Troublesome Passages about Peace with God
There are four passages that have caused Christians to doubt God's promise of eternal life.
- The exodus story referenced in 1 Corinthians 10 - they drank from that spiritual rock which was Christ –nevertheless God was not pleased with them and their bodies were scattered across the desert
- The metaphor found in Romans 11 - ingrafted branches that are again broken off of the olive tree
- Another metaphor found in John 15 - branches that are pruned off the vine and tossed into the fire
- The Book of Life in Revelation - names being contained in, or being blotted out (erased) from it
The reason that these passages have been so confusing is that we Christians have not understood God's "reconciliation." That term is almost always confused with "salvation." Both reconciliation and salvation tend to be in the Christian's Sunday-only vocabulary –along with others like holy, sanctification, justification, redemption, baptism, and so on.
Reconciliation is what God, the Father, did when He removed all of the barriers that stood between man and Himself so that every man has the opportunity to come to Him for salvation. He accomplished this by punishing Jesus on the cross for all of the offenses that man ever had committed –and ever would commit.
This is not to be confused with salvation –the receiving of eternal life. That was made possible when Jesus was raised to life again –at the resurrection. Those other words in our Sunday-only vocabulary describe what happens at salvation. When we are saved, God redeems, sanctifies, and justifies us. He baptizes us with His Spirit –making us holy. The marvelous process requires much more emphasis than this. For a more thorough description, read Your New Identity in Christ.
The point of all this is that reconciliation and salvation are separate. All people have been reconciled to God, else they could not be saved. Yet only some of those who are reconciled actually accept His gift of eternal life.
Be Careful To Not Fall
(The Exodus and Entry into the Promised Land –1 Corinthians 10)
This passage from 1 Corinthians 10 contains a reference to Israel's experience recorded in the books of Exodus and Joshua.
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. (1 Corinthians 10:1-5)
The symbolism in this story can't be neglected. It refers to Christ as being a spiritual rock which accompanied them; the Israelites all drank from that rock; and they were all baptized into Moses. We'll look at four parts to the story of the exodus from Egypt and entrance into the Promised Land and show the relationships of each part to the Christian experience.
Part 1: After Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had long since passed away, the Israelites had become the Pharaoh's slaves for building his kingdom. God appointed Moses to be His representative –a spokesman– to lead the people out of Egypt. The Israelites had been totally under the control of the Pharaoh in Egypt. It's symbolic of all mankind being totally enslaved by Satan to further his kingdom. It's what happened at mans' fall in the Garden of Eden.
While being pursued by the Pharaoh and his army, the Israelites were miraculously led through the Red Sea. That crossing is a depiction of God reconciling all mankind to Himself. Romans 5:10 says "when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son." And Colossians 1:19-20 reads "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." All of mankind was lost –spiritually dead– yet God made peace with us through the cross.
Part 2: Next, the Israelites traveled to Mt. Sinai where they received the law along with the many physical artifacts that made them a unique nation –the ark, the tabernacle, the priesthood, the feasts, the traditions. It's also where the people said that they would do what ever God asked of them –and within days they showed their rebellious, sinful nature by building the golden calf. That nature (natural, fallen, disobedient behavior) is brought into the light by God's law. In the New Testament, Moses is symbolic of God's law –the reminder of mans' natural behavior.
Part 3: The Israelites were led up to the border of the Promised Land. It's where the twelve spies went into the land to search out its goodness. Only Joshua and Caleb returned with good news of an awaiting abundant life –the other ten told of frightening possibilities. A census had been taken some time earlier to ascertain which men were eligible to fight; there were 603,550 of them. These are the ones who decided to not enter. They refused to enter it by faith and over the next forty years –"that entire generation of fighting men"– all died, causing the rest of the people to remain in the desert. During that desert experience, God used their troubles to increase their faith –those who trusted Him would be the ones to enter the Promised Land. Being led up to the border is indicative of every man being presented with the Gospel the promise of an abundant, eternal life.
Part 4: The remaining Israelites crossed through the River Jordan into that Promised Land. they were led by God's new appointed representative –Joshua. And Joshua followed the ark containing the stone tablets, Aaron's rod, the golden jar of manna and on top of which was the mercy seat. Joshua's Hebrew name was Yeshua; it's the same as our Lord Jesus' Hebrew name. Joshua had already been on the other side and knew where he was leading His people. Likewise, Jesus has already been with and knows His Father and His provision of a truly abundant life. In the chapter 3 of Hebrews, the Promised Land is called "God's Sabbath Rest."
Their old leader –"the law giver"– could lead them only to the border –He could not enter the Promised Land. Moses was only able to view it from the place of his death –on top of the mountain. The symbolism is monumental. The law (Moses) could only lead them to the end of their own abilities (to the end of themselves) so that they would put their trust in a new leader. John 1:17 says "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Only those who leave their old leader (the law) behind, dead in his grave, are able to follow that new leader into a new everlasting life.
The story continues on with tales of many battles, but with Joshua (our Jesus) as the leader. They depict our continuous war that goes on within our minds between the flesh and spirit. God has promised that every one of them will be won, but we must still endure. It's all preparatory for our role as the Bride of Christ. (If you would like further depth of understanding, you might read the section on the Book of the Hebrews.)
