Wednesday, October 15, 2014

We Are Being Prepared for God's Kingdom

The Feast of Tabernacles is one of the festivals ordained by God in the Old Testament. Like all the festivals and holy days, it helps to illustrate God's plan for the salvation of mankind (Leviticus 23:1-44).

Passover illustrates the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty of our sins so we can be forgiven and saved (Exodus 12:21-23, John 1:29, Revelation 5:1-14, 12:11, 13:8, Isaiah 53:1-12). The Days of Unleavened Bread illustrate our part and responsibility in repenting and putting sins out of our lives (Leviticus 23:6, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

Pentecost represents the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us understand God's truth and to help us overcome our sins. It also represents the start of the New Testament Church of God (because the Church is defined as the collective body of those having God's Holy Spirit dwelling within them - see Romans 8:9-11), and the start of the preaching of the gospel to the world by the Church (Leviticus 23:15-21, Acts 2:1-41).

The Day of Trumpets teaches us about end time events when God begins to intervene in this world in a direct and powerful way to bring the 6,000 year age of man to a close. That intervention begins and ends with the Day of the Lord and includes the return of Jesus Christ to rule the earth and the resurrection or change to immortality of all the members of the Church who have overcome and endured to the end (Leviticus 23:23-25, Revelation 6:12-14, 8:6-21, 11:15-19, Isaiah 13:6-12, Joel 1:15, 2:1-2, 31, 1 Corinthians 15:50-56, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).

The Day of Atonement teaches us about the putting away of Satan after the return of Christ so he can no longer deceive and tempt the world to sin, and it reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ for our sins and our responsibility, each of us, to reject Satan and his way and put him and his sinful ways out of our lives (Leviticus 23:26-32, 16:1-33, Revelation 20:1-3).

The Feast of Tabernacles represents the one thousand year reign of Christ with the resurrected saints, now immortal, over the earth (Leviticus 23:33-43, Revelation 20:4-6).

After the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles comes the "eighth day" or "the last day" and "that great day of the Feast" (Leviticus 23:39, John 7:37-38), which we call "the Last Great Day". That represents the general resurrection of the dead, the white throne judgment period, when all the billions of people who have lived and died without a chance for salvation will be resurrected and given an opportunity, their first, to choose to accept God's way of life and be saved (Revelation 20:11-15, Ezekiel 37:1-14).

The Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day run together, in one sense separate festivals because they have slightly different meanings, but in one sense the same because the Last Great Day is called the "eighth day" and the "last day" or "great day" of the Feast and because Christ's reign over the earth with the saints continues through the white throne judgment, so there is a continuity.

The weekly Sabbath day also represents part of God's plan. As the seventh day Sabbath rest follows six days of the workweek, so the one thousand year reign of Christ with the saints will follow six thousand years of man ruling himself apart from God and under Satan's influence. As the weekly Sabbath is intended to be a day of rest and a day of delight, so the rule of Christ over the earth will bring peace and happiness to mankind (Exodus 20:8-11, 2 Peter 3:8).

The weekly Sabbath represents the millennium as the Feast of Tabernacles represents the millennium.

The Feast of Tabernacles also reminds us, as we live in temporary dwellings for the eight days, that this life and world (society) is temporary - we are "sojourners", strangers, in this world under Satan's influence. Our real citizenship is in heaven, not this world (Philippians 3:20-21).

The seven thousand year plan of God is intended to teach the human race through experience that God's way of life is better than Satan's way. Mankind will be able to compare the fruits of Satan's way of life for six thousand years, a way that has produced misery and destruction, with the fruits of God's way of life for one thousand years, a way that will produce peace and happiness. Mankind, those living in the millennium and those who come up in the white throne judgment, will be able to compare and choose the way of life they will commit to. Those who choose God's way of life will be given eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Those who do not choose God's way of life will be destroyed forever.

I have heard a number of members in the Church of God relate that when they were first learning the truth and coming into the Church of God, when they first learned the meaning of the holy days and the plan of God that the holy days illustrate, they were awestruck with the logic and clarity of it and the wonderful truth it represents.

God's plan, as illustrated by the annual holy days and feast and the weekly Sabbath, is very logical. It is the only explanation for the world and our human experience that really makes sense. Yet, the majority of humanity rejects knowledge of God's plan. They do this because they are deceived by Satan and this is not their time to be called.

