2 But for you who fear My name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings [or, "sun rays"].
Malachi compares the coming of Christ to the dawning of a new day, which was known to the Hebrews as the Messianic, or Kingdom Age. The watchers of the night see the Morning Star first, followed by the first rays of the sun as dawn breaks. In Psalm 19:1 David says, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God." He also describes the coming of Christ (the Sun) as "as a bridegroom coming out of his chambe."
A large portion of God's revelation comes through nature. Jesus revealed the Kingdom mostly by telling parables that depicted such things as farming, tending vineyards, and astronomy. This is one of God's favorite methods of revelation. So it should come as no surprise that the dawning of the sun should hold some major keys to understanding the coming of Christ.
Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of the sun is its LIGHT. This theme holds a prominent place in the Bible, because Jesus is to be "the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man" (John 1:9). Most people have already had a great deal of teaching on that subject, so we will instead deal with another theme-FIRE.
God's Fire Brings Faith, Not Fear
When God revealed Himself to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai, He spoke to them by a voice issuing out of a consuming fire. Deuteronomy 4 tells us,
33 Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? . . . 36 Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.
We know that faith comes by hearing the word (Rom.10:17). Yet a large amount of Bible teaching is spent on making people AFRAID of the fire of God through hellfire and brimstone preaching. Many feel it their Christian duty to scare people into the Kingdom, and so they describe in great detail the most awful place they can imagine in their own minds. Yet when God chose to reveal Himself to Israel, He came as fire, not to frighten them, but to test their faith. We read of this in Exodus 20:18-21.
18 And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die." 20 And Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin." 21 So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.
God SPOKE out of the midst of the fire. Paul says that faith comes by hearing His voice. The revelation of God did make Israel fearful, and they withdrew from His presence. Moses told them that God had manifested Himself in this way in order to prove them, or test their faith. If God had called them into a rose garden, the people would have needed no real faith, because they would not have had to overcome any fleshly fear. God makes it difficult in order to see if we really do trust Him not to destroy us when we do as He asks.
True godly fear is different from fleshly fear. Godly fear is trusting God in matters of life and death. This is the fear of God that was required of Israel and of us as well. For this reason Moses told the people, "do not be afraid," and then seemed to contradict himself by telling them that God had come to test them, "that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin." (Ex. 20:20). These are two different qualities of fear. The first makes us run FROM God; the second makes us run TO God. The New Testament tells us that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). This tells me that true godly fear, when mature, is actually perfect LOVE.
The fire of God should dwell within each of us as a burning love and desire to please Him. Moses had the fire within his own heart, as we shall soon show, and so He was able to approach God without fear.
If the fire of God makes us fearful and does not increase our faith, then something is wrong either in our own hearts or in our understanding of God. Perhaps God is not being portrayed correctly. Perhaps many are describing the fire incorrectly and imparting a carnal fear, often inadvertently. Fear has become such an ingrained way of life for many Christians. The victorious life of unshakable faith in God is quite rare, and, I believe, impossible without knowing the sovereignty of God and His love for us.
It is our purpose here to try to impart faith by teaching the truth about the fire of God. May you hear His voice speak out of the midst of the fire.
Fire and the Divine Law
Deuteronomy 33 records the blessing of Moses upon the nation of Israel before he died. In this blessing, we read in Deut. 33:2 and 3,
2 The LORD came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones; at [or, "in"] His right hand there was flashing lightning [esh-dath, "fire-law"] for them. 3 Indeed, He loves the people; all Thy holy ones are in Thy hand, and they followed in Thy steps; everyone receives of Thy words.
The New American Standard version (above) does not do justice to verse 2 when it uses the phrase, "there was flashing lightning for them." The King James Version is more accurate in this instance, for it reads, "From His right hand went a fiery law for them." The Hebrew term is esh, "fire," and dath, "law." So the text is worded to show us that the divine law is a fire that God gave to the people.
