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by Roy Gane
Part VI: Relationships at Stake
Words must be tested.
"Will you marry me?" "Yes!" The proposal is accepted. The couple is engaged. The words will be tested when it comes time for the wedding. The announcements may be out. A three-tiered cake may be ready. The musicians may have rehearsed. The church may be decorated. Presents may be piled on a table. Family and friends may be sitting in the pews. The minister may be standing at the pulpit. But if either the bride or the groom gets "cold feet" and does not show up ready to get married, it is a "no go"; they will not become one.
I'm thankful that my bride married me even though she woke up on the morning of our wedding awestruck and somewhat terrified by the prospect of the lifetime commitment she was about to enter.
"I do." Two short words with a long meaning: A promise to love, honor, and cherish until death. After the wedding there's a marriage that will test the promise through years of living. Words must be backed up by actions. Without the actions, the words are cheap and meaningless and oneness will not last.
"Lord, Lord." Accepting and acknowledging Christ as Lord! These are the right words. But words must be tested. Jesus said:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'" (Matt 7:21-23).
For Christ, the testing question is whether or not a professed believer does the will of his Father in heaven. It is not enough to have done the will of God in the past, even if we have prophesied or cast out demons. It is not enough to have been forgiven in the past. We must do and keep on doing the will of God.
If we truly accept God's forgiveness, we accept His lordship in our lives, as shown by our obedience to Him. This is why God asked Israelites who had already been forgiven to show their ongoing loyalty to Him by practicing self-denial and abstaining from work on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29). Commitment was shown by actions. The difference between loyal Israelites and unfaithful Israelites was shown by their obedience to God or lack of it.
The rituals of the Day of Atonement prophesied a global judgment, when God judges between loyal and disloyal human beings on the basis of their works: "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Eccl 12:13-14). When Christ comes in glory, He will distinguish between His people and those who are not His people, as sheep are separated from goats, on the basis of the way they have treated others (Matt 25:31-46).
Becoming a Christian does not exempt a person from judgment. Speaking to Christians, Paul wrote: "For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God" (Rom 14:10).
Works are important in the judgment because they show faith or lack of faith. We are saved by God's grace through faith, not by works (Eph 2:8-9). The question is: Do we really have faith? This question can be answered by looking at our works because true faith, which accepts God's grace, necessarily results in good works. Faith works through love (Gal 5:6) and faith without works is dead (Jas 2:26).
Jesus said to Nicodemus: "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (Jn 3:8). While the power that changes a person cannot be directly observed, the results of the change are obvious: "you hear the sound of it." The Spirit, grace, and faith that cause the transformation are invisible, but the works that flow from the change can be witnessed by other people, testifying to the presence of "new birth" by the Spirit.
God is patient with those who call themselves Christians but lack true, living faith. He does not expose them immediately, but allows them time to return to Him. They remain among His people until the end, when He will separate false Christians from true Christians as weeds are separated from wheat (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43).
Judgment was a prominent theme in Jesus' parables, as we have already found in connection with the sheep and the goats, and the wheat and the weeds. Jesus told another parable to show that it is not enough to be with God's people. In this parable, a man responded to a king's invitation to a wedding feast. But he had no wedding garment. He was wearing the wrong clothes. Caught in his blunderwear, he was cast out (Matt 22:1-14).
The king represents God. Responding to His call is a good start, but without a wedding garment we are unprepared for being with Him at the wedding.
Revelation 19:7-8 tells us what the wedding and wedding garment represent:
"Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure" for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
The "Lamb" is Christ (compare Jn 1:29). The "bride" consists of His holy people, His "saints." The "marriage" is union between Christ and His people. The "fine linen" is a white wedding garment, just as a modern bride wears a white dress. Here it represents "the righteous deeds of the saints." So Christ's people live in harmony with His righteous character of pure, unselfish love.
We can be part of the "bride." We can be united with Christ. Only those with the "fine linen" will belong to Him. But we do not need to come up with it ourselves. The "fine linen" of righteous deeds is "granted" to the bride. Good works of obedience to God are a gift from Him! There is no excuse for not having them, just as there was no excuse for the man in Jesus' parable not to have a wedding garment, and he had nothing to say in his defense (Matt 22:12).
Do you want to be one with Christ and His divine love? What draws you to Him? In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul suggests a reason: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Eph 5:1-2).
Because of Christ's love, He wants to be one with us:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless (Eph 5:25-27; NASB).
If Christ's church includes me, how can I have "no spot or wrinkle or any such thing"? That seems totally impossible! True, it is impossible for me to do on my own. But who does the washing? Christ, by "the word," that is, the word of God. Christ takes responsibility. I just need to let Him wash me by accepting Him and His word into my life.
Why does Christ wash me? Because He loves me and wants to present me to Himself. He is with me through the whole process.
A wedding cannot be completed until the bride and groom
are dressed and ready, and they both say "I do." People
generally make their decision to get married before their
wedding day. At the wedding they reaffirm their earlier
decision and set it in the concrete of lifelong commitment.
It is the last chance to go ahead or back out. In this sense
a wedding is a kind of judgment day.
How could the Pentagon react? The Pentagon is a sprawling five-sided building in the vicinity of Washington D.C. How can a building react? Obviously, "the Pentagon" here refers to the organization that it houses and represents: the Unites States defense department. The reaction was by the officers at military headquarters.
We refer to the White House in the same way. "The White house confirms..." "The White House denies..." "The White House is cleared from any wrong-doing..." The White House is the headquarters location that represents the President and his organization. The actions and reputation of the White House are those of the President. He takes responsibility.
God's headquarters are located at His sanctuary in heaven, where He has His throne (Ps 11:4; Jer 17:12). So we can see how God's throne or sanctuary could represent His character, authority, and reputation.
Strengthening the connection between God's sanctuary and His reputation is the fact that God's "name" was at the place of the sanctuary (Deut 12:5, 11) and His "name" involves His reputation: "But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt" (Ezek 20:9).
The idea that a name involves a reputation is well understood today, particularly in business and politics. Not long ago I heard a radio advertisement for "The Good Guys," a chain of stores selling electronics equipment. The ad concluded: "We're the Good Guys. We've gotta be good!" Any business that wants to make and keep a good "name" for itself needs to live up to its reputation.
For hundreds of years God had additional headquarters on earth at the Israelite sanctuary/temple. So when Leviticus 16 speaks of God's sanctuary being cleansed or cleared on the Day of Atonement, we get the idea that this cleansing affects God. Just as clearing the White House means freeing the President from something that has affected or could affect his reputation, cleansing the sanctuary would seem to involve clearing God in some way.
The "part for all" principle operates here. Just as our relationship with God is affected by any sin against Him (Jas 2:10), so God's relationship with His universe is affected by anything He does.
Recently a student asked me why God does not solve the problem of sin on Planet Earth by simply banishing it eternally from the rest of the universe. Why does God go to so much trouble to save us when it would be so much easier to let us rot and self-destruct? The answer is that God loves us and therefore wants to save us. The way He treats us tells the rest of His created beings what He is like.
What God does for us is not motivated merely by the need for "spin control" to keep His image intact in spite of the truth. What He does is the truth because God's outgoing love prevents Him from ignoring our plight. God is not a hypocrite, ignoring ugly secrets and hiding skeletons in His closet.
