All Hell Broke Loose: H.C. Lord's Day 16

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 16

Q 40. Why did Christ have to suffer death?
A 40. Because God’s justice and truth require it: nothing else could pay for our sins except the death of the Son of God.

Q 41. Why was he “buried”?
A 41. His burial testifies that he really died.

Q 42. Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?
A 42. Our death does not pay the debt of our sins.  Rather, it puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life.

Q 43. What further benefit do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?
A 43. By Christ’s power our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us, but that instead we may offer ourselves as a sacrifice of gratitude to him.

Q 44. Why does the creed add, “He descended to hell”?
A 44. To assure me during attacks of deepest dread and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from hellish anguish and torment.

The narrative of Christ’s death is, bar none, the most horrific thing that could have possibly happened to a human being.  Our emphasis on the events of Jesus’ last 24 hours on earth is rightly placed and the sorrow that we feel is certainly warranted for all that happened.  He endured hell on earth for us, experiencing the physical pain of torture beyond that of what many humans could bear.  More than that, however, He bore the spiritual burden of divine abandonment, crying out to God and hearing nothing but silence for what would be the first and last time in all eternity.

It is as much a fact as any that this act, and all of the details that come with it, cannot be overstated.  It is, hands down, the most horrific and the most loving thing we could ever talk about.

That said, it is important that we don’t dwell on the details.  Conversations, sermon topics, and even the media that we are exposed to in this time often focus on these events whilst tagging their description with a hollow “He did this for us” comment that comes with a minimal explanation at best.  The Catechism, however, makes sure to answer some of the natural questions surrounding Jesus’ sacrifice as well as rightly emphasizing the purpose of this act, not simply the details.

Jesus suffered through all of this not simply for the purpose of taking on our sins, but also for the purpose of dying to pay for them.  Scripture says, “The wages of sin is death.”  Therefore, Jesus, to fully pay the price, had to die.  He was buried to testify to this death.  In the same way that, when you get pulled over by a police officer and are given a ticket, and for that to be resolved you have to pay the fine, so too Jesus paid the price for us by dying.

In doing this, Jesus took on our sins so that, as Scripture says, our old selves would be crucified with Him and buried with Him.  All these things that seek to control our lives, the sin that keeps us in bondage, it was all nailed to the cross with Him; driven into Him like the nails in His hands and feet.

The Catechism also addresses the question of “hell” as it relates to Jesus.  There has been a considerable question about this over the years, wondering what this actually meant.  When the Apostles’ Creed was originally drafted, the word “hell” didn’t appear.  Instead, the word “dead” was present.  However, at some point, this was replaced by the word “hell” thus giving us this question to consider.  Perhaps this is just another way of signifying that Jesus actually died; “hell” or “hades” is often considered to be the realm of the dead.  It is also possible that using this terminology, also draws our attention back to the suffering and anguish that Jesus experienced on earth and especially going to the cross.  Both are certainly good thoughts.

One thing theory that has been put forward with regards to this phrase is the idea that Jesus actually went to Hell, the place separated from God where sinners are eternally tormented.  What He would have done there is up for some debate.  Did He witness to the sinners there trying to save them?  Did He experience more torment and suffering?

In considering a question like this it is important for us to remember that the Creeds and Confessions, like the Heidelberg Catechism and the Apostles’ Creed, are both witnesses to Scripture and not Scripture themselves.  So, what we need to do here is look to Scripture to gain some clarity.  It is safe to say that the Bible doesn’t give any real indication that Jesus was actually in “Hell” as it pertains to a location, the realm of the devil.  It also gives no indication that Jesus was witnessing to people in that location.  In fact, Jesus, while talking to the repentant sinner on the cross, says, “today you will be with me in paradise.”  A phrase like this would seem to be proven false if indeed Jesus went to Hell on that day.

Indeed this question seems to be related to question 42 regarding why it is that we still have to die if Jesus died for us.  The Catechism is fairly clear that our physical death becomes our entrance into eternal life and puts an end to our sinning.  You may not hear this preached much at a funeral but it is none the less true.  Whereas some people battle cancer until they can fight no longer and gain victory through death, all of us fight the battle with sin until, at some point, we claim victory in death.  Everyone who passes on to glory no longer deals with thoughts of lust, jealousy, or resentment.  All of those things pass away too.

