This started as a framework for discussion with the youth of New Wine Christian Fellowship. None of it has been delivered as a proper sermon.
“Wrath is an old English word defined in my dictionary as ‘deep, intense anger and indignation.’ Anger is defined as ‘stirring of resentful displeasure and strong antagonism, by a sense of injury or insult’; indignation as ‘righteous anger aroused by injustice and baseness.’ Such is wrath, And wrath, the Bible tells us, is an attribute of God.
“The modern habit throughout the Christian church is to play this subject down. Those who still believe in the wrath of God (not all do) say little about it; perhaps they do not think much about it. To an age which has unashamedly sold itself to the gods of greed, pride sex and self-will, the church mumbles on about God's kindness but say virtually nothing about judgment. How often during the past year did you hear, or , if you are a minister, did you preach, a sermon on the wrath of God? How long is it, I wonder, since a Christian spoke strait on this subject on radio or television, or in one of those half-column sermonettes that appear in some national dailies and magazines? (And if one did so, how long would it be before he would be asked to speak or write again?) The fact is that the subject of divine wrath has become taboo in modern society, and Christians by and large have accepted the taboo and conditioned themselves never to raise the matter.
“We may well ask whether this is as it should be, for the Bible behaves very differently. One cannot imagine that talk of divine judgment was ever very popular, yet the biblical writers engage in it constantly. One of the most striking things about the Bible is the vigor with which both Testaments emphasize the reality and terror of God's wrath. ‘A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness’ (A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God, Page 75).
“The Bible labors the point that just as God is good to those who trust him, so he is terrible to those who do not. ‘The Lord is a jealous God and avengeth; the Lord avengeth and is full of wrath; the Lord taketh vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserveth wrath for His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will by no means clear the guilty.… Who can stand before His indignation? and who can abide the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken asunder by Him. The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and He knoweth them that put their trust in Him, But…He…will pursue His enemies into darkness’ (Nahum 1:2-8 RV).
“Paul's expectation that the Lord Jesus will one day appear ‘in blazing fire’ and ‘will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus, They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people’ (2 Thess 1:7-10) is sufficient reminder that Nahum's emphasis is not peculiar to the Old Testament. In fact, throughout the New Testament the wrath of God, the wrath and simply wrath are virtually technical terms for the outgoing of God in retributive action, by whatever means, against those who have defied him (see Rom 1:18; 2:5; 5:9; 12:19; 12:4-5; 1 Thess 1:10; 2:16; 5:9; Rev 6:16-17; 16:19; Lk 21:22-24; and so on).
“Nor does the Bible make known to us the wrath of God merely by general statements like those quoted. Bible history, as we saw in our last chapter, loudly proclaims the severity as well as the goodness of God. In the same sense that Pilgrim's Progress might be called a book about roads to hell, the Bible could be called the book of God's wrath, for it is full of portrayals of divine retribution, from the cursing and banishment of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 to the overthrow of Babylon and the great assizes of Revelation 17-18 and 20.
“Clearly, the theme of God's wrath is one about which the biblical writers feel no inhibitions whatever. Why, then, should we? Why, when the Bible is vocal about it, should we feel obliged to be silent? What is it that makes us awkward and embarrassed when the subject comes up, that prompts us to soft-pedal it and hedge when we are asked about it? What lies as the bottom of our hesitations and difficulties? We are not thinking now of those whose dismissal of the idea of divine wrath means only that they are not prepared to take any part of the biblical faith seriously. We are thinking, rather, of the many who count themselves ‘insiders’, who have firm beliefs about god's love and pity and the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ and who follow Scripture robustly on other things, yet who boggle at robustly echoing it on this point. What really is the trouble here?” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 1973 (1993). Pages 148-150).
Why? Why dance around the wrath of God that non-believers love to point out? I have started with a rather lengthy quote from J.I. Packer's classic book Knowing God because his introduction is both authoritative (i.e. widely read and widely endorsed) and beautifully written. It should be noted that Packer who was Anglican has been disassociated from the Anglican Communion due their endorsement of same-sex blessings. Surely this issue in the midst of the church more poignantly asks, “What lies as the bottom of our hesitations and difficulties?”
