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THE POLITICAL WORLD OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. PART 4: Part 4: THE JEWISH STATE by Keith Taylor (5th April 2021) Open Close
Part 4: THE JEWISH STATE.
The Exile, 597 to 322 BC
When Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, overran Judea and captured Jerusalem in 597 BC, the independence of the Jewish state came to an end. Jehoiachin, the king, was taken prisoner to Babylon, together with all the court. The ruling classes of the people, including the skilled artisans, were also deported. Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah, was renamed Zedekiah, and was placed on the throne as a puppet king – see 2 Kings 24:10-17.
From 597 to 586 BC Judea enjoyed a twilight existence as a tributary kingdom. Zedekiah was obligated by oath to serve the king of Babylon; but the temptation to intrigue with Egypt was strong, especially when the stake was independence. There was a division of opinion, even in the prophetic circles. Hananiah, the son of Azzur, declared repeatedly that God would break the yoke of Babylon and that in two years’ time from his prediction the golden vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken away from the temple would be restored – see Jeremiah 28:1-4. Jeremiah, on the other hand, charged Hananiah with lying, and predicted that Babylon’s grip wouldn’t be relaxed. The radical party expected that Egypt would come to their aid but the conservative group, represented by Jeremiah, cherished no such illusions – see Jeremiah 28:12-17.
In 590 BC Zedekiah thought that his opportunity to rebel had come; Egypt was pushing northward along the Palestinian coast and was steadily encroaching on the domain of Babylon. Feeling that at last he’d a new champion, Zedekiah cast in his lot with Egypt.
Nebuchadnezzar didn’t overlook the challenge and he marched to the defence of Tyre and in 588 BC laid siege to Jerusalem. The siege was lifted temporarily at the advance of the Egyptian army, but they soon beat a retreat back into Egypt and the Babylonian army resumed operations. In 586 BC the walls were breached and the Babylonians took the city. Zedekiah was captured in an attempted escape, and, after being blinded, was taken in chains to Babylon. The sacred vessels of the temple were plundered; the building itself, together with the royal palace and the mansions of the nobles, were burned. The walls of the city were levelled and the population was deported to Babylon – see Jeremiah 39:4-10.
In order to preserve a semblance or organisation, Nebuzaradan, the Babylonian general in charge of the campaign, appointed Gedaliah as governor. The dissident factions within the land still persisted, however, and Baalis, the king of the Ammonites, instigated a rebellion in which Gedaliah was assassinated. General civil strife followed in which the insurgent party was finally beaten; the remnant of them escaped to Egypt, taking the prophet Jeremiah with them into involuntary exile – see Jeremiah 41 to 43.
The end of the Jewish state didn’t mean the end of Judaism; in fact, the practice of ‘orthodox Judaism’ had its beginning in these events. Many of those who went into captivity took with them the law and the prophets, which they cherished as their Scriptures. Although the sacrifices of the temple had ceased, the worship of God continued. Some of the most devout and best educated of the Jews had been taken to Babylon, and with their settlement in that land there sprang up a community that took the place of Jerusalem in religious leadership. In a large measure the religious development of this community was promoted by Ezekiel, who’d been carried away in the first deportation under Jehoiachin. He was a combination of visionary and puritan; the imagery of his preaching is grotesque, but his ethics were stern and his spiritual standards were lofty. He predicted the restoration of the people to their own land and expected revival that would purify them from the abominations that they’d committed during the years of their captivity – see Ezekiel 36:22-31.
The seventy years of the Babylonian captivity witnessed the rise of synagogue worship among the Jews. Groups of the faithful banded themselves together in the name of Jehovah and formed congregations in which the law was taught and revered. Teachers were appointed who took the place of the temple priesthood as religious leaders of the people and the study of the law became a substitute for animal sacrifices, and ethical observances took the place of ritual.
The fall of Babylon occurred in 539 BC when Cyrus, king of Persia, captured Babylon by the stratagem of diverting the waters of the Euphrates from their usual channel, so that they no longer flowed through the city. His armies marched through the dry bed of the river under the gates into the city and so captured it almost without a battle. The sovereignty of the Middle East passed to the Medo-Persians.
Cyrus proved to be a benevolent ruler and from the first he treated the conquered peoples with consideration. In the initial year of his reign he issued a decree that the Jews should be permitted to return home and that the spoils of their temple should be restored to them. The rebuilding of the temple was to be financed by the royal treasury – see Ezra 6:1-5.
Not all the Jews in Babylon returned to Palestine under the decree of Cyrus; the majority preferred to remain with their businesses and with their homes. About forty-two thousand, mostly from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, set out for Jerusalem. Under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, a prince of royal blood whom Cyrus appointed governor, they reached the city about 537 BC – see Ezra 1:3, 5-11. They commenced to rebuild the temple – see Ezra 3:1-13, but the construction wasn’t completed at that time. There was opposition to the project from the people who’d stayed in the land – see Ezra 4:1-5, and for seventeen years nothing further was done, though the returning exiles prospered and built homes for themselves – see Haggai 1:4. Under the urgent preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah the work resumed about 520 BC – see Ezra 5:1-2, but the provincial officials, apparently ignorant of the original decree of Cyrus, ordered the Jews to desist. The Jews appealed to Darius, who searched the records and reaffirmed by special decree the privileges that Cyrus had granted. The work then went forward rapidly and the building was completed in 516 BC – see Ezra 6:1-15. Worship was resumed at the time of the Passover and the priestly ministry was re-established.
For another period of about sixty years between 516 and 458 BC the records remain silent concerning the state of the Jews in Palestine. In 458 BC, “…the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king” – see Ezra 7:7, another migration set out from Babylon under the leadership of Ezra the scribe, a descendant of Hilkiah, who’d been high pries in the reign of Josiah. He was accompanied by a number of priests and singers and possessed a letter from Artaxerxes that gave him authority to renew the temple services and provided financial aid by the magistrates for such worship under penalty of punishment.
The new settlement was absorbed into the population of the land and seemingly effected no change in general conditions. In 446 BC “In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king” – see Nehemiah 2:1, a messenger from Jerusalem approached Nehemiah, the Jewish cupbearer of the Persian king, and informed him that the wall of Jerusalem had been broken down and that its gates had been burned with fire. In all probability the devastation of the city was fairly recent at the time of Nehemiah, for there would have been no point in making a long journey to announce to him the results of the siege occurring nearly a century and a half previously. From the hints given in the book of Nehemiah, we may conclude that the revival of Jewish political activity provoked hostility from other inhabitants of Palestine, especially the Samaritans. Perhaps the calamity that Hanani announced was the result of some guerrilla raid on Jerusalem that the Jews weren’t well organised enough to resist.
The appeal of Hanani brought direct results. Nehemiah obtained leave of absence from his royal master, who also gave him a requisition on Asaph, the keeper of the royal forest, for timber with which to rebuild the gates. Nehemiah promptly proceeded to Jerusalem and on the third night after his arrival he inspected the fortifications of the city and resolved to rebuild immediately. Various sections of the wall were assigned to different men, making the work proceed rapidly. So bitter was the enmity of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, that he threatened violence, and the construction had to be done under an armed guard. Under Nehemiah’s energetic administration the repairs were completed in less than two months – see Nehemiah 6:15-16 and the ramparts of the city were again intact.
Nehemiah also promoted economic and social reforms. In the time of destitution the people had mortgaged their lands and goods for money with which to buy food and the ruinous interest extracted by the moneylenders had made recovery impossible. Nehemiah abolished interest on loans between brethren and required restitution of property. He brought the public records up to date so that the descendants of those who’d returned from captivity might be known – see Nehemiah 7:5.
The knowledge of the law was renewed under Ezra the scribe, who read and interpreted it; apparently he read in Hebrew, which was translated into Aramaic by his assistants – see Nehemiah 8:2, 7-8. The law had no doubt been forgotten in the strenuous years of conflict and rebuilding and its reading produced a profound effect on the Jews; all the people wept when they heard the words of the law – see Nehemiah 8:9. The Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated and a moral reform was effected – see Nehemiah 8:13-18. Nehemiah’s application of the principles of the law was strict; temple worship was renewed and contributions were exacted for its support. Mixed marriages with the people of the land were forbidden, Sabbath breaking was proscribed and regular administration of tithes was established so that by the close of Nehemiah’s administration twelve years later the chief elements of Jewish orthodoxy had been well planted among the remnant in Jerusalem.
During Nehemiah’s regime Manasseh, a grandson of the high priest, who’d married the daughter of Sanballat the governor, was expelled from the country. According to the Jewish historian Josephus he fled to Samaria where he built a temple on Mt. Gerizim, and established a rival cult that became the centre for the worship of the Samaritans.
The reforms of Nehemiah left a permanent effect. Throughout the rest of the Persian period and right down to the times of the Maccabees a stalwart group remained who were tenaciously loyal to the law of God, in spite of the strong influences of paganism to which many of the people and even of the priesthood succumbed.
While very few details have survived regarding Jewish history from the time of Nehemiah until the second century BC, certain movements of great significance took place. The Jews and Samaritans became ethnically separated; Aramaic began to replace Hebrew as the language of Palestine; and Hellenism threatened Judaism. During this period the ‘Thee Pillars of Judaism’ developed. The sacred writings, the Old Testament; the synagogue, with new liturgical and nonsacrificial worship and Babbinism, culminating in the Talmud and Midrash.
The priesthood persisted as the central political power in the land. Josephus says that Alexander the Great, pushing through Palestine on his way to Egypt from the conquest of Tyre, was greeted by Jaddua the high priest, and offered worship to the true God, but most modern historians reject this as pure fiction. Whether fiction or legend, it reflects the concept that the priesthood was dominant in Judaism during these comparatively silent centuries. The royal house of David had disappeared and the reference to it in the New Testament shows that it was represented by commonplace artisans, such as Joseph of Nazareth.
Two aspects of Jewish life disappeared during the Persian and Greek periods, the monarchy and the prophetic office. All pretensions to independence seem to have centred in the priesthood’ prophecy after Malachi vanished completely. No trace of the reforming and predictive message of the prophets is present in the Dispersion of this time.
The priesthood retained some of its ancient power and became much more political in its influence than it had had been under the monarchy; one or two new religious emphases appeared. The intensive study of the law that began in the exile produced a new class of leaders, the scribes. The wide dispersion of the people into congregations created a demand for copies of the law, since each congregation wanted its own. The professional copyists had to make a study of the text into order to transcribe it correctly, and consequently became expert at it. When Herod wished to learn about the prophecies of the Messiah, he called together the chief priests and the scribes of the people – see Matthew 2:4. The scribes were regarded as being on a par with the priesthood when it came to religious matters.
Another development that began in Ezra’s time was the rise of the ‘Great Synagogue’, a council of one hundred and twenty members that was formed for the purpose of administering the law and that was the forerunner of the Sanhedrin of Jesus’ day. Simon the Just, who’s probably to be identified with the high priest Simon I, living at the beginning of the third century BC, is reputed to have been the last surviving member of the body. Sinc4e the references to this Great Synagogue all come from late Talmudic literature, which is notoriously inexact in historical allusions, the very existence of this body has been challenged. Some sort of government by eldership may very well have existed, but the formal establishment of this particular organisation seems unlikely.
Under the Ptolemies, 322 to 198 BC.
With the death of Alexander the Great came the collapse and the inevitable partition of his empire. He left no heirs old enough or strong enough to be his successors, and his four generals divided the realm among themselves. Ptolemy took Egypt and Antigonus became ruler od Syria, and Palestine became the battleground and the prey of both. In 320 BC Ptolemy invaded the land and captured Jerusalem. In 315 BC Antigonus recovered it but lost it again three years later at the battle of Gaza. In 301 BC Antigonus was killed in the battle of Ipsus and so Ptolemy reasserted his claim when Seleucus succeeded Antigonus as ruler of Syria.
Once again, comparatively little is known of the state of the Jews in Palestine during this period. Palestine lay between the two hostile powers of Syria and Egypt and suffered equally from both, but one aspect of this strife was favourable for the Jews. Both the Egyptian and Syrian rulers desired their favour, since they held the balance of power in the land. The result was that whenever one king came into possession of Palestine the Jews who’d favoured the other migrated to his domain. Under the first Ptolemy a group of Jews were deported to Egypt and were settled in Alexandria. Commercial opportunities and working conditions there were so good that others followed them so that within a few years a large colony had become established. Apparently Jews were quite acceptable as colonists in the new Hellenistic cities that were being founded in this era, for they were sober, energetic and industrious.
Under the Ptolemies the Jews in Palestine enjoyed many of the privileges of a free community. The high priest was the governing officer by whom the law was administered; he was aided by the council of priests and elders and the temple was the centre of national life. The feasts of the Passover, of Weeks, and of Tabernacles were regularly observed and were attended by devout pilgrims from the whole world. The study of the law was zealously maintained and during this period its interpretation was developed in detail.
The economic status of the people under the Ptolemies seems to have been poor; they paid a very low tax which inconsideration of the prevalent greed of the kings and tax collectors of that day probably means that they were unable to pay very much. Constant warfare and emigration had impoverished the land. In the latter part of the Ptolemies’ rule, Joseph a nephew of the high priest Onias, persuaded Ptolemy III, Euergetes, to delegate to him the commission of collecting the taxes and so successful was his diplomacy that Ptolemy also gave him two thousand troops to assist in enforcing the collections; those who refused to pay suffered confiscation of their entire property. Ptolemy was satisfied and Joseph grew wealthy but the land was drained of its few remaining resources. Perhaps the financial oppression of the last few years of the third century caused the people to turn their allegiance more readily from Ptolemy V to Antiochus III of Syria.
The Ptolemies, by and large, treated the Jews very well. Under Ptolemy Philadelphus 285 to 246 BC, the successor of Ptolemy Lagus, thousands of the Jewish slaves were liberated at royal expense and some of these were given posts of responsibility to fill. The younger generation took on Greek customs and spoke the Greek language so that they began to lose their distinctively Semitic habits of thought.
During the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus the Greek version of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, was created. According to Josephus, Ptolemy’s librarian, Demetrius, was collecting copies of all known books for the great library that he was assembling in Alexandria. Hearing that the Jews had written records of their nation, Demetrius petitioned Ptolemy too secure them for him in accurate translation. Ptolemy sent to Eleazar, the Jewish high priest, asking that he send delegates, six elders from each tribe, who should be able to perform the work of translation; Eleazar agreed by sending the men and a copy of the law. Josephus says that the seventy-two elders completed their work in seventy-two days and that when the resulting translation was read to the Jews, they all approved it. Although the accuracy of some of the details in the story is questionable, there can be no doubt that the Septuagint arose in Alexandria and that it was translated to meet the demand for the Scriptures by a Greek-speaking Jewish population. By the time of Jesus it was widely circulated throughout the Dispersion in the Mediterranean world and became the Bible of the early Christian church.
Under the Seleucids, 198 to 168 BC.
Parallel with the development of the Ptolemaic empire in Egypt was the dominion of the Seleucidae in Syria, whose capital was Antioch on the Orontes River and the rivalry between the two kingdoms involved them in constant warfare. Antiochus I of Syria – 280 to 261 BC – attempted to conquer Palestine, but failed to do so. His son, Antiochus II, agreed to marry Berenice, the daughter of Ptolemy in 249 BC, if he could secure with her the rights to the land. On the death of Ptolemy he divorced Berenice, to take back his former wife Laodice; she, however, had him poisoned and had Berenice and her child murdered. Ptolemy III, Euergetes – 246 to 222 BC, thirsting for revenge, invaded Syria and plundered it. The war went on with varying fortunes until Ptolemy IV defeated Antiochus III at Raphis in 217 BC. The Syrians were driven from Jerusalem and the country was claimed by Egypt, but in 198 BC the tide of war turned again. The Egyptian army was severely beaten and Palestine again came under the rule of the Seleucids.
The advent of the Syrians wasn’t unanimously welcomed and a large party of the Jews, led by the priesthood under Onias III persisted in their allegiance to Egypt. Their opponents, the house of Tobias, were more liberal in their interpretation of the law and favoured Syria. In a conflict that arose between them, the house of Onias prevailed and expelled the followers of Tobias who promptly reported their woes to Seleucus IV with the hint that he might be able to replenish the empty treasury with funds from the temple. Josephus reports a legend that says that he sent his treasurer, Heliodorus, to Jerusalem for the purpose of confiscating the temple treasure and that he was prevented from doing so by a vision that terrified him.
Seleucus died in 175 BC, and was succeeded by his brother Antiochus IV who was a thorough Hellenist. He was a vigorous ruler but was so erratic that may called him Epimanes, ‘the madman’ rather than Epiphanes, ‘the manifest god’ which was his official title. Antiochus interfered in the affairs of Palestine by replacing Onias III with his brother Jason who promised to pay large sums into the royal treasury and to introduce Greek customs into Jerusalem if the Jews would be registered as citizens of Antioch. The appointment of Jason was followed by the establishment of a gymnasium in Jerusalem almost under the shadow of the temple and the priests left the service of the temple for the games. Jason actually stooped to sharing in the games in honour of the Tyrian god Melkarth and sent gifts for offerings. Even his messengers refused to participate in this sacrilege and so the gifts were applied to the building of the Syrian navy.
Antiochus became embroiled in a contest with Egypt. Fearing that Jason wouldn’t be loyal to him he replaced him with Menelaus, another Hellenizing Jew who favoured Syrias’ programme. Antiochus’ invasion of Egypt was a failure, for the Roman envoy compelled him to withdraw. Enraged by this defeat he returned to Jerusalem in a bad mood and proceeded to vent his anger on the Jews. A large number of the inhabitants of the city were sold as slaves and the walls of the city were destroyed. The temple was plundered of its treasures and was converted into a shrine of Olympian Zeus. On the 15th December 168 BC an image of the god was set up on its altar and ten days later a sow was sacrificed in its honour. Heathen altars were erected everywhere throughout the country and the observance of heathen festivals was made compulsory; Judaism was proscribed completely. The death penalty was inflicted on those who possessed or read the Torah; Sabbath observance and circumcision were forbidden.
The situation became intolerable for all devout adherents of the law and conflict was inevitable. The spark that ignited the conflagration of war was the revolt of Mattathias, an old priest in the village of Modin. When the royal agent came to Modin to compel heathen sacrifices, he offered rewards to Mattathias if he, as the oldest and most respected citizen of the village, would be the first to comply. Mattathias protested strongly against the request and when some less conscientious Jew approached to offer his sacrifice, Mattathias killed him at the altar. Aroused by the profaning of God’s law he also killed the king’s agent and demolished the altar.
Mattathias and his sons fled into the wilderness with their families, where they were joined by others and in the fighting that followed the Jews were worsted at first. Mattathias died shortly after and the contest was carried on by his son Judas, nicknamed Maccabeus ‘The Hammer’. The Syrians regarded the Maccabees as guerrilla fighters of small importance, but after a trong Syrian detachment was routed at Beth-horon, Antiochus began to take the revolt more seriously. He raised a large army, paid for it a year in advance, and left it in charge of his general Lysias while he went on an eastern expedition. In a short but decisive campaign Judas twice defeated the Syrians and expelled them from Jerusalem. The temple was cleansed and a new altar was erected, a re-dedication service was held and a new feast – variously called the Feast of Lights, the Feast of Dedication or, currently, Hanukkah – was established to commemorate the occasion. He completed his success by the conquest of the lands east of the Jordan and had Palestine within his grasp.
When the news of his army’s defeat reached Antiochus he was so shocked that he dies soon thereafter, but the contest was maintained bu his successor. Judas Maccabeus appealed to Rome for help, but although the reply was friendly he received no material aid. He was killed in battle and was succeeded by his brother Jonathan and the war dragged on until 143 BC when Simon, another brother, was recognised as an ally by Demetrius II a contestant for the crown of Syria. In 142 BC Demetrius gave Simon political freedom and release from all taxes present and future. The independence of Judea was won and the struggle of the Maccabees had ended.
The victory of the Maccabees really terminated the influence of the Seleucids in Palestine and gave virtual autonomy too the Jewish state until the advent of the Romans. Nevertheless,, the effect of the Seleucid domination was tremendous; its Hellenizing pressure consolidated the Jews into a resistance group jealous of its national life among the nations through whom it was scattered.
Under the Hasmoneans, 142 to 37 BC.
With the attainment of Jewish freedom, Simon was made high priest for life and his reign, though brief, was prosperous. A treaty was negotiated with Rome and confirmed in 139 BCD, recognising the independence of the Jewish state and commending it to the friendship of Rome’s subjects and allies. Economic conditions improved, justice was ably administered in the courts, and Jewish religious life was revived. The happy interval,, however, was all too short. Demetrius II of Syria was dethroned and captured by the Parthians in 139 BC and his brother who succeeded him, Antiochus VII, broke the pact of friendship with Simon and demanded heavy tribute in the place of free aid. Under Simon’s sons, Judah and Jonathan, the Syrians were defeated and so the external danger was averted.
The real peril to Judea was internal strife. Simon and two of his sons were treacherously murdered by Ptolemy, his son-in-law in 135 BC. His surviving son, John Hyrcanus – 135 to 104 BC, took possession of Jerusalem before Ptolemy could capture it and then besieged Ptolemy in his castle. Ptolemy finally fled to Egypt.. In the meantime Antiochus VII of Syria had besieged Jerusalem and the Jews were forced to capitulate and to pay tribute to the king of Syria. At his death the claimants for his throne plunged Syria into civil war. Hurcanus immediately made the most of his opportunity by conquering Idumea to the south and the Samaritans to the north, as well as Medeba and the neighbouring cities on the east of the Jordan. Hyrcanus then became high priest and head of the state and the founder of the Hasmonean dynasty.
When he died he committed the government of the state to his wife and to his oldest son, Judah Aristobulus. Aristobulus imprisoned his mother and his brothers and seized the government for himself. After one year he died, and his widow, Salome Alexandra, married the next surviving brother, Alexander Jannaeus, who was king from 103 to 76 BC. He continued the conquest of Palestine and his reign was filled with civil turmoil in which he nearly lost his throne.
Aristobulus II, s on of Salome Alexandra, became king after her death and he removed his older brother, Hyrcanus II from the priesthood. By this time the general chaos in the affairs of Palestine and Syria had attracted the attention of Rome and Pompey detached Scaurus to investigate and to settle the political fracas. Scaurus decided for Aristobulus who suddenly revolted. The Romans attacked Jerusalem and the following of Aristobulus would have fought to the death had not Hyrcanus surrendered the city. The Romans reappointed him as king and took Aristobulus with his family and many other captives to Rome to grace the triumphal procession.
Alexander, Aristobulus’ son escaped while en-route to Rome and attempted a revolt against Hyrcanus but he was overcome by the Roman proconsul of Syria who placed all of Palestine under the governor of Syria.
In the civil war between Pompey and Caesar in 49 BC, Hyrcanus aided Caesar who rewarded him by recognising him as the responsible head of the Jewish nation, and by restoring the coastal cities to his rule. His minister Antipater was granted Roman citizenship and he was the real power behind the throne and he appointed hiss own son Phasael prefect of Jerusalem and his other son, Herod, as prefect of Galilee.
