Understanding 1 Thessalonians – part 5

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – part 5

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Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Thessaloniki – Study 5

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Paul has thus far applauded the believers at Thessaloniki for their genuine faith in Christ Jesus that brought forth powerful transformation in their lives and that also impacted their region with the glorious Gospel of Jesus. It is also plunged them into persecution as the counter culture of Jesus was being embraced by more and more people and therefore collided with the world around them (Acts 17:6) . He is rightly proud of them and thus reaffirms his love for them and sets forth the true motivations that he has in his heart in terms of his ministry and calling to be a servant God among them. These are wonderful insights into the attitudes and principles that should guide and govern every person called into ministry and we should take note of them.

In the section now before us he gives us a concluding summary to all the things that he has just said. We should note the following:

1. Paul affirms the power of prayer and that of the Word of God

“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word from men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” 2:13

Prayer should be unceasing and always punctuated with thanksgiving (2 Timothy 1:3). The great sin of the modern day Church is that it is, by and large, prayer-less. According to Jesus, the Church should be a “house of prayer for all nations”, (Matthew 21:13) but this is not true as it has instead become a house of entertainment, good feelings, positive thinking and platform dominated ministry. Lip service is given to the biblical concept of the priesthood of all believers and to the powerful demonstration and manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We have to hear this and rectify it urgently.

The Word of God, Paul tells us, must be:
(A) Carried by faithful preachers
(B) Welcomed as the very word of the God from heaven…….and,
(C) Truly embraced in a manner that it transforms our lives because It effectively works in us. In short, we neglect the Word of God to our peril! Jesus said that it is life giving bread (Matthew 4:4).

All this reminds us that we must have a high view of the Bible as it reflects the nature of God, the glory of Christ and the true state of humankind. We must honor the Bible and seek to understand it properly. Paul, in his pastoral epistles to Timothy, underlines this when he writes:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
2 Timothy 2:15

The Apostle Peter does the same when he writes:

“……knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
2 Peter 1:20-21

2. Paul affirms the reality of trial and persecution.

“For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as to always fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.” 2:14-16

This reminds us that the true testimony of Jesus Christ will enrage those in the world and induce them to resist it. It will also enrage so called Christians and people who claim the name of Christ but really have no knowledge of Him. Sometimes this will be the source of the greatest persecution that the Church will have to face and endure. This was the experience of the first century church. Those who should have received the message of Jesus ended up rejecting it, resisting it, and persecuting those who did receive it.

The Jews of Jesus time had a remarkable spiritual history where as, in terms of the actions of God in their national journey as a people, they had witnessed amazing things like the Exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, God coming down on Mt Sinai to talk with them, the cloud of God’s presence by day and that of a pillar of fire by night, and many amazing miracles of deliverance and provision. In addition they were sent great prophets and kings who had left them with a remarkable spiritual heritage and yet, when their Messiah of promise arrived they rejected Him and killed Him. How could this be?

Well, the truth is, their scriptures had warned them of this and, by the time that Jesus came they had fallen into apostasy (Deuteronomy 31:16-18). Their Rabbis of the time affirmed this when they stated that the catastrophe that overtook the Jews in AD 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, was because they had hated God and one another without a cause. Given that all things spiritual run counter to our carnal hearts and have to be spiritually appraised, they, being far from God and blind spiritually, resisted their prophets, rejected their Messiah and crucified Him in concert with the Romans (Romans 8:6-8).

That generation is to be seen as a unique and sinful one (Matthew 11:16-24) that by the judgement of God was consequently carried off into exile by the Romans, their national life and institutions also being destroyed. However, for all of this, scripture nevertheless affirms that they are not Christ killers as, being spiritually darkened, they killed Him in ignorance (Acts 3:17). Their judgment in AD 70, according to scripture, was more related to their rejection of the Gospel message than for their hand in the death of Christ (Acts 13:46). Jesus, while warning of this coming judgement also predicted their future national restoration and redemption(Luke 21:24).

From time to time this spiritual blindness has also settled upon the Church as she, just like the Jews of Jesus’ time, has resisted the will of God and has also stoned and burned at the stake her own prophets that God in His grace had sent her. Indeed, the book of Revelation, in the 17th chapter, pictures a world-wide apostate Church, likened unto a whore, that will arise in the earth and be guilty of spilling the “blood of the saints” (Revelation 17: 1-6). So, here we have two groups both claiming the name of Christ but the one killing the other ! The testimony of history confirms this and therefore the underlying truth is that religion, if unhinged from a personal relationship with God, will in fact become an enemy of His true followers (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus knew this and sadly confirmed that a day would come when people will think that they are doing God a service by killing others (John 16:2).

The believers at Thessaloniki found this to be true as did the first century Jewish believers in Jerusalem and many more brave followers of Jesus down through the centuries. This will continue to be our lot but the grace of God is well able to secure those who love God in times of trouble. Paul knows this and is thankful for it.

Malcolm Hedding.

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – part 4

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – part 4

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Watch the Video Message Below: 

Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Thessaloniki / 2:7-12

Study 4

We have noted thus far that Paul’s ministry at Thessaloniki was not in vain as it brought forth the fruit of salvation in the lives of many in the city. He, and his apostolic band were sent out from the Church at Antioch with the blessing of the leaders there and that of the Holy Spirit. His missionary trip was therefore God inspired and therefore in a sense couldn’t fail. The Thessalonians turned from their idols and their sins to serve God by Jesus Christ and to await His second coming. Moreover, their testimony in this regard impacted the whole region. Paul was proud of them and gives them an overview of his commitment; to God, the preaching of the Word of God and to them. He is a genuine servant of Jesus seeking only to glorify Him through his life and ministry and therefore he seeks nothing from them save their growing love for Christ and His people.

Our insight then into Paul’s character and dedication to Christ is therefore a challenge to all those who would follow Christ in ministry and to those who already do. In the verses now before us he continues to express his feelings for them and commitment to them by reminding them of what he did do when he was with them and not of what he didn’t do, as in the previous passage. Here we see the heart of a true shepherd of God’s flock and this should serve as a template for all those who would also follow this calling. Actually every aspiring ministry candidate should be instructed by these passages as they reveal the true nature of our calling and it’s worth noting that this chapter is then a record of Paul’s legacy. This great servant of Jesus is worth following, just as he himself often encouraged us to do.

We should consequently take note of the manner in which he engaged the believers at Thessaloniki:

1. He loved them as a mother would love her own children. 2:7

“But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.”

