“Redeeming the time” Part II

Redeeming the time Part II-flattenedThere are just so many truths in the Bible; every square inch is just soaked with wisdom and wise admonitions. Paul told the Ephesians that they should be “redeeming the time because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16) So for me, coming from a non Christian background, at first I really wondered what in the world that word “redeem” even meant.

Saving "green stamps" in a jar

Saving “green stamps” in a jar

When I was a kid, redeem was what you did with “green stamps”. When you went shopping with your mom, the cashier would give you “green stamps” when you paid your bill.They weren’t like postage stamps that you put on a letter. You were supposed to collect them and put them in little booklets. Then when you got a book or two or three full of them, you could go to the green stamp store and “redeem” them by giving them maybe 2 green stamp books and you could get a basketball. Or ten green stamp books would get you a bicycle. That was my only knowledge of what “redeemed” meant, you redeemed your green stamps.

But when I became a Christian, I found that the Bible said that Jesus was “our redeemer”. He had redeemed us. Paul told Titus, speaking of Jesus that He “gave Himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity.” (Titus 2:14) And back nearly 4000 years ago, Job was recorded as saying, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand on the earth in the latter days,” (Job 19:25) and incredible prophecy of the coming of Jesus, our Redeemer who would ultimately be here on earth, which He was.

So we are redeemed. He’s made something out of nothing. Jesus took something that was seemingly worthless but He, through His death and resurrection, redeemed us, making us into “new creatures, old things past away and all things new” (II Corinthians 5:17) in Him.

But what about us? Are we redeemers? Is there anything we are to redeem? Well, besides our lives, the most precious thing we have is our time. Time wasted can never be regained. He has redeemed us and we are new creatures, having passed from death to life through salvation. But, now what? Why doesn’t He just take us to heaven? Why does He still keep us here on earth? Because He’s commissioned us to serve Him here in His Great Commission to be His ambassadors and to serve Him in this struggle to retake what is His, the souls on earth that are yet to know Him in this stage of history.

We’re not commissioned to be idle. Jesus gave His disciples so many jobs to do, such as “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), “feed my sheep”, (John 21:17)“go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23), “go therefore and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19), “go into your closet and pray to your Father in secret” (Matthew 6:6) and of course simply “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).  And there are many more.

Our lives should now be full of activity and accomplishment in the Lord. He’s given us such a vision of all that He wants us to do, all that He needs us to obey in the commissions He left His disciples on earth when He left.

But do we do it? There are just so many distractions, we are so easily dissuaded and delayed from simply obey His Word and the urging of His Spirit upon our hearts each day. doing dishes-flattenedOne little disobedience leads to another. Soon it’s a habit of disobedience. After a while we no longer hear as clearly the voice of His Spirit. We don’t want to read God’s Word because it might disturb us or convict us of what we are failing to do. “The affairs of this life choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 13:22), the Lord said. Still, the charge is there: “redeeming the time because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16)

Jesus said, “Every idle word that men shall speak they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36) And I believe that ever wasted use that we make of the precious time He’s given to each of us ever day, every month, ever year, we’ll have to give an account thereof as well. We’ll have to answer both to Him and to our conscious, “What did you do with your life?” “Did you spend it selfishly? Did you respond to the light and the grace that God gave to you?”

Yes, we’re all sinners, yes we all make mistakes, and we’ll all need forgiveness. But we’ll be able to see then how we spent our lives. Did we waste most of all that He gave us, living a visionless, disobedient spiritually fruitless life? Paul said of himself, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:19) He was diligent in the calling God had on him. May we all be found faithful in Him, “not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)

Spiritual Habits: Hearing from God

what do you want-flattenedOne of the most amazing and beneficial things to me in being a believer is how we can actually get answers from God. Probably for some that may sound almost boastful. But it’s not. Here’s one of the more famous quotes from King Solomon, from the book of Proverbs. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5 & 6)

The Bible so often boils incredibly important truth down to something so brief and simple that you can actually memorize it. Each part there is so vital. First: “Trust in the Lord.” Believe. And believe to a degree that you trust God.

Then next? “Don’t rely on (or default) to your own understand.” What does that mean? We all have so many stray thoughts clanking around in our brain. “Maybe this?” “How about that?” “I remember one time…”  Stray thoughts. Our own understand.

But what should we do instead? “Acknowledge Him.” What does that mean? Essentially it means to pray. The Bible is full of examples where folks just like you and me simply didn’t know what to do.

A famous and Godly king of Judah in old times was completed outnumbered by the enemies of God’s people who surrounded Jerusalem. He poured out his heart in prayer, saying to God in one place, “Neither know we what to do, but our eyes are turned towards You.” (II Chronicles 20:12)

That king didn’t “lean to his own understanding.” He not only acknowledged the Lord, he “poured out his heart before Him.” (Psalms 62:8) And God really came through for His people; it’s a wonderful account which you can read in II Chronicles 20.

