"... 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. 3, May - June 1983 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Priest And Priesthood [Hebrews] (4) 41
Is There Any Word From The Lord? (3) 43
Mark's Vision Of The King (2) 47
The Second Coming Of The Lord (3) 52
The Apostle Paul And Healing 56
Cross And Crown 59
Old Testament Parentheses (3) ibc



(Some comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews -- 4)

John H. Paterson

THE theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews is the greatness of Christ. In Chapters 3 to 7 of the epistle, the writer's object is to compare the Lord Jesus with those great figures of Israel's past, Moses and Aaron, and to show that He is greater than both of them rolled into one.

In our last study, we considered the writer's treatment of the life of Moses. It was no small matter to present Moses in an unfavourable light, for his Jewish readers revered Moses as one of the greatest of all their heroes. Nevertheless, the comparison with the Lord Jesus was not too far-fetched. Their achievements were, in a sense, parallel. Indeed, the Lord Himself had prepared the way for such a comparison by using His own teaching as a commentary on, or counterpoint to, the laws of Moses (cf. Matthew 19:7-9; 22:24-30; John 5:46).

But to make the comparison between the Lord Jesus and Aaron was a different matter, and that for one very simple reason: that if we are to compare two people or things, we must find some similarity between them. One man may be tall and the other short, but they are both men. Jesus and Moses were both leaders, deliverers and law-givers. But Aaron stood alone. To a Jew the Aaronic priesthood was, in the fullest sense of the word, incomparable: there was nothing with which to compare it!

I have recently been re-reading Leviticus and among all the details of ritual and offerings, food and clothing, one emphasis recurs! It is God's insistence that only Aaron, only the priests, might perform the ministry of the Sanctuary. If anyone else attempted to take over the priest's role, God's judgment would be immediate. No matter how devout or well-meaning the worshipper, God would have none of him. Only Aaron and his sons would do. The only way to qualify for the priestly duties was to be born into that one family.

So how could there be any question of a comparison? Comparison with whom or what? Israel had known no other priesthood. You cannot compare the unique with anything at all!

Nor was that the only difficulty. Nothing that the Lord Jesus said when He was here represented any direct claim that He was a priest. Some of the things that He said could be construed as an indirect claim, but He never described Himself as a priest and, indeed, was well known to be generally hostile to the priests as a class! A comparison with Moses was possible -- not easy, but possible. But how were people to know that Jesus could be thought of as a priest? He was a Judean, not even a Levite, and certainly not a member of the Aaronic elite. How could He possibly qualify for priesthood?

THE writer to the Hebrews, steeped as he evidently was in Jewish thought, must have been well aware of this problem. Indeed, he was quite ready to concede that Jesus "did not claim for himself the honour of being a high priest" (Hebrews 5:5). But this was a problem he needed to solve, and he did so in a most ingenious way -- with the aid of a remarkable and little-known character called Melchizedek!

There were three points he wished to make:

1. That the Aaronic priesthood was not the only form of priesthood approved by God.

2. That the Aaronic priesthood was not the highest form of priesthood.

3. That the work of the Aaronic priesthood was incomplete and limited.

Of these, the first point was probably the most difficult for, to make it, he would have to break down the very strong conviction of the Jewish people that Aaron's priesthood was unique. He had to get his readers to concede that there could be another priesthood; that priesthood did not begin and end with Aaron.

THIS brings us to Melchizedek in Hebrews 5 & 7. If you are like me, you react to those chapters of the epistle by thinking in bewilderment, 'What in the world has Melchizedek to do with all this?' The writer drags him into the argument not once but twice, and quite unnecessarily, as it seems. Since we know practically nothing about Melchizedek from the [41/42] Scriptures, this must seem, in our own terms, rather like using the story of King Arthur and his knights to prove how wise, or brave, or handsome, the present Prince of Wales is!

Let us try to see, then, what Melchizedek does have to do with the argument. The writer uses him to break through the Jewish thought-barrier -- to show, firstly, that it is possible to have other God-approved priesthoods and, secondly, that Christ belonged to such an alternative priesthood which was, and is, superior to that of Aaron.

Actually the choice of Melchizedek to make this case was not merely very shrewd; it was also the only possible case that could have been presented from the Jewish Scriptures. How many God-approved priesthoods [other than Aaron's] can you call to mind in the Old Testament? Only Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18) really qualified!

But for this purpose one case was enough. Melchizedek is described as "priest of the Most High God". His priesthood was evidently accepted also by God, for in Psalm 110:4 the psalmist records the Lord Himself using the term "the order of Melchizedek". Here, then, was the one solid, biblical argument which the Jewish readers could not rebut: Aaron was not unique!

Of course, the case of Melchizedek enabled the writer of the epistle to make not only his first point but the second and third as well. For this priest-king was not merely an alternative to Aaron, but he preceded him in point of time by several hundred years. And thanks to his meeting with Abraham, and the fact that Abraham recognised his rank and role, the writer is able also to argue that Melchizedek's priesthood was not only previous to Aaron's but superior to it. Abraham was the ancestor of Levi and of Aaron, and Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek. But "as everyone knows, a person who has the power to bless is always greater than the person he blesses" (Hebrews 7:7. Living Bible). Therefore Melchizedek was greater than Aaron.

NOW that he had his readers thinking along these lines, the writer pressed home his advantage by drawing attention to the weaknesses of the Aaronic priesthood. Briefly they were these:

Firstly, Aaron and his successors were themselves men, subject to human failure and embarrassed by their own shortcomings. Inasmuch as one of their chief duties was to offer sacrifices to atone for people's sins, they had first to do this for themselves, before they could attend to the sins of others. Think of the uncertainty that this human element introduced into the whole system: my repentance and my offering might be perfect and proper, but if the priest had not established his own right standing with God, where would that leave me?

Secondly, those Aaronic priests were only human, and they kept dying off. Every time one died there was a gap of time before a new one could be consecrated. In that gap, anything might happen! Supposing that the priest collapsed and died just as he was discharging my particular business, what then? Supposing that he was inexperienced and forgot some part of the complicated ritual, would God reject my offering? The uncertainties were endless.

Thirdly, while the Aaronic system undoubtedly worked (and we must never forget that) it was a system that had to go on working for ever. So long as there was sin in mankind, there would have to be priests and sacrifices. Nothing in the system would ever bring it to a halt. The sad cycle of sin and sacrifice would never end.

Fourthly, some of those priests of old were so bad at their task, so corrupted in their own natures, that God rejected them. The priesthood was based not on moral or personal qualities but on membership in a family. What of the "personal qualities" of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10), or Hophni and Phineas (1 Samuel 2)? What confidence did they inspire among the people they were supposed to lead to God?

BUT now consider the priesthood of Jesus Christ and notice the contrast. Firstly, He had no sin of His own for which to atone, so that He was and is assured at all times of access to God and can devote Himself wholly to pleading His clients' cause. Secondly, He is not affected by death: like Melchizedek, He has neither beginning nor end, but goes on for ever, without intermission. "While they became priests in large numbers, because they kept dying off, this priest, because his life goes on for ever, holds his priesthood permanently" (Hebrews 7:23-24).

Thirdly, with the coming of the Lord Jesus, there was finally introduced a way, God's way, of bringing into the system an element of finality . [42/43] At last it was possible to break the wearying cycle (I use the word advisedly, for God Himself told His people that He was weary of their sacrifices) of sin and offering, by having something happen once and for all. What that was, the writer was going on to explain.

Fourthly and finally, with the Lord Jesus, that priest after the order of Melchizedek, we have a "guarantee of quality" which is entirely personal to Him. The Aaronic priests took office on the basis of family connection, but the Lord Jesus by no less an authority than the oath of God Himself. "The Lord hath sworn and will not repent Himself, Thou art a priest for ever" (Hebrews 7:21). Can we imagine God committing Himself in this way unless He was absolutely satisfied about the quality of the High Priest He was appointing?

In summary, then, the qualities of the Lord Jesus are those needed to provide a priest free from the weaknesses of Aaron and his descendants -- He has been appointed in perpetuity (7:21), in the power of an endless life (7:16), and will be in the presence of God for ever to intercede for us (7:25). He is holy and has no need to offer sacrifices for His own sin, for He has none (7:27); He is perfect for ever more.

And with a final -- no doubt grateful! -- nod at Melchizedek, our writer signed off with those wonderfully reassuring words:

We have such a High Priest.

(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


IF a word comes from the Lord, its purpose will always be life. It is not enough that it should be a word of information, to bring encouragement or sustaining just for the moment; nor is it solely a message of report or correction; it is meant to impart everlasting life to the inward man. God's Word is distinguished in this way: it conveys "all the words of this life" (Acts 5:20).

