THE DIVINE ARCH OF HUMAN REDEMPTION (13)
THE PROPHETS OF ISRAEL
If there is one characteristic above all others which obtrudes itself among the many failings of men, it is that of rebellion against God and His commands. Since the days of our first parents and their transgression down through the generations of men to our own day, blatant opposition to the Creator is the paramount feature of their history. It is perhaps not surprising that such should be the case, seeing that God has for a set time given them over to their own reprobate minds and allowed them to do that which is right in their own eyes with all the horrendous consequences – evidence for which is all around us. But when God “called his son out of Egypt”, manifested His great power in the deliverance of the children of Israel, gave to them laws and ordinances of a quality and kind (the like of which for wisdom and justice and equity, have never been equalled) and poured out his blessings upon them, one would have supposed that the response would have been commensurate in obedience and submission to the magnamity of their great benefactor.
Alas it was not to be. Their subsequent history reveals the exceeding sinfulness of sin; its depravity and rebellious character and the strength of its inhering properties. Though God made clear to his people the consequences of disobedience, though he pleaded with them “Obey my voice and I will be your God and ye shall be my people and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you that it may be well with you”, yet “they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart and went backward and not forward (Jer 7:23-24). The patience and forbearance of God in the face of ever increasing declension is a remarkable witness to those attributes of His character, “since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants and prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck, they did worse that their fathers (Jer 7:25-26).
PLEADINGS TO THE PEOPLE
For a period covering some 400 years, God pleaded with his people until they were without remedy. Then and only then did he remove them from their land and scattered them throughout the countries of their enemies as he had forewarned them. But even then, there was the promise of a future and permanent regathering in an order of things which pre-empted their return to former rebellion and disobedience. This was to be accomplished by the removal of that enmity, pride, hatred, lust and selfwill which characterises human flesh and is the cause of all its defects, condemnation and resolution into dust. The means of such a desideratum was to be provided by God for it is not within mans’? own unaided power to bring it to pass. It was to be accomplished by one who should be both son of man and son of God. One who in the days of his flesh would fight the crucial battle against sin and gain the victory. One who would smite the Titan Goliath with all he represented in the forehead and render his evil thoughts and actions against God impotent in death.
THE PROMISE OF A SAVIOUR
In the writings of the prophets of Israel, there runs through them all a golden thread interwoven in their testimony making up a beautiful and complete tapestry picture of the Saviour of Israel and his work of redemption in all its remarkable detail. The doctrine of the Atonement is not just alluded to, it is spelled out in clear unmistakeable detail. Evidence for this is seen in the case of the Ethiopian Eunuch, who in returning back home from Jerusalem where he had gone to worship, was reading in his chariot the prophet Isaiah, chapter 53. Unable to perceive to whom the prophet alluded, Phillip under spirit guidance was sent to enlighten him, preaching unto him Jesus (Acts 8:35).
The subject matter of the discourse, was the atonement with all its significance in relation to the condemnation and taking away of sin, with the salvation from death which ensues. The effect upon the eunuch was immediate. He was baptized into the Name of Jesus Christ believing in the remission of his sins and rejoicing in the prospect of eternal life – and it was the Prophet Isaiah who was the source of his enlightenment.
THE LIFE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
We will look again at this particular chapter, but let us for a moment put in sequential order in relation to the life of our Lord some of the prophetic references which in a quite remarkable way foretell the very details of his birth, life, mission, death and resurrection, with particular reference to the atonement. “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, searching what, or what manner of time the spirit of Christ which was in them did signify when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow (1Pet 1:9).
In our considerations we must never lose sight of the great and precious promises made by God to the Fathers of Israel, nor that made to David concerning the establishment of the Kingdom to Israel. All the purpose of God in bringing to pass their consummation in a never ceasing cornucopia of blessings upon mankind and the earth itself, revolve around these promises, that pivotal point of which is the atoning work of Christ. It is in this realisation that the words of Isaiah 7:14-15 concerning our Lord are seen, not as a seeming interposition unrelated to the context of the chapter, but rather the Divine and only solution to the misdeeds of God’s people and their rulers then and in all ages “Hear ye now, O house of David, is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel, butter and honey shall he eat that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good”.
