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01/01/2007 - Peace on Earth



Peace on Earth

Date: 01/01/2007

Issue No. 222

When Jesus was born, a host of angels appeared to some shepherds in the vicinity of Bethlehem, saying (Luke 2:14, Young’s Literal Translation),

14 Glory in the highest to God, and upon earth peace, among men—good will.

In every Christmas season men talk, sing, and pray about the peace on earth revealed to the shepherds. But this peace has eluded the earth for the past 2,000 years. We seem no closer to the Age of Peace than in the days of Jesus’ birth.

Did Jesus really give us a path to peace? Perhaps a more relevant question is: Has the Christian religion, as administered by men, found the path to peace that Jesus taught? Why is there still no peace? Is it because not all men yet are Christians?

If we look at the history of the Church, we find in its early years, the Church seldom had peace. First the Jewish leaders persecuted the Church in Judea, as recorded in the book of Acts. Then, beginning in 64 A.D. the Roman government persecuted the Church for refusing to sacrifice to Caesar and to recognize him as a god.

This lasted for 2 ½ centuries until Constantine became the Roman Emperor and ended the persecution. It looked like peace would then finally come to the Church. The great persecutor of the Church—Rome—had become first a tolerant nation and then an intolerant Christian Nation.

Men’s hearts are not tested until they have opportunity to sin. Many Christians do not sin much, because they lack opportunity, not because their hearts are right with God. Conversely, when Christians become wealthy, they encounter an entirely new set of temptations, because now they can afford the price of sin.

In the days of Constantine, Rome stopped persecuting the Church as a whole, and the writings of Eusebius and other early Christian writers showed a great deal of “irrational exuberance,” as Federal Reserve ex-Chairman Greenspan would term it.

Within a few years, the bubble burst. The new Aryan controversy about the nature of Christ gave Christians the opportunity to show the world how “peace on earth” could be shown to those with differing opinions. They did not do a very good job. At the Church Council called to establish the true doctrine, the elderly Arius was struck in the mouth before he had said more than a few sentences in defense of his position. That ended the debate in a way that came to be the precedent-setting pattern of Christian behavior.

Generally speaking, you will always find more love among Christians themselves than among Christian leaders. Christian leaders too often feel the need to “defend the truth,” not within the boundaries of peaceable discussion, but by all necessary means including violence.

And so, with the fall of Rome, peace seemed to become even more elusive than ever. The difference was that the Christian leadership could no longer blame pagan Rome for the violence, for they were now active participants and often had the authority to prevent violence.

A thousand years later, some Catholics dared to speak opinions different from that which was coming from Rome. They “protested” many things, questioning papal authority in the face of unbiblical teachings and practices. So they were called “Protestants.” The Church first tried to ignore them, then to stop them by executions. The prime directive was unity by any means available. Love was only for those who submitted to proper Church authority.

Protestants finally gained recognition, and once again, one would think that they would show love to each other, if not to Catholics. Peace ought to reign among Protestants and among Catholics, even if there was war between each group. But the wars went on and on with Protestant Britain fighting Catholic Spain, and Catholic Austria fighting Catholic France, etc. Later, Protestant countries fought against Protestant countries as soon as there were at least two Protestant countries to fight each other.

Peace on earth remained an illusion.

Protestants then could not get along with each other any more than they could get along with Catholics. So they split again and again into smaller groups, each with its own leadership.

As for Catholics, we see in the past few decades that the majority of American Catholics are actually Protestants by the original definition. Rome doles out its decrees, and Catholics regularly disagree and do as they please, especially in cases of divorce, remarriage, birth control, and abortions. Even priests and bishops now dare to disagree, though many are careful not to speak too loudly.

The last big Christian sectarian conflict ended with the peace in Northern Ireland just a few years ago.

The Holy Spirit Factor

It is my personal belief that peace is not possible apart from the active work of the Holy Spirit in the earth. In the early days of the Church, when the Holy Spirit seemed to be very active, the love between Christians ran deep. There were disagreements, but they never ended in violence.

When we look at the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over whether or not to take John Mark with them on the next missionary journey, we find that the dispute was just God’s way of covering more territory. Paul took Luke, and Barnabas took John Mark, and now two men turned into four with two evangelistic teams.

Perhaps we should look at differences in that light. In my own experience, I have come to the conclusion that God deliberately gives people differing revelations in order to accomplish His purposes. First, it gives people the opportunity to show love to people other than those who are in full agreement with you. Secondly, it sends people into differing mission fields to reach different sets of people and cover more territory.

But getting back to the history of the Church, we see the rise of hatred and vitriol long before the bishops had the power to kill their rivals. The Roman government prevented them from killing each other for two centuries before they finally had the power to carry out the designs of their darkened hearts.

