In the lead article on page 1, we pointed out that Christ's prayer was one for unity among His people and how that prayer has not yet been answered. This article will answer when and how that prayer will be answered.
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland...to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise...Do not be afraid, O Jacob my servant...for I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring..." (Isa 43:18-19,21 44:2-3 NIV throughout).
Old Testament prophecies to "Jacob"? What does this have to do with unity of Christians?
Many Old Testament Prophecies Are About the Church
The name "Israel" figures prominently in booklets and articles of writers on Bible prophecy in the Twentieth Century. There are two main "schools" of prophecy interpretation related to Israel. The standard "Evangelical" school assumes Old Testament prophecies mentioning Israel are referring to the modern State of Israel. Thus the events in world news that relate to that nation are watched eagerly for "signs of the times."
The other prophetic "school" embraces the British-Israelite theory. The common conception is that the modern nation of Israel represents only the "House of Judah," not the whole Old Testament Nation of Israel. Advocates of the British-Israelite theory postulate that the House of Israel, taken captive by the Assyrians around 700 B.C., was "lost" in history, and in a series of migrations from Assyria, the descendants of the captives ended up in western Europe. Thus the peoples of such nations as Denmark, England, France and the Netherlands are really Israelites. Further, the theory states that the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh had the special blessing of the patriarch Jacob, and have the pre-eminence of the name "Israel." It is assumed that the British Commonwealth is Ephraim, and its "brother," the United States, is Manasseh.
Let us examine another possible interpretation for some of those passages in prophecy referring to "Israel." In some casesperhaps manythey also can refer to the Church, the Body of Christ. There are many references in the New Testament picturing the Church as "spiritual Israel."
"For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God" (Rom 2:28-29 KJV).
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God..." (1Pet. 2: 9-10).
"Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ" (Eph 2:11-13).
"It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are His descendants are they all Abraham's children...It is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring" (Rom 9:6-8).
"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29).
This is not a "new" theory. Many writers have proposed a secondary application of some Old Testament passages as applying to the church. We want to share what we believe are some passages in the scriptures which can offer encouragement to the scattered members of Christ's Body if these passages are considered with the view that "Israel" may be a symbol for the Church.
But before covering those prophecies, it is important to establish another link in Old Testament prophecy with the Churchthe Temple.
Temple: Symbol of the Church
The last temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. Must the Jews rebuild it before Christ returns? Some feel this is an absolute prerequisite to the fulfillment of end time prophecy. This "Tribulation Temple," as some call it, will be the scene of animal sacrifices performed by a reinstituted Levitical priesthood.
Others feel references to a temple in the "last days" refer to a temple to be rebuilt after the return of Christ. They believe He will reinstitute the Levitical system to serve as a "teaching device" for the people who survive the Tribulation and live on into the Millennium.
Perhaps many different interpretations have a portion of truth. But there is a possible "spiritual" application of some of the prophecies that may be an encouragement to the scattered members of Christ's Body:
"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph 2:19-21).
"For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building...Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple..." (1Cor 3:9,16). "For we are the temple of the Living God" (2Cor 6:16).
"...you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house..." (1Pet 2:5).
The repeated symbolism in the New Testament of the Church as the temple of God should be sufficient reason for at least taking a look at some of the temple prophecies to see if there is perhaps a partial fulfillment relating to the Church. The apostles definitely made a connection between the Church and the temple of God.
Jesus laid the foundation for the Spiritual Temple, His Church, in the first century, with His life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and with the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Work continued under His direct supervision for a time, and there was great rejoicing and unity among His workers. People soon decided to reject His supervision and start building on their own. None of the edifices they have attempted to build have been His Temple.
Of course He hasn't ceased His Work. He has called people to be His own down through the past 2,000 years. In one sense, they have all become part of the invisible Body of Christ that will only truly be revealed at His coming. In another sense, there is still a temple to be completed, the one that will give the world evidence of Jesus before He returns.
