The Rescue

“I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say, “The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.””
Romans 11:25-27 NLT

Paul writes that there will be a time of salvation for the Jews. We don’t know when that will be but we do know that one day it will happen. Paul loosely quoted two verses from the Old Testament Scriptures, ““The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem to buy back those in Israel who have turned from their sins,” says the Lord. “And this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children’s children forever. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (Isaiah 59:20-21). We have to visit this section of Scripture to determine the context. These verses in Isaiah are at the end of a chapter where the prophet provides warnings about sin and wickedness. And the Redeemer is none other than Jesus Himself. Of course, we know that He died just outside the city walls at Jerusalem for the redemption of all sins, an act with eternal consequences, and Isaiah continues to reveal that the Lord’s Spirit will remain forever, never leaving His redeemed people. 

But Paul was perhaps also writing about a day when the people of Israel finally turn to their Redeemer. Their hearts will soften from the current hardness, and “all Israel will be saved”. If the Jews rejected their Redeemer when He came to this earth, what would make them change their collective minds? We mustn’t forget that Jesus has an appointment, marked in His Heavenly calendar, to return to earth a second time. We read in Acts 1:9-11, “After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”” We don’t know when “someday” will be of course, but we know that it will happen, as the angels foretold. We also know where He will return to, because He ascended from the Mount of Olives, as we read in Acts 1:12, “Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile.” We also know what the weather will be like on the day He returns because it will be cloudy. But even though we know something about how Jesus will return, we don’t know when, other than Paul’s assertion that first, the “full number” of Gentiles must convert to believing in Christ. 

We also know from other Scriptures that Jesus will not return as a baby child, but very visibly with great power and glory. “For as the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man comes. … And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:27,30). Perhaps this will be the time when the Jews will finally be saved. Matthew 24:31, “And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

But whatever we pilgrims believe, God’s plans for His human creation will come together one day. All will make sense then, in case we are puzzled about how it is all going to happen. God has the eternity view. Time is no problem to Him. Unlike us, He is not constrained by calendars and human events. God gave a prophetic message of the salvation of the Jews through Paul’s pen, and one day there will be a huge crowd of Jews and Gentiles in Heaven, united in praise and worship to our wonderful Heavenly Father.

Dear Father. We look forward to that day when You will be worshipped by all Your people. What can we say, other than echo that phrase from the last chapter of Revelation – “Come Lord Jesus”. Amen.

The Full Number

“I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ.”
Romans 11:25 NLT

Paul unfurls a mystery before his readers. He said that while the people of Israel, the Jews, refuse the Gospel, the gentiles will benefit from God’s grace. But this won’t last forever, because there is a limit on the number of Gentiles who will come to Christ. The obvious question, of course, is – how many is the “full number”? Is God close to achieving that number? We don’t know – only God does. But there is coming a day when God will decree enough! And then we will see the hearts of the Jews responding at last to their Messiah. 

Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 24:14, “And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.” The implication is that the “full number of Gentiles” won’t be achieved until the whole world, including all nations and people groups, have heard the “Good News about the Kingdom”. One statement that people who try to find fault with God suggest is that He isn’t fair, because there is always the possibility that someone, somewhere, will never hear the Gospel, implying that they will be denied the opportunity to respond to God. A good answer is perhaps the suggestion that if this concerns them then they should sign up to be a missionary just in case, and go and search out remote peoples and nations tucked away in some inaccessible corner of the globe. But, almost as a catch all, Paul wrote in Romans 1:20, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God”. Jesus said that the Gospel will be preached everywhere, but Paul follows that up by the thought that people don’t really have an excuse if they fail to respond to God. One day, we will all stand before God but secure in the knowledge that He will certainly always be fair. People will only ever be judged on what they know, not what they don’t know. And we can rest assured that everyone will be judged by what they know, not what they don’t know.