Paul took a personal interest in everyone and cared about them. I have seen all through the years that Jesus greatly blesses a congregation where the leaders care for God’s flock. Too often leaders only want people to fill seats in the sanctuaries and nothing more. Consequently the people of God are left alienated from their leaders and struggling with many spiritual challenges. Every congregation should have properly ordained and trained shepherds who are always among the sheep and know them by name. By them the flock of God should be taught the “milk of God’s word” by which they can grow strong having well understood the “First Principles” of what it means to be a Christ follower. These are laid out in Hebrews 5:12 and Hebrews 6:1-2.

2. He loved them with a passion that drove him to do anything for them 2:8

“So affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.”

Love will enable one to go to any lengths to help another. When I fell in love with Cheryl, the girl of my dreams, I would cycle 12 miles to see her for 30 minutes and then cycle the same 12 miles home again! What made me do this? Only love for her put my feet to the pedals! We are to love God’s children like this! Paul imparted his life to the Thessalonians. For him Christianity was not all about preaching and teaching but about giving of one’s time and resources to help God’s people grow in Christ. This is true love.

3. He loved them unconditionally 2:9

“For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to you, we preached to you the gospel of God.”

Paul raised his own financial support as a tent maker (Acts 18:3) and in this way was able to love them without any strings attached. This being true, the Thessalonians knew for certain that he genuinely loved them seeking nothing in return. So then, Paul served Jesus his Lord by giving them the message of eternal life without cost and every servant of God, if possible, should do the same. However, if not, then he should be well cared for financially by ruling elders who set his salary within a context of accountability and transparency. His words in 1 Corinthians 9:13-18 affirm this.

4. He loved them by the impartation of his ministry. 2:10-11

“You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe.”

The gifts that Jesus gave Paul he used to help them by way of constant encouragement and example. He patterned Christ before them (Philippians 3:17) and behaved with constant integrity. God could bear witness to this! In recent years many well known preachers have failed and have been made to stand down from their ministries. The harm that this does to the Body of Christ is immeasurable as it brings the Church into disrepute, causes many to stumble and, most of all, dishonors Christ before the world. The leaders set over God’s flock carry a sacred trust and must seek to follow Paul’s example. They must be trained, approved and then properly set before the people of God by prayer and fasting. They must be designated as Ephesian Four Ministries, Elders and Deacons as scripture demands (Philippians 1:1).

5. He loved them with a goal in mind. 2:12

“…..that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”

Paul knew that he must constantly lay before them the “end game.” That is, we live with the knowledge that we are destined, upon our deaths, to enter into the glorious and eternal kingdom of God. When we gave our hearts to Christ this is what He called us to. We should have this before us all the time as many who once embraced the faith have turned back to the world with all its ungodly pursuits and have consequently made “shipwreck” of their faith (1 Timothy 1:18-20). Jesus reminded us that “those who endure to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13) and Peter reminds us that imposters and fake Christians will infiltrate our communities and even become Christian leaders (2 Peter 2:1-3; 12-17). We must press on day by day making good the call of God over our lives (2 Peter 1:10).

Malcolm Hedding

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – part 3

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – part 3

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Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Thessaloniki – Study 3

In this passage we have reflected or modeled the type of interaction and relationship that should exist between Christian Ministers and the congregations that they serve. The wider context is that Paul was a part of an Apostolic Band that was initially called forth by the Holy Spirit and sent out into the world to plant churches by the leaders of the Church at Antioch:

“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up Herod the tetrarch m and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
Acts13:1-3

Apostles are in fact “Sent Ones” and they emerge out the fivefold gift ministries mentioned by Paul in Ephesians 4:11-12:

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:11-12

Apostles are then teachers, pastors, evangelists and prophets who once given to local church ministry have been set aside by the Holy Spirit for trans-local or itinerant ministry with an emphasis upon church planting. They therefore, as in Paul’s case, have a home base to which they are accountable. This is why Paul returned to Antioch after his missionary journeys. Note Acts 14:26. True preachers are not “loners” doing their own independent thing without reference to a governing oversight! It was in this light that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy came to Thessaloniki. We should then consider the following:

1. Ministry initiated by the Holy Spirit will not be in vain

“For you yourselves know that our coming to you was not in vain.” (2:1)

This is truly a challenge to those who would go into the world to serve Christ. Men and women who appoint themselves to ministry without the authority and confirmation of a sending group risk engaging in un-commanded or “in vain” ministry. That is, ministry that in the end will not have heavenly endorsement and significance. Many have walked this road!

2.Ministry initiated by the Holy Spirit is not free from troubles, trials and difficulties

Paul states, “We were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict” (2:2).

We must take note of the word “much.” To involve oneself in the work of the ministry is no easy task as one will be constantly in conflict with the devil, the world and the carnal nature of people’s characters. Truly this is not a vocation for sissys! The servant of God must have courage, boldness and perseverance.

3. Ministry initiated by the Holy Spirit is rooted in a genuine desire to please Christ and serve His people

“For our exhortation did not come from error, or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.” (2:3-4)

Preachers of the gospel should never be in it for themselves and God, Paul tells us, will routinely test their hearts in this regard. He does this by allowing trials and difficulties to assault them. The “wolf” or charlatan will quickly abandon or abuse the sheep when these arrive.

Having made these foundational comments Paul then sets out in greater detail the pitfalls into which preachers can step, and which he avoided and thereby demonstrated his true calling and credentials. They are:

1. He and his apostolic associates refrained from using “flattering words”.

“For neither at any time did we use flattering words…” (2:5a)

That is, they were not going to ” butter up” their hearers in order to gain some type of advantage or prestige from them. They were called to preach the plain truth of the Word of God and they would not move away from this holy work.

2. He and his apostolic associates refrained from using their platform for financial gain.

“…….nor a cloak for covetousness . God is witness.” (2.5b)

That is, they did not manipulate scripture in order to exploit the people of God financially. This is a sin that has engulfed many preachers today and certainly some famous tele-evangelists have fallen because of it. It has brought the gospel into disrepute and destroyed the lives of many sincere children of God who trusted and believed in what the man of God before them said. Paul knew the danger that lurked in this area and so he preached the gospel “free of charge!” Jesus he knew would care for him, and He did.

3. He and his apostolic band refrained from seeking special recognition by virtue of the ministry to which they were called as apostles of Christ.