For Reason post-flat-flattenedThis approach to life, this habit should be so natural and ingrained in us that it should almost be like breathing. Maybe for those who are new to the Lord and His ways, it takes some work to make this part of your life. But recognizing the vanity of our own thoughts and so turning to acknowledge Him and to look for God’s answers should be one of our most basic “survival instincts” we have as believers.

And the Lord loves to answer us. The Bible is just full of promises from God that He will answer and lead and guide us, personally, intimately and faithfully. One of my favorite promises from Jesus is this, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves Me will be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21) What a promise! He will manifest Himself to us. He will be there.

Like God told Isaiah, “You shall hear a voice behind you saying, ‘this is the way’, when you turn to the right hand or the left.” (Isiah 30:21) If there was anyone who really utterly depended on God to lead him and guide him and show him what to do, it was King David. You could read I Samuel 23 to hear of some of the amazing answers to prayer for direction which David received.

You may say, “I’m not anyone great, I’m not king David or Isaiah!” You don’t have to be. His eye is on the sparrow.

But maybe it would help to try to capsulize the idea. First, believe. And you could say, “But I don’t have enough faith!” One man said to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) Did the Lord say, “Sorry buddy, nothing but perfect faith will do for Me”? No, He didn’t. The Lord saw what the man had, not what he didn’t. So, believe. And you do.

Second. “Don’t lean on (or rely on) your own understanding“. Like King David said, “I hate vain thoughts.” (Psalm 119:113) Our part is to not be satisfied with our own personal thoughts and understanding of things.

Peripherals-flattenedBut what are we to do?  Third should be, “In all our ways acknowledge Him.” Turning our thoughts into prayers, even silent ones if need be. Look up in your mind and heart to the Lord. Expect God to answer in some way, since He’s said so emphatically and repeatedly for thousands of years that He will. And then, fourth, the rest of the promise says, “and He will direct your paths.

It’s a promise from God. It’s not vain drivel. It’s one of the most important contracts and pledges that has ever been given. God wants to bring light and understanding into our lives. He has a better plan than you or I do. He sees what’s up ahead. He can do more for you than you can for yourself.

As Paul said to the Ephesians “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.Path of Life-flattened (Ephesians 3:20) If we’ll just turn away from our vain thoughts and our own understanding and instead seek His leading and ways, we’ll find He’s right there, sometimes almost instantaneously to give us ideas, truth and understanding that will lighten our loads and give us direction like we’ve never known. As king David said to God, “You will show me the path of life.” (Psalm 16:11)

Am I a “New Ager”?

New-Age-Ambient1Today I saw on my web site that someone had done a Google search, something like “Is Mark McMillion a New Ager or is he a true Christian?”. That gave me a laugh but also got me thinking. Why would someone wonder about if I’m “New Age”?  Well, here in America, if you’re a Christian, almost immediately it’s assumed that you must be what’s called here “Conservative”. But if you are a “Liberal” Christian, it’s really and totally a different breed of cat.

I guess I hang out with Conservative Christians more than I do with Liberal Christians. But am I “Conservative” or “Liberal”? Nah.

“Why not?!” Partly it’s the whole thing about baggage. So many people think, “If you’re a Conservative Christian, then that means you must…” and there’s quite a list of things you’re expected to believe and do after that.

Here’s my question: what are you trying to conserve? “Traditional American Values”? I’m not. If I’m trying to “conserve” anything, it would be to get all the way back to the foundation of bedrock Christianity that’s been around a long time, all the way back to Jesus and the first generation of Christians after Him. And you can’t really “conserve” that. You have to seek it through prayer, receiving the Lord and then going on to be filled with His Spirit and following His Word and His leadings for the rest of your life. It’s called Christian discipleship.

But I can understand how some people almost think that is “New Age”. Because if you’re really standing on nothing but the Rock, Christ Jesus, if you are in living fellowship with God through the mediation of Jesus and the quickening of the Spirit, then you maybe end up saying and doing some things that don’t correspond to what folks think of as Conservative Christians or traditional values.

Honestly, I guess I just have to say it again: there’s just so much baggage that’s almost required to have if you are a Christian here. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived abroad for so long, I just had to leave a lot of that aside in order to “lay aside every weight and “run with patience the race that was set before me.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Follow me-flattenedJesus said “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. (Matthew 4:19) Not necessarily better citizens of your temporal nation in this world. On the other hand of course, the Roman governments soon found out that those despised Christians they were persecuting were usually some of the best citizens they had, most law abiding, least trouble making of any under their rule.

