Christian Character Building

CHRISTIAN CHARACTER BUILDING

Principles from the Life of the Apostle Peter

Introduction

Peter was a plain man. He was not a man of learning, a political or civil leader, or a man of celebrated reputation. The New Testament accounts of Peter present him as an ordinary, hardworking person. When we first meet Peter in his initial encounter with Jesus in Matthew 4:18, he is introduced as a fisherman plying his trade on the Sea of Galilee. In accord with the Jewish cultural imperative of the era that every son must be schooled in how to make a living, his father (or perhaps a close relative) would have taught him—and his brother, Andrew—the trade-craft of commercial fishing. This infers Peter was raised by his family as a conventional Jew in the Jewish traditions, as is well borne out a little later in his life; “I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” (Acts 10:14)

It is true, of course, Peter does become a man extraordinaire under the tutelage and commission of Jesus Christ and the later gifting empowerments of the Holy Spirit. However, that is something Peter realizes only as his commitment to Jesus Christ deepens and his spirituality matures. Therefore, so as not to get ahead of ourselves, let’s look at some of the developmental aspects of Peter’s emerging Christian character. We will discover some lessons and insights which will apply to every Christian.

First of all, we ought to find it most encouraging that Jesus Christ calls ordinary people to follow him and serve him. The apostle Paul rehearses this in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

Out of his ordinary life, Jesus called Peter to follow him. Are you among those who have likewise felt that strangely warm and welcome tug toward the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you in some way sensed a pull toward God? In your spiritual quest have you carefully considered yourself and found yourself woefully wanting, desiring a peace and a freedom you have been unable to attain? Have you heard the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s only Son and the Savior, Redeemer of fallen and lost humankind? Having listened to the gospel of Christ, have you responded, wholeheartedly embracing the grace of God and allowing God’s gift of eternal life in his Son to become real and actualized for you? Are you a believer in God’s good news about his Son?

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

How wonderful! Becoming a Christian by believing the gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus is the very first step in building Christian character. Such a personal decision of faith in Christ opens the prospects and privileges of what the Bible promises to believers when it says:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

Jesus Calls Peter

But let’s get back to Peter. Jesus called him. Peter laid down his fishing gear and followed him. For Peter, God’s call was peculiarly intense. God asked Peter to immediately and completely surrender his customary life and work and literally, unreservedly accompany Jesus full-time. For the great majority of those whom Jesus calls, he does not ask that level of discipleship. He expects us to continue in our societal roles, but nonetheless to now approach life with a renewed godly frame of mind and purpose.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

As we are progressively exposed to Peter’s personalty in the New Testament, we see him as a lively, eager, even impetuous person. He seems to act out his thoughts and impressions before carefully thinking them through. But isn’t that just like so many of us too? So often we just blurt out or act out without really considering the effects of our behavior. Ahh, but God knows our personalities and is patient with us as the Holy Spirit comes alongside to help us become more and more molded to the image of Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

As Peter “follows” Jesus, we see one thing happening over and over and over again; Jesus is teaching and Peter is learning. Peter hears Jesus teach in synagogues, he hears him dispute with opponents, he observes him heal the sick and do acts of great mercy. Peter talks with the other disciples about what they are hearing, seeing and doing. Jesus speaks with Peter, personally as well as with the other disciples in a group, instructing him more carefully and with greater detail what his calling is all about.

This is an essential principle; once you have become a believer, it is imperative you put yourself under the influence of a properly prepared Christian teacher who is well grounded in the Bible and personal godliness. Normally, this would happen in a good Bible assembly with sermons/messages that clearly expound the Word of God and with classes and groups led by seasoned Christian leaders.