“Nor did we seek glory among men…….” (2:6)

Paul was not into or given to titles that elevated him and those with him. That is, the term Apostle was for them not a title but a designation of function. Paul was quite simply a church planter and nothing more. Today we have preachers giving themselves all sorts of wonderful titles such as Senior Pastor, Executive Pastor, Apostle, Archbishop and even Pastor. The right title according to Paul is Minister meaning, “One who serves!” The authority and power in Paul’s ministry was given to him to edify and build people up and not to laud it over them or give him some kind of special designation. 2 Corinthians 10:7-8

Paul was always aware of the very real dangers that leaders of the flock of God had to grapple with. Many, even in his day, fell into them and so he constantly gave warning about these. His words to the Ephesian Church are significant in this respect:

“From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said, “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews.”……………”Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”
Acts 20:17-19, 28-29

This passage from the Acts of the Apostles very much reflects Paul’s testimony in the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians and therefore reminds us of the sincere and humble servant of Jesus that Paul was. His life still speaks to us and we thank God for him because he was sold out to God and wished to glorify Christ in all that he did. We need men and women of God like this today.

Malcolm Hedding

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – part 2

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – part 2

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Paul’s first letter to the Church at Thessaloniki – Study 2

Having opened the letter with a greeting and a statement of thanksgiving concerning the sincere commitment to Christ of the believers at Thessaloniki, Paul then turns his attention to the impact that the Word of God has upon people when it is faithfully preached. He therefore writes about:

A. The preaching of the Word of God. 1:5

We have already noted in our introduction to the letter that Paul travelled from Philippi to Thessaloniki. He was thus an itinerant preacher or more correctly an Apostle or Sent One. The bible teaches that the Word of God is carried to the world by preachers. These are raised up by God and without them the will and purpose of God cannot be fulfilled (Romans 10:14-17). However, a preacher has to have certain credentials because he is the custodian of the message of eternal salvation. That is, he must in every way reflect or embody the message that he brings. Paul understood this and therefore he reminds the believers at Thessaloniki of four things:

1. That he made the journey to preach to them.
How blessed are a people to receive a faithful preacher of God’s holy Word. Believe me these are not easily found and even Jesus acknowledged that the “harvest was plentiful but the laborers were few (Matthew 9:37-38).” We should therefore pray that God would raise up true laborers who will care for His flock and faithfully preach His Word.

2. That he preached in power
For the carnal heart to succumb to the call of Christ it must be broken by powerful preaching. Such preaching is effective because it comes from a preacher who knows that the things he is saying are true. That is, he preaches with conviction and zeal. A preacher who doesn’t must be avoided!

3. That he preached in the Holy Spirit
This means that he depended on the Holy Spirit to give him the right words to say and to guide him as to where he would deliver them. The human condition is different from place to place and only the Holy Spirit can guide us in terms of reaching the right people with the right words. So Paul demonstrated this when he heeded the Macedonian Call (Acts 16:6-10) and so did Phillip when he left a revival in Samaria and went down south to preach to an Ethiopian Eunuch as he traveled home (Acts 8:26-40). It was in fact the Macedonian call that came to Paul in a dream that in the end led him to Thessaloniki. True preachers must walk with the Holy Spirit because if not they will find themselves in the wrong place with the wrong words and consequently labor in vain!

4. That he preached with his life
That is, he lived out what he called them to follow. He certainly was not perfect but he did reflect Jesus to the extent that they could see Him in Paul and therefore were determined to follow Christ by following Paul. This is quite astonishing and constitutes a challenge to every person who would desire to be a preacher of God’s holy Word. Paul always called the people of God to follow him as he followed Christ (Philippians 3:17).

B. The hearing of the Word of God 1:6-8

We have already noted how important it is to preach the Word of God but what should be the correct response to it by those who hear it? Well the believers at Thessaloniki demonstrated this because the text affirms it when it states:

1. That they became followers of Paul and of Christ when they heard the Word of God.

2. That they received the Word with affliction. The message of Jesus is most certainly counter culture and consequently, when properly received it attracts resistance and opposition. Sin is so entrenched in the lives of people that when it is challenged by the light and righteousness of Christ it arouses hatred and anger. For this reason Jesus said that the world would hate us, just as it hated Him. The book of Acts well documents this and we should be really concerned about a form of Christianity that finds a warm welcome in the community. The real thing stirs up the carnality of people and brings affliction to those who embrace it. Wesley said to a well known doctor after he repented of his sins and gave his life to Christ, “I hope that by this time tomorrow your name stinketh.”

3. That they received the Word with joy and enthusiasm
The joy of salvation stamped upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit is a wonderful reality. It is supernatural, overflowing, and irrepressible (Romans 14:17). It also drives us to impart it to others so that they too can experience it. A church living in a dynamic relationship with Jesus will always become evangelistic. Actually, this is what revival is all about! Only Christians can be revived and when they are the kingdom of God expands automatically. So, the church at Thessaloniki “became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia and beyond (V7-8)”.

We should carefully meditate upon these truths and make sure that they are reflected in our lives and churches. Paul then concludes the first chapter by underlining the fruits or evidences of a true salvation experience. These are:

1. Turning to God from idols. 1:9
An idol is not only an image of some type but it is anything that is a worthless object of worship, and anything that takes first place in our lives before the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. This could be a hobby, a family member or even a career. The believers at Thessaloniki repented of these and so should we!

2. Expectantly waiting for the second coming of Jesus. 1:10a
A so called believer who has no interest in the subject of the second coming of Jesus is like someone attending a football match but having no interest in the game. We look for the signs of Jesus’ coming because by it we are transformed into immortality and swept up into the eternal kingdom of God. Indeed, as we take Communion we are enjoined by scripture to do this with a clear spiritual eye upon the second coming of Jesus. Paul put it this way, “For as often as you do this you do proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” I Corinthians 11:23-26).

3. Understanding what Jesus did for us on the cross. 1:10b
That is, that He endured the wrath of God on the cross on our behalf so that we, who fully deserve it, can be free from it and reconciled to God (John 3:36).

Malcolm Hedding

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – Part 1

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – Part 1

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Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Thessaloniki
part 1

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Introduction

As we begin our study of this wonderful Pauline letter we must remember that it is indeed a letter and actually not a book. It is written to the congregation at Thessaloniki and therefore the text must be expounded with this in mind. That is, we should not over complicate our understanding of it but simply endeavor to discover what the letter intended to say to old and young alike. By doing this we will honor Paul, the context and be encouraged by what he had to say to his readers.

Also, as we have noted in our introduction, in our previous podcast, the letter is general in content addressing many themes that are important to understand as we, like the believers at Thessaloniki, set out to follow Christ and end well.

