Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 20, Feb 2018
Scripture Reading: I Peter 4:17-19; Malachi 3:1-6
I Peter 4:17-19 ‘For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
Malachi 3:1-6 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.” “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts. “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”
Ezekiel 8:7 ‘And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.”
When a person is saved, for the remainder of this believer’s earthly life, he is not controlled by human passions but by the will of God. The believer chooses to live these years for the glory of God, rather than for the gratification of sensual appetites. The sins listed in the earlier part of I Peter 4 still characterize the Gentile, non Christian world today; sex, liquor, false religion. Lewdness, unrestrained indulgence, primarily in sexual immorality, Drunkenness; giving oneself to the control of intoxicating beverages resulting in revelries, drinking parties are examples of the abominable idolatries mentioned in I Peter 4:3. Sadly these sins are also becoming prevalent in our church today. Peter is reminding the Christians that the time is at hand. The Lord is ready to judge the dead and the living. The judgment of the living unbelievers will take place before the Millennium; which is the 7 year tribulation. The wicked dead will be judged at the close of Christ’s reign on earth which is the white throne judgment; at the end of the millennium. How about the Christians? We will be judged at the judgment seat of Christ, before the white throne judgment, before the millennium. What can we learn from this portion of scripture?
1. It is time for Judgment to begin
I Peter 4:7 starts with ‘For it is time for judgment to begin.’ I Peter 4:17 is a reference to Malachi 3:1-6 where judgment starts with the Messiah coming suddenly and surprisingly to His own people. Both passages point to the Second Coming of Christ. The Second Coming of Christ will not come until there is first a Judgment Day. I Peter 4:17 is crystal clear. For it is time for judgment to begin.
In July 2015, an 83 years old Colombian sister, a servant of God who grew up in the Church and in the Word of God, was praying for her church and the imminent return of Christ had a supernatural experience. She was caught up to heaven. Her body was still on earth, immobilized on her bed. As she looks down, she saw her immobilized body and then she saw thousands and thousands of demons on earth. As she went further up, a door was completely opened and she entered that door. She witnessed uncountable army of angels on her right and left. Then she saw a radiant figure seated on a white horse. She knew immediately it was Jesus. Next she noticed even more numerous angels rushing around fussing around the tables in an immensely big place. As she could not understand what was happening around her, Jesus told her, ‘These angels run because they have to hurry to prepare the wedding supper. Everything is ready. The order is given by My Father. Everything has been fixed from now.’
Then she asked what is the meaning of the thousands and thousands of demons on earth? Jesus answered, ‘In my Word it is written that in the last days demons will be spread on earth like never before. And now they are already released on earth. That is why the world is in much turmoil. These demons want to destroy My people. They want to tear them away from my presence, to torment them, to scatter them and to distract them so that they will not be ready for My return.’
Then Jesus took her to a room full of mirrors and after giving her a white robe. He pointed out to her how, from a distance, her robe seemed white and spotless, but closely, it was a robe full of very small and imperceptible spots. Then the lady became sad because spots represent sin and she began to cry because her robe was dirty. At that moment Jesus told her, ‘See my child? Despite the fact that you were born in the church, that you grew up in the Gospel, that you are my servant, that your knees are damaged by dirt of praying, in spite of all these, there are still things that I do not like in you. You have to cleanse yourself.’
Then Jesus said, ‘I am going to show you something stranger’. He took her to the local church which she currently attends in Colombia. It was a day of service. The church was crowded, and he told her, ‘Listen, my daughter, I observe all the services and as you can see it yourself, there is no robe perfectly white and the dirtiest robes are those of the elders and the leaders. Look attentively. She looked and saw all of them had dirty garments, some garments were torn, some were full of spots and were dark, but she realized that those in the worst condition belonged to the elders and to the leaders. She was shocked by the vision and began to cry because in her church, there was no white garment. Suddenly all raised hands to adore and praise the Lord and their hands were bleeding. Jesus said, ‘This bleed which you see in their hands is a blood of sin which has just been committed, a fresh sin, and not the blood of Jesus Christ which washes and cleanses from sin. And this prevented the worship from reaching the throne of Grace.’ Then Jesus touched the people’s heads and suddenly their thoughts became audible. Their thoughts were far from being turned towards the Lord. They were just there, worshipping God but their thoughts were on the things of daily life, the courtships, the sending of emails etc. One was thinking about his house, another about his car and still another about his children etc until the end of the service. Jesus said, ‘you see, the thoughts of people in the church are not turned to my Father, rather to the things of daily life, to the things of the world. That is why the worship of this church does not get to my throne. They are neither concerned about my reign, nor with my Return.’