Through the changing fortunes of the civil wars of Rome, Herod succeeded in keeping himself in favour with the ruling party and Hyrcanus gave Herod his support. Antony appointed Herod and Phasael co rulers of Judea. While Antony was in Egypt, the Parthians attacked Jerusalem and captured Hyrcanus and Phasael, but Herod escaped from the city in time to save his life. Antigonus, another son of Aristobulus II, backed by the Sadducean party, and viewed by the Jews as an enemy of Rome, marched against Herod. With the support of the Parthians, he claimed the kingship, but was defeated by the Roman general Sosius in Jerusalem in 37 BC. At the instigation of Herod, Antony ordered Antigonus to be beheaded, the first case in which a captured king had been executed by the Romans. With the death of Antigonus came the end of the Hasmonean dynasty.
Under the Herods, 37 BC to AD 6.
The Herodian dynasty began with Antipater. His son Herod, called the Great, inherited all of his father’s ability in diplomacy and government, in addition to the throne of Judea which ahd been vacated by the death of Hyrcanus.
Herod the Great, 37 to 4 BC.
When Herod began his reign he was aged just twenty-two. Driven from Palestine by the invasion of the Parthians who supported Antigonus as the successor of Hyrcanus, he succeeded in escaping. Together with him were his mother Kypros, his sister Salome, and Mariamne the daughter of Hyrcanus who was engaged to him. Leaving them under the care of his brother Joseph at the fortress of Masada on the Dead Sea, he fought his way to Alexandria and from there sailed to Rome.
By either persuasion or secret intrigue he obtained the favour of Antony and Octavian and was duly inaugurated as king of the Jews whereupon he returned to Palestine, rescued his family from the siege and proceeded to make himself master of the country. He exterminated the brigands who infested Galilee; contested with Antigonus for the possession of Jerusalem and finally captured it with the aid of Roman forces. Antigonus was sent in chains to Antioch where he was executed by the Romans.
Among Herod’s first acts was the appointment of a high priest. Because he couldn’t hold the office himself since he was an Idumean by blood, and because he didn’t want to take a member of the Hasmonean family who might harbour political ambitions, he selected Hananiel of Babylon, probably identifiable with Annas who’s mentioned in the Gospels. Alexandra, the mother of Mariamne, wanted the post for her son Aristobulus III, and by her intrigues with Antony through Cleopatra of Egypt forced Herod to appoint him, though he was underage. So great was the public esteem of Aristobulus that Heron was very jealous and at a banquet given in his honour at Jericho Herod’s servants did away with Aristobulus by drowning him while bathing.
Herod was summoned to Egypt to answer for his crime and he entrusted Mariamne to her uncle Joseph, giving orders that if he were condemned, Joseph should slay both Mariamne and her mother. Herod returned safely, having made peace with Antony, only to find that Mariamne had discovered his order. He took Joseph’s failure to keep his secret as proof that Mariamne had been unfaithful and so he executed Joseph at once.
In 29 BC the Roman Senate declared war on Antony and Cleopatra and Herod was forced to make the choice of deserting his friend or fighting a hopeless battle with Rome. This disastrous dilemma was resolved by Cleopatra who fearing Herod as an enemy persuaded Antony to send him on a minor campaign in Arabia which Herod won. When Antony and Cleopatra lost the naval battle of Actium, Herod realised that he could no longer support them and so he withdrew from his embarrassing alliance. Herod made peace with Octavian, the victor of Actium, and was confirmed in his position as king of Judea and ally of the Roman people. The death of Cleopatra removed one of his chief dangers, for her constant plots to acquire the kingdom of Judea had been the source of many of his troubles.
The victorious return from the conference with Octavian, who just a little while later changed hi name to Augustus Caesar, was spoiled for Herod by the coldness of Mariamne, the one woman he really loved. She’d learned that when he left for Rhodes to meet Octavian, he’d repeated the instructions of the former occasion that she should be killed if he failed to return. She accused him of the murder of her grandfather Hyrcanus who’d been executed for complicity in a plot of her uncle and her brother. The tension between them was made more acute by the lies of Herod’s sister and mother who were intensely jealous of her. Mariamne was imprisoned and was ultimately executed. Remorse so gripped Herod that he became physically and mentally ill. Alexandra, thinking that his end had come, plotted to put his sons and her grandsons, Alexander and Aristobulus on the throne. Enraged by this conspiracy, Herod ordered that she should be destroyed.
Herod conferred many benefits on the people through subsidies in time of famine and by erecting many public works. The military installations and fortifications that he built made Palestine free from foreign invasion. Because of the greatly stimulated building programme the trades flourished and economic conditions greatly improved; peace brought prosperity and in spite of the incessant intrigues that went on in his court, Herod’s reign was in some respects successful.
Herod never succeeded in winning the friendship of the Jews; his Idumean blood made him a foreigner in their eyes and his willingness to support heathen cults by his gifts aroused suspicion concerning his loyalty to Judaism. In spite of the fact that he built a new temple of great magnificence at which he gave occasional perfunctory attendances, he was never a truly godly Jew. His cynical use of the priesthood as a political tool and the looseness of his personal life made him generally hated by the devout men of Judaism.
In 23 BC Herod married another wife named Mariamne, the daughter of Simon, son of Boethus a priest and in order to please her he removed the high priest and gave his office to Simon. The new priest soon became the target of universal hatred. Four years later when the two sons of Mariamne I were recalled from Rome where Herod had sent them to be educated, the populace acclaimed them with undisguised enthusiasm. The people recognised them as scions of the Hasmoneans through their mother and evidently hoped that they might someday relieve the miseries that the oppressive policies of their father had created. The young princes who’d learned at Rome to speak their minds were a little too free with their sentiments and they incurred the enmity of their half-brother Antipater, who accused them to Herod and after a long and tortuous series of accusations and reconciliations, they met their deaths.
The last days of Herod were filled with violence and hatred. Antipater, who’d tried to accelerate his father’s death in order that he might succeed to the throne, suffered the same fate as his brothers. Augustus, to whom Herod appealed for permission to execute Antipater remarked in a biting witticism that he’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son. Smitten with dropsy and cancer of the intestines, and haunted by the memory of his murders, Herod died on 1st April 4 BC.
The jealous and unscrupulous character of this man explains the duplicity of his dealing with the Magi from the East and his brutality in ordering the massacre of the children in Bethlehem – see Matthew 2:1-18. The silence of history concerning the massacre at Bethlehem can be explained easily, for the slaughter of a dozen or so infants in an obscure Judean village wouldn’t arouse much comment in comparison with the enormity of Herod’s other crimes.
Under Herod’s last will the kingdom was bequeathed to Archelaus and in order to secure confirmation of the appointment he resolved too fo to Rome as speedily as possible. The resentment against the cruelties of the Herodian family was so strong in Judea that he felt the necessity of pacifying the country before he left and a rebellion broke out at the Passover that was quelled only by the use of troops. Archelaus went to Rome, leaving his brother Philip in charge; Antipas, a third brother, who’d been appointed as Herod’s successor in his second will also went there to press his claims. Augustus didn’t tender an immediate decision at the first hearing, because of the conflicting parties that were represented.
Before the case was continued a second revolt broke out in Judea. Sabinus, the procurator whom Augustus had sent out to administer affairs after Herod’s death until some settlement could be made with the heirs, seized Jerusalem and plundered the temple. He was besieged in turn by the rebels and was rescued only by the arrival of Varus, the governor of Syria and his legions. The Jews sent an embassy to Rome asking that none of the Herods be appointed king, but that they should be given autonomy. Philip also appeared at the tribunal to support the claims of Archelaus.
At the second hearing Augustus confirmed Herod’s will and Archelaus obtained Judea, Samaria and Idumea, with the title of ethnarch; Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Perea while Philip was made tetrarch of Batanea, Trachonitis and Aurantis, north of the Sea of Galilee on the east side of the Jordan.
Archelaus, 4 BC to AD 6.
Archelaus married Glaphyra, daughter of the Cappadocian king Archelaus, who’d been the wife of his half-brother Alexander, and after his death, the wife of Juba of Mauretania. This marriage brought Archelaus into further disfavour with the Jews because he’d divorced his own wife to marry her and because she already had children by Alexander.
Like his father, Archelaus promoted the building of public works. His rule was so distasteful to his people that after nine years a delegation of the Jewish and Samaritan leaders went to Rome to file a complaint against him. Augustus, after listening to their petition, deposed Archelaus from his office and banished him to Vienne in Gaul in AD 6. The character of Archelaus’ reign receives a curious confirmation in an incidental reference in Matthew 2:22, telling of the return of Joseph and Mary from Egypt. Evidently Archelaus’ reputation for jealousy of possible rivals and for general vindictiveness was the equal of his father’s.
Philip the Tetrarch, 4 BC to AD 34.
The territory assigned to Philip included the northeast corner of Palestine bounded on the west by the Sea of Galilee, the upper Jordan River, the Lake of Merom and the southern Lebanon range. On the north it extended to the borders of Abilene near to Damascus. On the east and southeast it projected into the desert and on the south it bordered on the Decapolis. Its population was largely Syrian and Greek, with a much smaller Jewish element than those who lived in Archelaus’ domain.
Philip was a happy exception to the Herods in general. He followed their precedent as a builder but in his dealings with the people he was just and fair. Caesarea Philippi, mentioned in the Gospels, was built on the site of the ancient Panias, at the springs of the Jordan, and was named for the emperor and for himself. Bethsaida Julias, on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, was also one of his cities.
He married Salome, the daughter of Herodias and Josephus, the Jewish historian, had only good things to say about him. He died peacefully in AD 34 then his tetrarchy was placed under the Roman administration of Syria until, in AD 37 it was given by Caligula to his nephew, Agrippa I. Philip’s mentioned in the Gospels by Luke as being tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis but he’s not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament narrative.
Herod Antipas, 4 BC to AD 39.
The Herod who’s most prominent in the Gospels is Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea whom Jesus alluded to as ‘that fox’ in Luke 13:32; and the epithet was a characterisation not only of his slyness but of his craftiness and vindictiveness as well.
During his reign of forty-three years he built a new capital on the shores of the Sea of Galilee named Tiberias and because the city was erected on the site of an ancient graveyard the strict Jews wouldn’t live in it and so he had to colonise it by force. By religion Herod Antipas was a Jew and he took the side of the Jewish populace in protesting against Pilate’s setting up a pagan votive shield in Jerusalem and he attended the Feast of the Passover when it was held in the city.
Herod Antipas appears in the Gospels as the murderer of John the Baptist and as the one before whom Jesus was tried. His wife Herodias was the daughter of his half-brother Aristobulus and had been originally the wife of another half-brother, Herod Philip, mentioned only in the Gospels and not to be confused with Philip the Tetrarch. When Antipas went to Rome he stayed with Herod Philip, who was living there as a private citizen, and he became enamoured of Herodias. Antipas promptly divorced his own wife, who was a daughter of the Arabian king Aretas. Aretas’ daughter learning of Antipas’ intentions, fled to her father who promptly made war on Herod.
Herod carried through his marriage with Herodias who, with her daughter Salome, joined him at Tiberias. Although Herod seems to have respected the blunt honesty of John the Baptist who rebuked him boldly for his misdeeds, Herodias was infuriated and finally succeeded in securing John’s death. The marriage with Herodias finally cost Antipas his kingdom. When Caligula became emperor at Rome after the death of Augustus in AD 37, one of his first acts was to make Agrippa I, brother of Herodias and son of Aristobulus, king of the territory that had formerly been the tetrarchy of Philip. Agrippa’s’ good fortune incited Herodias to urge her husband to petition Caligula for a royal title. When he arrived at Rome and presented himself to Caligula, Fortunatus, the representative oif Agrippa, accused him of treasonable negotiations against Rome so Caligula promptly deposed Antipas and banished him to Lyons in Gaul where he dies. Agrippa succeeded to his rival’s tetrarchy.
Herod Agrippa I, AD 37 to 44.
Herod Agrippa I was the son of Aristobulus and his cousin Berenice, daughter of Salome, sister of Herod the Great. After completing his education at Rome he returned to Palestine in AD 23 and secured an appointment from Herod Antipas, his brother-in-law, as overseer of markets in Tiberias. He quarrelled with Herod and later with the Roman governor in Antioch to whom he’d fled for refuge. Upon retuning to Italy he became tutor of Augustus’s grandson and was an intimate friend of Caligula to whom on one occasion Agrippa suggested that he should be the next emperor. When Augustus learned of this remark he threw Agrippa into prison, but the death fo Augustus occurred soon afterwards and Agrippa was released.
Immediately upon his accession Caligula gave Agrippa his appointment. Agrippa had enough sympathy for the Jews and enough influence with Caligula to keep the latter from erecting an image of himself in the temple at Jerusalem and by doing so he averted what would have been a violent uprising of the Jews. When Caligula was murdered in AD 41 Agrippa was still in Rome. He supported Claudius’ succession and Claudius in return confirmed not only the realm Caligula had given him but also Judea and Samaria; Agrippa I then, held under his own power the reunited domain of Herod the Great.
Upon his return to Palestine he took up residence in Jerusalem; worshipped regularly at the temple and lived in accord with the strict Jewish law and suppressed all attempts to bring pagan ceremonies or images into the synagogues. Agrippa’s devotion too Judaism made him one of the first persecutors of Christianity and during his rule the tension between the Pharisaic party and the new sect of believers in Jesus had been mounting until finally the king intervened. He arrested and executed James, the son of Zebedee, and imprisoned Peter who was released by divine intervention; Agrippa ordered that the guards should be punished by death and he went to Caesarea – see Acts 12.
Herod’s death occurred suddenly in AD 44 and both Josephus and Luke agree in the general details of the account. He attended games in honour of the emperor at Caesarea dressed in a silver robe. The resplendent appearance of his garments as they glistened in the sun caused his flatterers to agree that he was a god. Shortly afterwards he was stricken with a severe intestinal disease and he died within five days.
Herod Agrippa II, AD 50 to 100.
Herod Agrippa I left four children, three daughters and one son. Drusilla, one of the daughters, married Felix, the Roman procurator of Judea. Agrippa II, the son, was in Rome at the time of his father’s death. In AD 50, after the death of his uncle, Herod of Chalcis, he was given the kingdom, which included the right to appoint the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem. In AD 53 he relinquished the kingdom of Chalcis and was given the former tetrarchies of Philip and Lysanias and after the death of Claudius in AD 54, Nero added to his realm some parts of Galilee and Perea.
When Festus became procurator of Judea, Agrippa together with his sister Bernice who’d become his consort, went to Caesarea to welcome him to his new office. At this time he acted as the religious advisor for Festus in the case of Paul, whose status was a puzzle to the pagan Roman. Though Agrippa had a good knowledge of Judaism he was indifferent to its deeper claims, and while he observed its ceremonial requirements he never exhibited any sincere convictions of its truth.
In the revolution of AD 66 he openly sided with the Romans and he gave his allegiance to Vespasian and joined with Titus in the triumph over his own people. His kingdom was enlarged by the new emperor and in AD 75 he and Bernice moved to Rome where Bernice and Titus became involved in a scandal. Titus had planned to marry her but he desisted when he realised the intensity of the popular feeling against them. Agrippa died in AD 100.
Under the Priests too the fall of Jerusalem, AD 70.
The various foreign rulers that dominated Palestine; the Ptolemies, the Seleucids, the Herods and later the Romans were generally regarded by the Jewish people as usurpers whose rule had to be tolerated but who were never the rightful sovereigns. The people may have had to submit to their political yoke but they never gave them hearty allegiance. The real controlling power of the Jewish mind was the priesthood.
During the history of Israel various types of civil government had prevailed at different time. Under Moses elders represented the tribes and counselled with the leader concerning his action. In the period of the judges there was no central government but as the need arose from time to time aggressive leaders appeared who gained a popular following but established no permanent order. In the eras of the united and divided kingdoms the king was the head of the state but, in all of these regimes the word of the priest was final because he was a spokesman for God and in the Jewish state religious authority was regarded as supreme. If the priesthood was corrupt, political life was also debased and if there was a revival, the worship of Jehovah was restored and the civil authority was strengthened.
During the exile the functioning of the priesthood as a class was temporarily suspended by the destruction of the temple. The priests, however, didn’t disappear for when the captives returned in 536 BC a large company of priests and Levites were among them – see Ezra 2:36-54. When the temple was rebuilt these resumed their duties and with a few interruptions the worship continued until the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. All through this long period the priesthood served as the central control in Judaism; the high priest took office by hereditary right and retained it for life, he exercised supreme authority in the state unde5r the overlord who happened to possess the country at the time. To what extent the conquerors of Judea gave a free hand to the high priest cannot be ascertained positively; probably he was independent as long as he didn’t interfere with tribute or with foreign policies. Both the Greeks and the Romans gave considerable latitude to the subject peoples in administering their national affairs.
Associated with the high priest was a council of elders comprised of the wisest and most experienced men of the nation. Some of them were priests; some, like Ezra, were scribes and professional students of the law; others were drawn from the wealthy and better educated landholders and businessmen. The government was really in the hands of a religious aristocracy, of which the Sanhedrin, as the body was later called, was representative.
The succession of the priesthood through the Persian period is given without comment in Nehemiah 12 and Josephus adds that John, the high priest – identical with Jonathan of Nehemiah – had a brother, Jesus, whose friend Bagosus, a general in the Persian army, had promised to procure him the priesthood. The two brothers quarrelled in the temple, and John killed Jesus, to the general scandal of the people and the Persian authorities.
The place of the high priest as the leader cof that nation was clearly demonstrated in the negotiations with Alexander as reported by Josephus. When Alexander invaded Palestine and laid siege to Tyre, he demanded of the high priest that all support which the Jews had formerly given to Persia should be transferred to him; the high priest refused because he’d given his oath to Darius and wouldn’t go back on it. Alexander replied with a threat that when he’d finished his conquest he’d teach the priest to whom he should give his oaths. Josephus’ account states that when Alexander approached Jerusalem, Jaddua, the high priest, went out to meet him with a procession. Alexander was deeply impressed and gave reverence to the priest who showed him predictions of his conquest in the Jewish Scriptures; the negotiations proceeded peacefully and the Greek army departed from Palestine leaving the Jews to govern themselves.
In the Ptolemaic period the priesthood remained powerful and provided good government; Onias I, son of Jaddua, and his son Simon I, the Just, received favourable mention by Josephus. With the passing of time, however, the high priesthood became a political prize that was generally sold to the highest bidder and the successful candidate had to comply with the wishes of his political lord if he wished to hold on to his position. Consequently the high priesthood lost much of its independent influence and was, until the time of the Maccabees, largely subservient to the state.
With the Maccabean revolt cam a change in the priesthood. The older line of priests who’d held office under the Seleucids was displaced by the Hasmonean dynasty whose progenitor was John Hyrcanus, himself a descendant of the Maccabees. Under the last of the Seleucids and under the Herods the priesthood maintained its ascendancy in Judaism, except for a few lapses when Herod changed the priestly appointment.
From the death of Herod the Great until the fall of Jerusalem the priesthood was again the chief political power of Judea; the high priest acted as adviser to the Roman procurator and not infrequently his political pressure caused the governor to change his policy. Through his influence over the populace the high priest was able to mould public opinion and thus he could bend stubborn officials to his will or else compel them to risk the emperor’s displeasure for failing to keep on good terms with their subjects. The cry of the populace at Jesus’ hearing before Pilate – see John 19:12 – was a good example of such machinations for mark said that the “chief priests stirred up the multitude”.
The rule of the priests was concurrent with the three periods previously mentioned and it continued until the fall of Jerusalem, at which time the temple was destroyed and the priesthood was dispersed.
Under the Romans until Bar-Cochba, AD 135.
From the conquest of Pompey in 63 BC Rome had assumed a protectorate over Judea and had regarded both Herod and the priesthood as vassal kings. When on the death of Herod the Great his less capable son Archelaus followed him as king,, he proved to be so unpopular a ruler that Rome deposed him and appointed Coponius as prefect of Judea. From that time, with a few local exceptions, Rome ruled the country directly until the last futile revolt in AD 135.
These governors weren’t generally popular, and many of them didn’t remain in office longer than three years. Valerius Gratas, AD 15 to 26, was disliked because he’d interfered with the succession of the priesthood by appointing one of his own candidates. His successor, Pontius Pilate, AD 26 to 36, is perhaps the best known of the prefects because of his connection with the trial and death of Jesus. At the very beginning of his term he offended the Jews needlessly by insisting that his troops should carry into Jerusalem banners bearing on them the image of the emperor; the Jews protested violently against such a profane action within the city and Pilate only yielded when he saw that nothing but useless bloodshed could follow his course of action. Later he became embroiled in a dispute with the Samaritans and was replaced in AD36 by Marcellus.
The accession of the emperor Caligula in AD 37 brought a new crisis because under the delusion that he was a god, he issued orders that his statue should be set up in the temple at Jerusalem and Petronius the legate of Syria was delegated to carry out the command. He was thus faced with the dilemma of disobeying the emperor’s command by refusing to erect the image or of plunging the whole country into a religious war. He succeeded in postponing action and fortunately for him the dilemma was solved by the death of Caligula in AD 41.
Throughout the entire period up to the opening of the Jewish was in AD 66 there was constant tension between the Roman officials and the people; local outbursts of armed resistance were not infrequent. The party of the Zealots, who were stronger in the rural sections and in the highlands of Galilee, openly advocated a holy war on Rome. The procurators had to maintain vigilance to the point of oppressiveness to maintain order. The popular hatred of Rome was only increased by the occasional skirmishes between the Jewish outlaws and the Roman legionaries and the appearance of a leader with Messianic ambitions was enough to draw after him a numerous and fanatical crowd of followers.
Among the later procurators Antonius Felix and Porcius Festus are mentioned in the Book of Acts in connection with Paul. Under Felix’ regime the latent hostility of Jews against Romans began to crystallize into a definite attempt to break the Roman yoke. Josephus records an incident of an Egyptian Jew who gathered a group of supporters by promising too make the walls of Jerusalem fall at his word, but Felix’ soldiers dispersed them and compelled their leader to flee. Evidently the centurion who took Paul into protective custody had this episode in mind when he asked him if he was the Egyptian who stirred up sedition – see Acts 21:38. Whether because of malice or mismanagement Felix’ procuratorship was characterised by constant turmoil; the stern measures he took to repress the riots that recurred in Caesarea and the general miseries Judea suffered under his rule prompted his recall to Rome, where he’d certainly have been punished for misconduct hadn’t his brother Pallas, a favourite of Nero, interceded for him.
Porcius Festus, his successor, seems to have been an honest man and a conscientious administrator; sadly he died in office after just two years, and his successors undid whatever small good he’d been able to accomplish.