This world cannot understand God's plan because they are not willing to believe and obey God's word. They do not observe and practice God's holy days, therefore God will not open their understanding. For it is only those who actually observe God's annual holy days and festivals as God instructs, as well as the weekly Sabbath, who are able to understand God's plan illustrated by those days. Just studying the meaning of the days without observing them is not sufficient (Psalm 111:10).

Jesus Christ and God the Father are working in and through the Church of God today to prepare us to serve God in the millennium and white throne judgment by reigning with Christ over the earth, turning mankind towards God. But they are also working through the Church of God to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, to prepare them for the tribulation, the Day of the Lord, and the millennium that follows.

Our job now is twofold: One, build character to prepare us to reign with Christ. We do this by making right choices to resist and reject sin and choose the righteousness of Christ and God the Father, until choosing the right and rejecting the wrong becomes our habit and way of life. Two, preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the only generation of mankind that will live in two worlds, two ages, this present generation that will live into the millennium. We have a vital role to prepare the world for what is to come.

But in preaching the gospel, we are also building right character, so our second job, to preach the gospel, actually reinforces our first job, to build character.

The Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day also picture the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God will consist of Jesus Christ and the resurrected saints, the family of God, which will rule over the earth during the millennium.

Besides what they picture and represent, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day provide Church of God members with a period of time for spiritual renewal, more than a week of sermons, fellowship, and the opportunity for prayer, Bible study, and serving others - a period of intensified instruction. This gives us the opportunity to have our spiritual batteries recharged, in a sense, and the lessons we learn during the Feast can be reviewed and studied throughout the coming year.

The Feast represents God's kingdom, and the keeping of the Feast is part of our preparation and training for that kingdom.

Here are links to some posts in this blog on subjects related to the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day in particular, and the holy days in general:

"Why God Is Not Trying to Save Everyone Now", dated October 26, 2008, link:

"God Is Not Trying to Save Everyone in this Age", dated November 8, 2008, link:

"God's Annual Holy Days and Festivals", dated December 25, 2008, link:

"Did the New Testament Church Observe God's Annual Festivals?", dated December 30, 2008, link:

"The Work of the Millennium Has Started!", dated September 20, 2010, link:

"The World's Loved Ones Are Not Lost", dated September 29, 2010, link:

"The Difference Between the Kingdom of God and the Millennium", dated October 12, 2011, link:

"The Millennium Will Be a Time of Joy for God Too", dated October 14, 2011, link:

"Unity in the Bride of Christ", dated October 14, 2011, link:

"The Millennium Prepares for the White Throne Judgment", dated October 17, 2011, link:

"The Last Great Day Shows God's Mercy and Justice", dated October 18, 2011, link:

"The First 500 Trillion Years", dated October 21, 2011, link:

"God Expresses His Love Towards Us by the Secrets He Reveals to Us", dated September 28, 2012, link:

"Learning Love by Doing in the Millennium - Preparing for the White Throne Judgement", dated October 5, 2012, link:

"The White Throne Judgement Is a Blessing for the Church of God", dated October 8, 2012, link:

"To Be Effective in Giving a Warning, We Have to Overcome Even When It Is Hard", dated September 3, 2013, link:

"Things We Don't Know about the Millennium", dated September 16, 2013, link:

"The First Generation in the Millennium", dated September 20, 2013, link:

"The Bible's Main Readership", dated September 22, 2013, link:

"Will There Be Money in the Kingdom of God?", dated September 24, 2013, link:

"Israel Will Be the Model Nation in the Millennium", dated October 10, 2014, link:

"A Pure Language", dated October 13, 2014, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Weekly Sabbath Day, Chapter 2

The Annual Holy Days and the Plan of God, Chapter 2

The Feast of Tabernacles - the Millennial Rule of Christ, Chapter 2

The Last Great Day - the White Throne Judgment, Chapter 2

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Pure Language

God will give mankind a pure language in the millennium. "For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord" (Zephaniah 3:9).

Why will it be necessary for humanity to be given a pure language? What is wrong with the languages we have today?