What kind of evil can affect God's reputation so that His sanctuary would need to be cleansed on the Day of Atonement? Leviticus 16:16 identifies what the Israelite high priest cleansed out of the sanctuary so that it could no longer affect God:
Thus he shall make atonement for the (most) holy place from the impurities of the Israelites, and from their transgressions, as well as all their sins; and so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which remains with them in the midst of their impurities (my translation).
The evils that affected God in His sanctuary were caused by His people. Ritual impurities affected Him even though they were not sins. Sins that had been forgiven through sacrifice affected Him even though they had already been forgiven.
It is easy to see how ritual impurities would affect God. He resided among His people "in the mist of their impurities" (Lev 16:16; NASB; compare 15:31). He is holy, the Source of all life. They were impure and subject to death. By living with them in such close proximity, He would be associated with their weakness and mortality. This would be particularly true when they brought sin offerings to His sanctuary in order to be purified from severe ritual impurities. They shed their impurities at His sanctuary, where these impurities would accumulate until the Day of Atonement.
Why would forgiven sins affect God in His sanctuary? Once a person is forgiven, what need for atonement could possibly remain? Why would such sins be handled twice at the sanctuary, once when an individual was forgiven earlier in the year and again on the Day of Atonement? We can begin to find an answer by considering a story about King David and the cost of mercy:
"Help, O king!" cried a woman from Tekoa. David responded by asking: "What is your trouble?" And then, her voice shaky with emotion, she poured out her bitter story:
"Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead. Your servant had two sons, and they fought with one another in the field; there was no one to part them, and one struck the other and killed him. Now the whole family has risen against your servant. They say, 'Give up the man who struck his brother, so that we may kill him for the life of his brother whom he murdered, even if we destroy the heir as well.' Thus they would quench my one remaining ember, and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth" (2 Sam 14:5-7).
No wonder the woman had come to the king. Unlike the woman caught in adultery who was dragged before Jesus, the woman of Tekoa came to David voluntarily. She was in a hopeless situation. Justice demanded that the murderer should die. But if he died, his mother would have nobody to take care of her in her old age and the name of her family would be blotted out. The sentence of death against her son was like a sentence of death against her as well.
As the highest judge in the land, King David could have mercy on the woman by pardoning her son. But if he did that, what would happen to his reputation for justice? That reputation was not simply part of his ego; it was one of the main reasons why he could effectively govern his people as their king. This was a difficult and risky case. He needed time to think about it. So he told the woman to go to her house and he would give orders concerning her (verse 8).
The woman needed an answer right away, not a diplomatic brush-off. She was desperate. But she was also wise and recognized the reason for the king's hesitation. So she offered: "The blame is on me, my lord the king, and on my father's house, but the king and his throne are clean" (verse 9; translation by R. Gane). The woman knew that a judge, including a king acting as chief judge, was morally responsible for his judgment. If a judge lets a guilty person go unpunished, he should have a very good reason for doing so or he violates his responsibility and damages his society.
Suppose I go speeding down the highway at 120 m.p.h., without the excuse that I'm being chased by paparazzi. Imagine that when I go to court, the judge pays my ticket for me. That takes a lot of imagination! When the judge is up for re-election, what can his opponent do? Look up the records, find my case, and then advertise that the incumbent judge is "soft on crime"! A judge who pardons must be able to justify his justice. This is especially true in a case of murder. When bloodguilt hangs over a person and a judge lets him go free, turning him loose on society, there is a sense in which the judge takes the bloodguilt upon himself.
But the woman of Tekoa said: "The blame is on me, my lord the king, and on my father's house, but the king and his throne are clean" (verse 9; translation by R. Gane). She knew that mercy had a cost and she was willing to take that cost upon herself and her family. The king and his throne, the place where he judged, which represented his authority and justice, would be free of moral responsibility. The blame, the bloodguilt, would be on the woman and her family. So David granted her request and promised to protect her and her son.
This story from 2 Samuel 14 reveals the profound tension between mercy and justice. It is true that the wise woman from Tekoa was an actress set up by General Joab and the sad story she told king David was made up. Joab was using the woman to rearrange David's thinking toward Absalom, David's own son, who was living in exile in Geshur because he had murdered his brother, Amnon. Joab wanted David to pardon Absalom even though he was guilty of murder. But although the story that the woman told was fictitious, it was successful with David because it reflected truth about mercy and justice that applied to real-life situations, such as David's problem with Absalom.
If you think the life of the woman as portrayed in her story sounds complicated, wait till you hear about David's dilemma. The problems of his royal household make the modern shenanigans of the British royal family look like an English tea party.
David's son, Amnon, had fallen in love, or rather lust, with his beautiful half sister, Tamar. When Amnon seized her and shamed her, David was angry with him, but he did not punish him. The Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament tells why not: "because he loved him, for he was his firstborn" (2 Sam 13:21).
David was merciful to Amnon. But mercy had a cost. Absalom, another son of David, who was the full brother of Tamar, viewed the king's mercy on the violator of his sister as injustice, which he decided to correct by taking the law into his own hands. Absalom had his servants kill Amnon, and then Absalom fled to the land of the king of Geshur. So mercy on Amnon cost David not only the loss of Amnon's life, it also cost him his relationship with Absalom. Rather than losing one son, he lost two.
Mercy arises from love. Love is the reason why David had mercy on Amnon. To be unmerciful is to be unloving. But there is a paradox, a contradiction, illustrated in the story of David. Sometimes being merciful to one person hurts another person. Mercy to one can be injustice to another, and injustice is not loving. How can you be loving to both people in a situation like this?
Have you ever found yourself stuck in such a dilemma? Are there any parents, teachers, employers, or administrators out there? I've been stuck as a teacher. Some time ago, when I was less experienced, a number of students made the same mistake on a quiz and wanted mercy. Since several of them had done the same thing, I thought mercy was justified. But those who didn't benefit from this particular mercy thought that I was being unfair.
David's dilemma didn't have to do with mere grades; he was dealing with the lives of his children and the well-being of his nation. The cost of David's mercy was high. He did let Absalom return to Jerusalem. But he had no woman of Tekoa to take the blame when he pardoned his own son. He took the cost upon himself. And he paid it to the full. Ironically, it was Absalom himself, the one to whom mercy was granted, who turned on David and made him pay by taking his throne and even his concubines and forcing David into humiliating exile. The main reason why Absalom was so successful in gaining the support of the people was that he portrayed himself as a reformer of justice who would correct the injustices of his father (2 Sam 15:2-6). The issue in the great controversy between David and Absalom was the character of the king. Who could rule with fairnessDavid or Absalom?
Are you concerned about justice today? What do you think about our judicial system when a person who has committed a brutal crime gets off with a light sentence, a mere "slap on the wrist"? Do you call for mercy on the criminal, or do you think about justice for the grieving family of the victim? Yes, justice is as important today as it ever was.
As great and wise a king as David was, he was faced with serious tensions between the two sides of love, justice and mercy, tensions that he was unable to resolve. Because Absalom had no lasting acceptance of the pardon that his father granted him, as shown by his rebellious actions, this pardon did not help the young prince in the long run. Pardon without genuine reformation is a waste. Although Absalom was pardoned, he remained a murderer and died a murderer's death.
To save his son, David was willing to pay with even more than his kingdom. When Absalom died, David cried: "Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Sam 18:33).