Jeremiah was asked, "Is there any word from the Lord?" and the gist of his reply and of the whole of his long ministry is found in his challenge: "Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death" (21:8). In this connection it is striking that the prophet has a special word concerning escape from death when he offers life as "a prey". "His life shall be unto him for a prey" (21:9). "He that goeth forth to the Chaldeans shall live, and his life shall be unto him for a prey" (38:2). "For I will surely save thee ... and thy life shall be for a prey unto thee" (39:18) and "I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the Lord, but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest" (45:5).

A modern translation translates the word, "a prize of war", which seems right enough since the word is 63 times rendered "spoil" (See 1 Samuel 30:20). Whatever Jeremiah meant by employing this word, he certainly indicated the fierce contest which is associated with this matter of life and, for New Testament readers, he gives a reminder that we only have life in Christ as the fruit of His triumphant war over sin and Satan. For us it is a gift: for Him it is the booty obtained by His Calvary conquest. And even in our case, it is surely true that the maintenance of spiritual vitality, of the "abundant life" which is our birthright as believers, is always involving us in spiritual conflicts. There is, even for us, a Battle For Life.

Of the much that could be said concerning Jeremiah's Word of Life, two prominent ideas must be stressed; they are that what God offers is an entirely new life and is also resurrection life. We take them in this order.

Entirely New Life

It was, perhaps, at an advanced stage of his life and ministry that Jeremiah was entrusted with the great revelation of the New Covenant. The whole of the second volume of the Bible is called 'The New Testament' -- but we may not [43/44] have realised that one of the chief messengers of the word of this life was the much reviled Jeremiah.

As with all the prophets he spoke of course first of all to his own generation. The duration of the captivity was clearly announced by him as being only for seventy years (25:11-12). It was an end but not the end! So unequivocal and emphatic was this prophecy that it forced Daniel to his knees and produced his great confession and prayer for restoration (Daniel 9:2). And Jeremiah was right. There was a new day coming for Jerusalem and its people, a new life for the nation and a release from captivity and, when it occurred, we are told that it was in order that "the words of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished" (Ezra 1:1).

So Jeremiah spoke truly of a new life for his own nation. This new phase of blessing was a sweet prospect for him in the dark days (31:26) and we cannot but be thrilled by the glowing picture which he gives us in the earlier part of this chapter 31 as also elsewhere. For instance, he tells us that while he was yet shut up in prison, the Lord offered to show him "great and fenced-in things" which were beyond his imagination (33:3), when God would "cause the captivity of the land to return as at the first" (v.11). While the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah by no means fulfil all the glowing prospects described by Jeremiah, the reading of them brings a glow to our hearts as the vision did to the heart of Jeremiah.

How much, therefore, of Jeremiah's visions was realised at the return from captivity, how much may be happening today in Israel, and how much may yet await literal fulfilment is not the subject of this present study. We do know, however, on the authority of God's Word, that Jeremiah spoke better than he knew of our own dispensation, of this Christian era of the latter days and of the New Covenant which we portray every time we drink from the Communion cup (Matthew 26:28). If we ask if there is any word from the Lord for us today, the answer is that yes there is, and it is supremely the word of life, new life.

The need for something new was made apparent by Jeremiah's prayer: "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (10:23). He proves that he includes himself in this generalisation by adding, "O Lord, correct me ..." (v.24). What is more, he gives the verdict that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick", asking, "Who can know it?" and making it a strange sequence but a very realistic one to his previous words about the blessings offered to the man who trusts in the Lord (17:7). Can this heart condition be true of such a man? Can it be true of Jeremiah? Of Paul? Of you and me? Yes, for the Lord who searches the heart tells us that we can only find our answer at His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:12-16). The natural man needs more than a new start: he needs a new heart.

This is precisely the full import of Jeremiah's promise of the New Covenant. His words are quoted twice in the Letter to the Hebrews. There we are told that the primary outworking of this new covenant by the shed blood is total forgiveness (Hebrews 8:12). This is indeed a marvellous blessing, but it is not in itself the full answer to our unsatisfactory condition, for what we need most is an entirely new life which can build on the blessing of forgiveness. This is fully provided for in the positive promise of the divine indwelling. Jeremiah foresaw the day when each individual covenant person -- "from the least to the greatest" -- would have a personal, first-hand knowledge of the Lord and an inward renewal of heart and mind by divine life (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The renewed quotation in Hebrews 10:16 makes it clear that the essential and lasting meaning of Jeremiah's words could only be realised by Christ's offering of Himself on Calvary and the application of that work by the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit. It was not given to Jeremiah to speak directly of the Holy Spirit but we leave consideration of this phenomenon to a later study.

This, then, is the word that there is from the Lord, the word of an entirely new kind of life which He undertakes to provide. The people of Israel could know nothing of this life for various reasons, not least the one that they put their trust in tradition and human reasoning rather than in the promises of God. They relied on their outward association with divine things. When Jeremiah challenged them about their behaviour, their answer was a fallacious threefold claim that the temple founded on the law of Moses and erected by the devotion of David and Solomon was the guarantee for them of a successful future: "Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the [44/45] temple of the Lord are these" (7:4). In other words, "we belong to the great historical church". This was no passing delusion for, right to this day, there are many Christians, of varying persuasions, who find their confidence in past tradition.

The people also listened with pitiful credulity to the smooth words of their professional preachers who spoke "visions of their own hearts and not out of the mouth of the Lord" (23:16). These men are accused of stealing the Lord's words (23:30), which presumably means that they retailed the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 2:17), selecting out of them suitable extracts which profited their views at the expense of the full context of the Word of God -- a common enough tendency till this day of those who are adept at using selected passages from God's words to substantiate their erroneous ideas.

Under the terrorising threats of a Chaldean invasion, there was a general move towards God's law as it related to the freeing of their fellows whom they held in bondage, but when there was a temporary lifting of the threat, this reform was abandoned and the same old selfish evils returned (34:16). It is not for many of us to condemn these Jews, for our hearts are naturally as perverse and selfish as theirs. Once again we repeat, the only hope for all of us in an entirely new and different spirit as provided by the New Covenant.

The Bible is not a handbook for self-reformation: it is a message of a totally new life provided by Christ for the penitent believer. It is an unpopular message. Jeremiah found it so, and the apostles had his experiences repeated in their own case, for they too were beaten and imprisoned by the religious leaders of that day in their revived and God-dishonouring temple. Like him, however, their bold answer was to continue to proclaim "the words of this life", the eternal life of the risen Christ who mediates the New Covenant.

Resurrection Life

This brings us to the other aspect of the Word of Life, which discloses that it is essentially resurrection life. In his own experience Jeremiah provides illustrations of this for he was a man whose life was constantly threatened and yet just as constantly restored. He even sank up to his armpits in a foul pit but was rescued by the intervention of an Ethiopian eunuch (38:12). How much nearer to death can a man get than that?

Jeremiah lived his whole life under a threatening cloud of death. For him the peril began not in Jerusalem but in his own home town where the people of that priestly city of Anathoth plotted to destroy him (11:21). He was forced to flee to Jerusalem but there he was put in the stocks and threatened by priests resident there, led by the chief of them (20:2). King Jehoiakim was so enraged by his written message that he threatened to destroy the writer and had his writings burned. Just before Jerusalem finally fell, he was accused of falling away to the enemy and almost executed (37:14). Like Paul, Jeremiah was "in death oft" -- and yet he was still alive when his book ended. So far as the Scriptural record goes, he was a miracle of survival.

Our previous study dealt with the Word of the Cross, so logically the message of life which follows must deal with resurrection. Is there any word from the Lord? There is, and it comes from the lips of the Lord Jesus Himself: "I am the resurrection and the life ...". To return to Jeremiah, however, we find that his story begins with an illustration of resurrection life. His initial vision was the first of the many visual aids which occur from time to time in his ministry. He was taught by some, and he used this means of conveying his messages to others, but the first, and perhaps the most striking, was given to him by God on the occasion of his call to the ministry.

"What seest thou?", the Lord asked him and the reply was "I see a rod of almond". Again the second time the Lord asked him, "What seest thou?" and this time he reported that he could see a pot boiling over its contents from the north" (1:11-13). The seething cauldron foretold the impending judgments which would boil over on to Judah from the North, but the first vision of the rod of an almond tree revealed the purpose behind those judgments, the aim and end which God had in view from the beginning and which He would watch over to perform. It spoke of the nation's future, of course, but it also had a special personal message of re-assurance for Jeremiah himself. The lesson seems to be that God will always vindicate His servants, however much they may be rejected by others, and however weak and inadequate they may feel themselves to be.

Jeremiah came from a priestly family; he was a direct descendant of Aaron, the first High [45/46] Priest. This meant, of course, that he inherited a divine anointing and commission, but it also foreshadowed the fact that he would have to face opposition from those who wished to repudiate his authority. Numbers chapter 17 describes how Aaron was withstood in this way and how God Himself took up the challenge and made answer for His priestly servant. By means of the rod of an almond tree, the Lord revealed that His power is expressed in His servants, not by natural life or status, but by supernatural life -- life out of death.

