Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Throne of God (Part II)

"And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle." (Revelation 4:4-7)

The identity of the elders remains a mystery; however, their robes and their crowns are conspicuous. Each is clothed with the pure, white robe of Christ's righteousness (Revelation 3:5, 18, 19:14, Ephesians 5:25-27, I Peter 2:24, II Corinthians 5:21). If salvation is solely by grace through faith in Christ's blood, the white robes cannot primarily represent anything but the merit of the Savior. Good works are a manifestation of salvation, but they are not the agent of it. The Christian's eternal security resides in the reality of Jesus' flawless righteousness which is imparted to the believer upon the moment of repentant faith (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4).

Each elder also wore a crown of gold. The New Testament presents five different crowns which may be earned by the saint. These crowns are the fruit of, not the means of, salvation. The Crown of Rejoicing is connected to winning souls through the presentation of the gospel (I Thessalonians 2:19). The Crown of Righteousness is linked to the saint's faithful fulfillment of the ministry to which God has called him or her (II Timothy 4:8). The Crown of Life portrays the rewards of those who are faithful through the various temptations and testings which might befall them (James 1:12, Revelation 2:10). The Crown of Glory is the reward of the church leader who has faithfully and humbly carried out the labors of his position (I Peter 5:4); and lastly, the Crown of Victory (incorruptible crown) illustrates the reward of those who are willing to subject their flesh to the higher calling of God's holy will (I Corinthians 9:24-27). Everything about these elders points the reader back to the grace of Jesus Christ and the eternal rewards connected to His service.

At this juncture, it does the reader well to stop and take note that none of these crowns would be possible were it not for the fact that Jesus was willing to wear the Crown of Thorns; and these crowns of eternal reward cannot be obtained apart from first accepting both the human reproach and the godly hope connected to Christ's thorny crown (Luke 9:23).

The lightnings and thunderings of God's holiness characterize His throne and call to mind the scene of Daniel 7:9-10.

I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him... .

Once again, God's complete Spirit is presented. Only this time, He is illustrated by seven burning lamps. This fire calls to mind the omnipresent nature of God's Spirit. "The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3)." The Lord's Holy Spirit will soon be presented as being one with the Lamb, thus picturing the cohesive nature of the God-head (Revelation 5:6). By God's grace, this is the same Spirit Who regenerates (Titus 3:5) and fills the believer (Ephesians 5:18). He is also given abundantly to the saint (Titus 3:6), and He is able to take the feeble child of God and to bring him before the very presence of this fearful throne through His work of intercession (Hebrews 4:16, 10:22, Romans 8:26-27).

A sea of glass surrounded this majestic throne - a sea which would soon be filled with the souls of Christ's redeemed (Revelation 7:9, 13-14).

It is difficult to say exactly what the various faces of the four beasts represent; however, the following are possibilities: Christ is King (lion), Christ is Man (man), Christ is the Sacrifice (ox), Christ is God (eagle). They seem to be similar in nature to the seraphim of Isaiah 6:2 and the cherubim of Ezekiel 1:10, 18-20, 10:1. Both the seraphim and cherubim guarded the holiness of God, and such seems to be the duty of these creatures here as their multiple eyes keep watch in every possible direction.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Throne of God

"After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter." (Revelation 4:1)

This verse may very well be picturing the rapture of the Church. From this point onward, the New Testament church is no longer seen. For this reason, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to consider this event to be synonymous with the events described in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 and I Corinthians 15:51-54. The placement of this command to "come up here" prior to the commencement of the Great Tribulation is also excellent proof for a pre-tribulational rapture.

"And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald." (Revelation 4:2-3)

Caught up by God's Spirit like the prophets of old (Ezekiel 37:1), John immediately finds himself before God's holy throne. This throne was set; it was laid as an unmoveable foundation. Earth's kingdom's are temporary, but God's is permanent. Whether aware or unaware, the world's kingdoms are subject to a far greater Authority. In a wicked and changeable world, a Christian can find security in the firm nature of his Savior's throne.

The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all (Psalm 103:19).

The blinding light of God's holiness was hued with blood reds (jasper, sardine) and deep, rich green (emerald). The sight must have been overwhelming. The holy and merciful God Who so graciously revealed Himself to the elders of Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:9-11), once again permits Himself to be partially viewed as He prepares to disclose the frightening, yet victorious, events of the end times.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Burden of the Valley of Vision (Part V)

"And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah: And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open." (Isaiah 22:20-22)

God may not have removed Shebna from Judah, but He did replace him with Eliakim. When the king's ambassadors went to present their pleas before Isaiah, Eliakim is seen as being over the king's house (Isaiah 37:2).