Building God's Temple
We often speak of the Church as the Body of Christ. Do we get the full implication of that statement? When Jesus was here on the earth, "His Body" was His actual body. The works He did were done by His own body partsHis mouth, His hands, His feet. Now that He is at the right hand of the Father, the works He will do on earth must be done by His Spiritual Body partsthe Church. When we say that He is the "head," we imply that the body gets its direction and its control from Him through His Spirit. True Christian individuals throughout the world in the past 2,000 years have had Christ as their Lordtheir "head." Individually many may have been responsible for leading other individuals to Christ. Is that all Christ had in mind? What of His prayer for unity? What of the examples in the first century, where it is said the disciples "turned the world upside down"? What of the comment quoted earlier that "all the believers" were highly regarded, and more and more were added to their numbers in a short time? Are those days unique in all history, and are we to be satisfied with a pale shadow of those events?
"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb...These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9,14).
This passage is immediately after the mysterious description of the "sealing" of the 144,000 Israelites, "servants" of God. The inference many commentators draw is that the multitude was converted during the Tribulation by the 144,000. We believe that the multitudes indicate a mighty Work of Christ to be done in the latter days comparable to that of the first century and that it can only be done by a unified Body of Christ.
When and How Will That Unity Come?
If the "last days" are near, then we don't necessarily think that God has a pre-ordained date in mind. Rather, we believe that skeptical agnostics, or even atheists, are suspicious that very bad times are near just because man has brought himself to the brink of destruction by his own scientific "progress." God may have a time-table, but it may be flexible based on circumstances and his discretion.
We have no irrefutable "proof" to offer that we are living near the "last days." We are, however, convinced that that is a strong possibility. If you share our view, then perhaps you will see in the prophecies of Haggai the same hope.
Look around you at the Christian community in the world today. Examine your own experiences in denominations or cults. Look at the desperate need of most people to know the Good News of Jesus compared to the effectiveness of most efforts of evangelism. Consider the media reports about religious organizations that have flooded the airwaves since the "Jim and Tammy" story broke a few years ago. Ponder what effect this has had on the minds of the "unsaved" and on their mental image of the "Body of Christ." Now let's read the imagery of Haggai:
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it". This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the Lord. "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the Lord Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops" (Hag 1:5-10).
It is clear that there have been many people laboring greatly to build their "own church" and it has not worked very well. See what is prophesied of this "house" the Lord wants built:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: "In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory," says the Lord Almighty. "The silver is mine and the gold is mine," declares the Lord Almighty. "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house [Solomon's Temple]..." (Hag 2:6-9).
These surely cannot be actual predictions for the completed temple of Zerubbabelthat is, the actual physical "house" being built at the time this prophecy was written down. Some may say that these are references to the actual temple of Jesus' time, being filled with glory because Jesus was present there during His ministry. This seems unlikely. First of all, the temple in Jesus' time was Herod's Temple, not the temple of Zerubbabel. Secondly, the references to shaking the heavens and earth and sea and all nations certainly fits much better at the Second Coming. If that time is the ultimate reference, then the comment that "in a little while" this shaking will come, implies that the completion of the building of the "house" is near to that time.
It might be said that this "temple" is just the invisible, scattered church of all the ages that will be brought together at Christ's return and filled with His glory. That is surely an event that will also happen. But the imagery of this passage is that people have a responsibility in seeing that this "temple" is built so that God might be "honored." Going back to the history of the effort in Ezra, we see that the people had been involved in the building.
Do Not Seek Our Own Righteousness
During the same time period when Haggai was prophesying, just before work was resumed on building the temple, the prophet Zechariah had a vision.
Then he [an angel] showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan! the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you".... This is what the Almighty says: "If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here. Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to send my servant, the Branch" (Zec 3:1-4,6-8).
