THE CLOCK OF GOD, Part 7, PROPHECY AND REVELATION

Goodnews Christian Ministry

"From the beginning I foretold the future, and predicted beforehand what is to be." ---Isaiah 46:10

CHAPTER 29

Atonement and Grace

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"The reason why those who are in Christ Jesus are not condemned, is that the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death."
Romans 8:1-2

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The atonement Christ offered has a biblical structure which can be seen mirrored in the events of the Hebrew Passover. Because of this, the circumstances of the Passover must be seen as scriptural prophecy with Jesus representing the fulfillment of that prophecy.

We have already noted that the Old Testament does not stand alone or isolated from the Good News of Christ. That is because everything in it was made for the appearance of Jesus. We can see now that the Torah forsaw Jesus, forming in its pages templates of events and circumstances that were soon to come to pass.

The stories and descriptions chronicled by scripture are symbolic likenesses of divine truths whose secret meanings were revealed clearly to the world in the words of the Son of God.

Jesus brought the atonement and grace the world had longed for, and He brought it within the specifications set down by the Bible centuries before He was born.

This is the real 'code of the Bible'. Not irrelevant trivia like Marilyn Monroe or JFK in spurious encryptions.

Simply the Lord and the salvation He brought to the world in the name of God, a salvation built on the framework of major Old Testament prophecy.

It was no accident that Jesus was crucified during Passover (the holiday that celebrated Israel's escape from Egypt). For in the process He created Easter, the flight of a much larger Israel out of a far greater captivity to Babylon.

When we think of Passover we normally think only of the Israelites leaving Egypt. Yet, when we examine that event closely, we find that this exodus was composed of three parts, each one of which was a 'passover' in its own right.

First there was the 'passover' of the Israelites by the Angel of Death when he was sent to Egypt by God to kill all first-born in the land whose houses were not marked in the blood of the paschal lamb. Second, the flight of the Israelites out of Egypt across the Reed Sea is also called 'passover'. Finally, a third 'passover' occurred when the wandering tribes traversed the desert for forty years, seeking the refuge of a land that God had promised to them.

We will examine these three parts in a moment. First, we need to briefly explain how the flight out of Egypt relates to atonement. The key, of course, is the mark of the blood of the paschal lamb. In Christ we understand that anointing as baptism.

Scripture shows that baptism comes to us in three parts.

John the baptist told his followers, "I baptise you with water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am...he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Mt.3:11).

Our escape out of Babylon, measured in these three baptisms, follows, part for part, the template of the Israelite flight out of Egypt in its three 'passovers'. The conclusion is obvious. Atonement is a process, not just an instant.

In the early days of Christianity, church leaders saw no difference between baptism and salvation. They felt that baptism imparted a perfection that a person had to maintain rigidly throughout life. One slip or fall after baptism was seen as fatal.

Later as church leaders came to grips with the reality of human behavior, and more important, increasingly aware of the Holy Spirit's true intentions, they became more lenient in their approach.

A primary reason for this is that many Christians had begun putting off being baptised until old age-until they were on their death-bed-so that they could be certain that they could be made perfect at the last possible minute, minimizing, they thought, the risk of stumbling and losing their chance at heaven. Church officials came to realize through such behavior that baptism was just one part of a larger atonement picture.

The Hebrew flight from Egypt prefigured the structure of God's atonement process, because it foreshadowed, as we stated above, a far greater exodus to come-our escape from Babylon.

We saw that the first 'passover' occurred in Egypt when the Israelites painted the door-stops of their houses with the blood of the paschal lamb. (Exodus 12:1-14). Since the Avenging Angel was sent to kill all of the first-born children in Egypt (all first-born children, not just Egyptian children), the blood of the lamb signaled which houses were to be 'passed over' and the children spared.

This marking of the house with the blood of the Paschal Lamb formed the template in the Law of Moses for baptism in Christ.

Like the mark of blood at the time of Moses, baptism keeps away the destruction of the Avenger. "Wait before you do any damage...until we have put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God." (Rv.7:3). "...kill and exterminate them all. But do not touch anyone with a cross on his forehead." (Ez.9:6).

While we are touched in water in a physical baptism, the 'mark' which corresponds to the true blood of Christ is spiritual. It is a mark of forgiveness that has cleansed our soul. Therefore, it relates to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

The second stage of Israel's 'passover' occurred in the Old Testament when God parted the waters of the Sea of Reeds and the Israelites 'passed over' the seabed out of Egypt. Like the first passover (that of the angel of death), this aspect of the Exodus also formed a template for atonement in Christ.

Peter described God's salvation of Noah and his family on an ark at the time of the Flood as a 'type' of the water which saves us at baptism. (1 Peter 3:21).