Then he took to by the hand and went with her to different churches in the world and he told her. ‘This one (this church) I have never visited it, that one I have never ordered it to be opened, that other is managed by Satan. They visited many churches all over the world. Finally she asked Jesus, ‘But Lord, who then can be saved? Jesus answered, ‘All those who will wash and whiten their garments in My blood.’ Jesus then took her to see a panoramic view of all the churches, and said, ‘Yes my child, the worst is that they all think that they are saved.’ And she asked, ‘But Lord, what is the purpose of all this vision which you showed me? Jesus answered, ‘Listen’. Then she heard ‘tick-tock, tick-tock and the clocked shopped. He told her, ‘Do you hear? There is no more noise. Go and tell the churches that time is over. Tell the churches that time is over.’
The phrase, ‘for it is time for judgment to begin’ is a Jewish Idiom of the nearness of the Second Coming of Christ as Judge. Please understand that Jesus had come as the Christ of Grace two thousand years ago. Now he is coming as the Judge. The Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Apostles have always envisioned a catastrophic conclusion to human history; often referred to it as the birth pangs of the New Age. Birth pangs are sharp spasm of pains and they are repetitive, difficult and in turmoil. Labor pain is one of the most severe pains which has ever evaluated and its fear is one of the reasons women wouldn’t go for natural delivery.
2. The Judgment begins with the household of God
The judgment will begin with the household of God. God will not judge the world first; instead he will begin with the household of God. We know the book of Revelation is a book of Judgment. But you will notice that the first three chapters (the beginning) are written concerning the church; God’s warning and judgment on the 7 churches. The judgment started with the church and then the rest of the chapters are judgment on the world. As I said earlier, the Judgment Seat of Christ (for Christians) precedes The White Throne Judgment. The household of God has two building metaphors. Firstly it relates to the church; the church as a temple built from living stones. Secondly it refers to a corporate people or large family home. Today each one of us is a living stones and corporately we are a family. So God deals with individuals as well as a whole church. God begins His judgment with His people. You ask why? Well, to whom much is given, much is required. Jeremiah 25:29 says, ‘See, I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears my Name, and will you indeed go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, for I am calling down a sword on all who live on the earth, declares the Lord Almighty.’ For many of us, we cannot continue living as like we are today.
Malachi 3:2 states, ‘But who can endure the day of His Coming.’ The enduring is referring to Jesus cleansing the temple. His dealing is referred to a refiner’s fire, a fuller’s soap and a judgment. It is used in two different senses: Although He is coming to test, it is a test for purification, not destruction. I think many of you have heard about the trial case concerning the once biggest church in Singapore. The trial was long and dreary. The trial involved a $50 million dollar mismanagement of church fund. The Senior Pastor was the main accused. Thankfully the whole church prayed for their Senior Pastor. The prosecuting lawyers who were all Christians were bent on giving the heaviest sentence for the Senior Pastor. The whole church prayed constantly. In the first verdict, the Senior Pastor was found guilty and he was given 8 years sentence. The prosecutors were enraged and appealed because they wanted a heavier sentence. They felt that he deserved at least 12 to 15 years. Again the church prayed. In the appeal court, the 3 panel judges surprisingly reduced the sentence of the Senior Pastor from 8 years to 3 and a half year. Again this further enraged the prosecutors. Please take note that the prosecutors are all Christians. The prosecutors appealed again to the appellate court. Finally the verdict came. This time a 5 panel judges was asked to give the judgment. This just happened in the month of January. This trial has been long in the making; almost 10 years and witnessed its finality. The judges said they had to follow the law of the court and they cannot increase the sentence of the Senior Pastor and it had to remain at 3 and a half year. They declared the government had to make amendment to the unique case for a higher sentence to future personnel that broke the same kind of law. As for the present case of the Senior Pastor, they cannot do anything about it. So for the Senior Pastor he will be out in 2 years 6 months, pending good behavior. I look at the case. I see the hand of the LORD in the whole case. The Senior Pastor was wrong and God had to refine him as a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap and a judgment. I wonder what went through his mind and his family and even his church for the last 10 years. I believe it is nothing short of fiery and painful. Putting him in jail was certainly a judgment. But it was tempered with grace. The prosecutors, all self righteous Christian wanted him to stay 12 to 15 years in jail. But God judged him with grace; painful but with grace. I prayed that he will come out a changed man; after his sentence of 2 and a half year. What is the purpose of God’s coming to judge the individual Christian and the church as a whole? Although he is coming to judge it is a test for purification, not destruction. But if there are willfully unrepentant sinners among God’s people they will be judged severely to a point of losing their salvation.