We currently live in a season of grace. The full number of Gentiles as not yet been reached – we know that, because we do not yet see the wholesale softening of the hearts of the Jews. But it won’t be long. The number of different translations of the Bible is staggering. The extent and reach of the Gospel is as never before. There is a feeling of urgency in spiritual realms, and we can see the end time story unfolding and aligning itself to world events, just as the old Apostle John wrote in the book of Revelation. So how prepared are we? And how are we communicating that feeling of urgency within our families and communities? Do we pray everyday for God to wake up those around us and soften their hearts so that they will feel the gentle wind of the Spirit flowing around them and through them?

Paul wrote about the mystery of how God made the Gospel available to the Gentiles. Our gratitude can know no limits. God’s love for His family, regardless of their origin, is mixed with His grace to reach everyone who is open to Him. It is a mystery no more. It is reality.

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for Your grace and love. Please lead us to anyone who has not yet responded positively to Your Good News. Over our lives we have planted many Gospel seeds. Please bring on a time of harvest before the final click of Your salvation clock. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Jealous Jews

“I am saying all this especially for you Gentiles. God has appointed me as the apostle to the Gentiles. I stress this, for I want somehow to make the people of Israel jealous of what you Gentiles have, so I might save some of them. For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead!”
Romans 11:13-15 NLT

Paul himself was a Jew. And even though he had been sent as a missionary to the Gentiles, he never passed an opportunity to share God’s message with his fellow Jews so that he “might save some of them“. In that well-documented encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus made a profound and eternal statement, “You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews” (John 4:22). A prophetic word from God’s Son, who knew His mission, that, as a Jew, He would be the Source of salvation for all. And we know what happened at Calvary. A Jew was crucified at the instigation of His fellow Jews. Such a tragedy. 

We read in Acts 10 how Peter shared the Gospel with Cornelius and his household, but when he returned to Jerusalem we read that his fellow Jews were not happy at all. After he had given his report about what had happened, we read, “When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life“” (Acts 11:18). There was no doubt. God made salvation available to the “rest of the world“, and even appointed Paul as the “Apostle to the Gentiles“. Paul was sure about his mandate. We read in Ephesians 3:6-8, “And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News. Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ“. But Paul was very much aware of God’s heart, that His grace would extend across national and tribal boundaries.

Christians today are ethnically diverse. We don’t claim a common ancestor other than God Himself and His Son, Jesus. But in that diversity, we celebrate together with the praise and worship of our wonderful Heavenly Father. One day we will be joined by God’s chosen people,. No-one will be left out. We read in Revelation 19:1, “After this, I heard what sounded like a vast crowd in heaven shouting, “Praise the Lord! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God”. It will be an amazing experience being a part of that “vast crowd”.

Would the Jews have been jealous of the Gentile believers, especially when they could see how the Holy Spirit had been poured out on them as well? Possibly, but not those who understood God’s heart and His amazing grace. More of a problem was the people with hard hearts when Jesus was preaching and teaching His fellow Jews, those who failed to recognise their Messiah. The Pharisees were certainly jealous of the miracles, signs and wonders that Jesus performed in their midst. But that’s another story.

We pilgrims all stand alone in God’s presence. We are each unique, with our own spiritual DNA, and our own God-ordained mission. However, it is always a temptation to look jealously at other Christians, perhaps those with gifts that we wish we had. Thoughts like I wish I could preach, or lead worship, or pray or … whatever, like another Christian, can become a hurdle and cause unnecessary resentment. In John 21:21-22, Peter looked at another disciple, John, perhaps to take Jesus’ penetrating gaze off himself. But Jesus was having none of it. We read, “Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me“”. That’s all that matters. We must all focus on following Jesus. We’re not responsible for another’s relationship with God. There is no place for jealousy in God’s Kingdom.

Dear Heavenly Father. We know that the only thing that matters is You. We thank You for the love and grace You have individually for each one of Your children. Thank You. Amen.