Aaron and the heads of the other tribes were each commanded to choose a rod, presumably of an almond tree, to mark it with his own name and to present it to the Lord. In due course the rods were selected, duly inscribed with the twelve names, and given over to Moses that he might leave them in the Tabernacle to await the divine verdict. What a salutary experience for those who claim to be the Lord's servants, to have their claim tested in His presence and to receive direct from Him the verdict on the true value of their claims!

The twelve rods spent the night alone with God, while their owners waited until the morning to discover what God really thought of them. They had been seeking a place of prominence, had been claiming to be something in themselves (all except Aaron who refused to assert himself), and now, one by one, they were to receive God's answer to their pretensions. It was unmistakable and most humiliating for the eleven princes who received their rods back, dead sticks, fruitless and lifeless, without beauty or value. On each rod its owner read his name. So that was what God thought of them!

The twelfth rod was the one which belonged to Aaron, the Lord's anointed. This was startlingly different from the rest. It was profuse with flower and fruit; no longer a dry stick, but a living branch. In one brief night the whole life-cycle had burst into amazing expression: buds and blossom, leaves and fruit, all proclaimed the glories of life, abundant life, life from the dead. No-one needed to seek on this rod the name of its owner, for the name of the God of resurrection was written large all over it. The rod had not been placed in water: there was nothing to feed it. It had not been exposed even to the light but passed the night without any outside aid at all. By nature it should have been as barren and lifeless as the other eleven, but it was energised by a new power, the power of resurrection life.

This had been past history, but God gave the vision to Jeremiah with His verbal assurance that He would still fulfil it. At his first call Jeremiah felt himself to be as unpromising as the dry rod. He had neither the ability nor the strength to face the inevitable challenge which his ministry would involve. In Aaron's case there were murmurings on a large scale against him (Numbers 17:5) but poor Jeremiah was destined to be opposed by "the whole land" (Jeremiah 1:18). It was for this reason that he was given the vision. It was as though the Lord said to him, "Jeremiah, the temple has lost its meaning, the sacrifices are useless and unacceptable, the priesthood is corrupted, but I have not changed. Even the ark of the covenant may have gone, but I am still here. All that I was to your great ancestor, Aaron, I will still be to you, for you share the same anointing. The budding almond rod is more than a thrilling story of the past in your family album -- it is a living experience for your own diary."

This is a spiritual fact for all of us who are "in Christ" and sharing His anointing. We may live in the power of His resurrection today. We are not to think of that resurrection only as an event of past history, for its power lives on today. The rod still buds for the man of faith. Not that it was easy for Jeremiah to maintain his faith walk with God. He was a patriotic man who loved his sacred city of Jerusalem. It would have been easy to compromise and modify his message and indeed it seems that his family urged him to do so in a subtle way by speaking "fair words" to him (12:6). From time to time he had great encouragement through God's words but at other times there seemed nothing to support him but only promise of further and fiercer trials as when the Lord asked him: "If thou hast run with the footmen and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with the horses? and if in the land of peace thou art secure, yet how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?" (12:5). There is nothing glib and easy about an experience of resurrection, for this only comes after the one concerned has gone down into the depth with God. We do not have to strain to keep ourselves alive. Every fear has to go down into death; every clinging to what is selfish, every attempt to grasp or fight for our own position; but when our trust in God brings us face to face with the impossible, we may rest assured that all [46/47] is well, for our God is certainly the Giver of resurrection life.

Shared Life

It perhaps remains to be said that this divine life is a shared life -- shared not only with the Eternal Son but with brothers and sisters in Him. Of all the prophets, Jeremiah seems most to have been a loner. For some special reason connected with his ministry he was actually forbidden by the Lord to marry and have a family (16:2). But he was not quite alone, for occasionally we are given information concerning a colleague of his, Baruch the son of Neriah (32:12; 43:6) who was once even blamed for egging Jeremiah on (43:3) and must therefore have been more than just a servant. This is little enough in all conscience, but it does at least suggest the New Testament "two by two" procedure.

Apart from that, though, Jeremiah's ministry, extremely personal as it often was, always kept in view that God's purposes are bound up corporately with a whole people. As he grieved over the dividing up and scattering of God's people, he always kept before him the promise and prospect of a gathering from the uttermost parts of the earth under God's shepherd hand (31:7-10). Like Isaiah before him, he focused his message on the future of the "remnant" but always with a view to the full expression of national life. It was a remnant in which these promises were first fulfilled at the return from the captivity. It was only a remnant of Israel which formed the basis of the New Testament Church. It may seem to us in our day that only a remnant of God's people are enjoying the full values of the New Covenant, but this remnant can be made a basis for recovery of life.

The great promise with which we are all so familiar, "Call unto me, and I will answer thee ..." (33:3) relates to this very matter. It was not an open invitation for Jeremiah to pray for what he liked, but the Lord's challenge to him, in the darkness which then surrounded him, still to believe that his life's vision and ambition were to be realised. It seemed difficult and even impossible. Its spiritual equivalent may often seem impossible to us now. All the more reason for us then to call on the Lord in faith that scattered and earth-bound saints should be gathered together in a life which is glorious with His presence and mighty with His authority. If eternal life begins now, then that life ought to be expressed in the true fellowship of all God's people.

Is there any word from the Lord? There surely is. It calls us to practise as well as to proclaim "all the words of this life".

(To be continued)


(Four messages from Mark 10 to 16)

J. Alec Motyer


THIS is a privileged interview with the Lord for we are told that four of His disciples "asked him privately ..." (verse 3). For the second time in this Gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ entered into a private place to give private instruction to those who were His very own. On the former occasion we are told that "He expounded all things privately to his own" (4:34). Mark's use of Greek gives a lovely rhyming effect, so that the English could read like this: "On their very own to His very own". Just twice in the Gospel we have that rather special and privileged situation in which the Lord put His own private fence around His Church, saying that this was something just for their ears, something for them on their very own because they were His very own people. On the first occasion He spoke to them in parables, and on this occasion in prophecy. The Lord is careful lest we should be overtaken by unbelief because of the seeming purposelessness of things and confusion about what is happening, so He brings us into a private place, in order to assure us that things are going according to God's plan and that the end will be glorious.

Reassurance by Parable and by Prophecy

Mark 4 tells us how the Lord spoke to His disciples in parables concerning the triumph of His Word. In his Gospel Mark is very sparing so, [47/48] in that private teaching session, he only brings us three parables, that of the sower, the seed growing secretly and the mustard seed. Notice that all three are parables of the seed which is the Word of God as it begins, grows and matures, and so triumphs.

The parable of the sower stresses beginnings -- the sowing of the Word and how it is resisted and then received; the parable of the seed growing secretly stresses the growth of the Word -- the seed grows of its own vitality, the sower does not know how; and the parable of the mustard seed shows the maturing of the Word, when the great tree comes into being and all the birds of the air take grateful shelter under its branches, the tree having reached its full maturity and become a place of rest and of safety.

In this way the Lord Jesus faces us with three situations which are so common to daily on-going life. There is the situation where nothing seems to be going right, when the Word seems to be resisted more often than it is received, and to come to nothing more often than it seems to bear fruit, and He says: 'It's all right; the Word will triumph'. Then, He faces us with the situation where nothing seems to be happening, the seed having disappeared into the ground and showing no further sign of itself. The temptation may be to dig it up and see if it is all right, but the Lord Jesus says: "Though it tarry, wait for it. It is going to be all right; it will grow". Finally the parable of the mustard seed comes to us at the moment when we get frightened because everything seems to be changing. A tiny seed was planted and, as it grows, it suddenly becomes a great tree. Everything is changing and very different, but He says: 'Don't worry; it is all the maturing process of the Word, and the end will be glorious.

So it is that he speaks to us in these parables giving us reassurance at all points when our spirits would become fretful under the pressures of the age. And by His prophecies, in the chapter now under consideration, He takes us privately into His own company, speaking to us now not so directly of the triumphs of His Word, but of His own triumphs, the triumphs of His kingship, the sure coming of the King's great Day. As we shall see, He speaks of a situation of opposition and challenge in which the people of God are threatened by the structures of the times in which they live. For the disciples it was the structure of the Jewish Church and synagogue, the structures of the empire and the imperial court in its challenge and opposition to the Church. It was a situation of opposition and challenge, of waiting for events concerning which our Lord said, "but the end is not yet", a situation where nothing seemed to be happening and there was no glimmer of the approaching King.

It was a situation for holding on and persevering; "he who endures to the end shall be saved", not that his endurance is the road to salvation, but rather the assurance that he belongs to the saved. Endurance, perseverance, but at the end a glory, a gathering together, and an eternal security. It begins with the sowing of the Word (Mark 13:10), it calls for perseverance when the going is hard (v.13) and it ends with a homecoming to the King (v.27).