In the story of 2 Samuel, the dynamics of mercy and justice mirror the interactions involved in God's salvation of human beings. As David was to Absalom, God is to us: our parent, king, and judge. Like Absalom, we have sinned. Like David, God forgives us because He loves us (Ps 103:3-4). Unlike David, God is not limited by moral weakness due to His own sin or inadequate wisdom to apply justice and mercy, the two sides of love, without compromising either. But as judge, God is like David in that He is morally responsible for His judgments, including His forgiveness of guilty people.
God must deal with the cost of mercy and there is nobody to bear it but Himself. He has borne it in His sanctuary and through the sacrifice of Christ, who endured far greater suffering and humiliation than David did when he fled from Absalom.
Having paid the ransom for our condemned lives (Matt
20:28) that we could never pay (compare Ps 49:7-8), God is
just when He justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Rom
3:26). By paying the terrible full cost of mercy, the
sacrifice of Christ provides a lasting solution to human sin
by maintaining full justice at the same time as providing for
full mercy. Righteousness and salvation are intertwined,
reflecting harmonious balance between mercy and justice in
the character of God. Through Christ, "Lovingkindness and
truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed
each other" (Ps 85:10; NASB).
In the book of Daniel, God has a judgment to keep justice and mercy together. Daniel 7 calls this event a judgment. Daniel 8 refers to the same event as the justifying/cleansing of God's sanctuary. We will find that this must be His sanctuary in heaven. Justifying God's sanctuary through a judgment clears God's reputation, just as vindication of the White House clears the President's reputation.
In Daniel 7, God carries out a judgment that benefits His people (verse 22) by delivering them from an oppressive "little horn" power, which claims divine authority (verse 25). In Daniel 8 the justification of the sanctuary (verse 14) in the "time of the end" (see verses 17, 19) is God's answer to the "little horn" (verses 9-13; compare verses 23-26). The "time of the end" is shortly before Christ's Second Coming (compare 11:40-12:4).
The justification, or legal cleansing of the sanctuary (compare Exod 23:7; Jb 4:17), accomplishes the same thing as the judgment. These are two ways to refer to the same event in the "time of the end."
Judgment = cleansing of the sanctuary. Sounds familiar! Remember the Day of Atonement? When the sanctuary was cleansed, the Israelites were judged as loyal or disloyal to God. The judgment in the book of Daniel works like the Day of Atonement.
The description of the judgment in Daniel 7 indicates the nature of the judgment and strengthens the connection with the Day of Atonement.
As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened (verses 9-10).
The "Ancient One," literally "Ancient of Days," must be God, who presides over the judgment in heaven. The fact that the books are opened indicates the beginning of an investigative phase of judgment. Even today, records such as books are used in a trial to provide evidence regarding the party or parties being judged. A court evaluates the evidence through a process of investigation that leads to a verdict.
The next verses tell us who is being judged, why he/it is being judged, and what is the verdict of the heavenly court:
I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time (Dan 7: 11-12).
A "horn" is judged because of its arrogant words. This horn, earlier described as "little" (verse 8), symbolizes a human power that arises from a kingdom on earth (verses 7-8, 23-24). Verses 21 and 25 describe the words and actions of the little horn:
As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them... He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time.
It appears that the books used in the judgment must include a record of the horn's words against "the Most High" and persecution of His people. The verdict is "guilty." So the judgment has a negative side: It condemns a guilty power.
The judgment also has a positive side:
As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed (Dan 7:13-14).
One "like a human being," literally "son of man," is presented before God in heaven and he receives the kingdom (Dan 7:13). Who could that be? It must be Christ, who often described Himself as the Son of Man (Matt 8:20; 9:6; 10:23, etc.) to emphasize the unique way in which He became a human being. It would be strange for any other person to use such a description. It goes without saying that we are human and there is nothing unique about this.
Notice the movement of the "one like a human being": "he came to the Ancient One." This is Christ, our High Priest, coming to His Father at His throne in heaven. God's throne is in His sanctuary (compare Ps 11:4; Jer 17:12). So Christ approaches His Father at a time of judgment in the equivalent of the most holy place in the heavenly sanctuary.
Christ's movement parallels the movement of the Israelite high priest when he approached God in the most holy place on the Day of Atonement, Israel's judgment day (Lev 16). Daniel 7 depicts the great end-time Day of Atonement, the same event as the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary in Daniel 8:14.
When Christ comes to His Father, He receives kingship. While the arrogant "horn" loses in the judgment, Christ wins.
If there is a court case that results in one party winning and the other losing, it is because the two parties are opposed to each other. Through investigation, one is found to be right and the other wrong. The "horn" is opposed to Christ. It speaks arrogant words against "the Most High," oppresses His people, and intends to change God's law. The horn power is a rebel who claims control instead of Christ.
When Christ wins in the judgment, His loyal people win with Him. They are delivered from the oppression of the horn and gain the kingdom: "... the Ancient One came; then judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom" (Dan 7:22; see also verse 27).
Just as the Israelite high priest on the Day of Atonement represented his people before God, so Christ represents His people. Like the ancient Day of Atonement, the end-time judgment distinguishes between two groups: Those who are loyal to God and those who are not.
The connection between the Israelite Day of Atonement and the end-time judgment is reinforced by a linguistic connection between Leviticus 16 and Daniel 8:14. Leviticus 16 says that the altar and the Israelites were "cleansed" through atonement that was done on the Day of Atonement (verses 18-19, 30). Atonement accomplished cleansing.
Daniel 8:14 uses another Hebrew word to describe the restoration of the sanctuary: "And he answered him, 'For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.'" The words "shall be restored to its rightful state" translate one Hebrew word, which means "shall be justified" or "shall be made righteous."
"Cleansing/being pure" in Leviticus 16 and "being just/righteous" in Daniel 8:14 refer to the same thing in two different ways. The Hebrew words are synonyms, as shown by Job 4:17:
"Can mortals be righteous before God?This is called "synonymous parallelism." The second line simply repeats the idea of the first line in different words. "Mortals" is the functional equivalent of "human beings." "Righteous" is the equivalent of "pure." "God" is the equivalent of "Maker." Words used as synonyms do not have exactly the same meaning whenever they are used. But their meanings overlap, so they can be used as functional equivalents in certain contexts.
The Hebrew word for "righteous" in Job 4:17 is the word used in Daniel 8:14 and the word for being "pure" is the word used in Leviticus 16. So Job 4:17 links Leviticus 16 and Daniel 8:14 by showing that the terms "righteous" and "pure" are synonyms:
In the contexts of Job 4:17, Leviticus 16, and Daniel 8:14, these words mean basically the same thing: legal cleansing or vindication.
How can a judgment be regarded as justifying God's sanctuary, or making it righteous? Perhaps 2 Samuel 14 can provide a clue. The woman of Tekoa said to David: "... let the king and his throne be clean" (verse 9; my translation). Just as David's throne represented his authority and justice, so God's throne would represent His authority and His justice. Just as David and his justice needed to be legally "clean," so God's justice, represented by His sanctuary, must be vindicated.
God's justice must be justified from what? First, God and His sanctuary need justification as a result of the openly defiant transgressions of the "little horn," which defame God and therefore defile His sanctuary, just as wanton disregard for God's ancient worship system defiled the Israelite sanctuary (Lev 20:3; Num 19:13, 20). The "little horn" is particularly guilty because it does not merely ignore part of God's sacrificial system (compare Num 19:13, 20) and participate in an alternate system (compare Lev 20:3). It removes part of God's system (regular/daily worship by God's people) and sets up an alternate system (Dan 8:11-13; 11:31; 12:11).