No doubt this vision has all kinds of implications. Certainly the reference to the "Branch" means Jesus, although commentators do not agree on whether this is at the first or second coming. There may be multiple layers of meaning, on both physical and spiritual levels. For the purpose at hand, we will focus on Joshua and his clothing.
Some have wondered if his "filthy rags" symbolized some personal sinful problem, with God purging him and giving him clean clothes as a sign that he is forgiven and will be restored to responsibility. It does say in verse 8 that he is symbolic of "things to come."
If, as it appears from Haggai, this is a condition near the time of the return of Christ, and Israel and the temple is a type of the Church, what does this imply about the state of the Church? Perhaps it could imply rampant open "sinning" among Christians. Given some of the religious scandals of recent years, this wouldn't be an unreasonable inference! However, this vision seems to be about more than that.
The passage says that Joshua is clothed in "filthy" clothing. The use of the word "filthy" gives a clue to the meaning, as this word is used in a well-known passage in Isaiah:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).
Paul speaks plainly about such righteousness:
If anyone thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christthe righteousness that comes from God and is by faith (Php 3:4-9).
We believe that Joshua, in his filthy rags, portrays a Christian Church which has been permeated for centuries with the deception of legalismmen and women concluding that they are righteous because they believe a certain set of doctrines and follow a certain set of rules. The rules vary from denomination to denomination, sect to sect, cult to cult. But the result is the samea body of believers ever struggling to measure up to the standards of the group. And they have all mistaken their body of doctrine for the Gospel. One of the "rules" is always to agree with all of the doctrines of the group. Individual Christians wander from group to group seeking the place with the most "true doctrine." It is somehow as if they feel "knowing" all the right things will bestow righteousness on them.
In Zechariah's vision, Joshua had his filthy clothes removed and was given rich, new garments. We believe that this is a symbol of what is beginning to happen throughout the Christian community now. It may eventually mean a vast exodus from the denominations, sects and cults as individual Christians are called by Jesus to see that neither legalism, emotionalism, churchism, nor a one-hour-per-week religion are the way to righteousness. The only way is Jesus and His righteousness.
So, again, have we today been laboring greatly to build our own church or temple and neglecting God's temple?
"From This Day On, I Will Bless You"
If this temple is symbolically the Body of Christ which will be "fitly framed together" (Eph 4:16) under Christ's headship in the "last days," to do a unified Work for His honor and glory, is their any encouragement? Yes, there is and it is found in Haggai.
The people took Haggai's prophecy to heart and gathered to begin work on the temple. And God was very pleased. Almost immediately He promised them:
I am with you...Be strong, all you people of the land...and work. For I am with you...This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.... From this day on [24th day of the ninth month] I will bless you (Hag 1:13; 2:4,5,19).
Just about three and a half years later, the rebuilding was completed and the temple was dedicated. We believe the Lord has once again sent out the call, symbolized in this passage, that His temple is to be finished. And we believe that this will be the response:
...the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord (Hag 1:12).
To that remnant, whoever they are, we believe God will say, "From this day on I will bless you." To clarify why we believe that call has gone out, we need to look at the significance of the Fall Holy Days.
Holy Days Also Answer
Most writers will agree that the primary typology (symbolism) of the Holy Days is to point to the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Their primary fulfillment was therefore bound up in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and the relevance of these events to the Christian conversion experience.
Many writers also agree that there is a chronological secondary fulfillment of the Holy Days in the history of the Church as an institution. Their interpretation usually includes that Jesus died on Passover, appeared to His disciples and first ascended to the Father on the wave-sheaf day, and sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. After that, agreement on details becomes more difficult. Most speculate Christ will return on Trumpets, and some feel the Feast of Tabernacles portrays the Millennium. A chronological equivalent of the Day of Atonement seems more of a problem for some.