For one thing, the world today is divided by a multitude of languages. It was not that way in the beginning. At one time, the whole world was of one language.

"Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.' They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.' But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, 'Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.' So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth" (Genesis 11:1-9).

God confused the language of man at that time to divide mankind. This was for the purpose of limiting what man would do. Mankind, under Satan's influence, has always been headed in the wrong direction since the sin of Adam. God did not change mankind's direction, but He slowed the human race down by putting the breaks on what mankind could accomplish. By confusing the language of man, He caused human society to be divided, no longer able to act as one unified world.

But when Christ is ruling the earth, that division will no longer be necessary. Christ will lead mankind in the right direction, so He will no longer need to have the world divided by a multitude of languages to limit and slow down the pace of what man does.

The world will be a simpler place when all people speak the same language.

But also, the language God will give mankind will be pure in a way that no language today is pure.

Today, probably all commonly spoken human languages are corrupt because our languages reflect the corruption of our carnal thinking.

Languages change over time. We invent new words and lose some old ones through disuse. Words change in meaning as we use them in new ways. Common usage gives words their meaning, and language changes as our use of language changes.

And languages reflect the thinking, biases, values, and culture of the people who use them.

Since mankind is corrupt in his thinking, his languages are corrupt also.

Take for example the word, "normal". What does it mean? Does it mean, "right and good", "satisfactory", "ok"? Or does it mean, "average"? Depending on the context, it can mean either one. It can mean "right" or it can mean "average" because people can use it either way when they speak.

Sometimes a person will use the word to mean, "right", "good", "satisfactory" when he says, "that is normal". But sometimes a person will use the word to mean, "average". He will say, "that is normal" to mean, that is average, typical, the way things usually are.

But a problem is that these two meanings can be blurred in our minds, and the word can be used, intentionally or not, to blur the distinction between "average", and "right" or "ok". The problem is, what is average or typical is NOT right and ok. But the idea, that average is ok, is built into the word "normal" because of the way people use the word.

And that happens because of the way most people think. Most people think of society as the arbitrator of, the authority that defines, right and wrong, good and bad. In the minds of most people, "bad" is what the majority of society says is bad, and "good" is what the majority says is good. Society becomes the ultimate authority of morality for these people.

And who leads society? Satan.

Thus, a word like "normal" can mean both "average" and "ok" or "good".

Most people define "ok" or "good" according to the behavior and thinking of the majority of society. "Everybody does it", someone will say to justify some behavior. They think if everyone does it (whatever "it" is), it must be ok.

Of course, it really isn't everyone who does it - just the majority.

Then, with just that one word, "normal", a person can use the very meaning of our language to justify wrong behavior.

For example, in a supermarket you might see a mother telling her child to do something, or stop doing something, and the child is disobeying. Or maybe the child is throwing a temper tantrum in the store because the mother won't buy the child what the child wants, and the mother let's the child get away with it. Discuss the situation with some people outside the Church, and they might say of the child's (and mother's) behavior, "that is normal". But what does that mean?

Does the person mean, "that is average or typical of a mother and her child"? In that case, yes, it may be "normal" in the sense that it may be typical of the majority in our society today. Or does the person mean, "that is ok, nothing wrong with it"? In that case, no, it is not "normal" in the sense that it is ok.

What the person really means is, "that's the way kids are, so it is ok". But it is not ok. Properly trained and disciplined in a godly family, children will be obedient. But in our society, that truly is the way most kids are to one degree or another.

There is a false concept, that moral values are only relative to what the majority of society accepts, that is built-in to the world "normal" because of the way "normal" is commonly used in this world's discussions and conversations.

So wrong concepts, wrong ideas, wrong standards, values, and beliefs are built in to our very languages, whether we are aware of that or not. And our languages influence our thinking just as our thinking influences our languages.

That is why God will have to replace man's languages by giving us one pure language, as He cleans up mankind's thinking, beliefs, and behavior.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Israel Will Be the Model Nation in the Millennium

God from the beginning intended Israel to be a model nation, a positive example for the rest of the world to follow of a nation that obeys God and practices God's way of life. "Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?" (Deuteronomy 4:6-8).

For the most part, Israel has not fulfilled that role. But they will in the millennium.

God will work first with Israel. He will rescue them and save them from the tribulation and will gather those who survive into the land of Israel.