You see how the two great teaching sessions belong together! They fit together and come to us powerfully with the identical message of the beginning of the gospel, the perseverance of the saints, and the homecoming of the day of maturity and glory. Such is this message of the Word for us today.

The Setting of the Discourse

The Lord Jesus spoke, as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, in a setting of threatened and inevitable judgment (vv.1-3). It is as if Mark wrote those first three verses in that way so as to relate them closely to each other, noting particularly where the journey began and ended. It began as Jesus was on the move through and out of the temple. It ended as He arrived opposite the temple on the Mount of Olives and sat down there.

The Old Testament often helps us to understand the New, for the Bible is one covenantal document, and it seems that here Mark reaches back to one of the dramatic high points of the Old Testament in Ezekiel 9 to 11, where the prophet was given an awe-inspiring vision of the glory of God and saw the glory moving. In Ezekiel 9:3 the glory of God is on the threshold of the temple, He has left His temple and is standing at the door; in 10:18 the glory of the God of Israel moves from the threshold to the East Gate, God being on His way out of the temple; and in 11:23, the glory of God passes through the East Gate and takes its station on the mountain to the east of the city. It is as [48/49] though Mark makes the parallel between this and the Gospel story. The God of Israel is leaving His house, and is taking up the position of one pronouncing an inevitable judgment. The blighting of the fig tree is about to be realised in the blighting of that to which the fig tree pointed -- a house and a city and a professing people of God who showed all the leaves of their profession but had no fruit beneath their leaves.

The answer that Jesus gave to John and Andrew's question (v.4) was wider than the question that was asked: "Tell us: when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign that these things are about to be accomplished". There can be no doubt what was the import of their question. Jesus had walked with them through the temple, they had pointed to the magnificence of the buildings and the stonework, and Jesus had said: "The day is coming when it will all be thrown down. And these stones, magnificent and huge as they are, will not be left one stone upon another".

So the question concerned "these things" -- the foretold destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Jesus answered this, saying, "Take heed; I have told you all things beforehand" (v.23). They had asked what the sign was, and He was able to reply, "Now I have told you all things". Further they had asked Him: "When shall these things be?" (v.4) so in verses 29 and 30 He told them when. They had asked Him about the temple, and He answered with His prediction concerning it. But He went beyond that answer. He furnished more than they had asked. He alerted them to a process which had a beginning and an end, a first and a last. In verse 7 He speaks of an end; in verse 8 of a beginning. In verse 10 He speaks of a 'first' -- "the gospel must first be preached" -- and in verse 13 He speaks of a consummation, of the end to which the saved endure.

What is this end of which Jesus spoke? Is it the destruction of the temple? Is that the consummation? No, it is not; the process which has a beginning and an end is a wider process within which the temple and its affairs were enfolded but which was not exhausted by the history of the Jewish temple. There is a distinction made. "I have answered your question" said Jesus, "but ...". He looked on and beyond. There is something else, and that something else is "those days" -- the end. In verse 29 He told them that when they saw those things coming, then they could know that it -- the great judgment day -- is at the doors. His answer to their question went on to speak of a first and a last, a beginning and an end. The beginning was the preaching of the gospel; the end will be the coming of the King.

So the answer was wider than the question. It spoke of that which alarmed the disciples, the temple being thrown down, and went on to speak of that which would elate them and give them the characteristic upward and onward perspective of a believing Church. We look for the Coming of the Son of Man and our gathering to be with Him.

The Introduction of the Answer

Verses 5 to 13 form a general background introduction. The Lord Jesus did not come to the actual answer to the question, but begins by standing back from it, painting in a background and giving it a context. We are alerted to this by the words, "He began to say ..." or, as we might put it, 'He began by saying ...'. Later He would answer the disciples' question, but first He wanted them to know something else. He began by showing them the state of the world (5-8) and then the experience of the Church (9-13). In both these sections, as can be seen, there are the key expressions about a beginning and an ending. When He spoke about the state of the world, He was speaking about something that continues right from the beginning to the end. When He spoke of the experience of the Church, He was speaking about something that would start with the preaching of the gospel (v.10) and will go right on to the point where true believers will endure to the end and enter into salvation. We may say that this background stretches right from the first coming of the Lord Jesus to His second Coming.

The state of the world (13:5-8)

He spoke of the world's religious state, its political state and its natural state. Its religious state -- the world will always be preoccupied with false religion and false messiahs. Its political state -- the world will always be beset by wars and rumours of wars. The state of nature, the world's natural forces -- there will be earthquakes and famine ... "These are the beginning".

The experience of the Church (13:9-13)

The Church was to experience opposition from the structures of this world -- "They will deliver you to councils, and you will stand before [49/50] governors and kings". By false religious institutions, by the power of the state and its structures, the Church will be opposed; not all the time, not incessantly, but it is characteristic of the experience of the Church between the first coming and the end, that it will encounter opposition. This will extend (v.12) to opposition not just from structures but from people, and very intimate people at that, for brother will deliver up brother to death, fathers will deliver up their children, and children will rise up against their parents.

The divisive element, which comes in when there is a true hold on Christ, will take tragic effect. But within this situation there are two things which are equally characteristic of the Church between the two comings. Firstly there is the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit of God (v.11). There is a lovely thought here which appears if you compare the Gospels. In Luke, Jesus says, "I will give you a mouth and wisdom"; in Matthew there is the promise of "the Spirit of the Father". So the Church is garrisoned by the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. Secondly, the Church is called to endurance, perseverance, persistence (v.13). Let me repeat that endurance is not a ladder to salvation, but it is the hallmark of the reality of those who are saved, a confirmation to their spirits that they are in Christ and will be secure in the day of His Coming.

The Heart of the Answer

In verses 14 to 23 the Lord came to the meat of His reply, speaking of:

The coming tribulation in Judea

Now it may be that in these verses we have a little preview of what other Scriptures speak of as times of tribulation particularly associated with the return of the Lord Jesus. It may be that they are so associated, but I want you to see, apart from what other Scriptures may indicate, three things that the Lord was speaking of here. It was to be a local tribulation (v.14) which was going to happen in Judea. It would be possible to flee from it -- "flee unto the mountain's ...", and it would be later followed by other tribulations -- "such as there hath not been from the beginning of creation ... until now, and never shall be" (v.19). The implication is that there would be other tribulations which would be comparable but which would not reach the same pitch of severity.

There is much in this passage which is mysterious. What does "the abomination of desolation" mean? I don't know and I am not sure that anybody else knows either. Part of the excitement of having an inexhaustible Bible is that Scripture is full of mysteries. It is 'safe enough for a child to paddle in, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim in', as somebody has remarked. Of course there are mysteries. Some say that the abomination of desolation was fulfilled in A.D. 70 when the Romans set up their legionary standards in the temple at Jerusalem in the Holy Place. That doesn't make sense to me, because by then it wouldn't have been a sign to flee but rather a sign that it was too late. Luke tells us that Christ said: "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies" but how could people flee if the city were already under siege? The historians do say that allied armies came to the aid of Jerusalem and (quite ineffectually) ringed the city with their forces before the Romans arrived and that this may have been the sign which Jesus gave. The reference to this abomination standing where it ought not to stand may have been in relation to some of the Jewish people themselves, the zealots, defiling the Holy Place by making it the headquarters of their resistance. I don't know. The Lord Jesus was speaking of something that would be a clear sign to the Church then. "Watch for it," He said, "and when you see it, flee", for it will be the severest trial in the whole course of creation history. The disciples had asked "When will these things be" and now the Lord answered: "... I have told you all these things beforehand" (v.23).

There was a part of the question which is not mentioned by Mark but which is recorded in Matthew, and Mark now gives us the second part of Jesus' answer. What is it that upholds a believing Church through days of great grimness and travail? The answer is:

The expectation of a coming Lord

Having indicated a mountain peak of tribulation which was to appear, the Lord told them to look just beyond it. If they did so they could see an even greater peak, one alight with the glory of God, for "Then shall they see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory" (v.26). He spoke of an immediacy of expectation. Now He will come. The foolish ones of the earth say, 'Ah, but He didn't come. He was mistaken, and the New Testament Scriptures were wrong'. That is not so. The Lord Jesus spoke of that [50/51] which was then true and is now true and always will be true until He comes again, however long in the providence of God that Coming may be delayed. He Himself has uttered the one word 'now'. He will certainly come.