For an exposition of the whole chapter, we recommend reference to The Ministry of the Prophets by Bro Robert Roberts; a reading of the appropriate section will heighten our perception and fill in all that present limitations of space precludes in comment. For now we can but make a few observations
Note for instance; in the Hebrew, the definite article is used – the virgin, not a virgin. This takes us back to the beginning to the seed of the woman (not the seed of man) who should bruise the serpent’s head. So that ‘God with us’? was the direct result of the operation of the Almighty upon Mary, the virgin, the handmaid of the Lord. For the accomplishment of his work of redemption, it is stated that ‘he emptied himself’?. The thoughts of his mind, the actions which followed, the words that he spoke, the character he revealed, were a direct result of that upon which he fed. His energy and strength in Divine things came as a consequence of allowing the word of God to dwell in him richly, continually exercising his mind in its influence and power. This in spiritual terms was the butter and honey that formed his diet, so allowing him not only to discern between right and wrong, but more importantly to perform the good and refuse the evil, a crucial difference.
It is with the same promise of God before our mind that enables us to appreciate the words of Isaiah in chapter 9 and see the aptness of their context: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death upon them hath the light shined. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace, of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this (Is 9:2-7).
In those three verses is comprehended the whole work of Jesus in the things concerning the Name and the things concerning the Kingdom of God with God manifestation as the central feature focalised in the Atonement. And where would this son be born? The Prophet Micah tells us “But though Bethlehem-Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic 5:2).
ALL THINGS PLANNED IN ADVANCE
In the mind of God, all things connected with the redemptive work of Christ have been worked out, from the beginning of the world. All is under His supervision and control, every detail. Of the early life of Jesus it was foretold that because of the circumstances surrounding his birth he would be taken down into Egypt from where at the appointed time he would return and dwell at Nazareth; so it was fulfilled. The record in Matthew chapter 2 supplies the details of the prophetic references. The prophet Isaiah speaks of him, “The Lord hath called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me … and said unto me, Thou art my servant O Israel (Prince with El) in whom I will be glorified. Then I said I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain, yet surely my judgment is with the Lord and my work with my God … Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful and the Holy One of Israel and he shall choose thee. Thus saith the Lord, in an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; that thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth to them that are in darkness shew yourselves …” (Isaiah Chapter 49:1-4 and 7-9).
Here is foreshadowed the work of the Messiah in redemption; in language which, when coupled with the intervening and later verses of the chapter, sees through to the fulfilment of God’s promises, the bringing in of the Gentiles and the eternal inheritance of the earth with all the blessings that shall follow. And all these being predicated upon the atoning work of Jesus; which in the judgment of God, however vain his death appeared at the time to man, triumphantly vindicated his faithfulness and obedience in his resurrection and preservation – for in the justice of God it was not possible for the grave to be holden of him. Thus was the good tidings, the gospel of salvation. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Is 61:1-2).
THE ARM OF THE LORD MADE MANIFEST
This, as Jesus himself confirmed, was his mission at his first appearing and which he magnificently accomplished in his Atonement, thus assuring at his second coming, the fulfilment of the remainder of God’s purpose as outlined in the rest of that same chapter: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good that publisheth salvation, that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth. The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the sight of all nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Behold my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. As many was were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man and his form more than the sons of men” (Is 52:7,9 and 13&14).
That which was accomplished in the sacrifice of our Lord, what was entailed and what would ensure as a consequence, are all revealed in this chapter, spoken of as though it were all a fait accompli – which indeed in the mind of the foreknowledge of God it was. But how many understood? “Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is dispised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised and we esteemed him not” (Is 53).
With what pathos, with what compelling emotion the Spirit through the prophet predicts the details of the crucifixion of Jesus in this wonderfully descriptive chapter, together with the manner of the man. But it is not just the circumstances of his death and the events which led up to it, nor his own reactions to it which are recorded in all their moving detail. More importantly is the doctrinal teaching which underlies a correct understanding or why it was all so necessary so for Christ to suffer before he could enter into his glory. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way and the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:5-6).
