"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

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Vol. 12, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1983 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Mark's Vision Of The King (1) 21
God's Concern For The Nations (2) 26
When One Is More Than Two [Hebrews] (3) 30
The Second Coming Of The Lord (2) 33
Is There Any Word From The Lord? (2) 36
Old Testament Parentheses (2) ibc



(Four messages from Mark 10 to 16)

J. Alec Motyer

1. THE KING'S UNSATISFIED HUNGER (Mark 10:46 - 12:40)

JOHN tells us that if all the things that the Lord Jesus said and did were recorded, "even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written". The implication is that what is written in the four Gospels is there by selection, not because other things did not happen but because what is recorded expresses truths concerning the Lord Jesus which the writer desired to express. What we have is selected from a mass of material to bring us that wonderful four-fold picture of the Lord Jesus which is found in the Gospels. It follows that when we read this passage in Mark, we know that everything is here by design; it has been selected by the writer under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for our learning, so that we too can have a vision of the King.

The giving of sight to Bartimaeus

Mark opens this passage with the account of the granting of sight to Bartimaeus (10:46-52). This is the second deliberately-recorded incident of this kind. Mark's is a very sparing Gospel, so he only tells us of two people to whom the Lord gave sight. On both occasions he makes sure that we catch this vision of Christ as the eye-opening Lord, so that we might know that just as He left neither of these people in physical blindness, so He will not leave His people alone until He has imparted true spiritual insight and understanding.

It would be worthwhile to glance at the other eye-opening incident in Mark 8:22. When Jesus first laid hands on the blind man of Bethsaida, he looked up and saw men "as trees walking". Then "again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked steadfastly, and was restored, and saw all things clearly." The Lord will not leave His work unfinished, but will bring His people through to a full and clear sight and understanding. On one side of that incident there is blindness, and on the other, a full understanding. The blindness was when He had to ask, "Do you not yet understand?" (8:21) but afterwards, when He asked the same people "Who say ye that I am?", Peter spoke for them: "Thou art the Christ" (8:29). So the story is deliberately put into place. What is the link between the blindness that doesn't understand, and the clarity that sees Jesus as the Messiah of God? It is the miracle-working Lord Himself.

This story of Bartimaeus is also placed between blindness and clarity of vision. The blindness was when "they said, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on your right, and one on your left, in your glory" (10:37). Matthew is more blunt, for he mentions the mother of the sons of Zebedee, who asked outright that James and John might sit beside Him in His kingdom. They were only interested in the glory; the eyes of the two men were dazzled by the glory of the kingdom as they thought of it in earthly terms. They were thinking of a throne of David in Jerusalem, a kingdom in which Jesus was not interested: "My kingdom is not of this world."

That was a blindness, a lack of spiritual vision, which needed to be lifted, and Mark tells us how Jesus can do this miracle. The man named Bartimaeus acclaimed the King, and later saw the King and followed Him. He didn't cry out in the name that was mentioned to him, "Jesus of Nazareth", but used the name that was meaningful to him, "Jesus, thou son of David". He acclaimed the King as He was approaching His royal city, and the King summoned him into His presence and restored his sight, so that he could see the King and then follow Him. Mark stresses the matter of discipleship, for when the Lord left Jericho He was surrounded by His disciples and it was in their company that the man, with opened eyes, "followed him in the way". May the Lord help us, along with Bartimaeus, to have a clear sight of who this King is and what it means to belong to His kingdom! To see the king makes a man into a disciple.

Jesus is the prayer-answering King. Bartimaeus hadn't been a life-long beggar for nothing; shouting for assistance was the one thing he knew about. "And Jesus stood still ..." (v.49). It is most interesting to see how Mark sweeps through the Old Testament scriptures so that there may [21/22] be no doubt in our minds about Jesus coming as a king. "He shall deliver the needy when he cries, the poor who has no helper" (Psalm 72:12). How true that was of Bartimaeus! He had no-one to help him, but the King -- who hears prayer -- was there to do just that. Jesus is the sight-giving King. Isaiah's marvellous passage about the home-coming of the people of God to the royal city, comments, "Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened" (Isaiah 35:5).

The King's arrival in the great city

Mark is most insistent that this is the King who is coming, as is disclosed in 11:1-7. Did you ever ask yourself why such an inordinate amount of time was spent in choosing the donkey? Seven whole verses are devoted to this matter -- far more about the donkey than about the ride! I am not sure that I know the whole answer, but I suggest that at least part of it may be found in the prophecy that "the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet" (Genesis 49:10). The picture is of the king on his throne with his staff, the sign of his executive royal authority, resting across his shoulder, having the foot of the staff in between his own feet. It will not depart "until Shiloh come". There is another version of Genesis 49:10 which interprets the word Shiloh as "until he come whose right it is". The rule will remain in the tribe of Judah until the Judaic Ruler comes whose right it is to reign. One of the signs of His messianic presence will be that "he binds his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine" (v.11). Incidentally, the last thing that a vineyard keeper would do would be to tie a donkey to one of his choice vines. The one who can use his vine as a tying-up post must be extremely prosperous. So it is that when the King comes whose right it is to reign, He will bring great prosperity with Him.

"And they bring the colt unto Jesus ... and many spread their garments upon the way ... and they that went before, and they that followed kept shouting, Hosanna ..." (v.7-9). The New Testament reaches back to the Old and reminds us of Zechariah 9:9: "Behold thy king cometh unto thee; he is just and having salvation, lowly, and riding upon an ass ...". So we, the people of God, can enjoy this exercise of matching New with Old.

We still do so if we look on to Malachi. Mark goes on to tell us, "He entered Jerusalem, into the temple" (v.11). The writer is not interested in anything that happened in the city itself, but only in the temple, so he simply comments that Jesus looked round about on all things there, and then went out again. What an anti-climax! It was the next day when the Lord returned to the temple, to cast out the traders there (v.15). Malachi and others spoke of this: "The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple". With dramatic suddenness, the King came!

He came as King, and He came as God. But He also came with hunger (v.12). I suppose that He had spent the night sleeping rough and "seeing a fig tree afar off ... he came, if haply he might find anything thereon; and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves". Commentators tell me that if you see a fig tree in leaf, you can expect to find some early figs on it for, although the leaves appear before the main crop, there are early figs which come along with the leaves. Mark tells us that it was not the season for figs, but we gather from Mark 12:2 that the word "season" is used to denote the harvesting season. The Lord saw the leaves so in the nature of things He expected the fruit, since the timing was such that there was no reason why the fruit should not be there. Contrary, however, both to nature and to time, He found that the fig tree was barren and He pronounced a curse upon it.

The King came to the tree and found it barren. Will He also come to the temple and find that barren too? Mark makes our minds moves backwards and forwards between the tree and the temple, to provoke the question, As the King comes to His temple, will it be also barren and will it therefore also suffer the curse pronounced upon the fig tree? We watch to see what the Lord will do.

In Mark's Gospel, He tarried in the temple, for He was seeking fruit. First He cleansed the temple, to give it what we might describe as a fresh start, and give His people every chance of fruitfulness. When He came again to the temple (v.27) it had been cleared of its impediments, leaving Him free to walk around its open spaces, and the different groups began to come to Him -- the ecclesiastical rulers, the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sadducees and the scribes, while all the time the ordinary folk stood listening. The different groups came with their questions, thinking that they could test Him, only to find that He replied with questions calculated to test and [22/23] sift them. We see the King coming to a temple which may be showing many fair leaves -- but He was looking for fruit.

Later we find the disastrous and dramatic statement that "he went forth out of the temple" (13:1). He waited until He was sure that there was nothing there that would satisfy His hunger, and then He turned His back on the temple, never to enter it again. He left it with the words "Do you see these great buildings? There shall not be left here one stone upon another ...".

This brings us to the great question of this study, 'What is it in His people that will satisfy the hunger of the King?' We will now consider the four incidents [or interviews] to seek to learn more of the implications of the questions and answers.

The King's interviews with God's people

There are key points in the four interviews which Jesus had with representative sections of the then people of God.

Members of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jewish church, came to Him and asked, "By what authority ...?" (11:28). Jesus, in refusing their question, replied with a parable. It is told in the opening verses of chapter 12. The vineyard-owner sent servant after servant to his vineyard; after each in turn had been rejected, he sent his only son. The Lord answered their question in the revelation of Himself as the only Son of God. The key thought in this interview is sonship. "By what authority?" they demanded, and in effect Jesus answered, "By My authority as the only Son of God". And those who would satisfy the hunger of the King must acknowledge Him as the only Son of God.

The key phrase in the interview with the Pharisees, it seems to me, is found in the middle of 12:14. "You do not regard," they said to Him, "the person of men, but in regard for the truth, you teach the way of God." There is a distinctive life-style for the people of God living in all the complexities of this life, with its conflicting loyalties and conflicting claims; it is "the way of God". Those therefore who would satisfy the King's hunger will acknowledge Him and follow Him as the way.