Defilement of God's sanctuary/reputation by the "little horn" is illegitimate defilement. It "throws" sins at God rather than humbly laying them at His feet through legitimate sacrifice. Just as the cases of Israelites who committed wanton sins of illegitimate defilement were not under consideration for redemption by cleansing on the Day of Atonement, the "little horn" is already condemned before the judgment. It does not receive forgiveness in a first stage of atonement and therefore it is ineligible for the second stage.
A second reason why God and His sanctuary would need justification is because God forgives guilty people, calls them "holy ones of the Most High," and gives them the dominion of this world (Dan 7-8). Compare 2 Samuel 14, where forgiveness of a guilty person would have affected David's reputation if the woman had not taken the blame herself.
The sanctuary reflects God's reputation. God's reputation matters because it enables Him to govern the universe. If there is something wrong with God, we will have anarchy. God's reputation is staked on perfect love, which includes both perfect justice and perfect mercy. That is a high standard for Him to live up to, but if He does not, His government is a hypocritical "tour de farce" that is bound to fail. Is God for real or is He trying to delude us with smoke and mirrors? We must know the answer.
By forgiving guilty people like us, God lays Himself open to a charge of injustice. But Christ's blood shows that God has already paid the penalty on our behalf. There is nothing more to pay.
The fact that the Israelite sanctuary was defiled and cleansed as a whole, by the "part for all" principle, implies that similar dynamics apply to God's sanctuary in heaven. But the transfers of evil into and out of the heavenly sanctuary are accomplished by spiritual transactions, without the limitations of an earthly ritual system.
We pray rather than physically leaning our hands on Christ's head, but He bears our sins (Isa 53). Christ did not ascend to heaven with a container of His own blood so that He could physically apply it in the temple there, but His blood provides forgiveness and moral cleansing.
Christ does not need to descend to whatever is left of the physical cross on earth in order to cleanse it, as the ancient priest cleansed the outer altar (Lev 16:18-19). The cross is not simply an object; it is an event. Christ has carried the "cross event" to heaven in His own person. He is the slaughtered Lamb standing in the heavenly temple (Rev 5:6). The forgiveness transactions in heaven must be vindicated in the judgment, but the physical wooden cross is immaterial to the process.
Now we have an apparent contradiction. Rom 3:25-26 says that Christ's sacrifice already provides proof that God is just when He justifies those who have faith in Jesus. But Daniel 8:14 indicates that God is not fully justified until an end-time judgment.
The key here is the fact that God is just when He justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Compare Ephesians 2:8we are saved by grace through faith. God cannot save a person who does not have faith or who abandons faith after receiving forgiveness (see Col 1:21-23). Because of Christ's sacrifice, God is just when He forgives us and continues to regard us as forgiven, provided that we continue to have faith through which we are reconciled to Him (compare Rom 5:1).
It appears that the judgment in Daniel 7-8 should identify God's true people on the basis of their faith. But since God alone can read thoughts (see Ps 139:23; Lk 7:39-40), the judgment must use evidence for faith that can be witnessed by created beings if they are to be assured that God is just. So the judgment considers records (Dan 7:10) of works (Eccl 12:14) that show whether or not true faith exists (Jas 2:26; Gal 5:6). The point is not the works themselves, but whether or not a person has accepted and continues to accept a forgiven and loyal relationship to God.
Other created beings have a major stake in the success of our full recovery from sin. In addition to demonstrating God's justice, the judgment assures them that we will not continue to function as self-replicating moral viruses. As sinners, we are dangerous! What if God were to give us immortality and let us loose on the rest of the universe without totally curing our sin? How would you like it if a physician turned a person infected with the Ebola virus out on the street? If God's unfallen created beings are to feel safe, they must know that He has healed us completely.
The judgment is not about who has sinned. All have sinned (Rom 3:23), so distinctions between people cannot be made on this basis. The judgment is about who is forgiven. For those who are forgiven, it is to reaffirm their assurance, not to take it away. The judgment is for God's holy ones (Dan 7:22).
Jesus expressed the need for a sinner to continue accepting forgiveness by maintaining loyalty to Him and His law of love. He said to the woman caught in adultery: "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again" (Jn 8:11).
Jesus told a parable about an unjust steward who was forgiven the colossal sum of 10,000 talents and then went out and seized his fellow servant by the throat to make him cough up 100 miserable denarii. Because he did not become a forgiving person as a result of the forgiveness that he had received, he lost it, and his mountain of debt was rolled back on him like an avalanche (Matt 18:23-34).
Forgiveness that involves no moral change and that cannot reproduce itself for the benefit of others is invalidated. To freely receive, we must be willing to freely give.
Fortunately for us, we are not left on our own to change ourselves. Because Christ gives us peace with God (Rom 5:1), His love, the basic attitude of His law, is poured into our hearts through His Spirit (verse 5; compare Matt 22:36-40). Genuine, ongoing obedience is a gift of grace bought by the blood of Christ and received through faith.
It is Christ's blood that cleanses our lives and that cleanses His sanctuary. His blood provides mercy with justice.
Just as the woman of Tekoa desired judgment on her
behalf and just as David cried out to God for justice (Ps
26:1; 35:24), we can look forward to judgment as deliverance.
However, unlike the woman of Tekoa, we need not offer to bear
responsibility for the granting of pardon. Priceless
salvation is offered "without money and without price" (Isa
55:1). We can leave to God the cost of mercy.
Our entire world is a war zone. We see people suffering and dying all around us. God is working to save us, but evil does not easily let us go. What or who is this evil power? Who is the enemy? Is there a person or supernatural being behind all this carnage? If so, what does he want? The Bible answers these questions.
On the Day of Atonement, the Israelite community provided "two male goats for a sin offering" (Lev 16:5; my translation). To determine what the functions of these goats would be, the high priest (Aaron) cast lots:
... and Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin offering; but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel (Lev 16:8-10).
Before the high priest cast lots, the goats were interchangeable. They looked the same and either one could be for the Lord or for Azazel. But once the lots were cast, the roles of the goats were fixed.
The high priest did not decide between the two goats. Casting lots was a way to let the Lord decide. Compare the way lots were cast when the Lord designated Saul as the first king of Israel (1 Sam 10:19-24).
One goat was "for the Lord" and the other was "for Azazel." This expression means that one goat belonged to the Lord and the other belonged to Azazel. The same type of expression, including "for" plus a proper name, was engraved on ancient stone seals that Israelites and people of neighboring countries used to identify objects as belonging to them. When I studied ancient inscriptions at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Professor Naveh brought a bag of seals like this to class every day so that we could read them.
There is a close relationship between the Lord's goat and Azazel's goat. Each had an owner. Since the Lord is a being who could own a goat, Azazel must be some kind of being who could also own a goat.
The goat for the Lord was offered to the Lord as a sin offering to cleanse God's sanctuary. The goat for Azazel was not offered as a sacrifice at all. It is true that Leviticus 16:5 refers to Azazel's goat as a "sin ritual" along with the Lord's goat. The Hebrew word here for "sin ritual" is elsewhere translated as "sin offering." But in the case of the scapegoat, the ritual was not an offering/sacrifice because the goat was not given to God as an offering. Rather, according to verse 10, it was sent away from God and His sanctuary "into the wilderness to Azazel."