Jesus too experienced this moment, having taken on the sins of the whole world, put them to death with His own death that we would experience eternal life through faith in Him.



Pilate: H.C. Question 38

Why did he suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?

Luke 23:13-24 – Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”

But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”

But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand.

John 19:4 – Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.”

John19:12-16 – From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparationof the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.

Isaiah 53:4-5 – Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

2 Corinthians 5:21 – God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Galatians 3:13 – Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”



Suffered: H.C. Question 37 (part 2)

What do you understand by the word “suffered”?

1 Peter 2:24 – “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

1 Peter 3:1 – For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Romans 3:25 – God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—

Hebrews 10:14 – For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

1 John 2:2 – He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 4:10 – This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Romans 8:1-4 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Galatians 3:13 – Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 3:24-26 – and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.



True Justice: H.C. Lord's Day 4

Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 4

Q9. But doesn’t God do us an injustice by requiring in his law what we are unable to do?
A9. No, God created human beings with the ability to keep the law.  They, however, provoked by the devil in willful disobedience, robbed themselves and all their descendants of these gifts.

Q10. Does God permit such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?
A10. Certainly not. God is terribly angry with the sin we are born with as well as the sins we personally commit.

As a just judge, God will punish them both now and in eternity, having declared: “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”

Q11. But isn’t God also merciful?
A11. God is certainly merciful, but also just. God’s justice demands that sin, committed against his supreme majesty, be punished with the supreme penalty—eternal punishment of body and soul.

There is a lot of talk about love these days.  Whether it’s the now famous slogan “Love wins,” or the rather unique and emotional poetic proclamation that “love is love is love is love is love,” it seems like everyone is proclaiming that love is rather important.

People do this too when we talk about sin.  They may shrug or scoff that Christians focus too much on sin and that the “hellfire and brimstone” God that used to be preached is not the God of today.  God is love; that is what He is.  So do we really need to talk about judgment, punishment, and wrath?  Isn’t God merciful?

Quite simply the answer is Yes.  Yes, God is merciful.  Yes, God is love.  Yes, God forgives.  Yes, God is also just.  As a matter of fact, these two things are inextricably linked together, woven and bound in such a way that you cannot have one without the other.

Far too often we talk about God’s justice, God’s wrath, and God’s punishment for sin as if it is somehow unfair.  If we are all sinners and have been since we have been born, it’s impossible for us to keep the law.  You wouldn’t punish your 8-year old for not doing his advanced calculus correctly; God shouldn’t punish us for sin, then, either.

The reality of our questions this week is that we were indeed created with the capability of following the law.  However, because of Adam, we all inherited sin.  We call this “Original sin.”  It is something that we are born into and something we have to face, even though, like Adam, we are created with the capability of following the law.  Simply put, though, we just don’t.  In the same way that we yell at the T.V. when a ref makes a bad call, so too is God angered by the sins that we commit against Him.  He has every right to be as well.

If God is holy, and completely set apart, He is the very antonym of sin.  As that is the case, sin (and all those who commit it) must be held accountable.  God is just in doing so.  When someone breaks the law, they have to pay a fine; that is the natural way of things.  No one questions a police officer for writing a ticket to a speeding driver or arresting someone who drives drunk.  Why, then, do we somehow think that God should just overlook sin in the name of “love” and “grace?”

Grace isn’t sweeping sin under the rug.  Love isn’t overlooking sin for the sake of the sinner.  What would God’s love amount to if He just let us get away with whatever?  It would actually be less fair, less just, and downright harmful to His creation.  Sinners need to be held accountable… sin needs to be punished.  “Overlooking sin does not exalt God’s mercy, it undermines it,” says Kevin DeYoung in his book The Good News We Almost Forgot.

Enter Jesus.

God sent His Son to this earth to take on that burden.  Jesus lived the perfect life as a human and then died, taking on the punishment of a sinful universe, all so that our relationship with God could be put right again.  God’s justice and wrath are satisfied in Jesus’ death… Sin as been dealt with in Jesus Christ and because of that (and only that) God can and does freely extend His grace and mercy to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Consider this parable of Jesus.  The debt that is owed by both men is not simply swept aside; the money lender doesn’t look the other way and not acknowledge the lack of repayment.  The debt is FORGIVEN.  This means that the money lender himself has to take that debt on, and the magnitude of the forgiveness is amplified by the amount of the debt.  So it is with us.  Thanks be to God!