The problem was soon institutionalized in the doctrine that is still being taught in many circles today—that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ended when John died about the end of the first century. Such people apparently have never actually witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit in operation today, nor do they believe the testimony of people in the past through whom the Holy Spirit has worked mightily.

The fact is, as the Holy Spirit faded from the picture, the Church became more carnal in its thought and action.

Perhaps more accurately, as the Church became more carnal in its thought and action, the Holy Spirit faded from the picture.

But since the carnal Christian leaders could not readily take responsibility for the Holy Spirit’s inactivity and absence, they had to formulate a doctrine excusing themselves from any responsibility in the matter. So they spread the rumor that the Holy Spirit returned to heaven when John died, and that we are no longer to expect the kind of miraculous activity among current Christian leaders as is found in the book of Acts.

As centuries passed, it became necessary to use the book of Acts merely as the divine stamp of approval upon the Church organization in much the same way that the Jews had used Moses and the miracles done in his day.

Secondly, it became easier and easier for skeptics to disbelieve the miracles in the New Testament. In time, “scientific” Christians and scientific “Christians” felt it necessary to “de-mythologize the Bible. Essentially, they came to understand the miracles as metaphors of “higher truths” and allegories beneficial to the intellectual class of unsuperstitious religionists.

There is nothing like a genuine miracle to stop the mouths of such intellectual fools. One does not need to meet the intellectual arguments that they learned in seminary. All one has to do is to be a conduit of the Holy Spirit when the need arises.

Though I can say that I have seen countless miracles over the years, I would also be the first to admit that I am not satisfied with the level of the Holy Spirit that operates in my own life. I pray always for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a new and greater way than has ever been seen in world history.

We have seen many moves by the Holy Spirit over the centuries. Many books have chronicled those “revivals.” Some seem to have been based largely on emotion, but others were accompanied by the miraculous works of God. Even so, they were all under the overall authority of the Pentecostal Age. The leaven built into Pentecost (Lev. 23:17) prevented these revivals from truly establishing righteousness in the earth.

But we are now in the early years of the Tabernacles Age, and I believe that the time has come for a new move of the Holy Spirit that will not be leavened, nor will it be temporary.

In order for this to be unleavened and permanent, it needs administrators who have a Tabernacles anointing. More than that, it needs perfected overcomers. In the past, the problem has not been with the Holy Spirit, but with the administrators through whom the Holy Spirit was supposed to come or be sustained in succeeding generations.

After Moses and Joshua, the leaders of Israel could not sustain the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Likewise, after the first-century apostles in the New Testament, the work of the Holy Spirit could not be sustained at the same level in succeeding generations.

Many denominations were founded upon genuine revivals and upon genuine revelation of truth not seen in previous generations. But after the founders died, their successors seemed to lose the Holy Spirit—except, of course, in the eyes of the religious faithful.

About 20 years ago we decided to visit a Pentecostal Church in Arkansas. The Church building was fairly small, but they found it necessary to have two huge amplifiers that made the whole place shake with every word that was preached. The preacher started at 100 decibels from the first word, and only got louder as he warmed up.

It took a week for our ears to recover. In observing the members, however, it was plain that they thought the Holy Spirit could be measured in decibels. But it was clear to me that volume was a poor substitute for the Holy Spirit.

Two Legions

A legion of angels gave the word of peace to the shepherds in Bethlehem. They came to announce the birth of Him who was prophesied in the law. He was the fulfillment of the two birds (Lev. 14) and the two goats (Lev. 16) as well as all of the sacrifices and vessels of the tabernacle and temple.

As the first goat, He would be killed, so that His blood could be sprinkled on the mercy seat in the temple in heaven (Heb. 9:7-12). This would COVER sin and impute righteousness to us until such time as the work of the second goat could be accomplished.

As the second goat, Jesus is doing—and will continue to do—His work in us while we are in the wilderness being “tempted of the devil.” The second goat was led into the wilderness alive, and Jesus, too, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement when He was baptized by John. This work is not finished until sin is REMOVED from us, for the purpose of the second goat was to remove sin.

At the present time, we do not see sin removed from us. Though some may claim perfection, I know myself well enough to know that I cannot make that claim. Even so, I do not wallow around in guilt, because the first goat has covered my sin, and righteousness has been imputed to me in spite of my actual condition.

In the interim, we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1, 2). In the laws of sacrifice, men were prohibited from bringing to God any animal that was defective in any way (Lev. 22:18-24). Thus, if I were not imputed righteous, there would be no way for me to fulfill this command to present my body as a living sacrifice that is acceptable to God.

I can only do this as the result of the work of the first goat, which is Christ’s death on the cross, because otherwise, I would still be disqualified for my spiritual defects.

