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God's Favor and Vengeance
31 July 2014
In the recent article Not Of This World, we took a close look at the intrinsically non-violent and self-sacrificing nature of Yeshua (Jesus) and His Kingdom under the New Covenant. In my last article — The Day of the Lord — we examined the other side of the coin: the time of Divine judgment, vengeance and retribution when Yeshua returns to earth to establish His Millennial Kingdom, referred to in the Bible as The Day of the Lord.
These opposing aspects of King Yeshua and His Kingdom — self-sacrificing non-violence and violent, killing-field-like vengeance — seem like an unreconcilable contradiction. The issue is so difficult that people attempting to get a grip on it often fall into error on one side or the other. Both errors lead to a deep misunderstanding of Yeshua and His Kingdom, of what it means to be a follower of Yeshua, and how to live out the Christian life in accordance with the New Testament.
On one hand, there is a significant number of people who have such a hard time accepting the judgment, vengeance and retribution of Yeshua's coming Millennial Kingdom that they deny it altogether. They are so fixated on the love, mercy and forgiveness of the New Covenant, that they reject Yeshua's clear teaching about the realities of Hell and eternal punishment. "How could a God of love," they ask, "ever send anyone to Hell for eternity?" Thus, in the end, they deny their Christianity by believing that everyone will go to Heaven, whether they are followers of Yeshua or not. This type of universalism is a doctrine of demons and a form of apostasy.
On the other hand, a large majority of Christians have no problem embracing an anti-Yeshua, anti-New-Covenant use of violence in order to achieve their "spiritual" and temporal goals. To justify their demonically-inspired killing, they liberally quote from the OLD Covenant, even though it has been made obsolete by the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13).
Although the Old Covenant has been superseded by the New Covenant, the writings of the Old Testament itself still have much value for Christians. Because the New Testament is a newer and more complete revelation of God than the Old Testament, one of the foundational principles for correctly understanding the Bible is "the New Testament interprets the Old Testament." I cover this issue in depth in my article The Old and the New.
Some Christians don't rely so much on the past to justify their violence, but rather turn to the future by quoting liberally from the book of Revelation. They jump the gun on God, and mistakenly apply violent aspects of Yeshua's Millennial Kingdom ahead of time, in the current New Covenant era. Even though Yeshua and the Father are waiting patiently until the proper time for such violence, some Christians, in their presumption and impatience, get out of step with God and His timing, and start to live out the violent schemes and desires of the Devil instead.
In order to live in a way that pleases God and conforms to His will as expressed in the New Testament, it is VITAL to understand the plan of God, the timing of that plan, and the differences between the expression of His Kingdom during the New Covenant era, as compared to that during the coming Millennial Kingdom.
When Yeshua walked the earth about 2,000 years ago, one time He went to a synagogue in Nazareth, His "home town," for a Sabbath congregational gathering. Because these meetings encouraged the participation of those in attendance...
...Yeshua stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written:There are a number of aspects about this passage which are important as well as fascinating.
The Spirit of Yahweh is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of Yahweh's favor."Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:16-21)
First of all, notice that Yeshua didn't read from the scroll just anywhere, but He found a specific passage. As far back as the Jewish Babylonian captivity — about 500-600 years before Yeshua — the Jewish religious leaders had developed a system of established weekly Torah portions to be read at synagogue. Later, during the time of the Maccabean Revolt about 150 years before Yeshua, a portion from the Prophets was added as well. It's not clear from this passage in Luke whether these verses in Isaiah were the scheduled reading for that week, or if Yeshua broke with tradition and read the section that HE wanted. Either way, He sure made a splash at that meeting!
Second, notice Yeshua's "mission statement" — "proclaim good news to the poor ... proclaim freedom for prisoners ... recovery of sight for the blind ... set the oppressed free ... proclaim the year of Yahweh's favor." NOWHERE is this mission statement do you find anything even remotely close to the idea of using violence against another human being. Yeshua's work and goals are exactly the opposite of violence and killing. Those who want to follow Him must walk in these same footsteps. Those who don't walk in these footsteps are NOT following Him — it's as simple as that.
