The Messiah’s glorious return in Psalm 110

For the scribes and rabbis of ancient Israel, Psalm 110 was a dense thicket of mysteries. The psalm was rightly perceived as Messianic, but the meaning of the visions in its verses was entirely opaque. Thus, this psalm received little commentary from Jewish scholars in the Talmud and the Midrash.

But since David penned this psalm a thousand years before Jesus, redemptive history has produced the Incarnation, and the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah, and divinely inspired prophecies in the completed text of Scripture now give us the end of the story. The net effect is that Psalm 110 can now be seen for what it is, a detailed prophecy of the coming of the Messiah as King and Judge at the end of the age. This post will demonstrate the parallels between Psalm 110 and other end-times prophecy in the Bible.

The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”

This scene takes place in heaven shortly after Christ’s ascension following His resurrection. The Son of God has accomplished the work of redemption which was given to Him by the Father in His Incarnation (John 17:4). His work was finished as He died His atoning death on the cross (John 19:30). He was raised from the dead on the third day and now Jesus has ascended back to heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand (Eph. 1:20-21; Rev. 5:13) to await the time when the Father will send Him back to earth to vanquish all His enemies (Matt. 24:36).

The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”

Now the time has come! Now the Father has decided that it is time to end the age and to bring a just recompense on all His enemies. And so, the Father hands the royal scepter to the Son and sends Him forth to judge and to vanquish the earth. Then will appear “a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war” (Rev. 19:11). The Son is now coming to tread out the great wine press of the wrath of God (Rev. 14:19-20; 19:15).

Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You as the dew.

On that day, the day of Christ’s power, the glorified saints (“Your people in holy array”) will return with the Lord (1 Thess. 3:13; Rev. 19:14), and they will “volunteer freely” and will deal out recompense along with their King (Psalm 149:5-9).

The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord Jesus has always been Priest and King and Prophet, but here we are allowed to attend the ordination ceremony that took place in eternity past when God the Father anointed God the Son to be a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

The Lord is at Your right hand;
He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.

This is still on the Last Day when the Lord Jesus returns to judge the nations and to “shatter kings.” “A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and battle cry. On the day of the LORD’s wrath, all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy, for He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth” (Zeph. 15-18). As David and Zephaniah tell of the day of the Lord’s wrath, so we read of that same day in Revelation 6:15-17:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they *said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

The point here in this verse is that, the day of wrath spoken about by David ca. 1000 BC is the same day of wrath spoken about by the prophet Zephaniah and by the apostle John. This is the day of the Lord.

He will judge among the nations,
He will fill them with corpses,
He will shatter the chief men over a broad country.              

On the day of the Lord, when Jesus returns, He will judge the nations (Matt. 25:31-32). When He comes in power and glory, Jesus will slaughter all the unrighteous (Rev. 19:21) and will destroy kings and commanders and mighty men (Rev. 19:18-19). Again, we see David’s vision of the day of the Lord repeated in John’s vision of the same event.

CONCLUSION

The Person of Jesus the Messiah removes the mysteries from Psalm 110. Jesus is God the Son who sits at the Father’s right hand. Jesus is the one who will rule in the midst of His enemies. Jesus is the one who will lead His glorified saints to victory on the Last Day. Jesus is the one who is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Jesus will shatter kings, judge the nations, slaughter the unrighteous, and shatter the chief men on the day of His wrath. “Therefore, He will lift up His head.”            

SDG                 RMB                10/19/2021                 #442

The man of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10)

In any discussion of the end-times in the Bible, the conversation will eventually touch on the antichrist. The speculation about the antichrist is often wild and unbridled, conjuring up images and activities that are completely foreign to any biblical text, but in those situations where the speculation is sober and biblically based, attention will turn to 2 Thessalonians 2 and the passage about “the man of lawlessness.” The man of lawlessness represents the clearest and most explicit teaching about the antichrist in all of Paul’s writing, and therefore deserves serious consideration when discussing the antichrist at the end of the age.

In my upcoming book, The Last Act of the Drama, I cover 2 Thessalonians 2 in depth, along with other eschatological Scriptures that highlight biblical manifestations of the antichrist, so this article is not about my thoughts, because they are expressed there. Rather, this post is about the thoughts of Herman Ridderbos, a Dutch biblical scholar, and are taken from his magnificent work, Paul: An Outline of His Theology. Ridderbos carefully exegetes this passage in 2 Thessalonians 2 and gives clear and helpful guidelines for how to understand this evil person who will appear at the very end of the age. I have selected quotes from his writing below that I think are most insightful and helpful in any study of the man of lawlessness. A careful reading of these quotes will give you a solid understanding of the biblical antichrist.

“The most striking thing of course is that this power inimical to God is concentrated here in the figure of what Paul calls the man of lawlessness.” (RMB: It is noteworthy that Paul concentrates all this evil in a single man.) “Furthermore, it is certainly indicated in the denotation “the man of lawlessness” that this man is not merely a pre-eminently godless individual, but that in him the humanity hostile to God comes to a definitive, eschatological revelation.” (p. 514)

Also, “just as Paul places Adam and Christ over against one another as the first and second ‘man,’ as the great representatives of two orders of men, so the figure of ‘the man of lawlessness’ is clearly intended as the final, eschatological counterpart of the man Jesus Christ.” “The coming of ‘the man of lawlessness,’ just as that of Christ, is called a παρουσία. It is marked by all manner of power, signs, and wonders, like those of Christ in the past.” (p. 514) “The man of sin (lawlessness) is the last and highest revelation of man (humanity) inimical to God, the human adversary of the man Jesus Christ, in whom the divine kingdom and the divine work has become flesh and blood. The divine antithesis between God and Satan that dominates history is decided on the human plane in those (two individuals) who as ‘the man’ represent salvation and destruction.” (p. 515) (RMB: Consider the parallel in 1 Samuel 17 when David, the coming king of Israel, fights Goliath, the champion of the enemies of Israel. Each represents their people, such that, as the champion fares in the battle, so go the people. David, as a type of Christ, vanquishes Goliath, who is a type of the antichrist. At the end of the age, the ultimate representatives will face one another, and the man of lawlessness (antichrist) will be finally vanquished by the returning Jesus Christ. That’s Ridderbos’ picture here.)

