Repentance

Before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, he gave Abraham an opportunity to intercede on behalf of these two wicked cities. “The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him'” (Genesis 18:17-19). God chose Abraham to be the channel through which his salvation would flow to all mankind. Because of his relationship with the LORD, Abraham was able to influence God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah.

God described the situation in Sodom and Gomorrah as one that had reached a point of no return. “Then the LORD said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know'” (Genesis 18:20-21). The Hebrew word translated altogether, kalah (kaw-law’) means a completion or completely (H3617). God was going to determine if Sodom and Gomorrah had become completely corrupted by visiting the cities himself. The phrase “I will know” refers to personal experience which includes observation and recognition (H3045). The LORD’s intention was to make his final decision about whether or not the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah needed to be destroyed after he observed their behavior.

When God told Abraham what he was going to do, it says in Genesis 18:22-23 that Abraham stood before the LORD and drew near to him. What this suggests is that Abraham had an intimate conversation with the LORD in order to change his mind about what he intended to do. Abraham wanted God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were enough righteous people in the cities to take the responsibilities for the sins of others by substitution or representation (H5375). In other words, Abraham wanted God to let the righteousness of a few individuals bear the burden of Sodom and Gomorrah’s habitual deviation from his moral standards. Abraham thought ten righteous people were enough for God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction (Genesis 18:32).

When the two angels that God sent to destroy Sodom arrived at the city gate, Abraham’s nephew Lot insisted they spend the night at his house (Genesis 19:3). While they were there, “The men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.’ Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg of you my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof'” (Genesis 19:4-8). Lot’s awareness of these men’s ruthless behavior and willingness to give his virgin daughters to them showed that he had no moral conviction about their sexual purity.

Psalm 11:2-3 states, “the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The psalmist used the analogy of a broken foundation to depict a corrupt political system that was taking advantage of innocent people. His question, “What can the righteous do?” suggests that Lot’s effort to stop the men of Sodom from raping his guests was a futile effort as evidenced by the angels having to rescue him from the hands of an angry mob (Genesis 19:10-11). Surprisingly, when Lot was told that Sodom was going to be destroyed, he was confused and had to be forcefully removed from the city limits in order to be saved from God’s punishment (Genesis 19:16).

Genesis 19:16 indicates that God was being merciful to Lot when he brought him out of Sodom. The Hebrew word translated merciful, chemlah (khem-law’) means that God took pity on Lot. What this suggests is that Lot was not righteous and it was only because of Abraham’s intercession on behalf of Sodom that God spared his life. When the angels instructed Lot to leave Sodom, Genesis 19:16 indicates,”he lingered.” The Hebrew word translated lingered, mahahh (maw-hah’) is derived from the word meh (meh) which conveys the exclamations of what! or why! Lot was most likely shocked by the news that Sodom was going to be destroyed, but his reaction seems to suggest that he was undecided about whether or not he wanted to give up the life he had established there.

Psalm 11:4-5 states, “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven: his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” The Hebrew word translated tests, bachan (baw-khan’) means to investigate (H974) and the word see or chazah (khaw-zaw’) in Hebrew means “to gaze at; mentally to perceive” (H2372). God already knew what was going on in Sodom before he sent his angels there to destroy it. It’s possible that the reason why the LORD went to investigate the situation (Genesis 18:21) was to determine if Lot wanted to be saved or would rather go to hell with the rest of his companions.

John the Baptist preached a simple message to get the attention of those who were in danger of eternal punishment. He told them to, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The Greek word that is translated repent, metanoeo (met-an-o-eh’-o) means “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider” (G3340). John was letting people know that their behavior had been corrupted by the culture they were living in and their minds needed to be redirected toward spiritual matters. John was described as the one who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight'” (Matthew 3:3). The way the prophet was referring to was the way of access into the direct presence of God (G3598). Making one’s paths straight refers to such things as are produced by an inward act of the mind or will with regard to godly behavior (G4160).

