The Church Part 3

In my previous two posts I focused on the idea of the kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven and that the church/ekklesia is called to demonstrate the kingdom. I noted that as the ekklesia, called out ones, we are both called out from something (the world if we read John’s letters and James) and called to someone, Jesus. We have been called to Jesus to represent, re-present Him.

I have intentionally been using the word ekklesia rather than church as no matter how we frame the idea, in practice most Christians refer to the church as a building rather than a body of people. If you look at the church in the book of Acts, they didn’t have a dedicated building. In Jerusalem they met outdoors at the temple or indoors in the homes of believers. This was the common practice in the world of the New Testament. What the word ekklesia denotes is gathering for a purpose. In Matthew 16:18, if we paraphrase, Jesus said, ‘I will build my gathering of believers called out to serve My purpose.’

I believe that whether believers gather on a Saturday, Sunday or a Friday evening, they still gather for a purpose. What needs to be addressed is whether that is the same purpose Jesus had in mind when He spoke of building His ekklesia. My friend Evelyn stepped from time into eternity a few years ago. In conversation she frequently used the phrase “the church that Jesus is building.” She saw it as something different from what took place at a typical service.

In my decades of church attendance what I have normally experienced is some degree of worship (singing), some public prayers and a sermon. These are all okay things in and of themselves, but perhaps they fall short of what Jesus saw as the purpose of the ekklesia. For example, Paul was clear in scripture that the gospel he taught was given to him by Jesus. Here is one thing Paul said we were to do.

8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, Ephesians 3:8–10 (NKJV)

Verse 10 says we as the ekklesia are to make known God’s manifold wisdom to principalities and powers in heavenly places. Paul uses the term ‘principalities and powers’ again in Ephesians 6:12 so we know that in both chapters he is referring to spiritual beings in heavenly places. Do you think that happened at your last gathering? Did principalities and powers tremble as we gathered?

What we need to determine is just how we as the ekklesia demonstrate the Father’s wisdom to principalities and powers if we are function as Jesus called us. A good part of the answer is in the rest of the chapter. Understanding that through what Jesus accomplished we have access to throne of grace – for a purpose! We are called to demonstrate His kingdom in the context of our culture.

Here in part is how Peter and Paul understood Jesus’ goal for the ekklesia.  

4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4–5 (NKJV)

19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19–22 (NKJV)

As the ekklesia we are called to gather and build one another into a spiritual house, a holy temple, the dwelling place of the Spirit that reflects Jesus to the surrounding culture. As for my building, I have fallen short of what I intended to accomplish in this post. In my next post I will look at ‘being assembled together’ in Hebrews 10, the role of joints regarding how and what they supply, Ephesians 4, and what that looks like in practice, 1 Corinthians 14 and tie it back to principalities and powers.

            More to come.

The Church Part 2

In my previous post I referenced the idea of the church (ekklesia) being called to demonstrate the kingdom. To further clarify the distinction between the church and the kingdom here is what George Eldon Ladd wrote some decades ago.

The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of women and men. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1974, 2000), 109.

Again, we as the ekklesia are not the kingdom, we are to demonstrate the kingdom and to come under the authority of the kingdom. Following on that, a better understanding of the meaning of ekklesia leads to being better equipped to demonstrate the kingdom. I previously referenced that ekklesia means the ‘called out ones.’ Inherent in the idea of this calling is that we are both called out from something and to something. We better understand this by hearing from Paul.

1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God Romans 1:1 (NKJV)

Here I believe Paul is contrasting his calling into the ekklesia with his calling as a Pharisee. The distinction is between Paul’s calling ‘to’ versus a calling ‘from.’ Pharisee literally means a ‘separated one.’ The Pharisees identified themselves by what they were separated from. When Jesus called Paul, he no longer identified himself by what he was separated from but by the One he was separated to – Jesus! In the same manner, at our conversion we were called to be part of the ekklesia, called out and separated not from something but to someone, Jesus, for His purpose. When we see that we can then consider what our focus should be. We have the overview in Matthew.