A. The Greeting 1:1
Paul begins with his familiar greeting by affirming the congregations standing and position with God. They are in God the Father and in Christ Jesus and therefore he draws our attention immediately to the nature of the Godhead. Jesus then enjoys equality with God, something that He surrendered for a season in order to redeem the world from sin. Not that He ceased to be fully God but instead laid aside some of the attributes of divinity in order to become fully man. In his letter to the Church at Philippi Paul writes of this glorious truth (Philippians 2:5-7). To some extent this holds mystery, a fact that Paul acknowledges in his first letter to Timothy:

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.”
1 Timothy 3:16

Having asserted the nature of the godhead he then extends God’s grace and peace to the congregation. Our relationship with God, by Jesus Christ, is entirely rooted in His unmerited favor extended toward us which brings us, who were once His enemies, into a place of peace with Him. This is truly wonderful and the goal of our earthly pilgrimage.

It is worth noting that the congregation at Thessaloniki more than likely gathered in homes.

B. Paul’s commitment to the congregation 1:2
Paul is mindful of the healthy spiritual condition of the congregation and reminds them that it is with thanksgiving that he continuously prays for them. This certainly reminds us of our obligations to the local Body of Christ. Prayer is essential to its well being and we must shoulder this calling just as Paul did.

C. Paul’s thankfulness for the congregation 1:3-4
Paul is thankful for their testimony to biblical faith in that:

1. Their faith is active and productive.
That is, it is a work of faith and therefore produces results. We are certainly saved by faith alone in Jesus finished work on the cross on our behalf but we go on to validate this faith by engaging in works of faith in the life of the local congregation and the world (Ephesians 2:10). Another way of putting it is to say that good works are not the grounds of our salvation but they are certainly the evidence of it. James in his epistle reminds us of this ( James 2:17-20).

2. Their love for one another is sacrificial
Real love is not a fuzzy feeling or a hug but rather a labor! Love means learning to sacrifice and go out of our way for one another. This type of love is not often witnessed in many congregations but it was at Thessaloniki. Of course Jesus manifested it when He died for us on the cross and we can and should embrace the same attitude, but not many do! In his letter to the Philippians Paul reminds us of our obligations in this regard (Philippians 2:5-11).

3. Their hope is steadfast and immovable
The believers at Thessaloniki were convinced and fully assured of the hope of eternal life that would be fully ushered in by Jesus’ second coming. What makes hope certain in our lives, and thus enables us to be patient in waiting for the things we believe to materialize, is the fact that we have by the Spirit of God received a down payment or deposit of the things to come (Ephesians 1:13-14; Galatians 4:6; Hebrews 6:5).

4. Their election is sure
They are, as Paul puts it, the elect of God. We should not water this mystery down as many attempt to do. Without the drawing work of God in our lives none of us can be saved (John 6:44) and consequently God, by foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:1-2), draws some and others He never engages (Romans 9:14-16). Given the fruit of repentance and salvation Paul acknowledges that they are a part of God’s election. This gives him much joy. We too must make our election and calling sure by demonstrating the life of Christ (2 Peter 1:10).

May God by Jesus Christ bless this study to your hearts.

Malcolm Hedding

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – Introduction

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – Introduction

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Paul’s First Letter to The Church at Thessaloniki

“These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”
Acts 17:6

Introduction

This epistle, considered by church historians to be Paul’s first, is believed to have been written in about 52 AD. It arises out of Paul’s second missionary journey, recorded in Acts 17, when he and Silas arrived in Thessaloniki having journeyed there from Philippi. The journey had thus far been tumultuous as he and Silas had been jailed in Philippi for preaching the Gospel there. This is because their message, though verified by the Jewish scriptures, was bold and radical and called upon men and women to repent, embrace Jesus as Lord and live out a different life style to that of the prevailing culture. This is seen by the statement of their accusers that went as follows:

“These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach
customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.”
Acts 16:20-21

This reminds us that when the Good News of Jesus is properly preached, the carnal nature of those who hear it will be angered and rise up to resist it. Push back, is part and parcel of the mission and we should not forget it, or be surprised by it.

It is thus interesting to note that Paul and Silas’ reputation for stirring up trouble went before them in that when they arrived at Thessaloniki it was declared of them, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too”(Acts 17:6). Yes, the Gospel does turn the world upside down but only for its good because it promises the sure hope of eternal life.

It is also worth noting that Paul and Silas, having planted churches in Philippi and Thessaloniki, then grounded them by writing letters to them. By these they could leave a written legacy by which to guard the believers from theological error and by which they could perpetuate their pastoral relationship with them. We are most thankful for this because these letters, being so remarkable in content and teaching, eventually became the inspired Word of the Living God and  consequently continue to encourage, inspire and correct us today. The lesson is clear, our godly actions today may well be a living legacy by which others can be built up in their faith and love for Jesus for many years to come. How wonderful it is that Paul is still speaking to us today! At a lessor level of course, so is Martin Luther, John Wesley, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Andrew Murray, Campbell Morgan, Dwight Moody, Derek Prince, David Pawson, Lance Lambert, Billy Graham and many more. What legacy will you leave behind?

The contents of 1 Thessalonians is diverse  and rich and introduces us to a number of vital themes that we shall explore together in future podcasts. These are:

1. The evidence of true faith and conversion 1:1-10
2. The relationship between true shepherds and their congregations 2:1-20
3. The reality and role of affliction in a believer’s life 3:1-13
4. The need to live sanctified and holy lives 4:1-8
5. The importance of addressing practical issues 4:9-12
6. The believer’s triumph over death 4:13-18
7. The coming Day of the lord 5:1-11
8. Important exhortations 5:12-22
9. Final greeting exhortation 5:23-28

In the weeks to come we shall closely exam all these issues and thereby seek to embrace all that Paul was seeking to impart to the believers at Thessaloniki. God bless you.

Malcolm Hedding

Understanding the Antichrist

Understanding the Antichrist

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“Now the Spirit expressly says (underlines the fact) that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” 1 Timothy 4:1

“The Elder; To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever.” 2 John 1-2

The Testing of The People of God

The concept of Antichrist in the Bible is not just the rise of an evil individual who has to be identified and avoided. While this is partly true, it is a fact that an Antichrist is someone that God allows to emerge on the stage of history, at different points in time, in order to purify His people, prepare them for His purpose and put them to the test. That is, to lay bare the real nature of their commitment to Him. We all declare our loyalty to Christ but can He depend upon us in an urgent time or will we deny Him like Peter did? To put in another way, will our promise of allegiance hold true when we are threatened with false teaching, suffering, deprivation, imprisonment and even death?