Go ye into all the world-flattenedBut Jesus said to His followers, “Go into all the world and make known the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) They were to witness their faith. They were to even leave their nation and people in order to reach those who’d never heard the gospel truth. They were to take on a new identity, no longer Galileans or even Jews but they were to be Christians. Nowadays there seem to be Conservative Christians, Liberal Christians, Catholic Christians and on and on. But if someone was to aim to be stripped of all the encumbrances and the nationalistic political flavors and were just full-fledged discipleship Christians, perhaps they might be thought to be “New Age”.

I’ve met very few New Age people. The ones I did meet were into crystals and saying things like “It’s in the ethers”. Paul told Timothy that in the Last Days there would be people who “have a form of Godliness, but deny the power thereof.” (II Timothy 3:5) Many people long for some kind of spirituality. Maybe they think they find it in the New Age teachings. They should be able to find it in true, full strength Christianity. I sure did.

I’m not a New Ager. My house is built upon the Rock of the Word of God. My faith is in the Risen Savoir, Jesus of Nazareth. My hope is in the coming Kingdom of God on earth. While I find a lot in common with Conservative Christians, some things I don’t hold in common. Paul told us “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philipians 3:20) So if being a Conservative Christian means I have to allow myself to be influenced and manipulated by worldly political parties and causes, then I feel that’s wrong. Jesus said “You can’t serve God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24) or any of the gods of this world and its causes and temporal objectives.

It’s normal for all of us to want to hang labels on things. That way we can understand it better. I don’t know an easy label that would fit my beliefs. I guess I just want to stand with some of the most committed Christians of all ages:8 greats-flattened-reduced John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Wesley, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, David Livingston, William Booth. They weren’t New Agers. But they were misunderstood and many were persecuted in their times. Nevertheless they stood up strong and bright for the Lord in their generations. Would to God that there were more like that.

A Parable of Yogurts & Warm Milk

Have you ever made yogurt? I used to do that 30 years ago in Vienna, Austria when my little family was together. It was easy. warm milkFirst you had a big pot of milk. But you had to heat it to just the right temperature. It couldn’t really be “lukewarm” (Revelation 3:16) but you didn’t want it scalding hot either. If I remember, it had to be hot enough that you could just barely keep your finger in it.

Then when the milk was the right temperature (maybe you had two gallons of it or 8 liters), you added just a spoonful of what was yogurt culture.spoon of yogurt Then we’d wrap it up on top of the heater and leave it all night as it stayed right at that “just right” temperature. In the morning I’d come back and it would all be changed. The tiny little bit of yogurt that I’d put in had “infected” the big container of milk and it had all become yogurt! Sometimes it was so good that you could put a spoon into it and the spoon would stand up because the yogurt was so thick and strong.spoon in the yogurt

It was like the milk had gotten stronger. It wasn’t really “meat” but it was more than just “milk” (Hebrews 5:12). It had been “infected” for good by the little spoon of yogurt that had been put into the milk. It was now more valuable than just milk, it had been changed. Actually it had good bacteria to it, it was healthier and it contributed to your health more than when it was just milk. All that was needed was to get that milk just at the right temperature and then add that tiny “culture” of yogurt. The milk had gotten “culture”, refinement, improvement, fulfilling its previously unknown destiny.

Could it mean anything? It usually does; that’s what Romans 1:20 says. I really believe that so many “milky Christians” are ready for something to be introduced to them that can change them and make them better. This can be especially true if the have come to “the right temperature”, more than just “lukewarm” but not really scalding hot.

But what’s that yogurt culture? Well, I know quite a few former missionaries who are more than just milky Christians. So maybe they’re not strong meat Christians but they aren’t just milky either.

What could happen is, if these “yogurt Christians” (who are few, far between and some are feeling rather useless nowadays) could find a big bunch of milky Christians who are pretty warmed up and ready for change, if these little spoons of “yogurt Christians” could just get mixed in with a big bunch of pretty warmed up milky Christians, if they’d mix for a while and let things happen, pretty soon that process would happen, just like with yogurt. A little spoon of one or two of “yogurt Christians” could transform a big bunch of warmed up “milky Christians”!

Result? Progress all the way around. The yogurt Christians are no longer feeling alone, useless and “on the shelf”. The milky Christians go through a big transformation so they become more nutritional, valuable and “solid in the Lord”. It’s a win-win situation.

And actually I know more spoons of yogurt than I know large amounts of warm milky Christians. Are you a lonely spoon of yogurt? Why not try to find a way to reproduce yourself by searching out some medium hot milky Christians? Maybe if they’re already pretty warmed up and the setting is right, they’d love to turn into yogurt and be more than they were before.