Furthermore, Moses says in the next verse that "All Thy holy ones [or, saints] are in Thy hand." If the fiery law is in God's hand, and the saints are also in His hand, it follows that the saints of God have been given the divine nature of this holy fire. It is manifested in the fact that they follow in His steps, and everyone receives His words. They not only believe His word, but they BECOME the word, even as Jesus Christ Himself was the Word (John 1:1). This prophecy is remarkable, for it tells us that the ultimate blessing of God is that we would be given the divine nature, pictured as fire, and imparted by the word of God. The prophet Isaiah explains what Moses wrote. Isaiah 33:14 tells us,
14 Sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling has seized the godless. Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning? 15 He who walks righteously, and speaks with sincerity, he who rejects unjust gain, and shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe; he who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed, and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil;
Only the righteous can live in the divine presence and partake of the divine nature. This is well illustrated in the story of Daniel's three friends, who were cast into the fiery furnace. The fire could not harm them, because the judgment of the law had no jurisdiction over the righteous. Their character was in harmony with the divine fire, and so the earthly fire had no power over them.
When Israel stood at the base of the mount, they had been justified by the blood of the lamb seven weeks earlier at Passover (when they came out of Egypt). Yet this did not mean they were ready for the next level of experience with the Holy Spirit of God at the foot of Horeb. This meeting with God was thereafter celebrated as the feast of Pentecost. Although they had been justified by faith, they were unable to experience Pentecost, because they were afraid to hear the voice of God. For this reason, the fulfillment of Pentecost was postponed for nearly 1,500 years, where we read the story in the second chapter of Acts.
The point is that "the church in the wilderness" under Moses (Acts 7:38) typified Christians who, though justified by faith, are unwilling or unable to move up to the second level of experience with God. Pentecost is an encounter with the divine fire, for it is a baptism of fire, designed to purify the people by destroying the flesh. It is not meant to destroy the person, but to free people from the bondage of their fleshly desires. This fire burns flesh and kills us. But we should not shrink from such a death, but embrace it, knowing that God is Love, and He is preparing us for a deeper relationship with Him.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote in 23:29,
29 "Is not My word like fire?" declares the LORD, "and like a hammer which shatters a rock?"
The Word of God, or particularly His law, is like a fire because it reveals the very character and nature of its Author. The purpose of the law is to define sin (1 John 3:4). Otherwise, as Paul said, we would not have known coveting is sin, except the law told us, "You shall not covet" (Romans 7:7).
When we hear the Word of God coming out of the midst of the fire, we are only afraid because it unmasks the sin within our hearts which we have so desperately tried to hide all our lives. All our defense mechanisms, self-justification, our rationalizations, our projection of guilt upon others, our blindness and refusal to see our own hearts as God sees them--all the secrets of the heart are made manifest by His word when we hear it speaking to us out of the midst of the fire.
Yes, this can be fearsome. The Ten Commandments give the general law principle, and the statutes define specifically how the principle is to be applied correctly. The judgments of the law are the penalties for each transgression. They are designed to restore the lawful order through restitution wherever possible, and to restore the sinner as well.
When we become Christians, we come before the bar of God's justice as repentant sinners. We claim the death of Jesus as payment for all our sins-past, present, and future. From that moment on, we form a new and different relationship with the law. In time past we were afraid of its judgment; now we voluntarily submit ourselves to its judgment and teaching, that we may learn what sin is and how to refrain from sinning. As Isaiah said, we begin to learn righteousness.
Paul said that "by the law is the knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:20) How could we be expected to know what sin is and do something about it, if we have no knowledge of what sin is? And how could we know what sin is except by the law?
So this new relationship with the law is known to us as learning obedience, or sanctification. It comes AFTER and BECAUSE OF justification. We submit ourselves to the fiery law, and Jesus leads us through the fire of circumstances, a baptism of fire, and God begins to refine us as gold. As we draw near to Him, He speaks to us out of the midst of the fire even as He spoke to Israel of old.
This is as fearsome to our flesh today as it was to Israel at Sinai. The fire activates our inner fears that always accompany the sin in our hearts. Men today still run from the fiery law that God spoke to men out of the midst of the fire. They are still afraid of it, and out of this fear came the antinomian doctrine ("anti-law"). These are those who justify their sin by saying, "We are no longer under the law, but under grace." What they really mean is, "We will uphold the laws that we agree with, such as those that define murder, theft, and adultery as sin; but anyone who brings up a law we disagree with or do not want to comply with-well, we are not under the law but under grace."