As I wrote earlier, there was a legion of angels, a multitude or host of angels that appeared to the shepherds of Bethlehem to announce the Prince of Peace. Years later, Jesus confronted another kind of “Legion” in Luke 8:26-39. Jesus healed the demoniac who had been tormented by “Legion.” In verse 29 we read,

29 For He had been commanding the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times; and he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard; and yet he would burst his fetters and be driven by the demon into the desert [wilderness].

This “Legion” is the spiritual counterpart to the angels who announced the coming of the Prince of Peace. Jesus was led into the desert, or wilderness, to be “tempted of the devil” (Luke 4:2). But Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit, who was the “fit man” prophesied in Lev. 16:21. The demoniac, on the other hand, was not led into the desert by the Holy Spirit, but by “Legion” (Luke 8:30).

Prophetically speaking, by linking these two legions together, we see the two types of methods by which men try to accomplish the second work of Christ (second goat). One is by the Holy Spirit, and the other is by an unclean spirit.

The one offers to God an acceptable living sacrifice, and the other offers to God a defective sacrifice that is not acceptable, according to the law of sacrifice in Lev. 22. The one is peaceful, while the other does violence.

The Body of Christ

Both of the goats in Leviticus 16 represent Christ and are fulfilled in Him. However, they also represent the body of Christ. Though we will never replace the Head, the body itself is said to experience the sufferings of Christ. In 1 Peter 4:13 we read, “but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.”

In Phil. 3:10 Paul says,

10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.

It is clear, then, that Jesus (the Head) is not the only part of the body that is identified with the first goat. We too have a part in this, though not to the extent that Jesus had to suffer.

Likewise, we are called into the fellowship of the LIFE of the second goat—that living work of resurrected life. Not only is there a fellowship of His sufferings, but also a fellowship of His resurrection. This is what Paul was talking about when he said He wanted to “know Him and the power of His resurrection.” He knew that the only way to know Him on the level of the second goat was to conform to the death of the first goat.

And so, we should not look upon the first and second goat as being entirely outside of ourselves. Jesus has given to all of us a measure of suffering and resurrection life in order that we might empathize with His own experience and thus know Him by having experienced many of the same things.

Not only is the Head called Christ, but also this title can be extended to the body as well, for the Head is joined to the body. Christ means “anointed.” Though normally one anoints the head, we are all one body and the therefore the whole body is anointed with the head.

The Christ that is coming forth in the second goat’s prophecy is the complete New Man, consisting of both Head and Body. Neither is complete without the other, and neither can function as a qualified priest without being complete. The law disqualifies a priest for missing any parts to his body. We are priests of God, qualified only because the body is complete and joined to the Head.

Once we understand these things, we can then look at the work of the second goat in a more personal way. The second goat was said to be “for Azazel” (Lev. 16:8). This is usually translated “scapegoat,” but it was literally a satyr, a “devil” figure. While the first goat was “for Yahweh,” the second was “for the devil.”

The meaning of this is made plain when Jesus was baptized on the Day of Atonement as the first goat while the priests were killing the goat at the temple in Jerusalem. Then, when the priests sent the second goat into the wilderness “for Azazel,” Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be “tempted of the devil.”

It does not mean that Jesus was being given to the devil in some nefarious way. It means that in the divine plan, the devil was God’s agent to test Jesus to see if there was any wicked way in Him. Jesus passed all the tests and was later able to say in John 14:30, “the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.”

Jesus’ testing in the wilderness looked back to Israel’s 40 years of testing in the wilderness. They were called “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). His testing also prophesied of the 40 Jubilees of what the body of Christ would yet have to experience in the next 40 Jubilees, for they too were sent into a wilderness of their own.

Why? To be “tested by the devil.” As the body of Christ, they would have to experience the same type of testing as the Head had experienced.

The Church, however, has often reacted to this testing by taking up the sword against “the devil,” that is, those perceived to be doing the work of the devil. They did not understand that this was part of the test—to see how they would react to Azazel.

There is the way of Peace or the way of War. Peace happens only when we understand that God is sovereign and that He has brought us into the hands of His “enemies” to try our hearts to see if we react with force or violence. The overcomers put on the shoes of the gospel of peace.

As a whole, the Church failed miserably, even as Israel failed in the wilderness under Moses. Few understood that it was God who had led them to places where there was no water or no food to test them and to see if they would complain through fear or rejoice through faith.

In the end, we either understand the sovereignty of God or we do not. We either believe Jesus when He says He will never leave or forsake us, or we believe that He does leave us and forsake us whenever something goes wrong. To have that level of faith is to have peace on earth.

We can only establish the Kingdom and “peace on earth” when the peace of Christ rules in our hearts (Col. 3:15) while Azazel tests our hearts in the wilderness.