Salvation for the Jews

“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.”
Romans 10:1-4 NLT

Anyone reading the Bible will soon appreciate that much of it is all about God’s relationship with His people, the people of Israel, the people we call Jews. We read through the pages, unfurling stories of rebellion and sin. Of idolatry followed by repentance. Of God’s patient efforts to restore His people to the relationship with Him that He so desired. Of prophets sent time and time again to point out sin and sinful ways. Of the time when God used even a foreign power to take away His people into captivity, in the hope that they would turn to Him. But through it all a strand of faith persisted in a people who knew they were God’s chosen ones but found themselves unable to live up to His mark. They found that trying to live by the Law didn’t work. And in Romans 10:1, Paul expressed his heart-felt desire for salvation for his people, the Jews.

God, observing the difficulties of His people, sent Jesus to bring salvation to His people. What a wonderful, patient, loving God He is! He could see that his people were “trying to keep the Law”  but they failed to realise that Jesus was the fulfilment of all that the Law tried to accomplish. They knew the Messiah was coming because they had read the prophecy from Isaiah, “All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)” (Isaiah 7:14). Even Moses had a glimpse of what God’s Messianic plan was, as we read in Deuteronomy 18:15, “Moses continued, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him”. Some scholars have worked out that there are as many as 300 Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, so the expectation of the coming of God’s Son was embedded within the Jewish people. They just didn’t know how or when. 

Paul knew how enthusiastic the Jews could be – he called it “misdirected zeal”. And certainly they tried, surprisingly successfully, to maintain their religion, and keep themselves apart from other peoples. The tragedy was, and still is, that they failed to recognise God’s Son when He finally showed up. In their minds they pictured their Messiah as a conquering hero who would release the people from the tyrannical occupation of the Romans. But when He came, He showed up riding a donkey, a Man of peace. But Jesus spent His ministry time here on earth with His people, and with a message of salvation for the Jews. He brought the message about the Kingdom of God, but most of His countrymen didn’t recognise it. And, tragically, rejected it. And so to this day, the Jewish people “cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law”. 

But there will be a time when the Jews finally realise what they have missed. Zechariah could “see” it would happen and he recorded his end times vision of what was to come. We read in Zechariah 12:10, “Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died”. So salvation will one day come to the Jewish people. Sadly, they will “grieve bitterly” because they missed the opportunity to welcome their Messiah at His first coming, instead putting Him to death. But such is the grace of God that He will never turn His back on them. We pilgrims, mostly Gentile in origin, also enjoy God’s love and grace. How wonderful He is!

Dear Father. Thank You for Your grace and mercy. When we deserved punishment, Jesus took it on Himself. And now we are righteous in Your sight. How wonderful You are! Amen.

The People of Israel

“They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors, and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.”
Romans 9:4-5 NLT

Paul continues to write about his fellow Jews. And without a doubt they have had an extraordinary past, a heritage that continues into the present day. What other race of people has ever held together without intermarrying with other people groups? Paul himself claimed to be “pure blooded”, as we read in Philippians 3:5, “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law”. Paul could trace his ancestry all the way back to Benjamin, who was the youngest son of Jacob and Rachel. Benjamin became the leader of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. His was a tragic birth, because through it his mother Rachel died. We read in Genesis 35:18, “Rachel was about to die, but with her last breath she named the baby Ben-oni (which means “son of my sorrow”). The baby’s father, however, called him Benjamin (which means “son of my right hand”)”. But by claiming to be “pure blooded”, Paul knew that no non-Jew had sullied the family line.

But how did the Jewish race become God’s chosen “adopted children”? We read in Deuteronomy 7:6, “For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure”. Perhaps God, seeing down the corridors of time, wanted a particular race of people into whom His Son, Jesus, would be born. The Old Testament details the lengths God went to, to hold His people together. Imagine what it must have been like, on that four-decade journey from Egypt to the promised land. The sea parting at Moses’ command. God leading the people with a pillar of fire by night, a pillar of smoke by day. Manna, a daily food supply. Water pouring from a rock. Surely an incredible display of God’s glory and provision, for many men, women and children who could have numbered as many as five million, numerically the population of Scotland, according to some estimates.