Most people misunderstand Paul's statement in Romans 6:14 where he says, "you are not under law, but under grace." In the Bible, when a man was convicted of sin by the law of God, he was "under law" until such time as the debt was paid. For instance, if convicted of stealing $1,000, the law would tell him to pay his victim double restitution, or $2,000. If he could not pay the debt, he had to work off the debt until it was paid. The time it took to work off the debt was the time the man was "under the law." Once the debt was paid, he was "under grace," because his sin no longer had dominion over him. He was forgiven.
Paul was telling us that Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for our sin. Hence, we are not under law, but under grace. Our sin no longer has dominion over us. But does this mean we may now continue in sin? Of course not. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). The law tells us what sin is. The law was never meant to justify sinners, nor could it. However, the solution is not to put away the law, thereby legalizing sin. The solution is to apply Jesus' blood to our sins, believing that He has paid the full penalty for all our sin. This puts us "under grace" so that we are free to be servants of God in obedience to His law. We were justified in order to begin learning obedience to the will of God. The foundational revelation of God's will came through Moses in the divine law.
There are certain parts of the law, particularly the blood sacrifices and rituals relating to the physical temple and Levitical priesthood that have been altered in the New Testament. The principles remain the same, but they have been given a new form in the Age of Pentecost. Yet even these were not really put away; only their outward form changed. We still have a blood sacrifice; Jesus was the true Lamb of God. We still have a temple; we are the temple of God. We still have a priesthood; it is a Melchisedec priesthood. We still have a high priest; He is alive forever.
But let us not think that the moral laws have been put away, lest we become lawless. Theft, murder, and adultery are still sins. Unfortunately, many Christians seldom study the law of God, because they have been told that it was put away. For this reason few understand the judgments of the law. This is most serious when we study the idea of the final judgment of the wicked at the Great White Throne. Without an understanding of the judgments of the law, we will not be able to know the nature of the lake of fire, which is the judgment of the sinners.
God will judge the world by His fiery law, for that is how all sin is judged. A study of the law itself will show us the true purpose of judgment. Isaiah 26:9 says:
9 For when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
The judgments of the law are corrective and remedial. They are designed to bring about true forgiveness, not a perpetual state of unforgiveness. The purpose of the Age of Tabernacles is to give the earth a sabbatical rest in the seventh thousand year, so that the people will be free to learn the ways of God. We are about to enter into a time when all nations will see the exaltation of the Kingdom of God and its glory. They will see the blessings of its citizens and desire to learn its laws (Isaiah 2:2-4). They will accept Jesus Christ as the King of the Earth and turn the whole earth into a Universal Kingdom. They will not flee in terror at His judgments; they will see the justice and mercy of God's law in direct contrast to the laws of men, and they will rejoice at His marvelous wisdom.
The Baptism of Fire
The first and most immediate way in which we may experience the fire of God is by the baptism of fire. This does not mean that we must be burned alive in a literal flame. An early Church leader 1800 years ago, Clement of Alexandria (Origen's teacher), described it:
"Fire is conceived of as a beneficient and strong power, destroying what is base, preserving what is good; therefore this fire is called "wise" by the Prophets . . . We say that the fire purifies not the flesh but sinful souls, not an all-devouring vulgar [earthly, natural] fire, but the "wise fire" as we call it, the fire that "pierceth the soul" which passes through it." (Stromata VII, 2:5-12)
In another place Clement again describes these fiery judgments of God as being "saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion" (Stromata VI, 6). Where did he and many others like him get this teaching? They got it from the Word of God, particularly where it teaches about the baptism of fire.
In Malachi 3:2 and 3 the prophet says:
2 But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. 3 And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.Four hundred years after Malachi penned these words, John the Baptist said of Jesus in Matt. 3:11, 12:
11 As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Jesus Himself said in Luke 12:49,
49 "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!
There is no record that Jesus ever burned anyone with fire when He came 2,000 years ago. He did not call fire down from heaven upon His enemies. However, His ministry did burn the chaff out of people, most notably His disciples. It was not a literal fire, but the spiritual fire of tribulation, trials, and testings of their faith.
It was a common teaching in the early Church that the baptism of fire was to be applied in two different ages: (1) in the present age, when we repent, or accuse ourselves before God, submitting to His discipline, even as David did; and (2) in the next age, when our works are tried by fire (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Both occasions were considered to be baptisms of fire. Those who wished to avoid the second one must submit to the first. In either case, they said, we must enter the Kingdom, or Paradise, by means of the flaming sword of the cherubim who guard the tree of life (Genesis 3:24).