I would like to suggest that the hesitancy stems from not knowing God. This quotation comes from a book on Knowing God, not from Summa Theologica. Packer's own preface states, “The conviction behind the book is that ignorance of God—ignorance both of his ways and of the practice of communion with him—lies at the root of much of the church's weakness today.” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 1973 (1993). Page 12). While the pillar of fire that led Israel out of Egypt swallowed the armies of Egypt, it did not harm Moses when he entered it on the mountain. In the fire was written out the Law, not by human hands, but by the finger of God.
I want to talk more about the fire and the law, but first let's look at Christian discomfort with this core biblical concept.
Deuteronomy 32:35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.
The sermon Sinner's in the Hand of an Angry God, preached by Jonathan Edwards in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741, is perhaps the best known sermon ever. It is widely read in schools to this day. The sermon is built around this phrase from Deuteronomy “their foot shall slide in due time” (KJV-1611). His language is strong and keeps pressing the issue: “Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God. However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which they depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.” (Edwards, 1741).
In a recent interview, Edwards expert Gerald R. McDermott claims that the reason that this sermon is so widely used in schools is not a love of Edwards or his theology, but rather, that Unitarian's who had gained a powerful influence over American education a century ago intentionally chose this particular sermon to represent Edwards as “a fire-breathing, hell-fire and damnation loving preacher” (Mars Hill Audio Journal, Volume 114, Part 6). McDermott says this badly distorts Jonathan Edwards as pastor and theologian leaving the impression that toeing the line is the essence of Christianity. Edwards would object “we aren't driven by duty, we are drawn by beauty” (Mars Hill Audio Journal, Volume 114, Part 6). McDermott and co-author of The Theology of Jonathan Edwards Michael J. McClymond, place the beauty of the Almighty at the center of Edward's thinking, perhaps more than any other Christian thinker.
At first blush it appears that Unitarians were pushing the wrath of God to the forefront. But as McDermott notes, the intention is the opposite. The skittishness of Christians to speak of the wrath of God is a testament to the success of the Unitarians and others to paint Puritans and Edwards by implication (he is not a Puritan) into an angry corner, and hence silence the most potent theologian to come out of the Americas. It is easy to say we stand on the Bible, it is not as easy to do so.
Edwards is very clear eyed about the wrath of God. Like Paul driven by the goad of Christ, we are pulled or we are driven, but before we face the abyss, “you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners” (Edwards, 1741). God's love reaches a nail-pierced hand to raise any who would come and grasp it.
Revelations 15:8 And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.
The glory of God is bound together with the wrath of God in scripture. The Book of Exodus illustrates this: The thirty-second chapter is the incident with the golden calf. God tells Moses, who is on the mountain of fire receiving the tablets of the law, return to the camp. “Now therefore let me alone”, God tells Moses, “that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them” (Exodus 32:10). So Moses returns to the camp and calls on the sons of Levi to strike down the idolaters. They kill three thousand Israelites that day (Exodus 32:27-28). Moses goes back to God, knowing that God is furious with the people, he asks forgiveness for the people or, if not, for his own death. God's reply: “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.” (Exodus 32:23) and brings a plague (Exodus 32:35). Chapter thirty-three begins with God telling Moses to “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Exodus 33:3). Moses tells the people what God has said and the people. When the people heard it they went into mourning (Exodus 33:4) and took off their jewelry (Exodus 33:6) as a sign of contrition. Moses retires to the tent of meeting where the conversation with God is taken up again. “And he [Moses] said to him [God], ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.’ (Exodus 33:15). He gives his reasons and God agrees to continue with the children of Israel (Exodus 33:17).
You would think that Moses, on his back heal, guarding his rebellious congregation would settle for this. But he presses the issue as if he had the advantage. Moses asks God, “Please show me your glory.” (Exodus 33:18). Surprisingly, God says yes. “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:19-20). God places Moses in a cleft of rock and shields Moses from seeing him until he has passed, so that Moses sees the back of God. (Exodus 33:21-23).