What do Christians today, pilgrims like us, make of the Jews? The nation especially chosen by God to represent Him on Planet Earth? We look back over history and see incredibly sad and cruel persecution of God’s people, much of it in so-called Christian nations. In recent memory, the Holocaust is just such an example. Even today, anti-semitism is rife in Western nations, and even in the UK, as recent political events have shown. But we need to remember that the Jews were, and still are, God’s chosen people. We know too that salvation comes through the Jews – Jesus said so, as recorded in John 4:22, “You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews”. Jesus’ statement was fully confirmed by His death on a Roman cross on a hill called Calvary, a few short years later. Jesus, the Jewish Son of God, was sacrificed so that we could be made right with God. Whatever the Jewish nation is going through, or doing, in the end they are God’s chosen people. There was a prophetic word spoken by a Jewish High Priest and recorded in John 11:50-52,  ““You don’t realise that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world”. So we pilgrims pray for the Jews, and thank God for Jesus, because without Him, where would we be? Amen?

Dear Father. Thank You for Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. And we thank You for Your people, the Jewish nation, who have taught us so much. Amen.

The Jews

With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them.”
Romans 9:1-3 NLT

After the dizzy heights of Romans 8, Paul turns a page in his writings, and thinks about his fellow Jews. Paul was of course, by his own admission, a Jew. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:5, “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law”. Not only was Paul a Jew, he was a particularly fanatical adherent to Jewish customs. But his meeting with Jesus on the Damascus Road (Acts 9) turned his life around to the extent that, referring to his Jewish heritage and way of life, he wrote in Philippians 3:7, “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done”. The Bible version quoted for this verse (NLT) uses the word “worthless” but the Greek word for this was rather vulgar and consequently avoided by the translators. Paul had turned his back on his Jewish roots. But that didn’t stop him grieving for the rest of his race, his people, his Jewish brothers and sisters. Paul had discovered salvation through Jesus, and was in a state of “bitter sorrow and unending grief” because most of his countrymen hadn’t. In Acts 13:47, we read, “Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles”. Paul tried to get the Jews he met to accept the “word of God” but he was rejected and turned to the Gentiles instead. But that didn’t stop his feelings of intense regret.

Why was Paul apparently so hung up over the obstinacy and outright rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, by his fellow Jews? Why would he rather be “cut off from Christ”  if the Jews would accept salvation? Because he knew that, regardless of their behaviour, the Jews were, and are, God’s chosen people. This has been, and still is, a problem for many Christians because they believe that because the Jews have rejected Jesus as the Messiah, that have relinquished their right to be God’s chosen people any more. But we perhaps forget that the very Messiah, Jesus Himself, was a Jew. Born of Jewish parents, with, as we find in Matthew 1, lineage that could be traced all the way back to Abraham. Following an extensive list of unpronounceable names, we read in Matthew 1:17, “All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah”. I love the order in the three sets of fourteen – the symmetry and multiples of the use of the God-number, “7”, to me just puts God’s fingerprints all over the plan for the Messiah’s first coming to Planet Earth.

Christians have quoted the verse, Matthew 21:43, to justify their claim to replace the Jews as God’s chosen people. We read, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit”. But there are two problems in drawing this conclusion. Firstly, Jesus didn’t say that the Jews will not be God’s chosen people anymore. He implied that at that particular time in history, the Kingdom of God was not available to them because of their choices. Secondly, Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders who happened to be in His presence. We read in Matthew 21:23,45, “When Jesus returned to the Temple and began teaching, the leading priests and elders came up to him. They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right? … When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realised he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers”. As we read in Matthew 21:46, the ordinary people, the “crowds”, had a very different opinion of Jesus, “They [the religious leaders] wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet”. 