OK, admittedly, back in Vienna 30 years ago, it wasn’t a foolproof thing that every night the yogurt converted the warm milk. The yogurt culture had to be pretty good. Most often the temperature of the milk had to be pretty constant throughout the night. That’s why we’d leave it on the heater overnight. It couldn’t cool off. But it couldn’t get too hot either. If either of those happened, the yogurt culture didn’t change the milk to yummy, thick, healthy yogurt. Instead, the milk changed the yogurt! We don’t want that. But most often it worked the right way.

Yogurts! Find some warm milk! Fulfill your destiny! Warm milks! Move further up the food chain! Solidify your convictions! Find out your inward potential and be stronger and healthier than you are right now! Accept change! Seek it out! You need each other! “Except a corn of wheat (or a spoon of yogurt) fall into the ground (the warm pot of milk) and die, it abides alone. But if it die (gets mixed into the warm milk), it brings forth much fruit. (Or in this case, more yogurt!)” (John 12:24).

What’s it to you?

Jesus and Peter-1 flatHave you ever said that to someone, “What’s it to you?”  Or maybe someone’s said that to you? It’s usually not considered a real warm, friendly way to talk to someone. But Jesus said that one time to Peter, one of His top disciples. Why would Jesus talk like that to someone? Let’s look at the context and see if we can find out.

This all happened after Jesus’ resurrection. In another blog article, I wrote about “He Said It Three Times” and this is part of the same conversation where Jesus said “What’s it to you?” (John 21:22) to Peter. He’d just told Peter three times to “Feed My sheep” (John 21:16), to teach and minister to the disciples and followers of Jesus.

And the very next thing the Lord said to Peter was, “When you were young, you fastened your belt and went where you wanted. But when you grow old, you’ll stretch forth your hands and another will carry you where you do not wish.” (John 21:18) And the Bible goes on to tell us that the Lord was signifying to Peter that, when he was old, he would “stretch forth his hands”; in other words, Peter would be crucified.

So this was a very important, significant conversation Jesus was having with Peter, all taking place after the Lord’s death on the cross and His resurrection. What was Peter’s reaction? The Bible says that the next thing was that Peter saw John, another of Jesus’ closest disciples, and so he asked Jesus, “What about him?” (John 21:21)

Sometimes you just wonder and marvel at all this. The love and patience of Jesus. The all-too-humanness of some of His disciples, perhaps especially Peter. Peter had just heard some precious, personal words from Jesus for himself. But it doesn’t come across that Peter really relished the moment and its significance. Instead he asked the Lord, “What about John?”  In His mercy and longsuffering, the Lord even partially answered Peter’s question but then also added a chiding reproof.

Peter and JesusJesus answered Peter’s question about John this way: “If I will that he remains until I come back, what is that to you? Follow me.” (John 21:22) In that one sentence, Jesus left open the possibility that John the Beloved would remain alive till the return of Jesus at His Second Coming. History tells us that John lived perhaps another 60 years after this time, to extreme old age. And here Jesus was foretelling that John would remain long after the Lord had returned to heaven.

But then Jesus asks Peter directly, “What’s it to you?“Why should that matter to you, Peter? Just follow Me.” Of course it should be said that there are different ways you can say that. You can say that phrase in a cocky, challenging way or you can say it in a kind but somewhat chiding way. I’m sure the Lord spoke that in a kind way. But why would the Lord talk to Peter like that, even if it was kindly said? Was Jesus finally getting fed up with all the boneheaded things Peter had done and said over the last 3 years? Patience was wearing thin? I think not.

which greatest flatHere are a couple of things that Jesus might have foreseen that He was trying to prevent happening to His disciples as He was about to leave them: comparing and jealousy. Even before His crucifixion, His disciples were coming to Him to ask Him which would be the greatest of them in heaven. (Matthew 18:1)

There’s just an inborn sinful nature of man to “compare ourselves among ourselves and measure ourselves by ourselves” (II Corinthians 10:12), as Paul later warned the Corinthians. Getting our eyes on each other, “which is the greatest?”, “who gets most?”, “do I get enough?”, “will someone get more than me?”, and “is that really fair?” It’s just so ingrained in us but is so contrary to God’s ways.

Basically Jesus was telling Peter to not look too much on how others were doing or what was happening or going to happen in their lives. “Just follow Me”, was Jesus’ bottom line to Peter. And perhaps this reproof hit home for Peter. It seems like Peter and John got along well and were never recorded in the  later parts of the Bible as ever having any strife or competitiveness, although I’m certain that Satan would have loved to stir that up.