“As Christ is a person, but at the same time one with all who believe in Him and are under His sovereignty, so the antichrist is not only a godless individual, but a concentration of godlessness that already goes forth before him and which joins all who follow at his appearance him into unity with him. (He is now restrained because at his appearance unbelief, lawlessness, and godlessness will attempt to set themselves as an organic unity over against God and Christ.” (p. 516) “Paul does not stop with an ‘it,’ with an idea, or with a force, but the organic and corporate unity of human life finds its bearer and representative, as in Adam and Christ, so also in the antichrist, in a specific person. The antichrist would be no antichrist if he were not the personal concentration point of lawlessness, if he were not the man of lawlessness.” (p. 516)

The end of the age according to Jesus – Part 1

There are several themes that run through the gospel of Matthew, but one of the most prominent of those is the end of the age. With unrivaled authority, Jesus declares the truth about the end of the age and what will occur on that day.

This post will examine Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares from Matthew 13:37-43, a parable about the and make some observations. Below is the passage from the New American Standard Bible.

37 And Jesus said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Observation 1: There is certainly coming an end to this age.

In His first advent, Jesus came as Prophet, Priest, and King. As Prophet, He made sweeping prophecies about the future, which included unambiguous teaching that history was heading to an inevitable conclusion and that He, Jesus Christ, was the one who was in charge of that concluding event. While the Father alone knew the timing of His coming (Matthew 24:36), the King of kings and Lord of lords would execute the conclusion of history.

In this parable, Jesus relates the end of the age as a matter of fact in 13:39, 40. Then in 13:41-43, our Lord gives the details of the how the age concludes, so history will certainly end.  

Observation 2: Jesus is certainly coming at the end of the age.

All of Jesus’ teaching about the end of the age included His coming. The two are so inseparable as to be virtually synonymous. That Jesus is certainly returning to judge the earth is mentioned throughout the New Testament epistles and is one of the central themes of the book of Acts.

In the parable of the wheat and tares, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels.” We know from other end-times passages that He sends His angels while He Himself is descending from heaven to earth at His coming. It is certain that the Lord Jesus will come again.

Observation 3: There are two groups of people, the righteous and the unrighteous, and every human being who has ever lived is in one of these two groups.

As we read this parable, we see that there are “the sons of the kingdom” and there are “the sons of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38). This doctrine is consistent throughout the Bible, from at least Genesis 4 on, that there are those who are part of the kingdom of heaven, and there are those who are evil. In Genesis 4 immediately after the fall, Cain was evil, Abel was righteous. So it has been throughout history, and so it is today. All humanity divides between the righteous and the unrighteous, between the wheat and the tares, and there is no third category.

And so it is for you personally. You are either seen by God as righteous, as “a son of the kingdom,” or as unrighteous, as “a son of the evil one.” The significance of this becomes apparent in the next observation.

Observation 4: At the end of the age, Jesus Christ will admit all the righteous into eternal life in heaven.

The final verse of the parable describes the destiny of those who are seen as righteous. At the end of the age, when Jesus (the Son of Man) comes in His glory (Matthew 25:31), “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” From other New Testament passages, we know that the righteous will be resurrected with glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15, etc.), and so here Jesus describes them as shining like the sun. Notice where they are shining. They are shining “in the kingdom of their Father.” Of course, this is heaven.

Observation 5: At the end of the age, Jesus Christ will throw all the unrighteous into the furnace of fire (the lake of fire), where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Now we come to the main message of the parable: “Be warned! Hear My words and heed My words! There is a terrifying judgment coming upon all the unrighteous. Therefore, REPENT! If you do not repent, I will throw you in the furnace of fire.”

This parable gives a sober warning about the final judgment of the unrighteous at the end of the age. In fact, a careful reading of the gospel of Matthew will reveal that “the judgment” or “the day of judgment” appears often in our Lord’s discourses. One of Jesus’ main purposes in His prophecies about the end of the age was to warn the unrighteous that a terrifying judgment awaited them. No one who heard Jesus could plead ignorance about the destiny that awaited the unrighteous. The message was clear and was repeated: “You do not want to be at the judgment. ‘That day’ will be an awesome day of fire and judgment. Flee from the wrath to come! Come to Me (Matthew 11:28) and repent (Matthew 4:15).”

In this parable, the majority of Jesus’ explanation (13:39-42) is devoted to telling of the destiny of the unrighteous. The end of the age has come (13:39, 40). The Son of Man (Jesus Himself) is sending out His angels to clear all the unrighteous out of His kingdom (41) and then to throw them into the furnace of fire. The horror of the event is intended to warn the unrighteous to flee from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:8).

CONCLUSION

The Lord Jesus, who will be the Judge at the end of the age, has given us this parable to picture for us the events of the end of the age. The parable gives the righteous motivation for persevering to the end and warns the unrighteous of the terrifying judgment that awaits them if they do not repent.             SDG                 rmb                 10/11/2021                 #440

Beware of men, but do not fear them (Matthew 10:16-39)

Is it possible for a person to be on their guard against a very real threat without fearing that threat? In Matthew 10:17, Jesus tells His disciples to “beware of men” because they will hate you and will seek to kill you. But then later in the chapter, He says three times for His disciples not to fear (10:26, 28, 31). Isn’t this a contradiction? How can you beware of a person without also fearing that person?

In Matthew 10, Jesus is speaking as King to all His armies of all the ages and telling them about the battle conditions that His disciples will face. What is striking about the passage from 10:16-39 is the number and the constancy of the threats facing Christ’s would-be disciples. Before our Lord even begins recruiting, He clearly tells of the high cost of being one of His followers, and of how you will be hated by all because of His name (10:22), yet Jesus does not appear to mention a single offsetting benefit. This is a most unconventional means of collecting an army of followers!

In this study, we will look at Jesus’ charge to His troops in 10:16, and at the commands He issues to “beware of men” (10:17), but not to fear men (10:26, 28, 31). Our purpose is to understand these instructions from Jesus, and then see how they apply to us in our lives.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” – Matthew 10:16

First, then, we want to study Jesus’ charge to us as His soldiers. In Matthew 10:16, our Lord deploys His troops. “Behold, I send you out.” As disciples of Jesus, we need to be aware that we have been called into His army to be sent out. Sent out to do what? To be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). To be His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). To be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). So, we see that the King has sent us out.