THE WISDOM OF THE FATHER MADE MANIFEST
Although it was all predicted so long before, although it was all worked out in the mind of our Heavenly Father and the accomplishment of it superintended by Him, there was nothing arbitrary about the Atonement. Running through it all is reflected the character of God, His supremacy, His love, His mercy and all the other facets of his Being – nothing is out of harmony, nothing unjust; even through the sufferings of Jesus were so acute and intense. When we come to the reality we will need to refer to this chapter again to see this and resolve any seeming paradox for “?it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul and offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied” (Is 53:10-11).
Every sentence, indeed every word of the chapter finds its fulfilment in the Messiah and his work of reconciliation.
But it is not only the prophet Isaiah who speaks so eloquently of the Atonement, although truly he is so explicit. Running through the writings of all the prophets, their predictions of the judgments of God upon Israel and indeed all nations because of their transgressions, there is the promise of a glorious future for the earth, “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous branch, and a king shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell safely and this his name whereby he shall be called, “The Lord our righteousness” (Jer 23:5-6). It is the same message in the 33rd chapter of the same Prophet and in many another place. The redemption of Israel and of the earth is centred around ‘the seed of David the king’?.
THE MESSAGE OF JEREMIAH
Though the message of Jeremiah has an emphasis upon the things concerning the Kingdom of God; we have seen throughout these studies that the fulfilment of those is predicated upon the things concerning the Name and therefore the sacrificial work of Jesus. The two go together and make up the Gospel. So it is that Jeremiah in his Lamentations over Jerusalem and the whole land of Israel uses language which is not only descriptive of his own experiences but even more so of him who wept over the city in the days of his flesh. “Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord that afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger” (Lam 1:12). Or again, “All that pass by clap their hands at thee, they hiss and wag their head … All thine enemies have opened their mouth against thee, they hiss and gnash their teeth (Lam 2:15,`16). Or again, “I was a derision to all my people and their song all the day. He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him, he is filled full with reproach (Lam 3:14, 30).
Though these quotations may appear to be taken out from their context, yet they are relevant to our Lord in his sufferings. We have to open our minds to the fact that mens natural reactions to all things Divine are expressed in similar terms and that the only remedy is the removal of the enmity. This was done by God in Christ in his sacrifice who became thereby the firstfruits of a new creation wherein dwelleth righteousness. From that fundamental truth all else finds its proper place.
THE TESTIMONY OF THE PROPHETS
Similarly the prophecies of Ezekiel and Daniel – indeed of all the ‘minor’ prophets testify accordingly. The restoration of Israel, the reward of the saints, the overthrow of the kings of the earth with their governments and power, the pouring out of God’s blessings upon all the earth – all of which forms the theme of their writings – are in their accomplishment contingent upon the Way being opened, the Truth being revealed, and eternal life becoming possible. Let interested readers turn to volume 1 of Eureka and read in the early pages the brief review of Bro Thomas of the prophets in confirmation of these things. All revolves around the Atonement – without which there would be no salvation individually or collectively.
So it is that in the Book of Hosea, God speaking through the prophet goes back to the great promise made to Abraham, and confirms that in spite of the iniquities of the children of Israel, yet his word would be fulfilled.
“Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered and it shall come to pass that in the place where it was said unto thee, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the people of the Living God” (Hos 1:10).
“For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim: afterward shall the children of Israel return and seek the Lord their God, and David their King; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days (Hos 3:4-5).
In accord with this prediction there is a parallel between the resurrection of Christ following his crucifixion, and their – indeed our – resurrection in the third day. Hosea states in the 6th chapter, verses 2 & 3 “after two days will he revive us, in the third day he will raise us up and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth”.
So we see there is a direct connection between the atoning work of Christ, his resurrection on the third day, and the culmination of it in the re-emergence of the nation of Israel as the people of God – and the apocalypse too of the saints after two days of a thousand years each, “in the third day” they shall be manifest. “I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death; O Death I will be thy plagues; O Grave I will be thy destruction repentance shall be hid from mine eyes” (Hos 13:14).
There is no going back, no turning from the revealed purpose of God. All is to be accomplished in its set time. The assurance of it is the life, death and resurrection of our dear Lord and the atoning work which made it all possible. That is why the subject is so crucial. God was the great architect of it and He is a consummate artist. All is in perfect balance and harmony. Nothing is out of place or superfluous. The work is a supreme masterpiece and reflects the wonder of His Character.