But what about us? There’s a message there for everyone, not to feel we have to measure everything against our own personal standards of what’s fair and “am I getting what I deserve?” Maybe you’re even in an “unfair” situation right now. Maybe people are treating you unjustly or you’re being taken advantage of. “What is that to you; follow Me.” The Lord said one time, “Vengeance is Mine saith the Lord, I will repay.” (Romans 12:19)

It doesn’t have to be fair right now. The Lord sees it all and we can be utterly sure, “all things work together for good to them that love the Lord.” (Romans 8:28)

Joseph sold 4 blog postTo me one of the greatest samples of this in the Bible is Joseph. If ever anyone was mistreated and “it wasn’t fair”, it was Joseph. His brothers actually sold him as a slave! But years later, when he’d been shuffled and reshuffled by God to end up being “second in Egypt” (Genesis 41:43), he met up with his brothers again and they were certain Joseph would now pay them back for the evil they’d done.

But he didn’t. His heart was so right with God that he could say to them about what they’d done, “You meant it for evil. But God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20) One of the most amazing examples in the Bible of keeping your eyes on the Lord and not on people and circumstances and conditions. Seems like Joseph had already learned that lesson that Jesus shared with Peter nearly 2000 years later, “What is that to you? Follow me.” Joseph did that. And he ended up saving his family and nation. Lord help us all to keep our eyes on Him and not on anything else.


Introducing Prophecy in History

[This is the text version of my video, “An Introduction to Prophecy in History”.]

I’ve got something to tell you about that’s had a tremendously good effect on my life: prophecy. opening shotIt’s a big subject. Just the word prophecy brings different thoughts to people. So I’ll narrow it down a bit. But first, I’ll tell you about myself so you’ll understand my interest in this subject.

I grew up in Texas and was in university before I had any knowledge of spiritual things. By then I was an atheist, active in turning anyone who had faith in God away from that faith. But through experiences, I just could no longer believe that there was not a spiritual world. I didn’t want to be “religious”. But I’d experienced a world of both good and evil spirits. And I wanted to be with the good ones.shot of me at first

My search took me to different groups and I eventually met some young people who were radical Christians, “Jesus freaks” they were called. They helped me understand the truths in the Bible. God gave me a new start in life and I eventually dedicated my life to Him. I’ve now lived over 36 years abroad and it’s been a wonderful life I’m very thankful for.

So when I say “prophecy”, I’m speaking of the prophecies in the Bible. And that is the subject of this series of classes. We are going to look at the prophet Daniel. In fact when Jesus was asked about the future, He mentioned specifically the prophet Daniel. He said, “When you shall see…  (the future events) …spoken of by Daniel the prophet (whoever reads, let him understand)…” (Matthew 24:15)

I imagine some of you know a lot about this and are itching to dive into the details. Others of you know basically nothing about this. And if I had to choose between those two groups, I’m going to aim this at those of you who are new to this subject. That’s how I was till I was almost grown. And that’s perhaps one of the reasons why I want you to know the thrills and joys of the truths within the book of God, the Bible, and the truth in that book.

Some of you may be wondering, “What in the world is prophecy?” And you think, “Oh yeah, sure sure; someday the world will end, blah, blah, blah.” That’s the way I used to think about this and it all sounded pretty stupid and bizarre to me.

Bethlehem for blog postWell, let’s see if there is something almost everyone already knows about which was clearly prophesied centuries before it happened. It’s safe to say that everyone reading this knows about Christmas. And you know at Christmas people often sing Christmas carols. It’s the celebration of the birth of Jesus and you’ve seen the pictures of Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus with them.

And you’ve probably heard the old Christmas carol, I can’t really sing it but goes something like, “Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…”. Bethlehem map for blog postThis Christmas carol is about the town very near Jerusalem where Jesus was born. Maybe you already knew that He was born there or at least you remember you heard that somewhere before.

This is something you know at least a little about. So, let’s look at the Bible. Let’s look in the Old Testament in the book of the prophet Micah. This was from around 700 B.C.Micah 5 2 shot We’re going to look at chapter 5, verse 2. In it, it’s like the voice of God is speaking to the town or village of Bethlehem. It says, “But you, Bethlehem, though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth He which is to rule my people Israel, whose going forth is from old, from everlasting.

Here God is speaking to Bethlehem and saying that, although Bethlehem is a small town among the many in the region of Judah (a province of Israel at that time), yet out of Bethlehem would come the One who would ultimately rule God’s people. And that this one was from old, from everlasting.

That’s a direct prophecy from the Old Testament, given hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, declaring specifically where the Messiah, the King whom God would send, would be born. And actually there are a lot more prophecies like that.

When this was new to me, it took me a while to begin to realize that there was a power in heaven, the Power of the God of the Bible, that has been telling the future of the world for thousands of years. And that these foretellings, these prophecies have been coming to pass with absolute accuracy. This was astonishing to me. In some ways it still is. This is what we are going to study about: prophecy that has been fulfilled and also prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled.