The Church is waiting to be gathered, and the Church will be gathered in those days. They will be marked by unmistakable, creation-wide foreshadowings: "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven" (v.24). Again, I don't know what all that means. Could it be that those who are alive in the great and terrible Day of the Lord will have the awesome experience of seeing the universe brought into a new configuration; that people will ask, 'What is coming?' and the Church will answer, "The Son of Man is coming; are you ready for Him?" They will be unmistakable events -- no hole-in-the-corner Messiah, nothing in secret, but that which the universe itself rushes to proclaim. It will be a visible and glorious coming -- "And then they shall see the Son of Man coming".

Do you notice the word 'they'? The Lord Jesus had been speaking to people who would live through the other tribulation ("This generation shall not pass away") (v.30); but when He looked forward to that Day, He said "they". He knew what He was talking about. It is an immediate coming for which the Church must live on tip-toe; but He knew that it was not for those to whom He was then speaking but for the final glorious and universal gathering unto Him (v.27).

The Conclusion of the Answer

In verses 28 to 31 the Lord enfolds the whole of His great talk to His private ones in a conclusion. "From the fig tree learn a parable." How marvellously He reached back to that object lesson from which the whole talk began, saying that they should learn from the dread parable of the fig tree which was all leaves and no fruit; it was a portent of judgment to come. It was as though He said, "This will happen -- Jerusalem and its temple will be brought to an end. It is a course of events which can be discerned; the ominous sign of the fig tree, the day of blighting, is drawing near -- it is even at the doors" (v.29). In verse 30 He said "Watch for it; you (this generation) are going to live through it", in this way speaking in direct answer to their question and enforcing His lesson upon them. They needed to learn from what He had said, for it would surely happen and they would need His words: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (v.31). What a lovely calm certainty this verse brings us all!

Alongside that discernible course of events, however, there will be a day without a date (v.32). We may well be astonished by this statement that "of that day 'and of that hour no-one knows". The angels do not know, and even more surprising, neither does the Son know. Here is something that is mysteriously within the Holy Trinity locked away in the counsels of the Father -- the Day when the Lord Jesus Christ will be manifested in all His glory to a wondering and shocked world and an admiring and rejoicing Church. We cannot know the date, so the proper attitude for the believer is one of watchfulness and working, of waiting and praying, of staying alert (13:33-37).

The People of the Coming King

I focus my final thoughts on the people of the coming King for this is the spiritual emphasis of the chapter. They are:

1. The elect people.

It is a beautiful, glorious, lovely, gentle word, this word 'elect'. It refers to those who are the chosen beloved ones in whom the Lord's soul rejoices. Look at verse 20. Did you know that the whole of world history is run in your interest? The elect are at the centre of the historical workings of God. They are in secure possession of the truth from which they cannot be moved (v.22). Verse 27 tells us that "He will send forth his angels and he will gather his elect ...". The elect are the possessors of a certain and a glorious hope, that of meeting with the coming Lord. The people of the coming King are His very elect. He chose them because they were the ones He wanted.

2. The gospel people.

The elect people are a gospel people; they are the ones who know and possess the truth. The words "that they may lead astray if possible the elect" contain the assurance that this is not possible; the world will always try to lead them astray from the truth but they cannot be detached from it. What is more, their privilege is to be in the world so that they can share gospel truth with others. That is what they are there for -- "the gospel must first be preached" (v.10). [51/52]

3. The praying people.

Look at them in the midst of the severest tribulation that creation will ever know; what are they doing? They are praying (v.18). They are not sending out relief organisations, though that is a good thing to do. By praying they are doing their own distinctive task. They are called to contribute that which no-one else can contribute to the history of the world, which is interceding prayer. The King's people should not detach themselves from relief aid or from every other involvement in the welfare of the world in which they are placed, but they should never forget that the one ingredient which they can contribute and which no-one else can, is that of being a praying people in the midst of the world's tribulation.

4. The obedient, watchful and committed people.

We look back from this chapter to the end of chapter 12 and there we find the story of the widow and her two mites. I have already said that nothing in the Word of God is there by accident. Everything is chosen and deliberate. When the Lord Jesus had looked around the temple and seen all the leaves with no accompanying fruit, His careful and loving eye lighted upon this widow who, in the midst of all the falsity, was a mirror of the truth. "He called his disciples and said, Verily I say to you, this poor widow has cast in more than them all. They all cast in of their superfluity, and she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living" (12:43). What a marvellous bridge she made from the falseness and hollowness and fruitlessness of the temple to the people of the coming King described in chapter 13, the fruitful people of God waiting for His Coming. This people are modelled on the widow; they hold nothing back; they give, not because their gift is worth anything in itself but they give to Him and give just for the sake of giving. As to their future, they rest trustfully for that upon the One to whom the gift is given -- their Coming King. Their hope is not just the hope of an event but of the personal appearing of their Saviour and King.

(To be continued)


Poul Madsen


Reading: Revelation 20:1-10

OUR subject is the Millennial Kingdom, though in fact this is a man-made phrase which can nowhere be found in the Scriptures. There are some wonderful descriptions of the kingdom in the New Testament. There is, for example, The Kingdom of Heaven, which is a gracious name for God's kingdom. Then there is The Kingdom of God, which stresses that in this kingdom God alone is Lord and King. Further, there is The Kingdom of Jesus Christ , concerning which we gladly affirm that we could not wish for any better Lord over our kingdom than He. There is also The Kingdom of the Son of Man, which directs our thoughts to the book of Daniel, where the Son of Man is described as coming to the Ancient of Days to receive from Him the kingdom to which all other kingdoms will be subject. It is said that this Son of Man rules together with the saints of the Most High in the eternal kingdom.

The Kingdom Has Come and Is Coming

The kingdom came with our Lord Jesus, and we who have entered it by the door, having been born again by the Spirit of God, raised from our death in sin in Christ, are already citizens of this kingdom. It is our experience now that Jesus is Lord. Christ's kingdom does not consist in formal rules, such as what we eat or do not eat, but in righteousness, and peace and the Holy Spirit.

The strange thing is that in this kingdom where Christ rules, the citizens do not continually speak of what is right or wrong; the mere letter of the law has no part in this kingdom. The letter of the law seems to make men tremendously interested in what is 'right' or 'wrong' -- specially when it is used in judgment on others. It is strange how some of God's children are endlessly occupied with whether people are doing right or wrong. Is this the essence of the kingdom of God? There [52/53] are many prejudices and criticisms about small things which are not worthy even of discussion. I say this in my introduction because I so regret that which is holy and heavenly being dragged down to matters which are trivial. Where love reigns, where the Spirit of God is written on our hearts, there is true power and not just words. Where Christ is Lord, we are free. This does not mean irresponsibility or superficiality, but that the citizens of His kingdom joyfully follow the Lamb wherever He goes. That means that no-one is superior, for we are all saved by grace. For ourselves, it is part of the gospel to take up the cross and follow Him daily, but that is personal, and not to be obligations which we lay upon others.

Throughout history we encounter kingdoms of many forms. In Daniel we find kingdoms one after another, rising up to power and then terminating with the great confrontation with God as to who shall take over the government of the universe. We are dealing now with an eternal kingdom, and we are to speak of it in the present tense. When the kingdom finally comes, in a sense that will mean that what has already been here will come. Of course it cannot come visibly and in perfection except at the Coming of Christ, but this does not mean that the kingdom which we now know in the Spirit, by faith in Christ, is different in nature from that which will appear visibly at the Return of the Lord Jesus.

It is important for people to come into the kingdom of God now, and not to wait. Yet in that kingdom of God, strangely enough, we still pray, "Thy kingdom come!" The Lord Himself told us to do so, for it is the will of God that the whole universe may be governed by the risen Lord, and that all opposition should cease and every enemy be put under His feet. It will be then that the kingdom will come visibly and universally, in accordance with the sighs and longings which the Church has always had and the prayers she has prayed, whether or not the actual words "Thy kingdom come" have been used or not.

The kingdom will come when the King comes. "... the Lord, our God, the Almighty reigneth (has taken over the kingdom -- Danish). Let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad, and let us give the glory unto him" (Revelation 19:6-7). This is co-incidental with the resurrection from the dead when those who are asleep will rise from their graves and we who are alive will be changed. This is essential because we are told that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). This means that as we are now, even as saved people, we cannot inherit the kingdom in its fulness when it is visibly manifest, for if we did that now, we would bring in the old Adam with us. 'Flesh' denotes the fallen man. Even we who are born again still have this aspect of flesh in us, as is evidenced by the fact that we know what it is to have the flesh striving against the Spirit, and the Spirit striving against the flesh when we have not crucified the flesh with its desires as we ought to do. No such conflict can enter the kingdom of God, so a radical transformation must yet take place.

Such transformation involves a new creation; it is not that certain improvements take place in our old nature, but that the old nature is to disappear completely, with all things becoming new. Believers will then have bodies which are resurrection bodies and called spiritual bodies in the New Testament. This phrase means that these are bodies which in everything will be governed by the Spirit of God, the fallen nature of the flesh having no place at all. We look for the transformation which will make us resurrection people, having nothing left at all of our old fallen nature and with no longer any possibility of being tempted or of falling into sin.