John’s simple message might be summarized with the statement, you’re on the wrong track or you’re going in the wrong direction. John wanted people to understand that they didn’t have to live the way they were, their lives could be different. As the angels brought Lot out of Sodom, “one said, ‘Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley” (Genesis 19:17). The Hebrew word that is translated life, nephesh (neh’-fesh) refers to the inner person or soul (H5315), indicating that Lot’s physical well-being was not the issue the angel was concerned with. Remaining in Sodom would mean that Lot had rejected God’s offer of salvation and would rather be condemned with the rest of the Sodomites than separate himself from them.

Lot managed to escape Sodom, but only by the skin of his teeth. Because of his reluctance to start over, Lot asked for a compromise. He suggested to the angels that were attempting to rescue him, “Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there – is it not a little one? – and my life will be saved!” (Genesis 19:20). Basically, what Lot wanted was to avoid God’s judgment, but to be able to pick up where he left off with the life he had when he was living in Sodom. Lot didn’t want to change his behavior, just his circumstances. Lot’s question, “is it not a little one?” might be interpreted as, this one isn’t so bad is it? Most likely, the town that Lot wanted to go to was just as wicked as Sodom was, but was operating on a much smaller scale. Instead of an organized crime syndicate, Zoar may have only had just a bunch of petty thieves.

After the LORD rained sulfur and fire out of heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah, it says in Genesis 19:30, “Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters.” The Hebrew word translated fear, yare (yaw-ray’) means to stand in awe. “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). It could be that Lot finally came to a place of repentance, realized that he was in moral danger and wanted to separate himself from the wicked behavior that was threatening his spiritual well-being. In spite of his attempt to disconnect from the world around him, Lot was still overtaken by sin. His daughters became pregnant by him while he was intoxicated (Genesis 19:32-36) and gave birth to sons that became two idolatrous nations that were enemies of Abraham’s descendants (notes on Genesis 19:37 and 19:38).

John the Baptist confronted the religious leaders that came to him to be baptized. “He exclaimed, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). John indicated that repentance was a requirement for someone to be baptized. The Greek word translated repentance, metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) focuses on the outward expression of repentance. “This change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341). In other words, John was looking for genuine acts of repentance that were evidence of having developed a relationship with God.

One of the things that was evidence of Abraham’s relationship with God was that he moved to a new location when God told him to (Genesis 12:4). God expected Abraham to sojourn or live in a land that was hostile to him. After Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Abraham went to a place called Gerar where he thought, “There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife” (Genesis 20:11). Abraham’s assumptions about Gerar caused him to hide the fact that Sarah was his wife and instead told Abimelech the king of Gerar, “She is my sister” (Genesis 20:2). Abraham’s deception led to Abimelech taking his wife away from him and Sarah’s integrity being compromised. “But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, ‘Behold you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife'” (Genesis 20:3).

Abimelech’s response to the message he received indicated that he recognized who was speaking to him and respected the person’s authority. He said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people. Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this” (Genesis 20:4-5). Abimelech’s declaration of innocence was based on his intent to marry Sarah and form a political alliance with Abraham (note on Genesis 20:2-18). “Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart and it was I who kept you from sinning against me” (Genesis 20:6).

Abimelech’s integrity had to do with his motive being right, but his innocence had to do with his actions toward Abraham. Because they were not aligned, it could be said that Abimelech was not right with God. Even though, there was nothing about his behavior that was offensive to the Lord, Abimelech didn’t have a personal relationship with the LORD and couldn’t claim any benefit for his motive being right. Abraham had to pray to God on his behalf and then, God healed Abimelech and also healed his wife and female slaves from their infertility (Genesis 20:17-18).

When the LORD said, “it was I who kept you from sinning against me” (Genesis 20:6), he was letting Abimelech know that he didn’t have the power to control his own behavior. In other words, if God hadn’t kept Abimelech from having sexual relations with Sarah, he would have done so. God said that he didn’t let Abimelech touch Sarah (Genesis 20:6), meaning that the LORD caused circumstances beyond his control to keep Abimelech from getting physically close to or personally involved with Sarah (Genesis 20:4). This was not done to protect Abimelech’s reputation, but to keep Sarah chaste (Genesis 20:16).