Second, we are sheep in the midst of wolves. There can hardly be a greater mismatch. Sheep are utterly defenseless, and wolves are notoriously deadly. In Romans 8:36, Paul says, “We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” The disciple needs to understand that his is a dangerous calling of total commitment. To follow Jesus is to be a sheep among wolves. We are the hated and the hunted.

Therefore, since we are sent out as sheep among wolves, we must be shrewd (wise) as serpents and innocent as doves. Knowing that he has been sent out by his King into a dangerous combat, the disciple must be very wise. What you lack in ferocity and power you must make up for with shrewdness, with canniness. With wisdom we elude the enemy while loudly proclaiming Jesus.

APPLICATION: Although our “battle conditions” here in America still seem fairly benign, we must remember that we are called to be wise as serpents. We are still sheep in the midst of wolves and must advance the Kingdom and proclaim the gospel with shrewdness and cunning. We operate as innocent as doves as we scheme for the gospel. We use ingenuity and craft to “stay under the radar” while advancing the gospel deeper into enemy territory.

“But beware of men.” – Matthew 10:17

BEWARE OF MEN

Notice what Jesus does not say. He does not say that His disciples are to be frightened of men and, therefore, to run away from men. He does not say that His disciples are to avoid conflict by avoiding confrontation and proclamation. He simply tells them that they should “beware of men.” This is a tactical command from the King to His soldiers. When you go out under the banner of Jesus, realize you will be hated (John 15:18ff). Therefore, as a practical consideration, you need to be wary of those who hate you and seek your destruction. We are sheep among wolves, so we remain physically vulnerable to death. Jesus commands us to beware of men because He knows that, on our gospel mission, men will try to kill us (Psalm 37:32).

So, do not be naïve! “He who is not with you is against you” (Matthew 12:30). Do not trust those who speak peace with their mouths while they plot to kill you. “There are many who fight proudly against me” (Psalm 56:2). As Jesus’ soldiers, we have a boldness and a zeal for the work of the Kingdom that is tempered by a holy wisdom. We are to beware with boldness.

THEREFORE, DO NOT FEAR MEN

26 Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known.” – Matthew 10:26

28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

– Matthew 10:28

31 So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:31

Now the King gives His soldiers the supreme command: “Do not fear men.” Three times in this brief section, the Lord tells us not to fear. As a tactical consideration, it is wise to beware of men, but our wariness of men must never cross over into fear of men. The only one who is worthy of our fear is the Lord Himself (Matthew 10:28). Negatively, the Lord is the One who can throw soul and body into hell (10:28), so He should be feared, but positively, the Lord is the One who has bought us at the price of His own Son on the cross. Therefore, we serve Him and worship Him in reverential fear because we have experienced His power. If we fear the Lord, we need to fear nothing else (see Luke 12:4-5). Again, only the Lord is worthy of our fear.

In Old Testament and New, the Lord displays His power and His faithfulness so that His people will trust Him and love Him with a reverential fear.

In Psalm 56:4, the psalmist asks, “What can mere man do to me?”

In Psalm 27:1, “the LORD is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?”

In Isaiah 43:1, the LORD says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.” If we are redeemed by the LORD, what is there to fear?

In Psalm 103:11, the psalmist declares, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is the LORD’s lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”

In Romans 8:31, Paul testifies, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

1 John 4:18 proclaims, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

To fear man when the Lord has called us to salvation and has promised He will never leave us or forsake us is to call the Lord’s power into question. Therefore, the professing Christian must be very aware of where he places his fear. The author of Hebrews writes,

“But my righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. – Hebrews 10:38-39

The main teaching of Matthew 10, then, is that we are to faithfully proclaim the gospel with wisdom and with fearlessness. Wisdom, because we are vulnerable sheep in the midst of ravenous wolves, but fearlessness, because no threat of man can take away our eternal reward.

APPLICATION: One of the goals of our sanctification and our discipleship is to arrive at that state of mind, that settledness of soul, where we are so convinced of the truths of God’s Word and of the power of our God that no threat of man would cause us to tremble. For the disciple of Jesus, we aim for ability to say, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21), without hesitation and with full conviction. We long for that place where our grip on the Resurrection is so tight that it is as if we were already glorified (Romans 8:30). We overcome fear by the power of the gospel.

Here are ways that I strive to reach that place of fearlessness:

  • Meditate on and study the Resurrection passages in the Bible until you are convinced that you personally will rise with the saints on the Last Day. The certainty of the Resurrection will drive away fear of death.
  • Spend time deeply considering the power of God as displayed in creation and as demonstrated in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. From the earliest chapters of Genesis, God makes promises, and then He keeps those promises. This requires ultimate sovereignty over all the affairs of His universe. And God has made promises to His people which He will certainly keep. Meditate on these truths until you fully believe the unlimited power of the living God. When you grasp God’s power and believe that He loves you as His child, the fear of man and the fear of death and the fear of the future will lose their hold on you.

SDG                 rmb                  10/7/2021                   #439

Running with the footmen (Jeremiah 12:5)

The prophet Jeremiah was writing to a people who were disobedient to the Lord and were heading toward judgment. He was given the daunting task of declaring the coming judgment to the nation of Judah with full knowledge that his words would not be heeded. Jeremiah had been told by the LORD that he was to preach to Judah even though they would never listen. But the language of the Scripture in Jeremiah’s prophecy evokes powerful images.

“If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out,
Then how can you compete with horses?
If you fall down in a land of peace,
How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” – Jeremiah 12:5

Judah had been living in luxury and peace (“running with the footmen”) and had steadily decayed in their service to the LORD and in their giving glory to the LORD among the nations. Instead of holiness, Judah was marked by wickedness and idolatry, and the halcyon days of running with the footmen were about to be replaced by competing with horses.