Between the death of Festus and the opening of the Jewish war political conditions in Judea deteriorated rapidly; the high priests were avaricious and cruel and the Roman governors were increasingly oppressive. The Gentile inhabitants of Caesarea went out of their way to provoke the ire of the Jewish population, and Florus plundered the temple treasury. Finally the Jews, infuriated by constant abuse, rebelled.
The conflict began in AD 66 with a series of local uprisings in various cities, in which the Roman garrisons were massacred by the Jewish rebels; or, if the Gentiles proved the stronger, the Jewish population suffered frightfully. Cestius Gallus, the legate of Syria, marched on Jerusalem and laid siege to the city, but for some unaccountable reason he lifted the siege suddenly and retreated in disorder. This unexpected good fortune convinced the Jews that divine aid was on their side and they united their forces for war.
Nero appointed Vespasian as commander of the Roman forces in Judea and early in AD 67 he mustered an army of sixty thousand men and proceeded to Jerusalem. In the meantime John of Gischala, a leader of the Zealots, had entered Jerusalem and had plunged the city into civil war. Vespasian, realising that Jerusalem was torn by internal strife, used the opportunity to conquer Perea, Judea, and Idumea, and was just about to resume the siege of the city when he received news of Nero’s death and in July of AD 69 the legions of the East proclaimed him emperor. Leaving his son Titus in charge of the operations in Judea he went to Alexandria and thence to Rome where he arrived in AD 70.
Within Jerusalem John of Gischala had been joined by another zealot, Simon Bar-Giora, and by Eleazer, son of Simon. The three leaders quarrelled among themselves and so their followers fought each other with utter savagery and in the spring of AD 70 Titus tightened the siege. Weakened by famine and internal strife the city fell to the Romans in the August when the walls were breached and the gates burned. Contrary to Titus’ orders the temple was set on fire, the population was either massacred or sold into slavery, and the city was razed to the ground.
Three more years were required to complete the conquest of the remaining fortresses of Herodium, Machaerus and Masada; but the contest was hopeless. For all practical purposes it may be said that the Jewish commonwealth ended with the destruction of the temple.
During the reign of Trajan insurrections of the Jews in Egypt and Cyrene were relentlessly crushed and the last spark of Jewish independence was extinguished by the revolt of Bar-Cochba in AD 135 under Hadrian. The revolt was caused by Hadrian’s law that forbade circumcision and by his order to build a temple to Jupiter on the site of the former temple in Jerusalem. Bar-Cochba was driven from the city and was captured, Jerusalem was =made a Roman city that no Jew could enter under pain of death, and the temple of Jupiter was built where formerly sacrifices to Jehovah were offered by his worshippers.
The nation perished politically, but Judaism hadn’t died; in AD 90, Jonathan Ben Zakkai, a Jewish teacher, opened at Jamnia a school for the study of the law; with him were associated other teachers, Pharisees by creed, who kept alive the observances of their faith. Although the priesthood disappeared and the sacrifices were ended, the teachers of the law persisted, substituting good works and study for the offerings that no longer had an altar..
THE POLITICAL WORLD OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. PART 3: THE HELLENISTIC KINGDOMS by Keith Taylor (22nd March 2021) Open Close
Part 3: THE HELLENISTIC KINGDOMS.
The cultural atmosphere of the first century owed its origin not just to the political organisation of Rome but also to the diffusion of the Hellenic spirit that had permeated both the West and the East. Rome’s conquests had absorbed the Greek colonies that had been established along the coasts of Gaul and Spain, in the island of Sicily, and on the mainland of the lower Italian peninsula. The conquest of Achaia, ending in the sack of Corinth in 146 BC, had made available to the Romans vast treasures of art that they deported to grace their own villas. Greek slaves, many of whom were more learned than their masters, became part of Roman households. Often they were not only employed in the more menial tasks of the house, but were teachers, doctors, accountants and overseers of farms or of businesses, in addition,, the Greek universities of Athens, Rhodes, Tarsus and other cities were attended by aristocratic young Romans who learned to speak Greek in much the same way that the nineteenth century Englishman learned French as the language of diplomacy and culture. So thoroughly did the vanquished Greeks conquer their victors culturally that Rome itself became a Greek speaking city.
In the eastern half of the Roman world where most of the action of the New Testament took place, the spread of Greek civilisation began with the Greek traders who carried the commerce of the Peloponnesus far and wide. As early as 600 BC Greek musical instruments and weapons were known in Babylonia, and Greek mercenaries fought in the armies of Cyrus, as Xenephon’s well known Anabasis, The March of the Ten Thousand, attests. The Hellenising of the East was greatly accelerated by the campaigns of Alexander the Great. Philip his father, the king of Macedonia, had forged the Macedonians into a unified military state. From the peasants and shepherds of his mountainous country he’d organised an army of unusual mobility and endurance; in twenty years Philip succeeded in making the Greek city-states subservient to Macedonia. When Philip died in 337 BC he’d completed an alliance with the Greeks by which he hoped to undertake the conquest of Asia.
Alexander possessed his father’s aggressiveness and military genius overlaid with a thicker veneer of Greek culture. He’d been brought up on Homer’s Iliad under the teaching of Aristotle, so that he had profound admiration for Hellenic traditions and ideals. In 334 BC he crossed the Hellespont into Asia Minor and defeated the Persian forces at the battle of Granicus River. He liberated the Hellenic cities of the coast and then penetrated the hinterland. He routed the Persians again at the battle of Issus, which gave him command of all Asia Minor, and then he turned south down the Syrian coast into Egypt, where he founded the city of Alexandria. Having subdued Syria and Egypt, he moved east and inflicted a final defeat on the Persian army at Arbela; in rapid succession he occupied Babylon and the capitals of Persia, Susa and Persepolis.
The next three years were spent in consolidating the new empire. Alexander encouraged the marriage of his soldiers to oriental women and he began the education of thirty thousand of the Persians in the Greek language. Through further campaigns in India he extended the borders of his empire to the Indus River and established numerous colonies and explored countries that hadn’t up to that time been seen by Europeans.
Upon his return too Babylon Alexander began preparations for the invasion of Arabia, but he wasn’t destined to complete them. If he’d succeeded in partially Hellenising the East, the East had also partly orientalised him because he took on more and more of the attitude of the oriental despot and became increasingly arbitrary and suspicious. The luxury and the revels of Babylon weakened his constitution so that he contracted fever and died in 324 BC at the age of thirty-two.
Alexander’s empire didn’t long survive his death. He left no heirs who were capable of managing it and finally it was partitioned among his generals. Ptolemy took Egypt and southern Syria; Antigonus claimed most of the territory in northern Syria and west Babylonia; Lysimachus held Thrace and western Asia Minor and Cassander ruled Macedonia and Greece. Antigonus’ territory was taken by Seleucus I after the battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, and the kingdom of Lysimachus was also absorbed into the realm of the Seleucidae. The constant hostility between the Seleucidae of Syria and the Ptolemies of Egypt kept Palestine between the hammer and the anvil. The coastal plain of Sharon was the corridor along which the armies of these two powers marched to war. The varying fortunes of conflict put Palestine sometimes under the dominion of one and sometimes under the dominion of the other.
The Seleucid dominion in Asia Minor gradually diminished as the local people asserted their independence and founded kingdoms of their own. In Syria, however, the rule of the Seleucidae was maintained and their influence was potent in the political affairs of Palestine. In the year 201-200 BC Antiochus III of Syria, called the Great, defeated the Egyptian army under a general named Scopas at the battle of Panias, near the springs of the Jordan in northern Palestine. In two years Antiochus III gained control of all of Palestine and became the new overlord of the Jews. His attempt to Hellenise the Jews provoked the Maccabean revolt that resulted in the revival of the Jewish commonwealth. Their rule ended when Pompey made Syria a Roman province in 63 BC.
The effect of the Seleucid dominion was tremendous. Antioch, the capital of their country, became the third largest city of the Roman empire and was the meeting place of the East and West. Greek language and literature were widely disseminated through the Near East and afforded a common medium of culture for oriental and western peoples. Many of the cities of Palestine, especially in Galilee, were bilingual and their religions savoured of both eastern and western deities.
Similar to the career of the Seleucidae was the reign of the Ptolemies in Egypt. The rivalry between the two kingdoms was bitter and caused numerous wars of varying fortunes. With the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC the last of the Ptolemies perished, and Rome annexed Egypt to serve as her granary. The city of Alexandria grew in importance and became an outstanding place of commerce and a centre of education. Under the patronage of the Ptolemies a great library was founded in which the chief literary treasures of antiquity were preserved and its librarians were noted scholars and initiated the study of Greek grammar and of textual criticism.
The Jewish influence in Alexandria was strong from the founding of the city; Alexander himself assigned a place to Jewish colonists and admitted them to full citizenship. Under Ptolemy Philadelphus – 285 to 246 BC the Jewish Scriptures were translated into Greek. This version, known as the Septuagint, became the popular Bible of the Jews of the Dispersion and was generally used by the writers of the New Testament.
The constant wars of the Seleucidae and the Ptolemies brought radical increase in taxation of their lands. So severe was the drain on the public treasury that the peasants, on whim the burden rested most heavily, were reduced to abject poverty. The Punic wars of Rome destroyed Egypt’s western markets and consequently trade languished. Popular unrest culminated in revolt against the government, or in the abandonment of property that could no longer be utilised profitably because of the excessive taxation. The market decline in the fortunes of both kingdoms in the first century before Christ perhaps accounts for the ease with which Rome overcame them.
The political effects of the Hellenistic conquest of the East weren’t lasting. The Seleucidae and the Ptolemies were regarded as foreign dynasties who didn’t belong to the people; and while they were supported by the ruling class, they never succeeded in making their realms wholly Greek in character. On the contrary, these kings assumed the absolutism of the oriental monarch who demanded obeisance from his courtiers. The freedom of the Greek democracy, or even the more formal organisation of the Macedonian court, was eclipsed by the despotism of the kings who claimed to be deity. Jesus alluded to the Seleucidae and the Ptolemies when he said that the kings of the Gentiles call themselves ‘Benefactors’ – see Luke 22:25, for the Greek word euergetes was one of their titles. The masses over which they ruled paid taxes to them and prostrated themselves before them, but they would have done the same for any other master.
Culturally, the Seleucidae and the Ptolemies introduced Greek customs and manners in the East; Greek architecture prevailed in the urban centres where they lived. Greek was the language of the court and became the common speech of the people, as the historic documents show; love letters, bills, receipts, amulets, essays, poetry, biographies and business communications were all written in Greek. In Egypt the titles of the popular officials were Greek, even into the time of the Roman occupation. The rulers sought to unite the Hellenistic culture with the life of the people so that Greek names were given to the local gods and gymnasiums and amphitheatres were built in the major cities. The veneer of western civilisation was spread over the Near East.
Through the medium of this culture the gospel of Christ was disseminated in the earliest of its missionary endeavours. With a Greek Bible from which to preach and with the Greek language as its universal medium of communication, it soon reached the outposts of civilisation.
THE POLITICAL WORLD OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. PART 2: ROMAN PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT by Keith Taylor (16th March 2021) Open Close
PART 2: ROMAN PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT.
The Roman empire was a miscellany of independent cities, states and territories, all of which were subject to the central government at Rome. Some of them had become part of the empire by voluntary alliance; others had been annexed by conquest. As Rome extended its sovereignty over these allied or subject peoples, its government machinery also grew into the Roman provincial system.
Rome’s acquisition of provinces began with Sicily, which was taken from Carthage in the first Punic War of 264 to 241 BC. In succession Rome added Sardinia in 237 BC, two provinces in Spain in 197 BC, Macedonia in 146 BC and Africa in 146 BC. Asia wasn’t taken by force of arms but was bequeathed to the Roman people by its king in 133 BC, and was organised as a province in 129 BC. Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul were added about 118 BC, Cyrene was bequeathed to Rome in 96 BC and Bithynia was also presented to Rome in 75 BC. In 67 BC Pompey annexed Cilicia and Crete, and in 63 BC he took over Palestine and made it into the province of Syria. Except for Italy itself, the bulk of the Roman world consisted of territory under provincial government.
This government was of two kinds. The provinces that were relatively peaceful and loyal to Rome were under proconsuls who were responsible to the Roman Senate; the more turbulent provinces were under the authority of the emperor, who often stationed legions in them, and they were governed by prefects, procurators, or by proprietors who were appointed by the emperor and answerable directly to him. To the former class belonged Achaia, of which Gallio was proconsul at the time of Paul’s visit. Palestine in the time of Jesus was under the supervision of the emperor, whose agent was the prefect Pontius Pilate. Proconsuls held their office by annual appointment and were generally changed every year; procurators and proprietors held office as long as the emperor wanted them at a given post.
Under the administration of these officers the provinces enjoyed considerable liberty and the individual city-states were permitted to retain their own local sovereignty and even to mint coins. The Romans never interfered with the religious freedom of the subject peoples, so that the indigenous worship was customarily retained in each place. The Roman rulers usually took the advice of the provincial councils in their administration. Officials who plundered their subjects were liable to prosecution and recall. Although some of the proconsuls and procurators did indulge in the time-honoured pastime of bribery, the majority probably gave more to the provinces in administrative wisdom than they took out in money. Roads were constructed, public edifices were erected and commerce was developed rapidly.
In order to unite the provinces more closely with the mother city of Rome, little settlements of Romans were begun at strategic centres in the provinces. Gradually the Roman civilisation spread so that in time the provinces became more Roman than Rome itself. In the second century when Rome still used Greek as its predominant language, Gaul, Spain and Africa were predominantly Latin.
The imperial cult had its widest following in the provinces. The worship of the Roman state and of the reigning emperor began with Augustus who ordered that temples be erected to the honour of Julius Caesar at Ephesus and at Nicaea by the citizens of Rome who resided there, and he permitted the nationals of the country to establish shrines in his own honour. The worship of the state was fostered by the local councils who assumed the responsibility of directing the provincial worship.
An illustration of a provincial council appears in Acts 19:31 where “the officials of the province” are mentioned. They were magistrates who were regarded as the responsible leaders of the province and who may have served as high priests of the state worship. In Acts they were represented as friendly to Paul, since they warned him against exposing himself to the violence of the multitude in the theatre.
The Roam provinces that appear in the New Testament are Spain, Gaul [or variants thereof], Illyricum, Macedonia, Achaia, Asia, Pontus, Bithynia, Galatia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Syria, Judea, Cyprus, Pamphylia and Lycia. Some of these are mentioned more than once, and in the case of Illyricum, by its later name Dalmatia. Paul usually employed provincial names in alluding to divisions of the empire, while Luke also used national divisions. Provinces often included more than one ethnic group, such as the Lycaonians of Lystra and Derbe who were under the province of Galatia.
Governorship of the provinces was sought by public officials because they found it a fruitful source of income. So greedy were some of these rulers that the provinces were rapidly impoverished by heavy taxation. Others who were more public-spirited made wise use of the taxes by building roads and harbours so that commerce thrived and the general economic level of life improved. Rome regarded the provinces as her rightful field of exploitation and until the time of Constantine they were tributary to the central government and never were treated as equal states within a common federation.
THE POLITICAL WORLD OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. PART 1: THE ROMAN EMPIRE by Keith Taylor (9th March 2021) Open Close
THE POLITICAL WORLD OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
PART 1: THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
At the time when the New Testament was written the entire civilised world, with the exception of the little known kingdoms of the Far East, was under the domination of Rome. From the Atlantic on the west to the Euphrates River and the Red Sea on the east, and from the Rhone, the Danube, the Black Sea and the Caucuses mountains on the north to the Sahara on the south, stretched one vast empire under the headship and virtual dictatorship of the emperor.
Rome took its name from the capital city in Italy, the original settlement from which the Roman state grew. Pounded in 753 BC, it was at first a community comprising a union of small villages in its vicinity and ruled by a king. About the beginning of the fifth century BC it had achieved a degree of solid political organisation under a republican form of government. By alliances with surrounding communities and through a long succession of wars against the Etruscans in the north and other tribes in the south, Rome became mistress of the Italian Peninsula by 265 BC. The conquered peoples were bound by treaty to keep the peace and were absorbed gradually into the Roman domain.
During the years 265 to 146 BC Rome was engaged in a great struggle with Carthage, the chief maritime power of the western Mediterranean. Carthage was originally a colony of Phoenicia; but with the overthrow of the mother country by Alexander, the colony had been compelled to act independently. By following the pattern of the Phoenicians it had become a wealthy and powerful nation. Its ships carried the commerce of the Mediterranean; its civilisation was oriental; its society was an oligarchy maintained by a mercenary army and it was governed by autocratic rule. As Rome expanded it came into conflict with the outposts of the Carthaginian empire. Apart from the fact that the two civilisations were alien to each other in racial origin and in political theory, there was not enough room for both of them in the same territory; one had to succumb. The wars between them ended in 146 BC when the Roman general Scipio captured the city of Carthage and razed it to the ground. Rome thus established dominion over Spain and North Africa. At the same time Macedonia was made a Roman province, and with the sack of Corinth in the same year Achaia came under Roman control. In 133 BC Attalus III, king of Pergamum died and bequeathed his realm to the Romans and out of it they organised the province of Asia. Wars in the eastern part of Asia Minor continued until Pompey completed the conquest of Pontus and the Caucuses. In 63 BC he organised Syria into a province and annexed Judea. From 58 to 57 BC Caesar conducted his famour campaigns in Gaul and made it a Roman country. So through five hundred years of almost uninterrupted war Rome grew from an obscure village on the banks of the Tiber to become the ruling empire of the world.
The rapid territorial expansion, however, brought great changes in the life of the Roman people. As the military leaders gained a taste for power they began to use their armies not only for foreign conquest but also for enforcing their supremacy at home. The century between the conquest of Carthage and Greece and the death of Julius Caesar was marked by a constant succession of civil wars. Marius, Sulla, Caesar, Antony and Octavian, one after the other strove to make himself master of the Roman state, until finally Octavian, or Augustus as he was called by the senate, succeeded in exterminating his opponents in 30BC, and became the first emperor.
Augustus, 27 BC to AD 14.
Under his rule the Roman imperium, or power of the imperial state, was thoroughly established. The people, tired of war, longed for peace. Augustus became the princeps, or first citizen of the land, and he ruled wisely and well. Politically, the new Principate was a compromise between the old republicanism and the dictatorship that Julius Caesar had advocated. The Senate was retained as the theoretical Ruling body and in 27 BC it conferred on Augustus the office of commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the empire. In 23 BC he was given control over the popular assemblies and was appointed the permanent representative of the people. He was given the prerogative of introducing the first topic of discussion in the Senate and the right to call its meetings. All of his rights were founded on a constitutional basis rather than on any arbitrary seizure of power.
During the reign of Augustus many reforms were effected. The Senate was purged of unworthy members; a large part of the army was demobilised and the discharged veterans were settled in colonies or on land supplied by purchase. A regular professional army was created and it became a school for citizens. On retirement from the ranks the veterans were given a bonus and were settled in colonies in the provinces where they could make a good living and at the same time be community leaders loyal to Rome.
Augustus also sought to improve the morale of the people by reviving the state religion and rebuilding many temples and the imperial cult, a worship of Rome as a state, was introduced to the provinces. In many places the emperor himself was worshipped as Dominus et Deus, Lord and God, although he didn’t demand such worship. The Julian laws of 19 and 18 BC attempted to restore family life by encouraging marriage and the establishment of homes.
To consolidate the empire at large, Augustus took a census of the population and of all property as a basis for recruiting the army and for taxation. Spain, Gaul and the Alpine districts were subjugated; he strengthened the defence of the frontiers though his armies suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Germans in the Teutoberg forest. He organised the police and fire departments of Rome and appointed a supervisor of the grain supply. His boast was that he’d found Rome brick and had left it marble. During the forty-one years of his administration he brought order out of chaos; he restored confidence in the government, replenished the treasury, introduced an efficient public works department and promoted peace and prosperity.
Tiberius, AD 14 to 37.
At the death of Augustus his adopted son Tiberius was chosen to succeed him. The power that Augustus had received under constitutional regulations and for a limited period was conferred on Tiberius for life. He was fifty-six years old at the time of his succession and had been engaged during most of his life inn the service of the state so that he was no novice in politics. Unfortunately, Augustus insisted that he divorce the wife whom he loved and that he marry Julia, Augustus’ daughter, a woman of openly profligate life. The bitterness of this experience soured his temper permanently. He was distant, haughty, suspicious and irascible. Although he was impartial and wise in his policies he was never popular and was generally feared and disliked. During his reign the Roman armies suffered reverses in Germany, with the result that he withdrew the frontier to the Rhine. Domestic troubles clouded his later years and in AD 26 he retired to Capri, leaving the government in the hands of the city prefect. The absence of Tiberius gave opportunity to Aelius Sejanus, the captain of the praetorian guard, to carry out a conspiracy to seize power. By AD 31 he’d almost perfected his plans when Tiberius discovered them and Sejanus was executed and the plot was overthrown, but its effect on Tiberius was disastrous. He became even more suspicious and cruel, so that the merest whisper against a man would bring calamity down on him. When he died in AD 37, the Senate could once more breather freely.
Caligula, AD 37 to 41.
Gaius Caligula, or ‘Little Boots’, as he was affectionately called by the army, was made Tiberius’ successor by the Senate. At the outset of his career he was as popular as Tiberius had been unpopular. He pardoned political prisoners, reduced taxes, gave public entertainments and endeared himself generally to the populace. Before long, however, he began to show signs of mental weakness. He demanded to be worshipped as a god, which alienated the Jews in his realm. When Herod Agrippa visited Alexandria the citizens insulted him publicly by lampooning him and his followers, and then tried to compel the Jews to worship the images of Gaius. The Jews appealed to the emperor, who not only paid no heed to them, but ordered his Syrian legate to erect his statue in the temple at Jerusalem, but the legate was wise enough to delay action rather than to risk an armed rebellion and the death of Caligula in AD 41 prevented the issue from coming to a crisis.
Caligula’s reckless expenditure of the funds that Augustus and Tiberius had so carefully gathered quickly exhausted the public treasury. In order to replenish it he resorted to violent means; confiscation of property, compulsory legacies and extortion of every kind and his tyranny became so unbearable that he was assassinated by a tribune of the imperial guards.
Claudius, AD 41 to 54.
At the death of Caligula the Senate debated the idea of restoring the republic, but the question was quickly decided for them when the praetorian guard selected Tiberius Claudius Germanicus as emperor. He’d been living in comparative obscurity during the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula, and hadn’t taken part in the political activities of Rome. An early illness, possibly some form of infantile paralysis, had left him so weakened that his public appearance was almost ludicrous because his shambling form and drooling mouth made him look idiotic. He wasn’t, however, of inferior mentality, for he was a good scholar and proved to be an abler ruler than his contemporaries expected.
The rapidly expanding empire needed a new type of government to make it efficient. Under Claudius Rome became a bureaucracy, governed by committees and secretaries and he extended the privilege of citizenship to provincials. His generals succeeded in gaining a foothold in Britain and conquered it as far north as the river Thames. At this time Thrace, on the death of its prince, who’d been an ally of Rome, was made a province.