Abimelech’s claim of innocence indicated that he didn’t feel any guilt or remorse for taking Sarah away from Abraham. Even though his motives were honorable, Abimelech was acting contrary to God’s will and was punished for his interference in Abraham and Sarah’s lives (Genesis 20:18). In order to make things right, Abimelech had to return Sarah to her husband “so that he will pray for you, and you shall live” (Genesis 20:7). This act of repentance is what caused Abimelech’s life to be spared. Repentance, “a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341) implies obedience to the will of God. John the Baptist described this as bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8) and said, “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).

John was surprised when “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13). “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:14-15). John’s determination that it was inappropriate for him to baptize Jesus was based on his knowledge that Jesus had not committed any sin and therefore, did not need to repent and be baptized. Jesus explained to John that baptism was the way that God had decided to attribute righteousness to believers. In other words, baptism is the act whereby all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are brought into a right relationship with God (G1343).

Jesus’ statement, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15) had to do with the way Old Testament believers like Abraham got saved. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The Hebrew word that is translated counted, chashab (khaw-shab’) means to impute or to treat Abraham as if he had righteousness even though he didn’t. The righteousness that was imputed to Abraham was the righteousness of Christ and the method that was used to impute it to him was Jesus’ baptism. The method of water baptism is referred to as “justification by faith” (G1343).

All believers are justified by faith, but the benefits of salvation are different for New Testament believers. John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). What John was saying was that the best that Old Testament believers could hope for was to repent and have their relationship with God restored, but New Testament believers can receive power through the Holy Spirit that will enable them to control their behavior and be able to stop sinning, to be free from the effects of their sin nature.

Matthew 3:16-17 states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'” God’s verbal confirmation indicated that Jesus’ action had reversed the effects of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. Whereas before it was impossible for God to be pleased with any man’s behavior, Jesus’ baptism showed that on an individual basis, acts of repentance could gain one access into the direct presence of God and restore fellowship with him permanently.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believer you died for my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

The millennium

At the conclusion of the Great Tribulation, a transition in power takes place that makes it possible for Jesus to begin his millennial reign on Earth. John tells us, “the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.” (Revelation 19:20, NKJV). Even though the beast and the false prophet received immediate judgment from God and were punished for their deception of everyone on Earth, John indicated that Satan was only bound with chains and cast in the bottomless pit until the “the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:3, NKJV). Satan’s temporary imprisonment seems to suggest that evil will still exist in the world during the millennium, but it will be restrained by the military force that defeats Antichrist’s political regime (Revelation 19:14, 21). The reason Satan must be loosed at the end of the millennium could be because he is still able to utilize his power until God’s final judgment of mankind begins.

God’s judgment starts in the millennium, but the initial phase seems to be limited to what has just happened during the Great Tribulation. John said, “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received the mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4-5). It’s possible that the first resurrection only applies to the nation of Israel and the promises that God made specifically to his chosen people. If so, this judgment might be based on the Mosaic Law and could determine whether or not the Jews that took the mark of the beast and worshipped Antichrist will be allowed to inherit the eternal kingdom that was promised to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:8).

According to John’s prophecy, there will be an innumerable amount of people that will join with Satan at the end of the millennium to try and overthrow God’s kingdom (Revelation 20:8). John indicated, “They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:9-10, NKJV). The unusual thing about Satan’s final defeat is that he wasn’t allowed to harm anyone when he and his army surrounded the camp of the saints and the city of Jerusalem. It appears that God might have just been using Satan to identify and eliminate all the rebels that were still left on Earth. The fire that came down from heaven was like a holy cleansing agent that was able to completely rid the world of Satan’s evil influence once and for all.