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)

Jesus called us as the ekklesia to demonstrate His kingdom and disciple and teach nations, which in the context of Matthew is people groups, ethnicities. We have the same message in Matthew 24:14.   

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (NKJV)

Some have taken the Great Commission in Matthew (with variations in Mark 16:15-16 and Acts 1:8) to mean that as the ekklesia we are to disciple nations as in nation states. Yet that is not Jesus’ focus in Mark and Acts. Jesus directed us to make disciples of all ethnicities in the earth within the context of nation states. In this age the goal is not Christian nations but an effective ekklesia, Christians engaged in their calling, within nations. In my next post I will look at examples from the New Testament around the ‘how’ and let that lead further into church history. Hint, showing up on Sunday, sitting and standing on cue and then departing won’t accomplish the task and is not what happened in church history. What did happen is changed lives, communities and social structures.

More to come.

The Church Part 1

If you are happy and content with church as you experience it, perhaps stop now. I want to look at church as we practice it here in the West and look at whether what we are in engaged in is actually what Jesus had in mind. As you walk through this with me consider how you think the average 1st Century Christian would view our practices in light of what they knew and understood.  

The obvious starting point in understanding what we are to be as the church is looking at what Jesus taught us. In His preaching and teaching Jesus talked about both the church and the kingdom. A simple way of understanding the relationship between the two is that the church is called to proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom. A kingdom is simply a place where the king rules or has dominion. In this case we are to extend Jesus’ authority in the earth, we are to bring heaven to earth (see Matt. 6:9-10, 28:18-20). We do that by being the church, or more accurately the ekklesia. Ekklesia refers to an assembly or congregation. You may be familiar with the term ‘called out ones’ as that is literally what ekklesia means. In the Greek culture from where we draw the word, the ekklesia is both called out from something and to something. In ancient Athens all adult male citizens were considered part of the ekklesia, the assembly, and could participate in governmental decisions for their city. It seems that this is what Jesus had in mind when He instituted the church. Not a secular or human government but an assembly of those who could proclaim and demonstrate His kingdom in the earth. Below are some key passages from Matthew that will inform our study.  

9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:9–10 (NKJV)

18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18–19 (NKJV)

18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:18–20 (NKJV)

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (NKJV)

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)

There are some key phrases in these verses such as, ‘on earth as it is in heaven,’ ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ and the concept of ‘binding and loosing.’ We will look at those and more as we continue. For now, I invite you to mediate on the above passages. For example, the idea of ‘agreeing’ in Matthew is generally used of prayer. Have a look at the context. It isn’t about prayer.  

More to come.

The Word of the Lord Tested Him

This phrase is taken from the life of Jospeh, not in Genesis, in Psalms. I have often been struck by the phrase. It was the ‘word of the Lord’ that tested Joseph. To better understand the idea, I will break it down and we will look at other examples in scripture that illustrate the same principle then reflect on how to apply it to our lives. We start with the phrase then the context.

19 Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the Lord tested him. Psalm 105:19 (NKJV)

Psalm 105 chronicles the history of Israel. We all have a story and this is the story of a nation. Embedded in this national story is a key character, Joseph. The idea of the ‘word of the Lord’ here is that Joseph was given great promises, then he quickly experienced the opposite. The story of his promises, slavery and imprisonment and eventual rise to their fulfillment is found in Genesis 37-50. A significant portion of the book of history. Joseph’s test and fulfillment took place over a long period, thirteen years. He was sold by his brothers at age 17 (Genesis 37:2) and raised up out of prison and given authority by Pharoah at age 30 (Genesis 41:46).

Joseph received prophetic promises via a dream from Yahweh then endured hardship and affliction with the word. The word, these promises, tested him until it they came to pass and he had developed the character to carry the authority he was given. Abraham and Sarah waited years for the promised son. We know that Abraham was 75 when Yahweh first promised him descendants (Genesis 12:1-7)  and that he was 100 when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5). The promise of a son born to him was more explicit in Genesis 15:1-4 but we do not know Abraham’s age then. We do know that Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born to Hagar. Like his descendant who followed him the word of the Lord had tested Abraham.