At the root of the Antichrist phenomenon is the reality of deception. This is true because the word Antichrist has two meanings. The first is the presentation of that which is against Christ but the second is the presentation of that which is another teaching about Jesus that is close to the truth but actually inherently false. This latter presentation is the most dangerous and it is the one that through the centuries has derailed the people of God. The challenge that Antichrist brings then to the people of God is great, for often it is couched in miraculous signs and wonders and only our love for the truth of God’s word will enable us to withstand it. It is in this context that Antichrist is first mentioned in the Bible:

“If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and sign or wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods’-which you have not known – ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 13:1-3

It is to be noted that Antichrist poses a unique challenge to the people of God in that, unlike other false prophets, who are declared as such when their predictions do not come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:20-22), the false signs and wonders of an Antichrist actually do come to pass! The problem is, these contradict the truth of God’s word and herein lies the challenge and test for the people of God; will they love truth more than the sensational couched in signs and wonders? Paul acknowledged this challenge in his second epistle to the Church at Thessaloniki:

“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12

Also, it is important to note that God allows Antichrist to rise so that He might sift the people of God for He is indeed testing them to make evident whether they do in fact love Him with all their hearts and souls. Jesus clearly echoed the words of Moses when He stated that those who commit their lives to God through Him must love God with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength ( Matthew 22:37). Paul, in his second letter to the believers at Thessaloniki reminded them that he had previously warned them of these things and that by the rise of Antichrist God Himself would be sending a “strong delusion” amongst them because He “tests our hearts” (2 Thessalonians 2:5;1 Thessalonians 2:4). Jesus warned that the coming of Antichrist would possibly even deceive the elect:

“For false christs and false prophets will and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.” Mark 13:22-23

It is to be noted then that the idea that believers in God, by Jesus Christ, will not be subjected to the testings of God by the instrument of Antichrist is not biblical. It has always been a biblical and spiritual phenomenon and certainly one that has been established by Moses himself and re-asserted by Jesus. This text means that demonic power, under the sovereignty of God, will set out by intrigue and deception to see whether the elect can be overthrown. If this were not possible why then would Jesus warn them? The answer is clear, it is possible and therefore He gives His followers prior warning. Church history affirms that this is true!

The Arrival of Many Antichrists

For reasons given above history affirms that at all times and throughout the generations, Antichrists have arisen to test the people of God in an attempt to deceive them. John, the beloved Apostle, wrote of this in his first epistle:

“Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us; they would have continued with us…..” 1 John 2:18-19

John admits that one final and great Antichrist will arrive dominating the world and persecuting the Church. About this he writes extensively in the book of Revelation but he also affirms that from within the Church of the living God these antichrist people and leaders have also arisen. No doubt he was thinking of Diotrephes about whom he writes in 3 John 9-10! These antichrists are observable because they contradict biblical truth and the divine pattern for local churches and love to be wholly in charge or as he puts it, to have “the preeminence.” They are sadly still around. Paul warned the Ephesian Church Elders that after his departure “wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29).

The history of the Church is strewn with the wreckage that such people have visited upon it. In the early Church, as the Antichrists Nero, Diocletian and others rose to power in Rome, many in the Church, when under the pressure of persecution, committed apostasy by denying Christ and worshipping Caesar as lord of all. They later attempted to rejoin the Church causing great schism and controversy. Also, prominent Bishops, having great influence, began to question the deity of Christ and thereby brought deception into the believing community. Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria was called upon by God to challenge Arius, a priest from Libya, about these things. Antichrist was ravaging the Church everywhere as Arius’ false teachings about Jesus’ identity took hold throughout the empire. One historian of the day wrote:

“In every city bishop was contending with bishop, and the people were contending against one another, like swarms of gnats fighting the air.”

It was only at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 that these issues were settled and the Church was saved from Antichrist but many fell, embraced deception and committed apostasy. The confirmation of the Canon of the New Testament also contributed greatly to resolving this matter and again, it was Bishop Athanasius who first set forth the 27 books of the New Testament for canonization. Truth won out against antichrist deception but even today this battle continues to rage in that many deceiving doctrines have penetrated the Church.

Probably the most glaring example of Antichrist of our time is Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime. Their belief system was dark, demonic and evil and yet the believing Church of all designations in Germany embraced it and made an agreement with it! People like Pastor Martin Niemoller and the Rev Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood up against this wickedness but most were deceived and happily, and might I say, enthusiastically, welcomed it. They abandoned the truth! The video footage of the time of Catholic and Protestant Church leaders giving the Nazi salute is unnerving to say the least. They were overcome by deception but don’t for a moment think that it cannot happen again. The early signs of Church capitulation to false doctrines and government over reach are everywhere evident today. Indeed the spirit of Antichrist is feverishly at work seeking to undermine believers in Jesus with false doctrines and deception. Also they are seeking to build a global political platform upon which the final Antichrist will ascend. Today this is proudly announced as the “Great Reset!” The root of this “reset” is pagan and anti-Christian in character and so another challenging test awaits the people of God.

The Nature of Antichrist

There are some who assert that the final great Antichrist of history will not be an individual but rather a political system. They are wrong and their position is not biblical. In the book of Deuteronomy the God of the Bible clearly tells us that these false teachers will be individuals. Certainly the Antichrist will build a global system, just like a spider builds a web by which to trap his prey, but from a scriptural point of view the Antichrist is always an individual. In fact, the very prototype of Antichrist in scripture is an individual called Antiochus Epiphanes (essentially meaning “God Manifest”) who, in BC 168 committed the Abomination of Desolation in the Temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig on the altar. We are introduced to him in Daniel’s oracle and he serves as a template for the great Antichrists to come (Daniel 7:23-25: 9:27; 11:31-39).

Though he assaulted biblical truth and committed the “abomination of desolation” there were in fact many Jews who supported him as they agreed with his globalist plan to “hellenize the world”. This means that no faith claiming an exclusive revelation to that of others could be tolerated and allowed to exist and so in the days of Antiochus the Jewish faith had to be subdued and its unique teachings debunked. There are many ways to heaven in the Antichrist scheme of things. Of this saga Robert Van Kampen writes: “Many Jews were so eager to please Antiochus and to avoid persecution that they not only forsook the Mosaic Law but even their racial identity and heritage, considering themselves from then on to be Gentiles.” However, under the fire of persecution, many God fearing Jews stood up and opposed Antiochus. Most famous of these is Judas Hasmoneas (Maccabee), who together with his family and many other God fearing Jews, led a revolt against this tyranny.