In chapter thirty-four, Moses goes back up on the mountain for another forty days, and this time Moses carves the tablets of the Decalogue, the ten commandments, himself. Moses is not there by himself. He is there with God, surrounded by the glory of God. At the end of this time Moses comes down to the camp. He does not realize that his face is glowing brightly with the glory of God. “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.” (Exodus 34:29-30). The glory of God has soaked into Moses skin. We should say “Glorious!” But Aaron and the people are afraid.
We will see that the glory of God, His active presence, is dangerous to the rebellious. “I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way,” (Exodus 33:3). “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20). God is not pursuing to destroy, He covers Himself in darkness. God chooses to withdraw. God is cautiously pursuing, all the while God is looking for those who will take the sandals off their feet, bow low and approach the mountain of fire. Moses keeps pressing into God until the glory of God soaks into his very skin.
Exodus 3:1-4 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
“When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see”; the bracketing here is unusual. A bush that burns without being consumed is super-natural. Perhaps the sense is that Moses might have fled the area as soon as he saw this unusual sight. Or perhaps God has been trying to get Moses' attention with no success until now. When God speaks out of the burning bush, Moses responds as if he were expecting this. The super-natural nature is emphasized by Moses response to God's call, “Here I am”. Several commentators note that this response is the response of a servant. Moses is taking an inferior posture, which is emphasized by the removing of his sandals.
This is not the beginning of the story. This is the beginning of the relationship between God and Moses. The story begins with a refusal to commit infanticide. Egypt's pharoh fearing the population growth of the Hebrew's commands, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile.” (Exodus 1:22). When a child is born to a Hebrew couple, they are unable to conceal the child. The baby is floated down the river in a reed basket where he is rescued by Pharaoh's daughter. She calls him Moses, which means drawn out (of the water) or rescued (Exodus 2:10; Strong's #H4872). The story here is nothing but a thumbnail sketch. We know that Moses own mother nurses him until he old enough to be returned to Pharaoh's daughter who then raises him as her own. We assume he is brought up in luxury and well educated. But as an adult his heart is towards his own people. He murders an Egyptian who is abusing a Hebrew (Genesis 2:11-12). His action is a brazen repudiation of his priveleged upbringing. “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” (Hebrews 11:24-25). His reward is that he must flee for his life.
Moses flees to Midian where he spends the next forty years of his life. He becomes a simple shepherd with a wife and children. He had once been a Very Important Person in the land of Egypt, undoubtedly full of heady thoughts about servitude and liberation and injustice. That was all very long ago, four decades to be exact. His concerns now revolve around sheep and goats. But when a flame of fire appears in the tree on the side of a mountain, a flame is kindled in his heart. Moses is once more being drawn out, this time by God.
There are so many wonderful stories of men and women who are surprised to be called out for God's purposes. Gideon, Samuel, Isaiah, Elisha, Saul, David and of course Paul. Many would have been actively seeking God, but few expected the answer they got. The most extreme case being Paul who, brandishing his Hebrew name Saul, is actively persecuting the followers of Christ, only to be stopped dead in his tracks and turned around to serve Christ as a man hated by many of his Pharisaic colleagues.
When I was in my late teens I called myself an atheist. There are two kinds of atheists. The first are the entrenched believers that no God exists. These, more often than not, are fierce non-believers who hold anger and resentment against the religion of their youth. Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx are in this category. The other group are those who want to believe and throw up their unbelief as a question to confront. I was in this latter category. I argued with many who were older and wiser, but they couldn't lift the veil. In college I went to the source, I read all the major holy books (Qur'an, Bhagavad Gita, Vedas, the Bible, Tibetan Book of the Dead, Egyptian Book of the Dead, and many more). In other words I stayed in a continual state of challenge to my own unbelief. I called myself an agnostic. I called myself a Buddhist. But in the end, as much as I disliked the church, Jesus was the only answer. It wasn't quick, it wasn't easy, there is no dramatic story, but my coming to the living Christ was inevitable because I kept pressing into to find the answer. When I saw a spark, when I saw a flame, I stepped forward to receive.
