(Malachi 3:1; 4:3)
“Behold he shall come, saith the Lord, even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in. But who may abide the day of his coming? for he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” (Malachi 3:1,2)
Malachi’s prophecy, the most striking features of which constitute the lesson, concludes the Old Testament canon. It contains not only a Divine rebuke for sin, but also a Divine promise of rescue. It fits well to the time generally assigned to it - Nehemiah’s period. It remained for Israel to show thorough repentance and to institute thorough reforms. The needed reformation fits equally well to our day. In their professed devotions they were robbing God and impoverishing themselves. It rested upon them to note what great blessings would be theirs if they rendered a whole-heart service to the King of kings.
The Jews, comparing themselves with other nations, perceived that as a result of being God’s people they had been held to a more strict account than other nations, so that although their nationality was superior, it was through repeated and severe chastisements. They were even questioning the profitableness of being “God’s chosen people.” The arrogant, proud nations around them flourished in temporalities more than they. They could not stand this; they forgot that they were a people for a purpose and that to fit them for Divine service in the future trying experiences were permitted, and were really evidences of Divine favor. “What son is he whom the father chasteneth not? If ye be without chastisement, then are ye not sons.” (Heb. 12:7,8)
This lesson of a future reward is brought forward by the words, “They that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord harkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord and thought upon his Name. They shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.” (Mal. 3:16,17)
ISRAEL - TYPICAL AND ANTITYPICAL
The foregoing has revealed very much of all prophecies respecting Israel’s favors to be fulfilled - a portion in Spiritual Israel’s experiences and another portion in Natural Israel’s. The faithful of the Jewish Age, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets, will surely have a great reward. When Messiah’s Kingdom shall be inaugurated on the spirit plane, invisible to men, those Ancient Worthies, who were once called the fathers, will have a very high rank of service in connection with the Kingdom, in that they will be its earthly representatives and exponents. “Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children [of Messiah], whom thou [Messiah] mayest make princes [rulers] in all the earth.” (Psa. 45:16)
Spiritual Israel, as history shows us, is the great Messiah for whom the Jews have so long waited. This Messiah has many members - Jesus is its Head, the Church are His members. This Messiah, Jesus and His members or Bride, constitute the spiritual seed of Abraham - “as the stars of heaven.” (Gen. 22:17) These must first be completed, and will be glorified in Kingdom power before the Ancient Worthies can receive their blessing on the earthly plane, and before natural Israel can be gathered to them as the nucleus of the Kingdom of God on earth, to which ultimately all nations, peoples, kindred and tongues shall flow for a share in Israel’s New Covenant blessings. Of these St. Paul says, “If ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed [typified by Isaac], and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:29) These are to be God’s jewels on the spirit plane, as the faithful Jews of the past are to be the jewels on the earthly plane, marked or enrolled for distinguished honor in connection with Messiah’s Kingdom.
“MESSENGER OF THE COVENANT”
The Israelites, discouraged with their failure to keep the Law and to get the blessings promised therefrom, were encouraged by the Lord with the promise that some day a great Messiah would appear - greater than Moses, with whom God would make a New Covenant on their behalf. The New Covenant would be superior to the old one in that it would have a better Mediator, for Israel already had God’s perfect Law. The New Mediator would not relax the law, either. The advantage to accrue through Him would be that somehow His covenant and sin-offering would be more efficacious than that which Moses instituted, because it would put away sin forever and give willing Israelites a new heart, a heart of flesh, after which they would be given everlasting life on condition of their maintaining their relationship with the Almighty.
Jeremiah particularized this saying: “It shall come to pass after those days, saith the Lord, that I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers when I led them out of Egypt… but their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” (Jer. 31:31)
Israel’s hope thenceforth was in the Messiah, whose coming would bring to them the New Covenant blessings. They have waited for Him since. Who can help admiring the persistency of the Jewish faith - their loyalty to God! Who can help noticing how sharply it is in contrast with their previous unbelief and idolatry! Who can doubt that God still loves His people whom He foreknew and whom He has promised shall be regathered - back to their own land and back to His favor under the New Covenant! (Rom. 11:25)
But the Prophet Malachi clearly intimates that there might be disappointment in connection with the much longed for Messenger or Mediator of the New Covenant, in whom the Jews so delighted and hoped. The declaration is that His day will be a strenuous one: “Who shall stand when he appeareth?” “Who will abide the day of his coming?” (Mal. 3:2) The intimation is that not many will abide, not many will stand - the majority will fall.