WE HAVE BEEN RUNNING WITH FOOTMEN

As I read these words of Jeremiah, I can’t help but think that, in different a sense, the American church has been “running with the footmen” for a long time. By “running with the footmen,” I mean that the American church has had a long season of great material wealth, of protection from the government, and of tolerance from the prevailing society. The church militant in America has had decades of a favorable climate for declaring the gospel to the nations with very few hindrances. The American church has had a long comfortable period of peace and material prosperity. That is what I mean by “running with the footmen.” And yet, despite the wealth to fund far-reaching gospel ventures and the freedom to pursue our faith out in the open, the church has made scant progress in the gospel. While there have been some focused efforts to move the message of the gospel forward, there has also been the squandering of immense amounts of money, time, and focus on building opulent church campuses that serve only the people in the church. In my opinion, the excesses have far outnumbered the useful projects, the church in America has become inwardly focused through pampering, and the cause of the gospel has languished. We have been running with the footmen, and we have wearied ourselves in the most favorable of circumstances.

COMPETING WITH HORSES AND ENTERING THE THICKET OF THE JORDAN

But something else has been occurring as the church has been entertaining ourselves and improving our “church experience.” The material wealth of the church has slowly eroded, religious protection from the government has all but disappeared and has been replaced with restrictions, and the attitude of the American culture has gradually turned hostile to Christianity. I sense that the pleasant days of leisurely “running with the footmen” are fast coming to a close (if they have not already) and that we are beginning a time of “competing with horses.” To quote Jeremiah, we are entering “the thicket of the Jordan,” and in that place the obstacles to the gospel will be many and further progress will be hard-won.

How, then, are we who wage war (2 Cor. 10:3-5) under the banner of Jesus to respond to this increasingly hostile culture? Here are some thoughts that I employ that help me to persevere:

  • Be careful and thoughtful with my doctrine so that I am not blown here and there by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) and thus end up in apostasy.
  • Be more intentionally encouraging to other believers since the sources of discouragement will continue to grow in number and in magnitude (Ephesians 4:29).
  • With a sense of urgency, be more vocal with my evangelistic efforts (2 Cor. 5:11a).
  • Strive to be more useful and productive in whatever area of Kingdom activity or ministry the Lord has given us (Colossians 3:23; Romans 12:6-8).
  • Expect and embrace persecution from the world. Bear it with joy and continue to proclaim Christ in the midst of persecution (Matt. 5:10-12, 44; Romans 12:14).
  • Stand firm against the schemes of the devil (2 Cor. 2:11; Ephesians 6:11ff).
  • Close ranks within the local church, and make sure that I am doing the “one anothers” for my fellow church members. These are the people the Lord has called me to encourage toward heaven.

As we must more and more compete with horses and run through thickets, let’s lean into the Lord and be steadfast (1 Cor. 15:58).

SDG                 rmb                 10/4/2021                   #438

The Lord can heal, but do we believe He can protect?

PREFACE: This is one of a series of posts that I will be publishing over the next few weeks that offer my own perspective about issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. My purpose in these posts is to suggest ways that Christians can think about this pandemic which glorify God and draw attention to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. rmb

I cannot imagine a professing Christian not praying for the Lord to heal a loved one who has contracted COVID-19. Surely in any fellowship of any local church, when one of the members of the church has fallen ill with COVID, the other members of the body respond by offering up prayers for healing. We know that, during His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus healed many people of their illnesses. We know that the LORD “heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3). For those who have walked with the Lord for a long time, we have seen the Lord heal us and heal those we love in answer to prayers. A Christian can rightly declare the Lord’s sovereign power over all disease and can know that, if the Lord is willing, He will certainly heal (Matthew 8:2-3). Our God is Jehovah Rapha, the LORD your healer (Exodus 15:26). Based on the prayers offered for healing, most Christians believe the Lord can heal.

But while there are frequent prayers and prayer requests for the Lord to heal when loved ones become ill with this disease, it seems to me that there are far fewer prayers for the Lord to protect us from COVID in the first place. If my impression is reality; that is, if there are, in fact, few prayers for protection, I would ask why that was so. It could be that we have more uncertainty about the Lord’s ability to protect than to heal. But why would we believe that the Lord can heal us from a disease, but would not believe He can protect us from that same disease? Can the Lord who heals not also protect? Is protecting me from catching COVID-19 and keeping me safe from all COVID’s variants too difficult for the living God (Jer. 32:17, 27)?

In the Scriptures, God’s people often call out to Him for protection. There are many prayers in the Psalms that cry out to the LORD for His protection against enemies and adversaries, and in each of these, the psalmist expects the LORD to answer his prayer. The psalmist expects that, since the LORD is infinitely able and since He loves His people, He will answer their cry for protection. In no sense is this “testing the LORD.” Rather, this is inspired Scripture and is therefore “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The prayers in the Psalms are models for God’s people for all time. In fact, it could be argued that to not cry out to the LORD for protection according to the prayers of the Psalms is a faithless act. Based on the prayers for protection in the Scripture, then, we, too, should pray for protection and trust that the Lord will answer.

Some have suggested to me that perhaps the Lord would allow me to catch the COVID disease to teach me some important life lesson. Is that possible? Of course, that is possible. But this would be very confusing to me in these circumstances. If I openly declare to the watching world that I am trusting the living God to keep me safe from any form of COVID, and I am doing this to glorify the Lord for His ability to keep His child well, and I remind people that I have not had any trace of COVID since the disease began in March of 2020 and that God has kept me perfectly safe so far, why would the Lord allow me to catch the disease now? What lesson would He be teaching me, to not trust Him so much? How would the Lord be glorified in those circumstances?

In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus commends prayer for His followers, saying that as a human father will not give a stone to a son who asks for a loaf of bread, nor will he give a snake to his child who asks for a fish, so “your Father who is in heaven will give what is good to those who ask Him” (7:11). It would seem to me that allowing someone who is trusting Him for protection from COVID to contract COVID, would be like giving a snake to a son who asks for a fish. Instead, those who trust the Lord completely for their protection will not be disappointed (Romans 10:11).

My conclusion, then, is to suggest that those Christians who have not already gotten the COVID vaccine would wholly trust the Lord to protect them from COVID-19 and would declare to those in your circle of influence that the Lord is your protector, and He will keep you safe from COVID. The Lord is our shield and defender, and trusting Him brings Him glory.