Today, in every so called Christian country in the West, Christians are under assault for declaring that Jesus is the only way of salvation (John 14:6). Also, if one publicly expresses a biblical world view on an issue like the nature of family or sexuality one could be arrested and put on trial, as we have witnessed in Finland recently. The “hellenizing or antichrist spirit” is evident and growing everywhere. John warned us about this but will we stand or surrender to the coming new Antiochus Epiphanes?

“By this you know the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (meaning that He is the only way of salvation) is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of Antichrist, which you heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” 1 John 4:2-3

In His Olivet Discourse, dealing with the signs heralding the consummation of the age, Jesus referred back to Antiochus Epiphanes by quoting Daniel and said that what he had done 200 years before would occur again in just a short while and then again at the end of the age. In AD 70 Titus of Rome also desecrated the Temple, just as Jesus prophesied. Now we are looking at the rise of a New World Order that will pave the way for the final Antichrist of history to take control of the world. Jesus has warned us of this, as have Paul and John, but spirits of deception have risen up within the Church to declare that we need not bother ourselves with such warnings because we will be taken out of the world (raptured) beforehand! But Jesus, speaking to the Church said:

“Therefore when you see the Abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Matthew 24:15-16

The Apostle Paul used exactly the same language, again quoting from Daniel, when he wrote that at the end of the age the Beast or Antichrist, like Antiochus Epiphanes, would desecrate the Temple and declare Himself to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Paul then went on to write that he would be destroyed by Jesus at His second coming. This means that this final setting up of the “Abomination of Desolation” is still ahead of us:

“And then the lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” 2 Thessalonians 2:8

The biblical position is therefore clear about the fact that Antichrist will be an all powerful global ruler who, like the ancient Emperors of Rome, will oppose the Church and Israel and seek to destroy both. But, his evil demonic spirit is already working in the world and within the Church in order to deceive many and pave the way for his arrival. Nevertheless, God is looking for those who will stand up, be purified and, holding to truth, do exploits in His name.

“Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.” Daniel 11:32

The Actions of Antichrist

It is the book of Revelation that enlightens us more specifically about the plans and actions of Antichrist. This book, written in about AD 92 and thus some twenty years after Titus committed the abomination of desolation in Jerusalem, is exclusively addressed to the believing Church in the world (Revelation 1:1-3;10-11). Sadly, it is routinely neglected by preachers but it is a very important oracle because it speaks at length about the rise of the final Antichrist. John then tells us that he:

1. Will arise out of the abyss and thus be a demonoid. That is, constitutionally half man and half devil (Revelation 11:7; 17:8).

2. Has been here before but died from a mortal head wound (Revelation 13:3) and will thus be recognized with amazement by the world at the time of his reappearing on the world political stage ( Revelation 17:8-9).

3. Will solve the world’s pressing and destructive problems, including the Arab/Israeli conflict, and will be welcomed and admired by everyone just as Hitler was (Revelation 13:4).

4. Will assault biblical truth, stand against Jesus of Nazareth and blaspheme the God of Heaven (Revelation 13:5-6).

5. Will make war against the saints of God (Revelation 13:7a).

6. Will cause all nations to serve and worship him. That is, every tribe, tongue and nation will give their allegiance to him but, if they do, they will be shut out of the Lambs Book of Life (Revelation 23:7b-8).

7. Will target the Christians across the earth and consequently they will have to endure with patience and even death his reign of terror (Revelation 13:10).

8. Will perform great signs and confirming wonders all inspired by raw Satanic power (Revelation 14:11-15).

9. Will inaugurate a water tight global economic and religious system that will make it impossible for believers in Jesus to operate and survive in (Revelation 13:16-18)……and,

10. He will be apprehended and destroyed by Jesus at His second coming (Revelation 19:19-20).

Some Final Thoughts

It is clear from scripture that the rise of Antichrist is a challenge to the Church. Scripture warns that because of this challenge many Christians will fall away and by so doing commit a great apostasy. Please note that one can only fall away from something that one formerly belonged to Jesus and Paul warned of this:

“Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound the love of many will grow cold.” Matthew 24:11-12

“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the Day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3

Much of the Church is sleeping today, especially in the West, but in the Middle East, Africa and beyond literally millions of Christians are suffering and dying under the tyranny of many antichrists. However, we are rapidly moving toward a new world order and the rise of a final great Antichrist who will rule over every nation, tribe and tongue and we must not only warn each other but also strengthen our relationship with Jesus, personally and corporately. This is an urgent matter because it occupies vast passages of scripture. Sadly these have been ignored and even mocked by statements like, ” We are not looking for Antichrist but for Christ.” The early Church faced Antichrist, as did the great Reformers, the German Church under the Third Reich, the underground Church of the Soviet Union and China and many others under the heel of radical Islam. It is time to awaken to the truth of God’s word.

Also, it is clear from scripture that Israel and the Jewish people have always been the target of Antichrist. This is so because they are the vehicle of world redemption. That is, the means by which God has brought His word and Savior into the world (Romans 9:1-5). This is why Jesus said that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Antiochus Epiphanes set out to destroy them as did Haman in Babylon, Herod at the time of Jesus’ birth, the Caesars of Rome, those naming Jesus in Europe in the Middle Ages, Hitler and radical Islam. You must know that we are moving toward an all out assault against Israel by Antichrist. It is in a restored Temple in Jerusalem, according to scripture, that Antichrist will declare himself to be god and seek to finally overthrow the Jewish people. Antiochus will have arrived again!

Again, in terms of this soon coming deception that will assault the Church and Israel, Robert Van Kampen writes:

“In order to gain the world’s support and to consolidate all political and military power under his personal control, Antichrist will operate incognito prior to and throughout the first half of (Daniel’s) seventieth week. During this time many will throw their lot in with him, only to find it impossible to extricate themselves once his true identity is revealed.”

This is the trap that is coming and even now we see signs of it in terms of the “buying and selling” prohibitions and mandates forced upon communities by tyrannical leaders like Justin Trudeau. These my friends are dangerous days but God is in control of all things. He has given us ample and very detailed warnings about the times in which we live. The question is, are we taking heed? If history teaches us anything it is that we are not! I have written these few words to encourage you, tell you the truth and help you to press in to know and love Jesus as never before. May God be with you.

