Thursday, October 30, 2014

"The coming day of God's wrath, Jerusalem and her enemies … "

Day #307:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 31st

Scripture Reading:   Zephaniah 1 - 3 …

Questions:  Should God's Word here in Zephaniah and in some of the other prophets be interpreted literally or figuratively?  Is Zephaniah predicting what is actually going to happen, or is this all an allegory, symbolizing God's anger and judgment?  Is the prophet speaking about literal Jerusalem, or about God's people in general?  Is this "just" Hebrew poetry or is it quite literally a prophecy of the future?  Was it already fulfilled in God's judgment on Judah by Babylon or is Zephaniah pointing to a future "day of the LORD"?  And what does ANY of this have to do with YOU??

While the world and much of the visible church today ignores Zephaniah and passages like this in some of the other prophets, the questions remain.  If this is the very Word of God, as I and many others believe, then when God says, "I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth" and " … when I cut off man from the face of the earth," (1:2-3), we take note and compare what Zephaniah says with what God says elsewhere in His Word.  Doing so confirms that there will be a future day when these prophecies concerning Jerusalem, Israel and the surrounding nations, indeed, the whole world … there will be a future day when these prophecies are fulfilled … LITERALLY … just as God has said.

Only by believing God's Word can you and I who live more than 2,000 years later understand what is going on in our world and be instruments of God to call some out of the darkness of spiritual death and into the light of His glorious kingdom, where Jesus reigns as King!  Believing God's Word, understanding the events going on in the world around us and seeing our part in them makes life as part of the people of God, the Church, the Body of Christ, all the more meaningful and urgent.  Failure to consider these things leaves the church in a state of apathy, much like the people of Israel and Judah were in the days of the prophets.  Zephaniah issues a warning and calls out to the "remnant" to stand firm, in spite of the destruction they will see all around them.

Zephaniah prophecies shortly before Isaiah arrives on the scene and God would give to Isaiah the same vision of the future:  "The LORD is going to lay waste the earth … the earth's inhabitants are burned up and very few are left …  in that day the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below … for the LORD Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously" (Isaiah 24:1,6,21,23).  There is nothing to indicate that either of these prophets are speaking of things that are to be taken in any way other than literally.  Add to this the fact that Jesus speaks of a time of distress for Jerusalem and all the earth in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, and the Apostle Paul speaks about the "day of the LORD" in I Thessalonians.  Add to that the detailed account of the pouring out of God's wrath in Revelation 8-9, 15-19, and you have a relatively clear picture of what Jesus calls "the end of the age" (Matthew 24:3; 28:20).

Peter speaks of the fire of God's coming judgment in II Peter 3, when he writes that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare (burned up!)" (II Peter 3:10).  He points ahead to a new heaven and a new earth, and Zephaniah points to a time when God will "restore your fortunes before your very eyes" (3:20 - speaking to Jerusalem and His people).  The coming "day of the LORD's wrath" will be a horrible time of judgment on the earth, but those who are God's will be protected on that day:  " … for God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:9).  The "gathering up" or "rapture" of true believers, described in I Thessalonians 4 and other places, will take place just prior to the pouring out of God's wrath upon the earth.

So what does this have to do with US, with you and me as we live in this world today?  We live in the "time of the end," whether that is ten or twenty years, or longer.  Since 1948 the world has witnessed the miraculous rise of the nation/state of Israel, the existence of God's people in Jerusalem and the parallel rise of Israel's enemies, just as God predicted it would be for the "day of the LORD."  It is significant that Zephaniah points out "Gaza … the land of the Philistines" (2:4-5).   God says, "I will destroy you, and none will be left" (2:5).  And as he speaks against other enemies in the area, Jordan, Syria … and in other places, Lebanon and the nations of the north, God says through Zephaniah, "The remnant of my people will plunder them; the survivors of my nation will inherit their land … This is what they will get in return for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the LORD Almighty" (2:9-10).

This future "day of the LORD" will be preceded by a moment of silence:  "Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near" (1:7).  As God's wrath is about to be poured out as the seventh seal is opened in Revelation 8:1, we read:  "When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour."  Then the angels sound the trumpets and the wrath of God begins to be poured out on the inhabitants of the earth.  Zephaniah continues writing as God says, "I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them - all my fierce anger.  The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger" (3:8; see Revelation 16:16 and following).

Many people have an inaccurate view of God.  "God is LOVE!" they say … and He IS!  But the amazing nature of His love in sending His Son Jesus Christ is in the context of His holiness, judgment and wrath upon sinful mankind.  The nation/state of Israel is not now, nor ever has been, made up only of those who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  BUT, there is a "remnant," those known to God and chosen by Him.  For the sake of His glory, God will again deal specifically with the physical descendants of Jacob and they will worship the Lord in Jerusalem when He returns, along with those who are part of the true Church, those who believe in Jesus.

"The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will speak no lies, nor will deceit be found in their mouths.  They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid" (3:13).  "The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. … The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save!" (3:15,17).  "At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.  I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes" (3:20).  So says the Lord, our God, and He will do it!!

As further evidence that this "day" lies yet in the future and that the disciples of Jesus believed that this prophecy and others pointed to a future restoration, we read in Acts 1:6, as Jesus is about to ascend into heaven, the disciples asked Him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (1:6).  Jesus does not correct them or tell them they are mistaken, but says, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (1:7-8).

We cannot pick and choose which parts of the Bible we will believe.  The prophecies of the prophets and the apostles, and of Jesus, must be taken literally unless we are told otherwise.  What that means for us today is that we are living in the time of the fulfillment of all these things.  Our world and all the people in it are headed towards the coming "day of the Lord."  While many claim we cannot know when this time will come upon us, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, "Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape" (I Thessalonians 5:1-3) … "BUT YOU, brothers, are NOT in the darkness so that THIS DAY should surprise YOU like a thief!!" (5:4).

His advice:  "So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. … But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet … for God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing" (I Thessalonians 5:6,8-11).

That is the life God calls all who believe in Jesus to live.  Read and study His Word, know what He says is coming on the world, watch the signs, be ready by serving the Master until He comes and warn others of His coming judgment, for He may yet spare them by drawing them to Himself.  God will do what He says He will do, and those who trust in the Lord, our God, the Holy One of Israel, the great "I AM," do not need to fear, for HE is with us!!

"O LORD my God, You reign on Your throne in heaven itself and You look down upon the earth and upon mankind, Your special creation.  I thank You, Father, for revealing the way of salvation through faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ, and I believe that You have delivered me and all who believe from Your coming judgment and wrath upon the earth and all mankind.  My hope is in You alone and I live today with the knowledge and joy of Your salvation!  Give me wisdom and grace to live in Your presence and to walk by faith as I testify to the truth of Your Word, warning those who hear to flee to the cross for forgiveness and life.  To You, the only true God, be praise and glory, forever and ever.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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