And here again in Egypt, is a rescue based on water. The Israelites passed through the walls of water, walking on dry land to salvation, across the seabed. When they had safely passed over, the waters crashed back in place, drowning their Egyptian pursuers. This, too, is a type of the salvation by water that God has decreed; because it fulfills the template.

The third 'passover' was the forty year journey across Sinai that brought the Israelites to the Promised Land. This was a circuitous route that produced great trials for the Israelites, most of whom were constantly backsliding and continually complaining about the rigors of the journey.

It corresponds to the baptism of fire because it constitutes a time of intense trial on a long journey to the kingdom of the Lord.

The baptism of fire is the path of Christ's Gospel as we try to live it in our lives. Through the trials that come to us as we try to follow the commandments of Jesus in our lives we learn to choose God and reject the things of this world that used to be our gods.

It is fire because it is hard. Choosing Jesus requires real sacrifices because we have to reject many things our flesh dearly desires. Thus the baptism of fire comes to us in stages and continues in us, lasting our whole life long.

For the Israelites coming out of Egypt, this fire was the difficult journey across the desert of Sinai, a journey made much more difficult by their persistant rebellion. A journey that should have only taken a few weeks took forty years because of their stubborn disobedience.

During that time, discouraged by the hardships they faced many began to crave their prior lives. Turning back to Egypt, they cut themselves off from God's plan for them.

By the power of faith, we have the protection of God's grace, like a wall that encircles us completely, to keep us safe from harm throughout our journey in Christ so that what happened to the Israelites will not happen to us.

God's personal presence was with the Israelites as they departed Egypt. It guarded them as well. The Book of Exodus describes this heavenly presence as a 'pillar of cloud' (Ex.13:21-22; 14:19-20). In the salvation Christ brought, that cloud enters into each one of us personally as the Holy Spirit, the living water that flows from heaven.

God's grace protects us just as it did the Israelites escaping from the might of Pharaoh's army. It enables us to stumble and not be destroyed as long as we get up and continue once again in the path of Christ.

In his passover sequence, then, Moses has defined the atonement template on which God has constructed the three baptisms of Jesus Christ which complete our true salvation.

Our physical body is the house of our soul, and for this reason it corresponds to the house each Israelite lived in while in Egypt.

The Hebrew tribes left their Egyptian houses forever that night in Egypt when they marked them with the blood of the lamb and followed Moses. And, by baptism, Paul taught, we die to our flesh (the house of our soul) the moment we are baptised.

"You have been taught that when we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised, we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glory, we too might live a new life. If in Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must also realize that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin." (Rom.6:1-11).

The water touches us with his death so that we can share his payment of the penalty of the Law in our place. The avenging angel that God sent into Egypt was under orders to spare those who had painted the doorstops of their houses with the blood of the lamb.

The prophecy of Ezekiel has shown that the plague that killed all the 'first-born' in Egypt corresponds to an even greater plague destined to occur during the days of the new Covenant-this time to the whole world:

"God spoke to the man in white and told him, 'Go all through the city and mark a cross on the foreheads of all who deplore and disapprove of the filth practiced in it', and then I heard him say to the others, 'Follow the man in white through the city, and strike. Show neither pity nor mercy...kill them all. But do not touch anyone with a cross on his forehead." (Ez. 9).

Just as in Egypt, when the spared houses were marked in the blood of the lamb, the plague that strikes the unbaptised is death. The death of the first-born in Egypt was preparing the world to understand the death of the first-born creation that Jesus came to warn us about.

The first-born creation is that which inhabits the earth. The second-born (or re-born) creation are those chosen to be resurrected by Christ into the kingdom of God -- i.e, into the new creation.

The first and second deaths relate to this.

For instance, it is the death of the first-born creation that ends the world. The death of the first-born is the death of the flesh. We can rise out of that. The second death, however, is spiritual death and it is permanent. Spiritual death comes to anyone who refuses to follow Christ.

For those chosen by Christ to enter the kingdom of God there is no second death. Their spirit is eternal and lives forever.

Everyone born into this world is a part of the first-born creation, i.e., the flesh-born creation. Death comes to the first-born almost always within a hundred years.

The kingdom of heaven that Jesus is calling us to is the second creation (a spiritual creation) and to enter it we must be born-again a second time into a new kind of body that won't die off in a hundred years, or even a hundred trillion years. That is why our flesh dies in baptism and is replaced by the Holy Spirit, so that we can shed our worldly body and be clothed in the garment of the kingdom of heaven -- an eternal body that cannot ever die.