While two examples do not constitute a pattern there are many more in scripture. David was anointed as king and soon became a fugitive instead. The word of the Lord tested him over many years. Moses knew he was called by Yahweh to deliver Israel (Exodus 2:11-13, Acts 7:25). He tried in his own strength and then spent 40 years in the wilderness until he encountered Yahweh at the burning bush (Acts 7:25-30). The word of the Lord tested him.  

We even see this pattern in the life of Jesus. He was baptized in the Jordan and received affirmation from His Father that He was the beloved Son and His Father was pleased with Him (Matthew 3:17). What followed was a glorious entry into ministry – no actually, what happened was He was immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by Satan (Matthew 4:1). The word of the Lord tested Him.

Given these examples and this pattern should we expect different treatment? He has called each of us and once He calls us, He tests us. One of the words He spoke to me nearly three decades ago was 1 Corinthians 4:2.

2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:2 (NKJV)

This means like Paul who wrote it, our faithfulness is the primary test. Joseph had to remain faithful and hold onto his dreams after slavery followed by prison. Abraham has to hold onto the promise of a son in spite of his circumstances – he and Sarah both past the fathering and bearing stage of their lives. David had to remain focused on his calling and commission to be king well the present king sought his death. Moses had to believe Yahweh after his failure and subsequent encounter in the wilderness. Jesus – I, nor anyone else, fully understands His humanity but I believe He had to develop and walk out a trust relationship with His Father in spite of His wilderness experience.

I have a list of things He has spoken to me both directly and through others over the years. Some I am walking in, some I am not. As these words test me, I seek to be found faithful. How about you? What are you reflecting on? How is the test going?

Paying Attention

There is an old saying, “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Emerson was an American thinker and philosopher of the 19th century. He lived in a time still more in tune with natural rhythms and reflection. In our current internet and social media environment I think we need to add a precursor to ‘sow a thought.’ We could say, ‘respond to a stimulus/impulse.’ If we think back to Pavlov and his experiments, we recognize that most of us are conditioned by our environment, more influenced than influence. We can reverse that.

Prior to exploring this further I want to look at what another ancient philosopher and thinker had to say.

7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:7–9 (NKJV)

Like Emerson, Paul also addressed the importance of sowing but his focus here was more on behaviour. In his letter to the Philippians (4:8-9) Paul presented the connection to right thoughts producing right behaviour.

Putting together the ideas of thought and action, we need to be intentional about how we live in our current era of culture wars and hyperstimulation. A couple of decades ago I used to say that if you gave your average ‘busy’ person 5 minutes alone in a room with no stimulation it would drive them crazy. I think the issue has simply been exacerbated in the intervening years. We know how to be ‘busy’ but I don’t know that we know how to prioritize our time and how to filter out the unimportant and filter in that which is truly of value.

Here is my attempt at some of the how. Start by setting aside time and minimizing distractions. Turn off and tune out the unnecessary and unhelpful. We can train ourselves to focus our hearts on Him. Read and reflect on varying opinions. The social media algorithms send us down the same path and simply reinforce what we already think. Great if we are on the right path, not so much if we are on the wrong one.  

Lastly, my title. Paying attention carries with it the idea of cost and exchange. We are giving something (our attention) as a payment in exchange for something else. The question is really whether we are doing that by design or default. For any of you that follow my Facebook posts you know how much I enjoy and appreciate the outdoors, particularly being in the mountains. To truly appreciate those environments, I need to give them my attention – an exchange. When I was a child and we went on family vacation my parents would get frustrated with myself and my siblings when we wanted to read comics in the car rather than look out the window at the view. At that stage comics had my attention, now the mountains and other aspects of nature do. The latter is of greater value for how it imparts to me the grandeur of creation and turns my thoughts to Him. Let’s find ways to ‘pay attention’ to the things that truly matter. If we embrace Paul’s injunction that I referenced earlier we will do just that, he tells us how to pay attention.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8–9 (NKJV)

Among Us

I last wrote about the significance of Moses realization that he needed to know Yahweh’s character in addition to His presence. I did this by looking primarily at Exodus 33. The next step is looking at Yahweh’s presence in relation to sacred space.