This is what we see with Moses and the burning bush. He sees the fire, he knows it is of God, he cautiously approaches. When God speaks, Moses answers “Here I am”… i.e. I am here and listening for whatever you have to say to me. While I wouldn't want to push a comparison with Moses too far, I was looking for the fire and when I saw it, I turned. To tell the truth, I followed some paths which appeared Godly, but which didn't prove to be in the end. Most significantly I was a follower of Sun Myung Moon for several years. What did I see there; an intense devotion to prayer (to God). Theologically the Moonies make the Unitarians seem like main-line Christians. I joined into the zeal of the Moonies (Crazy for God as one critic put it) in a desire to come closer to God. I learned habits of fervent prayer and self-sacrifice. I also learned some very bad theology. Jonathan Edwards speaking of intemperate zeal which occurs within a move of God, states that revival is often fraught with false starts. He mentions David, in a zeal to bring the Arc to Jerusalem did it incorrectly, incurring the death of a friend. He returns to the task more carefully and wiser for it (2 Samuel, chapter 6; and 1 Chronicles, chapters 13, 15 & 16). “It is very analogous to the manner of God's dealing with his people, to permit a great deal of error, and suffer the infirmity of his people to appear, in the beginning of a glorious work of his grace, for their felicity, to teach them what they are, to humble them, and fit them for that glorious prosperity to which he is about to advance them, and the more to secure to himself the honour of such a glorious work.” (Edwards, 1742. Pages 202-203).
I learned both from what I did right and even more from what I did wrong. To take another example from the Bible: we know that Saul of Tarsus studied in the most important school of Pharisees of his day, that of Gamaliel. His fateful journey to Damascus wasn't a vacation trip or a business journey. In his mind, he was on a holy mission, eradicating heresy. He wanted to do God's will. God showed up. God took hold of Saul, spun him around and made him Paul, the most important evangelist of Christian history. Paul had a zeal for God, and now a much better grasp on the perversity that the religious mind was prone to. God was able to use all of Paul's training, even his misguided religion, because Paul was willing to approach the holy fire.
2 Chronicles 7:1-3 As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD's house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
The Glory of God is the heart of our discussion, not the wrath. But what is the glory of God? Why does wrath and devouring fire seem to be tied up in it? What does it mean to approach the glory of God? How do we do it?
The Webster's definition for glory: “praise, honor, or distinction extended by common consent : renown”, also: “great beauty and splendor : magnificence (the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome — E. A. Poe)”. The definition leans on perceived greatness, i.e. how we view someone or something. Now look at this from Wikipedia: “‘Glory’ is one of the most common words in scripture. In the Old Testament, the word is used to translate several Hebrew words, including Hod and kabod; and in the New Testament it is used to translate the Greek word doxa. The Hebrew word kabod originally means ‘weight’ or ‘heaviness.’ The same word is then used to express importance, honor, and majesty. Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible translated this concept with the word doxa, which was then used extensively in the New Testament as well. Doxa originally means ‘judgment, opinion’, and by extension, ‘good reputation, honor’. Assuming that these various words and uses should refer to a single underlying concept, St. Augustine renders it as clara notitia cum laude, ‘brilliant celebrity with praise’.” Hebrew is less prone to abstractions. When word of God is referred to it indicates an action. Similarly, kabod meaning weight, refers to much more than splendor. It refers to authority beyond reproach, beyond challenge. The Greek usage of doxa loses some of the heft of this inference I believe. The Latin word gloria follows the Greek.
To take one example from 2 Chronicles above, the glory of the Lord appeared as a powerful force in the temple, so that the priests themselves could not stay. It is not possible to equate this with the Queen's bling. Even an emperor of old who would remove the head of any who rose too tall in his presence could only fall on his face before this Glory. The Hebrew usage indicating weight tries to get at the significance of God's unique glory.