Third, notice Yeshua's astonishing proclamation: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Wow! Who but the Son of God would have the boldness to say, "I am the fulfillment of what Isaiah wrote hundreds of years ago"?! Hearing Yeshua say this must have taken away the breath of those around Him in that Nazareth synagogue!
Finally, and crucially, it is very important to notice what Yeshua LEFT OUT. If you refer back to what the prophet had written (Isaiah 61:1-2), you will see that Yeshua stopped right in the middle of a sentence. He finishes His mission statement with "to proclaim the year of Yahweh's favor." But what He did NOT read was "and the day of vengeance of our God."
Thank God He didn't! If He had, you and I would not be here today as followers of Yeshua. If He had, no one would have found salvation in Yeshua for the past 2,000 years! Even though "the year of Yahweh's favor" and "the day of vengeance of our God" were prophesied by Isaiah in the same breath, they are two completely different agendas which do not take place at the same time, but are separated by thousands of years.
As I shared in the last part of "Not Reigning Yet," the prophecies of Yeshua's First and Second Comings are so intertwined throughout the Old Testament that it is easy to be mistaken about the timing of their fulfillment. Therefore many Christians today, just like the Jews of Yeshua's time as well as many believers throughout church history, misunderstand the characteristics of the New Covenant era, and imagine that aspects of the Second Coming apply to the First Coming.
I find it significant that the period of Yahweh's favor is described as a "year," but the period of God's vengeance is described as a "day." This is similar to what King David wrote: "Yahweh's anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime (Psalm 30:5a). Obviously, if it were only a day of favor compared to a whole year of vengeance, that switch would be pretty bad news!
Translating this figurative speech into more concrete terms, Yahweh's "year" of favor, announced when Yeshua established the New Covenant with mankind, has lasted roughly 2,000 years, and is not over yet. In contrast, the "day" of God's vengeance — which I looked at in-depth in The Day of the Lord — could be understood from the book of Revelation to last three and a half years. That's still a very good ratio of favor to vengeance!
With so much evil in the world, why is God waiting so long to right all of the wrongs? This question has troubled believers for a long, long time! About three thousand years ago, King David asked, "How long will the enemy mock You, God? Will the foe revile Your name forever?" (Psalm 74:10)
Some centuries later, a prophet lamented, "How long, Yahweh, must I call for help, but You do not listen? Or cry out to You, 'Violence!' but You do not save?" (Habakkuk 1:2)
And still in the future, those martyred during the Great Tribulation will cry out in a loud voice: "How long, Sovereign Master, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (Revelation 6:10)
The apostle Peter addressed this issue in one of his letters:
Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' He promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Master a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:3-8)Then Peter goes on to explain WHY God is taking so long to destroy evil and set the world right — why The Day of the Lord, and Yeshua's return, continue to be delayed:
The Master is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.... Bear in mind that our Master's patience means salvation.... (2 Peter 3:9,15a)God, in His great love and mercy, is delaying His vengeance, and extending His favor, so that as many people as possible might be saved and not face an eternity in Hell. The apostle Paul expressed this in similar words when he wrote: "God our Savior wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3b,4).
And Yeshua Himself declared: "This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life." (John 3:16)
In light of all this, it should be evident why followers of Yeshua are to completely abstain from violence against another human being, even their "enemies," even in self-defense. We are still living in "the year of Yahweh's favor." God wants everyone to be saved. Therefore, it is anti-Yeshua, anti-New-Covenant, and anti-year-of-Yahweh's-favor for Christians to dispatch unbelievers to Hell through violence which God has reserved for Yeshua's return and The Day of the Lord.
In this "year of Yahweh's favor," Christians are called to follow the example which Yeshua gave. Like Him, we are to love our "enemies" to the point of dying for them if necessary, so that they can live and have a further opportunity for repentance and salvation. We are to follow in Yeshua's footsteps, knowing with certainty that it's infinitely better to be killed than to kill.
In the end, even though God's patience is immense, He has chosen to limit it. One day, The Day, God's patience will run out, and He will release His vengeance, judgment and retribution upon all of mankind, as the book of Revelation makes clear. As to WHY He will do so, that's a topic for a future article — see The Full Measure of Sin.
This article is 16th a series of articles on this Web site related to Exploring New Testament Realities which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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