First a brief primer on sacred space. Eden was sacred space because Yahweh dwelt there and when Adam and Eve sinned, they could no longer remain in sacred space. When Moses met Yahweh in Exodus 3:2-6 he was instructed to remove his sandals, he was on holy ground, sacred space. We see a more explicit understanding of sacred space in the role of the scapegoat. We are likely all familiar with the term scapegoat but we may not know the origin. Below is the Levitical passage that is the source of the term. I have used the ESV as it clarifies something missing in many translations.

10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. Leviticus 16:10 (ESV)

Azazel is the Hebrew term usually translated into English as ‘scapegoat.’ However, the Ancient Near East literature from the Second Temple period and the Dead Sea Scrolls inform us that Azazel is a proper name. Azazel was viewed as the leader of the rebellious Elohim who fell in Genesis 6. In Ancient Near East culture, the sea and the desert both represented chaos, darkness and the realm of the fallen ones. In the annual ritual the live goat was being sent to Azazel not sent as a sacrifice. Once the sins of the nation were confessed over the goat and the goat was taken to the wilderness the sins being sent to the place and being to whom they belonged, Azazel.

21 Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:21–22 (NKJV)

Here, Israel was cleansed of sin both through sacrifice and ritual at the tabernacle as well as sending the sins of the nation to Azazel. This is a primer for understanding the role of sacred space in Israel in terms of Yahweh’s ability to dwell among them. In Exodus 33-34 following the golden calf incident a distinction is made between Yahweh appearing versus dwelling among or in the midst of Israel.

We see it in Exodus 33 and 34.

3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:3 (NKJV)

8 So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. 9 Then he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.” Exodus 34:8–9 (NKJV)

Whenever Israel failed disaster struck the nation. If Yahweh went among them and they sinned again they would be consumed due to His holiness. There needed to be a way for Yahweh to dwell among them without consuming them, a way for Him to ‘go among’ them as Moses requested. Exodus 13:20-22 describes the behaviour of the pillar of fire and the cloud, the manifestations of Yahweh’s presence, as going ‘before’ Israel, never among them. Then we have Exodus 33:7-11 describing Yahweh’s presence descending on the tent of meeting but it had to be ‘outside the camp.’ We only see His presence in the camp once the Tabernacle of Moses is completed. Chapter 40 describes all of the rituals and sacrifices required in the setting up and use of the Tabernacle. The result is a transition in how Yahweh interacts with them as He is now among them.

34 Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. Exodus 40:34–38 (NKJV)

The important part is that the Tabernacle of Moses was in the midst of the people of Israel not outside the camp. In Numbers 2 Moses provided instructions for how the tribes of Israel were to camp. They were set up three tribes to each of the four directions, north, south, east and west with the Tabernacle in the middle.  

 An additional part around the role of the Tabernacle relates to the Ark of the Covenant. It was Yahweh’s dwelling place, His footstool (heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool, Isaiah 66:1). This is why we see the following verses in scripture.

7 Let us go into His tabernacle; Let us worship at His footstool. 8 Arise, O Lord, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength. Psalm 132:7-8 (NKJV)

41 “Now therefore, Arise, O Lord God, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength. Let Your priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation, And let Your saints rejoice in goodness. 2 Chronicles 6:41 (NKJV)

The people wanted Yahweh to be active among them in His dwelling place, to arise ‘to’ rest upon the Ark of the Covenant between the wings of the cherubim. As a bit of an aside, when I was twenty-two, I had started attending church off and on. The Lord had not yet captured my heart, that would happen at 25. However, I had read and knew a fair bit of scripture. I was in a service and they sang the song ‘O the Glory of His Presence’ based on Psalm 132:8. Not knowing that the song writer had gotten it wrong and written ‘arise from your rest’ rather than ‘arise to your rest’ I pointed this out to the pastor. Rather than showering me with effusive praise he brushed me aside. I was genuinely trying to be helpful and though I didn’t understand all the significance at the time, I knew ‘to’ was correct. Yahweh isn’t engaged in resting and needing to join the people, He is present and the request is for His manifest presence on His resting place.  

