Friday, March 13, 2015

The Rock

“The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel. Thus declares the LORD Who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him, ‘Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah. It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it’” (Zechariah 12:1-3).

This “burden of the word of the LORD” is really an echo of a previous vision, seen by Daniel. Daniel, in knowing and interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, first saw a statue representing the four great kingdoms between his day and the coming of Christ (Babylon, Mede-Persian, Greek, Roman). Then he saw this stone: “You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. This was the dream; now we will tell its interpretation before the the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy” (Daniel 2:34-36,44,45). This “stone” is a Kingdom set up in the days of the Roman Empire which “will itself endure forever” and “filled the whole earth.” Compare this with a similar vision (this time of Daniel), in which an eternal kingdom is set up in the days of a fourth beast which also represents the Roman Empire.

To the “Son of Man” is given “dominion, glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (7:14). I love this chapter of the Bible. This proclamation of the Kingdom is repeated several times:
  • “...the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come” (7:18).
  • “...that horn [one of the rulers of the fourth kingdom] was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom” (7:21,22).
  • “...the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (7:27).
The awesome thing about this chapter is that it is both the “Son of Man” and the “saints” who receive this eternal Kingdom. With the fullness of biblical revelation in the New Testament, we know that the saints receive because they are “in Christ,” in union with the Son of Man Who alone has been given absolute authority “in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). It is because of this that the Revelation can say we will “reign with Him” (Revelation 20:6; cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).

Now, what about this “stone” of Daniel and Zechariah? It is a people. Daniel describes it as a “Kingdom” in Daniel 2 (which we know to belong to the unified “Son of Man” and “saints”), but Zechariah says it is about Jerusalem.” How are we to understand this? What Jerusalem?

The New Testament picks up on this “stone” language and completes our understanding of this metaphor. The N.T. doesn’t do this in isolation, however. It builds on a song of the O.T.:
“The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief corner stone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22,23).

Jesus, in the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-41//Luke 20:9-16), builds upon the story by identifying Himself not just as the “Son” of the story, but also the “Stone” of Psalm 118:22,23. He ends the teaching by saying, “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust” (Matthew 21:42-44//Luke 20:17,18). Does this sound familiar to Zechariah 12:3?

The “rock” identified by Zechariah as Jerusalem cannot be national Israel or the ethnic Jews. “...Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written [in Isaiah 28:16], ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed’” (Romans 9:30-33). The “stone” here is Jesus, the One in Whom both Jews and Gentiles are saved if they believe. This is why, with the apostle Paul, our “heart’s desire and...prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1). Outside of Christ there is no hope, no security, no deliverance, and no salvation, no matter what nation or city or ethnicity you claim.

The “rock” identified by Zechariah as Jerusalem cannot be national Israel or the ethnic Jews. “For thus the LORD spoke to me with mighty power and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, ‘You are not to say, “It is a conspiracy!” in regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the LORD of hosts Whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. Then He shall become a sanctuary; but to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, and a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Many will stumble over them, then they will fall and be broken; they will even be snared and caught’” (Isaiah 8:11-15).

Does this mean that Jesus, the “Son” and “stone,” is the Jerusalem of Zechariah’s “burden of the word of the LORD”? Yes, but that’s not all.

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter [Πετρος], and upon this rock [τη πετρα] I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven’” (Matthew 16:13-19).

Upon which “rock” will Jesus build His Church? Not Peter – the question of 16:13 is not “who do people say Peter is.” The “rock” is the heaven-revealed confession of “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” With those who make this confession, there is an authority that spans both heaven and earth (the answer to the petition of Matthew 6:10).

1 Peter 2:4-10, drawing on Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22,23, speaks of Christ as the “stone,” but also describes those who believe in Him as “living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5). Again, by the union with Christ, those who believe in Him are themselves the “stone,” as well. Those who believe in Christ are the Jerusalem of Zechariah 12:3 by virtue of union with Christ by faith.

The apostle Paul, in his allegory of Galatians 4:22-31, says of the “present,” literal, and earthly Jerusalem, under the Mosaic covenant made in “Mount Sinai in Arabia,” is “in slavery with her children.” The Church, on the other hand, is the child of “the Jerusalem above,” which is “free.”

The apostle John sees “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). The angel tells him, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” He immediately sees “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:9,10). It is only the Church which is described as Jesus’ bride (Matthew 25:1-10; Mark 2:19,20; Ephesians 5:22-33). Those in union with Christ by faith, both Jew and Gentile, are the true Jerusalem – that which hurts those peoples and nations who gather against her (cf. Daniel 7:21; Revelation 11:7; 13:7; 17:6,14; 19:19; 20:7-9), the inheritors of the eternal and unstoppable Kingdom, and the priestly people who are the indwelt Temple of the true God.

This is the encouragement of the saints. Those who hate the Christ and His Church will be broken. Do not be distracted by the noise, numbers, and power of the opposition, but rest in the promise of the Word and the Person of the Son. Pray for the salvation of the peoples of this lost world, be they Jew or Gentile, that they might hear the preaching of the Gospel, be baptized in repentant faith, and be joined with the Christ and His Bride, the true Jerusalem – together, the eternal and unbreakable Rock.

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