Maranatha!

Malcolm Hedding

The Prince of Rosh of Gog and Magog

The Prince of Rosh of Gog and Magog

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“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face  against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Mesheck, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Mesheck, and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords.” Ezekiel 38:1-4

“And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal; and I will turn you around and lead you on, bringing you up from the far north and bring you against the mountains of Israel.” Ezekiel 39:1-2

For a long time I have written about the ultimate destiny and plans of the Russian Federation. These include regional hegemony as we now see unfolding in the Ukraine and strategic domination in Eurasia and beyond reaching into the Middle East. This is not political analysis but the teaching of scripture to be found in the book of Ezekiel. The ultimate end game of what we are witnessing now will be Israel. Even as I write, given Russia’s penetration into the Middle East and America’s loss of prestige and influence in the region after the withdrawal fiasco from Afghanistan, Israel is increasingly having to play a careful diplomatic game with Putin. She is literally dancing on “hot coals.”

The truth is, the God of the Bible is putting hooks into the Russian bear’s jaw and dragging it down into a final conflict with Him whereby it will finally fall on the mountains of Israel. In the process peoples and nations, like that of the Ukraine, are facing war and turmoil. How then should we pray? The answer lies in the understanding that God gave Habakkuk. He could not alter or change the revealed purpose of God but he could pray in alignment with it, meaning:

1. That God is sovereign and his ways are far above ours. He thus, when wickedness overflows in nations will move to judge it by war. The Prophet Habakkuk was truly scandalized at this thought because he knew Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to be a wicked ruthless tyrant. The idea then that God would call him forth as an instrument of judgment against the nation of Judah was consequently unacceptable to him and he told God as much. God is surely using Putin in the same way!! Believe me, this is just the beginning as the nations are ” ripe for judgment” because of their rebellion against Jesus of Nazareth and their overflowing wickedness. Hear then the words of God to Habakkuk:

“Look among the nations and watch- be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you. For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty  nation which marches through the breadth of the earth to possess dwelling places that are not theirs.” Habakkuk 1:5-6

2. We must then pray that in the Ukraine God, in His wrath, will have mercy and thereby bring many of the unsaved to Himself. That is, our prayers should be concentrated on the lost and their need for salvation.

3. When the truth finally dawned upon Habakkuk he wondered how the true people of God would survive all of this? The answer was swift and very encouraging, ” The just shall live by their faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). The actual word “faith” here means faithfulness. This is not sloppy Christian living but true dedication and zeal for God validated over time. The promise of God to the Christians of the Ukraine is that they will live, or be safe and survive, if they have been faithful. We would be wise to take note of this and so we should pray for Ukrainian Christians in this context.

4. That this trial will purify the Church in the Ukraine and bring many of its members to repentance and renewal. This is the picture presented by Habakkuk’s oracle and we must also pray for the Church in the Ukraine with this in mind and for its leaders. Hear is Habakkuk’s prayer in this regard:

“O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O Lord, revive your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2

5. Habakkuk knew that God was in control of Judah’s destiny as a nation and that beyond the raging conflict peace would come with great blessing. He therefore arose from the depression and confusion that had beset him and with much joy praised the God of Israel:

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fall, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls. Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord is my strength: He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” Habakkuk 3:17-19

The prophet finally learned that our well being and spiritual life does not emanate from national leaders and the state of our nations but from God! No doubt we must learn this too and we must pray that the Ukrainian Church will find this truth and rejoice in it at this time. This does not mean that we should not pray for our nations and their leaders. We must for this is the command of scripture (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

6. Finally, it is clear that Habakkuk was deeply concerned about the welfare of his nation, and rightly so as we all should be. We must pray then that God will bring peace to the Ukraine and that nothing, by the design of demonic power, would go beyond the determined purpose of God. It is of course comforting to know that God is set against Putin and his plans and will in the end bring him down. This is something that we must hold before the throne of God in intercession. Let us all be on our knees in prayer.

In this urgent and terrible time may God be with the Ukrainian people, its Church and their leaders and save them from the bully of the north.

Malcolm Hedding

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur

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                        “So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place,

                         because of the uncleanness of the children of

                         Israel, and because of their transgressions, for

                         all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabern-

                         acle of meeting which remains among them in

                         the midst of their uncleanness.”

                                                            Leviticus 16:16

 

                        “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost

                         those who come to God through Him, since He

                         always lives to make intercession for them. For

                         such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy,

                         harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and

                         has become higher than the heavens…”

                                                            Hebrews 7:25-26

 

Yom Kippur is the Great Day of Atonement. It is an awesome day in which nothing moves, cities and their commerce come to a complete standstill in Israel and even the roads, just the day before congested and given to gridlock, are empty. It’s as if all of creation is holding its breath since this is the Day when sinners, living under the wrath of God, can be freed from it. It requires introspection, fasting and prayer and the courage to acknowledge one’s sins and cast one’s self upon the grace of God. Only God’s unmerited favor can save us from His anger and a lost eternity.

In days of old the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies on this day and there before the Mercy Seat on the Ark present the blood of the Lord’s Goat.  Around his one foot a rope was tied in case He was struck down dead and thus could be pulled out. On the fringe of his High Priestly garments were little bells, which used to tinkle together when the atoning sacrifice was accepted because the power of God’s anointing and love would come upon him. It was a sound of joy and the whole nation would listen intently for it. If heard they knew that their sins were again overlooked (Romans 3:23-25)(Acts 17:30) and not attributed to them. They were free from the wrath of God!

The Scapegoat was at the same time brought before the High Priest who confessed the sins of the nation over it and then sent it away into the wilderness. This goat was called the Azazel, which also means “The one who opposes.” So, the Scapegoat not only carried the sins of the people away into the wilderness of forgetfulness but it also symbolized release from the Devil and his demons. What an amazing picture of God’s perfect deliverance in Christ Jesus.

The Day of Yom Kippur reminds us of the gravity of sin, the great price that Jesus paid to release us from its grip and the joy of being reconciled to God. The Scapegoat also symbolizes our complete deliverance from inbred sin and from the Devil. This is exactly what Jesus came to do (Acts 10:38). This is a Day that reminds us of God’s mercy and love and just how undeserving of these we are. It teaches us to fear God and live righteously before Him since Jesus, taking our place on the cross, spilt His blood to save us from the wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 1:10). A great price was paid for our redemption and we should never forget it (1 Peter 1:18-19). This is precisely why we take the sacrament of Communion regularly. We surely must remember what Jesus did for us on the cross and thus Yom Kippur is an awesome reminder of the reverence we should hold in our hearts for it.