There is no shortcut, no substitute for learning Christian teaching or doctrine. After salvation, this is essential in Christian character building. Learning Christian doctrine is a fundamental truth, the very foundation upon which everything rests. Christian character cannot be built and formed without Christian doctrine. Peter exemplifies this aspect of Christian character development by affirming his learning of basic truth in Matthew 16:13-20 when Jesus asked who people were saying the Son of Man is. Speaking for the Twelve, Peter’s response was:

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

How did Peter (and the Twelve) come to this knowledge? By following and listening to Jesus Christ. Therefore Christ responded to Peter by saying:

This was not revealed to you by man, but my father in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)

Listening, observing, questioning, reviewing, hearing parables, witnessing debates and putting into practice what Jesus was teaching over a three year period—becoming a thorough disciple of Jesus Christ—was how Peter and the other apostles learned biblical truth. They were instructed and encouraged to query both their instructions and their Instructor. They spent time listening and thinking and working out what they were learning. Their text was the written Word of God (the Old Testament) and the living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ himself (“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being,” Hebrews 1:3). They became steeped in the things of God and divinely illuminated in the process. Learning God’s truth—through the Scriptures and godly teaching—is how Christian character is built and formed. This is the pathway believers need to follow.

When this foundation is effectively laid down, then the Holy Spirit uses this Christian doctrine and experience base to further enlighten, encourage and enlarge one’s Christian character. To use an old metaphor, the early months and years of initial discipleship in getting to know the written and the living Word is grist for the mill (“grist” is the wheat, buckwheat, oats, corn, etc. brought to the mill to be ground and prepared for practical value and profit.)

Peter’s Spiritual Progress

Did Peter move flawlessly through this process, never missing a beat and understanding everything the first time he was exposed to it? Of course not. No one ever does. The Scripture give us many examples of this process of missed steps and floundering. Remember Mark 3:17, when Jesus gave John and has brother James the not so flattering moniker “Boanerges,” which means sons of thunder? And recall also the apostle Simon, who was nicknamed “the Zealot;” one who was considered too politically right wing (Luke 6:15). Recall when Peter, near the end of his three year discipleship with Jesus and supposedly close to his “graduation,” reverts to the worldly tactic of whipping out his sword and slicing off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant (John 18:10).

Once again, it is Peter who emotionally explodes in Matthew 26:33, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” But in just a matter of hours thereafter when he is exposed and accused by guards in the vicinity of Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas, the men say, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” At that charge Peter “began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man’” (Matthew 26:73-74). Peter is here in a grievous departure from his discipleship.

Indeed, the process of spiritual growth and Christian character development is fraught with errors and stumbling blocks. Just like Peter, all believers grow gradually into their spiritual maturity. But occasional failing and falling, even severely, is not the central issue. What is imperative is to learn from our shortcomings and accept the tender patience and loving kindness of our Lord’s continuing instruction in our ongoing life as his disciple.

Peter’s Final Lesson

This leads to the crowning insight in Peter’s Christian character building as recorded in the last chapter of the Gospel of John. It would be helpful and wise to pause in your reading of this article and carefully read John 21 right now . . . .

Now recall the context: The tomb is empty, the women have reported what they witnessed to the apostolic band, Jesus has appeared to the disciples in the upper room and confronted doubting Thomas with:

Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe. (John 20:27)

Then our text tells us that some time later, “Jesus appeared again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberius.” Several of the disciples had gathered together there and were simply waiting. Jesus had told them after his resurrection he would return to Galilee and meet with them there (Matthew 26:32; 28:7). How long they were supposed to wait is undisclosed. To stay occupied, Peter says “I’m going out to fish,” and his fellows agree to go with him. Apparently they intended this to be not merely a pleasure trip but a commercial enterprise to supply their economic needs because these several men stayed out all night in a fairly large boat equipped with nets.

However, by early morning they had caught nothing. In the dawning light they noticed a figure on the shore. The man called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” They called back, “No.” The man told them to cast their net on the other side of the boat … and suddenly their net was altogether full of good size fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved recognized who it was on the shore and said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”

As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him and jumped into the water.

While the text does not say so directly, I believe it infers Peter was expecting a repeat of his earlier experience in Matthew 14:29 when he actually walked on water. In that experience, Jesus asked Peter to come and join him to walk amidst the waves. In the present instance Peter fully clothes himself, seemingly not expecting to get wet, and impetuously leaps into the lake anticipating a neat walk to the shore on top of the water. After he realized he was going under rather than remaining on top of the water, Peter struggled back into the boat. He had been in no evident danger because the boat was at hand and they were not far from shore.