Peter even goes so far as to speak of how "according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13), pointing us on to a new universe which not only embraces saved mankind but the whole creation of God. Heaven and earth, the whole creation, is to be set free from any and every influence of the Fall. This is fulness of glory, but we do not really know the full implications of that word 'glory', because of the limitations of our earthly nature. Glory is not just a multiplying of our ideas of what is glorious; it is much more radical than that. It is God's own glory. This is what the Church is looking for. This is what the Church is preparing herself for. This is also the goal of our individual lives as Christians.

The Millennial Kingdom

Since our subject is the Millennial kingdom, it is important that our thoughts should be liberated and subordinated to those thoughts of God which are infinitely higher than ours. I venture to say [53/54] that the Millennial kingdom is not actually mentioned in the Bible, at least directly, for we always have to remember that the book of the Revelation begins with the words, "He sent and signified (i.e. showed in pictures) what must shortly come to pass" (Revelation 1:1). When we reach Revelation 20 we have to admit that here some pictures, or illustrations, are used. None of us imagine that Satan, who is a spirit, could be, or needed to be, bound with a chain of iron or locked up with a key. It is a meaningful picture. Nor, for instance, do we think that the seven Spirits of 5:6 can be taken literally, for they signify or represent the Holy Spirit. What the reference in Revelation does state is that Satan could not deceive the nations any more for a thousand years and that he would be released when the thousand years were ended. The actual phrase "Thousand-year-kingdom" has been made up by man but is not actually found in Scripture.

Our Lord did not mention it. However we must pay full heed to Old Testament Scriptures, and in them we can perhaps find hints of what we have come to call the Millennium. There is the reference in Isaiah 11:1-10 with its well-known predictions of the wolf dwelling with the lamb, and the leopard lying down with the kid and no hurt or destruction in God's holy mountain. Nothing, however, is said about this being the Millennium and we cannot know directly. One thing we do know, and that is that when Isaiah says: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the root of Jesse, which standeth for an ensign of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek" (Isaiah 11:10), he is using words which are quoted by the apostle Paul, not about the Millennium but about this age of grace (Romans 15:12). It is meant to a wonderful description of those who are saved of Israel and those who are Gentiles praising the Lord now in this dispensation.

Let us look at Isaiah 65, which is often quoted in connection with the Millennium. "There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days; for the child shall die an hundred years old" (v.20) and "the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox ..." (v.25). Here again there is not a word about this being the Millennium; rather a reference to the "new heavens and a new earth" (v.17). Over-hasty conclusions are always dangerous. We are all so inclined to impose our own opinions on what we read. Rather than claim these as dogmatic proofs of there being a literal Millennial kingdom, we should be quiet and say that we do not know precisely. These and other Scriptures in Amos and Micah have already been applied by the New Testament to the present time in which the kingdom has come in Spirit and truth.

An Earthly Kingdom

We cannot, however, disregard the references in Revelation 20, so we are entitled to ask, 'If there is a Millennial kingdom, what will it be like?' One thing is certain, and that is that it does not represent the destiny of the Church. If the Millennium comes, it may be something for Israel, but even so, not for a resurrected Israel nor what the New Testament describes as a spiritual transformation. It will be an improvement, and while that is desirable it is not God's real goal, for He plans a lasting transformation. Living for 200 years may be an improvement on the present but it will not be the great transformation, for it will mean that death still reigns.

Quite clearly this refers to an earthly kingdom for sin is also present in it. We can perhaps say that the whole world culture will be subject to the gospel which will be wonderful. It will still, however, be an earthly kingdom where even nature is not thoroughly transformed but only improved, since death will still be present. This therefore does not represent the goal of the Bible, nor is it the goal of the Church. Nowhere in the New Testament does it suggest that the Church is waiting for the Millennium. No, we are waiting for Christ; we are waiting for the resurrection; we are waiting for the eternal glory.

Unhappily Christians are all too prone to quarrel, especially in this connection as to who has the right interpretation concerning the Millennium. How unimportant is this point in comparison with the kingdom which is coming when Christ, the King, comes! Evangelical Christians tend to divide into two groups which at times are fighting groups. We know that there are many who feel that Revelation 20 -- like very much more in that book -- must only be interpreted spiritually. To them the "thousand years" is a symbolic number and Satan has not yet been loosed. Some say that the first resurrection has already taken place because all those [54/55] who are born again have risen from their death in trespasses and sins. They do not expect a Millennial kingdom. I hope that no words of mine will encourage an unkind conflict in this matter.

For my part I am inclined to think -- without daring to assert it too strongly -- that God will yet give Israel the experience of an earthly kingdom. Those who feel this way think that when Christ comes again, the Church will meet Him and be changed by a perfect putting-on of immortality and a putting-off of what is mortal, but that this will not yet be the end. The following period will not be marked by resurrection or transformation to full glory, but it will feature the restoration of Israel as the central nation in an earthly kingdom which will last for a thousand years. In that period Israel will evangelise and many be won for the Lord, but sin will not be abolished. So it will be that when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released and it will be seen that even ideal conditions do not produce a true change in natural man nor give him that deep respect and fear of God which would enable him to resist Satan's tempting power. Apart from the generating power of the Holy Spirit, natural man is hopeless and cannot be improved, however great the improvement in his outward conditions.

We might say that it would be better for Israel to be incorporated into the Church and to inherit the kingdom of "the ages of the ages" rather than only to have this thousand years of an earthly kingdom. I think that God will give them this kingdom, but not for their sakes but for the sake of the whole human race and the creation as a whole, though no-one knows whether the period described will literally be a thousand years of 365 days or not.

Our Concern Is Spiritual and Not Political

It would be a great victory for love if God's people could avoid fighting about this for, in the real perspective, the millennium is only for one day, since in God's eternal world a thousand years, like one day, is an exceedingly short period. This is not what the Church is waiting for nor what the Church preaches; we are involved in the new creation in Christ and new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells not just for one day or a thousand years, but throughout the ages of the ages.

It is not our ideas but the will of God that is important, and if it is His will to give to His created humanity a period of ideal conditions which is distinct from the transformation of resurrection, then we accept this, telling Him that His wisdom is infinite and His ways unsearchable, but we thank Him that we can still pray "Thy kingdom come!" knowing that our hope is eternal. Is not this why so very little is said about the Millennium in the New Testament? The Lord Jesus did not preach about it, nor did His apostles, for they looked forward all the time to the ultimate goal. We know that if what we call death should overtake us before the Coming of Christ, we will arise not to the Millennial kingdom but to that eternal kingdom in which we shall be for ever with the Lord, reigning together with Him as, in principle, we are already doing even now.

We have already said that we must watch against all thoughts which are coloured by politics. The idea of a Millennium can so easily become a political matter, as it were to redress Israel and give them something of which to boast. If there is a Millennial kingdom it will be because God has thoughts for the present creation which can only be realised in such a period. If there is not, no disappointment or loss will be entailed, for a contrite Israel will have a share in the resurrection at once when they look on Him whom they pierced.

It is the Coming of the Lord which is our hope. We look to the end, whether that end takes a thousand years to fulfil completely or whether it comes finally all at once. So far as we are concerned, we just say to the Lord, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" and are content for Him to work that out in His own way. God rules over history, and the Church must surrender its own thoughts -- right or wrong -- to the Sovereign Lord for "If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth not yet as he ought to know". God has bound Himself to His Word, but this does not mean that He is bound by His Word, for His Word is divine and therefore beyond our human limitations. God is God! It is for the kingdom of God that we eagerly look.

(To be concluded) [55/56]


Michael Wilcock

IN this enquiry as to what the Scriptures have to teach us with regard to healing in relation to the experience, teaching and ministry of Paul, I propose to avoid the narrower concept of illness in favour of the total area of physical affliction.

1. The Experience of the Apostle

The whole story of Paul begins in a shattering fashion, for his ministry began with a miraculous intervention of God in which his physical eyes were literally opened, as well as the accompanying spiritual revelation. And this was not the only experience which he had of God's miraculous healing power. At Lystra he was stoned to the point where even those who were most interested in making sure that he was finished left him for dead. Yet he got up and walked away from the spot (Acts 14:19-20). We read of another miracle when, on the island of Malta, a snake came out of the firewood and fastened on him. Everybody there knew the results to be expected from that kind of attack and was surprised when he did not fall down dead but was miraculously delivered. We may certainly affirm, then, that there were miraculous healings in the experience of the Apostle himself.