As God teaches and rules Israel, other nations will see Israel's example and prosperity and will see the advantage of coming under God's rule voluntarily. Those nations that refuse to obey God will suffer punishments. "And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain. If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles" (Zechariah 14:16-19).

Those nations that obey God will be blessed. (By the way, since nations will be required to send representatives to Jerusalem for the Feast, that suggests to me that there will be airplane travel, for how else would it be practical for leaders of nations all over the world to go to Jerusalem for the Feast? - something to think about.)

Israel will be the first nation to receive blessings for obedience, and God's way of life will spread all over the earth as other nations see the benefits of obeying God and receiving the blessings of obedience. They will see Israel's blessings and will want the same blessings themselves. The leaders and representatives of all nations will come to Jerusalem (in some cases after learning their lessons when they receive no rain - Zechariah 14:16-19), and will experience and see and hear firsthand what God's way of life is like. They will hear God's law and word taught at the Feast. They will see the prosperity and example of God's people. And they can take the lessons they learn back to their own lands and say to their people, "Let us obey the God of Israel, for I have seen that Israel is exceedingly blessed."

In this way, God's way of life and knowledge of the true God can spread over the earth.

I don't know for sure it will happen exactly this way. I am not sure to what extent Christ will simply rule other nations by force or motivate them to submit voluntarily through a combination of rewards and punishments, blessings for nations that come under God's rule and curses for nations that refuse to obey for a time, till they repent (Zechariah 14:16-19).

But Israel will be a model nation in any case.

Yet every one of us has a direct responsibility right now, in helping to bring about the transformation of Israel into a model of God's way of life, whether we realize it or not. Your Feast offerings have a direct bearing on this.

That first generation of Israel is very important, and most of that generation is alive today. Our responsibility is to prepare that generation for the tribulation, now.

We do that by preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to them, now.

Why is that important?

Why is it important for Israel to hear the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning, now, before the tribulation begins, in order for them to be a model nation at the beginning of the millennium?

Israel must have a good attitude in order to truly repent and obey God on a consistent basis. Israel must be humble and teachable. Israel must also trust God and believe in God's goodness and fairness.

Now, put yourself in the position of a typical religious American, Canadian, or Briton. You might be Catholic or Protestant. You are sincere. You believe in God. You are active in your church, and you are serious and zealous about serving God, but not according to knowledge, like many of the Jews of Paul's day. You worship God, but not in truth because you are deceived.

You have some knowledge of God's law, but it is limited and incomplete. Yet, to the degree you know God's law and will, you obey it. You know that adultery is wrong, so you are faithful to your spouse. You know that it is wrong to lust, so you do not look at other women to desire them. You never steal, never cheat on your income tax. You honor your parents. You never use filthy language or take God's name in vain. You do good deeds for others, serve widows, and give to the poor. You forgive others and do not hold grudges because you know that Christ commands forgiveness.

Yet, you believe and practice the traditions of your Catholic or Protestant church more than the Bible. You pray to a "trinity" god. You work on the Sabbath and observe Sunday as "the Lord's Day". You observe Christmas and Easter and think you are worshipping God by doing so. And you may be setting up idols, images of Christ, images of Mary, as an "aid" to worshipping God.

Why? Because you are deceived and you don't believe what God says in the Bible. You have been taught that the Bible needs to be interpreted by your church, and you have been taught that God guides your church to interpret the Bible correctly. So you let them twist the meaning of plain scriptures to justify your traditions.

But you think you are pleasing God in your life. You may pray quietly in your mind, many times during the day as you go about your business. You feel close to God. You teach your children about God and rejoice when they believe as you have taught them because you think you are doing a good thing for your children to bring them into a close relationship with God.

You are sure God is pleased with your life. But God is not pleased. You think you know God but you don't know Him.

Is this fiction I am describing? Is there anyone like this in our countries?

There are probably millions like this. I was raised Catholic. My family is Catholic. I think I know what I am talking about.

So how do you think these people will react in the tribulation, when they finally learn that God is punishing them for the way they have tried to worship Him, if they never have a chance to hear the truth while they have time to repent before the punishment? If God never even gives them a warning that what they are doing is wrong before their punishment comes, what will they think about God? Will they trust in God's goodness after that? Not likely! Not easily.