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

We are specifically told the fire was “of burning coals.” This involved the common practice of using charcoal, which gives off a definite, peculiar odor and atmosphere—as most of us recognize from our on forays into backyard barbecue cooking. It is a very understandable fact that our sense of smell is quite acute, and familiar odors have a remarkable way of recalling incidents and situations associated with the olfactory ambiance. How remarkable, then, that the last time we read of Peter sidling up to a charcoal fire was in the courtyard of Caiaphas after Jesus had been taken into custody.

Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?’ she asked Peter. He replied,I am not.’ It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself. (John 18:15-18)

Having voiced his denial of Jesus Christ, Peter maintained his place by that fire alongside the guards who had forcefully taken Jesus (Mark 14:54). For about an hour he repeatedly and vehemently kept on denying Christ when he was confronted with the recognition he was indeed a follower of Jesus (Luke 22:59).

Now, as that band of disciples sat around the fire on the beach and ate breakfast with Jesus, lovingly exchanging glances with the Lord, isn’t it highly likely Peter would have a flashback about sitting around a similar earlier charcoal fire in Caiaphas’ court yard—at that time sucking up and agreeing with a group of men who were enemies of Christ? At the height of Peter’s slippage at the earlier fire when Peter mounted his final denial, a rooster crowed and Jesus “turned and looked straight at Jesus” (Luke 22:60,61). I believe all this was very much in Peter’s consciousness at this second fire in John 21.

Conclusion

After they finished breakfast, Jesus turned his attention squarely on Peter. The remainder of the account in the chapter is all about personal instruction for Peter. Much is often made of the different words for “love” in the consequent exchange between the Lord and Peter, and that is a good and helpful study. But there is something else here that is quite instructive. Three exhortations seem to stand out. While they are specifically addressed to Peter, the principles they present are applicable to every believer.

  • First, the Lord calls upon Peter’s memory and emphasizes forgiveness. Faults and failures are to be expected in Christian growth. But God is exceedingly patient. Don’t stare at your past transgressions; look steadily forward to God’s gracious forgiveness of all your sin because of Christ. Remember, Jesus paid it all.

  • Then Jesus motivates Peter with an emphasis on faithfulness; love me and serve me. Note carefully, loving the Lord deeply must come before serving him effectively. We must be very careful not to try and serve the Lord out of our own fleshly interests and strengths. It is never about you, it is always about him. The only proper motive for serving others is because of our love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Thirdly, Jesus emphasizes focus on a personal Christ-centered forward movement; “You must follow me” (John 21:22). It really, truly does not matter what God is doing or will do with someone else. Peter exclaims, “Lord, what about him?” And the Lord’s response is, “What is that to you?” (John 21:22-23). Get your eyes off of everyone except Christ. There is only one Author and Finisher of our faith; the Lord Jesus Christ. He and he alone is worthy of our worship and service.

So what do we learn from Peter about Christian character development? When you hear the call of Jesus Christ, believe the gospel of God’s Son. From the Bible and godly teachers, learn the essential foundational truths of Christianity. Grow, progress, advance in your Christian experience over time as God develops your Christ-like character. And as you move into spiritual maturity, learn to practice and stress Christ’s exhortations of forgiveness, faithfulness and focus.

Rid yourself of all malice and all deceit,

hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind.

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk,

so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,

now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-2)

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Getting to Know More About Angels, Satan and Demons

ANGELS

Their Creation

Angels are part of God’s creation. They have not always existed but came into being by the authoritative declaration of God. The only question is, precisely when did God create the angels?

Two answers are possible. The first assumes angels are part of the present space-time continuum we call the universe. Therefore they would be part of what God brought into existence in Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Consequently, as part of that structure and form, angels were created in the processes of the Genesis 1 account:

Thus the heaven and the earth were completed in all their vast array. (Genesis 2:1)
Alternatively, some consider angels and their holy environs of heaven to already be in existence before God created the present universe. In other words, the creation account in Genesis 1 describes “the heavens and the earth” of this present order, our universe. In this view, the angels and their realm in the habitation of God were created before, prior to the Genesis account.