The reason is given. He will require such purity, such holiness, that few will come up to His requirements. The tests He will impose will be like fullers’ soap, which is the foe of every spot upon a garment white. His requirements will be like those of a refiner of silver - all the dross must be eliminated, in a furnace hot enough to insure its separation. The test will last a considerable time, for He will sit as a refiner sits, giving close inspection, that the heat be neither too great nor too little, the time neither too long nor too short.
This great Messiah, the Messenger of the New Covenant, began His refining and purifying work more than eighteen centuries ago. He followed the Divine rule, “To the Jew first.” He began to refine and purify a priestly class for association with Himself in the glorious Messianic work. To the Jew first came the privilege of being the antitypical Levites. Thousands of them responded at Pentecost, and subsequently, but not enough to complete the foreordained number of spiritual Israelites, members of the Body of Messiah.
Since then the selecting work has been in progress for eighteen centuries. God has been calling and drawing from all nations, and as many as respond the great Refiner has been purifying; and if these suffer afflictions for righteousness they are sharing in the sufferings of Messiah that they may be accounted worthy also of a share in His glories to follow. Soon the “elect” number will be completed: the blood of the New Covenant will be made efficacious for Israel and for all the families of the earth, and on that basis the Messianic Kingdom or reign of righteousness will begin.
(Pastor Russell, Reprints 4930-4931, December 1, 1911)
JUDGMENT OF THE NATIONS
“Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it not unto me.” (v. 45)
Having given His disciples many parables illustrating the experiences of the Church, the Kingdom class, in their development and preparation for Kingdom honor, it was eminently proper that Jesus should give the parable of this lesson to illustrate the work of this Kingdom after its establishment - to show its purpose and its effect upon the world of mankind.
Many of us have in the past read the Bible too carelessly. Our minds were sluggish respecting spiritual things. For instance, this lesson was at one time applied to the Church. We failed altogether to notice that it says not a word respecting the Church, but is entirely applied to the world, to the nations, the heathen. For centuries the Jews had been accustomed to think of themselves as God’s nation, God’s people. All others they styled heathen, Gentiles, the people, the nations; and in the prophecies God treated the matter from this standpoint. So when spiritual Israel was received into Divine favor as the Royal Priesthood, the Holy Nation, the peculiar people, all the remainder of mankind were properly enough to be thought of and described as “the nations” - “the Gentiles.”
In line with this, our Lord in this parable tells what is to befall after His Kingdom shall have been set up - after the selection of the true Church class to be the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife, the joint-heir in His Kingdom, in His throne. This, we notice, is very clearly stated by the Master, saying “When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.” Who, after proper consideration, will say that this is a matter of the past? Who will dispute that this is a description of Messiah’s Kingdom following His Parousia and His Epiphania [the epiphania and the Time of Trouble are one and the same] at His Second Advent?
APPLICATION OF THIS PARABLE
Then follows a description of the work of the Millennial Age. “Before him shall be gathered all nations.” This means all the people of the world outside of the Lord’s holy nation, His peculiar people, the Church. Everybody except the Church will be before His great white throne of justice, mercy and love; that will be their judgment time.
Six thousand years ago, Adam and his entire race were judged in Eden, and the sentence was death. None of the race are worthy of everlasting life. They are all sinners. In due time God sent His Son to die for Adam’s sin, in order that, “as by a man came death [of the entire race], by a man [Jesus] also will come the resurrection of the dead [the entire race]. For as all in Adam die, even so all in Christ shall be made alive. Every man in his own order.” (1 Cor. 15:21-23)
The first order to be made alive in Christ is the Church, called out of the world, separated, “begotten again” of the Holy Spirit. These pass their judgment, their trial, for life everlasting or death everlasting in the present time. Hence the worthy ones, with characters formed pleasing and acceptable to God, will be quite ready to be Messiah’s Bride class, joint-heirs with Him in His Kingdom and in His work of judging the world. He has promised that all the faithful shall sit with Him in His throne - the very throne pictured in the words of our text - the throne before which all the nations, all the people outside of the Church, will be gathered.
