Saturday, August 27, 2016

"A glimpse into the future ... the time of the END!"

August 28th, Day #241

Scripture Reading:  Daniel 7 - 12 …

That this world as we know it will end is the clear teaching of the Bible, God's Word.  GOD knows the future and He chose to reveal it to Daniel AND to us, through Daniel!  Some of Daniel's visions regarded the immediate future.  Even before Daniel and some of the other Jews who were in captivity in Babylon returned to Jerusalem, the kingdom of Babylon was overtaken by the Medes and Persians.  Not long after that, the kingdom of Greece defeated them, as is described in the visions, and that was followed by the Roman Empire.  All of this happened exactly as God had revealed to Daniel.  But there was more ...

God also revealed things to Daniel about the DISTANT future - the time of the end, the time of wrath.  God’s plan unfolds throughout time.  To those who believe that the visions of Daniel were all fulfilled prior to Jesus being born, I refer to Matthew 24, where Jesus is teaching His disciples about FUTURE events and He refers to the prophet Daniel and what he had written (Matthew 24:15).  If these events had all been fulfilled previously, then Jesus is wrong in teaching that some of what Daniel saw had not yet happened, but would be fulfilled in the future, just before He returned!

Chapter 8 gives a description of the events leading up to the destruction of the Medes and Persians by the Greeks.  History shows the accuracy of Daniel's vision - so much so that those who do not believe in predictive prophecy claim that Daniel was written later, after these events had already taken place.  But God does this to confirm that since these things came true, the rest will also take place just as Daniel wrote ... during the time of the end.

An example is Daniel 7:20-22.  Read those verses and then read Revelation 13:5-7.  Both speak of the same event and the apostle John writes several hundred years after Daniel and about sixty years after Jesus was crucified, rose again and ascended into heaven ... and even after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  That proves that some of the things revealed in Daniel's visions lie in the future, when God will bring His judgment on this world and pour out His wrath on the Antichrist and those who follow him.  All of that is described in more detail in Chapter 9:24-27.

These verses have been the subject of so much discussion over the past few decades and longer because they so clearly point to God's dealings with "Daniel's people," the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Gabriel says specifically, "Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city ..." (9:24).  Daniel's people were the Jews and their holy city was Jerusalem.  History reveals that from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the crucifixion of Jesus was 483 years ... "69 'sevens'" or "weeks of years."  This portion of Daniel is not so much a vision as it is a revelation, a teaching.

During the entire "seventy 'sevens'" Daniel is told that several things would happen:  "Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy" (9:24).  Verses 25-26 explain that some of these things will happen in the time-frame of the first "sixty-nine 'sevens,'" but then there is the last "seven," the seventieth "seven" ...   Verse 26 indicates that there is an interruption ... a gap, between the first sixty-nine weeks of years (483 years) and the last seven.  Verse 25 said God would deal specifically with the Jewish people for "seven 'sevens' and sixty-two 'sevens" = 69 "sevens" ...  and verse 26 says,

"After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One (the Christ) will be cut off and will have nothing.  The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.  The end will come like a flood; war will continue until the end and desolations have been decreed."   Then verse 27 speaks of a future ruler (from the people who destroyed the sanctuary - the Roman Empire), who will confirm a covenant for one "seven" ... then break the covenant in the middle of the "seven" and do what the rest of the verse says.  Jesus refers to THIS time in Matthew 24:15 and following as future.

All of this points to the coming of the Antichrist.  In Chapter 12, verses 9-10, the angel says, "Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end.  Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked.  None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand."

If we are nearing the time of the return of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24) and the end of this age, then those who are given wisdom from God by His Spirit will understand these things.  While many have written about this time in great detail and there seem to be many ideas and theories, God IS giving understanding of these things during this time in which we are living.  How far in the future do the events of Daniel's "seventieth 'seven'" lie?  We do not know for sure, but the re-establishment of "Daniel's people," the Jews, in the land God gave to Abraham and his descendants more than 4,000 years ago indicates that we are nearing the return of Christ and the unfolding of the rest of God's plan as it is revealed in Daniel, Revelation, Matthew and elsewhere in Scripture.

The time of the end WILL come ... just as God has said it will.  You do well to believe ALL that God says, to place your faith and to find your hope in Jesus Christ, the "Anointed One" and to know that what Daniel predicts about HIM (Chapter 7:9-14) WILL take place and HIS kingdom will be established and will endure FOREVER!!  Believing the prophecy in Daniel's visions and placing your faith in Jesus Christ leads to a life lived with hope and with purpose, as God speaks to you by His Word and Spirit.  Read, study and learn about these things - for yourself and for others, so that when that day comes you will know what God is doing and be used of God to warn others!  Jesus is LIFE, and all who come to Him will be saved!!