One passage which gives credence to this second position is Job 38:4-7, where God is challenging Job about his human limitations and says:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

This text plainly says angels exclaimed in joyous praise when the earth was created, Does this not infer the angels were already in existence when God began His creative process in Genesis 1?

Another reason to believe angels were created prior to the Genesis record is that Satan shows up in Genesis 3 without any preamble or explanation as to where he came from. Other biblical texts (to be considered later) indicate Satan was originally a special cherub but fell from his lofty position, taking a number of angels with him into condemnation. Thereafter Satan and his minions were confirmed in their wickedness (Matthew 25:41), whereas those who were faithful and true were confirmed in their holiness; angels good and evil (1 Timothy 5:21; Mark 8:38).

When Satan appears in Eden he is obviously already a liar, a deceiver and thoroughly evil. Therefore, it is in his previously fallen condition he enters God’s “good” creation of Genesis in an attempt to once again foment a rebellion against the express will of God.

Capable Bible students defend one or the other of these two viewpoints of the angels creation. Whichever, angels are indeed the creation of God for his glory and do not have independent existence. This is eloquently expressed in Psalm 148, where amidst all the praises due to God, verse 2 says “Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts;” and verse 5 assures us, “He commanded and they were created.”

Their Function and Role

The term “angel” is from the Greek and means “messenger.” This is essentially the same meaning as the Old Testament Hebrew term (malak), also translated as “angel.” The description of angel activity in the Bible far exceeds the simplicity of being just a messenger, however. Angels appear in a variety of tasks throughout the Scripture. Perhaps the designation in Hebrews 1:14 (“ministering spirits”) is a better generalization of what angels are and what they do; angels are spirit beings who serve God and execute God’s will in whatever capacity and task they have been Divinely appointed.

Two passages of Scripture suggest angels may be assigned as guardians or companions of individual persons, but these texts lack particular information about their specific relationship with people; Matthew 18:10 and Acts 12:15.

On the other hand, Deuteronomy 32:8-9 makes reference to angels being given very definite national responsibilities:

When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.

This is understood to mean when God set aside the nation of Israel as his peculiar covenant people, he then designated for every other “peoples” or nations specific oversight by angels. Nowhere is this more clear than in Daniel 10:13, 20 where there is reference to angel beings identified as “the prince of Persia” and “the prince of Greece.”

The Hierarchy of Heaven

Only two angels are named in Scripture; Michael (Daniel 10:13; Jude 9) and Gabriel (Luke 1:19,20). However, there are many places in the Bible where we are told of varying ranks or positions of status within the angelic order.

Michael is identified as “the archangel.” And a distinction is noted between “cherubim” and “seraphim;” cherubs have four wings (Ezekiel 1:6) and are said to be especially associated with the throne of God. Seraphs have six wings (Isaiah 6:2) and seem to be associated peculiarly with the worship of God. Only the cherubim and seraphim are said to have wings. All other Bible angels always appear to humans as full grown, wingless men, with the exception of the strange occurrence in Zechariah 5:9.

On several occasions the New Testament uses a set of words to describe ranking in the angelic world: “principalities, powers, thrones and dominions” (e.g., Colossians 1:16; 2:15). These terms always refer to demonic, fallen angels, although they no doubt reflect a similar hierarchy among the holy angels. One of the names of God is Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Armies, which implies a force of full ranking militants of varying degrees.

All of this would indicate the angelic order is highly structured in terms of position and authority. In fact, when we consider the intricate orderliness of observable creation, we would not expect the unseen spiritual dimensions of the Creator to be any less magnificently aligned and arrayed.

Why Angels Cannot be Redeemed

Angels have an individual existence. Each angel exists fully independent of the next, for they were created en masse to serve the purposes of the Creator. They do not marry each other in order to regenerate baby angels; they do not reproduce (Mark 12:25). It is not that they are merely sterile but that they have no racial head, like Adam and Eve, “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). Because they exist as a Divine specific act of creation, they are often called descriptively, “the sons of God” (for example, Job 1:6; Psalm 29:1).