Paul desperately wanted His people, the Jews, to be saved. His zeal carried him through many challenges and difficulties during his missionary journeys. Everywhere he went he met fellow Jews, the diaspora living throughout the Middle East at that time. On occasion they listened to his message and put their faith in Jesus. But on others they abused Paul badly. He never lost his love for his people. But what about us pilgrims? Do we have the same zeal and longing to see our fellow countrymen saved? Do we share Paul’s “bitter sorrow and unending grief” for our neighbours and friends? I know that they have to be free to make their own choices but we must share the love of God with them. What else can we do?

Dear God. We pray for our families and friends, that a new awakening by Your Spirit would draw them out of their spiritual slumber into the light of Your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The End Times

“Then the seven angels with the seven trumpets prepared to blow their mighty blasts.” 
Revelation 8:6 NLT

At this point in John’s vision, the humans on earth had been through famines and earthquakes. Wars and slaughter. All the woes delivered through the breaking of the seals were behind them. There were also 144,000 of God’s people, the Jews, present on earth and marked out with a seal that clearly denoted them as belonging to God. And here we are about to embark on the seven trumpet judgements. 

This was clearly the “End Times”, an event, or series of events, during which the earth and its inhabitants would be destroyed. Note that we are not aware from John’s vision about any reference to time. We do not know if all these judgements were to take place quickly, or whether they were to be drawn out over hundreds or even thousands of years. Was a judgement to be delivered followed by a long gap before the next one or was there to be one after another in quick succession? And it also begs the question – why didn’t God apply His judgement on the wickedness of mankind all in one go?

The obvious answer is down to God’s infinite patience, grace and compassion. We saw this time and again in the Old Testament accounts of when His people, the Israelites, lapsed into sin and wickedness. Sometimes generations passed away before God brought about a judgement dealing with their wickedness and evil ways, using nations such as the Philistines or the Assyrians as His judgement tools. Perhaps in the End Times in John’s vision, God was still patiently and graciously applying His judgements a bit at a time, in the process giving everyone, even generations, an opportunity to turn from their wicked ways and embrace Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

There are some today who believe that the End Time judgements have already started. Certainly, we hear reports of wars and strife, with the last century seeing two wars of unprecedented scale. There are global famines. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. All signs that appear both in Jesus’ accounts in Matthew, and in John’s vision here in Revelation. And there was a great expectation in the early church that Jesus would return “soon”. In reality we don’t know when the End Times will start, but we do know that one day there will come a time of judgement. Jesus’s disciples asked Him about when the world will end, and He gave them some clear answers in Matthew 24. But Jesus also said that no-one knows when it will be.

Today’s pilgrims know what is coming. And we look around at the wickedness that is infecting our world like a cancer, spreading out of control, threatening to consume us all in a maelstrom of evil. Our politicians have adopted anti-God ways and attitudes. Oh, if only they would read Psalm 2, and turn towards the One who has all wisdom and whose heart is breaking with pain over what they are doing. So we pilgrims pray for all those in government. All those who have rejected God and His ways. We pray for our friends, families and communities. And patiently wait for the Creator of the Universe, our loving Heavenly Father, to work out His ways in the souls of mankind.

Father God. I pray with my fellow brothers and sisters for our governments, our families, and friends, our communities, that Your Kingdom will come and Your will be done, today and forever. Amen.

The Four Winds

“Then I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds so they did not blow on the earth or the sea, or even on any tree. And I saw another angel coming up from the east, carrying the seal of the living God. And he shouted to those four angels, who had been given power to harm land and sea, “Wait! Don’t harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.” And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel:”
Revelation‬ ‭7:1-4 NLT

The scene in John’s vision changes. He now sees four angels, each standing at the four corners of the earth. Their task was to hold back the four winds, with the implication that wind-damage was waiting to happen. But before they could get to work, a fifth angel emerged from the East (with the dawn?) carrying “God’s seal”. And he called out to the four angels to wait. He had a job to do first. The vision continued and John discovered that the job of the angel carrying God’s seal was to place a mark on 144,000 people from the tribes of Israel. A mark that would clearly identify them as being servants of God. The number, 144,000, was derived from 12,000 people from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. And if we read on in chapter seven we find that each of the 12 tribes of Israel were listed by their family names derived from being sons and grandsons of Jacob.