"Almighty God, my Creator and my Savior, I am in awe of Your power and majesty and wisdom!  Your Word reveals who You are and Your plan for mankind and for all who believe in Your Son Jesus Christ.  HIS kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom and we who believe will exist forever in Your perfect presence.  Help me to live today in such a way that my life is a testimony to others as I share Your truth with them, that some might believe and be saved.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, August 26, 2016

"A truth to remember: the Sovereign God rules over the nations!"

August 27th, Day #240

Scripture Reading:  Daniel 1 - 6 …

Daniel and his friends were taken into captivity to Babylon as part of a plan to provide the best servants for the king.  God's providential care over them began even with their provisions, as God showed that those who are faithful to Him are marked out for a special purpose:  to testify to who He is!!  The first opportunity came to Daniel as the king desperately looked for someone among his wise men to interpret his dream.  The astrologers and other wise men declared, "There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks!" (2:10).  Of course, they were right.  But when Daniel heard that he and his friends, along with the wise men of Babylon, were going to be put to death because no one could interpret the king's dream, he and his friends began to pray for God to reveal the dream and its interpretation to them … and God did.

When he came before the king Daniel displayed his humility and his reverence for God when he took no credit for his interpretation but said, "There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.  HE has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come … As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation …" (2:28, 30).  We must have that same humility as God reveals His wisdom to us through His Word, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ today.  

God revealed to Nebuchadnezzar through Daniel that there would be an end to his kingdom and that there would be another kingdom that would rise up, then a third and then a fourth.  During the reign of the kings of the fourth kingdom, he says, "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people.  It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will endure forever" (2:44).  All of this points to the coming of Jesus and the establishment of GOD's kingdom through His death, resurrection and ascension.

The four kingdoms were Babylon, the Medes and Persians, Greece and Rome.  And it was during the time of the Roman Empire, the fourth kingdom, that Jesus came and preached the kingdom of God, saying, "My kingdom is not of this world!" 

Nebuchadnezzar had every opportunity to avoid God’s judgment.  When Daniel's three friends were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace, they testified (as we are called to do), "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (3:17-18).  And when they came out of the furnace untouched by the flames, they testified again and Nebuchadnezzar even praised their God for saving them and declared that "his" people should serve and worship only THEIR God.

Yet, because Nebuchadnezzar did not continue to praise God, he would be humbled "so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men" (4:17).  Daniel advised the king to "renounce your sins by doing what is right ... " (4:27), but twelve months later Nebuchadnezzar was on the roof of his palace and bragged, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built … by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”  (4:29).  Later, he would testify:  "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all His ways are just.  And those who walk in pride HE is able to humble” (4:37).

Chapters 5 and 6 record the end of the Babylonian empire as the king’s son, Belshazzar, offended God by defiling the gold and silver goblets that had been removed from the temple.  God wrote a message for him on the wall and once again Daniel was called in to interpret the message from God.  Daniel explained that as God had humbled his father, he was about to do the same to him.  "You … have not humbled yourself though you knew all this.  Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven" (5:22-23).  The rulers of the nations today who spurn God today should take note.  That very night Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, just as God had predicted earlier in Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Only GOD knows the future, so only God can predict it with 100% accuracy.

Now it was time for the next step in God's plan, as the time came near for Him to begin to restore a remnant of the Jews to the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants until the Messiah would come.  Because of Daniel's wisdom from God (remember Joseph?), he excelled in all he did.  When others realized that the king was going to promote Daniel above them they convinced the king to issue a decree that anyone who prayed to anyone, god or man, (except the king) for the next thirty days should be thrown into the lion's den.  

The king did what was suggested and of course Daniel did not comply.  He continued praying as he had before and the men reported him to the king.  Trapped now by his own laws, the king was forced to follow through with Daniel's punishment, even though by this time he didn't want to do so.  As his three friends had done before him, so Daniel now testified.  

God sent the "angel of the Lord" to protect Daniel by shutting the mouths of the lions and the king ordered that those who had accused Daniel be thrown into the lion's den along with their families.  Their fate was different!  All of this points to a truth that you and I need to remember:  the Sovereign God rules over the affairs of the nations ... then and now.  You and I can trust in the Lord and not be afraid.  His kingdom WILL come and His will shall be done ... on earth, as it is in heaven!

"Almighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, in Your sovereign power You have established the nations of the earth and set the rulers in place for Your own purposes, whether for judgment or for blessing.  All who trust in You need not fear, for You rule over the affairs of the nations.  Help me and all who know You to testify to the world that our God reigns as we stand firm against the threats of those who do not know You.  To You alone I give my praise, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Ezekiel's temple ... What? When? Why?"