Apparently angels were created with individual volition or free will. When the moment occurred at the revolt led by “the anointed cherub” (Ezekiel 28:14,15), each angel was responsible for his choice of eternal loyalty or eternal rebellion. When those decisions were made, there was no provision for reversal or reclamation; their choice made them holy forever or horrible endlessly.
In contrast, the human race was redeemable because we enjoy a connective solidarity the angels do not have. Human redemption is based on an authentic representative of humanity; the first man Adam. Adam truly is every person and legitimately acted for all humankind. You are Adam, I am Adam. Every person was in Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam’s fall was not merely his own but the fall of all humanity. Adam’s sin became an integral part of the human condition.

In contrast with the first Adam, Jesus Christ becomes the head of a new, unfallen and triumphant humanity. Jesus Christ is called “the last/second Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45,47). Jesus Christ succeeded where Adam failed. While there is only death in Adam, there is only life in Christ. So all those born in Adam are ruined, but all those born again in Christ are redeemed (1 Corinthians 15:22). In Adam all die, but in Christ all are made alive.

No such redemptive provision or plan is recorded in the Bible for angels.

The Devil’s Devices

For we are not unaware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11)

The Bible portrays Satan as a deceiving and dastardly being, an adversary to God and the people of God. The apostle John declares him to be a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). His efforts focus on deceiving the nations (Revelation 20:3,10). He is characterized in Revelation 20:2 as “the dragon, that ancient serpent.” The apostle Paul exposes Satan’s true interests as despicably prideful and arrogant:
He opposes and exalts himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, and even sets himself up in God’s temple [during the coming Tribulation period], proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)

The Bible plainly tells us the Devil is horribly hideous, unimaginably wicked. We know he is capable of the most exaggerated deceit, appearing to the undiscerning as if he were “an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). It is this chameleon-like transformation and cunning masquerade which allows the Devil, that slippery serpent, to slither so stealthily into human experience.

For example, in the book of Exodus we see Moses on top of the mountain occupied with God in supreme spiritual intensity as he receives the Ten Commandments. At the bottom of the mountain, Aaron and Israel sit at the feet of Satan, singing and dancing in orgy as they worship the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-8).

Centuries later, in the book of Matthew, Moses sits again on the top of a mountain wondrously occupied with Jesus Christ, God the Son. And again at the foot of this mountain, Satan foils and frustrates the disciples as he tortuously torments a demon-possessed boy (Matthew 17:1-3; 14-20).

Dance and sing or writhe and scream, the Devil will attempt to make people do both if either action can oppose or dishonor Christ and His people and God’s purposes.

Preparing for Spiritual Battle

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:1).

It is stock military tradecraft that in order to effectively fight one’s opponent, one needs to “know the enemy.” Spiritual warfare involves fighting Satan and his minions, so one might think it wise to study Satanic practices and occult manuals in an attempt to know and thereby spoil the plans and practices of demonic activity. This, however, is a wrong and dangerous approach to proper spiritual warfare and must be carefully avoided.

The training of American Treasury agents to discover and discern counterfeit money presents a wonderful model for a preparation to distinguish the true from the false. These agents are rigorously and thoroughly trained to be able to identify counterfeit money. They employ sophisticated techniques in their search and determination to verify if a bill is real or phony. They spend long hours laboring over the skills necessary to accomplish their charge. And they become amazingly efficient in their task.

But here is the “secret” of their success: they are never ever exposed to counterfeit money in their training. No counterfeit money passes through their hands or before their eyes. American Treasury agents are so completely exposed to the real thing that when they encounter something which is not “real,” it is immediately identifiable as counterfeit.

What a wonderful parallel principle. Our task as Christian soldiers battling for the gospel and the glory of God is to handle only the truth of God’s Word. Messing around with the occult and the demonic is a sidetrack to what should be our real focus. We must become so familiar with what the Scriptures teach that when we encounter anything contrary to the Scriptures it will be immediately apparent. Embrace the Book, study the Bible, get to know the Word of God through and through. This is the first and finest defense in preparation to realize and discern spiritual error and falsehood.

Did God Create Satan?

Decidedly no! Still, well meaning but shallow and poorly prepared students of the Bible have mistakenly used Isaiah 45:7 to suggest otherwise:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things (KJV).