Luke 7:36-50

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”



Punishment: H.C. Question 10

Heidelberg Catechism Question 10

Does God permit such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?

Exodus 34:7 – maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Psalm 5:4-6 – For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome.  The arrogant cannot stand in your presence.  You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies.  The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord, detest.

Nahum 1:2 – The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.  The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.

Romans 1:18 – The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

Ephesians 5:6 – Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.

Hebrews 9:27 – Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,

Galatians 3:10 – For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

Deuteronomy 27:26 – “Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.”  Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”



Revelation 14 – The Harvest

Read Revelation 14

Continuing in the interlude between the first two sets of judgments, the seals, and the trumpets, and the coming bowl judgment, John records a final “harvest” of those who believe in Jesus Christ and are seals with God’s name on their foreheads.  We first saw the image of the lamb back in chapter five which is a reference to Jesus and talked about the number of people sealed, that being 144,000, as being symbolic of the full number of the people of God.  John hears them learning and singing a new song, something other than the worship that we had witnessed in chapters prior to this.  This new song, perhaps, is one of deliverance for the people of God.  We see that only those who are among the 144,000, those who are God’s  people, can learn the song which creates a distinction between God’s people and “the inhabitants of the earth.”  The distinction here is, in many ways, the theme of this chapter.

John points out the fact that those standing with the lamb “did not defile themselves with women.”  Some have argued, and we actually see a living testimony to this in the leadership of the Catholic church, that true obedience to God means sexual abstinence.  This, however, is not necessarily what is being referenced here.  Paul speaks to this in his letters pointing out that there are some advantages to being single, but also saying that those who are married have not sinned.  In fact, it is better, Paul writes, to be married than to succumb to lust, which could be what John is referencing here.  The reference to defiling oneself could also be a direct reference to the idolatry committed by the people of Israel in the Old Testament which is often mentioned in terms of the people “prostituting themselves” before other idols.  Those who stand with God here are those who have Him and Him only.

Following this, John sees three angels who are heralding the coming of the final set of judgments known as the “seven bowls of God’s wrath.”  Interestingly, the message of these three angels are intimately linked together: The Gospel, the defeat of Babylon (sin and evil), and the wrath of God.  This is an interesting dichotomy of themes, but all flow within the same line of thought.

People often talk about the difference between God in the Old Testament and God in the New Testament.  In the New Testament, God shows love and grace whereas in the Old Testament God is a God of killing and wrath.  How is it possible that those things are linked?  The answer is that God’s wrath and God’s love are meant for the same thing, to bring people to God.  If we think about God as a loving Father, we recognize that loving parents do discipline their children in an effort to raise them up correctly.  Similarly, you may remember us talking about the fact that the judgments on the earth that we have seen so far, as well as those to come, are all meant to draw the people’s attention to God.  Scripture says that it is not God’s desire that any should perish; it also says that as a loving father disciplines his children, so God disciplines those He loves.  We know that God loves the whole world, every human that has ever and will ever live.  The purpose, then, of God’s actions both then and now, is to draw people to Himself.

When we think about this we have to be careful about how we approach the subject, especially as it pertains to human suffering.  Some people call earthquakes and hurricanes a “judgment” from God for people’s sins.  However, we must take great caution in thinking this way because those references are toward God’s willful killing of people to prove a point or to punish; this is not the God of Scripture… even though it could seem that way here in Revelation.  God did punish sin in the death of Jesus Christ, and sin has been defeated.  This is the message of the Gospel and of the first angel.  At that same point, the ultimate defeat of sin and evil (as symbolized by the city of Babylon) was sealed as well.

The third angel’s warning, then, is that while the invitation to turn and place our faith in Jesus Christ is always open now, there will come a time when that decision, or its opposite, will become a permanent part of our lives.  God offers grace to all people, willingly accepting and forgiving those who turn and place their faith in Him.  However, there will come a day when our allegiance, wherever it lies, will become permanent.  Those who chose the beast or any part of the opposition to God will be eternally separated from Him.