August 26th, Day #239

Scripture Reading:  Ezekiel 43 - 48 …

The descriptions of the "glory of the Lord" and of the temple which Ezekiel gives are extremely difficult and, perhaps, impossible to totally understand, yet, God spoke these words through Ezekiel for a reason and it is important for us to pray for wisdom as we listen to what God says and apply the truth revealed to our own time and our own lives.

The first question may be, "What is this temple?" or "What is this temple supposed to represent?"  We can gain some insight by going back to Ezekiel 8-11.  Remember that Ezekiel was in captivity in Babylon, and the Spirit of God lifts him up between heaven and earth (8:3), giving him a bird's-eye view of Jerusalem and the temple before it was destroyed by the Babylonians.  What Ezekiel sees was disgusting!  He sees idolatry and men with their backs to the temple and their faces toward the east bowing down to the sun.  Ezekiel is told to "go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it" (9:4).

Then Ezekiel witnesses the glory of the LORD and the cherubim (angels) in worship and "the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple.  The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the LORD" (10:4).  But then "the glory of the LORD departed from over the threshold of the temple …" (10:18).  It is impossible to fully comprehend this sight, but the message is clear, God was removing His presence from the temple and from Israel and their leaders because of their sin of idolatry … BUT …

… in the same breath God promises that He will bring a remnant back to the land and says, "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. … They will be My people, and I will be their God" (11:19-20).  In chapters 38-39 we saw God speaking of a future time when He would "display" His "glory among the nations" (39:21).  Could it be then, that God will do so through the rebuilding of a temple such as that which Ezekiel describes? The temple was, indeed, rebuilt when the captives returned from Babylon, but the circumstances and the description do not seem to match the perfection described by Ezekiel in these chapters.

While some believe this description was promised only if Judah returned to the Lord and were obedient to Him, the fact is that God knew Judah would not do so and He knew the rebuilt temple would also be destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.  That Ezekiel is describing a rebuilt temple and a people and a "prince" who serve the LORD, their God, seems clear, but what period of time is he describing?  We also know from God's Word that it cannot be the new heavens and the new earth, for we read in Revelation 21, as John sees a vision of the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, his description includes the following:  "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Revelation 21:22).

So when will the temple Ezekiel describes be present in Jerusalem?  The only other possibility appears to be a temple that will be built just prior to Jesus' return and which will stand in Jerusalem during the Millennium.  However, there are also some problems with this interpretation.  In chapter 43, Ezekiel sees the glory of God return to the temple and fill the sanctuary (43:1-5).  Then God says, "This is where I will live among the Israelites forever.  The house of Israel will never again defile my holy name …" (43:7).  There is no time in history when this has happened and no indication that it will in the future.  So when will this take place?  The answer may be found in 43:10:  "Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins."  Perhaps God gave this glorious description to once again show the people of Israel their need for a Savior and for a better sacrifice than they could offer … to point them to the coming Messiah, the Christ … to Jesus.

While it seems possible from other passages that there will be a temple during the Millennium, as Jesus reigns from Jerusalem, the idea of offering sacrifices for sin contradicts the fact that Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice for sin once and for all on the cross.  Ezekiel speaks of the "prince" providing "sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the house of Israel" (45:17), but God says that Jesus already accomplished all that was necessary to make atonement for all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike.  Further, Ezekiel says that the Passover is to be celebrated and "on that day the prince is to provide a bull as a sin offering FOR HIMSELF and for all the people of the land" (45:21-22).

The Millennium will be a unique time unlike any other as Jesus reigns in Jerusalem, yet it is hard to understand how Ezekiel's description of the temple fits with the rest of what we know from Scripture regarding the sacrifice of Christ and its quality as the perfect sacrifice for sin.  It never has to be repeated.  One of two things must be true:  Either this will happen at some future time, which seems questionable given the above facts, OR God was calling the remnant of Israel to long for things to be different than they were and to seek Him with all their hearts, knowing that there would be a time in the future when God would make His dwelling with men and all who believed in Him would be part of His eternal kingdom!

As we pray for wisdom to read and understand all that God has revealed, we can know that God will do all He says He will do and that through faith in Jesus Christ, we who believe will be part of His future kingdom on the earth, where all things will be perfect, as God originally designed, and where we will serve Him with joy forever!  Praise the LORD for His glorious promises!!

"O Lord, my God, the Almighty One, the God of Israel, Your glory is beyond our comprehension.  You have revealed to us all we need to know in order to draw near to You in faith, believing Your promises and resting in Your power to do what You say You will do.  Help me to accept Your Word as truth and to long for Jesus' return, when I will be made like Him and everything will be made clear … for I shall see Him face-to-face and be made like Him, to serve You, my God, forever, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"God's plans for Israel ... again!"