As, however, we go through his story in the book of the Acts and glean other facts from his Epistles, we discover that medical healing also played its part in his experience. We take hints from here and there and to some they may not appear very compelling hints, but they must be given due consideration. Paul obviously suffered from poor health in some shape or form. I think, for example, of the reference to the fact that the Galatians had been ready to pluck out their own eyes to give them to him (Galatians 4:15). This seems to refer to his own poor eyesight, an indication of which is found in his words: "You see with what large letters I am writing to you" (Galatians 6:11). Along with that we have the hint on the other side that his constant companion for much of his ministry was Luke. He himself describes Luke as "the beloved physician" (Colossians 4:14). Paul was not a Christian Scientist and so does not write with regret that his friend Luke is a physician. Far from this being unfortunate, it was a very happy thing for him and he describes Luke as a beloved doctor whom he was very glad to have with him. These points may not be convincing, but at least they seem to be hints that Paul was by no means averse to availing himself of medical help when he needed it and when it was to be had.

So in the apostle's experience we are told of miraculous healings and medical healings and then sometimes of no healing at all. This is highlighted in the remarkable passage in 2 Corinthians 12 which concerns his "thorn in the flesh". Whatever that thorn may have been -- and there are all sorts of ideas as to what it may have been -- we imagine that it was some kind of physical affliction. It seems reasonable at least to bracket it with illness, for Paul informed them that he found it such an infirmity that three times he pleaded with the Lord for it to be taken away. Each time the Lord said "No", so this seems to be a case of that for which no healing was given.

2. The Ministry of the Apostle

With that as a background, we turn now to his ministry to see what happened in that sphere. In certain accounts in the Acts of the Apostles and also in the writings of Paul himself, we find a preponderance of one kind of healing, and that is miraculous healing, in Paul's encounters with physical affliction. We can consider a few examples of this. On his first missionary journey we read how a crippled man was healed in Lystra, and find that this was so miraculous that it moved the people there to say that the gods had come down to them in the likeness of men (Acts 14:11). On the second missionary journey, he and Silas arrived at Philippi and Paul healed the girl who was possessed by a demon -- an affliction which for the purpose we include with physical afflictions (Acts 16:18). On his third missionary journey we read of Paul actually involved in spectacular healings: "And God did extra-ordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them" (Acts 19:11). One might think that Luke was deliberately underlining the fact that many miracles were done at this time in the ministry of Paul. On his final journey, the voyage to Rome, Paul arrived at Malta to find that the father of the chief man of the island was sick and was able to bring him [56/57] healing (Acts 28:8). The narrative goes on to speak of many other healings there.

It is clear, then, that such miraculous healings did occur in the course of Paul's ministry, though we must not fail to notice that he also mentions other kinds of healing. There is the famous advice about wine to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23). There are those who suggest that the wine was not taken internally but only applied externally, but in any case this would seem presumably to be some sort of medical aid for Timothy's frequent infirmities. Paul is found not just accepting this but actually recommending it. So we cannot rule out the fact that in Paul's ministry there were occasional medical healings.

There were also occasions in his ministry when there was no healing at all. "Trophimus I left at Miletus sick" (2 Timothy 4:20). Here was Paul, a man as gifted as any at that time with the gift of healing, making no apology for the fact that he had left this friend of his at Miletus, and had left him ill with no apparent thought of intervening and acting on his behalf. We may well ask ourselves why this was, but it is clear that it happened and the matter was not hushed up.

This brief survey of the matter of healing in the ministry of Paul shows that frequently he was able to deal with physical affliction by miraculous healing. On the other hand we are not allowed to make blanket claims which cover every case, nor are we allowed to say that it is invariably the will of God that physical afflictions should be healed. Indeed there were occasions in the life and ministry of Paul when the whole machine goes into reverse. He arrived at Cyprus on his first missionary journey and, far from giving sight to a blind man, he encountered a sighted man and was able to strike him blind. No doubt this experience which came to Elymas of being made blind had a spiritual significance because he was withstanding the gospel, but it certainly happened. What is more, this may remind us that while we may rejoice at Paul's receiving his sight (Acts 9:18), we have to remember that it was God who took away the sight in the first place. So here there was a man who was perfectly well and perfectly sighted as he travelled on the road to Damascus when God, for His own purposes, first struck him blind and then opened his eyes. Both of these were acts of God.

Clearly, then, it is not true to say that right across the board it is always God's will to progress from bad to good in an automatic way. This may well give us some clue as to why there was such a great stress on healing in the ministry of Paul as it is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. It seems to me that these miracles were always related to some deeper spiritual lesson. We may well ask ourselves why God acted as He did. Why did He sometimes heal and sometimes do just the opposite? What did He mean? What lies underneath it all? It seems to me that just as in the Gospels we read of healings which carried a spiritual significance, so also in the ministry of Paul, the miraculous healings were all part and parcel of the apostolic teaching of the gospel.

For example, we read that "They remained in Iconium for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord" with Luke's comment that God "bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands" (Acts 14:3). So it is that the signs and wonders that Paul performed in Iconium are directly linked to their speaking boldly for the Lord and His bearing witness to the word of His grace by the miracles. The two things are directly connected. You will find the same sort of thing in the account which Paul and Barnabas gave to the council of Jerusalem: "All the assembly kept silent and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles" (Acts 15:12). In a sense the reference to miracles might seem to have been out of place there, for the council was not met to discuss miracles but to come to terms with the fact that the preaching of the gospel had proved to be effective among the Gentiles. Could this be true? Or is it not possible? It was in that context that the two apostles stood up to talk about miracles. This was part and parcel of the apostolic preaching of the gospel; it was the authenticating sign.

I have already referred to Paul's experiences in Ephesus, where it was in the preaching of the gospel that God did those extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, and the whole matter is summed up in verse 17 of chapter 19 when it says that "it became known to all residents of Ephesus, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled". Then there is the final comment: "so the word of the Lord grew and mightily prevailed" (v.20). If we ask ourselves why there was this great emphasis on miraculous healing as [57/58] distinct from medical healing or no healing, it all seems to be bound up with the apostolic preaching of the gospel.

3. The Teaching of the Apostle

Having dealt with Paul's own experiences and his ministry, we now turn to his teaching on the subject. Here, I suggest, we shall find quite a different emphasis. It is true that he does write about the gift of healing: "to another the gift of healing, by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles ..." (1 Corinthians 12:9-10), but if we wish to know more of Paul's actual teaching on the subject, we need to focus on 2 Corinthians rather than on the first Epistle, so we must pay great attention to what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 4. As I read that great chapter, two truths concerning physical affliction and indeed any kind of affliction stand out to me, namely the fact of Paul's many afflictions and the explanation of them. As to the fact, he affirms that he was afflicted in every way (verse 8). That affliction included a great deal of hurt, a great deal of betrayal, a great deal of persecution, but since Paul insists that the affliction was "in every way", we may conclude that it also involved physical affliction and illness.

Note that the context of this verse is in the previous paragraph: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us" (v.7). This was the explanation of his sufferings. This, I suggest, is the possible deduction from the evidence that while in Paul's ministry narrated in the Acts we find that the power of God was shown again and again by miraculous deliverances from affliction, when we look at the teaching of his epistles, we find that the power of God was shown by his experience of the power of God in afflictions and not from them. This is a very striking truth and appears everywhere in this second Epistle.

At the beginning of 2 Corinthians we find that the Father of mercies and God of all comfort "comforts us in all our afflictions" (2 Corinthians 1:3 ff). He doesn't deliver us from our afflictions and He doesn't take them away from us, but He comforts us in them, and He does so with the purpose that we may convey the same comfort to other tried souls. This is the divine explanation which goes on down to the end of verse 7.

We move on to chapter 6, where we find Paul stating that they sought to commend themselves as servants of God in every way (verse 4). When we ask what appears at the top of the list in this commendation, we find that the answer is "through great endurance in afflictions, hardships and calamities". Paul pointed out that he was not spared those things but came to the Corinthians in the midst of them and that his method of coping with them proved that he was a true minister of Christ. He goes on to write, "When we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn -- fightings without and fightings within" (7:5). The passage goes on to explain that in the midst of those afflictions, God came and demonstrated what a great God He is by comforting His tried servants. In the next chapter the apostle stated that what was true of him was equally true of ordinary Christians for, in the churches of Macedonia, a severe test of affliction only produced an abundance of joy as their deep poverty overflowed in a wealth of liberality (8:2). No-one would have noticed what was happening if they had not been afflicted people, but the glory of their generosity was its background of affliction.

In chapter 11, Paul dealt with the case of the claims of the false apostles by asking, "Are they Hebrews, are they Israelites, are they descendants of Abraham?" and in each case answering, "So am I". He goes on, "Are they servants of Christ?, well, I am a better one" (v.23). I may be talking like a madman, but I can tell you what sets me up as a better servant of Christ than they, for it is the sufferings I endure for His sake. Paul claimed that it was his afflictions which demonstrated his apostleship.