Will they not say to themselves, "God isn't fair. He never gave me a chance. If He had only warned me, I would have repented."

But in fact, God has provided a warning, through us, His servants, IF we deliver it. "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:17-18).  "Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter" (Proverbs 24:11). "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:39-40). "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:13).

God commands we deliver the warning message and the true gospel of the Kingdom of God. But He has not made it easy for us. We can do the job, but only if we sacrifice. We need to go all out.

If we are faithful to do the job God has given us, Israel will be warned, and when they go through the tribulation, they will remember that God was fair to give them a warning first. They will be able to take responsibility for their decision to ignore the warning. Acknowledging their own fault in ignoring the warning message will be a necessary step towards repentance. But for that to happen, they must hear the warning, and we must give them the warning.

Then, they will acknowledge that God was fair towards them in having the Church give them a warning before their punishment. They will be able to trust God, knowing that God was fair.

That is what will make Israel humble and teachable in the millennium so they can be converted and become the model nation to set the example for all nations on the earth.

We need to go all out to preach the good news, the true gospel of the Kingdom of God, and the Ezekiel warning of the coming punishment of the great tribulation and the Day of the Lord upon Israel if Israel does not repent of following their traditions and begin to believe the Bible and obey God.

When you hear a sermon during the Feast about Israel setting an example during the millennium for other nations to follow, know that your holy day offerings for the preaching of the gospel will help bring this to pass. That is our job now. It is our responsibility. Let's do it with zeal and with sacrifice.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Clean and Unclean Meats

A long, well-established doctrine in the Church of God is the teaching that we should avoid eating animals God says in the Old Testament are unclean and we should not eat.

This doctrine is not controversial in the Church of God, though most mainstream, traditional churches do not observe this doctrine. But we have observed it even before Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong came on the scene. Church of God Seventh Day was observing the distinction between clean and unclean foods when Mr. Armstrong came among them almost a century ago.

God commanded that we avoid eating pork, seafood not having fins and scales, and other unclean meats. When you put all scriptures on this subject in the Bible together, it is clear that the prohibition against unclean meats is still in force today (see for example, Acts 10:9-28).

But God has not said in the Bible, why we are to avoid unclean meats. We do it because God said it, even without knowing definitely why.

It may be a matter of health. God made the human body and He also made plants and animals to provide food for our bodies. It may be that He did not design the flesh of unclean animals to be food for man and there is something harmful to our health in unclean meat. Although food scientists may or may not see problems in eating pork, God knows far more than man about the human body in all its complexity and about the real causes of disease. It may be that there are things in unclean meats that are harmful to our health that God knows about but that food scientists and doctors do not know about.

Mr. Armstrong believed that God's laws about clean and unclean meats were a matter of health, as he indicated in his autobiography.

Yet, there may be more to it than that.

God may have several reasons for giving us His law of clean and unclean meats. It may be more than just a matter of health.

For one thing, there is a spiritual lesson in avoiding unclean meats.

God sometimes uses physical practices to teach spiritual lessons. What we physically practice reminds us of spiritual lessons and principles. What we do affects how we think.

God has given us physical baptism to teach us spiritual lessons (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:11-12). Baptism reminds us, for example, that we are to bury the old self and rise in newness of life. It reminds us of the burial and resurrection of Christ. Passover symbols remind us of the sacrifice of Christ.

Avoiding leavening during the Days of Unleavened Bread reminds us to put sin out of our lives. Eating unleavened bread during those days reminds us of the spiritual lesson of putting the righteousness of Christ into our lives every day.

Avoiding unclean meats may also be a physical action that teaches us a spiritual lesson. The spiritual lesson may be simply to always be alert to avoid sin.

When you eat in a restaurant during the Feast of Tabernacles, you often have to be alert to what various dishes contain. Sometimes you have to ask the waitress if a certain dish, maybe soup for example, contains pork. We have to be alert to choose the good and avoid the bad.

I am writing this post in a restaurant after having a meal of pancakes and eggs for breakfast. The menu said this dish includes bacon or sausage. So I had them substitute a hamburger patty for the bacon or sausage.