Not that this concept was especially new, for all of the men and women trained of God throughout the Old Testament went through the same crucible of fire. Jesus intimated that this fire had already been kindled. It is the way God has always refined His people to separate dross from gold. It is the way God removes the chaff from the wheat in our hearts. For thousands of years, God has dealt with His people by this "fire." He has done it for two reasons: (1) To cause us to know Him as He is, for He has revealed Himself to us as fire; and (2) to train us for service.
We are all born with hearts that are "desperately wicked." The gold in our heart is alloyed, mixed with impurities not readily apparent until He sits as the great Refiner. He puts our hearts into various solutions and begins to stir the mixture, patiently waiting for the big reaction. When the time is right, suddenly a moment of crisis hits, and a lesser metal crystallizes and falls to the bottom or foams to the top. The impurities are dealt with one by one, using different solutions, until finally a fine gold powder falls out of solution, ready to be put in the fire to melt it into a solid lump.
When people face adversity, they often go to their pastors to find out why God allowed such awful things to happen to them. They get many different responses, but often the pastor quickly tries to justify God. "Don't blame it on God; it's the devils fault," they say. Or some say, "God is obviously very angry with you; you must have done something terrible to deserve God's wrath like that." (One of Job's friends believed this, but he was wrong.)
More often than not, God is merely refining you. It's not that you have done something bad that brought God's judgment upon you. We all go through such trials periodically. It is, of course, because we are all alloyed, so in that sense it is because of sin within us. But He does not subject us to the fire for the purpose of destroying us, but of refining us to teach us righteousness.
He is, after all, our heavenly Father. He is not like imperfect earthly parents, who often punish rather than chastise. If they are mentally unbalanced, they have even been known to continue beating a child until he is seriously injured or even dead. I have heard of some parents even burning their children, supposedly to teach them obedience. But God is not like this. God's judgments arise with healing in His wings, not to roast us to death, but to heal us of all ills, the greatest of which is the sin-sick soul. Until we know this side of God's nature, we do not really know Him very well at all.
Moses learned firsthand how God trains His people. Circumstances forced Moses into the harsh wilderness, where the sun of righteousness beat down upon him, driving him by heat, by hunger, and by thirst into the merciless sand.
Moses faced many adverse circumstances during the next 40 years, which taught him how to rely upon God in numerous impossible situations. In trying circumstances, where he could turn to no one else, he had only one way to handle it: PRAYER. When Moses emerged from the wilderness 40 years later, he was a very different person. He had been refined 40 years by the fiery sword of the cherubim into the type of man capable of forming a new nation and leading them to the Promised Land.
After 40 years of training, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush to call him into service. The burning bush that he saw was his own heart-a natural, earthly bush wherein was the abiding presence of God. A bush that was saturated with fire, but yet not consumed. A bush that could dwell with the "continual burning" (Isaiah 33:14,15) and live.
After Moses, it became Israel's turn to learn the same lessons in the same harsh wilderness where Moses had met God. God led them first into a trap by the Red Sea. He put Israel's gold into a refining solution, which suddenly brought out their inner FEAR of Pharaoh. How else could this worthless impurity have been made manifest? God did this on purpose, not to make them afraid, but to bring their fear to light so it could be eliminated as dross by the mighty hand of God as He opened a way through the Red Sea.
God led them through hunger and thirst and through enemy territory. It was no picnic on the way to the Kingdom. It was hard training. But God will have no spoiled brats inheriting His Kingdom. Hebrews 12:6 says:
6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.
If anyone would rather go the easier route or if any would envy the wicked who seem to have it all, keep in mind that this is the mark of an illegitimate son, not a true son of God (Hebrews 12:8).
His sons have a great task ahead of ruling over cities, regions, and nations. He will give these jobs to those who are called. And those He calls, He also trains in order to qualify them for rulership. And so He comes to purge His people. He sits as a refiner of silver and of gold. He comes as the Sun of righteousness to heal us inwardly of the pollution of the world. He comes as a fire to try our faith as gold (1 Peter 1:7). This is the true baptism of fire, which He has already kindled upon the earth.