Now, back to the 1 Corinthians 10 passage...
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:6-13)
What was it that the Israelites were guilty of? Hopefully, you would say something like "they did not trust God at His word" or "they refused to enter His Promised Land –His Sabbath Rest –His Salvation." That understanding makes the meaning of this passage clear. "We" –referring to mankind as a whole– must be careful to not follow in the footsteps of those untrusting Israelites who refused to accept God's way into His promise of salvation.
The Israelites who refused to believe God died in the desert. The believing Israelites followed Joshua (Yeshua) and the ark through the River Jordan. That ark contained the tablets of the law, Aaron's rod that budded, and the golden jar of manna. It represents Jesus' human life here on earth: He is the One who fulfilled the law written on the stone tablets; He is the resurrection shown by the rod that came back to life and blossomed; He is the bread of life, the manna in the golden jar; and the spilling of His blood is how we all receive God's mercy. Joshua crossed first –then the "believers" followed. Jesus crossed first into the fulfilled Promised Land –then His "believers" have followed.
The first water crossing symbolizes reconciliation –it's where God removed every offense from mankind. Christ's crucifixion death –as required by the law– totally paid for them all. The second water crossing symbolizes the rebirth, the restoration, the new beginning of a life with God in the Promised Land –His Sabbath Rest. Again, Romans 5:10 says, "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."
Even though reconciliation took place at the cross with that payment, mankind was (and still is) missing a crucial element –spiritual life. That life was lost in the garden –Adam was told that if he ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would certainly die. And we inherited that death.
Romans 8:2 refers to man being under "the law of sin and death." That law –whether written on stone (as is the case for the Israelites) or on our conscience (as is the case for the entire world) – was intended to show us our condition. It points out our sinful behavior which is symptomatic of being spiritually dead –desperately in need of new life. The law cannot restore life –it can only make our condition of spiritual death obvious. No human being since Adam has been born with that spiritual life. That's why Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again.
Branches Broken Off
(The Parable of the Olive Tree and Its Branches –Romans 11)
Obviously, this story is rich in symbolism –using a tree, its root, and natural, broken and ingrafted branches to depict people and their relationships to God. How strange it is that the last part of the passage tells us that there is a mystery being answered and yet we Christians have turned the passage into a question –about our own salvation!
Let's start with a short anatomy of this symbolic tree. The root represents Christ. Sap is drawn up from that root and out through the branches. The sap represents God's love expressed through His Son. The purpose of the branches is to bear a harvest –specifically, olive oil. That oil represents the Holy Spirit who is the fuel for God's light in His people; it is the empowering (anointing) for ministry; and it is the balm for healing wounds. It portrays the fruit of the Spirit. We're told that God gave the Spirit as a promise to those who have trusted in Jesus –not everyone has the Holy Spirit living within him. There are two types of branches (no not natural and the wild) there are ones that produce a harvest and ones that don't. They either have the Spirit and convey God's love as spiritual fruit, or they don't have the Spirit and cannot bear its fruit.
In this story, the natural branches are the entire nation of Israel. They are His own people to whom He came bringing salvation. Most of them rejected Him, but some –a remnant– accepted Him for who He was –their Messiah. That includes both those who physically saw Him and those who trusted God as Abraham did when he saw God's lamb wearing (its horns were tangled in) a crown of thorns. The natural branches that were broken off are the Israelites who have rejected Him.
It's time to pause and return to the main topic here: salvation and reconciliation. From the very beginning God's plan has been for all to be saved –to be with Him for eternity. At the fall, mankind usurped God's authority and became the god of his own life. To show man his fallen condition, God provided His law to draw attention to our behavior. That behavior is merely a symptom of the fallen condition. Every offense –as pointed out and condemned by the law– needed to be dealt with. God did that in a one time, all inclusive act; He punished His Son in our place. That permanently reconciled us to Him –He made peace with us. That took away the barriers between us and God. But did that act of reconciliation save mankind? No! Salvation comes through faith in Jesus –His sacrifice –His fulfillment of the law –His resurrection –His gift of eternal life.
The branches attached to the root of the olive tree are reconciled to God through the death of Jesus –either in a forward looking faith like Abraham and David or in a face-to-face experience like Peter. Those natural branches have been reconciled since the plan of a Lamb of God was envisioned at the foundation of the world. The natural branches who were broken off did not produce a harvest of spiritual fruit –they were not indwelled by the Spirit –they were not saved. The ingrafted wild branches are the Gentiles. Let me repeat that. The wild branches represent the whole world –not just Christians. That is the point that causes confusion for many believers today. But the Gentiles too, must be careful to make the right choice. They can accept Jesus through faith –and be saved– or reject Him and be broken off. That's why it says to not be prideful about the fact that the Israelites were broken off because you (Gentiles) can also be broken off.
