I am becoming increasingly aware of how disturbing some of Jesus’ comments were in His parables. As I pointed out earlier, it is easier to either skip over some of these comments or put a spin on them that we are comfortable with than to try and deal with the seeming implications. This also helps us not to upset people who may happen to be mentored or taught by us.
I received some interesting comments from a reader in Scandinavia. I will not use her name but because some of her comments are pertinent to this subject series, I will share what she said about this controversy having to do with faith, works, grace, and God’s expectations of us. Here are her comments:
“It is amazing how the last three blogs about “faith and works” are so current at this very moment at our fellowship!!!! And at the big Church of Finland. Some of us are accused because we talk about those same things. But they do exist in the Holy Bible! Some are talking only about the grace and say that we must not talk about the repentance and that we cannot do any sin! And we cannot be misled! Do we read the same Bible? We are like being divided in two. I cannot believe it is happening to our small flock…One sister who also read your blog with her husband could hardly believe her eyes, like you knew what was happening in our fellowship. It would feel kind of scary if you would not know the time we are living…”
This sister’s comments confirmed to me once again how diluted the true Gospel of Jesus Christ has become. Could it be that more emphasis today is being put on building church attendance than teaching and preaching the full gospel? In our attempt to draw people in, have we become so “seeker friendly” that we sugar coat the Word of God? Is it possible in our easy living culture, that we are guilty of “cherry picking” when it comes to picking passages to use in teaching God’s Word? Do we accurately represent it? Reading the comments from across America as well as from overseas tells me this is a wide-spread problem. The Church of Laodicea spoken of in Revelation 3 is growing by leaps and bounds. I can’t help wondering how many representations of the third servant in the Parable of the Talents we are turning out today? I’m not sure we recognize the consequence of this.
In my studies I ran across a quote by R.P.C. Hanson, (or Bishop Hanson, professor at Universities Durham, Nottingham, and Manchestor) who said this:
“Most preachers and most composers of prayers today treat the Biblical doctrine of the wrath of God very much as the Victorians treated sex. It is there, but it must never be alluded to because it is in an undefined way shameful…God is love; therefore He is indefinitely tolerant. Presumably it is for such reasons that the Christian churches of the twentieth century have in practice turned their backs upon the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God.”
It was of course not always this way. Probably one of the most famous—or infamous sermons on this subject was one by Jonathan Edwards called, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. He preached this sermon in New England in 1741. This sermon didn’t pull any punches with its verbiage and he had great response to boot.
This famous sermon preached the same way today would likely not work very well in our society. The problem today is not that the wrath of God is exaggerated of course, but rather that it is neglected or masked.
Someone might ask at this point, what this all has to do with our study of “faith and works” and the parables of Jesus. In short, it has to do with misconceptions of the nature of God, not only in the Old Testament, but also the New Testament, and it shows in our understanding and explanation of Jesus’ parables.
Many people believe that God is not subject to anger, since His Divine Nature would not allow it. Since everything about God is good, how can God ever really be angry? How can God be wrathful? How could He ever hate? How could He kill? The Bible even describes Him as jealous at times. How can any of these attributes describe a God that is perfect?
Could it be that we have distorted the nature of God in order to bend His expectations of us to where they are more palatable to our self-serving society?
A second means used to maneuver ourselves around some of the discomfort we experience with some of the biblical references describing God and His expectations of us are well described in a quote by Tertullion, a prolific author of the second century. His quote could accurately describe much contemporary preaching. This is what he said:
“…a better god has been discovered, one who is neither offended nor angry, nor inflicts punishment, who has no fire warming up in hell, and no outer darkness wherein there is shuddering and gnashing of teeth; he is merely kind. Of course he forbids you to sin but only in writing.”
This removes from God all functions involving severity or criticism. Do we really serve a God so robbed of personality that He is incapable of anger, judgment, or reproof? Today’s self-serving theology doesn’t allow for a God that is offended by sin! Sadly, through all of our theological gymnastics, most in our generation have lost the fear of Almighty God! The Apostle Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 5:10-11:
“For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…“
Also in Hebrews 10:31 he said,
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!”
Just because we’ve been declared righteous and justified at the time we were born again so that we might escape the wrath of God does not exempt us from being chastised at the Judgment seat of Christ. As with the three servants in the Parable of the Talents, we will have to give answer for what we’ve done with our time given to us on this earth, and the tools God gave us to use.
Because I am familiar with beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church and have known many Catholic people, one potential misunderstanding which comes to mind should be cleared up. Some folks are going to think that the judgment received by the third servant of the Parable of the Talents was Purgatory. Not so!
According to “The Catholic Encyclopedia” Purgatory “is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.” This Catholic doctrine originates from 2 Maccabees 12:41-46. This doctrinal statement in effect is saying that Purgatory is a place where people are sent to be temporarily purged by fire for their sin.
Romans 5:8 makes it quite clear that the penalty was paid for all of our sins by Jesus. Any teaching saying that we must suffer for sins that were not totally covered by the Blood of Jesus on the cross, is contrary to everything Scripture teaches us about salvation. Without realizing it, believing in Purgatory and the reason for it is an insult to the whole story of God’s intervention on behalf of mankind. It contradicts Jesus’ statement on the cross when He proclaimed, “It Is Finished!”
Hebrews 12:10 says the reason God chastens us is so that we might be “partakers of His holiness” so that we would be able to inherit His Kingdom and not just be subjects.