This thought line brings us to the topic of hell.  Many have asked the question of whether or not hell, a place of eternal separation from God and suffering actually exists.  Others have asked the question of how a loving God can condemn people to eternal suffering.  Perhaps those people just cease to exist when they die (doctrine of annihilation) or at the final judgment?  Scripture offers no support to that.  In fact, there is much more support offered to the notion of an eternal trajectory for all people, whether in the presence of God or not.  It’s a hard reality, but it is a reality that the Bible supports.  One thing that Scripture does not say, however, is that this is a place where the devil gets to torment people forever (implying that he will get what he wants).  This place, as imaged by a pit of fire and sulfur and other such awful images, is a place where he too will be punished for his rebellion against God.

And so, like Jesus talks about in Matthew with the parable of the sheep and the goats, there will come a time when everyone’s fate will be decided.  This is the harvest that John speaks to at the end of this chapter.  Remember the theme that Jesus often brought up in the Gospel of John: they will be known by their fruit.  John picks up on that theme here with the harvest metaphor.

How does this work?  I’m not necessarily sure.  What about the people that never heard?  I don’t necessarily know though Scripture does point to the fact that all of creation points toward God which then put everyone on the line and leave no one with an excuse.  Like much of what we are reading here, there is a lot that is still a mystery.  We don’t necessarily know how this all fits together.  One thing, however, is for sure, in this image the spread of the Gospel is an intimate part of the series of events.  The Gospel message comes first before anything else because of God’s love and desire to see all people come back to Him.  We, as followers of Christ, are called to participate in the bringing of that message to the world so that as many as possible can hear and come to know God’s love for them.



Day 216: Isaiah 61-64: The Coming Day of the Lord

There is a lot to be said about the end times.  Especially now as we see things and around the world get progressively worse (depending on your point of view), and culture take a moral nosedive, the talk of the time that Christ returns and when God makes all things right is greater than it ever has been before.  We’ve seen cults come and go, denominations split over eschatological views, the books upon book being written about what things will be like, when these things will happen, and how it will all play out when they do.  Often times we find people quoting Isaiah, Daniel, and Revelation as source material for their views on specific events and timelines for how the return of Christ will be ushered in.  Some people have even gone so far as to predict dates and times, all of which have failed of course, that Christ will come back.  Laughably, to date, we have survived well over 100 end of the world scenarios as well as, what could be considered countless dates in which Christ was to supposedly return.

Yet this topic is one that is rather heavy in the Bible.  It is spoken of quite frequently throughout the Old Testament, in the prophets especially, and is addressed at length in the New Testament (specifically in Revelation) and by Jesus Himself while He was still on earth.  There are few topics that are more controversial and have been more divisive in the Christian Church than that of eschatology.  However, in that same vein, there are few topics that are truly less important from a salvation aspect than that of Eschatology.  As a member of the Reformed Church, growing up in the Reformed tradition, and studying the Bible at a Reformed Seminary, I know what my denomination believes, and I also know the arguments for different denominations and thought processes for the 4 main eschatological views of the Church.  However, it is not my intent to promote one over the others here today.  In fact, I truly believe that the divisiveness that this topic has had in the Church has really come from us making central a belief or viewpoint that is truly peripheral to the Christian faith.  Isaiah, Daniel, Revelation, and the myriad of other places in the Bible that this is addressed would seem to substantiate this opinion as well.  Instead of talking about what is going to happen and how, these Scriptural texts paint an image for us of what life will be like when it happens.  Today’s reading is just one of those passages.

Our text today starts our with Scripture that Jesus Himself reads at the beginning of His ministry:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…

Jesus says, in Luke 4, after reading this text that it is indeed fulfilled by His reading it and the people hearing it.  Knowing this, we have to believe that this text in Isaiah is directly linked to the Incarnation of Jesus.  With this in mind, we have to also understand all of these texts, which seems to contain the same themes, are inexplicably linked to Jesus Christ as they are all about the day of the Lord.  Sure, these passages talk about many different topics about the day of the Lord, namely Salvation, vengeance, mercy, and freedom, but these are all subtopics of the same event, the coming of the Lord.