Claudius made a determined attempt to restore the ancient Roman religion to its former prominence in society. He possessed a strong antipathy for foreign cults and Suetonius states that under Claudius the Jews were expelled from Rome because of some riots that had taken place “at the instigation of one Chrestus.” It’s uncertain whether Suetonius misunderstood Chrestus for Christos, and was referring to a disturbance among the Jews caused by the preaching of Jesus as the Christ, or whether Chrestus was the actual name of some insurgent. Whatever, the order of expulsion is probably the one that caused the removal of Aquila and Priscilla from Rome.
Through the influence of one of his freedmen, Pallas, Claudius was persuaded to take his niece, Agrippina, as his fourth wife. She was determined to obtain the succession for Domitius, her son by a previous husband. Domitius was formally adopted by Claudius under the name of Nero Claudius Caesar. In AD 53 Nero married Octavia, Claudius’ daughter and one year later Claudius dies, leaving to Nero the succession of the imperial throne.
Nero, AD 54 to 68.
The first five years of Nero’s reign were peaceful and successful. With Afranius Burrus, the prefect of the praetorian guard, and L Annaeus Seneca, the philosopher and writer, as his advisors, Nero managed his realm very well. Agrippina, however, sought to maintain an ascendancy over him which both he and his advisors resented. In AD 59 he had his mother murdered and took full charge of the government himself..
Nero was an artist rather than an executive; he was more eager to enter upon a stage career than to excel in political administration. His carelessness and extravagance emptied the public treasury, and he, like Caligula, resorted to oppression and violence in order to replenish it. By doing so he incurred the hatred of the Senate, whose members feared that at any time he might give orders for their death and for confiscation of their property.
In AD 64 a great fire broke out in Rome that destroyed a large part of the city. Nero was suspected of having deliberately set it in order to make room for his new Golden House, a splendid palace that he’d built on the Esquiline Hill. This massive complex, which housed the great palace, covered a total of 125 acres, including a colonnade with three rows of columns one mile long, dining rooms with ivory ceilings, walls covered with decorations of fantastic décor, and in the vestibule a colossus of Nero himself 120 feet high. There were parks, groves, and a lake, all for the pleasure of one man. In order to divert the blame from himself, he accused the Christians of having caused the disaster. Their attitude of aloofness from the heathen and their talk of the ultimate destruction of the world by fire lent plausibility to the charge. Many of them were brought to trial and were tortured to death. Tradition says that Peter and Paul perished in this persecution, the first one conducted by the state. There’s very little evidence to show just how extensive this persecution was. Probably it didn’t affect any territory outside Rome and its immediate environs, although the provinces may have been threatened with it.
In the meantime the excesses of Nero had rendered him increasingly unpopular. Several conspiracies against him had failed and were suppressed by the execution of his enemies. Finally a revolt of the troops and provincials in Gaul and Spain proved successful. Nero fled from Rome and was killed by one of his own freedmen at his command in order to avoid capture.
Galba, AD 68.
The revolt of the legions had shown that the empire was really commanded by the army, since it could nominate and enthrone its candidate without reference to the Senate. Galba, however, wasn’t the unanimous choice of the legions. When he adopted as his successor Lucius Calpurnius Piso, Otho, who’d once supported him in hope of being emperor himself, persuaded the praetorian guards to kill Galba and to make him emperor.
Otho, AD 69.
Otho’s rule was short-lived. The Senate concurred in his appointment, but Vitellius, the legate of Germany, marched on Rome with his troops. Otho was killed in battle and Vitellius took his place.
Vitellius, AD 69.
Vitellius was recognised by the Senate, but he was unable to control the legions, nor could he establish any stable government. The army of the east intervened in the affairs of state and made its general, Vespasian, emperor. At that time Vespasian was engaged in the siege of Jerusalem. Leaving the siege in charge of his son Titus, he proceeded to Egypt, where he gained control of the country and cut off the food supply of Rome. His general, Mucianus, set out for Italy and, in spite of the spirited resistance of the troops of Vitellius, Vespasian’s partisans captured and sacked Rome. Vitellius was killed and Vespasian was proclaimed ruler.
Vespasian, AD 69 to 79.
Vespasian was a plain old soldier who was frugal in his habits and vigorous in his administration. He suppressed revolts among the Bataviae and among the Gauls, while Titus completed the reduction of Jerusalem. The city was completely destroyed and the province was put under a military legate. He strengthened the frontiers by reducing dependent principalities to the status of provinces. The treasury was made solvent by strict economy and by the imposition of new taxes. He built the now famous Colosseum, but he dies in AD 79, leaving his office to Titus, whom he’d made his coregent. He was the first of the Flavian dynasty, which included his sons Titus and Domitian.
Titus, AD 79 to 81.
The brevity of Titus’ reign didn’t allow much time for the accomplishment of any remarkable deeds. In spite of this handicap, however, he was one of the most popular emperors that Rome ever had. The magnificence of the public entertainments that he sponsored and his personal generosity disarmed the potential antagonism of the senate who feared that he’d be a dictator like his father.
The catastrophic overthrow of Pompeii and Herculaneum, villages on the Bay of Naples, by the eruption of Vesuvius, occurred during his reign. Titus appointed a commission and did his utmost to rescue as many of the victims as possible. A few months later Rome suffered a severe fire that destroyed the new Capitol, the Pantheon and Agrippa’s Baths. Titus even sold some of his private furniture to contribute to the general need and he erected new buildings, including a large amphitheatre.
Domitian, AD 81 to 96.
Titus died in AD 81, leaving no son, and the Senate conferred the imperial power to his younger brother Domitian. He was a thorough autocrat and he tried to raise the moral level of Roman society by restraining the corruption of the Roman stage and by checking public prostitution. The temples of the older gods were rebuilt and foreign religions were suppressed, especially those which sought to make converts. He was thought to have instigated a persecution of Christians though evidence for any extensive legislation or action against them in his reign is lacking. He demanded worship for himself and insisted on being called Dominus et Deus – Lord and God. As an economist he was a good manager and the business affairs of the state were conducted efficiently by his subordinates.
Both Jews and Christians refused to accord worship to Domitian and in AD 93 he executed some Christians for refusing to offer sacrifices before his image. According to tradition, this included his own nephew, Flavius Clemens.
Domitian was hard by nature and suspicious of rivals. Lacking the geniality of his brother Titus, he made numerous enemies and when their plots were discovered he was pitiless in his vengeance. The last years of his reign were a nightmare to the senatorial order, who were kept in constant terror of spies and informers, even his own family didn’t feel safe, and finally in self-defence they procured his assassination.
Nerva, AD 96 to 98.
Domitian’s successor was selected by the Senate. He was a man of advanced years and of mild demeanour who was probably regarded as a safe candidate by the Senate. His general administration was kindly and relatively free from internal tensions. The army had resented Domitian’s assassination, for the Flavians were popular in military circles; Nerva, however, was astute enough to provide as his successor Trajan, who was capable of holding the troops in subjection and of administering government with a strong hand.
Trajan, AD 98 to 117.
Trajan was a Spaniard by birth, a soldier by profession, energetic and aggressive in temperament. He annexed Dacia, north of the Danube, and began the enlargement of the eastern frontiers by the conquest of Armenia, Assyria and Mesopotamia. A revolt of some Jews in the Near East was suppressed in AD 115; but new insurrections in Africa, Britain, and on the Danubian border occasioned his recall to Rome. He died en route to the capital in Cilicia in AD 117.
In this environment of imperial expansion Christianity grew from an obscure Jewish sect to a world religion. Jesus was born in the reign of Augustus; his public ministry and death occurred in the time of Tiberius; the great period of missionary expansion came in the reigns of Claudius and Nero. According to tradition, the Revelation was written in the reign of Domitian, and its allusion to imperial power and governmental tyranny may have been reflections of conditions prevalent at that time.
The relative scarcity of allusions in the New Testament to contemporary events in the Roman world isn’t surprising. The national interest of the Gospels and of much of the Acts which are the principal historical works lies in Judaism rather than in Rome. In addition, the message of the New Testament was directed to the inner lives of its readers rather than to their outward circumstances. The spiritual rather than the political, and the eternal rather than the temporal were stressed but, nonetheless, at numerous points the New Testament does connects with the political surroundings of the first century, and its historical importance must be interpreted in that connection.
Driving Out Despair by Keith Taylor (28th Feb 2021) Open Close
DRIVING OUT DESPAIR.
Reading Psalms 42 & 43.
The opening verses of Psalm 42, which have so often been taken to portray a lovely song of wholesome desire for God, are actually a cry of despair. This cry comes from the heart of a man who expresses his inner-most feelings of discouragement, loneliness and despair. Verse 3 describes him as continually weeping, seemingly cut off from his friends and unable to find his comfort even in God. We need to face the fact that knowing Jesus as saviour, and God as our Father, isn’t some magical force-shield that exempts us from despair, or from the circumstances that produce it. We may, by His grace which is all-sufficient, overcome them, but we’re not able to avoid them.
The first step towards recovery from, or prevention of despair is to identify and recognise the cause; the mere fact of knowing has healing value. Get alone with God, armed with paper and pencil, and ask the Lord, by the Holy Spirit, to help you identify the cause of your despair. The Psalmist did just that – see Psalm 42:5; “Why are you downcast, O my soul?”
When we discover the origins of our despair, and most of them are related to our personal circumstances in one way or another, we can set about the process of building up biblical principles. These, in turn, will transform despair into assurance and confidence, so that instead of ‘breakdown’ we’ll experience ‘breakthrough’.
The second step to recovery from despair is to focus upon God. The Psalmist, having asked of his soul the reason for his despair, speaks to himself again – see Psalm 42:5; “Put your hope in God”. He realises that, despite the depressed state of his soul, despite present circumstances and pessimistic perceptions, all isn’t lost. There’s hope for the future because there is God. The writer to the Hebrews encourages us to “Fix our eyes on Jesus…” Fixing our eyes on the world, on other believers or yourself, is to focus on something unstable and liable to fail. Freedom from despair isn’t found in some ‘quick fire’ solution, or in a sunny disposition and outlook. Fixing our eyes upon Jesus is the prescribed way. The Living Bible, rendering of Colossians 2:6 says, “…trusting that just as he saved you he will take care of each day’s problems as you live in vital union with him.”
The Psalmist provides us with an important principle that seems to escape us in our quest for ‘signs and wonders’. This is our obligation to respond to God’s input and change. Like spiritual infants, we want everything done for us, when, in fact, God desires to work with us. Just as the Psalmist faced the facts and challenged his soul to trust in an unchanging God, we too need to say to ourselves, “I am strong”. It’s time to stop depending upon everybody else telling us we can make it, and to start telling ourselves, as Hebrews 12:12-13 reminds us, “…strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled but rather healed.” Continual weakness brings total disability to what was previously just lame.
Some of you may well remember the song:
“And now let the weak say, I am strong, let the poor say I am rich, because of what the Lord has done for me”
Though that hope is born in the Psalmist, the latter part of Psalm 42 seems to revert to pessimistic despondency as before. We need to realise that deep depression and despair are difficult to conquer, even during recovery. At times it can be no more than rays of occasional spiritual sunshine amongst the gloom. In those trying times it’s so easy simply to give up.
There was a poster printed some years ago which showed a man sitting alone on a park bench, depressed and disconsolate, arms folded, resignation upon his face. The caption read: “I give up”. It seems that was its message, but then, right down in the corner of the poster there was another picture of a hill and on it a tiny cross, barely perceptible beneath were printed the words, “I didn’t”. Despair is driven out when we lift our eyes to the cross, for the One who conquered all things, holds out His hands. Don’t give up; try again.
The third step that drives out despair is to trust. Of course there are still problems to be faced, doubts to be overcome, things which, in a time of strong faith would never be asked. The Psalmist cries out “Why have you forsaken me?” This is a real question asked by so many in days when the very heavens seem to be made of brass. Yet the fact that he brought the question to God shows his reviving faith; “I say to God my rock…” His recognition that God was a rock, unmovable in a world of shifting values, confusion and doubt, indicates his change of attitude, so that when he repeats his original exhortation of “Why are you downcast O my soul?”, he’s addressing himself, not so much in rebuke but to encourage that reviving spark of faith. As that faith revives, he realises it’s God alone who can deal with his enemies and so Psalm 43 sees him calling upon God for deliverance.
The practical lesson we’re slow to learn is that we need to commit our adverse circumstances to the Lord, and allow Him to handle the situation. We must also learn, and be prepared to accept the Lord’s remedy for those situations and not to have our own preconceived ideas of how we want things to turn out. David, in Psalm 20:7 said; “Some trust in chariots and some in horses…” In other words, put their trust in the natural order of things, which may seem a good idea, but he goes on to declare that “…we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.”
God says to those who may be in despair today: “Wipe away your tears, loved ones; are you anxious, dejected, worn out and sad? I will trade you beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” Isaiah 61:3.
JUSTIFICATION & SANCTIFICATION by Keith Taylor (21st Feb 2021) Open Close
JUSTIFICATION & SANCTIFICATION.
Justification precedes sanctification as I hope to demonstrate in the next short while.
JUSTIFICATION very simply is about how a person can be rightly relayed to God – it’s THE big issue because to be justified is to be declared legally cleared of all blame and to be free from every charge. Only God the Judge can make such a declaration.
Let’s look at the facts of justification:
- God comes to the rescue.
We cannot justify ourselves even if we wanted to; Romans 4:5 says that it’s “God who justifies the wicked”. Also Ephesians 2:8 tells us that “…it’s by grace you have been saved (delivered from judgement),…it’s the gift of God”. God has made this status change possible through Jesus who kept and fulfilled God’s law perfectly then assumed our guilt and judgement on the cross; hence Romans 5:9 says that we’re “…justified by His blood”. We’re put right before God through all that Jesus did, culminating in His death on the cross, as Romans 4:25 says; “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”.
- It’s for the undeserving.
God has acted in grace – undeserved love and kindness. It’s all of and from God. Romans 3:24 says that “[We] are justified freely by his grace” and Ephesians 2:6 reiterates that “…it’s by grace you have been saved”.
- It changes our account balance.
God credits the obedience of Christ to our ‘account’ – the divine exchange. He takes our sin and gives us His righteousness – read Romans 4:18-25. As Abraham was justified because he believed in a God who brought life from the dead, we’ll be justified by believing “…in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead”.
- It must be received.
Romans 5:1 and Galatians 2:16 tell us that we’ve been “…justified through faith”. The change takes place as we take what God offers us by believing in Him – faith involves acceptance, trust and commitment.
- It always makes a difference.
James 2:17 says that “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. This actually complements rather than contradicts the earlier point – the ‘action’ here is the changed and changing lifestyle of the new believer. It’s the evidence of a living faith and a new relationship with God – called sanctification.
Justification always leads to sanctification, not the other way round.
SANCTIFICATION is a big word and a big subject; it’s part of the Christian experience that we’re currently engaged in. The English words sanctify, sanctification, holy and saint all come from the same root word in both Hebrew and Greek – having the basic meaning of ‘to set apart for a special or sacred purpose’ or simply ‘being holy’.
So what are the key aspects of sanctification?
- It’s happened – we’re already sanctified.
This happened to us when we were saved ‘born again’. Hebrews 10:10 tells us that “…we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”. In other word, we’re set apart as different at the very beginning of our Christian life, but that’s not the end. It’s not as so many Christians seem to believe ‘happiness now and holiness later’ it’s ‘holiness now and happiness later’.
- It’s a work in progress – we’re being sanctified.
It’s happening, or it should be happening on a daily basis. Look at what Hebrews 10:14 says: “…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”. Sanctification is a sign of our Christian growth and progress.
- It involves you – sanctification is co-operative.
We’ll not change or grow without God’s help, but God doesn’t change us without our active co-operation. Prayer, fellowship, worship and time with God and other believers are all factors in the process of sanctification. As Philippians 2:12 tells us, we’re to “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.
- Be positive – sanctification is commitment to Christ.
It’s not all negative, it’s not all about fighting sin. That’s part of it but by no means the major part. We now have a new nature that means we’re free not to sin, whereas in our old nature we had to sin; we can now sing “I am a new creation…”. Through sanctification we discover God’s personal plan, and we’re able to use the gifts that He gives us. There’s an act of choosing daily to make oneself available to Him – being set apart for His us.
- We await a completion date – sanctification ends in glory.
Sanctification never finishes in this life, we’re moving towards and looking forward to completion. We may not always get things right, but please be patient because we’re just like children growing up to become adults. As someone once said; “God’s not finished with me just yet”. We’ve this encouraging promise from Philippians 1:6 “[I am] confident of this, that how who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ’s return”.
I am saved [justified], I am being saved and I will finally be saved if I continue in Christ.
PETER’S PICTURES OF CHRIST by Keith Taylor (14th Feb 2021) Open Close
PETER’S PICTURES OF CHRIST.
1 Peter 2:21-25
In these verses Peter’s addressing Christian slaves and stresses the importance of submission. Some converted slaves thought that their spiritual freedom also guaranteed personal and political freedom, and they created problems for the Church and for themselves. Although we have no Christian slaves here with us today, what Peter wrote does have application to us. We’re to be submissive to those over us, whether they be kind or unkind to us. If we’re employed by Christian employers we must never take advantage.
Sometimes we’ll be unjustly wronged but for Jesus’ sake and our testimony’s sake we must ‘take it’. The human tendency is always to fight back and demand our rights, but the Bible teaching is that we suffer as Jesus suffered.
Now this also applies within the local church; we’re to submit to the God-given leadership in all things because, as the Bible says, they’re in position to care for our souls. Our functioning at Bethel Christian Fellowship continues to be based solely upon the Word of God, the Bible. Our leaders will operate within that sphere of teaching and if they bring admonition to us, we submit for the benefit of our own Christian life and for theirs.
Peter encourages these suffering slaves by presenting three pictures of Jesus Christ, so let’s take a look at them in some detail.
He is our example in His life. (2:21-23)
All that Jesus did on earth, as recorded in the Gospels, is a perfect example for us to follow, but He’s especially our example in the way He responded to suffering. In spite of the fact that He was sinless in both word and deed, He suffered at the hands of the authorities. Jesus proved that a person could be in the will of God, be greatly loved by God and still suffer unjustly. There’s a brand of popular teaching today that claims that Christians will not suffer if they’re in the will of God, but those who teach this can’t have meditated much upon the cross.
Jesus’ humility and submission weren’t evidences of weakness, but of power, He could have summoned the armies of heaven to rescue Him. His words to Pilate in John 18 are proof that He was in complete command of the situation; Jesus had committed Himself to the Father, and the Father always judges righteously.
We’re not saved by following Jesus’ example, because each of us would stumble over “…He committed no sin”; sinners need a Saviour, not an example, but after a person is saved, they’ll want to “…follow in His steps” imitating the example of Christ Jesus.
He is our substitute in His death. (2:24)
He died as the sinner’s substitution – this entire section reflects the great ‘Servant Chapter’ of Isaiah 53, especially verses 5-7 but also 9 and 12. Jesus didn’t die as a martyr; He dies as a Saviour, a sinless substitute; the word translated ‘bore’ means ‘carried as a sacrifice’. The Jews didn’t crucify people, they stoned them to death, but if the victim was especially evil the dead body was hung upon a tree until evening as a mark of shame. Paul tells the Galatians that Jesus died upon a tree – a cross – and so bore the curse of the Law against our sins.
The paradoxes of the cross always amaze me. Christ Jesus was wounded that we might be healed and He died that we might live. Paul wrote to the Romans, and through them to us, that we died with Him and thus are “…dead to sin” so that we might “…live unto righteousness”. It’s not Jesus the example or the teacher who saves us, but Jesus the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Now the healing which Peter mentions in verse 24 isn’t physical healing, but rather the spiritual healing of the soul. One day, when we have glorified bodies,, all sickness will be gone, but meantime even some of God’s choicest servants may have physical afflictions. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says that “…if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come”.
He is our watchful shepherd in Heaven. (2:25)
In the Old Testament the sheep died for the shepherd, but at Calvary the shepherd died for the sheep. Each lost sinner’s like a sheep gone astray; ignorant, lost, wandering and in danger, away from the place of safety and unable to help themselves. The shepherd went out to search for the lost sheep – He died for the sheep.
Now that we’ve returned to the fold and are safely in His care, He watches over, or oversees, us lest we stray away and get into sin. Just as the elders oversee the flock of God, the local church, so the saviour in glory watches over His sheep to protect them and perfect them.
This is the truth that Peter wanted to share in these pictures. As we live godly lives,, and submit in times of suffering, we’re following Christ’s example and becoming more like Him. We submit and obey not for the Lord’s sake, but for our sake, that we might grow spiritually and become more like Christ, day by day. We can submit to Him and know that He’ll work everything for our good and His glory
One last thing…
If you’re not yet a Christian, haven’t asked Christ to be your saviour, let me tell you on the authority of God’s Word that God waits for you to reach out to Him for that salvation from sin that only He can give. Repent before God of your sin and begin to believe that Jesus died upon the cross to bear that sin away.
If you’ve already given your life to Christ and feel that you’re suffering somewhat from persecution which you feel to be unjust, let me tell you also on the authority of God’s Word that Jesus suffered for you and sees you it this time and will enable you to bare that suffering if you’ll totally surrender yourself to His ministry by the Holy Spirit.
There’s teaching about today that will tell us that we’re still being oppressed by some of the things that may have happened to us in our lives before we accepted Christ as our Saviour, and they’re not allowing us to flourish in our Christian life. But once again, upon the authority of God’s Word, let me tell you that you’re FREE; Christ has set you free at the point of your salvation, we were healed from all that past life at the cross of Jesus.
FINDING OUR PLACE by Keith Taylor (8th Feb 2021) Open Close
FINDING OUR PLACE.
Reading: Romans 12:1-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.
I had a delivery to make, a very important one and I was sure that I was in the right area, but I was driving up and down unable to find the place that I was appointed to be at. In just one place in that area could I be useful at that particular time, but until I found that place I was completely useless.
How many Christian are just like that? They’re not being of any use to God, or to their fellow Christians, simply because they’ve not found the place where God can use them. Some Christians wrongly believe they have no function to fulfil and no talent to offer, consequently they’re not even looking for a place where they can be used. Others are convinced that God has a very special job for them to do, if only they could find the right local church. There are still others, although happily settled in a local church, frustrated because they attempt to be useful in positions which aren’t suitable for them. It’s very clear from our readings that God expects us to be useful and we’re shown that every member of the Body has a place and a part to play in the overall life of the Body.
Having established these facts, it’s up to us to find our place and our function within the Body, so that we may be useful to God and to each other. I want to share with you three places which we must find within the Body in order to become useful to God; they’re the place of fellowship, the place of function and the place of fruitfulness.
Finding the place of fellowship.