SDG rmb 10/1/2021 #437

Once to die and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27)

PREFACE: Another of a series of posts offering my own perspective on the issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. NOTE: I have edited the post from yesterday, “Some trust in chariots (Psalm 20:6-9)” because some of the wording needed to be changed. rmb

An interesting phenomenon has occurred in the last year and a half. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the threat of sudden, random death onto the screens of people all over the globe. When it first appeared in March of last year, the reports were that COVID only affected the aged and the infirm, but as the pandemic has raged and morphed, the threat of getting a severe case has gradually trickled down the age ranges until now everyone of any age is a potential victim. And death may result, whether you are nineteen or ninety. COVID is no respecter of age. Nor does COVID seem to discriminate on the basis of physical health. There is growing evidence that physical fitness poses no barrier to COVID. And death may result, whether you are a physical specimen or a couch potato.

A few days ago, it was announced that the COVID pandemic is now officially the deadliest pandemic in US history, surpassing the so-called Spanish flu of 1918. To date 676,000 Americans have entered eternity as a result of COVID-19. Yes, there is no question about it: death may result from COVID.

So, how should we, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, respond to these realities? I suggest that we address these realities with the truths of the gospel.

THE TRUTH ABOUT DEATH

COVID has brought to many people an awareness of death, and an awareness of their own possible death, which has previously been absent. Of course, death is not new. Ever since Adam ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, death has been a reality on this planet. Every person who has ever been born either has already experienced death or will experience death. Death hangs over the head of every person living, and death may come at any moment. There is no negotiation. There is never a redo. There is no reversal. Death comes with stunning finality, and we humans are helpless before it. And death is a universal problem.

Human beings are unique among all the animals on earth in two ways related to death: First, humans are the only animals who know they are going to die; and second, humans are the only animals who will be judged by God because of their sin. Hebrews 9:27 puts it well:

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment

It is appointed for men to die. God told Adam, “The day you eat of it (forbidden fruit) you shall surely die.” Thus, death entered the world (Romans 5:12), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). So, it is appointed by God for men to die. There is a day appointed for me and for you when we will die.

But the most terrifying thing about death is not the experience of death itself, but the truth that after death comes judgment. All of us must stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10). All unbelievers will stand before the blazing holiness of God Almighty and will be condemned for their sins (Revelation 20:15). This is why the unbeliever, whether they admit it or not, is frightened of death. They are frightened because, in their soul, they know that God’s judgment awaits.

AWARENESS OF DEATH

I mentioned before that COVID has brought many people to an awareness of the possibility of their own death. So, it is not death itself that is new, but it is the awareness of their own death that is new. Through the COVID pandemic, millions have seen men and women just like them dying of COVID and death has become part of everyday conversation. My awareness of my own possible death from COVID goes way up when I see a friend or a church member or a relative dying of the disease. What does the gospel have to say to those who are afraid of death and afraid of the coming judgment?

JESUS CHRIST HAS CONQUERED DEATH

So COVID threatens us with physical death, but the truth of the gospel declares that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Jesus has conquered death by His glorious resurrection, and now the follower of Jesus has no need to fear death. Since Jesus Christ has risen from dead, all those who are in Christ will also rise from the dead in the final Resurrection. The Bible declares this over and over again:

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26

Jesus promises resurrection and eternal life to all who believe in Him. COVID cannot threaten me because Jesus has given me His promises.

53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

All believers must put on imperishable immortality. The Christian is promised a resurrection, so death has lost its victory and its sting.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21

The apostle Paul takes this idea into the most practical of places. Since faith in Jesus Christ has guaranteed a resurrection, the believer can live fully for Christ and then will gain heaven when they die. COVID has nothing to say to a life lived for Christ in that way.

So, the believer in Jesus can respond to the threat of death from COVID by simply declaring, “Because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I have no fear of death. My Savior has conquered the grave and risen from the dead, and in the end, I will also be glorified. So, I have no fear of COVID-19.” This, in my opinion, is the faithful response to the threat of this pandemic.

But I think there is still more that we can do with the threat of COVID.

AN OPPORTUNITY TO OFFER THE GOSPEL

As more and more become aware of their mortality and of the proximity of their own death, and as perhaps some we know or encounter even draw near to that awesome moment when life gives way to eternity, I am convinced that believers must warn the perishing of their peril and urge them to come to Christ before it is too late.

Is it possible that the Lord is using the deaths of this pandemic and the increased awareness of our own inevitable death to open a door for those who will tell the lost about the reality of the final Judgment so they will turn to Christ? In Ezekiel 33:1-10 we read the story of the watchman. The LORD tells the prophet that a watchman was appointed to send the alarm if he saw the sword of destruction coming upon the city so the city would be warned and get to safety. Then the LORD says, “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand” (Ezekiel 33:6). The LORD is saying that, because the watchman did not warn about the coming sword, he is responsible for the deaths in the city.

How does this apply to the believer during the COVID pandemic? We are the watchmen who have been appointed to warn of the coming Judgment. We are the ones who know that there is a sword coming, ultimately the double-edged sword coming out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus when He returns to judge the earth (Revelation 19:11-16). We have been appointed as the witnesses of the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8), and if we do not warn about the coming judgment, the people will still perish in their sins, but we also will have to give an account for why we were silent. The point is that COVID-19 has made people, all people, much more aware about the possibility of death. That is an opportunity for us, for we know Him who has conquered death. We know Him who has removed our fear of death. “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). We know that the Judgment will be terrifying, and we know how those who are now under judgment can be set free. Let’s be vocal and bold in proclaiming Jesus to the lost.

Some trust in chariots (Psalm 20:6-9)

PREFACE: Ordinarily I stay away from trendy topics, preferring instead to mine the timeless resources of the Scriptures, but I have decided to throw some of my thoughts and opinions into the vast ocean of the COVID-19 dialog. This is the first of several posts on that subject. NOTE: This is an edited version of a post I made yesterday (9/22/2021).