The spiritual lesson is a reminder to resist temptation to sin, to make a distinction, based on the word of God, between what God approves and what He forbids. We are to live by every word of God, rejecting the wrong and doing the right.

Just as I rejected bacon or sausage for breakfast and substituted beef, based on God's word, so I must reject sin and do what is right in God's sight, based on God's word. When a thought comes into my mind, I must reject it or accept it, based on the Bible, just as I reject unclean meats and accept clean meats based on the Bible.

So if wrong thoughts come into my mind, thoughts of hate, or lust, or vanity, I should put those thoughts out of my mind, based on God's word, just as I told the waiter not to bring bacon or sausage with my pancakes and eggs. But if right thoughts comes into my mind, such as giving God thanks or using an opportunity to serve others, I can accept those thoughts, just as I accepted the pancakes, eggs, and hamburger patty (Colossians 3:1-2, Philippians 4:8-9, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

Being alert to what I eat, avoiding unclean meats based on what the Bible says, is a reinforcement of the habit of being alert to what I am thinking, saying, and doing based on the Bible, rejecting sinful thoughts, words, and actions just as I avoid ham, bacon, or shrimp when I eat.

It is the same kind of lesson and reminder of avoiding sin that we learn by avoiding leavening during the Days of Unleavened Bread, but the lesson of unclean meats goes on all year.

There may be another spiritual lesson to be learned from clean and unclean meats, and that is the lesson of faith.

Mankind and the world of science do not necessarily say there is anything unhealthy about pork. Yet God tells us to avoid eating pork and other unclean meats without telling us the reason why. When we obey God in this, we are demonstrating and practicing faith and trust in God and His word.

In effect, we are saying to God and to ourselves, "I don't know why God tells me to avoid unclean meats, but I believe Him and trust that He knows best."

We learn and reinforce the spiritual lesson of doing what God says even when we do not know the reason for it. That is an important spiritual lesson, the lesson of faith and trust in what God says, and it is a principle and trait that should become part of our character to prepare us for eternity in the Kingdom of God.

When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, fellowshipping with brethren at the Feast of Tabernacles, and you are looking at the menu, rejecting foods that are unclean and choosing what is clean, remember the spiritual lesson, that just as you choose what to eat or not based on your trust and faith in God and His instructions, so we are to choose what to think about, say, and do, and what to avoid, based on God's word. "And He said, 'What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man' " (Mark 7:20-23). "But He answered and said, 'It is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" ' " (Matthew 4:4).

As we are alert about what we eat, let us be alert about what we think, say, and do during the Feast and all year long.

And if you are ordering pancakes and eggs, and the menu says it comes with bacon or sausage, try asking the waitress, "Can I substitute a hamburger patty for the bacon or sausage?" It works for me (sometimes, anyway).

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Clean and Unclean Foods, Chapter 2

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Atonement Represents Complete Reconciliation with God

The Two-fold Meaning of Atonement

Ask a Church of God member what Atonement teaches and represents, and he will typically answer, "the putting away of Satan at the end of this age after Christ returns". That is true. That is one of the things Atonement represents.

But it is not the whole answer. Like Passover, Atonement also represents the sacrifice of Christ.

The representation of Atonement is illustrated by the two goats described in Leviticus, chapter 16. The goat that is sacrificed represents Christ, who died to pay the penalty for our share of guilt in our sins. The goat that is released in the wilderness represents Satan, who will be put away at the end of the age. Satan will be put away for his sins and his share of the guilt for leading and tempting humans to sin. In this way, all the responsibility for our sins will be dealt with in a way that removes mankind's guilt entirely and allows us to be completely reconciled to God.

Both we and Satan share responsibility for our sins. Satan tempts man to sin and is therefore partly responsible for our sins. But we give in to Satan's temptations and therefore choose to sin, and we are responsible for our sinful choices. Atonement represents God's plan for removing sin and sin guilt from the human race. Satan's share of guilt for our sins is placed upon him, where it belongs, and Christ pays the penalty for our share of guilt for our sins. The live goat represents Satan, banished to the wilderness, removed from man, bearing his own guilt for man's and his own sins, and the goat that is killed represents Christ paying the penalty for our share of guilt for our sins. The two goats together represent God removing all guilt from the human race so we can be totally reconciled with God.