The Sadducees came, trying to puzzle Him with a hard question concerning eternal life. The Lord Jesus replied authoritatively from the Scriptures. The key verse is verse 24, "Is it not for this cause that you err, that you know not the Scriptures, nor the power of God?" They had come face to face with Jesus who can bring out of the Scriptures the truth which answers questions concerning what truth is. Those who would satisfy the King's hunger must hear the truth out of the Word of God from His lips.

Finally the scribes came. Their question had to do with the interpretation of the law: "Which is the greatest commandment in the law? We want to pick our way with subtlety and discernment through all the commandments that God has given, so as to put first things first." The Lord Jesus sat among them as the authoritative teacher of God's law, and those who would satisfy the hunger of the King must find in Him the life that matches God's requirements.

Now there, in one sweep, is what Jesus seems to be teaching God's people as He answers their questions. Those who follow the King must acknowledge Him as the only Son; follow Him as the way; hear from Him the truth; and find in Him the life. The parallel in John's Gospel is that it was at this point in His teaching that Jesus began to instruct His disciples about the fact that He is the way, the truth and the life; we need not therefore be surprised to find it part, or indeed the centre, of His implied teaching among those from whom He sought the fruit to satisfy His kingly heart.

The Sanhedrin (11:27 - 12:12)

These men asked Jesus a very clever question, "By what authority do you do these things?" No matter what Jesus said in reply, He was going to be accused. If He had said, 'In my authority as God', they would have accused Him of blasphemy. If He had said, 'In My authority as man', they would have accused Him of setting Himself up as a king and so committing treason. If, however, He had said, 'Well, I have no special authority', they would have accused Him of being a pretender and an impostor. Their barbed question was clever. But the answer of the Lord Jesus was equally clever, and not at all evasive. He said, "I will ask you a question." He was quite insistent upon it. Notice how He said, "Answer me" twice over (vv.29, 30).

This was not evasive, not a debating point; it was serious. He was saying to them: "Look, if [23/24] you had followed through the working of God which came to its climax in John the Baptiser, if you knew about the work of God in the prophets -- then you would know who I am." Then He told them the story with which chapter 12 opens. "There was a man," He said, "who kept sending ...". Jeremiah tells us that God rises up early and sends the prophets (Jeremiah 7:25 R.V.). He is keen to send the prophets to His people. So here, "At the season he sent" (v.2); "again he sent" (v.4); "He sent another" (v.5). He sent, He sent, He sent! If you follow the process of sending, you will appreciate the final sending, "He had yet one, a beloved son; he sent him last" (v.6).

Matthew simply tells us the fact of the final sending (Matthew 21:37). Luke tells us that it was a deliberate act of God, representing God as saying to Himself, "What shall I do? I will send my beloved son ..." (Luke 20:13). Mark underlines the unparalleled preciousness of the gift. "He had yet one, a son, a beloved; he sent him:". What an amazing history of the mercy of God!

The husbandmen planned to kill the son so that the inheritance might be theirs. Of course in our legal system nothing of the sort would happen. What lies behind their certainty that they would inherit if they killed the son? They must have assumed that ownerless property was 'up for grabs', and that sitting tenants would be in a privileged position. Now, interestingly enough, that was true in the law of the land at that time. They were acting according to the legal forms of which they were aware. But do you see the assumption they were making? They were assuming that the owner was dead. If he were not, the killing of the son would achieve nothing.

One imagines that they presumed that the owner was dead as a result of asking themselves, 'What living father would send his son to people like us? He must be dead.' To the natural mind it was incredible that he would send his son, but this gives an example of the incredible mercy of God. How marvellous that "last of all" He should send His Son! But in the sending of the Son there was a sense of destiny -- "He will come and destroy ..." (v.9). So the Lord Jesus is revealed in the story of the sending of the son. Here He is! "He has yet one, a Son." The Lord Jesus is revealed as the only Son of God.

The Herodians and the Pharisees (12:13-17)

The question concerning taxes was true to their own life-style and problems. The Roman poll tax was imposed on subject nations. The Herodians, who were political compromisers, paid it willingly. The Pharisees paid it, but would have preferred not to do so. So they brought to Jesus a question which applied to their own particular problem. Having affirmed that Jesus always told the truth, they asked whether or not it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. "Shall we give or shall we not?"

The Lord Jesus declared himself to be the one who can lay down an authoritative life-style for the people of God. He sent for a coin, examined it, asked questions about it and then commanded, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (v.17). He neither answered with the hesitating 'yes' of the Pharisees nor the unhesitating 'yes' of the Herodians. The answer of Jesus set up a new life-style for the people of God, one which recognised God's providences as One who ordains the powers-that-be, and that recognises God's claims as the One to whom full due must also be rendered. It is a life-style of conformity, since God's people live in this world and must obey the lawful demands of the State; a life-style of distinctiveness, since they also belong to God and must render to Him His due; and a life-style of comprehensiveness that holds these two sometimes conflicting factors in a complementary and whole way. Those who would live under the rule of the King must seek their life-style from Him and follow Him in the way.

The Sadducees (12:18-27)

The Sadducees came, thinking that they had a very barbed hook on which to catch the King. They introduced their own assault on the subject of eternal life, giving an instance based on the Old Testament law that if a man died childless, his brother must take the widow so that a child born of that union will be reckoned to the deceased brother and enter into his inheritance. "Now then," they said, "there were seven brothers, the first died and the second, still with no children, and then the third, the fourth, the fifth and the sixth and the seventh. Last of all the woman died. ... What are you going to make of heaven in the light of that?" they demanded. [24/25]

Jesus told them that their trouble was that they neither knew the Scriptures nor the power of God. His affirmation was that God has spoken, and that He is able to bring to pass what He has declared. Human logic may pronounce it inconceivable, laughable or impossible, but what God has said in His Word, He has the power to perform. "God has affirmed an eternal life with Himself," said Jesus, "because He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." In the Old Testament phrase that does not mean that He is the God whom Abraham chose, but rather the God who chose Abraham. In means that, in the face of every hazard which life could offer, the true and living God had laid hold of these men, and if that were so, then He was sufficient to bear them through the final earthly hazard of death and bestow on them the final earthly blessing of dying in His own hand. In this way the Lord affirms eternal life, and takes His royal place in the midst of His people as the teacher of eternal truth, the One who authenticates the Scriptures as the Word of God.

The scribe (12:28-40)

Finally a scribe came. The scribes were the professional theologians -- though they were not in fact allowed to accept payment for their work. They affirmed a piety of human endeavour -- "Get to heaven by works".

Now if you are going to get to heaven by works you have only a limited time, and you must make the best use of it, so the question arises as to which are the most profitable commandments of the law, as though saying, "We haven't time to fiddle around with things that don't bring us much currency in heaven. We want to know what are the leading commandments of the law?" The Lord Jesus replied: "Such divisions of the law are wrong" (12:29). "You cannot pick and choose amongst the commandments," says Jesus, "they all come from one God." We are to realise that from the apparently greatest to the apparently least, they are all reflections of the will of God, who is one. The Lord has spoken, and out of His indivisible unity He has declared His indivisible law. So it is not a matter of saying, "Within my limitation of three-score years and ten I will concentrate on the things which bring me greatest profit, and cut my losses on the things which seem to bring me least profit."

The Lord Jesus says that there is a great principle which should infill everything you do; you are to love the Lord your God with all your strength and with all your mind. You are to love Him, and it must show in everything you do. Love Him with every inner power, with all your personal commitment, with your whole mental grasp of His truth, and with every personal ability and energy. Just love Him, and let that fill all you do.

"Then love your neighbour as yourself." Do you love yourself? How? When you wake in the morning and look in the mirror, do you say, 'My word, there's a lovely person; I love that person?' No, we care for ourselves even when we hate ourselves! We are to love our neighbour with a caring compassion, which will fill the whole of life. The Lord Jesus condemned the scribes because they were not loving the Lord their God with all their mind. "How do the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David, when Scripture says that He is David's Lord?" (v.35). They were not facing up to the reality that the Word of God predicts a Messiah both human and divine. And they were not loving people with their mind (v.38). Neither towards man nor towards God did the King find that which satisfied His hunger.

So there He is; there's the King. And those who would satisfy His hunger must see Him as the only Son, follow Him in the way, listen to Him as the truth of God, and obey Him as life, following God's commandments both Godward and manward in a spirit of love.

The King's hunger

Above all these things, however, I want to call your attention to the one central thing that will satisfy the King's hunger; it was the thing which He looked for first. At the beginning of our passage we found the crowd rebuking Bartimaeus, as if saying, 'Oh, the King cannot be bothered with you. Don't detain Him for we are on the way to Jerusalem and glory. He is the king, coming into his kingdom'. (For Luke tells us that they thought that the kingdom of heaven was about to appear!)