The Fiery Law Corrects Us
A truck driver recently was called to haul a load of zinc. He had just finished hauling a load of tomatoes and neglected to wash out the inside of the truck before loading the zinc. When he reached his destination and opened up the back end of the truck to unload the zinc, it exploded in his face. No one had told him that the acid in tomatoes would react in this way to zinc.
Zinc is one of the impurities that must be removed from gold in the refining process. It is highly volatile. As a mineral, it is also very bitter tasting. Many of us have zinc (bitterness, wormwood) in our hearts. Someone comes along with acid behavior, and we explode in his face! There are many tomatoes out there, whom God uses to refine the zinc out of our gold.
For every zinc problem, there is a corresponding tomato. That is a spiritual law. The dross must be removed before our hearts can be refined by the baptism of fire into pure gold. It will not leave our hearts by itself. It must first manifest itself, crystallize, or bubble to the surface before Jesus removes it out of our lives. Lev. 19:17 and 18 says,
17 'You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. 18 'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.
This kind of impurity does NOT automatically flee from our hearts the moment we are justified. It is something that Christians learn as a part of the sanctification process. There are many such impurities in our hearts, but as we follow Him through the fire, listening to His voice calling to us, our faith begins to grow. We soon come to see a tremendous truth that Paul wrote in Romans 8:28,
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
No matter how hot the fire, no matter how desolate the wilderness around us, the Sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings. The crucible of God shall bring forth pure gold, for the Word spoken out of the midst of the fire shall not return to Him void, but shall accomplish its intended purpose.
The justice of God's law demands restitution and correction. All sin is reckoned as a debt to be paid to the victims of injustice, and the judgments are always in direct proportion to the magnitude of the crime (sin). For theft, the judgment is to repay the victim double. For any accidental destruction of a man's person or property, the one liable must pay all costs. These penalties not only recompense the victim, but they train thieves to work rather than to steal. They train careless men to be careful.
God's law is based upon the principle that justice is never satisfied until full restitution has been paid to all the victims of injustice. Nowadays, under man's twisted system, we incarcerate the thief, and the poor victim is almost never repaid. Furthermore, the thief's penalty seldom fits his crime. He is not corrected, because his sin is not treated as a debt to his victim, but to "society" in general. He does not work off the debt. He only rots in prison with nothing to do but brew about vengeance and learn from his buddies how not to get caught the next time. Justice is seldom done in such cases.
These laws of men have conditioned us to think in terms of punishment for the criminal, rather than righting the injustice. And when that does not seem to work, we get mad and demand more punishment (stiffer or mandatory prison sentences). We have a punishment mentality, rather than having the mind of Christ, which would lead us to know the precise measure of restitution to be paid that would correct the injustice and restore the lawful order.
That means when we sentence a thief to five years in prison, he emerges still a thief, because the victim has not been repaid his costs. The Bible makes no provision for a prison system, because such a system does nothing to re-establish the lawful order. It only punishes the sinner.
In cases where restitution is impossible, due to the nature of the crime, the penalty is death. In cases of premeditated murder, the murderer is incapable of repaying the victim two lives. In cases of adultery, the adulterer is incapable of restoring the lawful order. What is done cannot be undone except by the direct power of God.
And so in such cases, God instructed earthly courts to set aside the case and await the final judgment at the end of the age. The sinner was put to death to await his judgment.
There were cases, however, where God mercifully intervened to judge such cases immediately. In those cases, the murderers were not put to death, but merely placed in the hands of God, the highest and most merciful Judge. For instance, Cain was sent into exile. David, too, who murdered Uriah, was dealt with directly by God. He submitted to the baptism of fire, the troubles that beset him from then on, and God refined his heart as gold.
Pardon Through Restitution
Those who have no faith in Jesus in this present age, either because they never heard of Him or they rejected Him, will have to pay the full penalty for their own sins. Theodore, bishop of Mopsuestia (392-428 A.D.) wrote about this:
"The wicked, who have committed evil the whole period of their lives, shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard Him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of grace. For He never would have said, 'Until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing' (Matt. 5:26) unless we could be released from punishment, after having suffered adequately for sin; nor would he have said, 'He shall be beaten with many stripes' and again 'He shall be beaten with few stripes' (Lk. 12:47,48), unless the punishments to be endured for sin will have an end." (Fragment IV)
We believe that the verses above apply specifically to Christians, and in this slight detail we differ from Theodore, who applied the verses to all men. Yet the difference is only slight, because we do agree that it is God's law that established justice. That law tells us that once the "debt" for sin has been paid to all victims of injustice, it would become a travesty of justice to continue the punishment.