One of the topics that has been glaringly absent from the endless discussions and diatribes about COVID-19 and its related vaccines is the topic of faith. Even when reading articles and Blog posts from Christian authors, the subject of faith is rarely mentioned and is never central. Now, I would expect unbelievers to run to these vaccines and to loudly tout these “miracles of modern medical science.” I would expect those who do not know the living God to be fearful in the face of this pandemic, since admittedly many people have died from COVID. It is understandable for unbelievers to stampede to the vaccine since they have no shield or refuge or defender or savior other then the two mighty jabs. For an unbeliever to cling to the feeble hope that some man-made means of rescue will keep them safe from the dreaded disease is perfectly reasonable. “A suspect parachute is better than no parachute at all,” or so the saying goes. So, I understand the responses of those who do not know God and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

What puzzles me, and sometimes alarms me, is the response of those who do claim to trust in the Lord. I would expect that those who know the living God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and who thus have all the promises in the Bible credited to their account, would respond to this disease and to the vaccine in a noticeably different way, but almost always I am disappointed. In what they write, in what they say in conversations, and in what they do, the overwhelming majority of professing Christians respond virtually identically as the world responds. Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be!

Consider Psalm 20:6-9.

Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.
Some boast (trust) in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast (trust) in the name of the Lord, our God.
They have bowed down and fallen,
But we have risen and stood upright.
Save, O Lord;
May the King answer us in the day we call.

20:6 – David knows that the Lord is the one who saves. Notice that he does not mention any other possible means of rescue. The psalmist then declares the truth that the Lord will answer His people from heaven. When God’s people cry out to Him, we have the promise that God will answer our cries. And how will the Lord answer our cries? “With the saving strength of His right hand.” Nothing and no one can stay the action of the Lord’s right hand.

20:7 – This promise of the Lord’s faithfulness and strength shown to His people (20:6) evokes trust from David. “Some” boast in chariots and horses. “Some” people have never seen the Lord’s strength and they reject His salvation, so they trust in their worldly weapons. “When I am afraid,” this person says, “I will remember that I have chariots and horses. They are mighty to save. Chariots and horses will keep me safe.” But David, speaking for the Lord’s people, proclaims that “we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Whatever threat may come, we will trust in the name of the Lord our God. He has proven Himself faithful and the saving strength of His right hand will defeat any enemy. All our trust is in the Lord.

20:8 – And what is the result of where a person places their trust? Does it make a difference whom you trust? Yes, it most certainly does. In Psalm 146:3, we read, “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man in whom there is no salvation.” If your trust is in the mortal things of this world, you will perish with them. In 20:8 we read, “’They’ have bowed down and fallen.” The “they” in this verse is the same people as the “some” in verse 7. Those who trusted in chariots and horses “have bowed down and fallen.” They trusted in things that could not save and could not protect them from the threats of this world. “But we have risen and stood upright.” There is a huge contrast between those who trust the Lord and those who trust in worldly shields and defenses. “Bowed down and fallen” or “risen and stood upright,” that is the contrast. All the difference is in whom you trust.

[ASIDE: As a further note on 20:8, it is possible that David is here talking about more than a victory in an earthly battle. The phrase “risen and stood upright” could be referring to the Resurrection on the Last Day. On that day, all believers will rise in glorious resurrection and will constitute a great army to join with the Lord Jesus when He comes to destroy and judge the unrighteous. Ezekiel 37:10 declares, “So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life (‘risen’) and stood on their feet (‘stood upright’), an exceedingly great army.”]

20:9 – Now David can cry to the Lord with confidence, “Save, O Lord!” The Lord has declared and proven His faithfulness and David has trusted in the Lord, his God, so the result is that the man of God can know for certain that the Lord will be mighty to save him.

For the Christian, the primary issue is trust. Whom do you trust? Not “Whom do you claim to trust?” but, “Whom do you trust?” Do you trust in chariots and horses, or do you trust in the name of the Lord, our God? Trust is the issue.

So, if trust is the primary issue, then how do we apply the teaching of Psalm 20:6-9 to our current pandemic and particularly with regard to its vaccine? To be very direct, I pose this question: “Can the professing Christian listen to Biden and Fauci and Moderna and Pfizer and the CDC and a thousand other voices, and obey them, and then claim to believe Psalm 20:6-9?” I don’t think so, because the issue is trust. Our trust in the Lord must manifest itself in practical ways in our lives. What glory does God receive when, with regard to this very public controversy about COVID, His people have the same conversations and make the same decisions on the same bases as the rest of the world? Would the watching world not conclude that we, too, need a vaccine to protect us from COVID? Would it not be a better demonstration of the power of our God and of our trust in Him to declare that, regarding this disease or any disease or any threat whatsoever, “We will trust in the name of the Lord, our God”?

Remember, “Some boast (trust) in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast (trust) in the name of the Lord, our God.” In whom will you boast?

For this reason, you also must be ready (Matthew 24:44)

NOTE: This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Last Act of the Drama: A guide for the end-times. rmb

In His teaching on the Mount of Olives, our Lord commands His people to be ready and to be on the alert. “Therefore, be on the alert (Matthew 24:42), for you do not know which day your Lord is coming,” and “For this reason, you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will (24:44).” Regardless of the details, the Lord Jesus will certainly return one day in power and in glory. Knowing this, His disciples persevere in faith and wait for the trumpet sound and for the appearance of the Rider on the white horse (Revelation 19:11-16). Our main “end-times task” is still to be ready when our King comes.

But how is the disciple to be ready for the return of King Jesus? The following are some specific suggestions from my own efforts to be ready during these last days.

GROW YOUR TRUST IN GOD

Grow your trust in God by regularly reminding yourself who He is, what He has done in creation, what He has done in His redemptive plan, and what He has done in your life, not only in your salvation but also in myriad providences and answered prayers and blessings that He has poured out on you.

The goal here is for your trust in God and your experience of His greatness to overwhelm all fears. The LORD declares that He is God, and there is no other. He is sovereign over all things, and that means over ALL things. He has displayed His glory in His creation, which He spoke into existence from nothing (ex nihilo), so that His people would give Him glory and know His power (Romans 1:20). He has conceived and executed His redemptive plan that allows Him to forgive wretched sinners like me. The Lord remains just even though He is the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). And, if you are in Christ, God has redeemed you and called you by name, and you are forever His child and treasured possession (Isaiah 43:1). God has proven Himself faithful. So then, even if “the mountains slip into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:2) and everything in our world collapses, we will not fear because God is our refuge and strength (46:1). We get ready, then, by making sure that our trust in God will not waver regardless of what happens.