Some may ask though, if this passage was fulfilled when Jesus came, why has not all of this happened yet?  Clearly the world is still quite messed up, things are obviously not as the should be.  They would be right in saying this.  Salvation has come; Jesus came and lived the life that we could not and died the death that we deserve.  He opened for us the path to God once again so that we could be in relationship with Him.  Jesus’ actions in healing the sick and driving out demons was but a foretaste of the judgment and wrath against sin that is to come.  However, the same healing, love, mercy, and forgiveness that Jesus showed people is a foretaste of what is to come in when He comes again.  Sin was defeated; sin is defeated.  What we are experiencing now can only be described as the death throws of one whose doom is assured.  Restoration is coming and all will be made right on that great and glorious day when we will see Jesus face to face and the dwelling of God will be here on Earth (oops, that is a bit of Reformed Theology – reference Revelation 21).  We do not truly know when this will happen, or the specific series of events.  Will there be a rapture?  Will there be a literal 1,000 year reign?  We’ll explore these topics around Christmas time.  What is important is that we know and have hope in the fact that Jesus has promised that He will come back.  His return is assured.  The restoration of the world is assured.  As the Church, we should be working to usher in this Kingdom here on Earth, and leave the details of how and when to God alone.



Day 197: Isaiah 1-3; Introduction to the Prophets

Yesterday we closed out the section of the Bible known as the Wisdom literature.  In that time we had taken a step back from the overall story of Israel and had jumped into a wholly different genre of Biblical literature.  Even though these were different, and not necessarily all directly connected to the grand narrative of redemptive history, we did find that they were certainly well linked with it.  Today we begin the final section of the Old Testament: The Prophets.  In this section we will jump back into the story of Israel, though the people we will be reading lived at different times within the history of Israel from roughly the time the Kingdom split up to and even during the time of Exile for Judah.  The books are not necessarily in chronological order and it is fair to say that some of these prophets were likely working at the same time, perhaps even in the same places.

Bible Timeline Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

Bible Timeline
Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

Most of the writings of the prophets are focused on calling the people back from their sins, to repent and return to God.  The office of prophet, instituted by Samuel, the last of Israel’s judges, is one that serves in a similar way to the priest, but is also very different.  The prophet serves, in many ways, as the mediator between God and the people.  Some would say that the prophet functions as the mouth of God.  Where as the priest would make intercession between the people and God, the direction of this being primarily upward, the prophet was in many ways the mediator between God and people, a primarily downward direction.  Some prophets, like Isaiah, served in both rolls, both prophet and priest as it is very likely that Isaiah himself was the high priest in the Temple.

Even as we read these chapters today we can see that the message of Isaiah is not necessarily one that would make him a super popular guy among the general populace.  Their messages tend to emphasize the negative, the sinful disobedience of Israel.  While people, even today, like to hear messages about God’s love and forgiveness, when those messages are made in the same thought as the judgment that God was going to pour out on the people if they don’t repent, the overall tone of the message is seen as negative.  And that is the thing about the prophets, this is what tended to happen.  Again, you can see this already modeled in the first three chapters.  What do you remember from reading it?  Likely it is that you remember the negative things, the judgment and destruction, not the love of God or the piece on the mountain of the Lord being established.

However, like the Lament Psalms that we encountered a couple weeks ago, there isn’t a single prophet in the Bible that ever speaks of judgment without hope.  There isn’t any prophet that speaks of the wrath of God without talking about God’s love and holiness.  These things that were destined to happen if the people didn’t repent were always trumped by the hope that was also there both in repentance and in what God was going to do after judgment came.  What the prophets are saying is that there is a time when God’s patience would run out and they would be punished for their sins.  What these same prophets are not saying is that once that time comes they no longer have hope.  Indeed there is a great thing to hope for, and it was testified and prophesied about throughout the period of the Old Testament, and that was the coming of the Messiah.  Isaiah testifies to it here in Isaiah 2, and He and most of the other prophets will indeed bring good news of a coming savior that would make things as they should be.  Though none that heard Isaiah’s words would have lived to see their true fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the hope of the coming Kingdom of God would have been well in their minds, even if they chose to focus more on the negatives of the coming judgment.  We will be with Isaiah for the next three weeks or so, and then on the Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the rest.  The section of the prophets is the one of the longest section in the Bible, contains the most information about the coming Messiah prior to the New Testament, and in many ways helps us to better understand what God is up to in redemptive history, His true Holiness and wrath against sin, and His true and unconditional love for His people.