The gathering of the world will be the result of knowledge. The Time of Trouble will lead on to great enlightenment, in which all the blind eyes will be opened, all the deaf ears will be unstopped (Isa. 35:5), and the knowledge of the glory of God will fill the whole earth. Some there will be those who, resisting this knowledge, will decline to accept Christ and will not come into this judgment; but after a hundred years of resistance these will be destroyed (Isa. 65.20).
Those in the parable are such as have accepted Christ’s terms and desire to be on judgment, or on trial, for everlasting life. This will include all in their graves, who, the Master tells us, will come forth, not all at once, but gradually. Messiah’s Kingdom will exercise its power and disseminate the knowledge of God and of righteousness, with a view to encouraging, helping and uplifting all the willing and obedient. All such may rise more and more out of sin and death conditions - out of imperfection of mind and body and out of immoral conduct to the full image of God, as possessed by father Adam in the beginning.
It will be the work of the entire Millennial Age to bring this about. Righteousness will reign then, as sin reigns now. That is to say, it will be in control, in the ascendancy; and whosoever sins then will suffer promptly. Hence all the nations will be avoiding sin. Then the world in general will be a grand place, where “nothing shall hurt or destroy”(Isa. 11:9); where “the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick” (Isa. 33:24); where the curse shall be gradually rolled away, and there shall be no more crying, no more sighing, no more dying; and where the blessing of God, bringing perfection, will prevail. “O happy day!” we exclaim. And surely it will be such; for all who live through those thousand years will have a great blessing.
THE LAW OF RETRIBUTION OPERATIVE
But, some inquire, what about the sins of the world? Will there be no chastisements, no punishments, for these? We answer that it will be equally as just for God to forgive the sins of the world for Christ’s sake as it has been just for Him to forgive the sins of the Church for Christ’s sake. If the one is just, so will be the other; for God is no respecter of persons, and is equally as willing to forgive the sins of the world as the sins of the Church, when the world, repenting of sin, will turn from it, accepting Christ as their Redeemer.
This does not mean, however, that justice is to be ignored. In the case of the Church, note how the sins of youth may leave their scar and sting to the end of life. And so we may reasonably assume that certain stripes, or punishments, will be permitted to follow the world in just the same manner. It will be from these weaknesses and frailties that they will be gradually raised up to perfection during those blessed thousand years of Christ’s Kingdom, when Satan will be bound and not be permitted to deceive any during that period.
But what about heart condition? If conformity to the Divine Law in an outward way will bring blessings to all, will there not still be a difference between the people - some coming heartily into accord with the Father, and others merely outwardly into harmony, because this outward harmony will be the way to restitution, perfection?
Undoubtedly this is correct reasoning. It is along this line that the parable before us teaches; namely, that outwardly the “sheep” and the “goats” will have much the same appearance and demeanor, except to the Judge, the King, who will read the heart and ultimately will manifest to all that there has been a real heart-difference between the two classes, all of whom will have been on trial of a thousand years, receiving blessings of the Kingdom.
THE BASIS OF JUDGMENT
All the while each individual will be making character. This character will be fully appreciated by the great Judge, and the individual will be rated either as a “sheep” or as a “goat.” All the sheep class will thus be received at the right hand of the great Jehovah; and all the goat class will be rated as out of favor with Him, even though all the while they will be receiving the blessing of the Millennial Kingdom and outwardly rendering obedience to its laws.
Not until the conclusion of the Millennium will the decision of the Judge be manifested. Then both parties will show great surprise at His decision. To the “sheep” at His right hand He will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father [the kind that my Father is pleased to bless and to grant everlasting life! Come,] inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” When God laid the foundation of the earth and planned its human habitation, it was His design to give it to you. Now the time has come for you to enter into this kingdom and to possess it.