But the King hears prayer. He calls for the man who prays to Him. Mark's account says that the blind man cast away his garment and sprang up and came right up to where Jesus was. In this [25/26] section we find also that the King unexpectedly teaches about prayer. "They ... saw the fig tree withered away" (11:20). Peter wanted an explanation, but in His reply Jesus said nothing about the fig tree, but "Have faith in God!" Whatever subject might interest Peter, the one subject which interested the King was that of prayer. The King hungers for a praying people. "He taught them, saying, Is it not written, My house shall be a house of prayer?" (11:17).

When He came among the people of God, He lifted up the leaves; He saw all that was legitimately going on in preparing for the authorised worship of God; the changing of foreign currency into Palestinian currency so that sacrifices might be brought for the glory of the God of Israel as He commanded in His Word. It was legitimate, but it was only leaves, and He looked under the leaf for the fig -- "My house shall be called a house of prayer."

The King is hungry, my brothers and sisters, for a praying people. Yes, we see Him as the only Son, and yes, we long to follow Him in the way and listen to His word as the truth and obey Him as the life. Yes! Yes! These are all the marks of those who follow along with the King. But when He came to His own people, the first thing He looked for was that His house should be a place of prayer -- and it was not so! The only way to satisfy the King's hunger is for us to be a praying people.

(To be continued)


Michael Wilcock

Reading: Psalm 67

Seven times over in this psalm our attention is drawn to the nations of peoples of the earth. The psalmist is talking about all of them. See how concerned he is for all the nations of the earth and for their spiritual welfare. He wants all the nations to praise God and to worship and fear Him. This is the core of the psalm, and it is the purpose of Israel's existence. The previous article dealt with the choice which confronts all nations; the title for this one might well be 'The magnet that draws all nations'. God's people are meant to be so attractive that they will act as a magnet to draw men to their God.

The Principle in the Psalms

I want to seek to set before you a principle which is here among the songs of Scripture, and especially in this 67th Psalm. God's blessing of His people is intended to overflow to all around.

The lead into the psalm is found in the first two verses which show how the welfare of the nations is to be brought about. How is it that all the peoples are to praise God and all the nations be glad and sing for joy? It will be done by God being gracious to us, blessing us and causing His face to shine upon us. This is the means by which His way is to be known upon earth and His saving power among all nations; it will be achieved through a people overflowing with divine blessings.

The epilogue to the psalm is found in verses 6 and 7. The heart of the psalm is in verses 3 to 5 which show us how concerned the psalmist is for the wellbeing of the nations; the prologue shows how this is to be brought about and the epilogue shows how it is to be understood. It is a harvest psalm, to be sung in the Autumn when the earth has yielded its increase, so providing an illustration of how the blessing of God upon His nations can result in blessedness for all the nations. "The earth hath yielded her increase" and it is in this way that God, even our own God, blesses us so that all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.

It is through the harvest that God, who brings much out of little, distributes it in love. See the harvest field! In seed time the corn was a tiny grain but as the months pass and you look out over the fields in the Autumn, then that corn means a field full of plants that have grown up, and on every stalk is an ear full of grains. So it is that the God who brings much out of little, then distributes it in love. That is the illustration [26/27] which helps us to understand the principle embodied in Psalm 67, namely that through blessing us, God plans to carry His blessing to all the ends of the earth.

I feel so insignificant. Even if God comes down upon my life to bless it, what am I among so many? He does it on the principle of sowing and reaping. If He comes down upon my life in blessing, His objective is that many others may be blessed in the miraculous way in which a grain of wheat turns into a field of harvest.

The Principle in Abraham

The previous article dealt with Abraham whose story sets forth this same principle found in Psalm 67. God said to him: "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great ... and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12:2-3). There is a direct connection from the very outset between the blessing that God poured out on His own Abraham, and the blessing of all the nations subsequently. The experiences are directly connected -- organically connected as the harvest is connected with the grain sown.

Just as the principle stated here in the psalm was planted right at the beginning of salvation's history in Genesis 12, so it was designed to work out through Abraham's descendants. At the beginning he had no descendants; when God first spoke to him in Genesis 12 there was just Abraham and his wife, for as yet they had no children. By the time we get through to Genesis 22 we find Abraham fulfilling his faith by obedience, demonstrating that he was willing to do anything that the Lord told him by being prepared to offer his only son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. It is then that the Lord told him: "In blessing I will bless thee ... and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (vv.17-18).

In other words, as the blessing comes upon you, it spreads out from you, and will continue to spread out after you have gone. It will spread from you to your son and from him to your grandson and then on and on, so that all nations will receive the blessing. It was with Abraham that the line of the one true people of God began, and the outworking is described in Psalm 67 for, as God blesses His people, the line continues through history -- God's people are blessed and the blessing flows out through them to all the nations. God has two ways of spreading spiritual blessing and this is one of them, namely by a magnetic ministry through His people.

The Principle in Old Testament History

With the principle clearly stated, we now consider it at some length by means of a panorama drawn from the histories of Scripture, so that we can see how it works out. We follow down the succession of the generations of Israel. Around that nation -- God blessed -- all the nations gather, recognising that in this glorious company is the knowledge of the true God which they themselves now want for themselves. God is gracious to this nation, His face shines upon it, and so His way becomes known over all the earth and His saving power among all nations.

That is how God intends it to work. Alas, it often failed, and again and again God's people missed out on their high calling. They failed to seek and to obtain the blessing, so naturally the blessing did not flow out from them. It couldn't, for they had not got it themselves. Scripture makes no bones about this by showing us this danger right at the outset of their history. In fact we are still in Genesis 12 when it first happened. The original call to Abraham that God would bless him and in turn make him a blessing was countered by Abraham himself (Genesis 12:9). The man of faith, the father of the faithful, himself failed when, owing to the famine in the land, he went down to Egypt, to stay there among the nations. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarah, "Now the trouble with you Sarah is that you are too beautiful; when the Egyptians see you, they will kill me and will take you. Let us pretend that you are my sister and not my wife." I cannot imagine how he expected to avoid the trouble in that way, but clearly he did.

He told a lie, and of course the inevitable happened; the king looked at Sarah, found her desirable, so took her for his wife. We all know the story of how the Lord put a stop to that. The whole matter came out into the open and Abraham's shameful lie was known to all. He had only just begun the walk of faith and had the revelation from God that the nations were to be blessed through his blessing, and the whole process broke down. Abraham was declared persona non grata and Pharaoh sent him packing. [27/28] It was as if the nations around declared that if Abraham the Hebrew who worshipped this famous God behaved like that, then they didn't want to know about Him. The Scripture never whitewashes God's people, so from the first it builds this event into its narrative as a warning of how it is possible to fail in this great calling.

The fact remains, however, that this is the principle upon which God intended to work, His intention being that His blessing would so rest upon His people that the nations around would find them attractive and not repulsive. When things are as they should be, a nation that is so blessed should act as a magnet to draw others to the Lord. Abraham was living among the Hittites and they said to him: "Hear us, lord, you are a mighty prince among us" (Genesis 23:6). When Jacob was living among the Arameans, Laban the Aramean, said to him: "I have divined that the Lord hath blessed me for your sake" (Genesis 30:27). When Moses stood before Pharaoh, it was that God's name might be declared throughout all the earth" (Exodus 9:16). When Israel was travelling through the wilderness, they came into contact with men of Midian and were able to say to them: "Come thou with us, and we will do thee good" (Numbers 10:29).

The matter came to its climax in the story of Solomon. The queen of Sheba heard of this great king and what she heard was not just that he was rich or that he was wise but it was "concerning the name of the Lord" (1 Kings 10:1). So the Hittites were attracted and the Arameans impressed, the Egyptians were dazzled and the Midianites were drawn, and the queen of Sheba made a great effort to come to where God's people were. We read that Hiram, the king of Tyre, sent his servants to Solomon (1 Kings 4:34). Those were indeed the great days. Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon and all the earth sought his presence (1 Kings 10:24).

This is surely what Psalm 67 means, that the blessed people of God become a magnet which is so powerful that it attracts men and women from far and near. The fine flowering of this psalm can be found in Psalm 72 where there is a great celebration of the royal glories of the Israelite monarchy in the days of David and Solomon. "The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him and nations shall serve him." Whenever God's people are what they ought to be, this is the effect they have on others. In spite of the many failures that we have to regret, the principle stands throughout the whole length of Old Testament history; the blessing which comes upon God's people draws others to it and so to Him.

The Principle in New Testament History

This went on through the centuries, through the silent years of those blank pages between the Testaments, so that by the time we come to the beginning of the New Testament, we still have folk flocking in to the God of Israel. They were called "God fearers" and many became proselytes, for they were so drawn that they wished to be associated with the Jewish faith, having been drawn to it as if by a magnet.