            Now, it is important to look at what this means for us as believers. When we were born again the Holy Spirit brought about a new birth in our spirit and we became His dwelling place individually and corporately (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19). As a result, we both are and also carry sacred space. We carry Him with us wherever we go and one of our jobs is to influence the spiritual atmosphere around us by asking Jesus to move with us as His resting place whenever we interact with others. Let’s do that.

Here is the song Oh the Glory of His Presence by Jesus Image. They do the song correctly with ‘to Your rest.’

Oh The Glory Of His Presence (Live) – Bing video

The Transfiguration

In my last post I looked at what was actually taking place in reference to Jesus’ announcement in Matthew 16 regarding the gates of hell. Here we will look at the significance of Jesus transfiguration from two perspectives. The significance of the geographic location and the significance of the timeline in Jesus earthly ministry. 

Like the famous Schwarzenegger movie line, “I’ll be back!” or Nicholson’s “You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth!” another famous movie line came from Clint Eastwood, “Go ahead, make my day.” A line that provoked a response. This is what took place on Mount Hermon, provocation by Jesus, and a response. Understanding this requires a bit of background information. In my recent posts I referenced the descent of some of these fallen supernatural beings, principalities and powers, at Mount Hermon. This was their entry point or gateway to physicality and the further corruption of humanity.  

They had taken on flesh and interacted with humanity at Bashan/Hermon. This was their territory. In Matthew 16 Jesus had announced that He would build His church right at the gate of hell, taking back territory from them. Now Jesus goes further. Matthew 17 presents us with the transfiguration and describes it as follows.

1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Matthew 17:1–3 (NKJV)

Jesus unveiled His glory so that there was no doubt about who He was and He had a meeting with Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament. Though Bashan/Hermon is not named in the text, it is the only high peak in the area (There is presently a ski hill there that operates in the winter months).

In unveiling His glory on what the spiritual opposition considered their territory Jesus was in effect saying, “Go ahead, make my day” and stirring up spiritual opposition. Knowing the fate awaiting Him at Jerusalem, in being transfigured on Mount Hermon Jesus poked the hornets’ nest and stirred up the spiritual opposition that brought about His crucifixion, leading to His glorious resurrection.

We see the opposition intensify immediately with a counter attack. As soon as Jesus, Peter, James and John descended from the mountain they encounter spiritual opposition in the form of a failure on the part of the other apostles to deliver and heal an epileptic boy. While Jesus immediately brough healing and freedom (Matthew 17:14-18), the previously successful apostles (Mark 6:7-13, Luke 9:1-6) were puzzled by their lack of success (Matthew 17:19). The battle had intensified. In Jesus bringing healing and deliverance to the boy He demonstrated His authority and power over the increased opposition, another provocation. 

We know from Luke 9:31 that in addition to being transfigured Jesus discussed His pending death in Jerusalem with Moses and Elijah, He knew what He was doing. These events were a turning point in the gospel narrative. Jesus from here headed to Jerusalem, had His triumphal entry (Palm Sunday) followed by the rising spiritual and political opposition leading to His arrest and crucifixion. Though Jesus provoked these events to fulfill scripture and His purpose, our redemption, the principalities and powers did not understand what was happening until it was too late. Paul references this in 1 Corinthians.

6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:6–8 (NKJV)

When Paul speaks of the “rulers of this age” he is referencing the evil principalities and powers that opposed Jesus. He uses the same language in Ephesians 6:12 describing the principalities and powers as, “the rulers of the darkness of this age”

In conclusion, Jesus provoked the conflict that led to His crucifixion because He was serving a higher purpose and seeing what needed to transpire from the perspective of His Father. In our walk we may at times need to stir things up, not for the sake of controversy but to walk in obedience. Let’s be found faithful and use our authority to demonstrate and extend His kingdom on the earth.

