Saturday, April 16, 2016

Vessels of the House of God

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. (Daniel 1:1-7)

In the Old Testament, the historical events that take place have layers of significance.  First, they are historical events that actually happened, so we can learn something about the past, usually things that we can find nowhere else.  Second, they all point to Christ, since Christ claimed the scriptures to be about him, so we can find Christ everywhere and see what types, shadows, and symbols point to our Savior in each passage.  Third, they point to Christ's church as well, since we are the bride of Christ, and marriage is the joining of two into one flesh.  In a way, we can read ourselves into the text, but only so far as we are the church of true believers with Christ as our head. Since we are "in Christ," we can find ourselves achieving victory only through Christ. We find ourselves persecuted but only because of Christ. The Church is weak and in need of Christ as savior always.  We do not persevere without him.

Many say that we cannot understand the Book of Revelation without the Book of Daniel. This may be true, but I would also posit that we cannot understand the Book of Daniel without the Book of Revelation.  Indeed, we cannot understand the whole of the Bible without the Book of Revelation.  It is a crucial book.  Once we understand the characters acting in the Book of Revelation, we see those same characters in all of scripture, and things become more clear.  The characters are such: the true Church of believers, who follow Christ, and the world, the enemy of the Church, who follow the Devil, knowingly or unknowingly.  The world can be subdivided into the secular world and the false church.  The true church gets attacked on two fronts by the world, and the world seems about to crush the Church when suddenly Christ returns and crushes the world (and the Devil) instead.  This represents the whole of the Christian's spiritual life on earth.

So, as we go through the Book of Daniel, we will look for these characters.  Babylon is an historic place, but it represents the world, too.  We the Church are the captives--exiles--in Babylon, but our victories in Babylon should be represented by Christ.  In other words, Daniel is going to be a type and shadow of Christ before he is one of us.  The believing Church is closer to being Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Even then, we look at the details of the verses to see where we stand, where the World is trying to destroy us, and where Christ fights for us and saves us from destruction.

The focus this week is on the Babylon captivity of the Church, specifically the vessels of the house of God.  Indeed, precious vessels were taken out of the temple of God and placed in the treasury of the Babylonian false gods, but we can look at Christ's church as being precious vessels of God, captured and put into a hostile environment, which is the situation of all believing Christians in the world throughout history, even today.

I'm not finding something in the Bible that is not really there.  People are referred to as God's created vessels in several places in scripture.  In the world there are human vessels, all created by God, and some of them are precious to him, like gold or silver, but some are not precious, like wood or clay, and the precious vessels are for honorable use by God, and the non-precious vessels are for dishonorable use.  The honorable vessels are God's church, and the dishonorable are the unbelieving world.  Throughout history God has been cleansing his precious vessels, prepping them for honorable use.  Remember, we are born into sin, doomed to destruction, like the rest of the world, but like a great archaeologist, God has selected vessels for honorable use, and he shines us up and cleanses us, set apart as holy, useful, and ready for good works. We are not honorable without the master of the house cleansing us first.  Christ works through his Church (see 2 Timothy 2:20-21).

What about the world, the "dishonorable" vessels? Romans 9 gives us a glimpse into God's plan. God desires to show his wrath and his power by patiently enduring the unbelieving world, preparing it for destruction so that his glory can be seen far and wide for his Church, which is prepared for glory.  We are back to the theme of Revelation again: God allows the world to persecute the church so that he can sweep in like the greatest of heroes and squash the world like a bug.  All for his glory--solo deo gloria. All of this is intended by God to show his fantastic glory, like the ten plagues in Egypt, like the parting of the Red Sea.

Going back to Daniel, we see that God has allowed his precious vessels to be taken from his house and put into captivity.  Why? So that he can display his Glory in the midst of Babylon.  How is he going to do that?  We will have to see, won't we, but these verses in chapter 1 of Daniel give us a clue.  The heroes of this story, Daniel and the others, are described as being "without blemish." Who else is described as being without blemish?  Jesus.  If anyone could be considered "of the royal family and of the nobility" it's Jesus Christ.  He left his throne and self-exiled to earth for a period of time--crucial time.  If the Church is in exile, Jesus was more so. In fact, we are only in captivity for Christ's sake.  If we had no faith in Christ, we would love the world as our own. We wouldn't feel like persecuted prisoners.  It is because of Christ that we are at enmity with the world.

The captives were to live as Babylonians and at the end of three years they were to stand before the king.  Sounds like the ministry of Christ, doesn't it?  And at the end of his three years, he entered once for all into the holy places by means of his own blood, securing an eternal redemption for his Church (see Hebrews 9:12-14).  The blood of Jesus Christ, offered through the eternal Spirit, from a vessel without blemish, to God, purifies his Church for all the ungodly world to see. And we shall see in the upcoming weeks, over and over, how Christ rescues his Church from the snares of the world.