There will come a time when the Israelites will be restored. "Restored to what?" you might ask. When Jesus was killed, the role of bearing God's message of salvation was transferred from the nation of Israel to the Gentiles –specifically the church, which includes Messianic Hebrews. Sometime in the "last days" the Israelites will resume the role of bearing His message. To do that they will have been grafted back into the root –their Messiah Jesus. A goal that Paul makes perfectly clear is that he wants his people to be saved –even if it requires making them jealous of the relationship that the Gentiles have with God.
The Remnant of Israel
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: "Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me"? And what was God's answer to him? "I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written: "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day." And David says: "May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever." (Romans 11:1-10)
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! (Romans 11:10-24)
All Israel Will Be Saved
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins."
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:25-32)
What is the mystery that we are not to be ignorant of from verse 25? It's what Paul has been emphasizing throughout Romans. The Israelites still have a wondrous purpose in God's plan. Since the time of the crucifixion, the Gentiles have been wanting to ignore them –thinking that they have replaced Israel in His grand scheme. Just as in Romans chapters 1 and 3, we are to keep in mind that no one is righteous –all are deserving of the death penalty. It's only by God's grace that we have been granted an opportunity to come to Him by faith –not works of our own goodness. Once the last Gentile has been saved, the Israelites will once again be the center of His attention.
Branches Burned in the Fire
(The Parable of the Vine and Its Branches –John 15)
The Bible often refers to Israel as "the vine" –as in Psalm 80:8, "You [God] brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it." But here, Jesus let all know that it was He that was the "true vine" –the foreshadowed and fulfilled vine. He is the One to heed; He is the source of all goodness and life.
In time sequence, this parable comes after Jesus' Last Passover Supper with the disciples (John chapters 13-14). During that Supper, He described the a relationship among the Trinity and its association with mankind. Below are some highlights of that description.
Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." (John 14:5-7)
Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:8-14)
"If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever –the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. " (John 14:15-21)
What a radical concept! Jesus is in the Father and the Father in Him. We in Jesus and Jesus in us. The Holy Spirit living within us forever. Jesus left with one command: "Love one another as I have loved you." By that love for each other, we demonstrate our love toward God. There is one thing that we Christians have all experienced. We have experienced that the world does not accept the truth from the Holy Spirit. Like the passage says, the world does not see Him or know Him; it puts its faith is in anything but God.
That intertwined relationship sets the context for the parable...
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes [or cleans] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)
The metaphor of Israel being the vine includes all twelve tribes, but with Christ as the true vine, He includes all –Israel and Gentiles. This again is a reference to the world being reconciled to God through the death of His Son. The vine is the source of life and it's available to all. The fruit is the fruit of the Spirit which is produced by the vine and borne by the branches.
Note the two categories of branches here. One category must be cut off because it bears no fruit. Those branches never have and never will bear fruit because they do not have the Holy Spirit living within. The other category does bear fruit –the amount is inconsequential. These branches are being transformed by the Father to be even more fruitful –it's the Father's role to increase the amount.
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)
This is not a passage about the free choice to reject God at some later point in a Christian's life. Rather, it's about not having the Spirit –the Holy Spirit who will never, ever leave. That's what Jesus spoke about in John 14:16 when He said, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever." The only branches which are cut off are those who have not been indwelled with the Holy Spirit.
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:9-17)
Romans chapter 1 lays out two facts: All of nature bears witness to God's existence and man has wholeheartedly ignored and defied Him –hence the need for His laws. Then chapter 2, verse 4 says, "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?" You might read those two chapters in context and see the amazing fact that God does not expect His law to change a person's heart. It's His love that draws us to Him.
The only One to obey the Father's commandments was His Son. The rest of us remember them and are convicted due to our fallen nature. The command that Jesus left with us is to love each other. By so doing, we are expressing our love for God. Those who have the Spirit have the capacity to love others. It requires discipline to put aside selfish attitudes and actions.
The Book of Life
(Names Not in It –or Possibly Blotted Out of It)
There is one last item to mention while we're on this topic of reconciliation. It comes from Psalm 69 and is referenced in many Scriptures, particularly Revelation. It's about names being contained in, or being blotted out (erased) from, the book of life.
Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation. May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous." (Psalm 69:27-28)
He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. (Revelation 3:5)
If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)
Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. (Revelation 21:27)
The whole world was reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Yes, I know that's been repeated many times here, but it's highly worth remembering. It comes from Colossians...
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Colossians 1:19-22)
Everyone's name has been in that book of life. That's because He has offered eternal life to all –we have been reconciled to God. But there are names that have been removed from the book –those names belong to one who refuse God's salvation through His Son. Another very relevant Scripture comes from John chapter 3. It should leave no doubt about what the requirement is for eternal life (salvation).
"The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:31-36)
The last passage that I wish to leave you with come from 2 Corinthians chapter 5.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
The message here is plain. God reconciled you to Himself through Jesus' death. He made peace with you for all time. Now reconcile yourself to God –make peace with Him. This passage is explicit. God is not counting your sins against you –that has been taken care of forever. Carry this message to the world. You have been made God's ambassador to tell others about His reconciliation that was accomplished on the cross. Let them know that sins are no longer an issue. Invite them to meet His Son –His Salvation –His Promised Rest.
Continue reading about parables: "Be Careful To Not Fall"
Your Identity In Christ
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11 - NIV)