As we come to the Gospels we have to ask where is the true Israel. Israel the race was of course scattered all over the Roman world. Israel the nation was still in its own land, though admittedly under Roman occupation. But was that the true Israel? Not really, though there was a remnant, that little group of faithful people of whom we read who were looking for the redemption of Israel. In heart, as well as in outward form, these were the true people of God. As the gospel story progresses we find that the true Israel is represented just by twelve men who had gathered around God's Messiah and in a sense were the nucleus of Israel. In another sense, however, the whole concept of God's faithful and altogether obedient servant narrows down to just one Person. The true Israel is Jesus.

Does the principle of Psalm 67 still hold? You may be sure that it does. There never was an Israelite so blessed by God as He. God did not give the Spirit by measure to the Son, for He was filled with the goodness and grace of the Father in unstinted measure. The blessings of heaven were poured out upon Him as the true Israel of God in a way that had never been seen -- not even in the days of David and Solomon. It stands to reason, then, that as God was gracious to Him and blessed Him, making His face to shine upon Him, God's ways were known upon earth and His saving power among all nations. Christ was an irresistible magnet. We read how great crowds came flocking to Him, and they saw something of the glory of God. [28/29]

Long before Christ's public ministry, we read of how, when the Babe was born in Bethlehem, wise men came from the East to see Him. We read in John 4 of how, when he passed through Samaria, a Samaritan woman received such blessing from Him that she went and called others to move out to meet Jesus. We read of how, when He moved into the district of Tyre and Sidon, a Canaanite woman from that region came begging a blessing for her demon-possessed daughter, and got it (Matthew 15:28). At the end of His earthly life, we are told of the Roman centurion who stood by the cross and was moved to exclaim, "Truly this man was the Son of God" (Mark 15:39).

A few days before this, at Passover time in Jerusalem, a group of Greeks found Philip, a Galilean man but with a Greek name, and requested him that they might see Jesus. It is no wonder that this was followed almost at once by the Lord's words, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32). How could it fail? The true Israel was so blessed that He was irresistible.

And when Jesus left this earth and ascended to the Father, where was the true Israel then? Where were the people of God? They constitute the Church, still blessed, still God's holy nation and special people (1 Peter 2:9) and still so attractive, so blessed, that all the nations come to find out what it is all about. At least that was the divine scheme; that is how it always ought to be. Jesus Himself told His people that as the light of the world, not covered but set on a lampstand, they give light to all: "So let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father ...". As God blesses you and is gracious to you, making His face to shine upon you, His way will be known upon earth and His saving power among all nations. And so it was.

The Principle Today

How far can we trace the working of this principle in the history of God's people after the pages of the New Testament were closed? It ought to be the same. The principle should go on working. It should be true even today. And perhaps especially today because now we have a kind of society in which, as never before, the nations of the world are mingled together. The air routes of the 20th century criss cross the globe to and fro between some two thousand air ports. People are constantly travelling -- people of all colours and races, backgrounds and languages are constantly rubbing shoulders all over the world.

Even here in Great Britain, where most of us would think of ourselves as Anglo-saxon protestants, there are other nations living cheek by jowl with us, and they are not only of other nations but of other classes and different racial backgrounds. Here, then, is a supreme opportunity for Psalm 67 to be worked out. What do all these people find in our church life? Is it just people that get together not so much because they are Christians but because they have the same sort of cultural background? There are people of different cultures living just round the corner, working in the same offices and shops, what do they see if they take the trouble to look? Do they feel the pull of the magnet?

If they do not, we may well ask what is wrong with us. Why is there no extension of blessing through spiritual magnetic attraction? Thank God that in many cases they do. The principle still works today. I feel, however, that on many occasions we feel guilty that it isn't working, and if we ask ourselves why, the answer -- according to Psalm 67 -- is that we are not being blessed in such a way that the blessing overflows. For some reason or other, God's graciousness and the shining of His face is not sufficiently real to us that it draws others to Him. So we talk about missions and evangelism and outreach, which we do well to do, but I wonder how much of such talk is really a confession of failure in the realm of in-pull. If the rich blessing of the Lord is upon His church, then people ought to be coming in to us.

I would like to close this message with a picture drawn from the prophecies of Scripture, asking you as you contemplate it, to put yourselves in the place of Old Testament Israel and accept that it refers to us who are the New Testament Israel. I want you to put out of your minds all that may refer to past or future history, all the things which have not yet happened or the things which happened long ago. In this passage from Isaiah 60 God is speaking to us today, and is speaking about the attracting of the nations by the pull of the magnet. Note the number of times in which the prophet says, [29/30] "Come!" And let us ask ourselves, "In our own lives and our churches and fellowships, is there this radiance, this Spirit-filled delight in Christ and in one another as fellow members of Christ, this infectious joy, which is attractive to outsiders? Do we constitute a spiritual magnet? Are unbelievers being attracted and added to our groups in the spirit of Isaiah's message?"

"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the people, but the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about and see; they all gather themselves together, they come to you. ... You shall see and be radiant. Your hearts shall thrill and rejoice ... the nations shall come unto you ... they shall come up with acceptance on my altar and I will glorify my glorious house. Who are these that fly as a cloud ... to bring your sons from afar ... for the name of the Lord your God and for the holy one of Israel, because he has glorified you? In my wrath I smote you, but in my favour I have had mercy on you. Your gates shall be open continually. The glory of Lebanon shall come unto you ... to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will make the place of my feet glorious" (Isaiah 60:1-13).

This extract from Isaiah illustrates the principle laid down in Psalm 67. It gives us a picture of the church as it should be. We do well to ask if it is true of the fellowship in which we have an active part. Is it true of my church? Is there, perhaps, something in me which hinders such an attractive testimony to Christ? If so, it is important that every hindrance to blessing should be dealt with. The God who is so concerned for all the nations, plans to make His Church an attractive magnet to draw those around to Himself.

Editor's Note

In this article Mr. Wilcock states that this principle of in-pull is one of the two ways which God has of spreading spiritual blessings. In a further message, he developed the other, and complementary method, namely witnessing. His message concerning all the nations in this connection was taken from Matthew 28:19. As it was not recorded, it is not possible for us to supply this complementary call to worldwide witness. While we regret this, it can truthfully be said that the topic of evangelism and outreach is being stressed on every hand. This principle of Psalm 67 is much less appreciated, so we trust that it will be relevant and helpful, though we realise that it should be held in balance. If God has two ways, He needs us to observe both of them.



(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 3)

John H. Paterson

I SUPPOSE that we all have a favourite Bible character, and mine is certainly Moses. I enjoy reading the testimonial to his faith written by the unknown author of the Epistle to the Hebrews and contained in the eleventh chapter, for it is obvious that the writer shared my high opinion of him. I am not so happy, needless to say, with the reference to Moses in Hebrews 3, and it is to this less favourable mention of him that I want to direct your attention.

It may not, at first sight, be obvious just why Moses receives a mention at this particular point in the epistle. To discover the reason we must go back to the end of the second chapter, to find the 'lead-in'. The writer of the epistle is leading his Jewish readers in thought through some of the early history of their nation. At the end of chapter 2, speaking now of the Lord Jesus, he mentions the work of Christ in delivering people from bondage and making propitiation for their sins. Knowing his readers as he evidently did, he is sure that these references can be relied upon to trigger in their minds thoughts of Moses and the high priest of Israel!

It was Moses who led Israel out of bondage in Egypt. And it was Moses and Aaron between them who made propitiation for the sins of the people, not once but many times. Indeed, the [30/31] task of the priest in Israel was always that, from the time of Moses onwards -- to conciliate God, whose laws had been broken. But for the Jews no-one had ever fulfilled these roles so dramatically -- so successfully -- as Moses and Aaron.

By the time the readers came to the beginning of chapter 3, therefore, they would not be in the least surprised, as perhaps we are, to find the discussion turning to "the apostle and high priest", Jesus Christ. To them, the context would be natural. They would be thinking of their great deliverance from bondage, and their great reconciler of their people to God, and the writer would be moving to his next argument, which was designed to show that Christ is greater than all.

NOTICE, if you will, that the Lord Jesus is given the double title of Apostle and High Priest. This is followed, in the writer's line of argument, by a division of the text: Chapters 3 and 4 are about the leaders sent by God and set apart for His service (Moses and Joshua), which is what the word 'apostle' suggests. Chapters 5-7 are about priests. The tactic of the writer is to show Christ as greater in both roles than the men who, in Israel's history, actually filled them.

Christ combined both roles, while Moses and Aaron shared them: hence the need for the double argument. It is a matter of interest to Bible students to speculate -- we can do no more -- as to whether, in God's original plan, Moses was not meant to fill the double role of deliverer and high priest himself. You will remember that it was Moses' fear of public speaking which brought Aaron into the leadership in the first place (Exodus 4:10-14). God's response to Moses' wish to back out of this speaking post was extremely stern; from then on, Moses was saddled with Aaron, whether he wished it or not!