For those who cast a suspect eye on writings as old as Moses, let's look at Paul's Damascus road encounter. If you will recall that Paul, who used his Hebrew name Saul, was traveling to Damascus with a large contingent of soldiers, with the express purpose of arresting Christians.
Acts 9:3-9 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Jesus appears to Saul on the road to Damascus. Jesus does not appear as he did when he walked the dusty paths of Palestine, he appears radiant, he appears glorious. Saul is not merely bedazzled by his radiance, “a light from heaven, brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13), he is blinded. He recalls, “I could not see because of the brightness of that light” (Acts 22:11). This light knocks him down (Acts 9:4), but as Saul, now Paul, later recounts, “we had all fallen to the ground” (Acts 26:14). In other words, all of the soldiers were lying in the dust, flattened by the glory of the resurrected Jesus, not just Saul.
There is always a danger in trying to achieve precision in terms which describe things not fully understood or knowable, but I want to narrow down the meaning of “The Glory of God”. First of all, God's glory is contingent upon a manifestation of the presence of God. When God appears, in the cloud above the Mercy Seat, on the mountain burning with fire, or on the road to Damascus, His glory is there. This works in reverse, when the glory of God is present, God is present in a tangible form. Second, His glory is more than a regal presence or a brilliant light. A power fills the atmosphere which is overpowering. Things change when the presence of God, the glory of God, enters the room. His people will humble themselves and praise him when his glory is active. So, my definition: The Glory of God is the manifest outworking of the special presence of God for holiness, for healing and for deliverance, to which the people of God will give glorification, and from which the enemies of God will flee.
Matthew 27:51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.
Christ draws his last breath, the ground shakes and the veil of the temple is torn from top to bottom. The veil, the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, was the shroud of darkness protecting the people, including the temple priests from the presence of God in the midst of them. The Book of Hebrews makes clear the significance of this separation: “Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.” (Hebrews 9:3-7).
In case the significance of the Holy of Holies is not apparent, look at what God tells Moses in the Book of Leviticus: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.” (Leviticus 16:2). God is making it clear that although Moses regularly goes into it, not even Aaron, the high priest, is to enter the Holy Place inside the veil. Why? Because God appears in the cloud above the Mercy Seat. The exception follows, which is the yearly sacrifice of atonement (Leviticus 16:30-33) for which the high priest must make careful sacrifices before daring to enter into such nearness to God (Leviticus 16:3-29). Thus chapter 16 of Leviticus is entirely devoted to the precautions that the high priest, the one man authorized, must take before daring to enter the presence of the LORD.
A simple analogy might be the story of the Midas touch. Everything King Midas touches turns to gold, including his beloved daughter. Of course the analogy is backwards. In that story the curse is on King Midas because of his lust for gold. But God has not changed and suddenly become cursed. We have. The more we fall into opposition to God through our thoughts and actions, more dangerous is the close presence of God to us. God wants us pure so that we can approuch. But he intentionally made it difficult, as in hiding behind the veil, so that if we chose to approuch, it would be slow and cautious.
So does this mean we are now in danger, since the veil of separation is gone. The Book of Hebrews goes on to explain, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:11-14, NASB).
Paul says, “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” (2 Corinthians 3:16), refering to the darkening of the understanding that comes when a person willfully chooses to follow their own path. This darkening is lifted as we turn to Christ in humble submission. The presense of the LORD with the veil removed is much more than educational. The glory of the LORD transforms. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit,” (2 Corinthians 3:18) concludes Paul.
Hebrews 10:19-22 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Jesus is the new and living way. The writer of the Book of Hebrews pushes the analogy of the veil further. He suggests that the veil is no longer a barrier, but a bridge, that is, the sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, by which we live a life of transformation and the hope of eternal communion with Jesus and with God the Father. The veil is no longer the curtain that once hung in the temple, the veil of separation is Jesus!