Nowhere should we feel more comfortable and relaxed than at home with our family, and the same should apply to our local church life. The local church isn’t just a company of people who meet together from time to time because of a shared interest; we meet together as a family, and feel comfortable and st ease with one another. We need to be aware that we meet with other Christians in order to contribute to the overall family life of the local church where God has placed us. Those who choose to isolate themselves from the rest of the church family not only miss out on the blessing that can be gained by contact with other believers, but also find it very difficult to make any useful contribution to God’s work.
Look at what Jesus had to say in John 13:35: “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another”. Family life isn’t always smooth and trouble free, but if love’s the foundation then the problems which arise can be solved without members of the family leaving home.
Finding the place of function.
In our natural bodies each member has its own place and function which it carries out for the benefit of the whole body. A surgeon can operate with confidence knowing exactly where each part of the body is, regardless of the person’s age, size, colour or nationality. Too few members of the Body of Christ consider they have any function to fulfil, with the result that the local church is often unbalanced and ineffective. Any members who considers there’s nothing they can do for God is being deceived by Satan. When every part of the Body is working properly the evidence is seen in healthy development and strength, bringing glory to God.
To find your function, refer first to God’s Word, especially the verses we read earlier, because there you’ll see the great variety of possibilities open to a committed believer; then consider prayerfully and honestly how you might begin to benefit the health of the local church.
Finding the place of fruitfulness.
Fruitfulness isn’t an optional extra just for those who’ve attained a high level of spirituality, it’s what God expects of every believer, as Jesus indicated in John 15:8 & 16: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last”. It’s in the standard of our fruitfulness that our usefulness is measured. If we produce the fruit described in Galatians 5:22 our character becomes more Christlike. The world will then see Jesus reflected in us, and be drawn to Him.
Where’s the place of fruitfulness? There’s only one answer to this question, and it’s found in John 15:5: “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”. As we remain in Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, fruitfulness is the inevitable outcome. Sometimes this will be a painful experience, like pruning, as we allow self to die so that more of Christ may be seen in us.
As we find these three places for ourselves, we’ve the satisfaction of knowing without any doubt whatsoever that we’re fulfilling God’s purpose for us. IT CAN BE DONE !
KNOWING HIS PRESENCE - Part 5: Jesus in the Midst by Keith Taylor (1st Feb 2021) Open Close
Part 5: Being hungry and thirsty.
The ‘Shema’, the greatest commandment of all, tells us to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength” [Deuteronomy 6:5]. King David lived the Shema almost every day of his life; he was a man after God’s own heart, or put another way, a man after God. Reading the Psalms, we can sense the heart cry of a man, who, because of his deep love for the Lord, was hot on God’s trail; by following that trail of ever deepening love, we too can discover the way into God’s presence.
Delighting in God.
Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desire of your heart”. To delight in the Lord is to esteem the person and work of Messiah Jesus as life’s greatest joy and most precious possession; it is ‘first love’, loving Jesus first before anything or anyone else.
Read Job 22:25-26…
Delighting in the Lord indicates to us a certain abandonment of self in favour of God’s will and pleasure; covenant love in which we die to ourselves and live solely for the Lord, an attitude of heart that declares, “Pleasing you, pleases me”.
Read Isaiah 58:13-14…
Delighting in the Lord bespeaks holy desire and spiritual hunger. The Psalmist used the analogy of a deer searching for water in the wilderness to illustrate his own hunger for the presence of God; “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” [Psalm 42:1-2].
Water isn’t an optional luxury but a vital necessity, and all the more so in the wilderness of Judea. Indeed, water is the single most important source of nourishment and sustenance, without it we cannot exist for any length of time; finding water in the wilderness, therefore, is a matter of life and death. Thus the Psalmist declares the presence of God to be the most valuable commodity and fundamental necessity of life. If we’ve truly tasted and seen that the Lord is good, we’ll not be able to live without the intimacy of His presence.
Read Psalm 63:1-8…
The dry and thirsty land in which we live, this sick and sinful world, should accentuate our hunger and thirst for the purity of God’s presence and the splendour of His holiness. The corruption that’s in the world through lust should drive us into the sanctuary; the pressures of the world should spur us to gather together as God’s people, with an even greater desire to see God’s power and glory manifested in our midst.
David comes to the realisation that God’s lovengkindness is better than life itself, and that the presence of God satisfies his soul as with marrow and fatness (literally with the richest finest and choicest part, and with abundance), and for this reason, he rejoices in the shadow of God’s wings. But spiritual hunger and thirst, longing for the presence of God, must be translated into decisive action; David says, “Early will I seek you…I look for you…my lips shall praise you…I will lift up my hands in your name…I meditate on you…my soul follows close behind you”. The Hebrew word translated ‘early’ literally means ‘to dawn’ and figuratively, ‘to rise early and to earnestly engage in a task’ and, by extension, ‘to painstakingly search for an object’. In Psalm 130:6 a soul who waits upon God is likened to a watchman who stands on the rampart and scans the horizon for the first sign of daybreak, so that he may blow the shofar (trumpet) and awaken the city. The Hebrew word translated ‘follow close’ means to ‘cleave, cling, join or adhere’, and figuratively ‘to overtake or catch by pursuit’. Desire for God must be converted into an active seeking of Him, a veritable overtaking of and clinging to Him in prayer and worship, whether as an individual or as the corporate assembly. “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” [Psalm 27:4].
Like Martha, we’re often worried about many things and try to run in many different directions at once, but only one thing’s really necessary, to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His Word. The one thing we should desire above all else is to be where God is, dwelling in His presence, feasting at His table, surrounded by His glory.
The Hebrew word translated ‘dwell’ denotes ‘permanent residency’ in contrast to occasional visitation; it literally means to ‘sit down’ and hence ‘to remain’; it’s also used of ‘marriage’ thus signifying a life-long commitment. As new creatures in Messiah Jesus and members of God’s eternal household it’s our privilege to live each day in the power of God’s Spirit and the glory of His presence. In His presence we can dig for answers to life’s most probing questions. The Hebrew word translated ‘inquire’ literally means ‘to plough’ and figuratively ‘to search for, seek out, inspect and consider’. In His presence we discover the path of life that leads to fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore – see Psalm 16:11… It’s in the presence of Him who’s the Logos, the sum of the total divine wisdom and knowledge that we discover the way, to come to know the truth and experience the life of God.
He priority of God’s presence is nowhere more clearly delineated that in David’s anguished
prayer of repentance in Psalm 51.
Read Psalm 51:1-12…
Can you sense the cry of David’s heart? “God, whatever you do, don’t exclude me from your
presence; don’t remove your anointing from my life. Kill me, if you will, but don’t let me go
on living without the intimacy of your Spirit and the knowledge of your glory.
God’s presence at all cost.
There’s something about spiritual hunger that commands the attention and attracts the favour
of the Lord. To an eager audience on a hillside in Galilee, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who
hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” [Matthew 5:6]. Implicit in this
statement is an element of sanctified desperation; this is no casual enquiry or whimsical
fancy, but rather a resolute determination arising from an insatiable appetite.
Moses epitomised this hunger and thirst for righteousness when hr cried, “If your presence
does not go with us, do not send us up from here” [Exodus 33:15]; and getting bolder, he
prayed, “Now show me your glory” [Exodus 33:18]. The Lord’s response is most
instructive to us, as modern-day seekers after righteousness, “I will cause my goodness to
pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have
mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have
compassion” [Exodus 33:19]. The glory of God is the sum total of the Divine attributes, the
fullness of the Divine nature. The glory of God is indicative of His love and mercy; holiness
and majesty; power and authority; wisdom and knowledge; righteousness and justice;
faithfulness and immutability. Hence the Lord’s answer, “I will cause my goodness to pass
in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord…”
The mane of the Lord is representative of His character and attributes. The eight redemptive
names by which God revealed Himself to Israel constitute eight distinctive revelations of His
divine nature and power; however, there were tests to pass and conditions to meet before
Moses could experience the answer to his prayer.
Read Exodus 34:1-3…
“Chisel out two stone tablets” said the Lord, “…and I will write on them the words (my
laws)”. God declared through the prophet Jeremiah that in the time of the New Covenant He
would put His law in people’s minds and write it on their hearts – see Jeremiah 31:33. We are
to come before the Lord with the ‘tablet’ of a hungry heart and an open mind, that the Lord
may write with His hand upon us all the details of His plans – see 1Chronicles 28:19.
“Be ready in the morning and…present yourself to me there on top of the mountain”; there’s a
price to God’s presence, there’s a cost to knowing God and seeing His glory; it’s called
‘seeking first the kingdom’; it’s called ‘denying yourself, taking up your cross and following
Jesus’; it’s called ‘losing your life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel’. If we’re earnest in
our quest to know God, then “…whatever he says to us we will do” [John 2:5], even to the
point of waiting in solitary prayer and worship until God reveals Himself. “Present yourself”
connotes the introduction of a subject to his King, or a servant to the master, or a subordinate
to the commanding officer. With what humility it behoves us to approach God. The how, when and where of God’s revelation is His prerogative, ours is to be in the appointed place of prayer, watching and waiting.
Read Exodus 34:5-10…
Those who desire a double portion of God’s Spirit seek a hard thing; hard but not impossible. Hard, for it’s extremely costly in terms of faith and obedience, but gloriously possible, for it’s the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. The challenge sounds out to us today as it did to Elisha of old, “…if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours, otherwise not” [2 Kings 2:10]. “If you see me”, if we keep seeking Jesus with a single eye, if we keep other desires from entering our heart and other objects capturing our attention, the “it will be ours”.
God’s promise stands sure, “…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…will be filled.” The desperate cries out; “O Lord, we acknowledge our sin, our pride, our stubbornness, and indeed, we are not worthy of Your presence, but by your grace, go among us; take us as your inheritance, make us your dwelling place, reveal your glory, pour out your Holy Spirit”. A cry for God’s presence, that’s born out of deep desire and desperate need, will invariable provoke a positive response, “I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people who live among you will see how awesome is the work that I the Lord will do for you”; it’s simply a question of plugging into God’s will.
Abide with us.
Each and every encounter with God, and revelation of God, is initiated by God. The Lord will call to us as He did to Samuel, but whether or not there’s any ensuing revelation of His divine nature and eternal purpose is largely determined by our response. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”, and other such expressions of spiritual hunger, guarantee receipt of all that God has to give.
God gives us a taste of His presence and glory to whet our spiritual appetite, in order to stimulate us to seek Him for even greater revelation; the admonition to “Taste and see that the Lord is good” climaxes with the statement that “…those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” [Psalm 34:8-10].
God will attract our attention, as He did Moses’, with a manifestation of His power and glory, but whether or not we receive the full revelation of His character and redemptive purpose depends on our “turning aside to look”. Sadly, many people are simply satisfied with a taste, a glimpse, a promise, and a touch, but God wants to take us deeper.
Read Luke 24:13-16…
Often during times of personal prayer or corporate worship, Jesus will draw near to us, as He did to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Sometimes in our preoccupation with other things we’re oblivious to His presence; at other times we can sense His presence, but our eyes are restrained and we cannot see His purpose or understand His ways.
Read Luke 24:28-31…
The Lord will often give us a taste of His presence and then act as if He’s going to leave; His overwhelming desire is to stay with us and reveal Himself to us, but He’ll only do that if we invite Him, or more literally, urge Him. The Lord looks for a response of faith, and expression of spiritual hunger, some manifestation of holy desire. He stands at the door and knocks; if we’ll only open the door and entreat Him to come in He’ll abide with us and reveal Himself to us in the breaking of bread, the intimate communion of covenant relationship.
Let’s acknowledge, let’s press on.
The prophecy of Hosea, which essentially is a call to holiness, fidelity and intimacy with God, reveals the importance of translating Spirit-inspired desire into Spirit-led action. “Let us acknowledge the Lord, let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises,, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth” [Hosea 6:3]. “Let us acknowledge the Lord” that’s the goal. Not to simply acknowledge that He’s there, but to know the Lord in the intimacy of shared love. To perceive His character and understand His ways, and in so doing, to become like Him in thought (attitude), word (speech) and deed (behaviour).
Desire is one thing but achievement is another; to know the Lord we must pursue Him with all our being. That is, we musty have great intensity of purpose, single-minded devotion to a cause and relentless determination in pursuit of a goal. Paul described his pursuit of the knowledge of God, read Philippians 3:8-14…
First of all Paul had to come to grips with the exclusiveness of Jesus Christ. “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” [Exodus 15:11]. The transcendent glory of Jesus’ nature and the surpassing greatness of His power demanded a casting aside of past achievements and future ambitions, in order that Paul might devote his entire energy to knowing Jesus.
Fellowship with Jesus in the fullness of His death, burial and resurrection, is riches indeed, it’s superior to anything else, it’s the surpassing thing. Paul uses three word pictures to depict his quest for intimacy with Jesus; “press on, strain towards, take hold of”; he desires to lay hold of Jesus’ purpose for his life and possess it in its fullness. Paul pursued Jesus with determination and vigour, and in this sense is reminiscent of Jacob who wrestled all night with the Angel of God and wouldn’t let him go until he pronounced a blessing – see Genesis 32:22-30…
But perhaps the most beautiful analogy of spiritual hunger is found in the Song of Solomon, which is itself an allegorical portrait of the relationship between God and Israel, and Jesus and the Church.
Read Song of Solomon 3:1-4…
Spiritual hunger is often accentuated during the night hours when the hustle and bustle and busyness of life subsides, and our hearts and minds grow quiet before the Lord. It’s in the night hours when we’re free from the distractions of life, that the Lord can ost easily get our attention. It, therefore, behoves us to yield to spiritual hunger pains whenever they come upon us; for the longing of the heart, the awakening of desire and the urge to pray are evidences of the moving of the Holy Spirit in our inner man.
Let’s do as the Shulammite did in the Song of Solomon; get out of bed and seek the One we love, and having found Him, not let Him go until His purpose is accomplished in us. Make this our prayer today; “Yes, Lord…we wait for you, your name and renown are the desire of out hearts. My soul years for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you” [Isaiah 26:8-9].
KNOWING HIS PRESENCE - Part 4: Jesus in the Midst by Keith Taylor (25th Jan 2021) Open Close
Part 4: Being pure in heart.
The primary qualification for experiencing the presence of God and knowing His glory is, or course, holiness or purity of heart. Hebrews 12:14 exhorts us to “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord”. The Greek word translated ‘holiness’ signifies separation from sin and consecration to God. It denotes both the process of sanctification, the inauguration and maintenance of a life of fellowship with God, and the resultant state of sanctification in which our life is wholly devoted to God and perfectly conformed to His image. Thus holiness is actually wholeheartedness, as expressed in Deuteronomy 6:5; “Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”.
It’s precisely this kind of wholeheartedness which enables us to see the glory of God and experience His presence. Separation, coming out of the world system and turning from sin, and dedication, an unreserved embracing of God and His ways, is the only basis upon which God can manifest His presence and reveal His glory in the midst of His people. Paul argued this point in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1…
A matter of the heart.
Whilst holiness has very much to do with our behaviour and appearance, it’s first and foremost a matter of the heart. Holiness represents the attitude of our heart toward sin and the world system on the one hand and God and His kingdom on the other. Holiness is a burning hatred of sin and a despising of unrighteousness and, at the same time, an intense love for the person and character of God and a delighting in His righteousness. King David was a man who saw the glory of God revealed in his life and circumstances, and the key to David’s spiritual success was his wholehearted approach to God; read the following from the Psalms: 1:1; 119:2,10,34,58,69,145; 86:11-12.
The concept is of a heart that’s entirely composed of one substance, unsullied, unadulterated, without admixture and free from contamination. Holiness is having eyes for Jesus alone; it’s laying up treasure in heaven; it’s setting our mind and affection on things above not on things on the earth; it’s seeking first the kingdom of God. In summary, it’s having no other god but the Lord.
The hopelessness of admixture is revealed in Matthew 6:24; “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (materialism)”. Divided loyalty isn’t only sinful, it’s downright impractical. John goes just that little bit further in his statement, “…if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” [1 John 2:15].
During the course of conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus declared that “…the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks” [John 4:23]. Or to put it another way, people who’ll “…draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…” [Hebrews 10:22]. A very similar statement was made by the prophet Hanani in 2 Chronicles 16:9, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him”.
What kind of person is God searching for? One whose heart is loyal, wholly devoted, fully persuaded, totally committed. God delights in the characteristic of wholeheartedness and values it above everything else, and it’s to people like this that God shows Himself strong. He yearns to make His presence known to His consecrated people; “To them (the saints) God has chosen to make known…the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” [Colossians 1:27].
Paul tells Timothy, in 2 Timothy 2:19, that “…the Lord knows those who are his”. The Word of God judges the very thoughts and intents of the heart and no created thing is able to escape its scrutiny. Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us that everything lies bare and completely exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. As the Lord said to Samuel, “Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart” [1 Samuel 16:7]. Proverbs 16:2 says that “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord”.
How well do we know God and how much of His counsel do we proclaim? Paul says to the Romans “Consider, therefore, the kindness and sternness of God…” [Romans 11:22]. The Lord is a God of truth and justice who scrutinizes everything, especially the hearts of His people, and Hebrews 10:30-31 highlights this often neglected facet of the divine nature, “For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people”. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. God’s more concerned with our motives and attitudes than He is with our behaviour, because in the final analysis, the external merely reflects the internal see Proverbs 23:7 and Matthew 15:19.
While he was on the Island of Patmos John received a revelation of the Lord Jesus as the glorified Son of Man; Prophet, Priest and King; Messiah, Redeemer and Judge; whose head and hair were white like wool, and whose eyes were like a flame of fire – see Revelation 1:14. The ‘eye’ is the faculty of omniscience with which the Lord searches the hearts and minds of His people; ‘fire’ speaks of judgement and purification. Thus the Lord Jesus is revealed as One who scrutinizes our motives and attitudes in order to cleanse us from every defilement and contaminating influence, and present us to God as a whole burnt offering, a holy living sacrifice. Revelation 2:23; “…all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds”.
The Lord searches people’s minds and hearts, He tests motives and judges attitudes; He deals with us primarily on the basis of what we want be and do, that is, according to our motives and desires rather than on the basis of what we presently have and are. If we persist, God will eventually give us the desires of out heart but beware, if our ‘eye’, that is our motive and desire, id bad, our whole body, life, will be full of darkness – see Matthew 6:23. Psalm 106:15 says that the granting of such desires brings “…a wasting disease upon” our soul. Therefore, it behoves us to delight in the Lord and set our affection on things above, that our motives may be pure and our desires may be holy. Such desires will surely culminate in a harvest of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The reward of a pure heart.
Read Psalm 24:2-6…
To “…lift up his soul to an idol” is to set our affection on and put our trust in something other than the Lord. In Psalm 25:1 David disassociates himself from idols and those who worship them by declaring, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God”. Once again, the issue is loyalty or wholeness of heart. No one can serve two masters, no one can trust in two sources, no one can delight in two lovers and Paul challenged the Corinthians on this very point, 1 Corinthians 1-:21-22…
The pure in heart will receive a blessing from the Lord and a bill of righteousness from the God of salvation. This righteousness is a declaration of ‘right-standing’ with God which enables each or us to come into His presence without a sense of guilt and unworthiness or fear of condemnation. Thus, the ‘blessing’ that God bestows upon the pure in heart is the right to ascend into the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place. There are two Hebrew words in the verses of Psalm 24, both of which are translated ‘seek’. The first means to ‘follow in pursuit’ or to ‘search for a desired object’; the second means ‘to diligently look for, to search earnestly until the object of the search is located’; it’s a search that’s guaranteed to succeed. Remember that the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” [Jeremiah 29:13].
The word translated ‘face’ in Psalm 24 signifies God’s personal and manifest presence. Thus the promise of Scripture to the pure in heart is that they’ll not only have access to God’s holy place, but will also have the privilege of offering up sacrifices of prayer and worship before His throne, and in doing so ‘search for’ and ‘find’ the Lord; that is, gaze upon His glory, revel in His love, exult in His presence and delight in His holiness.
“They shall not come near me”.
Why is it that some people find it difficult to worship God, and try as they might, can’t seem to break through into the realm of revelation and glory? A likely answer’s to be found in Ezekiel 44 where the Lord said to the prophet “Give attention to the entrance of the temple and all the exits of the sanctuary”. “Give attention!”
Read Ezekiel 44:9-13…
Idolatry, filthiness of the flesh and spirit, lust of the world, self-centredness, love of money; any and all of these sins will keep us from entering into true spiritual worship, and hence, from experiencing God’s manifest presence. James puts it this way, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” [James 4:6]. The proud are essentially self-worshippers and hence idolaters at heart. On the other hand, purity of heart or wholehearted love of the Father qualifies us to enter into the presence of God and positions us to receive a revelation of His glory.
The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ classic teaching on the kingdom of God, is a remarkable biographical sketch of kingdom citizens; it defines the character and charts the conduct of those who name the name of Messiah. Central to the Lord’s discourse is this statement, “Blessed are the pure in heart,, for they will see God” [Matthew 5:8]. The Greek word translated ‘pure’ denotes ‘that which is clean, free from impure admixture, without blemish, undefiled’. The heart’s the seat of human thought, desire and motive.
Jesus lived what He preached, the ultimate example of wholehearted love for the Father and selfless dedication to the purposes of the kingdom. Let’s consider some of His testimony; “I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent me…I have come in my Father’s name…the living father sent me and I live because of the Father…he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is true, and no unrighteousness is in him…I do nothing of myself, but as my father taught me, I speak these things…I honour my Father…I do not seek my own glory…Father, glorify your name…That the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, so I do…” We can see, from that quoted above from John’s gospel, that Jesus was a totally ‘Father-centred’ Son. What was the effect of Messiah’s Father-centredness and purity of heart? “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these…The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” [John 5:20; 8:29].
The reward of a pure heart is a manifestation of God’s presence, the Father is with me, and a revelation of His glory the Father shows me – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”. The Greek word translated ‘see’ means ‘to gaze with wide open eyes as at something remarkable’ and by implication, ‘to discern clearly or perceive’. To see is actually to experience. The promise to the pure in heart is that they’ll gaze upon the glory and splendour of the Lord with wide open eyes, with clear uninhibited vision. They’ll come to know and understand the nature and power of the One who’s called them, and in so doing, taste and see that the Lord is good. They’ll experience His presence, partake of His divine nature and be filled with His Holy Spirit.
Paul highlighted the correlation between a pure heart and an open heaven in his letter to the Church at Ephesus; he spells out that the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God is dependent upon genuine faith in the Lord Jesus and sincere love of the brethren – see Ephesians 1:15-17.
May God grant us the privilege of being numbered among those who “call on the Lord out of a pure heart” [2 Timothy 2:22], and those who “behold his glory with unveiled faces” [2 Corinthians 3:18].
KNOWING HIS PRESENCE - Part 3: Jesus in the Midst by Keith Taylor (18t Open Close
Part 3: Anointing Jesus as head of the church.