But, when I mentioned about the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, I wanted to find something almost everyone was familiar with. And then when we saw from the Bible that, 100’s of years before His birth, there had been given a prophecy about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, you could appreciate and understand the significance of it. So, next we are going to look briefly at the backdrop of human history and set the stage so to speak, in order to see the imprint of prophecy that’s foretold so much of what came to pass afterwards.

Abrahamprays 4 blog postGod chose a man around 4000 years ago (2000 BC). He came from the part of the world that we today call Iraq. His name was Abraham. From the descendents of Abraham come the people that we know of today as the Jews. For that matter, the Arab peoples and the Muslim faith also draw their roots back to Abraham.

But the Old Testament is the book of the Jews. So to understand prophecy, we’ll need to have a bird’s eye view of the history of the Jews. At the same, time we’ll need to see the rise and fall of the ancient empires up to the time of Jesus and the Roman Empire.

Bible time line for blog siteHere are some of the key characters of the Bible and their points in history. Abraham is placed at approximately 2000 BC and Jesus at 30 AD. Between these dates we have Moses around 1400 BC, King David around 980 BC and the prophet Daniel, whose writings we are preparing to study, around 600 BC

Bible History Chart 4 blog postSomeone put this together and I found it a very convenient way to remember and place the major phases of the history of Israel. It’s called “The Seven Periods of Israel’s History”. To start with you have “Abraham to Egypt”.Abraham 2 Egypt 4 blog post

God spoke individually to the man Abraham and told him to leave his country and journey towards a new land that God said He would give him. Abraham traveled up the Euphrates River and then down into the land of Canaan, the area we today call Palestine or Israel.

Abraham in Euphrates 4 blog postAll the while God was promising Abraham that He would eventually make of him a mighty nation. Perhaps Abraham’s greatest quality was his faith in God. For example, it was difficult for Abraham to believe God on this thing He was telling him because by this time both Abraham and his wife were up into their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and they had no children. So how could Abraham be able to be the father of a mighty nation? But Abraham “kept on believing”, just as God knew he would.Isaacbirth 4 blog And eventually Abraham’s wife, Sara, did have a son, Isaac. And as time passed on, Isaac married and his wife, Rebecca, had twins: Esau and Jacob.

I’m just giving you the highlights here; there are oodles of interesting parts I’m leaving out. This is all in the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. And what we’re talking about now took place nearly four thousand years ago in Palestine or as it was called then, Canaan.Joseph in Egypt 4 blog post

Jacob eventually married; actually he had two wives, 12 sons and one daughter. One of his sons was named Joseph. As it turned out, Joseph ended up being his dad’s favorite. Also God Himself seemed to be indicating that Joseph was going to be special among his brothers. Joseph sold 4 blog postWell, as so often happens, his brothers got mad and jealous of him and they ended up selling Joseph as a slave to some people who were traveling off to Egypt at the time.

But in the long run this was all the hand of God. Joseph ended up becoming “second in Egypt” the Bible says, next to the Pharaoh. Joseph waving 4 blog postMany years later, his brothers who had sold him came to Egypt to buy food because of a great famine. It’s an incredible story. But Joseph recognized his brothers and made it possible for them and their aging father Jacob and all their families to move from Canaan to Egypt where they could be under the protection of Joseph.Jacob waves 4 blog post And they stayed there and grew over the next 400 hundred years until they became…a mighty nation, just like God had told Abraham they would.

The next period of Israel’s history is maybe one you might be more familiar with. The Exodus 4 blog postHave you ever heard of “The Ten commandments”? This period is called “The Exodus”. That’s also the name of the second book of the Bible. It takes place around 1400 BC and the main characters were Moses, Aaron who was Moses’ brother, and Joshua, who was the man God chose to lead the Jews after Moses passed on.

Moses himself was a little similar to Joseph in that he was Jewish but had ended up in a very high position in Egypt. However God spoke very directly to Moses that He wanted him to lead the Jews back out of Egypt. They were to return to the land of Canaan where their forefathers had been.

crossingRedsealayers 4 blog siteLed by Moses and the very presence of God, the Jews miraculously crossed the Red Sea, journeyed through the Sinai desert and eventually re-entered and conquered the land of Canaan. moses & fire 4 blog siteDuring this time, God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses and the laws that the nation of Israel was to be ruled by.

I could tell you about a prophecy all the way back, 100’s of years before this time, where God was already telling the ones then that this was going to happen. Four centuries before the Exodus, God spoke to Abraham in a dream. From Genesis chapter 15: 13 & 16, “Then He said to Abram: ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs. [And that’s what happened to them in Egypt.] And will serve them. [They eventually became slaves in Egypt.]. And they will afflict them four hundred years. [That’s how long it turned out they were there.] But in the fourth generation they shall return here.