God’s final judgment of mankind was described by Jesus shortly before he was crucified. Jesus said, ““When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:31-33). The throne of glory Jesus referred to is depicted in Revelation 20:11 as “a great white throne.” John said of this event, “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:11-12). The Greek word translated dead, nekros refers to a corpse, but it is “the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men” (G3498). Everyone that is not saved or born again will be judged by God according to their works. Jesus said the criterion for judgment would be the kind of treatment shown to the Jewish people (note on Matthew 25:31-46), but John indicated, “whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

Silence in heaven

A dramatic pause in God’s judgment of the world occurs just after the seventh and final seal of the book that was given to the Lamb of God is opened. It says in Revelation 8:1, “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” The Greek word translated silence, sige (see-gay’) means to “to hiss, i.e. hist or hush” (G4602). The closest thing in our language would be shushing someone or telling him to be quiet. Although in the case of the silence in heaven, it appears that it’s a natural reaction to the seventh seal being opened. One way to think about what is happening might be to imagine something like an awards ceremony. As the envelope is being opened, everyone sits in silent anticipation, waiting for the judges’ final decision to be announced.

The length of the silence in heaven after the seventh seal is opened seems like an unusually long break in the activity that’s taking place. In a typical conversation, there is rarely more than a few seconds that passes without someone talking. Even when we are publicly acknowledging a significant event, it is customary to observe only a moment of silence, not several minutes or half an hour. The Greek word John used to designate the time period, hemiorion (hay-mee-o’-ree-on) is derived from two words that suggest John was referring to a half hour according to a heavenly timekeeping system. In other words, an eternal half hour. The Apostle Peter indicated God’s timekeeping system is different than our own. He said, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

John’s statement that there was “silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Revelation 8:1) may have been meant to convey the idea that the length of the silence was unbearable and the suspense was killing him, so to speak. What happened afterward was an unusual display of worship in which the prayers of the saints were offered on the golden altar (Revelation 8:3-5) as if they were a sacrifice that God was expected to respond to. John said, “And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake” (Revelation 8:4-5).

According to the Mosaic Law, one of the responsibilities of the kinsman redeemer was to execute the murderer of his relative (H1350). In Revelation 6:9-10, John refers to this responsibility and states, “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” The phrase “them that dwell on the earth” is a regular designation in Revelation for mankind in its hostility to God. “These are those that oppose God, receive the mark of the beast, and on whom the tribulation is focused” (note on Revelation 6:10). The persecuted saints that were crying out for vengeance were told they must wait until their fellow servants and their brethren should be killed as they were (Revelation 6:11). This appears to have already taken place in Revelation 7:14, therefore it seems like the silence in heaven and seven trumpet judgments that follow in Revelation 8-9 could be attributed to the Lord’s vengeance of his church’s martyred saints.

The first four trumpet judgments appear to take place in rapid succession, similar to the unleashing of the four horsemen, but then there is a shift in attention to an announcement that is made to the entire world. John said, “And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound” (Revelation 8:13). Jesus often used the Greek term translated woe as an exclamation of grief to the numerous unrepentant sinners that he came in contact with during his ministry on Earth. In particular, the scribes and Pharisees were singled out and told, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:33-36, ESV).

The severity of the first two woes that John recorded in Revelation 9 were significant because they seemed to be designed to bring such a devastating blow on mankind that repentance would be inevitable and yet, John said, “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts” (Revelation 9:20-21). At this particular point in time, it appears that there will be no believers left on the earth, everyone that is alive is in blatant opposition to God and his commandments. The only clue we have about the size of the population that will be left is that the population of Earth will first be reduced by one-quarter when the pale horse of Death is released (Revelation 6:8) and then, by another third when the four angels are loosed (Revelation 9:15). If these events were to take place today, 3.9 billion or roughly half of the 7.8 billion people on plant Earth would be eliminated. This seems to coincide with Jesus’ prediction, “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:40).

Lord of all

Jesus’ death and resurrection completed the necessary requirements for him to be appointed judge of all mankind. Paul stated in his letter to the Romans, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9). Another way of stating “the dead and the living” would be the unsaved and the saved. Paul was referring to people that have not accepted Jesus as their savior as well those that have. The reason why Paul made this distinction was so that the Romans would understand that everyone falls under the same criteria of judgment. Jesus as the executor of God’s plan of salvation has been given the authority to determine what the will of God is when it comes to acts of faith. Paul emphasized this point when he declared, “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

In addition to the free gift of salvation, there are additional benefits that believers may receive as a result of their acts of faith. Speaking of the foundation he had laid by preaching the gospel, Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Paul basically told the Romans believers to mind their own business when he stated, “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10, NKJV).