If you would like more information on these ideas, some of what I have written about recently is covered in the videos series below where Michael Heiser teaches on the origin and significance of what is referred to by many as the Divine Council Worldview (DCW). Dr. Heiser readily acknowledges that while these views are not well known, they are not original to him but are rooted in the extensive writings we now have from the writings of the intertestamental period and are the culture in which our faith was birthed.

Video series with Dr. Heiser teaching –

The Gates of Hell

            Here we are going to look at the famous Matthew 16 passage and the rock that the church is built upon. I will provide the traditional Protestant and Roman Catholic interpretations then show why I am convinced that both are incorrect, based on history most of us have never been taught.

18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18–19 (NKJV)

The Roman Catholic interpretation is that Peter was the first Pope and the rock the church was built upon, which is why he was given keys to bind and loose (never mind that this same authority was given to all disciples in Matthew 18:18). The general Protestant interpretation is that with Jesus’ wordplay regarding rocks Peter (petros, a rock or boulder) and upon this rock (petra, a large mass of rock) that the rock is the revelation of who Jesus is.

            To actually understand this passage, we need an Old Testament context and some knowledge of the writings from the intertestamental period. It is often said that between the Old and New Testaments there were the 400 silent years. While no scripture was written they were far from silent. A great deal was written. The writing from that period informs us about the culture and context. We will get to the significance of that after we look at the location and the timeline in Jesus’ ministry.

            The events took place in Caesarea Philippi, about a two day walk north of the sea of Galilee. On the surface this may not seem significant but in the region, there was a pagan temple known as the “Gate of Hell” at the foot of Mount Hermon (also referred to at times as Bashan). This was one region in Israel where the giants dwelt and scripture informs us that Og King of Bashan reigned over the area, ruled Mount Hermon and was a one of the giants (Joshua 12:4-5). The other significant fact is that the intertestamental writers said that Mount Hermon was where the rebellious sons of God descended to earth and had children with the daughters of men and there were then giants (Nephilim) in the earth and great wickedness (Genesis 6:1-5).

The gate of hell and Hermon were associated with rebellion. All cultural facts the disciples would have grown up knowing. Peter and Jude reference the events of Genesis 6 and quote Enoch (Jude 6, 14-15, 2 Peter 2:4). The scholarly consensus is that Enoch as we have it today was written in the intertestamental period. While it is not scripture it does inform us about the cultural context that the early church was familiar with. Beyond the first century, in the second century the early church fathers, notably Justin Martyr and Irenaeus affirmed the view of the rebellious angels producing offspring through human women (Genesis 6:1-5). Irenaeus is the author of the famous tome Against Heresies. He was a disciple of Polycarp who had been a disciple of the apostle John.  

            We are now in a position to make sense of Jesus statement “on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The gate of hell, the place where the rebellious released great wickedness, would not prevail, would not stand up against the church. Here is the Randy paraphrased version of what Jesus said, ‘Right here, at the gate of hell, on this rock, Mount Hermon, the place of the great rebellion, I am going to build my church!’ The church need not tremble in the face of hell, just the opposite.

Knowing this we can take a closer look at the Great Commission in light of what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection. Though we only have snippets of it in the gospels most scholars believe Jesus quoted Psalm 22 while on the cross. Whether He did, it certainly describes what He went through in His crucifixion. The verses below are describing what Jesus experienced on the cross and we can see the significance knowing what took place at Bashan (Mount Hermon).

12 Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. 13 They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion. Psalm 22:12–13 (NKJV)

These rebellious spiritual beings surrounded Jesus on the cross and mocked Him thinking it was their victory when in actuality it signaled their defeat. In His resurrection Jesus demonstrated His victory over His spiritual enemies ‘bulls of Bashan’ (Colossians 2:15). Thus, when Jesus says we have authority and we are to ‘go’ and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) we can go being confident that we are helping to build the church right at the gate of hell! Like Jesus, let us be about our Father’s business.

Understanding the Times Part 1

Many of us can reference or quote 1 Chronicles 12:32.