The Hebrew word “evil” in this verse is a word used to express calamity, adversity, sorrow; all of which are the result of sin. This particular word is never used for “sin.” This passage is an example of Hebrew poetic parallelism; two couplets echoing the same thought. The Lord is sovereign over the properties and resultants of light/darkness and prosperity/disaster. But God is not the author of sin/evil.

I believe the Scriptures give us two passages which explain the origin of Satan/the Devil and therewith the beginning, the origin of evil. The first is Ezekiel 28:11-19. The first 10 verses of this passage speak of the earthly ruler of Tyre (he is said to be “but a man,” v. 2,9). The verses thereafter use language that transcends the earthly and seems to speak about a supernatural being (“you were anointed as a guardian cherub,” v. 14,16). Consider this explanation of the passage:

You were the model of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. (v. 12)

This entity is “the model,” the sum or pattern of perfection itself. God brought this beauteous being into existence as his crowning, supreme creation. He is the best of the best, the very pinnacle of God’s creative order. This being is said to be replete with wisdom and flawless in the beauty of his appearance. Here is something exceptional indeed, truly, the crème de la crème of creatures.

You were in Eden,
The Garden of God. (v. 13)

Such language dismisses the notion that this is merely the summer palace of the king of Tyre. A similar reference to Eden as God’s special garden is found in Isaiah 51:3 and Ezekiel 31:9. It appears all these are direct references to Genesis 3. Furthermore:

Every precious stone adorned you:
ruby, topaz, and emerald,
chrysolite, onyx and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold. (v. 13)

Precious stones are also found in the high priestly breastplate of Aaron (Exodus 28:17-20) and in the foundation of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 20:18-21). The spectacular adornment of the being in this passage seems to give him a priestly or mediatorial and supporting function or role. At the very least, we are presented with a being adorned in glorious splendor.

On the day you were created they were prepared. (v. 13)

How important this statement is! Here is a “created” being; a most wondrous and superlative creation, but a creature nonetheless. His unusual adornments were “prepared” to enhance his especial status. Without question, here is a very special creature, indeed.

You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you. (v. 14)

This verse tell us two important things: first, this being is a cherub; and second, God appointed this cherub to the post of “guardian.” The fact an anointing is mentioned is significant. In the Old Testament, priests and kings were anointed. Does this speak again of the unique role assigned to this special creature, namely, the mediatorial office bearer for the angelic creation? It appears God made his most perfect creature, enveloped him in special splendor and set him to his charge as chief angelic representative.

“Cherub” is a compound Hebrew word from RAB, meaning “great,” the formal name of magnificence, majesty or dominion; and KI, a particle indicating likeness. KI-RAB or cherub suggests the emblematic character of the cherubim; like the greatness or like the majesty. It would appear the cherubim were created to be the emblems of God’s glorious and holy presence. The first chapter of Ezekiel describes the awesome and mysterious appearance of the four cherubim who accompany the Lord in a peculiar visitation. They seem to take up what must be a ceremonial position of honor and pomp (for the Lord does not need “bodyguards”) at the four corners of his throne.

Most interestingly, the language of Ezekiel 28:14 suggests a fifth cherub whose place was to hover over God’s throne, somewhat like a canopy. I believe it is this being, the fifth and most elevated cherub, whom Ezekiel is describing and who becomes Satan, the Devil.

It is instructive to note that in Genesis 3 when Satan is in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, he is described as a bright, shining, fascinating and undeniably beautiful “serpent.” After Adam plunges humankind into sin and is then driven from the Garden and the Tree of Life, God places holy cherubim at the entrance to Eden to maintain an impassable barrier for Adam’s return. This tells us a fallen cherub brought sin into the angelic realm and then introduced sin to the human experience in Eden. Holy, unfallen cherubim, confirmed in their righteousness, are sent by God to repel their fallen companion and to protect the Tree of Life from being possessed by sinful humanity.

You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones. (v. 14)

Obviously, this verse highlights a privileged position. The mountain of God or mountain of the Lord is referred to several times in Scripture and is often associated with angels and fire. Ezekiel 10:2 contains a reference to “burning coals among the cherubim” (compare 1:13). Fire speaks of cleansing and is associated with holiness. This anointed cherub was granted access to what appears to be the holiest location of all; the intimate presence of God Almighty.