Unbelievers that think they can escape God’s judgment by denying Jesus’ lordship over their lives might be surprised to find out that they will be held accountable for their acts of unbelief. Paul told the Romans, “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:11-12). The Greek word Paul used that is translated confess, exomologeo (ex-om-ol-og-eh’-o) has to do with the public acknowledgment or confession of sins (G1843). When Paul stated that every one shall give an account of himself, he was talking about a verbal assent to the lordship of Jesus Christ, an acknowledgment that he died for everyone’s sins and his substitutionary death on the cross was rejected by unbelievers. In other words, unbelievers will eventually have to admit that they were wrong, lacking in faith by not acknowledging Jesus as their savior.

Without excuse

Paul’s letter to the Romans was written primarily to the Gentiles, non-Jewish nations that surrounded Israel. One of the issues that Paul addressed in his letter was the judgment of the world that Jesus talked about during his ministry on earth (Matthew 25:31-46). Paul stated:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21, NKJV)

Paul’s argument that everyone that has ever lived is without excuse when it comes to a knowledge of God’s existence was based on the evidence of God’s involvement in creation. Paul indicated God’s invisible attributes can be clearly seen by all humans, meaning they are self-evident or no explanation of them is necessary.

Paul explained to the Romans that God”s principles of judgment do not differ between Jewish and non-Jewish peoples. Because all of mankind was created in his image, God expects every human being to exhibit godly behavior. One of the indicators that the human conscience was designed to recognize sin is our judgment of others. Paul said, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things (Romans 2:1, NKJV).

Even people that have never read the Bible know that it is a sin to kill someone. One of the ways Paul said that we know we are committing a sin is because our consciences bear witness to our guilt. God judges us based on our own inner convictions. Paul stated, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16, ESV)

Paul’s declaration that “God judges the secrets of men” (Romans 2:16) was intended to convince Roman believers that God does not need to keep a record or our wrong doings because our memories and consciences do the job for him. The Greek word translated secrets, kruptos means “concealed that is private” (G2927). In other words, God will use our own private thoughts and feelings to decide whether or not to punish us. According to Paul, the only way to escape God’s judgment will be justification by the blood of Jesus Christ (Romans 2:15-16).

Negative impact

Although many were affected positively by Jesus’ teaching, there was a large portion of the Jewish population that rejected his messages and refused to respond to Jesus’ call to repentance. Jesus said, “Woe unto thee, Chorazin, woe unto thee, Bethsaida: for if the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21). The Greek word Jesus used, which is translated repented, metanoeo (met-an-o-eh´-o) means “to think differently or afterwards that is reconsider” (3340). Jesus wanted God’s people to understand that his kingdom was not an imaginary, fictitious place, but a real destination that everyone would eventually arrive at. Jesus compared the cities within the borders of the Promised Land to “Gentile cities in Phoenicia, north of Galilee, which had not had opportunity to witness Jesus’ miracles and hear his preaching as the people had in most of Galilee” (note on Luke 10:14). Jesus’ vicious condemnation of the Jews made it clear that they would be judged for their rejection of his gospel message.

The town where Jesus had spent the majority of his time, Capernaum received the harshest reprimand of all. Jesus continued, “But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell; for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained unto this day” (Matthew 11:22-23). The mighty works Jesus referred to were the numerous miracles he had performed in Capernaum, including raising a young man from the dead (Luke 7:14-15). “Although Sodom was so sinful that God destroyed it (Gen 19:24-28; Jude 7), the people who heard the message of Jesus and his disciples were even more accountable, because they had the gospel of the kingdom preached to them. This passage clearly teaches degrees of punishment. Some sins are worse than others and bring more judgment” (note on Luke 10:12).