There are some stark contrasts between Catholic doctrine and what is being said in this series of articles. Official Catholic doctrine does not teach about the Messianic Kingdom on this earth for 1,000 years. What is being said here is that there is a literal “Rapture” of the Church, or “harpazo”, at which time all literal believers will be removed from this earth in order to become part of the Kingdom. Not all of these will be overcomers. Christians who are overcome (or overtaken) by the world, the flesh, or the devil, will have their works burned, but they themselves will be saved. God’s Word confirms this in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15:
“If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward,. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”(NIV)
So, it’s not the person who is burned (as in Purgatory), but his works—those that did not meet the standards of God’s holiness. Our attitudes will come into play, for instance. How many use the term, “ministry” today to describe what they are doing for God? I wonder how much of it is something some have done through their own flesh and they just put God’s tag on it? It makes us feel good to do so, and it certainly makes us look good if it is “for God”, but I wonder how often God tries to get a word in edgewise to help steer us where we should really be and we don’t let Him interrupt us.
Many so-called ministries were never commissioned by God. Many of them have seemingly become quite successful in the eyes of men, but do they necessarily look the same way in the eyes of God? I remember sitting in on a chapel service at my college years after I had graduated. I came to hear Judson Cornwall who had been my pastor. He made a comment in his sermon that would stick with me to this very day. He said that in his trips to different mission fields, he had brought more missionaries back from the field than he had sent out.
How could this be? Is it possible that many people make a decision to go out into the field due to a warm fuzzy feeling, and not a genuine call of God? I suspect that many are moved emotionally and respond to that feeling, yet that is not enough. I know in our “feel-good” culture, we figure that God will make it work anyway, but is that really true? I don’t think so. God is God, and we can’t usurp His authority—not in anything. If anyone goes into ministry, no matter what it is, without the specific calling of God, they are naïve or just plain foolish. There is not a single call of God that does not depend on God’s supernatural backing—no matter how insignificant we may think it is. Without God’s backing, we might run into disaster—or even death, as what happened in the realistic depiction of the priests who lost their lives dealing with the powerful demon spirit embodied in the 12 year old girl in the movie “The Exorcist”. Just a movie, you say? Yes, but no! That was a more real look at ministry than most realize. Hell cannot be battled in the flesh. We have nothing whatsoever to use in our battle with such forces, without the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
So, now back to this third servant, and the outer darkness and gnashing teeth he was thrown out to. The whole issue in this parable is not the servant himself as much as his works and life lived for his master—or the lack thereof. His sins that would have cost him an eternity in hell were not in question. This man was a believer and so had his sins already paid for in full. The issue here was that his life was examined and it was found that he did not find it important enough to follow through past the point of his original salvation. This was the point where he stopped going forward. Everything that had been planned for him by his Master was rejected—thus his judgment.
This outer darkness then was not a place of dark suffering like hell, but a place where God in His love will “retrain” all unfaithful believers back to his ways of holiness. He does this today, but apparently also during his Millennial Kingdom as well.
A study that gives a considerable amount of understanding to the principles Jesus intertwined into His teachings of the Millennial Kingdom is found in the description Ezekiel was given of the Millennial Temple. Ezekiel was both a prophet and a priest and was trained for ministry in the Temple. Ezekiel was given a vision of this fourth temple, and no detail was spared. Just the enormous size of the complex gives us an idea of the changes from earlier temples; not only of the temple area, but also the geographic changes necessary to accommodate such a complex. According to Ezekiel’s vision it will be about 50 square miles in size!
The reason I bring this future temple up into this discussion is not to make a study of the temple but rather to point out one of its designated locations which may give us a hint to some of the things Jesus had to say, especially this curious place of outer darkness.
It appears that some of the differences in authority and responsibilities Jesus spoke of in the parables, will at least partially be connected to this temple.
Because this is not a study on the Millennial Temple, I cannot go into the details but, suffice it to say that along with the Outer Court of this magnificent Temple, is the Inner Court, the Porch, the Altar, the Holy Place, The Holy of Holies, The Priest’s Chambers, and a place that does not exist in any of the three previous temples. It’s called “The Separate place” or “Gizrah”.
The Hebrew term “Gizrah” or “Gezerah” according to Strong’s Concordance is the place behind the Holy of Holies. It is a separate place or “a figure or a person who is cut out.” This enclosure is measured and separated or divided from the rest of the Temple; although very close. It also likely includes much more than the immediate enclosure, extending way out to the west of the physical Temple. Even though very close, it is a “portion cut off”; the primitive root of the word being “gazar” which means “to exclude”. Strong’s Concordance also says the “gizrah” is a place for “polishing or making something smooth by friction.” It is used eight times in the Bible, seven times in reference to this Temple in Ezekiel 41 and 42. It’s interesting to note that it was once used in Lamentations 4:7 for a group of Nazarenes who, in spite of the fact they had always been as pure as the driven snow, had blown it badly and so became described as “blacker than coal.” The inference in this passage is that something this stained has to be excluded but not necessarily destroyed. In verse 22, God says that He will exile them no longer, as they had gone through the “polishing” process.
This all may seem foreign to most of us, but then so is most of the Old Testament because it is not taught much in our generation. Even for those that study the Old Testament, the Millennium Temple is usually skipped over, yet it has answers embedded that are needed to explain other Scriptures. The Bible is full of passages like this. So we find that there are other Bible passages referring to “outer darkness” or “the darkness outside”, a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, the profane place. It seems we have a description of a place where Christ will be seen but His face cannot be viewed. Some of the teaching on the Kingdom is hard on traditional teaching we have always had, but I wonder how many passages in the Bible we often gloss over and accept teachings as they’ve always been explained, yet never studying it for ourselves? We need to become students of God’s Word, like never before. If not now, when?
To Be Continued…