In this one sentence we see that Jesus is the head, the priest over the house of God, that we enter into this house with true desire and trust in Jesus, and the result is that we both in mind and in body are freed from the bondage to guilt. The author is describing a process that begins with enter the Holy of Holies, the place where God the Father dwells, through His son Jesus Christ. The transformation is one of cleansing of our thoughts, our deeds and our physical bodies.
The third chapter of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, starts with this remarkable commendation: “you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” (2 Corinthians 3:3). Paul is saying that you (the Corinthian church) are a letter written by the finger of God in Jesus Christ.
He then begins to discuss the glory of God showing forth from the face of Moses and veil meant to protect faithless Israel from the glory. The glory now present through Jesus is so much greater than glory which Moses apprehended; “For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:9). The veil now is a resistance, a hardness of heart which prevents the stubborn from perceiving the glory in Jesus Christ and his disciples. (2 Corinthians 3:14). The thought is much the same although Paul uses the term veil more as a barrier than a door or an opening.
Paul's conclusion, “only through Christ is it [the veil] taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:14). He goes on to describe, “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18). Where the author of Hebrews describes passing through the veil (Christ crucified) to be transformed by the Spirit of God, Paul talks about the veil being removed when we place ourselves in Jesus care, we behold the glory of God which transforms us “from one degree of glory to another”. (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So letter to the Hebrews encourages us, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:22). Why? The veil is removed. We enter into the presence of the Father. We behold the glory. And the glory changes us each and every one (2 Corinthians 3:16-18), so that we all become “a letter from Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
The glorious truth is that with the veil torn, with Christ as the great mediator, we no longer need slow deliberation and caution. We can now come to the Holy of Holies leaping and laughing and praising with all the music in us. And when we do that Holy Spirit will come into us, to begin to guide us, lead us, and clean us. God wants more people in the sanctuary. He wants us to come and be transformed and then go out and grab others. Bring them in, to leap and laugh in the presence of the LORD.
Deuteronomy 5:24-25 And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. And you said, “Behold, the LORD our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die.”
Deuteronomy 5:28-29 And the LORD heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the LORD said to me, “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!”
“They are right”, Moses recalls God's words to him. “Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” The fear of offending such a glorious God makes for a good life and a good legacy. Later in the same Book of Deuteronomy, Moses recalls a similar discussion with God. His concern on that occasion is who will stand in for the people and hear the voice of God after his death (Deuteronomy 18:16-17). Moses has provided a sort of buffer between God and the people. Moses came steadily closer to God until he could intercede in a powerful way. God's reply, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18).
Given the proceeding discussion, does the removal of the veil mean that the fear of the LORD is no more, and that prophets, intercessors, and the like are no longer necessary? The answer is yes and no both. Let's look. If the fear of the LORD is no more, then why do Peter (1 Peter 2:17) and Paul (2 Corinthians 5:11; Philippians 2:12) call for a fear of the LORD. Paul additionally calls for a fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:21). Some translation soften the language as in “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, ESV). The word translated here as reverence is the Greek word phobus from which we derive the English word phobia. Still not convinced that fear of the LORD is part of Christianity? How about the red letter portion of the Bible, Jesus own words: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).
The symbolic act of the tearing of the veil in the sanctuary does not immediately bring us closer to God. There still remains a resistance in our hearts and minds to trusting the LORD. That resistance, that veil is lifted when we give ourselves to Jesus. Paul, speaking of his Jewish brethren from whom he has received a great deal of persecution, “But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). Being one of “God's people” isn't enough, it is necessary to turn to Jesus.
Does that mean that saying the sinner's prayer causes the veil to lift? That is a great start. In many cases the sinner's prayer is the start of a total personal transformation that brings the individual ever closer to God and more and more filled with the Holy Spirit. In other cases, the person is seemingly born-again, but then proceeds to drift back and forth between devotion to the savior and total emersion in the world. And there is the situation of the African boy who says “the missionaries come and have us repeat some words, which makes them very happy and then they go away. I have said these words many times.” A repetition of words does not a salvation make. Do not let me suggest that I believe that the apparent vain repetition is entirely without effect. I just want to say that the process is a very long way from complete, and enough so that I would not want to call it salvation.