32  of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their command; 1 Chronicles 12:32 (NKJV)

There are two parts to this verse. Understanding the times and knowing what to do. Understanding the times means looking at the circumstances and discerning what the Spirit is saying and doing in this hour. Knowing what to do is responding with His wisdom. In this current season with a worldwide pandemic declared the strategy of the enemy is easy to see. He seeks to sow fear, division and the like. As the church we are called to battle fear by releasing peace and healing.

Now is the time dig deeper foundations in God, going deeper in His word and pursuing a deeper relationship with Him. It is time to strengthen the relationships around us. If this has not been our pattern, we need to start. We need to use times of relative calm to prepare for times of battle. For example, I was part of a Zoom online conference call yesterday with over 2,000 people across our nation, praying, repenting and having communion together. A major goal was to increase unity in the church across our nation and lift Jesus up.

The Lord has seasons and things are not always what they appear to be. An example of this is a post I saw from an exercise specialist. He posted a comment that he was building muscle and the accompanying photo was of him sitting on a dock with a drink looking out at the ocean. He understood. He had exercised hard the previous day and broke down his muscle tissue. Now at rest he was recovering and building new muscle. He knew the benefits from the workout come after the workout, in the recovery period.

Currently lives have been and are being disrupted on a massive scale. If our goal is to wait this out and get back to normal we need to abandon it! This is a workout for our spiritual muscles that will lead to some recovery and growth time before we need a greater workout. The Father has given us an opportunity to examine our priorities and make needed shifts in our lives. If we choose to take it we will be prepared for the next thing. If not…

Sheep Into Horses

Have you ever wondered how to turn sheep into horses? No I am not talking about evolution: this is more akin to revolution. In general Christians, like the nation of Israel, are often referred to as sheep. We have Psalm 23 with the Lord’s people being the sheep and Him the Shepherd. We have Jesus affirming this in John 10 saying He is the good shepherd. We also have Jesus restoring Peter in John 21 referring to His people as sheep. Suffice to say this is a well established teaching and perspective, nor is it a wrong one. Yet we have this interesting verse.

Zechariah 10:3 (NKJV)
3  “My anger is kindled against the shepherds, And I will punish the goatherds. For the LORD of hosts will visit His flock, The house of Judah, And will make them as His royal horse in the battle.”

In the church believers are frequently referred to as sheep, and treated that way, herded into pens and fed once or twice a week. There are varying degrees of leadership and mindsets that drive that leadership. While some leadership is very effective we are all deceiving ourselves if we think we can lead as effectively and with the same wisdom as Jesus. He alone can make sheep like horses in battle.

The current situation is a bit like Joshua’s encounter (Josh. 5:13-15). The Lord had trained Joshua through Moses, displayed His power through Joshua in the crossing of the Jordan, the people had been circumcised, and now Joshua meets a warrior with a drawn sword. Joshua wants to know whose side the warrior is on. It is the Lord and in essence He says, “I didn’t come to take side, I came to take over.”

While Jesus is always present in our services the environment shifts when our experience moves from His omnipresence to His manifest presence. When He begins to move on our hearts and manifest His glory our responsibility is to bow our hearts and knees and passionately walk in obedience. Presently, like the sons of Issachar, we need to know times and seasons and know what to do (1 Chron. 12:32). I believe it is time for His church to arise and shine (Is. 60:1-2). As darkness has been increasing in our nation I believe a shift is available for hungry hearts. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice (Jn. 10:3, 16). Do we hear Him calling us to be a horse in His battle? Is this our heart cry? If it is let us join in this ancient prayer.

1  Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down! That the mountains might shake at Your presence – 2  As fire burns brushwood, As fire causes water to boil – To make Your name known to Your adversaries, That the nations may tremble at Your presence! 3  When You did awesome things for which we did not look, You came down, The mountains shook at Your presence. 4  For since the beginning of the world Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, Nor has the eye seen any God besides You, Who acts for the one who waits for Him. Isaiah 64:1-4 (NKJV)

We Will Ride by Andy Park