August 25th, Day #238

Scripture Reading:  Ezekiel 37 - 42 …

We have seen repeatedly that God chose Israel as a special nation, a peculiar people for Himself.  Because of their sin and idolatry, God sent Assyria to defeat Israel and to scatter the people throughout the nations, and then sent Babylon to defeat Judah and to take the people into captivity - this for a limited time of 70 years.  Ezekiel writes from Babylon, being one of those taken into captivity.  As God pronounces judgment on the nations, and even on Judah, He declares over and over again, "Then they will know that I am the LORD!" (36:38).

You and I need to know that the God who spoke those words through Ezekiel is the same God who today watches over Israel.  He is the God who sent His Son to be born of a woman and to be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of King David, to whom God made further promises. The final chapters of Ezekiel's prophecy point to a time in Israel's future, and it is significant and extremely important to try to understand what God was saying to Judah AND what God is saying to us today.

Chapter 37 certainly refers to the power of God's Word to bring spiritual life from spiritual death, but it also speaks specifically about something God is going to do in the future.  Ezekiel describes what he sees:  " ... they came to life and stood up on their feet - a vast ARMY" (37:10).  God then tells Ezekiel, "... these bones are the whole house of Israel" (37:11).  What does that mean? The rest of the chapter explains.  God was telling Judah and all of Israel that He had not forgotten His promises and that there was hope!  Their captivity in Babylon was not the end.

Since the reign of Solomon nearly 400 years before, the kingdom of Israel had been divided - the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah.  Israel was also referred to as "Ephraim," from the name of one of Joseph's sons.  God now reveals to Ezekiel that there will come a time when He will reunite "the whole house of Israel" and give them one ruler, one king, one shepherd:  His "servant David" (37:24).  That is a reference to the "Son of David," Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.  God says they will live in the land He gave to Jacob (37:25) forever.  "I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.  There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms." (37:22).  "I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever.  My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people" (37:26-28).

When will this happen?  Chapters 38 and 39 speak of war with Gog and Magog.  The exact identity of these names remains in question, but there are clear indications that they refer to the nations north of Israel, as the other nations mentioned are in Asia Minor, the area of Turkey, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, as well as Iran, Ethiopia and Libya.  While some believe the events described took place in the century following the exile, there are indications that what is being described lies yet in the future.  Speaking to Gog and Magog, God says, "After many days you will be called to arms.  In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel which had long been desolate.  They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety.  You and all your troops and the many nations with you will go up, advancing like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land" (38:8-9).

The war between Gog and Magog will take place at a future time, when the people of Israel have been gathered together and are living in peace.  This may be the battle of Armageddon, or it may be the brief battle described in Revelation 20:7-10, which takes place after the Millennium.  The point of these chapters is to declare what God will do for Israel and why:  "I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishments I inflict and the hand I lay upon them.  From that day forward the house of Israel will know that I am the LORD their God" (39:21-22).  There WILL come a time when all of Israel will recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their God.  That should make us sit up and take note as we see the events going on in the world around us.  These are not matters to be ignored.

Beginning in Chapter 40, Ezekiel describes a rebuilt temple.  With great detail, Ezekiel describes what he sees. There is some debate concerning when this temple will be rebuilt ... whether it was the rebuilt temple following the exile or some future temple ... it may be elements of both.  In many of the prophecies of the Old Testament there is a dual meaning to what is being foretold.  What is clear is that God has future plans for Israel that include the gathering of the descendants of Jacob to the land God promised to Abraham more than 4,000 years ago.  Their claim on the land supersedes that of anyone else because GOD gave them the land, and even more importantly, it points to the promise of God to you and me who through faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ, are grafted into the Root of Jesse and made part of God's people!!

The connection between God's promises to us and God's promises to Israel is clear.  These things WILL take place, just as God says through Ezekiel, and when they do only those who know the true God and who come to Him through faith in Jesus will escape His judgment and enter into His presence. As you watch the events going on in the world around us, especially the Middle East, don't miss their significance as you live with hope in the same God who made the promises and who is now keeping them.  There's more to come ... for Israel AND for YOU!!

"O LORD, our God, how thankful we who believe must be that our hope is not based on chance or on what man might do, but rather on Your promises.  I pray for Your people of old and for Your protection over them even now.  I thank You that Your plan of salvation is not dependent upon the will of man, but on Your own purpose to bring glory to Yourself through Israel ... AND through ME!!  Amazing grace!!  Let my life declare Your presence and Your power to those around me so that they, too, may know that You alone are God.  In Jesus' name, Amen"