Azazel must be an enemy of the Lord. The Lord directed the Israelites to transport their sins on a goat to Azazel, who ended up with this noxious load. This would be like sending someone a truck full of chemical waste or dumping a load of reeking, maggot infested chicken manure all over his front lawnnot a friendly gesture. Here, Azazel, get a load of this!
If Azazel is an enemy of the Lord, why does Leviticus 16:10 say that the goat functions "to make atonement upon it" (NASB), that is, upon the goat? Sacrificial animals make atonement for people or for the sanctuary. But here atonement is made on the animal itself "that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel." Atonement on the goat does not make atonement for the goat. Rather, it removes sins of the Israelites away from their camp. It is atonement for the Israelites by placing their sins on the goat. By sending evil to destruction, they are freed from that which disturbs their relationship with God.
Atonement on Azazel's goat is atonement in the basic sense of restoring at-one-ness with God by destroying the evil that comes between human beings and God. Compare Numbers 25, where Phinehas, the son of the high priest, made atonement for the Israelites (verse 13) by destroying Zimri and Cozbi, who were flagrantly sinning (verses 6-8). The couple did not receive atonement. Atonement for Israel's benefit was done on the man and woman in the sense that they were destroyed. Their actions were coming between Israel and God. When these people were eliminated, God stopped His deadly plague on the Israelites (verse 8).
We automatically think of "atonement" as the kind of atonement that Christ does for us, which is "substitutionary atonement." Christ died in our place, as our Substitute, so that we would not have to die. But a more basic kind of atonement is that in which sinners themselves die so that God's people and universe can be clean and restored to oneness with God.
Ultimately God will destroy sin by destroying all sinners who have not allowed Him to separate their sins from them (Rev 20). But before God destroys sin, He removes all responsibility for it from Himself, as represented by the cleansing of His sanctuary, and He sends the responsibility away from Himself and His people to someone represented by the name "Azazel."
Azazel is an enemy of the Lord and His people who has the sins of the people come to him. He is not Christ. By the time the goat for Azazel is sent away, the people have already been forgiven and the sanctuary has already been cleansed through sacrifices that represent Christ's sacrifice. The Lord's goat represents Christ, the one and only sacrifice that really takes care of our sin (Heb 9:28). We do not need a second Messiah.
The Lord's goat belonged to the Lord and was offered to the Lord, but it also represented the Lord, who died for our sins. For the idea that Christ is the Lord, see John 8:58 and 10:30. So the goat that belonged to Azazel and was sent to him must also represent Azazel.
The Lord bore the sins of His people by His sacrifice in order to free them from punishment for their sins. Azazel also bears the sins of God's people, but he bears them in a different way.
Some have suggested that Azazel is some kind of demon. If so, his personality is not revealed in Leviticus, perhaps to avoid the danger that people in Old Testament times would have been tempted to worship him. Although Azazel is a shadowy figure in Leviticus, his overall profile is clear and there is only one being in the universe who fits it: Satan.
The name "Satan" is a Hebrew word meaning "adversary." In the Bible, he is God's great enemy (Matt 4:1-11; Lk 10:17-18; Rev 12:7-17). Satan has a lot to do with the sins of God's people. He originated sin in the universe, he caused the human race to fall into sin by tempting Eve, and he tempts us to sin (see for example 1 Cor 7:5).
Satan is the mastermind behind our sins. My sins are also Satan's sins. Christ takes away my responsibility, but Satan, represented by the goat for Azazel, bears his own liability for punishment.
Suppose I belong to a gang that robs a bank. All of us are responsible for the same crime, including the gang leader who directs the operation, those who actually go into the bank, tie up the tellers, and open the vault, and the driver of the getaway car. The same is true when I sin. When I sin, I belong to Satan's "gang." I am responsible for making my own mistakes, but Satan is responsible for tempting me.
The animals used in the Day of Atonement rituals represented either Christ or the enemy, Satan. There were four sacrificial animals that represented Christ. The goat for Azazel represented Satan.
The four sacrificial animals that represented Christ were: a sin offering bull on behalf of the priests, the "Lord's goat," which served as a sin offering for the non-priestly community, a burnt offering ram for the priests, and a burnt offering ram for the community (Lev 16:3, 5, 11-19, 24).
Of the four animals, only the "Lord's goat" has independent significance for the reality to which the Israelite sanctuary pointed. The bull and ram for the priests were necessary because the priests were faulty human beings. But these sacrifices did not point forward to any sacrifice that Christ, our sinless high priest, must offer for Himself. The burnt offering ram for the community had no separate meaning. As elsewhere when a burnt offering was coupled with a sin offering on behalf of the same offerer in this way, the burnt offering simply added to the quantity of the Lord's goat sin offering, making what amounted to a greater sin offering (compare Lev 5:6-7; Num 15:24-28).
The fact that the peoples' burnt offering (Lev 16:24), performed after the scapegoat ritual (verses 20-22), lacks separate significance solves a potential problem. We do not need to look for a further phase of atonement following the banishment/imprisonment of Satan following Christ's Second Coming (Rev 20:1-3), which corresponds to the banishment of Azazel's goat.
Of the animals used in the special Day of Atonement rituals, the Lord's goat carried the meaning of what Christ is doing for us and the goat for Azazel represented Satan. So the cleansing of the sanctuary and camp on the Day of Atonement all boils down to "a tale of two goats." That is the Day of Atonement made simple!
The two goats were indistinguishable until their roles were determined by the Lord (Lev 16:8). They were just Billy the Goat and Billy the Goat (not Billy the Kid; they were grown goats). Just so, human beings are not capable of distinguishing between Christ and Satan by themselves, but must rely upon the Lord to identify them.
Azazel's goat stood in the courtyard, where the altar is, as witness to the proceedings. Similarly, Satan remains as witness to what God is doing for us on earth. It is earth where the cross, represented by the altar, was located (see Rev 11:1-2; 12:7-17).
In addition to his role as tempter, Satan is a witness against us. Having lured us into sins, he condemns us for these same sins (Zech 3:1-2). This is called "entrapment." As the original liar (Jn 8:44), Satan is not content to correctly point out that people have sinned. He is also "the accuser of our brethren" (Rev 12:10), who tries to destroy God's people by slandering those who have been justly forgiven (compare Rom 3:26).
By accusing us, Satan identifies and implicates himself. He is like a mugger who attacked my wife's cousin when he was a computer science student at the University of California in Berkeley. George was walking home after a late night study session at the library. He heard a sound in the bushes by his apartment and realized that someone was there. In a panic, George told him to go away or he would call the police. At that point the man emerged from the bushes, attacked George, and disappeared.
George went inside and called the police, who rounded up a group of suspects. The next day George was called in to the police department to identify the mugger in a lineup of the suspects. But since the attack was at night, George couldn't distinguish one suspect from another. The puzzle was broken, however, when one of the suspects pointed at George and protested angrily to the police: "He threatened me!"
Satan tells the truth when he says that we have sinned. But when we accept forgiveness through Christ and Satan goes on accusing us of not belonging to God (Rev 12:10), at that point Satan is lying. Not only is he lying, he is a malicious, false witness, who is trying to destroy us by his lies. In the Bible there is a law that tells what should be done with such a witness:
If a malicious witness comes forward to accuse someone of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days, and the judges shall make a thorough inquiry. If the witness is a false witness, having testified falsely against another, then you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. The rest shall hear and be afraid, and a crime such as this shall never again be committed among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot (Deut 19:16-21).