It is the middle state that which seems most vivid when looking at the Western church. This living with one foot in devotion to Christ and the other in lock step with this world is referred to by the New Testament authors as double-mindedness. In a familiar quote, James speaks of “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways”. (James 1:8). Look carefully at who the double-minded man is. It is not the one we would immediately point out as worldly, the drunkard, the busibody, or any of a thousand others who come to mind. James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8).
The double-minded man is the person who listens to God and then pits God's voice against the voice of the world's reason, the philosophers, teachers, news reports and writers. Maybe I need to think about this some more, that might not be God's voice, I need a second opinion. What if Noah had said that? Or Abraham? And what about the woman at the well? The stepping stones of Biblical history are those moments when someone heard the LORD and said “Here I Am!”, and then they stood against the doubt and against every voice that tempted them to turn to the right or to the left.
Bad habits, bad friends, discouragement and all the influences of the world may draw a Christian into double-mindededness. But the biggest draw is the work of the Kingdom itself, ministry, evangelism, and all the rough and tumble of that process. Like James and John asking Jesus, “Should we call down fire?”, it is easy to make a Kingdom score sheet and make it the guide. Oswald Chambers, commenting on Luke 9:58, states it well, “Professional Christianity is a religion of possessions that are devoted to God; the religion of Jesus Christ is a religion of personal relationship to God, and has nothing whatever to do with possessions.” (Chambers, My Utmost Devotional Bible.. Pages 202-203). The double-minded man is always looking for signs. The disciple is listening for the still small voice.
Isaiah 33:13-17 Hear, you who are far off, what I have done; and you who are near, acknowledge my might. The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: “Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?” He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure. Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty; they will see a land that stretches afar.
He who has clean hands, according to Psalm 24, “shall ascend the hill of the LORD… [and] stand in his holy place” and “He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” (Psalm 24:3-5). If you live a perfectly righteous life, then you are ready to approuch the LORD without being consumed. For the rest of us we need help. We need cleansing.
“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!“ (Revelations 16:15).
Rev_15:2-4 "Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?" Rev_19:5 And a voice came from the throne, saying, "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great."
Deuteronomy 9:3 Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the LORD your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the LORD has promised you.
Numbers 14:10 Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.
Rev_15:2-4 "Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?" Rev_19:5 And a voice came from the throne, saying, "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great."
Psalms 12:5 "Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise," says the LORD; "I will place him in the safety for which he longs."
Matthew 19:25 “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
Rev_15:2-4 "Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?" Rev_19:5 And a voice came from the throne, saying, "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great."
“There are many things in the word of God, showing that, when God remarkably appears in any great work for his church, and against his enemies, it is a most dangerous thing, and highly provoking to God , to be slow and backward to acknowledge and honour God in the work. Christ's people are in Scripture represented as his army; he is the Lord of hosts, the ‘Captain of the host of the Lord,’ as he called himself when he appeared to Joshua, with a sword drawn in his hand, Joshua 5:13-15. the captain of his people's salvation: and therefore it may well be highly resented, if they do not resort to him when he orders his banner to be displayed; or if they refuse to follow him when he blows the trumpet, and gloriously appears going forth against his enemies. God expects that every living soul should have his attention roused on such an occasion, and should most cheerfully yield to the call, and heedfully and diligently obey it…” (Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of the Revival of Religion in New England; with Thoughts on That Revival.. Pages 237-238).
“When Scripture speaks about a glorious Church, it means a Church that is filled with God's glory, a Church that has within it the manifest, visible, tangible, personal presence of Almighty God. It is not a Church that is living on naked faith without any manifestation, but a Church that, through faith, has entered into a relationship with God where His visible, personal, tangible presence is with His people. The Bible says that is the kind of Church for which Jesus is coming. It is the Church for which we pray.” (Derek Prince, Secrets of a Prayer Warrior.. Page 183).
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.“ (Matthew 22:11-14).