It does not seem that the great harvests of the Church Age are over. While the Fall Holy days may well point to the Millennium in the representation of God's plan for mankind's salvation, they also appear to indicate a "latter" harvest in the Church. Zechariah 12 through 14 seems to be an unbroken prophecy about strength and repentance coming to Israel (and by analogy the Church) before the tribulation, day of the Lord and Millennium. There appears to be a type of fulfillment yet ahead, before the Tribulation of the "last days," of the Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Tabernacles.
Consider the Feast of Trumpets. It does seem a valid conclusion that this would represent the Trumpets of Revelation. But is that the only conclusion possible? Consider the command of the Lord to Moses:
Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out. When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. If only one is sounded, the leadersthe heads of the clans of Israelare to assemble before you (Num. 10:1-4).
Although there are many references in the scriptures to trumpets sounding the alarm of war, there are also many trumpets calling the people together for other purposes. Could there be more than one meaning to the Feast of Trumpets? (We will return to this question in two more sections.) Has the Trumpet call gone out yet? There does not seem to be any specific event that has occurred now that we could say "that represents the Feast of trumpets." But we have seen an unusual restlessness in the scattered Body of Christ recently which we can account for in no other way. There seems to be an incredible amount of questioning of the "status quo."
Has this happened in your life, and the lives of those you know?
Meanings of the Day of Atonement
The writer of Hebrews went into great detail to equate the symbolism of the Old Testament Day of Atonement with the entrance of Christ into the "heavenly" Holy of Holies with His own blood.
Herbert Armstrong was the main proponent of a theory that it is fulfilled chronologically when Satan is "bound" before the start of the Millennium. Most of this speculation is not grounded in clear, detailed Biblical passages which give the interpretations, but on reasoning and analogies. This is not necessarily wrong. As mentioned earlier, the writers of the New Testament engaged in just such reasoning and analogy. (It may, however, be wrong to declare such extra-Biblical speculations as dogma.)
If one is convinced that the Hebrew Azazel is another name for Satan, then the scripture indeed says that. However, many Jewish and Christian scholars believe that linguistic argument to be in error. The wording of Leviticus 16:22, "the goat will carry on itself all of our sins," uses the same Hebrew words as Isaiah 53:12, "for He bore the sins of many." Isaiah 53 is obviously talking about Jesus. Furthermore, in the description of the binding of Satan in Revelation 20, there is no mention of the sins of mankind being put on him.
Have you ever thought of the fact that the symbolism of the Passover and the wave sheaf, and the symbolism of Atonement both point to the same death of Jesus on the Cross and His appearance before the Father to present His blood, His sacrifice, to cover the sins of Mankind? Even the image of "covering" is similar. In Passover, it would be appropriate to say the blood "covers" you, so that when God sees it He passes over you. And the very root meaning of the Hebrew word for "atonement" is of a "covering." If both days just recapitulate the same event, is there any significance in the repetition?
Consider also the nature of the activities carried out in ancient Israel in connection with Passover as compared to Atonement. The Passover sacrifice was very personal. Each family leader took an individual lamb for Passover. Although the later practice was for the priests to be involved in slaying the Passover lambs, on the night of the first Passover, each individual killed the lamb for his own family.
The ceremony of eating the Passover was also a private thing. Each family ate in its own home, or with a close neighbor. Just the opposite was true on the Day of Atonement: it was a commanded assembly, with all the people appearing as a group before the Lord. The sacrifice was "congregational"-one goat for the whole group. Is there any significance to these variations?
Atonement seems to be a repetition of the facts of Passover, but with an emphasis on the entire congregation of Israel rather than just the individual Israelite. We believe the key here is the Lord's prayer for unity in John 17. It was Christ's desire from the very beginning of the Church Age that His Body be unified, "at one" with Him, with the Father, and with one another. That prayer was not answered right away. At the end of the symbolic harvest year, Atonement is a reminder again of the death of Christ with a special emphasis on the fact that His death reconciled us to God, made us "at one" with Him, which should make us "at one" with one another. Since man has been unable to "create" that unity, we believe that near the end of the Church Age, just before the last harvest, Christ will set His hand again to unify His Body to ready it to serve in that harvest, symbolically re-emphasizing His fulfillment of Atonement. And, finally, we believe Trumpets signifies the time when Jesus sends out the call (as the trumpets gathered physical Israel) to the scattered sheep of spiritual Israel that this work of "finishing the temple" is about to begin.