This is not the same kingdom as the Messianic Kingdom. On the contrary, it is the kingdom which God gave to Adam, which Adam lost through his disobedience and which Christ redeemed by the sacrifice of Himself. It will be given only to those who will have developed the God-like character - those who will have become the Lord’s “sheep” during the Millennium.
Then the other class, the goats of the parable, will be sentenced: “Depart, ye accursed ones [doomed ones], into everlasting punishment.” Granted all the privileges, blessings and experiences of a thousand years of contact with righteousness, truth and the Spirit of God, you indeed render an outward obedience, but at heart you have not come into harmony with God. I cannot recognize you as My sheep. I cannot present you to the Father blameless and irreprovable. You must be destroyed; the punishment is the Second Death, “everlasting destruction.” The penalty upon you is an everlasting one because there will be no further provision made for your redemption or for your resurrection from the Second Death. You will be as though you had never been. You have failed utterly to appreciate the goodness of God and to copy His Character-likeness. Eternal life is only for those who have God’s likeness and God’s Spirit. “The Father seeketh such to worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23)
Both classes, the “sheep” and the “goats,” were surprised at what the King, the Judge, declared to be the basis of His judgment. To the sheep He said, “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” To the goat class He said, “I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink; was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick and in prison, and ye visited me not.”
Both “sheep” and “goats” claimed that they had no knowledge of any such experiences. When did we minister unto Thee? When did we fail to minister unto Thee? The answer was, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of My brethren, or did it not unto him, ye did it, or did it not, unto Me.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SHEEP CLASS
Now, who are these respecting whom there will be a test upon the sheep class and upon the goat class? Will there be people sick, hungry and in prison during the Millennium? Does the Lord wish us to understand that there will be such? We have, on the contrary, always assumed that sickness, poverty, hunger and prisons will then be gone forever. What does it all mean?
The meaning is plain. With the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom all who come into harmony with it will have the great privilege of doing something to help others. The world is blind and starved now, for lack of spiritual food and the anointing eye-salve of the truth. While the Millennial blessing will be showered upon those who accept the Lord’s terms, there will be others who will need assistance. Those who have the Spirit of God, the spirit of love, will be glad to carry the heavenly message of reconciliation to all humanity, glad to apply the eye-salve to the blind, glad to unstop the ears of the deaf, glad to help the sin-sick back into harmony with God - to the blessings of Messiah’s Kingdom, to the way in which these may be obtained - helping them to cover their nakedness with the merit of Christ.
All who will take pleasure in this work will thus be manifesting that they have God’s Spirit and are co-laborers with Him. All these will be the sheep. On the other hand, those who will be careless in respect to their vow, and merely enjoy the Millennial blessings themselves, will be of the goat class and will thus be marking themselves as “goat,” and correspondingly will be out of favor with the great King of kings, their Judge, the Lord of Glory.
THE WORLD’S RESURRECTION
The prison referred to in the parable is undoubtedly the great prison-house of death, into which approximately twenty thousand millions already have gone. All these are to come forth. But the Scriptures declare that they will not all come forth at once, but “every man in his own order.” (1 Cor. 15:23) Only the Church will be in the First Resurrection.
During the Millennium the awakening from the sleep of death, the prison-house, will come about by Divine Power, of course, but we believe in answer to prayer. Each family circle, as it can prepare for another and another member, will be glad to do so, and will make request for his return. Thus the race will come out of the “prison-house” in reverse order to that in which they entered, and will be acquainted with, identified by, and prepared for by their friends, their relatives.
While the blessing of the Lord will provide an abundance for all, nevertheless we may safely assume that the provision will be in the hands of their fellows. It will be the “sheep” that will be especially interested in praying for and preparing for those who are in the great prison-house of death. Any by so engaging their time and energy these “sheep” will be manifesting a purpose, a will, in harmony with that of the Creator. God has willed that all who are in their graves shall come forth at the command of Jesus (John 5:28,29), and those in sympathy with God and Christ will be co-laborers with God in accomplishing the work for which Christ died. Any not interested in that work will be lacking in God’s Spirit; and this is exactly what is charged against the goat class.