"He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:7-10). "Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat" (Leviticus 16:15). "Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. Then Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of meeting, shall take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the Holy Place, and shall leave them there. And he shall wash his body with water in a holy place, put on his garments, come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people. The fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. And he who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp" (Leviticus 16:21-26).

But putting away Satan is not all God's doing. God indeed will put Satan away at the end of this age. But we, members of God's Church, the firstfruits called in this age, also have a responsibility to put Satan and his evil influence out of our lives and minds now. We cannot escape his temptations totally, but we can do our best to avoid his sinful messages and put his temptations out of our minds. We can reject his way of thinking and his way of life. We can reject his entertainment. We can avoid his false teaching. We can avoid his false ministers and false prophets and their teaching. We can guard our minds and reject those things, to the degree we are able, that Satan uses to try to deceive us and tempt us to sin. In other words, we can reject Satan and put him out of our lives by putting sin out of our lives.

Sound familiar? It is a parallel of the Days of Unleavened Bread. The lesson of putting sin out of our lives is repeated in the Day of Atonement, just as the lesson of the sacrifice of Christ, pictured by Passover, is repeated in the Day of Atonement. It is another way God teaches the lesson. He emphasizes the lesson with repetition.

The goat that was sacrificed on the Day of Atonement reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ, pictured also by Passover. But the banishing of the live goat to the wilderness, away from the congregation of Israel, in addition to representing the putting away of Satan by God at the end of this age, reminds us that to be fully reconciled to God, we must reject Satan and resist Satan's sinful influence in our lives and put Satan's way of life and thinking out of our lives, and that is very similar to the lesson of putting sin out of our lives represented by the Days of Unleavened Bread.

In this age, we have to fight against Satan's influence in our minds and in our lives, resisting his temptations, rejecting his values and ways of thinking, avoiding his teaching and bad influences to the degree we are able. It is as if each of us must "put Satan away" in our minds. "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30). "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18). "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things" (Philippians 4:8). "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3:2).

Our individual battles against Satan are pictured by the Days of Unleavened Bread. For those in the millennium and the general resurrection, God puts Satan away, pictured by Atonement. The people at that time will not have to fight Satan's temptations as we do today. They still have obey God and choose to resist temptations, but their battles will be easier without Satan and the influences of a sinful society to make their struggle harder.

So we have a harder fight, because we are the firstfruits, but our reward also will be greater.

But the ultimate lesson is the same. Satan and his way of life must be totally rejected in order that we may be completely reconciled with God. The sacrifice of God pays the penalty for our past sins. But we must overcome. Our way of life must demonstrate that we reject Satan, or God will not entrust us with eternal life.

Those who refuse that lesson, those who ultimately do not demonstrate an attitude of mind that 100% rejects Satan's way of life, will be destroyed forever in the lake of fire. Christ's sacrifice makes repentance and forgiveness possible. But Christ's sacrifice will not save us if we choose to continue to follow Satan.

God's Merciful Nature

God is merciful towards us. But why? Is He merciful towards us because we are obedient? Not exactly.

Is God merciful towards those who obey His commands? Yes. "For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:11-13). "And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation" (Luke 1:50).

But God is merciful, not because of our obedience. God is merciful because it is His nature to be merciful.

Mercy is God's normal state, His normal frame of mind towards His creation.

But if we continue to disobey, even after we have the opportunity to repent and obey, persistent disobedience disqualifies us from God's normal mercy. He will destroy us if we do not repent.

Our trust therefore must be in God and His mercy, not our obedience. But we must obey, for if we do not obey, we will not obtain the mercy He wants to extend to us.

This may be a subtle point. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking our own obedience saves us. But obedience should be our normal state. It is God's mercy that saves us. Disobedience is a form of rejection of God's mercy.

"And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do' " (Luke 17:7-10). "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). "Therefore understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people" (Deuteronomy 9:6).

Obedience is only our reasonable obligation to the God who gave us life.

But if we disobey, our disobedience can disqualify us and cut us off from God's mercy which is His nature to give. So obedience is in a sense our normal, reasonable duty - it is expected, not anything special that makes us worthy. Then, God's merciful nature is in effect for us. But if we rebel, we cut ourselves off from God's normally merciful nature.