We’ll never achieve any kind of spiritual maturity unless we first come to grips with the pre-eminence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Newborn babies are totally self-centred and woe to the person who begrudges their demands, but as the infant passes through the progressive stages of childhood development, he or she is expected to lose much of the selfish instinct. There’s nothing worse than a selfish child, not to mention a self-centred teenager or a self-centred adult. Maturity is, in essence, coming to grips with the bigger picture of life in which ‘I’ am no longer the centre around which the universe revolves.
Spiritual maturity is recognising Jesus as the centre of all things, and ordering my life accordingly – see 2 Corinthians 5:15. The Bible says that God takes pleasure in His people, but His chief joy is in the exaltation of His Son – see Philippians 2:9-11. The universal acclamation of the Son becomes an anthem of praise, worship and honour to the Father because “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” [Colossians 1:19]. “Pleased” stresses the willingness and freedom of an intention or resolve regarding what is good, thus, the New English Bible speaks of the complete being of God coming to dwell in the Son by God’s own choice.
Read Colossians 1:15-18…
Jesus is the exact revelation and representation of the invisible God and He’s declared to be the Head of the Father’s household, the Church; He’s the appointed heir and lawful owner of all things. The tile of firstborn bears no reference at all to the timing of Jesus’ physical birth, nor does it imply a commencement of spiritual existence in the sense of being born or created. Jesus is the eternal Son who always was and is and always will be. He’s the absolute pre-existent One who rules over all creation; the centre in which the whole universe coheres. The eternal purpose of God is summed up in these words; “…so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” The Living Bible puts it “…so that he is first in everything.”
Read Ephesians 1:9-14…
Here Paul eloquently elaborates on the one great goal of the universe and what he’s speaking of here is nothing less than the government of God resting upon the shoulders of His beloved Son and the uniting of the whole universe under His headship, and in accordance with this purpose we’ve become God’s inheritance and have ourselves obtained an inheritance. Our inheritance is bound up with the inheritance of the Son. It’s through the instrument of the Church that Messiah will come into the fullness of His inheritance, and through the accession of Messiah the Church will come into the fullness of its inheritance. Paul employs a variety of metaphors to describe the rich relationship of Messiah Jesus and His Church, the most widely quoted in ‘The Body’. The human body is a classic study in organic unity and integrated wholeness – see 1 Corinthians 12:12…27.
The relationship of Jesus to His Church is like that of a head to a body – an inseparable union and a total identification. “Remain in me and I will remain in you…” [John 15:4]; “But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit” [1 Corinthians 8:17]. In addition, the position of ‘Head’ signifies Messiah’s absolute pre-eminence in all things pertaining to the Church – see Ephesians 1:22-23.
The head is the command and control centre that dictates the behaviour of the body in general and each member in particular. Decisions are made by the head and implemented by the body; directions are given by the head and followed by the body. The prerogative of initiative belongs to the head and to the head alone; when a member of the body loses contact with the head and no longer responds to its commands, that member is dead; when the head loses contact with and control over the body and the parts act in an independent and uncoordinated way, the victim is said to be suffering from cerebral palsy. I don’t want to become a dead member of the Body of Christ, I’ve a great desire to remain in contact with Him who’s my head. Surely we don’t want to act, as a body, in an independent way, not being controlled by the Head of the Church who is Christ.
What do we think is the greatest challenge facing the Church today? Is it the call to evangelise the world? Maybe it’s the call to overcome the powers of darkness? I feel that the greatest challenge facing the Church today is the call to be subject too Messiah Jesus in all things. Submission’s the greatest challenge, but it also yields the greatest reward.
In Ephesians 5:22-27… Paul paints a beautiful picture of the love relationship between Jesus and the Church, as reflected on the human plane in Christian marriage and family. Submission’s the voluntary placing of myself under divinely ordered authority – the freewill action of standing under God’s appointed representatives. Thus, submission’s first an attitude, then an action. A willing spirit shows forth acts of obedience, but a proud and defiant heart expresses itself in acts of rebellion – see Matthew 12:35. Submission can’t be forced. The Bible doesn’t say “Make others submit too you,” but rather, “…submit yourself…” We’re called to voluntarily subject ourselves to Messiah in all things; to humble ourselves under God’s hand; to stand under His authority and embrace His rule by praying “Your kingdom, Your will be done…”
The Church’s recognition of Messiah’s headship enables Him to function as Saviour of the Body in the fullest sense of the word. Furthermore, the Church’s subjection to Messiah in all things enables Him to cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word,, to the end that she may be a glorious Church; a Church full of glory, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but entirely holy and without blemish. The deeper the subjection the more thorough the washing, and the more thorough the washing the greater the glory that’s revealed.
It’s as I submit to Jesus that I’m cleansed by His Word, transformed into His image, and filled with His fullness. It’s through my abiding in Him that He abides in me – see John 15:4. Paul says, in Ephesians 1:22-23 “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” The manifestation of Messiah’s fullness in the Church is in proportion to the Church’s acknowledgement of His headship. Jesus fills whosoever and whatsoever is submitted to Him; His glory’s revealed within the sphere of His authority. For this reason, God dwells in the praises of His people, that it, His presence is manifested in the lives of people who love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength – people whose lives are wholly dedicated to Him. The more that I come under Messiah’s actual rule, the greater will be the manifestation of His presence and glory in my life. The more the Church comes under His actual rule, the greater will be the manifestations og His presence and glory in her midst.
Read Ephesians 4:10-13…
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are five gifts of Jesus to the Church; diverse expressions and complimentary manifestations of His presence, power and glory. “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” [Ephesians 4:7] and “…from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” [John 1:10]. There are diversities of gifts, differences of ministries and diversities of activities, but they’re all expressions of the One Spirit, the One Lord and the One God – see 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. We, the Church, must view all ministry gifts, and the ministry gifts must view themselves in the light of God’s declared purpose from the Amplified Bible; “He who descended is the very same as he who also has ascended high above all the heavens, that his presence might fill all things – the whole universe, from the lowest to the highest” [Ephesians 4:10]. All ministries and gifts are a means to an end, the end being the supreme exaltation of Jesus and the universal manifestation of His glory. In order for any ministry gift to fully realise their calling, the revelation of Messiah must become their single passion and goal. Mixed motives produce half-baked ministries.
Read 1 Samuel 16:1-13…
The practice of anointing with oil signifies the calling out and setting apart of people and things for sacred service, thus, anointing bespeaks divine ownership and destiny. Furthermore, the anointing is a symbol of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the ‘called out’ one; it speaks of divine empowerment, and investiture of authority and power for service.
The kings of Israel were installed in office by the rite of anointing; Saul, David and Solomon are specifically referred to as the Lord’s anointed. The prophets of Israel, however, spoke of a Messiah who’d outrank all others; possessing all authority, power, wisdom and strength; whose anointing excelled that of His brethren – Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of the living God. The Lord Jesus possesses all authority in heaven and on earth. He’s seated in strength and majesty at the Father’s right hand, far above all rule, authority, power, dominion and title of sovereignty, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. He’s crowned with many crowns of glory, honour and power; He’s altogether lovely, altogether holy and altogether wonderful; He’s exalted to the place of highest honour in heaven and His glory fills the whole universe.
Why then is the Church called to exalt one who’s already so highly exalted? How can the Church anoint one who’s already so lavishly anointed? How can the Church possibly crown one who already possesses all authority in heaven and on earth? The answer’s to be found in Matthew 6:9-10; “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
The Kingdom of God’s an established fact. Jesus has risen from the dead and is Lord over all. We don’t have to pray for it to happen – it has happened. God’s in full control, Jesus is highly exalted and the Devil’s totally defeated; nothing that man does can add to or take away from the reality of Messiah’s Lordship, the rule of God is absolute. Yet in this seat of rebellion and lawlessness called earth, the rule of God’s challenged and the pre-eminence of the Son’s denied, albeit futilely ands for a very short while. “Your Kingdom come” is explained in the following, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. In other words, let life on earth conform to the order and quality of life in heaven. The kingdom prayer is a prayer of alignment – or earth with heaven. It’s not a matter of may Jesus become Lord, but rather may the nations recognise that He is Lord and behave accordingly. We can’t make Jesus ‘Lord’ anymore than we can make God ‘God’, but we can confess His Lordship, bow our knee to His sovereignty, and accept the yoke of His discipline.
To anoint Jesus as head of the Church is to work out His Lordship in practical day to day living. By following the leading of His Spirit, submitting to the authority of His Word and honouring the representative levels of His government, for example, parents-children, husbands-wives, ministries-churches and rulers-people.
The anointing of Jesus as head of the Church through prayer,, worship, love and obedience isn’t the end of the story but the beginning. It sets off a chain reaction in the Body which v=can only be described as spiritual fullness and overflowing life – see Psalm 133. As we’ve seen previously, Ephesians teaches us that the unity of the Church and of all creation is bound up in the headship of Jesus. The High Priestly prayer that Jesus offered up at the conclusion of the Last Supper, just prior to His arrest, centres on this principle; “…that all of them may be one , Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” [John 17:21].
As we all, with one accord, turn our eyes upon Jesus and allow Him to take His rightful place as Head, a revolution will take place in the Church; the fullness of the Head, all that Jesus is and has, His nature and power, character and ability, will permeate the Body.
The New Testament refers to the Church as the Body of Christ and the anointing that rests upon the Heads flows down over the beard, the shoulders, the chest, the loins and down to the feet. The fullness of the Spirit that has been given to Jesus in heaven is poured out upon His Church on earth – see Acts 2:33. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and in the strength of that anointing He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the Devil and after His resurrection Jesus appeared to His disciples and said to them, “As the Father has sent me I also send you…” The anointing that rests upon Jesus also rests upon the Church; the fullness of the Head fills the whole Body. As stated in Psalm 133, this congregation-wide outpouring, corporate fullness and bodily anointing is the blessing of life, God’s life, in super abundant measure.
Saul, the first king of Israel, commenced his reign as the Lord’s anointed and ended his reign as the Lord’s rejected. The essence of Saul’s disqualification was his refusal to accept the government of God, evidenced by his disobedience to the Word of the Lord given by the prophet Samuel – see 1 Samuel 13:13-14. Because of his infatuation with his own authority, Saul forgot the Lord, the Most High God and the ultimate Ruler of Israel. Moreover, Saul’s respect for man and desire for human affirmation eclipsed his reverence for God and any desire he might have had to please Him. The Word of the Lord is a tangible expression of His authority and a manifest token of His Lordship and so to reject the Word of the Lord is to rebel against the rule of God. As Samuel said to Saul; “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king”. If we are to reign with Messiah, Jesus, we must first submit to Him.
Read Acts 13:22…
David, Saul’s successor is described as “…a man after my [God’s] own heart”. What’s the definition of a man after God’s heart? One who wills to do the will of God, one who acknowledges the pre-eminence and submits to the Lordship of God’s Anointed. The attitude of David’s heart is most clearly revealed in Psalm 23; “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down…He leads me…He restores my soul…He comforts me…He prepares a table before me…He anoints my head…I will dwell in His house forever” Can you see the emphasis? The Lord leads and the Lord feeds, the Lord guides and the Lord provides; Psalm 23 is a case of ‘follow the leader’. It’s the heart-cry of a man who delights in the government of God, one who happily submits to the rule of the King.
It was to David that the Lord turned after the debacle of Saul. To the young man who, through pure love, whole-hearted devotion, courageous obedience and exultant praise, exalted God; and when he stood before the prophet Samuel, “Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power” [1 Samuel 16:13].
I do hope and pray that the attitude of this local church toward the Head will be like that of David toward his Shepherd-Lord, and by virtue of that attitude may this local church be anointed with a horn of fresh oil to rule and reign with Messiah Jesus the King.
KNOWING HIS PRESENCE - Part 2: Jesus in the Midst by Keith Taylor (11th Jan 2021) Open Close
Part 2: Live in the Spirit.
The burden of the Lord for His Church is expressed in the words of Paul; “…live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” [Galatians 5:16]. Also; “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” [Galatians 5:25].
Live in the Spirit; live your whole life habitually in the sphere of the Spirit; be responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit; let the Spirit direct your course. The ‘Charismatic Renewal’ of the 1960s through the 1980s emphasized the place and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual, however, the emphasis today is focusing once again the the place and work of the Holy Spirit in the corporate gathering of the local church.
The appeal ‘to live in the Spirit’ was made, not to individuals per se, but to a group of churches in the province of Galatia. It is, in essence, a call to collective spirituality, a corporate life in the Spirit. The image projected is of congregational holiness; a Body of people continually filled with, controlled by and manifesting the attributes of the Spirit of God. The local Spirit-filled community is the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations; God’s secret plan which is now being revealed in the earth – see Colossians 1:26-27. For this reason, the local church is, and will always be, the apple of God’s eye, the focus of His attention and object of His affection.
Lets’ consider some Old Testament prototypes of communal life in the Spirit.
The Tabernacle in the wilderness.
In huis testimony to the Sanhedrin Stephen referred to the children of Israel as the ‘church’ or ‘congregation’ (Greek – ekklesia) in the wilderness – see Acts 7:38. The journeying of the children of Israel, the ministry of the Tabernacle, the layout of the camp and the manifestations of God’s presence, were prophetic types of that which was to come in the New Covenant Church – see 1 Corinthians 10:11. The Greek word ‘tupos’, translated ‘example’ denotes a die that’s struck, a figure formed by a blow, the impress of a seal, a stamp, the pattern in conformity to which a thing must be made, and example to be imitated, a sampler, shape, type, model, an instance of warning. J. B. Phillips puts it like this: “Now these things which happened to our ancestors are illustrations of the way in which God works”.
The divinely ordered configuration of the Israelite encampment serves as a prophetic model of the New Testament church, the local Spirit-filled community. The centre-piece of the congregation, both geographically and spiritually, was the Tabernacle of Meeting. Housed in the Tabernacle of Meeting, an area known as the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place, was the Ark of the Covenant – see Numbers 2:1-2, 17. More than just a symbolic piece of furniture, the Ark of the Covenant was the actual residence of God’s presence and the seat of God’s authority in the camp of Israel. Furthermore, the Ark of the Covenant, with its attendant cherubim, was a copy and a shadow of the Throne of God in heaven. God commanded Moses to make all things, that is all things pertaining to the sanctuary, according to the pattern shown him on the mountain – see Hebrews 8:5. Read Exodus 25:22; 29:43-45 and Leviticus 16:2 to see what God said concerning the Tabernacle of Meeting and the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark of the Covenant was the place of God’s permanent habitation, not the site of His occasional visitation. Speaking of the presence of God above the Mercy Seat, the writer of Psalm 80:1 declares; “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel…you who dwell enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth…” The Hebrew word ‘yashab’, translated ‘dwell’, means to sit down, remain, settle, marry; thus the Ark of the Covenant was the place where God sat as Judge and ruled as King; the place where He communed with His people as Lord and Lover; and the place of His rest, that is, the home in which He resided. Interestingly enough, the same Hebrew word is used in Psalm 22:3, where it speaks of God “…inhabiting the praises of Israel.”
It was in the Holy of Holies, above the Mercy Seat and between the cherubim, that God met, spoke with, and appeared to Moses and Aaron; the place where His glory shone forth in awesome self-revelation. The presence and glory of God was the centre around which Israel’s community life revolved; the focus which gave purpose and meaning to each aspect of Hebrew society. The configuration of the Israelite encampment confirms the essential centrality of the presence of God in a believing community. Local church life, with its plethora of functions and activities, should, likewise, revolve around the ‘centre’ of God’s presence.
The local church can only claim to be the House of God if it’s inhabited by the Spirit of God; that is, if there are vital and consistent manifestations of Hid presence in the midst. The book of Revelation and Church history bear joint testimony to a profusion of ‘empty’ churches like that of Laodicea, where Jesus is on the outside seeking admission to the house that bears His name,, and ‘dying’ churches like that of Ephesus which are in danger of losing the Lamp of God’s presence and hence their reason for being.
The House og God is to be a House of Prayer, a community whose chief purpose and main business is communion with God. But how many of us are guilty of turning the Lord’s House into a ‘den of thieves’, a community whose chief purpose and main business is religious activity. The great deception of religious activity is the notion that the work’s and end in itself. In biblical terms, any object or activity which displaces the presence of God as the centre of life is idolatry, and is worthy of the strictest judgement. Let the presence of God alone be exalted as the centre of our corporate life and worship – see Zephaniah 3:17.
Pillar of fire and cloud.
God manifested His presence to the people of Israel during their journey through the wilderness in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
Read Exodus 13:21-22…
Notice that the Bible says, “… the Lord went ahead of them…” and not “…the Lord followed them.” Leadership is the prerogative of the presence of God. In too many cases, our prayers for God’s blessing are nothing more than pleas for Divine endorsement of humanly conceived initiatives. However, as sheep of the Lord’s pasture we’re called to imitate rather than initiate, to follow rather than formulate. The pillar of cloud led the way and the pillar of fire gave light. God’s abiding presence provided strong leadership for the people of Israel; a sense of clear direction and certain guidance. In addition, the Lord’s presence afforded supernatural protection for the whole camp; a sense of security amid the wild beasts and marauding desert tribesmen.
Throughout the Book of Acts, the manifest presence of God played a central role in the corporate life of local churches, whether in Jerusalem, Antioch or Ephesus. In Acts 13 we find the pillar of cloud (the person of the Holy Spirit) going before the congregation at Antioch, leading them along new and unexplored paths of missionary evangelism. In Acts 4 and % we find the pillar of fire (the person of the Holy Spirit) being manifested in the midst of the congregation at Jerusalem, resulting in an overflow of the grace of God.
Notice also the constancy of God’s presence in Israel’s wilderness journeys “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” In fulfilment of this Old Testament figure, Jesus said to His disciples; “…I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever…he lives with you and will be in you” [John 14:16-17].
The pillar of cliud came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Indeed, the presence of God is the watershed between the world and the Church, and between those who practice a social Christianity without the life-changing power of the cross and those who live under the government of the Spirit of God.
The presence of God validates a congregation of believers; read what Moses said to God in Exodus 33:15-16… It’s the presence of God which separates Jesus’ church from every other church,, and it’s the presence of God which is the distinguishing mark of the redeemed community. A true congregation of the Lord is characterised by supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit prompting newcomers to exclaim, “God is really among you!” [1 Corinthians 14:25].
The mark of God’s presence is an essential element of effective evangelism. When the Lord arises over His people and His glory is seen among them, nations will come to their light and kings to the brightness of their rising – see Isaiah 60:1-3. As in the word of Moses in Deuteronomy 28:9-10…
Read Exodus 40:34-37…
Here we see the dominance of the presence of God; the cloud covered and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle of meeting; the Hebrew word ‘male’ translated ‘filled’ means to fill up to the brim or thoroughly saturate. When manifested, the presence of God takes centre stage, every eye is fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ, God alone is exalted The ‘weight’ of God’s glory leaves no room for human exaltation or fleshly exhibition; mortal man has nothing to boast of in God’s holy presence – see 1 Corinthians 1:29. Even Moses, the meekest man on the face of the earth, wasn’t able to enter because of the glory; he could only prostrate himself and worship before the majesty of God. Moreover, Israel depended on the initiative of the presence of God to lead them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. When God’s presence moved forward, the people followed suit, but if God’s presence stood still,, the people had no option but to watch and wait. Similarly,, the apostles and elders of the church ast Jerusalem put the issue of leadership in proper perspective when they declared, “…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” [Acts 15:28].
Such relationship requires a conscious prioritising of the presence of God, a recognition that God’s presence is life’s most precious possession, and a corresponding sensitivity too ane dependence upon the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Read Numbers 11:24-25…
The manifestation of God’s presence precipitates an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a release of the prophetic anointing in the midst of the congregation.
This principle was vividly demonstrated on the Day of Pentecost, when the disciples were gathered together in an upper room in Jerusalem. Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, like a rushing mighty wind, which filled the whole house where they were sitting; then tongues of fire appeared, resting upon each of the disciple, and “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” [Acts 2:4]. What were they speaking about? “…we hear them declaring the wonders of God” [Acts 2:11]. The Greek word ‘megaleios’ translated as ‘wonders’ denotes the magnificence, splendour, majesty, sublimity, grandeur, beauty and excellence of God and His works; thus the disciples spoke prophetically too the nature and power of God in the spiritual realm. Similarly,, when the household of Cornelius was filled with the Holy Spirit they soke with tongues and magnified God – see Acts 10:46.
The pillar of cloud in the camp of Israel; the manifest presence of God in the local church, invariably gives rise to “…psalms, hymns and spiritual songs…” inspired outpourings of praise, intercession and prophetic utterance – see Ephesians 5:18-19.
Read Numbers 12:1-10…
The Lord’s presence brings blessing and comfort to the humble and obedient of His people; but to the self-willed and disobedient it brings conviction and judgement. The presence of God judges between the wheat and the tares, the grain and the chaff, the silver and the dross. The prophet Malachi pictures the Lord coming suddenly to His temple, and then asks, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” Why? “…For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver…I will come near to you for judgement. I will be quick to testify against those…who do not fear me” [Malachi 3:2-5].
The manifest presence of God separates that which is born of the Spirit and imbued with the Divine nature from that which is born of the flesh and imbued with self. The Bible uses the illustration of a building engulfed by fire. If the building, one’s life and work, is constructed of wood, hay and straw, the attributes of the flesh, it will be utterly destroyed; but if the building’s constructed of gold, silver and precious stones, the attributes of God, His divine nature and character, it will endure and receive a reward – see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. The fire of which Paul speaks is the manifest presence of God. The Holy Spirit’s frequently characterised in Scripture as a consuming fire – see Isaiah 4:4. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, He appeared as tongues of fire on the disciple’s heads – see Acts 2, and in Revelation 4:5 He appears as seven lamps of fire burning before the Throne of God.
The manifest presence of God also judges between true and false worship, ministry that’s appointed by God and offered in the power of the Spirit, and ministry that’s appointed by man and offered in the energy of the flesh.
The density of God’s presence is compounded in times of intense revival, thus the Bible speaks of the “weight of God’s glory”. The greater the density of God’s presence, the greater the intensity of revival; and the greater the intensity of revival, the swifter the judgement against sin. In seasons of visitation and revival God seems to draw the reins in and hold the church on a very short lead so that sins which might otherwise be tolerated for a certain time are dealt with swiftly and severely. A case in point is the conspiracy of Ananias and Sapphira related in Acts 5. The sine of hypocrisy and lying to God has plagued the church throughout the twenty centuries of her existence, and yet on this occasion the culprits were exposed and struck dead before the whole congregation. What distinguished this situation from many others of a similar kind which God apparently tolerated for a longer periods of time? The answer is that during seasons of high revival, such as in Acts 5, the holiness of God is more easily offended, the Spirit of God is more easily quenched and the judgement of God is swifter and more severe.
It’s indeed a blessing and a fearful thing to stand as a congregation in the all-consuming fire of God’s manifest presence.
The Ark of the Covenant.