In addition to the facts that Satan originated sin, commits sins of his own, and instigated the death of Christ, there are two more good reasons for him to go to hell. First, he tempts people to sin and therefore shares blame for their sins. Second, he is a malicious false witness who will receive the punishment that those whom he falsely accuses would have received if they had not been vindicated (compare Deut 19:16-21; Num 5:31).
Azazel's goat, carrying the sins of the Israelites, represents Satan bearing responsibility with regard to human sins that is his own responsibility. The penalty that he will receive as a malicious witness is the penalty that God's true people would have received if they had been proven in the judgment to be unforgiven. But the responsibility is his as a false witness; it is not their actual responsibility at all.
Satan does not carry a molecule of my own responsibility. Christ bore that at the cross. Satan is not my substitute in any sense whatsoever. Only Christ is my substitute.
Satan condemns me whether I am saved or lost. If I am lost, he is not a false witness in this case. But if I am saved, he is lying when he says I am not forgiven. So the more people are saved, the greater Satan's responsibility and punishment as a false witness will be. The more people are lost, the less his punishment will be. No wonder Satan is roaring around trying to get people to be lost!
The Israelites got rid of their sins by sending them back to their source. "Chickens come home to roost." "What goes around comes around." "Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on the one who starts it rolling" (Prov 26:27). Satan is that source. Once he is put away forever, there will be no more temptations and accusations. Only then will God's people be completely secure and free from evil.
Years ago I was painting a wall with another worker. We passed the time by talking about the Bible. But when I referred to the role of Satan in causing trouble in the universe, he indignantly replied: "To hell with the Devil!" I certainly agree that the Devil belongs in hell and the sooner the better, but we cannot simply dismiss his influence as my fellow worker did. It is naive to ignore Satan when he has been followed by a third of the angels (Rev 12:3, 4, 9), is like a roaring lion seeking to devour us (1 Pet 5:8), and is pent up here on earth like a bee in a bottle, knowing that his time is short (Rev 12:12). To ignore Satan would be like ignoring Hitler in Europe in 1944.
We know that God is fully able to protect us from Satan,
but in the Bible God warns us about the enemy just as the
U.S. military undoubtedly told O'Grady about the enemy in
Bosnia. When you are in a war, you need to know who and what
you are up against!
The Bible reveals the strategies of God and Satan in a great war they have been fighting for thousands of years. Rituals at the Israelite sanctuary showed the overall contours of the conflict. We have found that Christ's sacrifice solves the problems of sin and death that originated with Satan and are being perpetuated by him.
Satan wants us to rebel against God so that we will refuse the life that He offers through Christ. But Christ draws us to Himself, lifted up on the cross.
Satan wants us to die with him in the fires of hell even though we have come to Christ. Misery loves company. But God forgives us, transforms us, reaffirms/vindicates our forgiveness in the judgment, and shows that Satan rather than God is behind our problems.
The fact that God forgives us and then reaffirms our forgiveness suggests that God is answering a challenge, or at least the possibility of a challenge, to His justice. Why can't God simply forgive us? Why does He need to reaffirm the forgiveness that He has already given? Reaffirming forgiveness is necessary to show that the forgiveness God offers has really been accepted.
Zechariah 3:1-4 shows that the challenge God faces comes from Satan:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?" Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. And he spoke and said to those who were standing before him saying, "Remove the filthy garments from him." Again he said to him, "See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes" (NASB).
This passage explicitly connects the sanctuary/temple with the great conflict between God and Satan. Joshua was the high priest at the temple, whose function was to bear the sins of his people (Exod 28:38; Lev 10:17). Garments represent works, as in Revelation 19:8, where the fine linen of the bride represents the "righteous deeds of the saints."
In Zechariah 3, the high priest had filthy garments because his works and those of his people were sinful. Although Satan's words are not quoted here, his accusation must have been: "They're mine now! Look at their filthy sins!"
Satan's attitude reminds me of an undertaker who employed a friend of mine as a mortician. When the undertaker wrote a letter to someone, he didn't finish with the words "Yours truly," but rather, "Eventually mine." It sounds like a macabre joke, but Satan isn't joking when he says "eventually mine." He wants to permanently separate us from God and to discourage us by making us think we are too bad to save.
Satan was correct when he accused the high priest and his people. They had sinned. Satan ought to know. He had tempted them to commit the very sins of which he now accused them!
The fact that Satan tempts us makes him responsible for his influence. But we are also tempted by our own desire and we are responsible for the choices we make: "But one is tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved" (Jas 1:14-16).
Satan uses our desires in order to lead us into sin, just as he used Eve's desire for the fruit of a tree to tempt her. The apostle Paul refers to a way in which Satan can use sexual desire of married people as a basis for temptation: "Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (1 Cor 7:5). There is nothing inherently wrong with the desire to eat fruit or to have sexual relations. But Satan tries to get us to fulfill our desires in ways that violate God's law of love.
In the 1960s there was a comedian who used to get barrels of laughs by saying: "The Devil made me do it!" But Satan can't make you sin: "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor 10:13).
If you and I fall, it is because we do not take the way out that God provides. Satan can make temptations painfully strong, as he did when he tempted Christ, but we can overcome as Christ did: by trusting in God and His word (Matt 4:1-11).
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 1:24-25).
God will reward those who overcome: "Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him" (Jas 1:12).
In Zechariah's vision, the Lord didn't respond to Satan by saying that His people weren't sinful. What He did was to remove their sins and cleanse them, as represented by the change of garments on the high priest.
The issue raised by Satan is the connection between human beings and their God, as shown by their works. God answers Satan's challenge in order to demonstrate to the universe that when He saves someone, He does the job right. God is not being unfair, and therefore unloving, by saving some without true faith but condemning others. He is not a hypocrite who holds others to a standard of love that He Himself cannot keep. He is not threatening the security of the universe by turning loose criminals who are not really rehabilitated.
Now that we have an overall feel for the strategies of God and Satan, let's go back to the beginning and trace the way in which God and Satan have countered each other:
Satan challenged God's supremacy, saying: "I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High" (Isa 14:14).
Satan fought against "Michael" in heaven, but Satan lost and was thrown down to the earth with the angels who had followed him (Rev 12:7-9). These were a third of all the angels (verse 4).
God created Adam and Eve, but Satan tempted them and they fell into sin (Gen 3). Since Adam and Eve followed his word instead of God's, Satan became the ruler of Planet Earth (Jn 12:31) and its representative (Job 1:6-7).
When God cursed the serpent through which Satan tempted Eve, he said: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel" (Gen 3:15). In this way God promised deliverance through a future descendant of Eve. Even before that time Satan would not enjoy a peaceful rule over his human subjects. In spite of Satan's protestations (Job 1:9-11), God has been intervening in the world all the way up to the present, influencing human beings to rebel against Satan's reign of terror, death, and darkness. For a time, God even set up His sanctuary as His headquarters on earth.
Satan accused God's people of sin, but God rebuked him and transformed their lives in order to invalidate Satan's accusation (Zech 3:1-5).
Christ came to us as a human being so that He could bring us God's presence in a more intimate way that we could better comprehend. Satan tempted Christ in order to prevent His ministry.