Baptism by water starts the atonement process, but by itself, is not enough for eternal life. We can see this in the prophecy of the 'Exodus' template. Even though they all marked their houses with the blood of the pascal lamb, not every Israelite who left Egypt survived to enter the Promised Land.

"Even though they ate from the rock that was Christ and even though they drank from the rock that was Christ, their corpses littered the desert because they failed to please God." (1 Cor.10:8).

Paul's words show that there is more to salvation than baptism. The blood of the lamb did not insure that the Israelites in Egypt would get to the 'Promised Land'; only that they would be safe from the last great plague that was coming against Egypt.

Living in Egypt, they, too, were subject to the same plagues that God sent against that country. This is why God had to protect them with His grace. We live now in this world, and therefore we are subject to the plagues that sin brings against it, just as the Israelites were subject to the plagues that came against Egypt.

We wash ourselves in the blood of Jesus through baptism to receive perfect grace for safety against the ultimate plague of death. But, like those Israelites who failed to reach the Promised Land after they left Egypt, baptism of water alone does not insure that we will reach our destination if we do not change our ways.

In Jesus, Atonement comes from faith -- a faith that leads the believer to take two essential actions-repentance from sin, and conversion into the righteousness of God. (Mt.19:16-22; 7:21).

This can be seen in the message that always preceded Christ's preaching: "Repent, for the kindom of heaven is close at hand." (Mt.4:17). "...in his name repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations..." (Luke 24:47).

In the physical world, the breath of life can occasionally be returned to a person by CPR. But, even in the best of cases, it only returns for a little while. Like Ezra's wall, bodily cures, no matter how miraculous, soon pass away again. Even the planet must die-and the universe, too, scripture says.

To keep the breath of life inside a person eternally, a 'CPR' of God is needed.

Spiritual CPR is the atonement formula which Jesus brought down to us from heaven. The cure of God, Jesus said, is divine forgiveness. This is the cure of the soul.

The only 'healing' that really matters to God is resurrection -- being lifted up out of death into eternal life in God's new kingdom. The cure Jesus brought was the healing of our dying soul so that we could be brought back to eternal life with God.

So we must look to the Spirit for any true healing. Confession, Prayer and Repentance (CPR) in Jesus Christ-that is the kind of resuscitation that works for heaven -- that instills the eternal breath of life into man. "At last I admitted to you I had sinned; no longer concealing my guilt, I said, 'I will go to the Lord and confess my fault'. And you God, you have forgiven the wrong I did, have pardoned my sin." (Ps.32:5-6).

This is the true meaning of God's call that we be baptised in a state of repentance (Mark 1:4). Following this formula, forgiveness is instantaneous and grace certain. "Happy the man whose fault is forgiven, whose sin is blotted out..." (Ps.32:1).

The moment we vow in baptism to make a conversion to the righteousness preached by Christ, we are set completely free from the sin that locks our soul in death -- our soul set free from our mortal body by the water and from Satan's spiritual infection by our faith in Christ.

This simple picture is complicated somewhat by the fact that we have to hold onto our conversion for life. While forgiveness is instantaneous, salvation takes more time. Paul called this 'holding on' a 'race'. Not a race of four-minute miles, but a steady long-term marathon done at a pace that can be sustained for life. (Mt.13:20-21).

It is during this race that Satan tries his hardest to separate us from the God we have received, so our faith must always be diligent. The essence of this diligence revolves around the Holy Spirit's instructions that we live in Christ's commandments. "He who keeps the commandment is keeper of himself, but he who despises the word shall die." (Pr.19:16).

The same 'CPR' that brought us to life in Christ, keeps us alive in Christ for as long as we practice it. Because, while forgiveness itself is instantaneous, there is a process which leads to eternal life-a process in which progress is seen by God as perfection. (Ps.101:2,6).

We cannot make a conversion to God and then walk away from it. We can access the redemption Jesus gave us only through baptism. "He who believes and is baptised will be saved." (Mk.16:16).

Beyond mortal death there is an even greater destruction coming -- one that will impact not just the body, but the soul as well. Every soul whose heart remains in Babylon will be destroyed, baptised or not.

That is why the Spirit of Jesus in the scriptures implores us in so many passages to 'get away' from the world of our past. "Go away, go away, leave that place, touch nothing unclean. Get out of her (Babylon), purify yourselves, you who carry the vessels of God." (Is.52:11).

"But...you are not to leave like fugitives. No, the Lord will go in front of you, and the God of Israel will be your rearguard." (Is.52:12).

It is not enough for us to be baptised, we have to 'leave that place' and make our way to the haven of safety which God has created for us. The path that leads to this shelter is the Gospel Jesus preached.