Eliakim means God has raised up. In rejection of Shebna's pride, God chose Himself a man who would display the fear of the Lord - something much needed not only in Isaiah's day but also in modern times as well.

The laying of a key upon one's shoulder was symbolic of committing unto him the responsibility of government (Isaiah 9:6). As a God-fearing father takes interest in the spiritual and physical wellness of his children, Eliakim would take interest in the wellness of Judah's people.

The opening and shutting of the doors may represent his literal authority to decide who was admitted into the royal rooms and buildings. It may also carry with it the idea of making decisions which would have lasting effects. Either way, a great burden of responsibility was placed upon Eliakim, and he alone could decide whether to use it for evil or for good.

"And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons. In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off: for the LORD hath spoken it." (Isaiah 22:23-25)

As a tent stake provides support for the structure, Eliakim would provide paternal support for his family and for all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The vessels would appear to be symbolic of the people and various duties of office for which Eliakim would be responsible.

The abrupt termination of the nail could be a warning against potential pride in the heart of Eliakim. Should he exalt himself, he too would face the same end as Shebna. However, more likely it is in reference to the coming Babylonian invasion and eventual destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Eliakim's posterity would not permanently occupy the position. Eventually, Judah's sin would be punished severely through Nebuchadnezzar, and in that day Jerusalem and all its positions of authority would be brought down to the ground.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Burden of the Valley of Vision (Part IV)

"Thus saith the Lord GOD of hosts, Go, get thee unto this treasurer, even unto Shebna, which is over the house, and say, What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock?" 
(Isaiah 22:15-16)

Shebna was in a position of high authority. To be over the house was to be next to the king (II Kings 10:5, 15:5). The placement of this rebuke leads one to believe that Shebna was an adversary rather than an advocate of Isaiah's prophecies. Could he have been encouraging the people toward an alliance with Egypt against Assyria (Isaiah 30:1-2)? None can say for certain, but the possibility is very real.

The common practice of the day was to prepare a grave in the vicinity of one's established life. Such endeavors were symbolic of stability, respect and wealth (Matthew 27:60). Shebna was obviously very comfortable with his position in the face of God's chastisement.

"Behold, the LORD will carry thee away with a mighty captivity, and will surely cover thee. He will surely violently turn and toss thee like a ball into a large country: there shalt thou die, and there the chariots of thy glory shall be the shame of thy lord's house. And I will drive thee from thy station, and from thy state shall he pull thee down." (Isaiah 22:17-19)

As a ball is helpless in the hands of a child, Shebna would be powerless to deliver himself as God allowed him to be violently carried off by the Assyrians. The chariots of glory are likely Judah's war chariots for which Shebna was responsible. Instead of being a symbol of strength for Judah, these things would become a picture of her reproach when they fell under the control of the enemy.

The Scriptures are silent as to Shebna's ultimate end. If he is the same man presented in Isaiah 37:2, he is seen in a reduced status of scribe yet not removed from leadership entirely. Perhaps he repented at the preaching of Isaiah and God did not need to carry out His wrath, or perhaps he was taken captive at a later time.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Burden of the Valley of Vision (Part III)

"And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the LORD of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord GOD of hosts." (Isaiah 22:12-14)

Through Isaiah and the other prophets, God had called His people to repentance. The weeping, mourning and wearing of sackcloth should have been prevalent as a manifestation of the heart change; instead, God found in the vast population of Israel a carefree and sensual attitude. If tomorrow brings death, then why not thoroughly enjoy the present? This insatiable lust to gratify the flesh was practiced by the Epicureans of Paul's day (Acts 17:18). Epicurus believed that pleasure, not principle, was the ultimate end. In his rebuke of Corinth's false teachers, Paul quoted this verse here in Isaiah (I Corinthians 15:32). Such base reasoning has always existed.

Death and not dialogue was God's response to this hardness of heart. God is very longsuffering; however, when a man completely rejects repentance, he has no other option. The doctrine of repentance has been dulled, and in many cases rejected, by most religious circles. Yet, God continues to present just one choice. Change or die. Contrary to false teaching, a person cannot have his or her sinful lifestyle and a relationship with God.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Burden of the Valley of Vision (Part II)

"And he discovered the covering of Judah, and thou didst look in that day to the armour of the house of the forest. Ye have seen also the breaches of the city of David, that they are many: and ye gathered together the waters of the lower pool. And ye have numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses have ye broken down to fortify the wall. Ye made also a ditch between the two walls for the water of the old pool: but ye have not looked unto the maker thereof, neither had respect unto him that fashioned it long ago." (Isaiah 22:8-11)

The LORD uncovered or laid bare Judah before the approaching army. Without the aid of God, tiny Israel would soon be gobbled up by her much larger enemies. Her helplessness apart from divine aid seems to be the emphasis of this first verse.

