the poor to become rich. They chose the fleeting treasures of this world over the glory of an eternity spent with God.

Because of God’s love for Israel, he sends trial and strife in order to turn their hearts back to Him (Amos 4:6-11). But they refuse Him. They refuse His grace. They refuse His love, and they are left unprotected from the four winds of judgment who bring calamity upon the earth.

What treasure do you seek? Temporal or eternal? Forsake the idols of this age and return to the True God!!

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book,Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 329: An Imperishable Story

Psalms 111-113; 1 Peter 1

Psalms 111 & 112 are both acrostic poems that are meant to be read together. Psalm 111 presents the overarching “big story” of God’s character and salvation plan. While Psalm 112 presents the effects of God’s saving power on the individual – resulting in a “little story” that brings glory and honor to Him.

This is the same pattern that Peter uses in his opening chapter of his letter to the dispersed Gentile Christians.

Peter uses beautiful, graphic language to paint the glorious big picture of salvation for the believer…

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).

With the larger story in mind, Peter then encourages these suffering Christians to live out a “smaller story” in a manner that will bring glory to God!

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (1 Peter 1:13-15).

Likewise, we are to keep the sweeping  big story of redemption – from creation to our heavenly future – always before us as we struggle as spiritual exiles in this dark and difficult world. This eternal perspective enables us to live our individual stories with passion and zeal for our Savior!