GROW DEEP IN YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S WORD

Your Bible is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). It is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). It is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105). The Bible has been breathed out by the third Person of the Trinity (2 Timothy 3:16) so that His people will be ready for the battle. As the lawlessness and persecution of the end of the age intensify, we must wield the sword of the Spirit with precision and skill. The strategy is straightforward: Know your Bible and believe what it says as truth from God. Know your Bible so well that all fear is consumed in your reverent love of God and your unwavering trust in Him. In this way you will be ready to persevere until the King comes.

GROW IN YOUR LOVE FOR CHRIST’S CHURCH

In His grace, at our salvation, the Lord sealed us with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13) and joined us to the body of Christ, which is the church of all believers in Jesus in the world. Now, as those who have been joined to Christ, we enjoy fellowship not only with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, but also with all the saints who will make up “the great multitude which no one could count from every nation and tribe and people and tongue standing before the throne” in heaven (Revelation 7:9). That worship will go on forever, but now on this side of eternity, we also get to worship with the saints in our local church. And one of the most powerful and effective ways to be ready for Jesus’ coming is to learn to love the saints in your local church. As the end of the age draws near, it is the local church that will provide the encouragement we need to press on. The author of Hebrews says this:

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:23-25

Especially as we contemplate persecution and think about being hated by the world because of our faith in Jesus, the blessing of the local church, of real flesh and blood followers of Jesus who are committed to loving us to the end, becomes sweeter. Notice that the author of Hebrews exhorts “us” to hold fast the confession of “our” hope. We don’t have to go it alone. We will be ready for Jesus because the saints in our local church have continually stimulated us to live out our faith and to persevere. We will continue to assemble as a body of believers because we enjoy our time together and because we need the encouragement, especially as we “see the day drawing near.” So, loving the saints in my local church is part of what it means to be ready.

GENERAL TACTICS FOR THE END-TIMES

Lastly, there are also some other tactics that help me keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and not be distracted and not be “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind” (Ephesians 4:14) of culture and every scheme of the devil (2 Cor. 2:11; Ephesians 6:11). These tactics are not intended to sound drastic or dramatic but are meant to communicate the immense importance of our perseverance. Our enemy is committed to our destruction, and we must therefore be committed to glorifying the Lord through our perseverance in holiness.

  • Expect persecution so that you are not surprised by it (1 Peter 4:12).
  • Prepare for persecution. This may involve envisioning specific persecution and deciding now how you will respond then. Again, the local church would be a tremendous encouragement here as we resolve together now how we will respond then. There is tremendous power in that type of commitment.
  • Commit now to persevere to the end no matter what comes. “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). It is only the one who endures to the end who will be saved. Be ready to persevere to the end.
  • Finally, resolve now to die rather than deny Christ. Make that decision now while the skies are still mostly blue. “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

These suggestions should help you to be ready when the last trumpet sounds.

SDG rmb 9/16/2021 #434

The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)

Most of us have heard about Yom Kippur, even if we are not Jewish. The descriptions of Yom Kippur on the Internet are universally serious and sober. One site calls Yom Kippur “the most solemn of Jewish religious holidays, observed on the 10th day of the lunar month of Tishri (in the course of September and October), when Jews seek to expiate their sins and achieve reconciliation with God.” Many Christians are unaware that Yom Kippur, translated as the “day of atonement,” is part of every Bible. The fundamental teaching on the day of atonement is given in Leviticus 16, and that is where I will be focusing for this post. The New Testament book of “Hebrews” also spends a good bit of time explaining the significance of the day of atonement and teaches how Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled this foreshadow or “type” by His sacrificial death on the cross.

With this post, I want to carefully go through Leviticus 16 and show how this Jewish ceremony established by Moses 3,500 years ago points to the finished work of Jesus the Messiah that He accomplished in His death and resurrection.

(I will be using the New American Standard translation of the Bible.)

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE CEREMONY

Before we get into the actual ceremony and what Aaron the priest was commanded to do on the day of atonement, there are several preliminary observations to make.

  • First, the LORD Himself spoke to Moses and gave him the requirements for this day. In fact, The LORD is the only person who speaks in Leviticus 16. The LORD speaks to Moses and describes the precise requirements for the day of atonement if the sins of the people were to be removed. Therefore, the ceremony was not invented by Moses, nor were the details of the ceremony made up by other people. Rather, “The LORD spoke to Moses (16:1, 2).”
  • Second, the day of atonement was observed on one day of every year, the tenth day of the seventh month, and it was a permanent statute for the children of Israel, meaning that they were required to perform this ceremony every year (Leviticus 16:29). Yom Kippur was not optional.
  • Third, the purpose of Yom Kippur was that “on this day, atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD (16:30 – read 16:29-34).” The LORD God is a holy God and our sin creates a separation between us and God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and brings us under His righteous judgment and condemnation (Ezekiel 18:4). In the Law (Torah) of the Old Testament, the LORD, through Yom Kippur, provided a way for the sins of man to be cleansed and washed away, so that men and women would not be condemned before Him. Every year the Hebrew people were required to repeat the ceremony, as a reminder of their ongoing sinfulness.
  • Fourth, only the high priest could perform the ceremony of the day of atonement and, as we will see, he was required to perform his duties precisely according to the instructions the LORD gave. Every part of the priest’s duty was for a purpose and no part could be omitted. Acceptable atonement depended on the priest performing his duties exactly as prescribed. If he did not do everything according to the instructions, the priest would die before the LORD and the people’s sins would remain.