It is not clear if any specific "time periods" are involved in this scenario. The Bible seems to include numerous repetitions of themes involving time, so perhaps some analogies fit. Someone has suggested that the Great Tribulation will be so "Great" because Satan is furious at the threat he sees of the Great Work of God. He is said to come in great wrath because he knows his time is short. Could that be because he knows the prophecies of Jesus, that the end will come when the gospel is preached in all the world as a witness? Whatever your answers to these questions, can you honestly say that Satan should feel threatened by the "witness" of the Christian Church at large today, or the witness of any one denomination, sect, or cult?
Tabernacles: The Great Harvest
Some groups have called it the "Latter Rain," analogous to the Autumn rains in Israelwhich are distinct from the spring rains (Deut 11:14, Zech 10:1 KJV). Others have referred to a "New Pentecost." "The Great Harvest" is in keeping with the type of the Feast of Tabernacles. Whatever you call it, Christian groups down through the centuries have wondered why the miracles of the first century stopped, and if and when they would be manifested again. Of course, some claim their group has received the "Latter Rain," and point to "miracle healing revivals" as proof. There is no doubt that God does heal today, perhaps even sometimes at such a revival. Some unusual manifestations occur in some groups, including "speaking in tongues." As much as these groups may want to "wish" into existence a "New Pentecost," it hasn't really happenednot like the original event, such that "many miraculous signs and wonders" are openly performed among the people, attracting multitudes to hear the message of the Gospel. We know of no documented cases of the blind receiving sight, people lame from birth walking again or the "stone deaf" hearing again. A recent book, the Faith Healers by James Randi, documents Mr. Randi's honest attempts to solicit even one documented case of miraculous healing from any of the "healing ministries" in America. In the process, he was able to expose the deceptive practices of some of the more unscrupulous "faith healers," to the point of forcing some such ministries to close down. In an exhaustive nationwide search for the "real thing," he received absolutely no evidence of real public miracles.
We believe miracles do happen. We have witnessed some unmistakable ones in our own lives, but they are "quiet" miracles, and done in private. Are we ever again going to see the kind of public miracles seen in the first century of the Church?
We do not know with certainty when "the Great Harvest" will come. We can, however, share some reasons we believe it has not yet come. The scripture says clearly that one of the main reasons for the miracles in apostolic times was as a "sign" to confirm the word of the apostles. (The usual description of miracles is "signs and wonders.") If any individual or group in our time could perform miracles, it would be accepted as a "sign" of God's approval on that individual or group. It wouldn't be just a "general" approval, but taken as reinforcement of all of their doctrines and teachings. The pure simplicity and living witness of the Gospel brought by the apostles has been encrusted with centuries of "excess baggage" in the form of doctrines and customs of which the apostles knew nothing. We do not believe the Lord will ever confirm by signs a man-revised Gospel, even if it contains elements of the true Gospel.
The case is even stronger against the Lord giving signs to any "cult," no matter how much "truth" they may have. By definition, a cult is primarily centered around the teachings and work of one human. If the Lord were to allow "signs and wonders" in such a group, the glory would inevitably be given to the man at the top of the group.
When the Lord gathers His sheep from where they are scattered, when He becomes their only shepherd, when He opens their minds to the scriptures as He did the disciples before Pentecost, and when He knows their hearts so thoroughly that He knows they will give all the glory to Himonly then when these conditions exist can the "Great Harvest" come.
That is when the Lord's Prayer will be answered!
Pam Dewey and Norman S. Edwards
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