And this is exactly what was happening with the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and their return to Canaan. After their return and conquest of Canaan, the Jews lived with a form of government that can be called a theocracy for around the next 300 years. That is, they were to be ruled by God. They didn’t have a parliament or even a king. But they were ruled by the laws and commandments God had given Moses. And the tribe of priests called the Levites were entrusted to see to it that these things were carried out.

Period of the Judges 4 blog postThis time can be called “The Period of the Judges” because every so often God would raise up key people to lead Israel during times of crisis. Some of those listed here were Gideon, Samson and Deborah. The unity of the country was primarily a spiritual unity and the people lived in the various regions of Canaan or Israel, according to the tribe they were from.

Around 1050 BC some major things began to change in Israel. Samuel & Saul 4 blog postGod had raised up a very wise and devout high priest, Samuel. But the people of Israel, wanting to be like other nations, called upon Samuel to choose for them a king, like other nations had. God had in the past cautioned against this but the people insisted that Samuel give them a king. saul & Samuel 4 blog postThe result was that God led Samuel to choose out a man named Saul to be their king.

At the first Saul was truly a man of God and was used to gather together and strengthen Israel against some of their enemies. All Israel united under this king Saul and for a while things went well. This period that we are talking about now can be called “the United Kingdom”. United Kingdom 4 blog siteDuring this time Israel went from be a loose-knit confederation of tribes under the priestial tribe of Levi to being a genuine nation. Eventually they were even a major regional power in the Middle East.

But ultimately the life of Saul is one of the saddest stories in the Bible. As he became more successful and honored in Israel, he less and less followed the instructions he was given from God through the prophet Samuel. Because of this God told Samuel that he should anoint a new king. This turned out to be Israel’s best loved and most remembered monarch, King David.David 4 blog post  Samuel was told that that “the Lord had found him a man after his own heart”. (I Sam. 13:14).

And this was certainly an appropriate description of King David. Under king David Israel reached its zenith as David fulfilled the role of king, prophet and in his prayers even somewhat a priest. At war or at prayer or in repentance for his sins, David lead by example and was called by his people in his lifetime, “the light of Israel”.  Again here we can go back to ancient prophecy and see if fulfilled at this time. Gen 18 4 blogWe can go back almost 1000 years before the time of David to Abraham again, when he was just an old man with an old wife and no children at all. From Genesis 15, verse 18,  On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates.’”David and Solomon map 4 blog site

Under the rule and conquering kingdom of David and Solomon after him, the borders of Israel stretched from the border of Egypt all the way up to the Euphrates River, just as God had told Abraham it would happen nearly 1000 years before.

David’s son Solomon was the third and last king of this period of the United Kingdom. God had given him his request from the beginning of his reign. Solomon 4 blog siteSolomon asked God for wisdom to rule God’s people. And that wisdom is still spoken of and studied in the book of Proverbs in the Bible to this day.

Unfortunately, the influence of one dynamic and Godly leader, like King David, seems seldom to reach beyond the second generation of his followers. This is what happened and it culminated in the division of the Jewish nation. Solomon’s son, whose name was Rehoboam, was supposed to rule after his father. But he didn’t have the heart of his grandfather David or the wisdom of his father Solomon. A rebellion sprung up among the formerly united tribes and the result was that the kingdom and nation of Israel divided.

Divided Kingdom 4 blog postThis began the period of “The Divided Kingdom”. The 10 northern tribes were led initially by a rebel against the dynasty of David and they set up a capital in the north. These 10 northern tribes came to be called at that time “Israel”. Only the tribe that David’s family came from, Judah, along with Saul’s tribe, Benjamin, stayed together in the south of the country. These people came to be called simply “Judah”.Israel & Judah map 4 blog post

So around 920 BC., after over 100 years as a united nation, the Jewish people became two countries. In the next two hundred years, the northern part, “Israel”, generally went from bad to worse. Have you ever heard of “Jezebel”? Even today that is a term meaning a woman without shame. She was the foreign wife of one of the kings of Israel at that time. God sent prophets to warn the people of their apostasy and coming judgment if they didn’t come back to God, prophets like Elijah and Hosea. But they were largely ignored. Assyria Map 4 blog site

In 722 BC the unthinkable happened. God allowed the foreign power of the Assyrians to conquer northern Israel and carry away most of the people as slaves and captives far away to the east. The nation that God had brought into being and called His own was decimated and, as their prophet Hosea had told them would happen, they became “wanderers among the nations.” (Hosea 9.17)

But the southern two tribes, “Judah”, stood firm. The reason was simply that the people and their kings, more often than not, stayed closer to the Lord. They were less idolatrous and more humble and believing than northern Israel and therefore God could and did protect them and keep them longer. Both the north and the south had their better and worse of times and leaders. But Judah, in times of national crisis, took heed to the prophets God sent, such as Isaiah. Or at least they did sometimes. Eventually though, Judah also fell away from her faith in and love for God so that God finally told them that they’d become more evil and idolatrous than the pagan nations surrounding them.