The house of the forest is likely the house of the forest of Lebanon built and fortified by Solomon (I Kings 7:2, 10:17). Rather than look to God in the face of adversity, Judah was trusting in her feeble defenses.

Threatened by Sennacherib, Hezekiah set about to repair the damage done to David's fortress in Mount Zion (II Chronicles 32:5). He also diverted the Gihon spring - the source of which is found on the northeastern end of the city. Through the construction of a tunnel, the water was brought into Jerusalem (II Chronicles 32:3-4, 30). The pool of Siloam mentioned in John 9:7 was fed by this spring.

In order to strengthen their defenses, the inhabitants of Jerusalem disassembled various homes and used the materials to fortify the wall against Sennacherib's attackers. According to the account of II Chronicles 32:7-8, Hezekiah encouraged the people to look to God for help. Perhaps that was in response to the warnings of Isaiah. Regardless, God was not pleased with the initial preparations of His people, because the efforts involved everything but seeking the face of God. Obviously, this should have been the first step.

Looking back at Israel's failure to trust God is easy; however, an honest man would have to admit that he too has failed to put God first as he should. Israel's failure to remember the Ancient of Days in a time of trouble should be a reminder of the faithless tendency that haunts every man.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Burden of the Valley of Vision

"The burden of the valley of vision. What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops? Thou that art full of stirs, a tumultuous city, a joyous city: thy slain men are not slain with the sword, nor dead in battle. All thy rulers are fled together, they are bound by the archers: all that are found in thee are bound together, which have fled from far." (Isaiah 22:1-3)

To better understand the context of this prophecy, it would be helpful to read II Kings 18, II Chronicles 32:1-20 and Isaiah 36-37. This chapter deals with the future invasion of Assyria, and the end of the chapter may have the Babylonian invasion in view as well.

Jerusalem is represented by the poetic title of the valley of vision. Whether this name is derived from the valleys surrounding the city or whether it is derived from the small valleys within the city one cannot say for certain. Regardless, the title applies to the city of David and God's dealings with her through the armies of the heathen nations.

Jerusalem is presented as being in a stir. Upon the flat roofs of the city's houses (a common place to assemble), people are gathered together. Undoubtedly they are disturbed by the news of Assyria's march toward Jerusalem. Having a reputation of being a joyous city, Jerusalem is now presented as a place of despair as God seeks to get her attention through the fear of Sennacherib and his men.

Under normal circumstances, an invading army would be met by soldiers and a battle would be the natural result; however, the opposite is found here. Rather than fighting, Judah's men have fled in fear and sought refuge behind the walls of the city where the enemy's archers have hemmed them in. The picture is one of dread, defeat and despair. Before Assyria, Judah is helpless. Jerusalem has been surrounded, and none but God can deliver her (II Chronicles 32:22).

"Therefore said I, Look away from me; I will weep bitterly, labour not to comfort me, because of the spoiling of the daughter of my people. For it is a day of trouble, and of treading down, and of perplexity by the Lord GOD of hosts in the valley of vision, breaking down the walls, and of crying to the mountains. And Elam bare the quiver with chariots of men and horsemen, and Kir uncovered the shield. And it shall come to pass, that thy choicest valleys shall be full of chariots, and the horsemen shall set themselves in array at the gate." (Isaiah 22:4-7)

As Isaiah considers the vision, he becomes overwhelmed at the destruction of his people. When Sennacherib invaded Judah, he attacked other cities beside Jerusalem. Lachish was one of those cities. Undoubtedly, other towns were conquered and many would have lost their lives in the process. A mass grave containing over fifteen hundred bodies discovered at Lachish may be the result of Sennacherib's invasion.

In her rejection of God, Jerusalem finds herself in a state of absolute despair. Such is always the case when men reject God's authority. Similar words were spoken by Jesus to the citizens of Jerusalem upon their rejection of His Messiahship (Luke 23:30-31).

At this time, Elam was subject to Assyria, and apparently its citizens were a part of the Assyrian army. According to Jeremiah 49:35, the Elamites were known for their use of the bow. The location of Kir is unknown. It is mentioned in II Kings 16:9 as a place to which Tiglathpileser III deported the captives of Damascus.

Already mentioned by Isaiah in 17:5, the valley of Rephaim was likely one of the choice valleys mentioned. Along with this valley, one could add the valley of Jehoshaphat (Kidron) and the valley of Hinnom. All of these places would be filled with Assyrian warriors as they surrounded and prepared to attack Jerusalem.