Mercy and love are not attributes of the person receiving the mercy and love. They are not earned or produced by the person receiving mercy and love. They are attributes of the one giving the mercy and love, in this case, God.

We can't make God love us. Our obedience does not make God show us mercy. God's nature is love and mercy. But our disobedience can block that mercy. God will destroy those who persist in their sins.

As long as we intend and want to overcome our sins, God will work with us and give us every opportunity. But if we harden our hearts and turn from God, He will destroy us.

"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). "and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face" (Deuteronomy 7:10). "For our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off" (Romans 11:22).

God's purpose and objective is simple. He wants billions of children, and He wants them to enjoy the maximum happiness and joy for eternity. God wants 100% the best outcome, the greatest happiness forever that is possible. Not 99% the best happiness. One hundred percent.

God can produce anything. He created the universe. He can make greater and greater creations forever. There is no limit the joyful things He can continue to accomplish and produce for His children. "You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:10).

And God knows exactly what is needed to achieve maximum happiness and joy in the universe for eternity.

What is needed is right character, and God is producing that character in those who are willing to believe, trust, and obey Him. God produces that character in those who reject Satan and Satan's way of life, those who, in the way they live their lives, "put Satan away" - those who resist Satan's temptations and reject his teachings, doctrines, entertainment, and way of thinking. As God will put Satan away from mankind literally at the beginning of the millennium, so we must put Satan out of our lives in the choices we make today. We cannot escape his temptations, not completely, in this age. But we can resist those temptations and by so doing reject Satan's way of life.

God produces right character in those who believe, trust, and obey Him in order to prepare them for eternity in His kingdom. When all of God's children have perfect, holy, righteous character in the Kingdom of God, we will be prepared for maximum peace, joy, and happiness forever in that kingdom.

But God will not compromise. God will not let someone into His kingdom who is not fully committed to God's way of life. He will not let into His kingdom someone who is sitting on the fence about obeying God. He does not want children with 99% right character and 1% sin for eternity. He wants 100% righteousness in His children as God is 100% righteous. And everyone in the Kingdom of God will be 100% righteous as God is righteous.

Those who ultimately refuse to repent and obey will be destroyed in the lake of fire. Is that cruel? No. God gave life and He has the right to take life away. He has given us temporary life, long enough to make our choice. Only those who embrace God's way of life and make it their own will be given permanent life, eternal life. The rest will be destroyed.

Yet the suffering and the loss experienced by those who are destroyed in the lake of fire is nothing in comparison with the happiness to be enjoyed by God's children forever in the Kingdom of God. There is no comparison.

One person, not fully committed to God's way of life and God's righteousness, if given eternal life anyway, would compromise the happiness that could exist in that kingdom for eternity. God will not allow that.

God will destroy those who refuse to 100% commit to God's way of life for the sake of His children who will live forever in God's kingdom, so there will be no one who might sin and corrupt the happiness we would otherwise enjoy. All eternity is at stake, and God will make sure that eternity is has happy as it can be.

God is not unmerciful to destroy sinners in the lake of fire. Rather, by destroying sinners in the lake of fire, He is showing mercy to His family in His kingdom for eternity. His objective is to protect His family for eternity from any chance of sin that could mar that happiness, even a little. He will give sinners the chance to repent and change and make it into the Kingdom of God. He will give everyone the opportunity. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). "for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

But God will not compromise with sin, and no sinner who continues in sin will be allowed in the Kingdom of God. "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:7-8). "But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life" (Revelation 21:27). "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie" (Revelation 22:14-15).

This shows God's mercy and wisdom. And in the Kingdom of God, we can rejoice that God has not compromised and that there will never be a rebellion against Him to spoil the happiness and joy of His children, forever.

In my last post on Trumpets, I touched on a variety of topics that I have covered in more detail in other posts and in Preaching the Gospel. Since I originally published the Trumpets post, for those who are interested, I have added a list of links at the bottom of the post to posts and parts of my book that discuss those topics in more detail.

Here are links to posts in this blog on subjects related to this post on Atonement:

"Day of Atonement", dated September 16, 2010, link:

"Atonement and Fasting", dated October 7, 2011, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Day of Atonement - the Putting Away of Satan, Chapter 2