THE CEREMONY ITSELF

            As we have said, the ceremony for Yom Kippur is carefully explained in Leviticus chapter 16. There are many steps and actions described in this chapter which are necessary to atone for sin and trying to follow all these details can be confusing, especially to a reader who is relatively unfamiliar with Israel’s sacrificial system. To simplify matters, the whole ceremony can be described in three broad ideas, namely:

  • The forgiveness of any sin requires shedding the blood of an acceptable sacrifice. Therefore, the high priest must bring blood into the Most Holy Place to be sprinkled on the mercy seat (“the propitiatory”).
  • The central focus of the day of atonement is on the two goats, one goat that is sacrificed as a sin offering and another goat that remains alive and is sent away into the wilderness. To understand Yom Kippur and how Yom Kippur allowed for the atonement of the sins of the people, a person must understand the meaning of the two goats.
  • The ceremony is steeped in holiness and was a unique sacrifice among all the sacrifices of the Hebrew sacrificial system. This was the only sacrifice when the high priest was allowed into the Most Holy Place (“the Holy of holies”). This was the only sacrifice that required two animals. This was the only ceremony in the sacrificial system where a live animal survived. 

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 1-10

            The first ten verses give an overview and preliminary instruction for what will happen during the whole ceremony. The LORD reminds Moses of how serious this day is and that even the high priest must not enter the Most Holy place (“Holy of holies”) unless he brings blood to atone for his own sin. We are also introduced to the two male goats, who are the focus of the ceremony. Aaron is to “cast lots for the two goats (16:8).” One goat will be sacrificed to the LORD as a sin offering and the other goat will be the scapegoat (or “the goat of removal”). “The scapegoat will be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as a scapegoat (16:10).”

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 11-14 – The bull of the sin offering (inside the veil)

            Now the action of the sacrifices begins. Aaron, the high priest, must offer the bull of the sin offering (16:11); he must slaughter the bull of the sin offering (16:11); and he must take some of the blood of the bull into the Holy of holies (“inside the veil” – 16:12) to sprinkle it on the mercy seat (16:14).

All this is done to atone for the high priest’s own personal sins. He cannot come into the presence of the LORD unless his sins have been atoned for. Also, notice that, before he enters inside the veil and into the presence of the LORD, the high priest must prepare a cloud of incense (16:12-13) to cover the mercy seat, “otherwise he will die.”

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 15-19 – The goat of the sin offering (inside the veil)

            After making atonement for his own sins, the high priest goes back out to the holy place inside the tent and slaughters the goat of the sin offering (the first goat). He then brings the blood of that goat inside the veil, into the Holy of holies, to sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat “to make atonement for all the assembly of Israel (16:17).” In this part of the ceremony, the blood of the sin offering atones for the sins of the people.

LEVITICUS 16, VERSES 20-22 – The goat of removal (outside the tent)

            But now the high priest goes outside the tent of meeting and offers the live goat (16:20). Then the priest “shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins (16:21).” By confessing the sins of all the people over the head of the live goat, the high priest has transferred those sins to the live goat. Then the goat, which is now bearing the sins of all the people, is sent away into the wilderness so that their sins will be remembered no more.

AN ODD CEREMONY – WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

            As we consider this ceremony of Yom Kippur that the LORD prescribed for taking away sins, a number of questions may arise, like:

  • How can animal sacrifices, even those commanded by the LORD, atone for human sins?
  • What sorts of sins did the children of Israel have to confess? I am pretty sure their sins were different than our sins.
  • This ceremony took place a long, long time ago. What does this have to do with me today? Things have changed since then. Surely God does not still require atonement for my sin and does not still require blood sacrifices.
  • Why would God create such an unusual ceremony to atone for sin? Doesn’t God just sort of wave His hand and forgive sin? Why this elaborate ceremony?
  • Why did this have to be repeated every year as a “perpetual statute?” It seems like it would be done once for all time and that would be that. Why the repetition?
  • This ceremony cannot be done now because neither the tabernacle nor the temple still exists, and because sacrificing animals is just not done in our culture. How, then, are God’s people supposed to atone for their sins now?

YOM KIPPUR IS A FORESHADOW OF SOMETHING ELSE

            These are all interesting questions, and they probably deserve answers, but these questions miss the main point. The main point, and the point that will answer most of the questions above, is that the LORD prescribed the ceremony of Yom Kippur not as an end in itself, but as a picture of something much greater that was to come. We refer to this picturing of something in the future as a “foreshadow.” The idea is that we see the shadow now, but we know that the greater reality is coming soon. Since we see the shadow now, the substance will be right behind it. So, Yom Kippur is a foreshadow of a greater reality to follow.

The day of atonement as described in Leviticus 16 shows us several things:

  • All people have sinned against the commandments of the LORD. Notice that the high priest needed to make atonement for all the people. That means that all had sinned.
  • The LORD God is holy and requires atonement for sin. That is the entire purpose of the ceremony. God is very serious about sin.
  • We cannot make ourselves righteous before God, but we need a sin offering to atone for our sins. The priest had to bring the blood of the prescribed sin offering inside the veil to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat. Just so, we need the blood an acceptable sacrifice to atone for our sins.
  • We also need a “goat of removal” who will take our sins away “into the wilderness” so that we will no longer be under the judgment of God.
  • Leviticus 16 describes Yom Kippur, which was to berepeated every single year, but we need a permanent solution to our sin problem. We need a once-for-all time sacrifice to atone for our sin and we need some way to permanently take our sins away into the wilderness.

Yom Kippur foreshadows the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah as an atonement for the sins of His people. In His death on the cross, Jesus was “the goat of the sin offering.” He was the acceptable sacrifice who “gave His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It is His blood that serves as atonement for the sins of His people. But Jesus is also “the goat of removal,” because by His resurrection “He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). That is, because He rose from the dead and lives forever, He is always able to take away the sins of His people into the wilderness.

HOW DO WE RECEIVE THE ATONEMENT JESUS OFFERS?

APPLICATION: Jesus grants atonement and forgiveness of sins to all His people. Who are “His people?” His people are all those who have placed their faith in Him as Lord and Savior. Regardless of ethnicity or past sins or social position or age or any other external differentiation, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” – Romans 10:9-10.

When we place our faith in Jesus, we figuratively place both our hands on His head (Leviticus 16:21) and declare our faith in Him and we confess our sins to God. In that act of faith, Jesus dies for us as “the goat of the sin offering” (Lev. 16:15-19) to take away the penalty for our sin, and, by His resurrection, He also lives for us as “the live goat” (Leviticus 16:20-22) to continue to take our sins away into the wilderness, “to a solitary land” (16:22). If you have never done that, now would be a good time to receive that atonement and the forgiveness that Jesus has to offer.