We don’t know what the mark of the seal was. In this age of QR and bar codes, I suppose we could speculate about the seal being a digital mark. In John’s day, a seal would have been a blob of hard wax, pressed with an imprint from a ring. At first thought, a tattoo might be the mark, but then for the Jews that was prohibited, as we read in Leviticus 19:28, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord“. But whatever the mark was, it would have been distinctive. And the four angels holding back the winds had to wait before they could unleash them to do harm over the land and sea. 

It is interesting to note that at this point in John’s vision, the mark of God was applied to Jews and not Christians. We may be guilty of thinking that the Jewish nation was sidelined and overlooked by God, perhaps encouraged in this thought by what Jesus, speaking to the Jewish leaders, said in Matthew 21:43, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.” But it was quite clear in John’s vision that the 144,000 were Jews and not Christians of Gentile origins (I suppose they may have been Jewish Christians). It is also clear that those with a mark were not, as some sects have claimed, exclusively made up of their leaders and those members who are worthy of joining them. 

So why were the Jews marked? In John’s vision it was obviously important enough for the four winds to be held back. And they were being marked with God’s seal. It would seem reasonable to think that these Jews became Christians and proceeded to evangelise their fellow Jews, and the Gentile nations, in these difficult times in the Tribulation period.

As an aside, the Bible is clear that the Jews are God’s chosen people. As far back as the time of Abraham, God made a promise that He would make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the sands on the sea shore. We read in Genesis 22:17-18, “I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” God also made it clear that He would retain a remnant of His people throughout the generations, regardless of how they behaved (1 Kings 19:18, Romans 11:4). So we shouldn’t be surprised that God had a mission for His people, the Jews, in these end times. God told Abraham that through his descendants, the Jews, all the nations on earth would be blessed – perhaps this was one of the times when they would be called upon. And with a mark on them that distinguished them as belonging to God, the world’s remaining population would have been aware of who they were.

What sort of mark do we pilgrims carry? Are those around us aware of our faith and belief in God? Is it a positive or negative experience for them? Sadly, in our society here in Scotland, Christianity is considered to be a bit of an irrelevance. Church attendances are dwindling. And some churches and denominations are compromising or ignoring key teaching in the Bible, in a vain attempt to win new members. If our churches become accepting of worldly and unGodly beliefs why should a person, who is not a Christian, want to go there? But for us as individuals, we nevertheless have a mission. And that is to reach those people with our messages of hope, maintaining the purity of the Gospel and our faith. We look out for those who will otherwise be heading for a lost eternity. 

Father God. We too have a mission to our communities and families. Please lead us to the right people. And we pray for the strength and boldness to make our faith shine like a beacon, illuminating the dark corners in our worlds. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Spreading the Good News – 1

“As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed His mysterious plan to me. 
And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving Him by spreading this Good News.
Ephesians 3:3, 6-7 NLT

Paul was much taken up with this thought of God’s “mysterious plan”. Looking back, as we do, there doesn’t seem much about it that is “mysterious”, but to the peoples of Paul’s day, the Middle East in the first century, it must have been an amazing revelation. This is the second time Paul has mentioned the subject in this Epistle, previously revealing it in chapter 1 and verse 10. Can you imagine the impact it would have had on the religious people of Paul’s day? The Jews would have immediately been offended and upset, that someone, particularly someone who they knew at one time was a Pharisee, would suddenly turn their belief system upside down, by preaching what to them was a heresy, committing the sin of blasphemy in the process. To the non-Jews, referred to as the Gentiles, the Good News would have had a similar impact, in that it too would come up against the worship of accepted religions such as the Greek pantheon of gods. The Ephesians had their own special god, Artemis, aka Diana. And we see the mayhem that Paul stirred up in Acts 19 when a riot developed because the local silversmiths, who made a living making images of the goddess, could see their livelihood disappearing. 