The day of judgment that Jesus eluded to was mentioned numerous times during his ministry. Jesus’ example of Tyre and Sidon, as well as Sodom, as cities that would fair better in the day of judgment, was meant to startle or perhaps even shock his listeners into an awareness of their extremely dangerous spiritual state. The thought that Capernaum would be brought down to hell would surely have had a negative impact on those that believed territories within the border of the Promised Land would escape the judgment or at least be judged on a different scale than the notorious pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon and ancient city of Sodom. The truth that Jesus was declaring to them was that the Jews would be judged on a different scale, one much more harsh than others, because they had heard his gospel and rejected it.

Enemies

The enemies of the Israelites were primarily neighbors that lived in close proximity to the Promised Land. Initially, when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were instructed to drive out the inhabitants of the land that had no right to possess territory God had given to Abraham and his descendants. Due to disobedience and a lack of faith, the area where the Israelites dwelt was cohabitated by other relatives of Abraham, specifically, Lot’s sons Ammon and Moab and the descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau. Over time, wars between Israel and the surrounding nations became an ongoing pattern. Eventually, the Israelites stopped trying to separate themselves from the people that hated them.

Ezekiel received four prophetic messages concerning enemies of Israel that God intended to deal with in his judgment of the land. His first message was directed at Ammon to whom God said, “Because thou sadist, Aha, against my sanctuary, when it was profaned; and against the land of Israel, when it was desolate; and against the house of Judah, when they went into captivity…Behold therefore, I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and will deliver thee for a spoil to the heathen; and I will cut thee off from the people, and I will cause thee to perish out of the countries: I will destroy thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 25:3,7). The term “aha” can express surprise or grief, but in this instance, it most likely was meant as an expression of delight that the Israelites had gotten what they deserved.

Among Israel’s enemies was a group of people known as the Philistines. The Philistines occupied territory on the western coast of Israel and were notorious for allowing other conquering nations to access Jerusalem and Judah through their strongholds in the mountains. In particular, when the Assyrians came against Jerusalem, they came through the Philistine cities of Ashdod and Gath, straight toward the capital of Judah (Sennacherib’s Campaign Against Judah, 701 B.C.). In his prophecy against Philistia, Ezekiel foretold, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with a despiteful heart, to destroy it for the old hatred;  therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will stretch out mine hand upon the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethims, and destroy the remnant of the sea coast” (Ezekiel 25:15-16).

As Judah’s destruction approached, it was evident that God intended to wipe out not only the areas of the nation that were occupied by his people, but also all the territory that had originally been given them as an inheritance. In the prophet Micah’s counsel of despair, the people were told the situation was hopeless. He said, “The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among man…Trust ye not a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom. For son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law: a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (Micah 7:2, 5-6).

The harlot

The city of Jerusalem was likened to a harlot or prostitute because of the idolatry that took place within her walls. God described Jerusalem as the child of prominent parents that was abandoned at birth, perhaps the result of a failed abortion. God said, “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy naval wast not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the loathing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born” (Ezekiel 16:4-5).

God’s claim to the city of Jerusalem was based on a covenant he likened to a marriage contract. He said, “Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness; yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine” (Ezekiel 16:8). God’s relationship with his people was dependent on a land that would belong to them throughout eternity. In order to fulfill his promise to Abraham, God selected Jerusalem as the home where he would dwell with his people.

God’s commitment to the city of Jerusalem was met when king David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel and Solomon built his temple there. It was only because Good had chosen Jerusalem beforehand that these things were able to take place. Like a bride on her wedding day, God said, “Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil; and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper as a kingdom” (Ezekiel 16:13).

The city of Jerusalem became attractive to foreign kings because of the wealth that flowed into her gates as a result of God’s blessing. Without fully realizing what he was doing, king Hezekiah invited dignitaries from Babylon to tour his capital. It says in 2 Kings 20:13, “And Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and shewed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.”

So that no one would be able to inhabit the city of Jerusalem besides his chosen people, God judged the land and caused it to become barren while his people went into exile. As if the land had committed adultery, God said of Jerusalem, “And in thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted with blood…Behold, therefore, I have stretched out my hand over thee, and have diminished thine ordinary food, and delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee, the daughters of the Philistines, which are ashamed of thy lewd way” (Ezekiel 16:27).