We come now to the generation of Daniel, approximately 600 BC. Judah was in the last years before her fall and destruction. God had raised up the prophet Jeremiah,Jeremiah 4 blog post one of Israel’s greatest prophets, to have the thankless job of being His mouthpiece during the last years of the nation’s existence. Jeremiah told them that the new world power, Babylon, which had recently defeated the Assyrians, would come up against Jerusalem. God was going to allow Babylon to act as His judgment on His own people.

Babylonsoldiers 4 blog postAnd this is what happened. Around the year 604 BC, the king of Babylon sent an expeditionary party against Judah and Jerusalem and brought them partly under his rule. By 586 BC, in response to their resistance, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon Exilefinal 4 blog posthad totally defeated and destroyed the kingdom of Judah as well as their capital, Jerusalem. Most of the survivors were carried away to be captives and slaves in Babylon. Only a very small remnant of the Jews was left in their homeland. This then began the next period of Israel’s history, “The Captivity”.The Captivity 4 blog post

Had God abandoned His people? Far from it. During this most difficult of times, when the Jews were receiving the judgment they had been warned of for decades and centuries, a cluster of the mightiest prophets ever were used by God to speak his Word to the Jews at that time. Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekiel, although a generation apart, lived during this time. They taught and spoke to Israel, and to surrounding nations as well, to explain what was happening and to exhibit God’s continuing presence.

And through this time of intense uncertainty, God continued to give clear prophecy for the hope and future of His people. One example of this is found in the writings of Jeremiah. Twice God spoke clearly to Jeremiah that there would be a specific, limited amount of time for this captivity of the Jews. From Jeremiah chapter 29, verse 10, we can read: “For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.

It was to be for 70 years. And did that happen? Was it a 70-year captivity? Yes, it was. According to the Bible and secular history, the beginning of the end of the captivity took place between 536 and 516 BC, marking 70 years from the beginning of Babylon’s occupation of Israel around 606 BC, as well as its final destruction in 586 BC.

We continue to see the eternal hand of prophecy, God keeping His Word to us down through the centuries. Are there more things like this in the Bible? Is there anything like that yet to be fulfilled in our day or in days to come in our times? This will be our focus more and more as these classes continue.medo-persian map 4 blog post

During the 70 year period of the Jews’ captivity, the empire of Babylon was defeated by a coalition of two nations, the Medes and the Persians. This dual kingdom became the predominant power in the ancient world for the next 200 years.

The Return 4 blog siteThe final period of Israel’s history is called “The Return”. It was King Cyrus of Persia who first granted permission for the Jews to begin to return from exile in Persia to their former country and to inhabit Jerusalem.

temple 4 blog postHumbled and repentant, the Israelites who did decide to return to their land made a renewed effort to keep the laws and faith that had been entrusted to their forefathers so many centuries before. In time Jerusalem was rebuilt and a temple was erected, although it was nowhere near as glorious as the original one built by Solomon.greek map 4 blog site God preserved the Jewish nation and they survived the coming of the Empire of Alexander the Great and the era of Grecian world rule in the centuries that followed, up to the time of Rome.

The society of Israel evolved and changed much through the influences that Greece brought during their realm. And yet there were those in Israel that led them back to the faith that they had originally been entrusted with, the calling to be separated from other nations and to worship only the Lord their God.Rome map 4 blog site

In time Rome replaced the Greeks as the dominant secular power in the world of that day.Bethlehem for blog post And it was in the first century of Roman rule in the Middle East that we come up to the time of the birth of Jesus in the city of Bethlehem.

In this first class we’ve learned at least a bit about what is prophecy. We’ve taken a bird’s eye view of the history of the people and nation of Israel. And we’ve looked a just a few of the many incredible prophecies that are throughout the Old Testament.

The future that those prophecies pointed to back then is now for us, for the most part at least, the past. But we may yet find things to be fulfilled. The certainty of prophecy may yet have words to speak for our times or those soon to come. In our next study we’re going to drop down into the period of time just as southern Israel, or Judah, is about to be overrun by Babylon. This is around 600 BC.

young Daniel 4 blog postWe’re going to study events in the life of Daniel who was a young Jewish exile in Babylon. At that time perhaps he was no more than 14 years old. The second chapter of Daniel will be our introduction and next step along the path of prophecy. We’ll learn how God will picture for us the ancient empires that would come to pass in the next centuries after Daniel’s time. And we’ll learn that God spoke clearly as well that eventually, in His time, He Himself would bring a government and rule of His own to our very earth. Some call it the Millennium. Hard to believe? I hope you’ll be back for the next class to see this all for yourself. God bless you!