So God’s plan was so counter-cultural, that, humanly speaking, it was bound to fail. But as Paul pointed out, “God’s grace and mighty power” was involved. Perhaps the nearest scenario we could imagine today would be if someone was going round preaching the good news that Christians and Muslims were part of God’s plan, which was to unite them into one faith. Can you imagine the mayhem that would result? Even though God’s grace extends to everyone, regardless of who or what they are? 

God’s plan was one of equality and unity. Through Jesus we all share in His unlimited blessings. We all share in an inheritance unlike any other. And Paul again pointed out that he was privileged to be able to share God’s plan, through “God’s grace and mighty power“. A privilege to be in prison for sharing the Gospel? But a privilege it is. God had done so much for Paul, and does so much for us, that it is surely a privilege to be able to serve God through our service to Him. Regardless of the consequences. So we pilgrims continue our journey, conscious of, and grateful for, the sacrifice made by Paul, a sacrifice that laid the foundations for many a church congregation and left us a legacy of his grace and love filled letters. Letters that contain so much of our theology today. We too look out for opportunities to do our bit in sharing the Good News, just as necessary today as it was in Paul’s day. 

Memories of Zion

“Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, His holy mountain.
Walk about Zion, go round her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.”

Psalms‬ ‭48:1, 12-13‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Many years we used to sing the song derived from the first two verses of Psalm 48, and written by Steve McEwan in 1985. It’s one of my favourites still, over 30 years later. The contemporary Christian music genre is full of good songs, from worship powerhouses such as Bethel and Hillsongs, but also from individuals hearing from God and writing down what they receive through the Spirit. In it all, though, there is something significant about singing Scripture. It has already been “God-breathed” through Godly men and women, many centuries ago, and has stood the test of time in one of the most important written works mankind has ever had the privilege to hold, The Holy Bible.

Psalm 48, though, enthuses over Zion, the city of God. But what is all this about this place called Zion? It initially appeared in the Bible as a fortified part of Jerusalem, to which was added the Temple area, but became extended in scope to eventually mean a figurative description of the people of Israel, the Jews. And then in the New Testament it took on a spiritual significance as God’s spiritual kingdom. Today the word “Zionist” has become synonymous with the Jewish nation, and sadly has become a derogatory term for Jews adopted by anti-Semites everywhere. A situation which is not really surprising because the enemy of God’s people, Satan, does not like to think that there is a physical and spiritual domain belonging to God in this world, which he claims for himself. And so he whips up anti-Jewish feelings among other nations and peoples everywhere.

However, the Psalmist ends his Psalm with the instruction to “walk about Zion”. Imagine if someone had said to you that they want you to walk around, say, Edinburgh Castle or Westminster Abbey, observing and recording the layout, with all its artefacts and architectural features, making notes so that you can share everything that you have seen with your children, your next generation? It could be quite a project, I think you will agree. But what about doing the same with our spiritual Zion? Where God lives? That would be a project that will take a lifetime and more, because no matter how hard we try, and how much time we can devote, we will never plumb the depths of God and His Kingdom. We will never find the limits of His domain. But we can share the glimpses of His home that the Holy Spirit reveals to us. Sharing a physical picture of an earthly edifice is only of limited value to the next generation, but sharing a spiritual picture of God’s Kingdom, particularly through our own experiences of His grace and love, will save their lives.

So today, join me in “walking around Zion”. I find my “Zion” in the pages and verses of Scripture. In the highways and byways of my local prayer walks in Dean Woods. In the company of God’s people. But where do you find your “Zion”? The amazing fact about God’s Kingdom is that it is everywhere. No matter where we are, where we live, who we are with, even when using technology such as WhatsApp or Zoom, we will find God and His presence. If we look for Him.