There must have been many times when he did not wish it! On the whole, Aaron simply did what Moses told him. When left to himself, he simply led Israel astray -- as on that deplorable occasion when Moses was in the mountain and Aaron was persuaded to make a golden calf (Exodus 32:1-6). Meantime Moses had what Aaron evidently did not -- an open access to God: "The Lord spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh to his friend" (Exodus 33:11). The fact is that Moses did not seem to need Aaron, whereas Aaron very much needed Moses. Moses might have had difficulty fitting the double duties of leader and high priest into a day of only twenty-four hours, as his father-in-law was quick to point out (Exodus 18:13-26). But it was not lack of knowledge or ability that hampered him.

Be that as it may, our writer divides his comparison with Jesus Christ into two: first Moses (and, following him, Joshua); then Aaron. The similarity between Jesus and Moses is seen in their common concern for God's House. The difference between them is seen in their relationship to it. It is, says the writer, a question of status.

THE great successes of Moses' life were, firstly, to bring the people out of Egypt and, secondly, to keep them in contact with God through forty years of disobedience and rebellion in the wilderness, which is where the House came in. The point about the tabernacle in the wilderness was that it provided a place of contact with Him. We have only to picture for a moment the fate of Israel in the wilderness without God to guide them. They would have wandered round and round in circles and been dead in a fortnight from hunger and thirst! Their survival depended on God's presence remaining with them. That in turn depended on his having a place wholly to His satisfaction in which to be among them. And that depended on every detail of the House being built exactly to specification by Moses: "See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount" (Hebrews 8:5).

It was, then, Moses' particular success that through all those years he -- and he alone, so far as we are able to tell -- knew the will and commandments of God for His people, and that he relayed those orders faithfully to the people and the builders of the House. He cherished and safeguarded the contact between God and man. But now the writer of the epistle draws a distinction: Moses ... as a servant ... Christ as a Son" (3:5-6). What is this distinction? It is, surely, simply this: that there is only one criterion by which a servant can be judged -- whether he carries out his orders or not. It is not even strictly necessary for the servant to understand the [31/32] thoughts of his master -- to know why the order has been given. If he obeys, he is a faithful servant. If he does not, he is an unreliable servant, and therefore useless, and the only thing to do with him is to dismiss him.

WELL, we know the story of Moses. Once -- just once -- he did something which he had not been ordered to do (Numbers 20:11-12). But that was enough to disqualify him -- to bar him from what would otherwise have been the third great success of his life. He had led Israel out of Egypt; he had led them through the desert, and the crowning achievement would have been to bring them into the land of promise. But that he was denied. No master can tolerate a servant who is told to do one thing but who responds by doing another. And since Moses never for an instant complained about God's verdict upon him, we can only assume that he quite agreed.

"But Christ as a son"; this is the phrase that differentiates the two great figures. There is one simple difference between a servant and a son, and that is that you can dismiss one but not the other. Those of us who have children have probably lived through moments when we wished that it was not so; when we wanted nothing so much as to disown them. But we know that we cannot do so: they have the status of sons. They belong!

Their relationship to the property is consequently different, for the sons will one day inherit it. Moses was faithful, says the writer, as a servant in the House, but Christ as a son over the House. The Tabernacle was never Moses' House. But the Church (v.6) is Christ's House.

The servant, of course, must obey, whether he understands his orders or not, while the son not only knows the family's thought and plans but himself gives the orders in the absence of his father. We cannot suppose that Moses, executing all the minutely detailed instructions about the Tabernacle and its worship, understood what we, with the benefit of hindsight, can read into them. Gold for glory , and silver for redemption, and kids and lambs for offerings: he was the executor -- the faithful executor -- of a plan of salvation which is only now made explicit; he was faithful "for a testimony of those things which were afterwards to be spoken" (v.5).

The Lord Jesus, we are reminded, was a party to all "those things". He was present with His Father when the plan was conceived. He watched it unfold through centuries of partial success and frequent failure on the part of God's instruments and, when the time came, He stepped in to play His own central, indispensible role. That part involved Him, as we know, in becoming a servant: though He was a son yet He learned obedience through the things which He suffered (5:8). It was not that the servant did all the hard work, while the son lounged through life on nothing but his family privileges! But the very fact that the status of a servant was something which He "took upon" Himself (Philippians 2:7) reminds us that this was not His normal role.

AFTER Moses, Joshua receives very cursory treatment from our writer (4:8). But he is, in a sense, necessary to the argument; at least, if he were not mentioned, it would be possible to retort, "Ah, but where Moses failed Joshua succeeded!" Joshua, after all, made good Moses' failure; he actually led Israel into the land. The eventual victory was his.

Not at all, says the writer: the object was not simply to get into the land, but to be at rest in it. Joshua was a soldier and every soldier, in every age, fights with the vision of settling down when the battles are over to enjoy a well-earned rest. But it did not happen that way with Israel. Joshua might win the battles, but rest eluded God's people. The true rest remained to be provided by the Lord Jesus. Exit Joshua!

We shall consider on another occasion the comparison between Christ the High Priest and Aaron. For the moment, let us simply recall the direction of the argument so far. It is this: take the greatest of Israel's leaders, the men most obviously chosen by God to receive His message and direct His people; then add to them all the priests who ever served at Israel's altars, with all their efforts at mediation between God and man, and you still will not be able to show any achievement comparable with that of the Lord Jesus, who delivers from bondage, gives us rest, and ever lives to make intercession for us as our great High Priest. How great He must be!

(To be continued) [32/33]


Poul Madsen


"Then shall they see the Son of Man coming in
clouds with great power and glory
" Mark 13:26

WE feel that we cannot describe the Coming of Christ as a historical event, because it is God's almighty intervention -- similar to when Jesus was given up on the cross and similar to when God the Father raised Him from the dead. With Him the kingdom of God comes, as we and the whole Church has often prayed that it would. We cannot call it a historical event in the ordinary sense of the words as if it were a matter of mere cause and effect, for it falls entirely outside of such normal experiences.

Our meeting with God in Christ will be something different from every other experience; it will be something that no-one can imagine. Think of it, even those who sleep in Jesus will be raised to join in seeing Him. It will be overwhelming; greater even than what we would call a miracle. When Christ lived on earth, He did many miracles and concerning them men could and did take an attitude either for or against, either saying that they were the work of Beelzebub or explaining them away. On that day there will be no possibility of taking attitudes for or against, for then He will come in such power that every knee will bow to Him. It will no longer be a matter of what men think but a revelation of glory beyond all human understanding.

There are, however, several signs which indicate that the Lord's Coming is very near. There is the sign that then the gospel of the kingdom will have been preached unto all nations for a testimony, "then shall the end come" (Matthew 24:14). We cannot explain this for we know that many nations have disappeared and only the Lord knows what He means by a nation. But the Church has a call and a responsibility to "hasten" the Coming by its devotion to gospel witness.

There are signs in world history itself, one of them being that when Jerusalem is no longer trodden down of the Gentiles, the Coming is very near (Luke 21:24). There is also mention of a concentration of catastrophes in the earth (Luke 21:25-27). Antichrist is also mentioned, but in a mysterious way, so that it is not so much a subject of interest or speculation but is presented in an immediate and instant way. I use the word 'instant' to stress that it applies even now. Antichrist is described as "the lawless one, the son of perdition" (2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 8), and in the Revelation is symbolised as a beast. Together with him, however, there are false christs and false prophets, spoken about in this actual or instant way. If we treat the matter as a subject of future interest, we will find ourselves waiting for something or other to happen first, but in this instant or present way we note that John says that "Many antichrists have arisen already, and the spirit of antichrist is already at work" (1 John 2:18).

These are preparatory signs but there will also be accompanying signs: "they shall see the sign of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 24:30). Not that this is a thing which can be fitted into some objective scheme or diagram, but what we must do is to take heed to all this as being of immediate importance. All the previous calculations have proved wrong. Any such calculation is doomed beforehand to be wrong, for the end is always near and Christ can come not tomorrow, but today. This is the language of Scripture, intended to make us constantly watchful, thinking not of some time in the future but here and now.

THE people of God have been concerned and sometimes divided, over the question of whether the rapture will be a secret rapture by which the Church is caught away before the visible Coming of Christ. May I say, with great respect, that in this connection we must not become involved merely in intellectual arguments but rather have a heart passion for the personal Coming of the Lord. If we are so devoted to Him, then such a subject as this cannot divide [33/34] us, for we all concentrate on the one fact that Christ is coming. Differences of opinion about the possibility of a secret rapture can surely never quench our fervour and heart passion for that Coming, and this is what the Lord seeks to find in us all.