You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
‘till wickedness was found in you. (v. 15)

For the second time in this passage this being is said to be “created,” a creature. His untainted origin is also rehearsed: God made an absolutely flawless creature. But the ominous close of the verse points to the root of the problem—this blameless, perfect being rebelled against God and sinned.

Through your widespread trade
You were filled with violence,
And you sinned. (v. 16)

Here is a description of how his transgression came about. The charge is repeated in verse 18:

By your many sins and dishonest trade
you have desecrated your sanctuaries.

The question is, of course, what sort of “trade” is being spoken about here? (The KJV uses “merchandise” and “traffic.”) The root of the Hebrew word is translated elsewhere as “talebearer,” “gossip” and “slander” (Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 11:13; 20:19; Jeremiah 6:28; Ezekiel 22:9). The anointed and exalted cherub became a slanderer, which is precisely what the term “devil” means (1 Timothy 3:11,6,7).

The merchandise or traffic the anointed cherub was engaged with was false charges and malicious gossip amidst the angelic host—namely, an inflated presentation of his own prestige and misrepresentations about God! The anointed cherub used his position as leader in the created order to advance himself before others in the angelic host, seeking to become more prominent than his divine appointment. He was not content to be the best of all God’s creatures; he coveted the glory that belongs to God alone. With gross arrogance he exalted himself and slandered God. His intent was to usurp the prerogatives belonging only to God.
With this activity, God’s masterpiece of creation becomes a monster of iniquity; his perfection was forfeited for perdition.

So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, O guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones. (v. 16)

The sovereign Creator exercised his holy judgment against the rebellion exhibited by his finest creation. There is no dualism here, no contest between well-matched enemies. God created. His creature rebelled. God judged. The Lord is altogether supreme without comparison and cannot tolerate the besmirching of his holy uniqueness.

Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor. (v. 17)

Because of his God dishonoring self-centeredness, the anointed cherub became Satan, the accuser and adversary. He imagined the gifts God had given him were of his own effort and making. He imagined, “God is not responsible for my being extraordinary; I am what I am because of myself alone.” How extremely sad, but how tragically true, that such an attitude can only bring about the ugly down-spiraling and destruction of exquisite beauty to smoldering ashes.

So I threw you to the earth:
I made a spectacle of you before kings.
‘So I made a fire come out from you,
and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
in the sight of all who were watching.
All the nations who knew you
are appalled at you;
you have come to a horrible end
and will be no more. (v. 18,19)

Regarding all this, it is my strong opinion that the account of Absalom in 2 Samuel 15 is an earthly parallel to the activity of Satan amongst the heavenly host; at the very least there are remarkable comparisons. Absalom is the finest issue of King David, more handsome than anyone else in the whole of Israel (2 Samuel 14:215,26). Absalom’s pride led him to take up a prominent position near the city gate—the place where he would encounter the most people—and there he began to solicit everyone on behalf of himself:

If only I were appointed judge in the land.
Then everyone who has a complaint or case
could come to me
and I would see that he gets justice. (v.4)
…and so he stole the hearts of the men of Israel. (v.6)

This is exactly what Satan did among the angelic host, putting himself forward as the only rightful “judge” to whom the angels could turn.

Satan’s demise is powerfully described in Isaiah 14:3-23:

How have you fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn. (v. 12)

Isaiah gives us deep insight into the fall of Lucifer, “son of the morning.” In an ascending crescendo of “I wills,” we are told of the steps by which the anointed cherub’s pride drew him to destruction:

I will ascend to heaven.
I will raise my throne above the stars of God.
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds.
I will make myself like the Most High. (v. 13-14)

What unmitigated arrogance! Lucifer reaches and clamors up the ladder of pride, higher and higher, until the place alongside the God of heaven himself is thought to be his rightful seat. What perverted reasoning to think a creature could co-opt the glory of God! Note carefully, he does not want to replace God but only to be “like” the Most High; to be co-regent!