If the calling to succeed Moses as shepherd of Israel was challenging, then the mandate to lead the people into the Promised Land was simply daunting; so it’s instructive to note Joshua’s utter dependence on the presence of God, as represented by the Ark of the Covenant. In Joshua 1:5-9, in the wake of Moses’ death, God reassured Joshua with a promise of His presence, and the Ark of the Covenant, the presence of God, played a central role in Israel’s crossing of the Jordan and the progressive conquest of the land
Read Joshua 3:1-4…
Under normal circumstances the Jordan River was about 100 feet wide, tame, shallow and relatively easy to cross; however, at this time of year, April/May, harvest time, the melting snows of Lebanon and the drenching spring rains caused the river to swell to as much as a mile in width and to flow with a vastly accelerated current. The Jordan River in flood was, therefore, an impassable barrier which could only be negotiated by supernatural means.
In accordance with Joshua’s instructions the officers commanded the people; “When you see the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it”. In other words, “Move with the presence of God, don’t run ahead and don’t lag behind – walk in the Spirit” You can almost hear Moses’ cry; “If your presence doesn’t go with us, don’t send us up from here”. After all, who wants to face the raging torrent of the Jordan alone?
Joshua 3:4 contains one of the most important lessons on walking in the Spirit in the whole Bible: “Keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the Ark; do not go near it…then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before” (my reversal of terms). This a clear warning against presumption on one hand and negligence on the other. “…you have never been this way before”; you don’t know which route to take; you don’t know how to ford the river. Acknowledge your utter dependence upon the Spirit of God to lead and guide you; and because of this sense of utter dependency, keep your eyes fixed upon the Ark. Stay tuned to the Spirit, be vigilant, ever listening and watching for the movement of God’s presence. How reminiscent of Jesus’ exhortation to “…watch and pray”, and of Paul’s instruction to “…keep in step with the Spirit” [Luke 21:36 and Galatians 5:25].
Read Joshua 3:5-11…
The movement and manifestation of God’s presence summons congregation-wide consecration. “Make every effort…too be holy” declares the writer of Hebrews, “…without holiness no one will see the Lord” [Hebrews 12:14]. The promise of ever-increasing manifestations of God’s presence calls forth ever-increasing levels of dedication and obedience – see 2 Corinthians 6:16; 7:1. Another lesson to be learned from this event is that true exaltation doesn’t come from man or through natural ability but from the presence of God.
After successfully encountering and defeating Satan in the wilderness, Jesus “…returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him” [Luke 4:14-15[. Jesus was exalted because He lived, moved and had His being in the presence of God; He gained a reputation for ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s the presence of God that makes a person great; it’s the presence of God that makes a person strong and it’s the presence of God that gives a person authority over demons, disease and even death.
Isaiah ans Micah prophesied of the exultation of God’s House and the disciplining of the nations in the last days. These prophecies began to be fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost when devout Jews from every nation under heaven were drawn by a display of God’s power and glory to the fledgling Messianic community. It was the manifestation of the Spirit that drew people to the House of the Lord in the beginning, and it was the manifestation of the Spirit that continued to draw people to the House of the Lord in the ensuing months and years. It will only be the manifest presence of God by the manifestation of the Spirit that will draw people to Christ in this present day. Such was the glory of God in the church that “…no-one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” [Acts 5:13-15]. The presence of God is also the basis for and guarantee of spiritual victory – see Joshua 3:10-11.
When God arises in manifest power and glory, His enemies have no choice but to scatter; indeed, the wicked perish at the presence of God – see Psalm 68:1-2. The Spirit of God that’s in us is infinitely greater than the spirit of antichrist that’s in the world. “Who can endure the day of Messiah’s coming and who can stand when he appears?” asked the prophet Malachi; certainly not the Devil or the powers of darkness. The holiness of God is a consuming fire that burns up the chaff of wickedness.
In the Book of Joshua, the book of spiritual conquest, the Holy Ark is called “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of all the earth”. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Lordship of Jesus; the manifestation of the Spirit reveals the Lordship of Messiah over all of life. His presence exposes sin, expels demons, heals sicknesses, restores marriages and makes the circumstances of life conform to the Word and will of God.
Read Joshua 3:14-17…
In the realm of God’s presence all things are possible; there’s no limit to His power; there are no boundaries to His might; but, the criteria for supernatural activity is the manifestation of His presence. Miracles happen in and as a result of the presence of God; without His presence there can be no expectation of the miraculous. Our focus, therefore, should be on the presence rather than the power because the manifest presence of God is the active power of God unto salvation in all its various forms.
It was the presence of God, represented by the Ark of the Covenant, that caused the waters of the Jordan to stand and rise in a heap at the city of Adam, some sixteen odd miles from the Israelite encampment, thus leaving the river bed dry for as far as the eye could see in each direction. It was the people’s faith in and commitment to God’s presence that released the miraculous power of God to work on their behalf. It was when the feet of those who bore the Ark actually dipped in the edge of the water that the river began to recede. The message is very clear; to follow God’s presence and walk in the Spirit is to walk into a miracle of God’s creative power.
The Temple of Solomon.
The temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem is a figure of the Church that Jesus is building among the nations. The temple was called ‘The House of the Lord’ and, as such, was designed to be filled with His manifest presence; it wasn’t an empty shrine to a far off deity, but a habitation that pulsated with the breath of life of Almighty God. In 1 Kings 9:3, in reference to the temple, God said,”…I have consecrated this temple which you have built by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there”. God’s name represents all the attributes of the Divine nature, all that God is in the essence of His being. The expression “My eyes and my heart” speaks of careful attention and loving devotion; in other words, the house of the Lord was to be full of God, His grace and power, holiness and majesty, truth and righteousness. What a magnificent picture of the Church, God’s spiritual house and holy temple, filled with the fullness of Him who fills all things everywhere with Himself.
Read 1 Kings 8:6-11…
The glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord; this is the Church’s reason for being; the house of the Lord is nothing without the glory of the Lord; the Church is nothing without the fullness of Messiah. As individual believers and local congregations we’re just vessels waiting to be filled.
There’s something wonderful about being interrupted by a visitation of God. Some people decry spontaneous manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but after all, isn’t the purpose of our gathering together to meet with God? “The priests could not perform their service”; the measure of our willingness to abandon pre-meditated programmes in favour of God’s new and better, and spontaneous, thing is the measure of our hunger for the glory of God. Sometimes leaders are more concerned about holding on to their authority than they are of seeing a manifestation of God’s power and glory. As God begins to move, the leadership in a certain sense passes out of their hands and they, along with the rest of the congregation, have to bow before His majesty. This is the real meaning of ‘waiting on God’, relinquishing our right to rule and desire to control in deference to the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.
Peter was tested on this very point while ministering to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius. Halfway through his sermon “…the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message [and] they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God” [Acts 10:44-46]. Such an outburst wasn’t on the programme; however, Peter had the good sense to stand aside andlet God have His way.
The glory of God, when revealed, fills the house. The presence of God, when manifested, transcends everything and everyone else. God must increase and man must decrease. The hallmark of a true movement of the Spirit is the exaltation of Jesus, and Him alone. Isaiah 2:10-11; “Go into the rocks, hide in the ground for dread of the Lord and the splendour of his majesty! The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of man brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.” Oh yes! Let all true servants of the Lord cry, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”
They were all filled.
Acts 4 contains a promise of things to come for the redeemed community of the last days. It’s a picture of a church under siege which, in its distress, calls upon the Lord for spiritual power and supernatural boldness. Moreover, it’s a revelation of God’s will and purpose for His people, as seen in the congregation-wide outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Read Acts 4:23-31…
In my lifetime I’ve witnessed numerous outpourings of the Holy Spirit, God touching individuals, and in some cases, sections of a congregation with His presence and glory, but irt hasn’t come to en end yet, I believe we can still experience such a visitation because God wants to visit the corporate gatherings of His people and change every life, meet every need, cleanse every sin, heal every sickness and imbue everyone present with a deeper revelation of the glory of the Lord. God wants to fill entire congregations with His Holy Spirit at the one time. The precedent for mass outpourings of the Holy Spirit and aggregate demonstrations of the power of God was established in the ministry of Jesus – see Mark 1:32-34 and Luke 4:40-41.
Can we believe with all out heart that in the days to come we can see Pentecost revisited? When two or three, two or three hundred or even two or three thousand are gathered together in one place under the Lordship of Jesus, and suddenly there comes a sound from heaven like a mighty rushing wind, and the manifest presence of God fills the room in which the believers are gathered, satiating the spirit, mind and body of everyone present.
KNOWING HIS PRESENCE - Part 1: Jesus in the Midst by Keith Taylor (3rd Jan 2021) Open Close
One day, as Jesus entered the region of Caesarea Philippi, which was an area renowned for its idolatry, having been dedicated by the Greeks to the mythological god Pan and by the Romans to the Emperor Augustus, He asked His disciples “Who do you say I am?” [Matthew 16:15]. Prompted by divine revelation, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” [Matthew 16:16]. It was then, upon this rock of revelation, Jesus staked His claim and pronounced His purpose…”…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” [Matthew 16:18]. MY CHURCH, as distinct from every other church; it’s incumbent upon us, therefore, to discover exactly the kind of church that Jesus is building.
‘Ekklesia’, the Greek word translated ‘church’, is ‘an assembly of called out ones’. It was used among the Greeks to denote a body of citizens gathered together to discuss the affairs of state, and as is seen in Acts 19:32, of a riotous mob. So the word ‘ekklesia’ is a broad-based term that embraces any group of people gathered together in a commonality of purpose and action. However, the distinguished nature of Jesus’ church is further described in Matthew 18:20; “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them”.
The chief characteristics of Jesus’ church, as set out in this verse, are His Lordship – “…come together in may name…” and His Presence – “…there am I with them.” The name of Jesus is representative of His exalted glory and authority – see Matthew 28:18-20 and Philippians 2:9-11. Therefore, to gather together in Jesus’ name is to assemble under His Lordship, representing all that He is and has; and to those who do assemble under Jesus’ Lordship, there’s the promise of His manifest presence in their midst. The church that Jesus builds is a body of people bearing the distinctive marks of His government and His glory.
Among the Lampstands.
‘Jesus in the midst’ is a favourite theme of New Testament writers, and in particular of John the ‘beloved disciple’.
Read John 20:19-23…
Just as at the beginning, when God breathed into Adam His own Spirit-nature of eternal life, so Jesus breathed upon and into the disciples ‘Ruwach HaKodesh’ – the Spirit of the life of God. ‘Jesus in the midst’ transformed a group of fearful, cowering disciples into a powerful apostolic company that was destined to proclaim the Gospel throughout the length and breadth of the known world, and change the course of history. The manifest Presence of Jesus ministered peace to the disciples – Shalom – spiritual strength, mental wholeness, emotional stability and physical health. In addition, the manifest Presence of Jesus brought a fresh revelation of His aliveness, and hence, His Lordship over sin, death and Hell, which, in turn, issued in a new mandate for Kingdom administration.
Read John 20:26-28…
From this story we learn that there’s no door big enough to shut out the Presence of Him who’s the Resurrection and the Life. Furthermore, the manifest Presence of Jesus is the catalyst of faith and obedience. A revelation of ‘Jesus in the midst’ banishes fear and doubt in favour of an abundance of Holy Spirit inspired hope and joy. Many years later, as an old man in exile on the island of Patmos, John had a vision of the glorified Jesus – see Revelation 1:10-13…
Once again, John sees ‘Jesus in the midst’ of His people; this time, however, it’s not a ragged group of harried disciples cloistered in an upper room in Jerusalem, but the seven major churches of the Roman province of Asia, representing all churches of all generations. Jesus stands in the midst as Head of the Church, the source of life and power; the focus of worship and service; the consummation of creation and redemption.
One of the hallmarks of a true movement of God’s Spirit is the restoration of ‘Jesus centredness’. When Jesus is truly in the midst, everything revolves around and relates to Him. Conversely, an absence of the Presence of God spawns a man-centred (humanistic) Gospel and order of service; hence, the current emphasis on ‘self-esteem’ in certain sections of the Church where human organisation and gratification have replaced spiritual manifestation. A revelation of ‘Jesus in the midst’ invariably releases a spirit of repentance, godly fear, humility and sacrificial obedience in the life of the congregation, as evidenced by the apostle John, who, when he saw the Lord in the midst of the churches, fell at His feet as though he were dead.
Moreover, the Jesus who stands in the midst of the churches isn’t the meek and lowly carpenter from Nazareth, but the exalted Jesus on the Throne of God, crowned with glory and honour as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Even John, who knew Him better and loved Him more than any other disciple, was astonished and overwhelmed by the glory of His Presence.
Read Revelation 1:13-18…
This description of Jesus constitutes the only record of the Lord’s appearance in the New Testament, and is primarily a symbolic portrait of His eternal glory.
The “…robe reaching down to his feet…” speaks of Jesus’ role as High Priest of the New Covenant who “…[did] away with sin by the sacrifice of himself and always lives to intercede for those who come to God through him” [Hebrews 9:26; 7:25]. The “…golden sash round his chest…” represents kingship, and thus portrays Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords, possessing all authority in Heaven and on earth, and enjoying absolute supremacy over every other form of rule, power and dominion – see Revelation 19:16; Matthew 28:18 and Ephesians 1:20-22. “…hair white like wool, as white as snow…” symbolises eternalness and wisdom. Jesus is the Eternal Word who was in the beginning with God, and who is the same yesterday, today and forever. In addition He’s the repository of all wisdom and knowledge, and the embodiment of real truth – see John 1:1; Hebrews 13:8; Colossians 2:3 and Ephesians 4:21. “…eyes like blazing fire” speaks of Jesus’ omniscience; nothing in all creation is hidden from His piercing security and careful judgement – see Hebrews 4:12-13.
His “feet like bronze…” represent Jesus’ immutability and omnipotence. He’s the all-powerful Lord who never changes – see Malachi 3:6 and Revelation 19:6. The “…voice like the sound of rushing waters” symbolises Jesus’ majestic strength and commanding authority; His is the voice that rules over the universal creation – see Psalms 29 and 33:6, 9.
Jesus holds the “…seven stars [in his right hand]” as a poignant symbol of His relationship too the leaders/messengers of the churches. The Chief Shepherd sustains and protects those whom the Holy Spirit appoints as overseers of the flock of God – see 1 Peter 5:2-4. “…out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” signifying the awesome power of Jesus’ spoken word with which He utterly vanquishes the forces of darkness and strictly governs the affairs of men and nations – see Revelation 19:15, 21. “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” represents the indescribable glory and majesty of Jesus who’s the radiance of the Father’s Glory and the exact representation of His Being [Person] – see Hebrews 1:3.
Finally, Jesus is revealed as the Lamb who “…was dead” but is now “…alive for ever and ever”; the One who, by virtue of His death, burial and resurrection is Lord over the realm of death and hell. Through death, Jesus rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and released those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage – see Hebrews 2:14-15. Jesus is the Prince – the source, possessor and originator – of life. In Him is life and His life is the light of men. By believing that Jesus is the Son of God, we may have life in His name – see Acts 3:15; John 1:4 and 20:31.
This is the Jesus who walks among the Lampstands; One full of grace and truth, majesty and power. The solemn lesson of these verses is clear; Jesus stands in the midst of His Church in the fullness of His eternal glory, waiting to reveal Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Read John 16:13-15…
He [the Spirit] will take from what is mine.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus in the earth and He does this by revealing the Glory of Jesus to the redeemed and by revealing the Glory of Jesus through the redeemed to a lost and dying world. The revelation of Jesus in the midst of the Church is the work and pleasure of the Holy Spirit.
“Truth” has its frame of reference in the person and work of Jesus. In the words of Paul, “…the truth is in Jesus”, that is, truth centres in, emanates from, and is bounded by the Son of God, who declared Himself to be the embodiment and personification of the truth – see Ephesians 4:21. Therefore, all truth constitutes a fuller revelation of the Glory of Jesus. “He [the Spirit] will take from what is mine…”, that is, the Spirit will take the glorious attributes and excellent virtues of Jesus, both His nature and power, “…and make it known to you”. Just to emphasise the point, Jesus says, “All that belongs to the Father is mine”. Indeed, the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him in bodily form – see Colossians 2:9. He’s the outshining of the father’s Glory and the express image or exact representation of the Father’s character – see Hebrews 1:3.
Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, “…Christ in you, the hope of glory”, becomes a blessed reality – see Colossians 1:27. Jesus in the midst, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is the key that unlocks the door to fullness in the Church.
Read Ephesians 1:22-23…
The Amplified Bible puts it like this, “…for in that Body lives the full measure of Him who makes everything complete,, and who fills everything with himself”. Weymouth speaks of the Church as, “…the completeness of Him who everywhere fills the universe with himself”. It’s not difficult for us to believe that the fullness of God dwells in Jesus, but it’s a much greater challenge to believe that the fullness of Jesus dwells in the Church. All that Jesus is in heaven, He is in His Church on earth. God has poured into the Church the fullness of His Son, through the person of the Holy Spirit.
But how does this spiritual fact become experiential reality in the lives of God’s people? Through a consistent and progressive revelation of ‘Jesus in the midst’ of the redeemed community.
A case in point is the primitive Church of Jerusalem. The early chapters of the Book of Acts profile this vibrant community of believers, among whom Jesus consistently demonstrated His aliveness and His Lordship by many irrefutable proofs of grace and power. The fullness of Jesus in this New Testament Church is characterised in the following verses from Acts 2:37, 41-47.
Conviction. Jesus is revealed in the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Conviction’s an infallible sign of the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit, and is the foundation of every genuine spiritual experience and transforming work of grace – see John 16:8.
Repentance and obedience. Jesus is revealed in a spirit of repentance and obedience. A change of mind and direction; a complete turning from what’s old, unproductive, carnal and sinful, and a complete turning to that which is righteous, holy, well-pleasing to God and new in the Holy Spirit. Repentance issuing in obedience is the appropriate preparation for and the proper response to a new manifestation of the Kingdom of God – see Matthew 4:17. To Jesus shall be the obedience of the people – see Genesis 49:10.
The Word of God. Jesus is revealed in the systematic teaching and prophetic preaching of God’s Word. Moreover, Jesus is the Word [Logos], and the anointed exposition of Scripture is, in effect, an unfolding of His Divine Nature and eternal Glory – see Luke 24:27 with Acts 8:35. Such proclamation underpins and substantiates the sovereign manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
Fellowship and unity. Jesus is revealed in the fellowship and unity of His Body. The Greek word ‘koinonia’ denotes sharing, unity, partnership, communion and contributory help. The nature of Jesus, which is unconditional and sacrificial love, is revealed in and demonstrated by the community lifestyle of His people – see Philippians 2:1-8. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” [John 13:34-35].
Breaking of bread – The Lord’s Supper. Jesus is revealed in the institution of the breaking of bread, the Lord’s Supper or Communion. The bread and wine are emblems of the sacrificial death of Jesus upon the cross; His broken body [bread] and His shed blood [wine]. Believers eat the bread and drink of the cup as a remembrance and proclamation of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Each time Communion is celebrated, the Lamb of God is freshly revealed, thus enabling believers to partake in a ‘worthy’ manner, that is, in appreciation of the full worth of Jesus’ redeeming work, as exemplified by the Lord’s Supper – see 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. The Lord’s Supper is, therefore, appoint of contact for the release of faith, for forgiveness of sin, deliverance from oppression and healing of sickness.
Prayers. Jesus is revealed in corporate prayer and intercession – see Matthew 18:19-20. The gathering of which Jesus speaks here is an assembly of believers engaged in a symphony of prayer. Jesus stands in the midst of such concerts of prayer, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are loyal to Him and to do that which is asked in His name – see John 14:13. Indeed, the house that God lives in is a house of prayer – see Matthew 21:13.
The fear of the Lord. Jesus is revealed in the fear of the Lord, which, in human experience, is a sure sigh and a definite proof of the presence of God. Nor cringing apprehension of an unpredictable ogre, but reverential awe of a loving, just and holy Creator – see Hebrews 12:28-29. In the Bible, men and women commonly responded to the manifest presence of God by spontaneously prostrating themselves on the ground; this action signalled personal humility and overwhelming veneration for the glory of God – see Revelation 4:8-11.
Signs and wonders. Jesus is revealed in signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Contrary to what some may think, such supernatural manifestations don’t constitute the primary evidence of Jesus’ presence in the midst of His people; nevertheless, signs and wonders are an integral and indispensable proof of the resurrected Jesus. They’re God’s witnesses – heavenly attestations of the deity of Jesus, and irrefutable evidence of His resurrection from the dead and His Lordship over all creation – see Acts 2:22 and Hebrews 2:3-4. The supernatural work of God, especially in the realm of healing and deliverance, is a clear revelation and a tangible expression of the nature of Jesus, the kind and gentle Shepherd, who delights in saving that which is lost, curing that which is infirm and building up that which is destroyed – see Isaiah 40:10-11 with John 10:11.
Selfless generosity. Jesus is revealed in selfless generosity and sacrificial giving. “God so loved the world that He gave…” The nature of God which is love, is personified in the act of giving. The presence of Jesus in the midst precipitates an outpouring of agape love, resulting in extraordinary acts and attitudes of selfless generosity – see Romans 5:5. The mind or attitude of Jesus isn’t to hold on to one’s position, but to willingly empty oneself of one’s privileges for the sake of others; to take the part of a servant, to humble oneself, and to joyfully lay down one’s life so that others may live – see Philippians 2:5-8. There’s no doubt but that Jesus is in the midst when this ‘mind’ becomes the motivating force and governing factor in human relationships.
Gladness and sincerity. Jesus is revealed in gladness and sincerity of heart. Joy is an essential part of the nature of God, and for this reason, His presence inspires joy in the hearts of His people. “…you fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand”, wrote the Psalmist in Psalm 16:11. When disciples ‘see’ the Lord with the eye of the Spirit, they rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, which joy is their sustaining strength – see John 20:20; 1 Peter 1:8 and Nehemiah 8:10. The complement to godly joy is sincerity of heart; Jesus is revealed in a single, undivided and unaffected heart. Indeed, “…the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” [2 Chronicles 16:9].
Praise and worship. Jesus is revealed in the praise and worship of His people. God ‘inhabits’ and is ‘enthroned’ in the praises of Israel – see Psalms 22:3. Praise builds a highway for God to come, by His Spirit, into our personal lives and corporate gatherings. But this is more than merely signing songs however meaningful the words or aspiring the tunes; it relates to the attitude of one’s heart in praise and worship towards God. Praise builds a house for God to dwell in, an earthly temple for the heavenly Shekinah glory – see Psalms 68:4 and Ephesians 2:21-22. Where’s the presence of Jesus to be found today? In the midst of His praising people according to Hebrews 2:12: “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”
The Church’s growth and influence. Jesus is revealed in the consistent growth and expanding influence of His Church. The New Testament concept of church growth doesn’t denote the transfer of members from one congregation to another, but rather, the addition of newly-saved believers. The one who said, “I will build my church,” is Himself revealed in the building thereof, with respect to it s numerical strength, spiritual maturity and moral government.