The 'Babylon' we must leave and get away from is the hedonism and violence that is the behavior of this world. And the only way we can depart from it is to leave behind the 'graven images' of gold and silver (money, BMW's and the like) which the citizens of Babylon crave, and to stop behaving as we did before we learned of the Lord.

We must live according to the commandments Jesus preached. "It is not those who say to me, 'Lord, Lord', who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Mt.7:21).

Jesus did not take us out of the Law to leave us in anarchy. God did not leave us lawless. We have passed from a physical law into a spiritual law. "The reason why those who are in Christ Jesus are not condemned, is that the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." (Rom.8:1-2).

We have gone from one law to another. The new law is the Gospel of Jesus and the New Testament. It is a law that measures spiritual action rather than ritual action. And it pours out forgiveness through repentance and conversion.

Atonement, then, is a baptism, not just of water, but of contrition and reform as well. (Mt.3:11). The law of Christ requires obedience to righteousness. We must behave in Christ the way the Spirit commands, not as our unspiritual nature dictates. (Rom.8:4).

Jesus said, "Anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice will never die." (Jn.8:51). And again, "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." (Mat.19:17).

The fact that all Christians are bound to keep the commandments can be seen in the prophecies which foresaw their existence: "In your midst I will leave a humble and lowly people...They will do no wrong, will tell no lies; and the perjured tongue will no longer be found in their mouths." (Zeph.3:12-13).

Not only does God-like behavior manifest divine forgiveness, it proves it: "Her many sins must have been forgiven her or she would not have shown such great love. It is the man who has been forgiven little who shows little love." (Lk.7:47).

Because perfection in God is difficult to maintain at a constant level, Jesus has provided the mercy of grace -- a grace amazingly empowered by the measure we forgive others. "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; because the judgements you give are the judgements you will get, and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given." (Mt.7:1-2).

Despite the universal nature of God's action, the full scope of Christ's impact on the world has never been fully appreciated or recognized. The rescue God created in Jesus has been largely misunderstood -- each church seeing only itself in the picture.

Yet the ingathering has unfolded precisely as God intended it to unfold since the very first day. It spans a period of almost two millenia, from the day of Pentecost to now. It flows from the pulpits of scores of thousands of churches.

On the grand stage of human civilization, through the preaching of these churches, untold billions of people have been able to hear Christ's plea that they change their behavior and convert to God's righteousness.

Jesus gave the churches a true value that allowed them to be conduits for a salvation they themselves had no power to give -- a salvation where confession and contrition would be followed by real conversion.

Because we tend to see salvation consummated instantaneously in a single and simultaneous event, atonement's three-fold nature is rarely perceived. But grace collapses in apostasy. Just as it did for the Israelites who lost faith and turned back to Egypt during the 'passover'.

Both failures prove that there is more to salvation than the instant of our conversion. When the Holy Spirit revealed that there are three baptisms in God, it confirmed this and brought to a focus the nature of atonement's true process.

The three baptisms we must receive in order to be set free from Babylon not only parallel the schematic of the three 'passover's the Israelites' experienced in their flight out of Egypt, God has made them perfect by cloaking them in His grace. So instead of salvation being an instant in time, it is actually a process wrapped up in an instant called grace.

If we stay in grace, the instant of our conversion is also the instant of our salvation, but if we fall from grace, we have failed the process.

Stumbling is allowed, but falling out completely is not. In fact, it is for stumbling that God has emplaced mechanisms for renewal in our faith -- the 'CPR' of confession, prayer and repentance that brings the 'breath' of God back into our souls when we are in danger of falling away.

A key question for Christians, then, is just what action constitutes a fall from grace as far as God is concerned. This is the question Jesus addressed both in his Gospel and in the Book of Revelation in John's letter to the seven churches.

According to Jesus, the path is narrow. (Mt.7:13-14). Even being 'lukewarm', he said, is deadly (Rv.3:15-16); and as far as preaching, curing the sick or taking communion in church are concerned, none are antidotes for profligate behavior. (Mt.7:21-23).

This shows that falling out of grace does not just mean becoming an atheist, it can also occur if we abandon the path Jesus set for us to follow -- i.e., if our mercy turns cold and the world with all its graven deities once more becomes our obsession.

There are still Pharisees in God's religion -- ministers whose conversion has turned to stone. Just because Jesus exposed them does not mean that they have disappeared from sight. If apostasy can happen to ministers, it can happen to us, too.

We must strive to insure that our faith remains loyal to the teaching of the Gospel so that our conversion does not end up like that. This is why we must take regular measurements of our faith, often comparing what we find in ourselves to the Gospel Jesus preached. This is the only way we can know for certain that we have not fallen away from God.

NEXT
Clock of God, Chapter 30,
"A Destruction Decreed"

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