While overcoming Satan's temptations, Christ worked to defeat Satan's hold on the people of this world. He rejoiced when the seventy disciples whom He had sent out returned and told Him that even the demons submitted to them: "He said to them, 'I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you'" (Lk 10:18-19). Satan's reign as the "ruler of this world" was coming to an end.
Satan incited national leaders and Judas to destroy Christ (see for example Jn 13:27). But it was precisely through Christ's death that God defeated Satan and took away his right to be the "ruler of this world": "'Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.' He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die" (Jn 12:31-33).
When Christ died and rose again, Satan suffered a major loss. By defeating Satan, who usurped our dominion, Christ judged the world in that He gained justice for the world. "Judgment" here refers to salvation, just as the "judges" in the book of Judges were deliverers who obtained justice for their people by driving out foreign oppressors (see Judg 3:9-10).
Christ has not yet fully taken over the world from Satan's control, but His sacrifice makes ultimate victory certain. Satan can no longer claim to own the world on the basis of the argument that he owns the entire human race to whom God originally gave the dominion. Through what Christ has done, His Father "has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col 1:13-14).
Until Christ's death, Satan could claim even forgiven people as his rightful prey and he could say that God was unjust when He forgave and saved those who believed in Him. But in Christ, God took the responsibility for forgiving guilty but repentant people (compare 2 Sam 14:9) and bore their full penalty on the cross. God is vindicated as just when He justifies those who believe (Rom 3:26). This does not mean that God had to pay off Himself or Satan. Rather, it means that in order to remain a God of love, He remains fully just when He grants mercy.
After Christ's death, Satan is down to his last argument when he tries to claim people who have been forgiven through faith in Christ. Romans 3:26 says that God is "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (NASB). But God is not just if He justifies a person who refuses to trust in Jesus. So Satan can continue to accuse God's people (Rev 12:10) by saying that they do not have faith or that they have lost their faith. Faith is an ongoing condition for our salvation:
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven (Col 1:21-23).
Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet "in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back." But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved (Heb 10:35-39).
Faith is not simply saying "yes" to God in your mind or by your words. Real, living faith has ongoing action as its natural result, just as a living human body has a pulse. If there is no continuous pulse, the body is dead. James said: "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead" (Jas 2:26). Paul said: "the only thing that counts is faith working through love" (Gal 5:6). Faith that does not work through love, which is the basis of God's law (Matt 22:36-40), is not true faith.
Works are a symptom of faith. If your works are unloving, your faith is sick, in a coma, or perhaps even dead. If your faith is dead, you obviously do not have real, living faith. If so, you lack a vital part of the salvation equation: grace + faith = salvation (Eph 2:8-9).
Only God can read our thoughts of faith (compare Ps 139:23; Lk 7:39-40). So the evidence that Satan points to is the visible result of our faith or lack thereof, namely, our works. God counters Satan's accusation by using a judgment of works to show the universe that His people have true faith (Eccl 12:14; Dan 7:10). The judgment is not to inform God. He already knows what our faith is like. But to demonstrate His justice He must use evidence that His created beings can see. What would be the point of bringing "Exhibit A," "Exhibit B," and "Exhibit C" into a courtroom if they were invisible to those present?
God calls His people to perfection/maturity and holiness (Matt 5:48; 2 Cor 7:1; Eph 4:13; 1 Pet 1:15, 16), but the basic issue in the judgment is whether or not they continue to accept through faith the grace He gives them. If His grace matures them to the extent that they do not continue to sin at all, what counts is not their sinless perfection as much as the fact that they are accepting God's grace.
When the judgment is finished, Satan will have no more arguments left. God will have successfully borne the cost of mercy all the way to the end. He will have vindicated Himself by vindicating what He has done for His people. When the Judge is shown to be fully just, there can be no question about the forgiveness that He has granted. Satan's lies and responsibility for sin will stand fully exposed. No longer can he link the destiny of God's people with his own fate and hold them hostage as a terrorist shields himself with his victim.
Once the judgment is complete, God can condemn Satan for his part in the sins of those who are saved, without also condemning those who are saved. This condemnation of Satan was acted out in the Israelite Day of Atonement when the high priest confessed the sins of Israel over Azazel's goat and banished it to the wilderness (Lev 16:21).
When Satan is condemned, he will be silenced and his temptations will stop. The book of Revelation describes the same event:
And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time (Rev 20:1-3; NASB).
After Satan is imprisoned for a thousand years, he will be let out to perish in the lake of fire (Rev 20:10).
The key to God's strategy is Christ's sacrifice, through which God forgives us, gives us His transforming Spirit, and then reaffirms our forgiveness on the basis of what He has done in our lives.
Whether or not you come to Christ, Satan will try to
make sure that you die the "second death" with him. But if
you hold on to Christ and say with Jacob, "I will not let you
go, unless you bless me" (Gen 32:26), there is nothing Satan
can do. With all his strategy and power, he is no match for
God, who patiently works out His will for us and for the
well-being of the entire universe.
If God is so all-powerful that He could speak the world into existence (Gen 1), why didn't He just vaporize Satan with a few words? Why don't we read at the end of Genesis 3: "And God said, 'Let Satan vanish.' And Satan vanished. And God saw that Satan was no more and that peace was restored again to the earth. And God saw the peace that He had made and behold, it was very good"?
God could have deleted Satan from the universe as fast as I can delete the word "Satan" from my computer screen. But what would He have accomplished? The problem was not simply with Satan himself, but with the rebellious ideas that he had raised in the minds of God's created beings. These ideas could easily outlive Satan. How do you kill an idea?
The prophet Isaiah describes how sin began in the heart of a being referred to as "Day Star, son of Dawn," whom we know as Lucifer or Satan:
How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon; I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High" (Isa 14:12-14).
"I will make myself like the Most High"! This is not the same idea as Lev 19:2: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." Lucifer didn't want to imitate God's holy character. He wanted to have the power and authority of the Most High.
Sounds appealing! I will be my own God. I will be in charge of my own life. W. E. Henley said it eloquently in a poem commonly known as "Invictus":
It matters not how strait the gate,Eve fell for Satan's idea, spoken through a serpent:
But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate (Gen 3:4-6).
According to the book of Revelation, many angels had fallen for Satan's idea:
And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him (Rev 12:7-9; NASB).
How many angels fell for and with Satan? Revelation 12:4 tells us that the dragon was responsible for taking down "a third of the stars of heaven," referring to a third of the angels.
How many angels are there? We don't have a precise count, but Daniel describes some of the loyal two thirds in God's heavenly throne room: "A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him" (Dan 7:10). The apostle John had a similar vision: "Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands" (Rev 5:11). That sounds like a lot of angels.
We are not alone in the universe! God is responsible for the well-being of many other beings whom He has created.
In addition to angels, God may have several or many worlds like ours. There is a hint of this possibility in Job 1:6-7:
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the Lord, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it."
This passage describes a heavenly council that took place in Old Testament times. Why was Satan there? To represent Planet Earth. In the beginning, God had given Adam and Eve dominion over the earth (Gen 1:28). They had been the rightful representatives of the planet. But by falling for Satan's temptation (Gen 3), they gave their dominion to him (Jn 12:31). In this way, they elected him as their representative to the heavenly Congress! If Satan represented Planet Earth at a heavenly council and if there were other representatives there as well, it appears that they were representing other worlds.