So far as I can understand the matter, our Lord never spoke in terms of a secret rapture. His words are that His coming will be like lightning, flashing from east to west, and there is nothing secret about lightning. As opposed to this, it is held rightly that the Church is not appointed unto wrath, the kind of wrath which is illustrated in the book of the Revelation by the pouring out of the bowls of God's wrath. How can we discriminate between wrath and affliction? The very same letter which assures us that we are not appointed unto wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9), does say that we can be appointed unto afflictions (1 Thessalonians 3:3), so affliction or even chastisement is to be the lot of God's true people. One thing we do know, and that is that God has promised to bring His people safely through all their affliction.

Another relevant point is the assertion that the man of lawlessness cannot be revealed until "one that restraineth is taken out of the way" (2 Thessalonians 2:7). There is an interpretation which identifies this "one" as the Church and argues that Antichrist cannot be revealed until the Church has been taken away. This is certainly not clearly stated, and to me is exceedingly doubtful. Might it not rather refer to the power of the State of civil government, for the Word specifically affirms that "the powers that be" exist to deal with the lawless elements of society (Romans 13:1-3)? When the restraining power of government is overthrown and lawlessness takes over (which will certainly happen), then he who is the embodiment of all lawlessness will be revealed.

The exposition which provides for the Rapture between the first three chapters of the Revelation and the rest, so that those first chapters concern the churches and the rest of the book describes happenings after the Church has been taken away, is by no means a true interpretation of the book, for Chapter 4:1 makes no mention of a bodily rapture to meet the Lord in the clouds, but speaks of a spiritual rapture to view the Lamb on the throne. At any rate it would be wrong to build a doctrine upon this verse.

LET us look on to Revelation 7. There we have the well-known description of a great multitude coming out of the great tribulation who have "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (v.14). Who are these? Apparently there are two companies described in this chapter; the 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel and the multitude which no man could number. If we turn to Chapter 14 we will find that John saw the Lamb on Mount Zion with a company of 144,000 who are described as those "who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth ... purchased from among men, to be the first fruits unto God and unto the Lamb" (v.4). These expressions are used only about the Church. We are the firstfruits (James 1:18): we have been purchased from among men (Acts 15:14, etc.). Are these not those who have "washed their robes ... in the blood of the Lamb"?

We must accept that 144,000 is a symbolic number. The Danish Bible renders our word "signified" in this way: "to show unto his servants ... he sent and made known in pictures" (Revelation 1:1). Most of the numbers in the book of the Revelation seem to be symbolic, like much else. We may enquire about the mention of the tribes of these sealed servant's of God (7:3) and here again we have symbolic numbers -- 12 times 12. These include all those "servants of God" who have been "sealed". Now it is expressly stated in Galatians 6:16 that the Church is "The Israel of God". To sum up, then, we have a symbolic number of God's people made known to John only by his hearing of them (Rev.7:4) and then we are told: "After these things I saw ...". Not until this point did he actually see the redeemed, and found them too many to count. I suggest that the two companies are the same, the number and name of each one being known to God but the blood-purchased host beyond the capacity of man to number.

If you have a different opinion from mine, I shall not quarrel about it, for I recognise that many whom I greatly esteem in the Lord think otherwise. May I stress the great point -- Christ is coming, coming soon, and the Church must wait eagerly for that Coming and be prepared at all times for it. May I add that, if mine is a mistaken interpretation, no harm can come from it, for it will mean a joyous surprise for us all? On the other hand it can be a great shock for those who are so sure that they will not have to go through tribulation if they find that, with Christ [34/35] as its Head, the Church has to endure the tribulation of the cross. Can the Church, the body of which Christ is the Head, not pass through tribulation to triumph? We must not allow ourselves to be wrongly comforted by wishful thinking when we are specifically told that "through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

This need not discourage us: the promise always applies that the Lord will not allow us to be tempted above that we are able; He who is our refuge and strength will bring us triumphantly through. It is very questionable to imagine "the great tribulation" in such a way as to ignore that every Christian is individually precious to the Lord. God is never a sadist who finds joy in testing us. God is a Father, and if He does lead us through deep waters, He will always be a Father to us who will "smite the waves" of affliction (Zechariah 10:11) so that we can come through.

We must never make hasty or superficial interpretation of Scripture. For instance, it has been stated in support of the "early rapture" view that Enoch was raptured before the judgment of the flood, an argument which is singularly unconvincing for in fact it was some hundreds of years before the flood that Enoch was translated without seeing death. On the other hand, if the example of Lot is used, it is true that he had to be rescued out of Sodom before God destroyed it, but it was on the same day, in the same hour that he left, that judgment came on those cities. If we are treating the Scriptures in this way we might argue just as validly that Noah was not raptured from the flood, but had to go right through it. No, this is not the kind of Scriptural argument which should be used to govern our thinking.

RETURNING to the Rapture itself we have the two passages, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, showing that the Rapture and the Resurrection belong together. Paul uses the word "mystery" (v.51), which might perhaps be classed as what is transcendent, which means that it is quite beyond what man could ever know or understand by his own effort. We have heard the word 'resurrection' so many times that we imagine we can understand it; it has almost lost its divine element. It may be that we have begun to use the word 'rapture' so often that we ignore the fact that it is also a mystery with a divine element beyond our natural understanding. If we drag the whole concept down to an interesting study, it ceases to be a divine mystery.

Just think about this incomprehensible mystery, that those who sleep, from the first and second century right down to this present moment, will in one moment, by the word of God's power, rise up in resurrection bodies. This will mean the tremendous finale to salvation's story, something so new that we cannot begin to imagine it. The Lord Jesus will appear in all His glory. We would be wiser if, instead of formulating cast-iron theories about the matter, we waited with awe and wonder for "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ". If we try to be too wise, we may feel very foolish on the day when God brings it all to pass.

This is a mystery, but it is a mystery which attracts us. It is far from being mysticism, for the wording is clear and simple: "the dead shall be raised", "we shall all be changed", "This mortal must put on immortality" and it is all to happen "in a moment". Notice how few the words are. It is to be "at the last trump" so whatever series of trumpets may interest you, this is the last. The last is the last everywhere, so we do well to avoid a lot of complications and let the power of God's declaration convince us.

So much that has to do with the glory of Christ is still hidden from us; it is an attractive mystery but it is still a mystery. We possess it all by faith, but not yet by sight. When the Coming of Christ is dragged down to be a sensation for carnally excited people, we find that this leads to error, false teaching and even false christs. This truth is holy: it is divine. I fully recognise that I may be mistaken, for God is God and will never allow Himself to be reduced to little people's limitations of understanding and interpretation.

WE are continually exhorted to watch and pray in view of the fact that the day will come as a surprise. "The son of Man cometh in an hour that ye think not" (Luke 12:40). The wonderful thing about preaching the gospel of the Return of Christ is that it constrains us not to discuss how the many pieces fall into place, but to watch in prayer and to endure, and to do so with thanksgiving. It is not that we want to become self-occupied people, but rather that we will be so influenced by the hope of His Coming that we will be influenced by it in the habits of our daily life. [35/36]

The serious issue is that the nearer we get to the Coming of the Lord, the more will faith have to contend with. The Lord Jesus even went so far as to ask the question: "When the Son of Man cometh, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Fjord Christensen, who meant much to some of us in Denmark when we were young, used not to speak of walking in the sure light of faith but of "Walking in the sure darkness of faith"! An old friend of his had as a wall text the words: "Never Mind About Me". It helped him to remember how insignificant were the annoyances of daily life for one who is expecting Christ's Coming. Many things which seem now to be of such consequence, will be seen as totally unimportant in that Day. This hope helps us to get our priorities right. The moment is coming when in a moment we will put on immortality, which means not only that death will be conquered but also that we will know what it means no longer to have the old man with his weaknesses and temptations but to put on perfection.

PAUL'S conclusions are very practical, as if he were saying, "Now brothers, don't get involved in abstract speculations about all this but be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58). Christ is coming soon; be ready today; endure today! For the Coming of the Lord will mean the final making up of accounts on our human life.

On that Day we will each stand before Him as we are, and everyone will receive his praise according to his own work (1 Corinthians 3:8). Now we reject merely personal motives of gain, but this wonderful evangelical mystery of the Coming of Christ calls us to "abound"; not to be reserved or lukewarm, overcautious or fearful but always outgoing. The very prospect should inspire our faith. This is not self-effort nor legal slavery but the glorious gospel that Christ is coming. At the beginning they used to say to one another "Maranatha -- the Lord is coming". I am so sorry for our youth of today who are caught up in all sorts of political programmes and carried away by empty hopes. If only they could be gripped by the prayer, "Thy kingdom come" and by the certainty that the King is near, they would discover the one matter which is meaningful and relevant. "Surely I come quickly."