Malcolm Hedding.

The High Holy Days

The High Holy Days

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Rosh Hashana
“And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you
shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work.
for you it is a day of blowing the trumpets.”
Numbers 29:1

Yom Kippur
“On the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy
convocation. You shall afflict your souls; you shall not do any
work.”
Numbers 29:7

The Feast of Tabernacles
“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy
convocation. You shall do no customary work, and you shall keep
a feast to the Lord for seven days.”
Numbers 29:12

Rosh Hashana
With the onset of September, we are nearing the High Holy Days in Israel and all around the world. These begin with Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and conclude with the Feast of Tabernacles. One can view these as a whole or individually. In terms of the latter they remind us of God’s scrutiny over our lives and thus the need to live lives that please Him. It is the prayer of every Jew at Rosh Hashana that the year following be a sweet and blessed one. Hence apples and honey are served to exemplify this and are eaten with the greeting, “Shana Tova and may you have a good inscription.” That is, may God approve of your life and be pleased with your love for Him. Thus, at Rosh Hashana trumpets (Shofars) are blown everywhere in Israel in order to awaken the people of God to the things of God. Surely, we too, as never before, must awaken to the great purposes of the Kingdom of God. Paul urged the believers at Ephesus to do just this:

“Therefore, He says:
“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”
Ephesians 5:14

So then, Rosh Hashana reminds us, that God, by Jesus Christ, scrutinizes our lives and brings us into seasons of correction if our lives are not fully pleasing to him (Hebrews 12:5-8). Certainly, Jesus’ message to the Seven Churches of Asia, found in the book of Revelation, reminds us of this. Therefore, on this day the book of Job is very often read because it is believed by many great Jewish sages that it was at Rosh Hashana that the sons of God appeared before Him for scrutiny and thus the Devil challenged God to really examine and test Job by allowing him to afflict his body (Job 1:6-12). It’s also worth noting that our first appointment in heaven will be that of Judgment and so we should live our lives in the light of this reality (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Yom Kippur
Rosh Hashana is followed by the “Ten Days of Awe”. During this period the believer is given the opportunity to prepare his heart for the great Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. The focus here is upon repentance and God’s grace in providing an effective atonement for sins. This atonement is vicarious in nature in that one dies in the place of another and so the sins of the people are confessed over a Scapegoat which is then released into the wilderness of forgetfulness and then the Lord’s Goat is put to death thus bearing the penalty of the people. This awesome “Day of Atonement”” is set apart or sanctified by national fasting and prayer. On this “Day” nothing moves in Israel. The roads are quiet and empty and there is a real sense of something different in the air. It is truly a day for one to humble oneself under the mighty “hand of God” and for the nation to do the same. In the end then it speaks of a redeemed nation living under the blessings and approval of God. On this great day, in times of old, the whole nation would gather outside the Temple in absolute awe, silence and expectation as the High Priest entered the very Holy of Holies with the blood of the “Lord’s Goat”, to be sprinkled on the Mercy Seat atop the Ark of the Covenant. He would have a cord tied to one of his feet in case the offering was not accepted, and thus he would be struck down by the anger of God. He could consequently be pulled out of the Holy of Holies. It was truly a heart-stopping moment. However, if the atonement was approved by Heaven, then the power of God would descend upon the High Priest and the little bells fastened to the fringe of his high priestly garments would begin to tinkle.

Tradition has it that a ribbon, dipped in the blood of the atoning goat, was attached to the outer structure of the Temple for all to see and so when the atoning sacrifice was well pleasing to God, it turned white as snow. You can imagine the joy of the people! The people and the nation were well pleasing to God and He had forgiven their sins. We too must be well pleasing to God in all things (Colossians 1:9-10). Isaiah caught this reality when he wrote:

“Come now, and let us reason together”, Says the Lord, though
your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though
they are red like crimson; they shall be as wool.”
Isaiah 1:18

The Feast of Tabernacles
No wonder, just a few days later, Yom Kippur is followed by the joyous celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Those who know God enjoy His blessings and have good reason to rejoice. All of this can be applied to us as Christians. We have great and special lessons to learn from a proper understanding of The Feasts of the Lord. However, these Feasts of the Lord also speak directly to us about the nation of Israel. They remind us that we share in “their spiritual things” (Romans 15:27) and rejoice before their God because a Jewish Messiah offered Himself on our behalf and by His spilt blood released us from our sins and the judgment of God (1 Peter 1:18-19). We have much to rejoice about as His atoning sacrifice, on our behalf, has been accepted by God. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

“…having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to
Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise
of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in
the Beloved.”
Ephesians 1:5-6

The Prophet Zechariah, in the fourteenth chapter of his book, wrote about this time of great joy that will not only befall Israel but indeed the nations. The whole world will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles as it represents the triumph of the Kingdom of God and as such is a Feast of great Joy. This reminds us that we too are to be a joyful people because the Kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Our joy, as with all things, really only comes from God and thus during the Feast of Tabernacles the people of Israel live in flimsy booths or tabernacles covered with the leaves and branches from trees. By these they demonstrate their total trust in and dependency upon God. What a wonderful lesson as to how we should live our lives. Jesus must be Lord of our lives (Luke 6:46)! In the very near future all nations will ascend to Jerusalem to celebrate like this before the Lord God of Israel. The Prophet Zechariah, as I stated above, saw this day and spoke of it in these terms:

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations
which came up against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to
celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.”
Zechariah 14:16

These things are sure, that is they will come to pass, and this is why we have been called by God to comfort, bless and stand with Israel. For over forty years the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has led the way in celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles as a prophetic herald of things to come. Events unfolding in Israel are breathtaking and certainly against the tide of history. Who would have thought that the Arab states around her, like the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain, would begin to forge peace with her? Undoubtedly more will follow and It is because she is strong, reliable and no threat to them whatsoever. In fact, they will greatly benefit by living in harmony with the Jewish State. However, it is not only amazing but actually, supernatural, because the God of Israel is at work. How wonderful He is, doing all things well and without the permission of the world! Blessed be His name for He will shortly put His Son on His holly Hill of Zion (Psalm 2:1-6) and then there will be great joy in the earth. The Feast of Tabernacles will be here because the “Tabernacle of God will be with men” (Revelation 21:3).

I wish you all, and especially our dear Jewish friends, Shana Tovah!

Malcolm Hedding.