Full restitution as specified by God's law is the means by which most will be restored. However, for the elect few, those who point to Jesus as having already paid the full penalty for their sins-these will receive life at the first resurrection without any "stripes" at all.
The sin and idolatry of ancient Israel is the main theme of the prophets in the Bible. She was then judged for sin-not to be utterly destroyed, but that she might find forgiveness for sin through the law of restitution. Israel's iniquity was pardoned BECAUSE God had rewarded her double restitution for all her sins. Isaiah 40:1 and 2 says,
1 "Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God. 2 "Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins."
The Law on which this is based is found in Exodus 22:4, which says,
4 If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.
The sin of Babylon and all the Beast Empires of Daniel's prophecy are treated in the same manner. In Revelation 18:4-6, John writes of this:
4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, "Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues; 5 for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6 Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her.
It is a principle of God's law that once full restitution has been paid to the victims of injustice, the sinner is forgiven by the law, and their sins are NOT to be remembered. Such is the power of forgiveness. There are no "ex-cons" in a truly Christian nation. Past sins are buried in the deepest sea and forgotten completely. The restoration of the sinner is accomplished by means of the law of restitution (Exodus 22), which satisfies the law and then demands forgiveness and restoration.
It has been commonly misunderstood that the law cannot forgive sin. The fact is, the law CAN forgive sin, provided its demands are met. The weakness of the law is in its inability to forgive SINNERS. It cannot acquit the guilty. However, the sacrifice for sin can satisfy the law. In the Old Testament this was in the form of blood sacrifices of lambs and goats until the time we obtained the final and permanent Sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. The law could forgive sin when its demands were satisfied.
Most of mankind since the beginning have not placed their faith in the blood of the true Lamb of God. Hence, they must pay the penalty for their own sins, according to the demands of the law. They will then receive a measure of forgiveness that the law is capable of dispensing. Nonetheless, in the final analysis if we break one law, we are guilty of breaking the whole law (James 2:10). For example, to steal is also to covet, which is also idolatry and spiritual adultery. It also shows a lack of love, which is ultimately hatred, and is therefore murder (Matt. 5:22).
Because of this, the sinner cannot possibly pay the full penalty for any sin, even the least infraction. The law still demands restitution be paid to his earthly victims, but in the ultimate sense the sinner can never fully repay his debt to God that the law demands. For this reason mankind is in need of a final Creation Jubilee at the end of time, where all debts to the law are cancelled purely by grace alone.
Righteous Judgment Purifies the Sinner
The more one studies God's law, particularly the spirit behind it, the more one is struck by the wisdom and love of its Author. There is no judgment without remedy. Men punish; God purifies. When men judge, they determine penalties that are invariably either too harsh or too lenient. When the great American Prison Experiment was born in 1796 with Philadelphia's first "penitentiary," the criminal was supposed to be put into solitary confinement with nothing to do but read the Bible and pray.
"Reformatories" were next set up under a slightly different theory. But a simple glance at the prison system today should suffice to tell us that they do not reform or make men penitent. Any criminals who amend their ways do so IN SPITE OF the prison system. It is a tough road, however, since they are never really forgiven, never again have equal citizenship rights, and are continually handicapped in trying to obtain employment.
Such is the fire of man's wrath. It punishes without purifying. It spends astronomical amounts of money to obtain "justice," only to destroy the sinner totally or partially.
The ancient Greek word for fire is pur. It is the root of a number of English words used today, such as PURGE and PURIFY. This is what the fire of God does, for it characterizes the very nature of God and His law.
In the next chapter, we shall study the nature of the lake of fire that burns with fire and brimstone (Rev. 20:15 and 21:8). We will see that Jesus had already kindled a fire on the earth. He came as fire with a baptism to go with it. He continues to come as fire to all who will follow Him into the crucible. And He shall yet come as fire. Even so, Lord, come quickly.
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