(To be continued)


"The king asked him secretly in his house,
and said, Is there any word from the Lord?
And Jeremiah said, There is.
" Jeremiah 37:17

Harry Foster


IT is difficult to understand the whole of Jeremiah's ministry and impossible to explain his detachment from King Josiah without the realisation that God had already pronounced the complete overthrow of Jerusalem. Hezekiah's folly precipitated the certainty of divine judgment (Isaiah 39:6) and the evil rule of his son, Manasseh, confirmed this decision (2 Kings 23:26). It was inevitable that the people of God should go into captivity. The fact that Hezekiah died in peace, that the sinful Manasseh was ultimately repentant and that the noble Josiah sought with all his heart to bring the people back to God, could not change the inevitable judgment to come.

At his ordination Jeremiah's second vision was of an outpoured cauldron of wrath from Babylon: "I will utter my judgments against them" (1:14-16). But God is never merely negative, and nor His servant Jeremiah. The first and preceding vision was of a budding almond rod (1:11), the harbinger of Spring and the evidence of divine blessings (Numbers 17:5). This, then, was God's objective: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope?" (29:11), but the only way to that end was the way of the cross, the acceptance of divine judgment. For this reason our present study is entitled" "The Word of the Cross". [36/37]

When the king of Judah asked Jeremiah if there was any word from the Lord, he received the answer, "There is! He said also, Thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon". The only message Jeremiah could give was a call to Zedekiah to submit without question to the judgments of God. It was no new message; for a long time it had been the constant burden of Jeremiah's ministry. When Zedekiah called him aside to ask for a word from the Lord, he was really hoping for some escape from the persistently reiterated challenge of God's word; in effect he was pleading for some lessening of the extreme severity of the prophet's preaching. He wanted to be spared, to maintain his own position, to avoid the need for absolute capitulation. He was seeking a compromise. Jeremiah could only tell him that the Lord stood by his original decision. It had to be judgment: there was no other way.

A Fundamental Message

For all of us, is there any word from the Lord? There is! It is described for us as "The word of the cross" (1 Corinthians 1:18). When Paul used this expression, he did not mean something distinct from the rest of the Word of God. He did not even mean to say that it was some special aspect or emphasis of the Word of God, as though it were a particular line of teaching which might be taken up by those who have a special interest in it. He meant that God's message to men -- all men -- is the message of the cross. The Bible offers no alternative. From beginning to end, at every turn, the sharp, two-edged sword meets us whenever we encounter the Lord in His Word. It is no use our seeking some new prospect of blessing from God unless we are prepared to face this fundamental challenge which is presented to us by the cross of Christ.

As a matter of fact Zedekiah was not a particularly bad king. He was not nearly so bad as his predecessor. But that does not alter the case. The Lord does not deal with us in comparative terms, whether we are good or not so good, for our natural man meets with total rejection so far as He is concerned. It is unacceptable and can only be dealt with by the judgment of the cross. There is no basis for compromise, no serving of our own interests and no saving of our own face. His message to us, the word of the cross, calls for the absolute setting aside of all that we are in ourselves.

It may have been a dismal reply for Jeremiah to have to give the king, but he was by no means the miserable preacher that he is often thought to have been. His prophecies show that his objective -- or rather the Lord's objective through his ministry -- was not just captivity and emptying as an end in themselves but rather as the way through to God's glorious goal. The challenge of the cross, the insistence that we must accept the fact that we have been crucified with Christ, may sometimes appear unnecessary and forbidding, but the cross is not an end. As Jeremiah recorded, God's word to His people was: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee" (31:3). It was out of love for them that the Lord called them to forsake their own way and accept His.

God works for something beyond the immediate: He works towards glory. The thoughts or plans which He has for His people are directed towards giving them "hope in their latter end" (29:11). So much of the chaos and heartbreak in the history of Jeremiah's times was brought about by the people's refusal to accept God's way of judgment. What Zedekiah really meant when he interrogated Jeremiah was 'Is there some other word from the Lord?' He was anxious to avoid this drastic demand for absolute surrender. There is no other message and there is no other way. The only way through to God's purposes of glory is the way of the cross.

We are clearly told that the purpose of the cross was to establish the absolute headship of Christ. When we preach the gospel to penitent sinners, we rightly say that by the cross Christ can bring pardon and peace to their hearts. But, wonderful as that must be, Christ died and rose again not for this only but to provide something even more wonderful: "Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living" (Romans 14:9). He is not only to be Saviour but also to be Lord. Did He have to go to the cross to be Lord of all? Yes, in our case He did, for He can only truly be Lord when that which will never yield to His lordship has been totally subdued. The purpose of the cross is to dethrone self that Christ may be enthroned.

The prophet could not give Zedekiah any hope of retaining his own throne, but he did make the definite promise that David should "never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house [37/38] of Israel" (33:17). Zedekiah had to go into captivity, but God would ensure that there should be a Man upon the throne. This is the Lord's word to us also. We must yield up our throne, must accept God's verdict of judgment on our own corrupt nature, and thus a way will be made for the enthronement of Christ. There is no other message. It must be "Not I, but Christ living in me" (Galatians 2:20).

This may sound drastic, but it is implicit in the gospel and in it lies the only hope of glory. Only on resurrection ground are we in the realm where we can lay claim to the power of Christ's headship. It is no use our trying to enjoy all the benefits of that headship if we will not accept the cross as the basis of our relationship with Him. Not on his own behalf but in the matter of his people's circumstances, Jeremiah found himself asking: "Why shouldest thou be as a man astonied, as a mighty man that cannot save" (14:9)? The answer was, of course, that since the people of Jerusalem were not willing to accept God's verdict of judgment, they were therefore not in a state where they could expect to experience the mighty power of His name. Does it sometimes seem to us that the Word of God has no power? Could this not be because the lordship of Christ is dependent upon the working of the cross? If, like Zedekiah, we try to get fresh promises from the Lord when we have not heeded the message already given to us, we are bound to meet with disappointment.

The Lord Jesus only came to the glory by way of the cross. Revelation 19 shows Him in His great, final victory (Revelation 19:11-16). He is King of kings and Lord of lords; before Him tyrants, enemies, empires, Satan himself are swept away in destruction, slain by the sharp sword which proceeds from His mouth. Note, however, that the Victor is also the Crucified: "He is arrayed in a garment dipped in blood". Too often we want the sharp two-edged sword to proceed from our mouth, but we shrink from experiences of being identified with Christ in His cross. It is true that in His case, the judgment which came upon the Lord Jesus was not deserved by Him but was due to our sinfulness. The fact remains, however, that God's way through to glory for His people must be the way of the cross.

Jehoiakim said "No!" to this challenge. He even cut to pieces the scroll on which it was written, and threw the pieces into the fire that was in the brazier of his winter house. Well, Jeremiah could provide another scroll, and he did, but there was no other way of hope for the king, to whom the Lord said: "He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David; his dead body shall be cast out" (36:27-30), pronouncing upon him the supreme indignity: "He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (22:19).

Does this sound harsh? It is interesting to observe that although there could be no hope for Judah and Jerusalem, there was mercy for one of the kings who appears to have obeyed Jeremiah's call for capitulation. Jehoiakim's son, and Zedekiah's elder brother, was a man called Jehoiachin and also named Jeconiah and Coniah. He had a very brief reign after his father and before being replaced by his brother Mattaniah who was renamed Zedekiah. He was no better than Jehoiakim, indeed we are told that "he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done", but at a certain period early on in his reign, he apparently gave himself up to the king of Babylon (2 Kings 24:12). Calling him by his name Coniah, Jeremiah described him as "a vessel wherein is no pleasure" who would never prosper (Jeremiah 22:28-30) but at least he kept alive. The narrative in 2 Kings suggests that he did as Jeremiah had urged, submitting himself to the Babylonian conqueror and allowing himself to be carried away captive, accompanied by a large number of important figures in his realm (2 Kings 24:16), among whom was Ezekiel. Mention is again made of him at the end of Jeremiah's prophecies where we are told how he was freed, kindly treated, given a place of honour and provided with a pension for life (Jeremiah 52:32-34 and 2 Kings 25:27-30). It is striking that this one king who submitted to Nebuchadnezzar found, after many years, that Jeremiah's words were reliable. The unsubmissive Zedekiah was blinded, bound and finally died in a Babylonian prison (Jeremiah 52:11).

A Message of Hope

In spite of his popular image, Jeremiah was a prophet of hope. Beyond the inevitable judgment he could see the glorious prospect of a new day. It is true that the return from captivity did not occur in his lifetime, but he accurately foretold when it would happen and the relevant decree [38/39] of Cyrus is twice attributed to Jeremiah's ministry (2 Chronicles 36:22 and Ezra 1:1).