Jesus, in His Church, is the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Jesus, in His Church, is the highly exalted one who draws all men to Himself. Jesus in His Church, is the King of kings and Lord of lords who rules,, spiritually and morally, in the affairs of men and nations – see Matthew 5:13-16 and 16:18-19.
Glory in the Church.
Jesus is Immanuel, the God who is with us – see Matthew 1:23. John elaborates on this truth in the first chapter of his Gospel: “For out of his fullness [abundance] we all received – all had a share and we were all supplied with – one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing, and even favour upon favour and gift [heaped] upon gift” [John 1:16 Amplified Bible]. Through the new birth and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we receive of Jesus’ fullness – each having a unique deposit and a distinct portion. Yet individually and separately, we cannot hope to fully demonstrate the nature and power of the Lord Jesus. It’s only as a united Body, with each member functioning in its god-assigned role in mutual deference and dependence, that we can possibly reveal the fullness of Jesus to the world.
To the corporate Church at Colosse, Paul wrote: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” [Colossians 1:27]. Personal worship and waiting upon God is an essential ingredient of spiritual growth, and moreover, lays the foundation for effective corporate gatherings. However, there’s a special dynamic of Jesus’ presence available to the corporate gathering which cannot be realised in personal worship, and this dynamic is called ‘fullness’, and is yet another reason why believers shouldn’t forsake gathering together corporately.
Paul referred to this ‘special presence’ in 1 Corinthians 5:4: “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus…and the power of our Lord Jesus is present…” Paul declares that the local church is a gathering together of people into the name and under the Lordship of Jesus, and a gathering together with His resurrected power. The Greek word ‘dunamis’, translated ‘power’ denotes miraculous power, energy, might, strength, great force, great ability. Just think, the ‘dunamis’ of the risen Jesus present and active in the corporate gathering; no wonder the Bible records that “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,” and that “…the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people,” and that “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem; bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” [Acts 4:33 and 5:12, 16]
This is indeed a description of normal Christian Church life! Paul has a divinely granted understanding of Jesus’ fullness in the Church, and of God’s determination to reveal that fullness to a watching world.
Read Ephesians 3:14-21…
The personalisation of the prayers of Paul is a popular practice and one that I endorse, however, in so doing we tend to overlook the plural tenor of these prayers. In most cases Paul was writing to and praying for corporate assemblies rather than individual believers, for which reason the answer to these prayers can only be fully realised in a corporate dimension. Consider the expressions of plurality in this passage; “whole family…your hearts…all the saints…we…us” even the word “you” is written in a plural form in the Greek text.
Paul prays for four manifestations of godliness in the church at Ephesus, and these four should be viewed as different expressions of the one work of grace, rather than as separate requests.
- That God would grant them, out of the glorious riches of His personal resources,
Which are the perfections of His holy character, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.
- That this endowment of glory and power will be nothing less than Jesus dwelling in
their hearts through faith
- That through the indwelling of Jesus, they may be deeply rooted and firmly established
in love, which is His essential nature, and may have the power to grasp the eternal
dimensions of that love, understanding it through first-hand experience.
- In summary, that they may be filled up with all the fullness of God, which is the
completeness of God’s own Being.
How can this miracle be realised? The answer’s the same as that which was given to Mary by the angel Gabriel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you” [Luke 1:35]. God does infinitely more than we’d ever dare to ask or even dream of, through the power of His Spirit who’s at work within us.
Glory in the Church is nothing less than a revelation of ‘Jesus in the midst’ in all His holiness and majesty, the virtues, perfections and attributes of the Son of God, reproduced in the lives of His followers. For it’s in corporate worship, as the Church gazes upon the glorious Lamb sitting upon the Throne, that she’s transformed into His image, from glory to glory, the change being effected by the Spirit of the Lord – see 2 Corinthians 3:18. Thus it is that the Church will attain to the unity of the faith and the full and accurate knowledge of the Son of God, even to mature manhood, which is the full standard of Jesus’ own perfection, the completeness that’s found in Him – see Ephesians 4:13.
‘Jesus in the midst’ is indeed the Lord’s purpose and the Church’s destiny.
Gifts to and in the local church part 4: Manifestations (Gifts) of the Holy Spirit by Keith Taylor (12th July 2019) Open Close
GIFTS TO AND IN THE LOCAL CHURCH
PART 4: MANIFESTATIONS (GIFTS) OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 are gifts of the Holy Spirit which are supernatural manifestations through the members of the body.
These 9 gifts are described as ‘pneumatikon’ and translated as ‘spiritual gifts’, although a more accurate translation would have to be ‘spiritual persons’. W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says that “Pneumatikos always gives the idea of invisibility and of power, it’s an after-Pentecost word, it’s a most appropriate word to describe persons who can transmit the manifestation of the Spirit, for only those who’ve experienced Pentecost can do so.”
The supernatural nature of these gifts can be seen from the fact that there are 9 mentions of the Holy Spirit in 11 verses. The Holy Spirit is the efficient cause of the manifestations and His gifts are manifested in line with His will and those who would transmit such gifts must do so in obedience to the Spirit’s direction and timing.
These Holy Spirit manifestations are occasional and temporary, they aren’t permanent gifts for retention and use as are the ability gifts of Romans 12. It’s not correct, therefore, to refer to someone as possessing the gifts of wisdom, faith or tongues; it’s incorrect to say that ‘he has the gift of discernment, prophecy, healing, etc’. The initiative in the operation of these gifts must remain in the hands of the Spirit and once His purpose is completed the manifestation of the gift will cease. It’s possible that any one person may manifest one particular gift regularly if that’s the Spirit’s pleasure and purpose; but each manifestation is a separate giving with a particular objective.
Let me make two further observations at this juncture. First, that the gifts manifested aren’t given for the person who is channelling the gift, but for a third party – the local church, who is to receive them. Second, it’s important to keep in mind the recurrent phrase in 1 Corinthians 11-14, ‘when you come together’. The gifts of the Holy Spirit shouldn’t be hidden away in special meetings. Paul’s teaching has as its background the coming together of the whole local church for worship, etc. and that’s the right place for manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
The classic way of sorting out these manifestations has been to divide them into 3 groups of 3;
* Gifts of revelation; wisdom, knowledge and discernment.
* Gifts of power; healings, faith and miracles.
* Gifts of inspired speaking; prophecy, tongues and interpretation.
God who planned the whole of creation with such amazing precision and incredible detail shows the same ability in planning the work of His church. Paul tells us that God has set in the church various gifts. That is because they’re all necessary and it would be the height of presumption on our part to despise or reject any of them. Without these spiritual gifts it is impossible for the church to fulfil the high aims which God has intended for His people.
The church of God is a divine organism. It was never intended to be an organisation limited by human ability, operating by man’s ingenuity and directed by hierarchies and committees. The church exists for one purpose, and for one purpose only, to discover and to do the will of God by the power of the Holy Spirit In placing such an emphasis on the Holy Spirit and His gifts we don’t devalue learning, education or personal ability. These are good and have their place, but on their own they’re completely incompetent and inadequate for the demands of Christ’s ministry in and through the local church today.
The spiritual manifestations of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are all effected by what’s spoken. But we need to see that this involves two ‘speakers’. First, the Lord has to speak to the believer who is to be used to channel the manifestation, and then the believer has to speak out what the Spirit has given them to speak. We can, therefore, liken the Spirit-filled believer to a ‘receiver’ and a ‘transmitter’.
All of these gifts work on the prophetic principle of listening and passing on what’s been heard. This raises the most important question for everyone in the local church. “Can you hear God?” It’s quite impossible to manifest any of the spiritual gifts unless you can. This is why it’s so important that each believer can give a positive answer to the question raised by Paul – “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2)
Gifts to and in the local church part 3: The ministries by Keith Taylor (7th July 2019) Open Close
GIFTS TO AND IN THE LOCAL CHURCH
PART 3: THE MINISTRIES
The gifts in Ephesians 4are gifts of the ascended Lord Jesus which are ministries the body needs. Paul speaks of 5 such ministries.
This word comes from the Greek word meaning ‘one who is sent’, indicating the basic idea that an apostle is sent to further the kingdom of God in some new area. It also indicates that delegated powers have been conferred on him for so doing. So far as the 12 apostles of Christ are concerned, they were unique and their office has ceased to exist. They’d been with Jesus from the beginning and were eye witnesses of the resurrection. However, there were other apostles in New Testament days, including Paul himself, who were not of the 12.
Some people would go so far as to say that there are no longer any apostles, that their function has ceased to exist. Paul indicates, however, that the apostles, and the other 4 ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11, are to exist in the church until we all reach unity in the faith, and that’s an objective not yet realised. It’s reasonable to assume that the apostolic office is still to be operative within the Church.
In the New Testament they always take second place to the apostles who are always accorded first place. Apostles are ‘sent forth’ but the prophets are to ‘speak forth’.
Prophets shared with the apostles in forming the foundation of the early church and thus they’ve an important role to play in the local church of today. A prophet isn’t the same as a preacher who gets his message from the study of the Scriptures; the prophet receives his message by direct revelation, but never contrary to Scripture.
They have the ability of communicating the good news of the gospel in meaningful and convincing ways with a view to people responding in faith. Alongside their own evangelising they have the ability to galvanise God’s people in the area of evangelism.
This is the only mention in the New Testament of the word ‘pastor’, but it’s the same word that’s regularly translated ‘shepherd’. The gift of ‘shepherding’ or ‘pastoring’ is an ability God has given to certain members of the body of Christ to assume long-term responsibility for the spiritual well-being of a group of believers.
It’s not certain whether pastor/teacher is to be regarded as one or two ministries. What is clear is that pastoring and teaching are very closely related though there are differences. If pastoring involves caring for God’s people, teaching involves instructing them in the truths of God’s Word. It involves the need to give time to the reading and study of the Scriptures and to require the ability to help people to see, hear, grasp and learn what God’s saying to them.
Ministry gifts are functional not status conveying.
The list of Christ-given ministries is a list of functions to be carried out rather than a permanent office conveying authority and status. Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:12 is that the ministries are to equip the local church. Ministries are the servants of the body to build up the members and enable them to do the work of Christ in the world.
Jesus and the ministries.
Jesus Himself fulfilled all 5 of the ministries and it’s by the Holy Spirit that Jesus’ ministry on behalf of His church is carried out today. Jesus Christ continues His work as apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher through the ministries He gives to men and women, and all the facets of His ministry through those He has chosen and appointed in the local church.
Gifts to and in the local church part 2: The Natural Gifts by Keith Taylor (26th June 2019) Open Close
GIFTS TO AND IN THE LOCAL CHURCH
PART 2: THE NATURAL GIFTS
The gifts in Romans 12 are gifts of God the Father which are abilities given to body members.
These 7 gifts are said to be ‘according to the grace given us’(Rom. 12:6), and ‘in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you’ (Rom. 12:3). We conclude, therefore, that though certain abilities have been with us since our natural birth, they’ve been enriched and empowered when handed over to God following our new birth.
Prophesying– is the natural ability to speak clearly.
When it becomes a spiritual gift it includes hearing what God’s saying with the urge to pass it on. There’s a warning that utterances should be limited to one’s faith; no-one should strain after that for which they have insufficient faith.
Serving– is the natural ability to give practical assistance.
When it becomes a spiritual gift it can be used in any area of local church life.
Teaching– is the natural ability to communicate intelligibly with others.
When it becomes a spiritual gift it includes the ability to study the Scriptures and impart to others a right understanding of its truths, having regard to the right interpretation of words and metaphors.
Encouraging– is the natural ability of the encourager.
When it becomes a spiritual gift it includes the ability to stimulate the faith and obedience of other believers.
Contributing– is the natural inclination to share one’s good things.
When it becomes a spiritual gift it includes the urge to give regularly and generously to the work of the gospel in the mission of Christ. It doesn’t presuppose that the person is materially rich.
Leadership– is the natural ability to lead in such a way that others follow.
When it becomes a spiritual gift it’s used in any facet of the church’s fellowship or administration.
Showing mercy– is the natural ability of human compassion.
When it becomes a spiritual gift it becomes the outpouring of the compassion of Christ upon those in special need or in distress, regardless of personal inconvenience or suffering.
It’s such a shame that these ability gifts are so often unemployed in the local church because. people don’t take time to discover them or because there’s no opportunity to use them even of they’re recognised.
Gifts to and in the local church part 1: General by Keith Taylor (19th June 2019) Open Close
GIFTS TO AND IN THE LOCAL CHURCH
PART 1: GENERAL
In the New Testament we’re shown three streams of spiritual gifts, and each stream is as important in the life and witness of the local church today as in the days of the early church. These streams are:
- Natural giftsfound in Romans 12
- Ministry giftsfound in Ephesians 4
- Manifestations (gifts)of the Holy Spirit found in 1 Corinthians 12.
Without the free flowing of the first stream of gifts the members of the body of Christ cannot serve and care for each other as God intends. Without the acceptance of the second stream of gifts the body of Christ will be hindered from realising both unity and maturity. Without the unrestricted flowing of the third stream of gifts the local church will be left to academic achievement, human effort and man’s good ideas.
Stream One: Romans 12:6-8
The gifts in this stream are God-given abilities which we’ve already received. We may well have had these abilities from birth, but the fact that the gifts are ‘according to the grace given to us’suggests that they’ve been intensified and enlivened after our second birth. Every one of His children will have received one or more of these gifts from the heavenly Father, and the very clear message is – use them.
Stream Two: Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-13
The gifts in this stream are Christ-appointed gifted individuals. They are the gifts of Jesus the ascended Lord to His church and they have specific tasks and purposes to perform for the well-being of the body of Christ. The message concerning these gifts is to accept and recognise them.
Stream Three: 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
The gifts in this stream are manifestations of the Holy Spirit channelled through any believer who is filled with the Holy Spirit. These gifts aren’t possessed by the believer, he or she is simply the transmitter of the supernatural gift to whoever is to be the recipient. The Holy Spirit is the giver of these gifts, and the initiative in their use remains with Him. The message concerning these gifts is to eagerly desire them.
Paul’s composite list in 1 Corinthians 12:28
Paul brings together eight gifts, two from stream 1 which are helping and administration; three from stream 2 which are apostles, prophets and teachers; and three from stream 3 which are miracles, healing, and speaking in tongues. He uses them to illustrate his teaching that within the local church there are no differences in status; apostles and helpers, teachers, administrators and tongues speakers are all set together side by side as being equally appointed by God. In verse 31 Paul refers to them as ‘charismata’, that is, gifts of God’s grace, and verse 28 indicates that the sphere in which they are to operate is in the local church; that is, the assembly of God’s people wherever they may happen to have gathered.
Peter’s summary list in 1 Peter 4:10-11
Peter indicates that each of us is held responsible for what we do with the spiritual gifts we’ve received. We’re required to be good stewards of the varied grace of God. If we fail to pass on what God has given to us we shall be judged unfaithful stewards of His gifts of grace. Peter goes so far as to indicate that when we’re ministering a speaking gift we’re speaking as one who speaks ‘the very words of God’. It’s amazing that the same word that’s used of the inspired Scriptures is applied here by Peter to an ordinary believer speaking under the enabling of the Holy Spirit.
A very quick look back over the lists of spiritual gifts reveals five gifted individuals appointed to minister to the body of Christ; seven gifts of God-given abilities and nine gifted manifestations of the Holy Spirit, making a total of 21 spiritual gifts in these lists. Where do we each fit in this list?
Monday Morning Catch Up by Chris Taylor (10th June 2019) Open Close
I was challenged by Charles Spurgeon this morning in one of my daily devotional that if it was God’s will at conversion that we should go and be with the Lord then that would of been what happened but the truth is we are part of the building of the kingdom of God. As Romans 14:8 says “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
We have been born with a purpose in time to be a part of building the kingdom of God. We all surrendered to Christ and so we are all part of His building of His Church. As a church this year we are praying the fringes get to know and fall in love with Jesus and the truth is that does fall down to all of us. We have seen a few give their lives to the Lord but we desire more.
Onto this week, I feel that communication is so important and to be able to share the needs of the fellowship is a way of us keeping sight of our vision as a church.
Every single day is an opportunity for us to live to the Lord. Whether that is at work, home, school, a walk to town or a bus ride to Chelmsford. You would be surprised how many people you meet in your day.
I have a challenge for you? Pray for those you meet this week, pray for opportunities to share the reason for your faith with who you meet and if you feel led then follow where the Holy Spirit leads you.
Reading the Gospels by Suzy Taylor (31st March 2019) Open CloseI’ve been studying the New Testament as part of the AOG training modules.I was challenged to pray about how I read the Bible, the format I use through want of a better expression.The content of the session is asking the listener if we read the books of the Bible whole, or if we read short devotions/Bible in a year reading plans ect. There were no right or wrong ways of reading the Bible, I mean after all, God speaks to us in multiple ways and texts.David who was teaching this session recommended reading the Gospels as a whole book and reading all four of them. They all share similar material and are centred on Jesus’s ministry, death and resurrection, however they all come from completely different perspectives.I was challenged to add reading a chapter or two of the Gospel to my collection of daily readings and the BiOY.I’ve found it really interesting as I began at Matthew for breaking down the readings verse by verse is very informative and insightful. The Gospels are fundamental to the Christian faith and can be overlooked at times.I have read a fair few chapters and written notes in my Bible so I can reference them in the future. I’ve found that I still have so much more to learn and am really enjoying this part of the journey. Freeing up time to read the Bible is so important for a believer, so we can gain knowledge and understanding. The Bible is our guidebook for life.As 2 Timothy 3 16-17 says.16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.By Suzy Taylor
Seasons of Reaping by Chris Taylor (17th March 19) Open Close
Many years ago when I first believed, I was given a life verse of 2 Timothy 4:2
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
The truth is this is not an easy verse to have. It means a joy which is unimaginable of serving the Lord of reaching those who do not know Christ and teaching those who do. It’s a road which is also a narrow path.
Life can change in an instant and like example of the Apostle Paul, one minute he was living a life which is fulfilling his own purposes then the next he’s being shown that he will suffer for Jesus (Acts 9:16) and he spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Thank God he did, look at the result of his work for us today. A vessel used by God to fulfil His purposes.
Some days it can be hard and Proverb 20:4 is a great truth. The lazy man will not plow because of winter; He will beg during harvest and have nothing.
Sowing and reaping is a job which we are called to do every day of our lives. Without the work we cannot expect a harvest. So we need to live a life of being led by the Holy Spirit but also have some strategy in what we do.
Pray for the tools to reach out. Pray for the vision to see many souls to come into the kingdom of God. Pray that Jesus is declared, for He is the answer to all.
By Chris Taylor
John Milton by Alan Battley (16th Feb 19) Open Close
They also serve who only stand and wait
Poetry has never particularly been my ‘thing’ though, like most of us, I can reel off the occasional bits and pieces learned at school, including a chunk from Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ which I had to study at GCE ‘O’ level English Literature. However, I was preparing a talk for a Sunday morning at Maltings in February on the subject of service and, as I was wandering around the house, the line came, unbidden, into my head ‘They also serve who only stand and wait’. I was familiar with the words and have often heard them quoted (usually out of context it seems!) but that was about it so I did some research.
It transpires that the words are the final line of a poem (a sonnet in fact) by the seventeenth century poet John Milton (1608-1674). Born in London, Milton was a protestant Christian and intellectual speaking several languages. He was a graduate of Cambridge University. He travelled abroad quite a lot and was a school teacher as well as a poet and author of many pamphlets on different subjects. He lived through the turbulence of the English Civil War and the period when the land was ruled by Oliver Cromwell before reverting to a monarchy under Charles II.
Sadly, John Milton lost his sight by the age of 43. Most of us have heard of Milton’s most famous work ‘Paradise Lost’, written after he became blind, but the line that came to my mind is from a poem, also written when he was blind, which one editor entitled ‘On his blindness’. Here it is:
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
I found myself wondering what he meant. He seems to be referring to the loss of his sight and the effect it has had on his ability to serve God. This must be a very real concern to many Christians who are prevented, by ill-health, disability, advancing years and so on, from being as active in the service of God as they have been in the past or would like to be. He seems to pose the question as to whether God is going to take him to task for what he isn’t able to do. But then he reflects that God doesn’t need his labour or his gifts. He refers to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 where Jesus says “come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Milton says those who bear that ‘mild yoke’ are those who serve God best.
It seems to me that Milton is arguing that what God requires of us is to live as obedient Christians simply serving God as best we may in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We may not be able to rush around ‘o’er land and ocean without rest’ but, no matter, says Milton – ‘they also serve who only stand and wait’. I’ve come across this line being used to attempt to justify inaction – laziness really. It seems pretty clear that isn’t what Milton means. The words should be an encouragement to the person whose circumstances are such that they are honestly prevented from many spheres of service for God in which they might otherwise be engaged. We serve no heartless tyrant with impossible expectations but one who is ‘gentle and lowly in heart’.
By Alan Battley
Youth Culture by Chris Taylor (10th Feb 19) Open Close
On 9thFebruary six of us attended a Newday event called Youth Culture We joined a large group from New Frontiers churches at the 02 in London, in being equipped on the challenges the youth in this country are facing at this time.
This was an eye opener for me in hearing what is going on in the minds and lives of the youth. We had teaching about anxiety, gang culture, pornography and wisdom.
Joel Virgo opened up with a powerful thought-provoking sermon on the wisdom of God. I might add that this was one of the best talks I’ve heard Joel speak, with down to earth advice plus Godly wisdom which comes out of the Word of God. This was mind blowing and challenged my own parenting plus my view on this youthful generation.
Paula Hall shared about the addiction and cycle of pornography with some practical advice on how to deal with this but the bottom line was just how acceptable this stuff is in society today.
Ben Lindsey shared about the new charity he has started to help equip the church for those youth involved in knife crime and violence Power The Fight This is so challenging to hear of the problems which is in truth in most places in this country. My own upbringing in Barking/ Dagenham over 30 years ago had elements of gang culture but it’s nothing like what I was hearing at this conference.
Will Van Der Hart shared about mental health and the effects this is truly having on our youth today. I managed to buy one of his books about worry. He was honest and shared from his own place of being but also tried to dispel the myth of mental health.
Ben Rowe made a fresh challenge to the churches at the end on how to respond to this and that Jesus Christ calls us as a church to be the light of the world in helping those in need. He used a great comparison about Joshua in the Bible not just running up to the walls of Jericho and kicking the wall but rather he waited for God to reveal the plans and purposes on how to overcome the problem.
What did I learn from this? I feel we need to respond to help, we run Fever at Bethel which does draw alongside the youth at Bethel Christian Fellowship and they are doing a fantastic job to help those who they reach but how do we help others who we don’t have contact with? That is the question which I am pondering now….
By Chris Taylor (Pastor at BCF)
A dedicated life and a renewed mind by Keith Taylor Open Close
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