The vineyard

The nation of Israel was likened unto a vineyard that was planted in the midst of hostile territory (Psalm 80:8-13). Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard began with an introduction that expressed God’s emotionally attachment to his people. He said, “Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:1-2).

The Hebrew word translated wild in Isaiah 5:2, beushiym means poison-berries (891). The implication being that the fruit of the vineyard was inedible. God’s intention in establishing the nation of Israel was for it to be a witness to others of his existence and of his involvement with mankind. In spite of the painstaking effort God made to bless his people and to show them his loving-kindness, he was continually rejected and replaced with the pagan gods of other nations. Exasperated, God asked the question, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” (Isaiah 5:4).

Ezekiel’s parable of the vineyard revealed that God’s people were useless to him because they refused to listen to and obey his commands. God asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, What is the vine tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest? Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon?” (Ezekiel 15:2-3). The point God was trying to make was that the purpose of the vine was not to produce wood, but to produce fruit. The vine was necessary, actually essential for producing fruit, but the problem was God’s people were no different than the people that lived around them. They were unable to perform the ministry they had been chosen for because the Israelites’ hearts did not belong to God.

Referring to Israel’s ability to minister to the nations around them, God asked Ezekiel, “Behold, when it was whole, it was meet for no work, how much less shall it be meet yet for any work, when the fire hath devoured it, and it is burned?” (Ezekiel 15:5). In other words, the nation of Israel was corrupt from the beginning. Even when king David ruled, there was conflict and dissention among God’s people. David’s brief reign of 40 years represented the best that Israel had to offer, and yet, David’s sin of adultery, and the family conflict that followed, no doubt caused God’s kingdom to suffer disgrace in the eyes of unbelievers.

God’s final judgment of his people was necessary to purge the pride and self-sufficiency that was evident to everyone. God told Ezekiel, “And I will set my face against them; they shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them; and ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I set my face against them, and I will make the land desolate, because they have committed a trespass, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 15:7-8). The use of the name Lord GOD as opposed to LORD or Jehovah, God’s personal name, meant that when God set his face against his people, he would be dealing with them as the Lord of Lords or divine ruler of the universe, a.k.a. Jesus.

The mark

In his divine judgment of the city of Jerusalem, God demonstrated his ability to exercise self-control, in spite of fierce emotions that caused him to destroy everything, including his holy temple. Before he undertook the action to kill everyone within the city walls, God ordered a mark to be placed on the forehead of every person who shared his disgust with the situation. Calling forth the seven guardian angels that protected his people, God gave instructions to set apart those who were faithful to him. It says in Ezekiel 9:4, “And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.”

The seventh angel, who was clothed in linen, carried a writer’s inkhorn with which he was to place the mark (Ezekiel 9:2). Although it is not specified exactly what type of mark was made, the Hebrew word translated mark in Ezekiel 9:4, tav or taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, specifies a signature. The signature may have only been represented by an X, but the implication was that the mark was a sign of ownership that was imprinted on the forehead. A similar marking is found in the book of Revelation where it says of the Antichrist, “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive the mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16-17).

God’s judgment of Jerusalem was in many ways the foreshadowing of God’s final judgment of everyone on earth. It says in Revelation 3:12, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” It is possible that the mark placed on the foreheads of those in Jerusalem at the time of the city’s destruction was linked to Christ and was the equivalent of receiving salvation. The remarkable thing about receiving the mark was the only  requirement was to sign or groan, as if in despair (Ezekiel 9:4).

Ezekiel’s visions of God allowed him to see beforehand the outcome of God’s judgment of Jerusalem. In spite of his lenient excusal of anyone that cried out in despair, it appeared that none would survive. After the order was given to slay everyone that did not have the mark, Ezekiel exclaimed, “And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord GOD, wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem?” (Ezekiel 9:8). God’s reply to Ezekiel’s question suggested there were none who believed and were willing to cry out to him for help. “Then he said unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not” (Ezekiel 9:9).