Just because Satan and his angels have been thrown down to earth does not mean that he has quit fighting: "But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short" (Rev 12:12)! Now we can better understand why the world is in such a mess. It is a cosmic battleground. Including the human population of earth and the angels, there are millions of created beings on each side of a battle that has raged for thousands of years and is intensifying toward a climactic end.
It is true that we cannot see angels unless they choose to become visible, but Satan and his angels do affect us. We are struggling against supernatural forces of darkness (Eph 6:12). But to encourage us, the apostle Paul wrote:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39).
God is the all-powerful Creator of everything. Satan is only a created being. God threw Satan out of heaven against his will. When Jesus had enough of Satan's temptations, He said: "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him'" (Matt 4:10). What could Satan do? He had no choice but to leave (verse 11).
God is stronger than Satan. Thousands of years ago God could have wiped out Satan and all sinners. In this way God would have prevented all the nauseating suffering caused by bloodthirsty tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and so on. But would that wipe out sin? The angels who followed Satan's ideas were once unfallen. Who is to say that angels and other beings who are now unfallen would not follow Satan's course after Satan is gone?
If God used too much force, He would actually increase the risk of rebellion. Force can create destructive fear and perfect fear casts out love, just as "perfect love casts out fear" (1 Jn 4:18). It is healthy to be God-fearing in the sense of having awe-inspired respect for the Lord and His power, but if God's created beings were to fear Him in the negative sense of having no feeling for Him but terror, they would not want Him as their God. They would want to be their own gods, to be like the Most High. And God would be back to square one.
If God wiped out sinners too soon, there would be a question as to whether all of them were really beyond hope of rehabilitation. Some savable people would be lost. Jesus told the parable of the "wheat and the weeds" to show how God lets loyal and disloyal people coexist until they have developed to the point that they can be easily separated (Matt 13:24-30).
God uses restraint so that everyone can make a free and honest choice. Remember Revelation 3:20: Christ stands at the door and knocks. He doesn't want to break the door down and make robots out of us. He wants our love. Robots cannot love.
Love is not a mushy, slushy, candy-coated, sentimental whim that you "fall into" every so often when the perfume or aftershave blows in the right direction. It is the moral foundation of the universe. Love is the only basis on which intelligent beings with free choice can coexist harmoniously. Without love, we destroy each other. If you doubt it, glance at the newspaper or flip on the evening news.
What if God simply said: "O.K. Enough is enough. You want to serve yourselves and Satan. Go ahead. I'm pulling out." Would that be a loving thing for Him to do? Without God's kind of love there is only MAD, mutual assured destruction. God's government is the only one with any possibility of long-term survival because He is love (1 Jn 4:8) and therefore love is the basis of His law (Matt 22:36-40). God is not going to abandon people to Satan without giving them a fair chance any more than the Allies were willing to abandon Europe to Nazi rule.
If up to our day God has not been able to wipe out Satan and sinners in such a way that He gives the universe a clean break from sin, how will He be able to do it in the future? Revelation 20-21 describes the utter destruction of sin by fire and complete restoration of a perfect Earth. What is God doing to make that possible? The answer is: God is progressively educating the universe. The events and teachings recorded in the Bible, inculding those revealed in the sanctuary services, and the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit are all part of this process.
The life and death of Christ are a crucial part of our education. Not only did the cross event reclaim us for Christ, it unmasked, for all created beings to see, the hideous depths to which evil could sink. Christ came to heal and to speak words of hope and love. Satan incited human beings to kill their gentle Lord in the most painful, humiliating way possible. But I cannot put all the blame on Satan and people who lived two thousand years ago. Christ died for my sins too. I added to His suffering. It is only by gazing at Christ on the cross that I realize the depths to which I have sunk.
Now that Christ has died, why is God waiting so long to put an end to evil? Satan is an actor, a con artist, and a spin doctor. He convinced a third of the angels. For beings as mentally and spiritually dull as the human race, it takes awhile to catch on to Satan's slippery slithers.
Our problem is ignorance. Education takes time. We have difficulty understanding what God is like. We have many prejudices and hang-ups for God to overcome: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known" (1 Cor 13:12; NASB).
Human beings often rebel against God out of ignorance. They do not know what they are doing. King Manasseh hurt many people and made a point of insulting God. But he didn't really know what he was doing because he didn't know God. When God finally got through to him, he finally recognized the Lord for who He was (2 Chron 33:13).
Jesus acknowledged human ignorance. When He was being nailed to the cross, He prayed for those who were torturing Him: "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34).
God progressively pulls aside the veil of our ignorance. As we understand more, we have a better opportunity and responsibility to make informed choices about God. This was true for the ancient Israelites, who were responsible for offering sacrifices for inadvertent sins only when these sins became known to them (Lev 4:27-28). The New Testament expresses the same idea: "While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). "Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin" (Jas 4:17).
When our daughter was six years old, my wife and I purchased her a golden retriever puppy. Little "Shadow" was only five weeks old and unbelievably cute, but he had a lot to learn. We had to teach him to go outside when necessary. We also had to train him to use his needle-like teeth on his chewing toys rather than on furniture, carpet, or hands and legs. As he grew, he had new lessons to learn. For example, when Shadow was four months old he discovered one evening that he could reach my supper on the kitchen deck. When I arrived, he was licking the last morsels off the floor. To have something to eat, I put some bread in the toaster. When I returned a few minutes later, I caught the lanky pup with both paws up on the deck, eating my toast right out of the toaster! That was a "no-no!" Shadow was young and inexperienced. We did not hold him as accountable for his mistakes as we do now that he is older. I am thankful that God lets me grow in the same way.
God reveals Himself to us progressively throughout our individual lives, and this kind of progress continues from one generation to another. The faith of our fathers and mothers inspires us, but God leads us on beyond the point reached by our fathers and mothers. We can build on their knowledge and experience.
As God educates us, He also teaches the other beings in His universe what He is like. Their God is also our God. The universe is His classroom.
If you were Satan and you knew that God could destroy you when He had educated the universe enough to totally discredit your idea that a created being can be God, what would you do? For one thing, you would try to mess up His students by separating them from God through ignorance, sin, and discouragement. Peter wrote:
Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering (1 Pet 5:8).
There's a lion loose in the classroom! His efforts are becoming more desperate as his doom approaches. Like a losing basketball team during the last seconds before the final bell, Satan and his team are going all out.
Satan may cause us temporary grief and suffering, but he cannot do eternal damage as long as we hold on to God by faith. Satan is fighting a losing battle. People are being drawn to Christ and transformed through the power of His Spirit. Satan does not want to let us go any more than Pharaoh wanted to lose the Israelites, or Hitler wanted to give up Europe, or Scott O'Grady's enemies wanted to let him go. But there is nothing Satan can do about it. Since Christ died on the cross, he cannot claim us as his rightful prey.
Satan reminds me of a cat from whom I rescued a lizard. That cat glared at me with pure hatred. I have no doubt that if it had been a lion instead of a house cat, it would have torn me to pieces in an instant. But the cat couldn't do anything because I was bigger.
Education takes time. Nuking the classroom will not speed up the process. But God's titanic plan to educate and rescue His people will go through to completion in spite of the icebergs of ignorance, confusion, doubt, and division that Satan tries to put in its way. Don't abandon the ship. It is the icebergs that will sink!