So then, did God create Satan, the Devil? No indeed. Rather, God’s most wonderful creature, the anointed guardian cherub, rebelled against his Creator and became Satan. Cherubim, seraphim and all other angelic beings were given free will at their creation. But when some were led astray by the deceptions of the superlative rebel cherub, they were forever confirmed in their rebellion without hope of recovery.

Likewise, the majority of the angelic host who chose to serve God were confirmed in their holiness with no consequent need for redemption. It is most worthy to note regarding the archangel Michael, who seems to be the designated leader of the holy heavenly host (Revelation 12), that his name literally means “Who will be like God”!

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A Key Bible Reading Principle

It will greatly help you to understand Scripture
If you mark not only what is spoken or written
but of whom
and to whom
with what words
at what time
where
to what intent
with what circumstances
considering what goes before
and what follows after.
(Miles Coverdale, d. 1569)
The emphasis is on common sense literal interpretation, carefully considering context, history, language, persons, and occasion. This approach is more technically called the Protestant principle of historical-grammatical interpretation.
Remember also, the Bible consists of different kinds of literary types (genre); for example . . .
Apocalyptic – Revelation
Biography – Abraham, Moses, David
Exposition – Hebrews
Narrative – Genesis, Ezra, Acts
Oratory – Acts 7
Parable – Matthew 13:1-53
Pastoral – Psalm 23
Poetry – Psalms
Prophecy – Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel
Proverb – Proverbs
Satire – Ezekiel 34
Tragedy – Lot, Samson, Saul
Wisdom – Job, Ecclesiastes

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The Sovereignty of God

The Sovereignty of God

All the people of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the people of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34,35)

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines the steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

“Rebecca’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The elder will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written. ‘Jacob I love, Esau have I hated.’” (Romans 9:11-16)

I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:15,16)

[Jesus said] No one can come to me unless the father who sent me draws him.” (John 15:16)

You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16)

To all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12,13)

He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the one he loves.” (Ephesians1:4-6)

“From the beginning God chose you to be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)

Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” (2 Timothy 1:8,9)

We are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.” (2 Corinthians 2:13,15)

Some Comforting Thoughts About God’s Sovereignty

by Jerome Zanchius (died 1590)

How sweet must the following considerations be to a distressed believer:

  • There most certainly exists an almighty, all-wise and infinitely gracious God.
  • He has given me in times past, and is giving me at present if I had but eyes to see it, many and signal intimations of His love to me, both in a way of providence and grace.
  • This love of His is immutable; He never repents or it nor withdraws it.
  • Whatever comes to pass in time is the result of His will from everlasting, consequently …
  • My afflictions were a part of His original plan, and are all ordered in number, weight and measure.
  • The very hairs of my head are—every one—counted by Him, nor can a single hair fall to the ground but in consequence of His determination. Hence …
  • My distresses are not the result of chance, accident or a fortuitous combination of circumstances, but …
  • The providential accomplishment of God’s purpose, and …
  • Designed to answer some wise and gracious ends, nor …
  • Shall my affliction continue a moment longer than God sees meet.
  • He Who brought me to it has promised to support me under it and to carry me through it.
  • All shall, most assuredly, work together for His glory and my good, therefore …
  • The cup which my heavenly Father has given me to drink, shall I not drink it? Yes, I will, in the strength He imparts, even rejoice in tribulation; and using the means of possible redress, which He has or may hereafter put into my hands, I will commit myself and the event to Him, Whose purpose cannot be overthrown, Whose plan cannot be disconcerted, and Who, whether I am resigned or not, will still go on to work all things after the counsel of His own will.
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The Three Appearances of Christ

First — “He appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:26)

Second — “He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.”

Third — “He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28)

The first appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ was in His incarnation to make His once-for-all sacrifice for sin on the cross.

The second appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ was in His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father to intercede for each of us who believe in His gospel.

The third appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ will be His return to earth in power and great glory to rule and reign on David’s throne in Jerusalem for a millennium.

But there is another secret appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ at the close of this Dispensation of Grace when He comes to catch away (“rapture”) the Church which is His body.

“Listen, I tell you a mystery [secret]: we will not all sleep but we will all be changed—
in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye . . . caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord
in the air.” (1 Corinthians 15:51 & 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

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