He who sits upon the throne, having redeemed the world of mankind and having provided for the resurrection of all these redeemed ones, counts them as in a certain sense representing Himself - as He says in the parable: “I was an hungered, and ye fed me; I was sick and in prison, and ye visited me,” ministered unto Me and helped Me.
Likewise the reproof to the goat class: to these He said, You were not interested in the things of God. Your interest was merely personal, a selfish one. You have enjoyed the blessings of these glorious thousand years, and that is all that God has provided for you. You are not of the kind of whom He is pleased to grant everlasting life. You will therefore die. You have more or less of the selfish spirit, which is the spirit of Satan, and as God’s provision for all who will not be in fellowship with Him in spirit is destruction, this is to be your portion - the Second Death (Rev. 21:8).
The eternal fire is the fire of God’s jealousy or anger, which burns against and destroys everything antagonistic to His righteousness (Zeph. 1:18; 3:8). It is, of course, merely a figurative expression representing complete destruction.
(Pastor Russell, Reprints 5530-5532, September 1, 1914)
THE WONDER OF ISRAEL
This coming Monday, the fifth day of Iyar, 5764, marks the 56th anniversary of Israel’s rebirth. Absorbed as we are by our current struggles - existential, security, economic, social, political, religious - we often lose sight of the wonder that there is any type of Jewish state anywhere, let alone in its ancient ancestral home. The usual rule in history, for mighty empires as well as weak nations, is that there are no comebacks; gone is gone. All of the major empires that existed at the start of the 20th century - Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Turkey, Japan - failed to survive that bloody and turbulent century. Out of this ash heap of nations and empires, somehow a Jewish state arose, unwanted and unappreciated by most of the world and even by major sections of the Jewish world. Since the majority were not adults in 1948, they will never be able to truly appreciate what Israel’s rebirth meant to the Jewish world.
I remember walking with my father to synagogue in Chicago that Friday afternoon. A Jew from Lithuania with 1,000 years of longing for Zion and Jerusalem baked into his soul, and who usually showed little emotion, he wept all the way. I was shocked by his weeping, but as I became older and began to appreciate the moment in its historical context, I shared his tears. Even the anti-Zionist parties here at the time blessed the occasion and appreciated the watershed event. After the tragedy of the Holocaust, when Jewry the world over was exhausted emotionally, spiritually and physically, with hundreds of thousands of refugees in internment and displaced persons’ camps throughout Europe and Cyprus, the state arose as a beacon of hope and refuge, a place to settle and rebuild lives, personal and national. I remember how the survivors of Europe limped into Chicago after the war - how despairing all of us were for the future, how few the students in the fledgling Jewish day schools struggling to establish themselves.
The creation of the state stiffened Jewish resolve and pointed us in a different direction, with a more positive mood and a renewed belief in ourselves. The attempt to crush the state at its birth failed, as all the attempts since then have failed. The current terrorist campaign against us will also fail, and at the end will have damaged our enemies far more than it hurt us. In spite of tremendous difficulties, the state has grown, prospered and become strong and viable. It is envy of us that fuels much of the anti-Israel hatred around the world.
If appreciation of the truly wondrous nature of this state’s creation and the timeliness of its birth is fading, then it should be replaced by vision. The State of Israel is defined as being both democratic and Jewish, and somehow these two ideas must learn to live with each other as peacefully and harmoniously as possible.
A vision of what a Jewish state should look like - how it must be unique and not merely a pale copy of the worst aspects of Western culture - has to be formulated and articulated.
I feel that the greatest contribution of religious Jewry in this country could be to represent and publicize such a vision. Sadly, until now it has not even attempted to address this task, let alone devise a program as to how to implement it. No society can prosper without a positive sense of direction and purpose. Merely wishing to survive - as important and necessary as that is - is not nation-building.
Addressing our future, infusing belief and faith, strengthening our sense of tradition, cleaning up our act and casting away the bad habits of exile and corruption, are necessary components of a visionary future.
Realizing the wonder of the past 56 years will help us build such a future for ourselves and our descendants.
(By Berel Wein, The International Jerusalem Post, April 23, 2004)