We then come to chapter 12 with its well-known reference to Paul's thorn in the flesh. Nobody knows exactly what this thorn was, but Paul recognised that it had a satanic element and so three times over he pleaded with the Lord that it might be taken from him. The divine answer was, however, "My grace is sufficient for thee, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (v.9). There was to be no deliverance from, but a wonderful experience of deliverance in the trial. This all ties up with the passage in chapter 4 with its reference to the treasure in earthen vessels. This is the context for all that the apostle had to say about the afflictions which came to him. He recognised that there was a divine purpose behind them all, and this same purpose [58/59] governs all our afflictions, physical and otherwise. It is that there may be a striking proof that the transcendent power is not to be attributed to us but only to God's grace being manifested in us. Afflictions, then are not regarded as unhappy misfortunes, but rather as God's means of bringing blessing first to the sufferer, and then through him to others.

The further explanation of the reason for afflictions is given in 2 Corinthians 4:17: "This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison". Here we find Paul teaching us that the real end to which God is working is not a temporary wholeness but the complete healing of eternity. This is referred to in such passages as "this perishable is to put on imperishability" (1 Corinthians 15:53) and also what is described in Romans 8 from verse 19 onwards where it is recognised that this world and life in this world is full of futility, mortality, bondage and decay, and that God's remedy is not a temporary alleviation but the final completion in glory. We are told that the whole creation groans in travail, waiting for the revelation of the sons of God.

Until we reach that glorious end, it may from time to time be God's purpose to stem that tide, as it were, to stop the rot, putting this and that right just as it suits Him, but even as He does so, He and we know that those newly sighted eyes will soon be closed again in death and those crippled legs which have been healed will one day stop walking. The real aim in God's mind is surely the final healing of the world to come. So when people say that surely God's will is that we should be whole, the answer is that of course it is; He wants us to be whole, and He plans to make us whole, but it will never in the full sense be true while we are in these mortal bodies.

This seems to be the whole weight of evidence so far as the actual teaching of Paul is concerned, and we have to balance it against the weight of evidence in his ministry; both are important and both are true. We may say that it is in his teaching that Paul lists the gift of healing with other spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. There are times when God can be glorified in a miraculous healing. It may equally be, however, that God is glorified in an illness in which there is no healing and the one concerned finds grace to endure and to triumph. One thing is certain, and that is that the Lord plans to get glory for Himself in every experience of ours down here on the earth and that He uses all those experiences to prepare us for what He calls "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" as we look "not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).



Harry Foster

"He turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art a stumbling block unto me; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men." Matthew 16:23

IN the space of a few verses Matthew reports that Peter had the great gratification of being described by the Lord as "Blessed", and the extreme mortification of being addressed by Him as Satan, the Adversary. One wonders at the suddenness of this complete change of Christ towards His well-meaning disciple.

Poor Peter! He had had no intention of being a stumbling block to his beloved Lord. He meant well. His trouble -- as Jesus explained -- was that he who had been blessed by revelation from the Father now began to be governed by human reasoning.

In the next chapter we find him making the same error. Having been granted a vision of his transfigured Lord, he then offered to provide booths both for Him and for His two honoured companions. This time it was a voice from the Father Himself which silenced him. He had repeated his mistake. As they later descended the mountain, the Lord Jesus resumed His teaching as to the relationship of His sufferings and [59/60] resurrection to the prospect and possibility of glory (17:9-12). In fact He commanded the disciples to tell no man of what they had seen until that resurrection was accomplished.

Poor Peter! How much more agreeable was the sight of a glorified Saviour with two saintly companions at His side, than the prospect of a suffering Saviour in the midst of two common criminals. But in fact Peter was representative not only of the other apostles but of the rest of us too. To our natural reason it seems most desirable that the way to glory should by-pass the cross as much as possible. Peter continued in this same mentality right up to the garden of Gethsemane, for it was there that he drew his sword and showed himself ready to crack the skull of one who wanted to take Jesus prisoner. Mercifully he only succeeded in cutting off the ear of Malchus and still more mercifully the Lord Jesus immediately healed that (His final miracle!), but Peter's mind was to avoid the cross at all costs.

This, however, was not God's mind. He was offering His beloved Son the cup of sacrifice, and the Lord Jesus informed Peter that He was determined to accept it: "Put up the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11).

So we have this striking contrast between human mentality and the mind of God. By the former, Peter was making himself a stumbling-block to the Lord whom he so truly loved, and was unintentionally allowing himself to be a means of satanic temptation to the Saviour. If we are to be true disciples, we must disown the reasoning of men (even the best of men) and pay heed to the mind of God.

Immediately after His rebuke of Peter, the Lord Jesus went on to explain that not only must He go the way of the cross but all who would follow Him must go the same way: "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). This is a vast subject which cannot be dealt with here, but at least we can register the divine principle that those who are destined for God's glory must be ready to be led along the way of the cross.

Dear Peter! How well he learned the lesson! How readily he denied himself and took up his cross daily when once the Holy Spirit got possession of him. I marvel that he never used his subsequent spiritual authority to deter the four Evangelists from recording his many blunders and especially this charge of acting as an agent of Satan. Perhaps he even encouraged all four of them to be frank in telling the stories of how he misunderstood and tried to pressurise Christ to renounce the cross so that we might learn the lesson and be saved from the same follies. Was it not he who wrote: "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps" (1 Peter 2:21)?

I imagine that this was a moment of acute suffering for the Lord, for He loved Peter and would find it hard to charge him with complicity with Satan. The fact remains, though, that when Satan has exhausted his efforts to deter us from the will of God by threats and criticisms, he will sometimes gain his ends by using the kindly and well-intentioned advice of our friends. Unlike our holy Lord we must never presume to use His language, but we do well to recognise that the Tempter can use our friends as well as our enemies to draw us aside from the path of absolute committal to the will of God.

And we ourselves must beware of thinking as men instead of advising others according to the mind of God. With hindsight we know that Peter's affectionate advice was contrary to God's will, but at the time we would probably have felt and spoken very much as he did. Well, we cannot always help our feelings. What we can do, though, is to check our tongues; rather to pray for our friends than to shower our advice upon them, and always to be ready to learn the spiritual lessons which are made so clear to us in the Word of God. What Jesus lacked, and perhaps what He would so have appreciated, was sympathetic support in His hour of trial. In Gethsemane He had to ask, "Simon, sleepest thou? couldst thou not watch one hour with me?" (Mark 14:37). That was what the Lord wanted, not Peter's slashing sword. And that is what our brothers and sisters want from us in their hour of suffering. That is "minding the things of God". [60/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(I am the LORD)" Numbers 3:41

WHY is this dignified claim of Yahweh placed here in brackets? It can be found often enough in the Scriptures, so much so that we tend to take it for granted. Here, however, the sudden interpolation of the great name must have some special importance. Perhaps the context will help us to appreciate this.

GOD had been giving instructions to Moses about the setting apart of the tribe of Levi to substitute for the firstborn of all the tribes which He had claimed as His own when Israel came out of Egypt (Exodus 13:11). At this later date, however, the Lord indicated that instead of making this a literal choice, He proposed to substitute the men of Levi, being careful to cover the difference in numbers by receiving redemption money for those who exceeded the total of the Levites (Numbers 3:49).

WITH that the arrangement was to be finalised and from then onwards the Levites acted instead of the firstborn sons of all Israel. "Thou shalt take the Levites for me," God said to Moses, and explained that they were to be "instead of all the first born among the children of Israel", but right in the middle of this command, He inserted the statement "I am the LORD". Why?

I SUGGEST that this was meant to stress the finality of the divine decision. Moses might have other ideas; the men involved might feel that they were being deprived; but this parenthesis had a peremptory note about it, as though the Lord would permit neither question nor argument. His very name denotes that when He makes a decision it is final.

THIS arrangement was doubtless very pleasing to the Levites, though in some ways it had its disadvantages, for the Levites had to forego the inheritance that others enjoyed (Numbers 18:23). There is always a price to pay for the privilege of serving the Lord.

IT may well have been most displeasing to the first-born of Reuben and the other tribes, "Why", they might ask, "should we be set aside in favour of those brothers of ours?" Why indeed? There were some very good reasons, and in the end the Levites justified their calling, but the only answer which God gives to any such questions is simply, "Because I am the LORD!"

WHY was Matthias chosen as twelfth apostle instead of Justus? (Acts 1:26). Why did Barnabas have to yield seniority to Paul? And why was James, the older of the two brothers, cut off suddenly in the early days of the Church while his younger brother, John, lived on for so long and wrote so much inspired Scripture? Why do most of us have to endure experiences when we are set aside in favour of others?

THERE is only one answer to those questions -- "I am the LORD". If we know anything at all of that name -- as Moses certainly did -- that will be sufficient for us. We bow to His sovereign wisdom, and we always find blessing in so doing.


[Back cover]

Jeremiah 17:12

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