God's objective is fulness of life and fruitfulness. From the first, Jeremiah realised this and devoted all his ministry to bringing it about. The message of the cross is never an end in itself; it is intended to clear away all self-righteousness and human glory, in order to make way for God's new day of blessing. The prophet was able to look forward beyond the captivity and speak of God's everlasting love to the remnant who had found grace in being spared the sword: "They shall come and sing in the height of Zion ... and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all ... and I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my good, saith the Lord" (31:2, 12 and 14).

At one point he was given a divinely provided visual aid of God's ability to fulfil His magnificent purposes of grace in spite of the human failure which seemed to hinder or delay those purposes. He had made visual aids himself, but this one was not devised by him but given to him by God who instructed him to pay a visit to the local potter. There he saw the clay suitably prepared and placed on the wheel so that the potter's skilful hands could shape the design which his artistic mind had envisaged (18:1-6).

On this occasion, something went wrong. It may have been an impurity in the clay which caused the trouble but we are simply told that "the vessel of clay which he made was marred in the hand of the potter" (18:4). In this particular happening, the question of blame does not arise. The problem was, what to do with the marred vessel -- was it to be accepted as a 'second' or was the whole lump of clay to be thrown away as useless? The answer was, Neither! What happened was that the potter crushed the misshapen material into a solid lump and began to work all over again on the same clay, putting it back on the wheel and this time fashioning it according to his own original design of loveliness. This time he was satisfied with the result; it was "another vessel, as seemed good to the potter ...".

The Lord then enquired of his open-eyed servant: "Cannot I do with you as this potter?" It is possible to interpret this parabolic action as a warning to Christians that if they do not allow God to have His full way in their lives He will have to content Himself by giving them an experience which is really a second best. Whether this is true or not, I prefer to believe that in this case the Lord was indicating how persistent and persevering He is in the pursuit of His purposes of grace. God's hard dealings with His people were really prompted by patient love; He allowed His hand to be heavy upon His people only in order that the breakdown of the faulty might give Him the opportunity of remoulding according to His perfect will. Rather than compromise for a lesser vessel than that of His original design, He proposed to go on working until He could realise that first purpose. His seeming harshness with that people was as if the potter crushed the faulty lump of clay once more into a shapeless form so that He could begin all over again to produce that work of art which He had originally planned. "We are his workmanship" (Ephesians 2:10).

That, it seems to me, was the offer being made to God's people by Jeremiah. In this graphic way the prophet not only explained why they must submit to God's present hand of judgment, but once again assured them that God's hand and God's use of the wheels of circumstances were set upon making then what He always intended that they should be. It is sad to find that it met with no response of penitence and faith. They still refused to submit. "There is no hope," they said, "for we will work after our own devices and we will do every man after the stubbornness of his evil heart" (v.12). They would hardly have used these words, but the words express the attitude of their stubborn hearts. No wonder that Jeremiah wept! (13:17).

The Messenger of the Cross

Like Paul, that other great messenger of the cross, Jeremiah suffered opposition and imprisonment, and was "in deaths oft" (2 Corinthians 11:23). It seems that a man can only convey the word of the cross effectively to others if that cross is already a reality in his own experience. This was certainly true of Jeremiah. The book does not record his triumphs, but rather depicts a man who was despised and rejected, beaten and imprisoned, though through it all he "fought the good fight, finished the course and kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). Happily those who endure personal experiences of the cross can without fail prove that their God is the God of resurrection. [39/40]

It may be asked what I mean by being a "crucified" Christian, one who has personal association with Christ in His cross. In the first place it means, as the Lord Jesus Himself declared, that he must deny himself (Matthew 16:24). Paul certainly did this. "What things were gain to me," he wrote, "these have I counted loss for Christ" (Philippians 3:7). Jeremiah had pioneered the way before him in this respect. As a normal man he doubtless longed for a fulfilled family life, and as a very lonely man he must surely have wished for the loving and sympathetic companionship of a wife. It was part of his commitment to the will of God, however, that these were denied him: "Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons and daughters in this place" (16:2).

Years later his one faithful helper Baruch was evidently depressed by the harshness of their lot, and Jeremiah was able to comfort him out of the depth of his own years of travail, counselling him that men with such a message cannot avoid suffering and deprivation. "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not" he urged (45:5). Those who take up the cross for God's glory must accept the need to deny self. It was as though Jeremiah sought to encourage him to soldier on in the good fight of faith. In effect he said, "We are privileged to share something of God's own heartache over His people. Let us not lose heart or give way to natural depression. One thing is certain and that is that the Lord will keep us alive for as long as He wants us here." So the two lone soldiers of the cross did battle on and never gave up. They were later loosed from their fetters and given a free choice of a comfortable post in Babylon (40:4), but refused the offer and remained true to their calling even though they were forced to go down to Egypt with the remnant (43:6). The cross is not a charm or a shibboleth: it represents complete dedication to the will of God.

Among his many other sufferings, the apostle Paul was once let down over the wall of Damascus in a basket. It seems that this was a deep humiliation (2 Corinthians 11:33). Jeremiah was pulled up out of a miry dungeon by thirty men using ropes (38:13). In this case it was a merciful deliverance, but it hardly seems to tally with God's promise to make him "a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls, against the whole land" (1:18). The cross meant ignominy and shame for our Saviour: it involves the same, though in lesser measure, for those who follow in His steps.

If I have made a comparison between Paul and Jeremiah, it is only fair to point out that both men received some of their most precious revelations from God when they were in prison chains. We are familiar enough with the great spiritual wealth and scope of Paul's prison epistles, but must not overlook that it was while Jeremiah was "yet shut up in the court of the guard" that his Lord invited him to make fresh discoveries of the richness of divine grace: "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and will show thee great things and difficult (fenced in) which thou knowest not" (33:3). The chapter goes on to speak of God's great secret, the coming of His Son: "In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Branch of Righteousness to grow up unto David ... The Lord our Righteousness!" (33:15-16).

It is clear from his prayers that Jeremiah was no placid soul who found it easy to suffer scorn and misunderstanding from his fellows. His book is full of complaints and arguments which he poured out to the Lord. Again and again, he protested that it was too costly, and at one stage decided that he would never preach again. God's answer was -- and always is -- to give more grace. It meant that in spite of his trials, he had moments of deep delight and heart satisfaction: "Upon this I awaked, and beheld; and my sleep was sweet unto me" (31:26).

His real recompense came after he had finished his course on earth. Perhaps one of the greatest compliments paid to him has been given by those who are unwilling to accept that Isaiah 53 refers prophetically to the Lord Jesus. They are quite wrong, of course, but it is striking that the only man with whom they can identify the despised and rejected servant of Jehovah is Jeremiah!

"Is there any word from the Lord? There is ...". It is the word of the cross.

(To be continued) [40/ibc]

[Inside back cover]


"(From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel)" Genesis 49:24

IF our previous parenthesis was simple in the extreme, this one is highly mysterious. The main statement as to Joseph's arms being strengthened by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob seems clear enough; it gives a vivid picture of young Joseph learning to shoot with a bow and arrow. Lacking strength in himself he is aided by his father Jacob who, standing behind him and enfolding the puny arms of his son by his own powerful arms and clasping the boy's weak hands in his own strong ones, so enables Joseph to fire the shot. Hand on hand, they together grasped the arrow and hand on hand they drew back the bow to such effect that the arrow sped effectively to its mark.

I CAN appreciate this since I have watched a Red Indian father operate in this way, stretching his strong arms alongside his boy's little ones and grasping the small hands in his capable grip, so bending the bow and shooting the arrow, to the great delight of the little learner.

WHAT old Jacob did literally for young Joseph, the Mighty One of Jacob had done spiritually for the mature man of whom it could rightly be said that "his bow abode in strength". But why this parenthesis about the shepherd and the stone?

IT clearly points onward to the Lord Jesus who is both the Shepherd and the Stone of Israel. In his separation, sufferings and exaltation, Joseph provides an outstanding type of Christ. Does this bracketed sentence, then, draw attention to this likeness? If so, it suggests that Christ's gracious shepherding and His powerful reliability function in harmony with the divine enabling received from on high; it was the Father's hands which supported and sustained the nail-pierced hands of Jesus.

IN the New Testament there is a passage which speaks comfortingly and encouragingly of God's strong hands and unites the Father and the Son in what we might call a double grip. When the Lord Jesus gave His well-known description of Himself as the Good Shepherd, He made the claim that He and the Father are one (John 10:30).

THIS followed His positive assurance that the believer is securely held by Himself and His Father: "No-one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, which hath given them unto me, is greater than all; and no-one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (vv.28-29). This is gloriously true, even if it is not just what Jacob meant when he gave his blessing to Joseph.

FOR us there can be no doubt at all who is the Shepherd and the Stone -- or Rock -- of Israel. Jacob's Rock and Joseph's is the same as ours -- the wonderful Rock of Ages. Trusting in Him, we know blessings "unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills" (Genesis 49:26).


[Back cover]

Jeremiah 17:12

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