In our day it is quite easy to find people eager to remind us that ‘God is love’. Take at face value, there is nothing wrong with these words; after all, the bible does explicitly say that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). Unfortunately, however, the love that many people have in mind when they trumpet this attribute of God often does not understand that God’s love also includes His judgment. This might be hard for some people to understand or accept, but the Bible is clear that even the people of God will be judged at times in this life, even though Christ has borne the fully penalty for all our sins. For as today’s passage tell us, ‘It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.
Many Christians do not realize that God’s judgment does not begin with the people of the world, but with the people of God. A church member lay in a hospital, dying of AIDS, which he had contracted through homosexuality. Then he received Christ and was given a New Testament. After reading some way in the New Testament, he sent an urgent message to the person who had led him to Christ: “Come and pray for me. I need deliverance. I never knew there was anything wrong with my lifestyle.”
It begins with those who profess to follow Jesus Christ. Can you confidently say that you are living up to the faith you proclaim? Is your lifestyle in line with your faith? Or you have some secret cherished sin that nobody else knows about? The prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Amos convey the message to Israel: the people whom God has chosen but who have sinned against him will not go unpunished. The people of Israel refused to listen to God as he spoke to them through his prophets. Eventually the time for judgment came and God severely punished the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
3. What kind of Judgment?
What type of judgment? It seemed to indicate a fiery trial. Different individual Christian has different fiery trial. If a professed Christian breaks the law and gets into trouble he ought to suffer. The fact that we are Christian is not a guarantee that we escape the normal consequences of our misdeeds. We may not be guilty of murder but what about stealing, immorality. When Abraham, David, Peter, and other Bible ‘greats’ disobeyed God, they suffered for it, so who are we that we should escape? The fiery trial is a refining process, by which God removes the dross and purifies us. By studying the text closely it seems to imply that these fiery trails will culminate in the furnace of persecution and suffering. This fiery trial will overtake the church. One day, a fiery judgment will overtake the whole world.
The fiery suffering that comes into our lives is used by God to judge us. The word ‘fiery suffering’ seems to include judgment in the sense of bearing some kind of suffering because of repeated sin. I do not know about you. But I know in my dealings with God that if I continue a repeated sin, the next moment I knew it, it became a fiery suffering. So if you are in this church and you know what you are doing is wrong, and instead of repenting, you keep repeating it, the next moment you will realize that suddenly you are in a fiery suffering. The judgment will be sudden and surprising.
Abegail Mesa, at the age of 13, was angry at God after her father, a religious pastor based in Cavite, died of health problems traced to over fatigue. Her mother and brother continued serving their church, but the rebel in her asked: “How could they still love God after what happened?” Her life became a downward spiral. She thought joining a theater group could provide an outlet or distraction, but it instead introduced her to vices. At 17, she was taking drugs (capsules, injectibles). At 19 she was gang-raped by three college boys in a condo unit on Taft Avenue. They left her naked, taking all her clothes as they fled. She would spend the next few days practically in rags walking aimlessly in the streets of Manila and Quezon City, “feeling dirty and robbed of her soul.” Even before she was raped, Mesa had been leading a double life: One as a regular churchgoer and education student at Philippine Normal University; the other as someone totally different. She became a mistress to a succession of men (including politicians and sons of politicians), a heavy smoker, a drug user, and a “porn addict.”
She later found herself being recruited by an escort service agency, finding her first clients online. By the time she graduated and got her first teaching job, she was still working on the side in the escort services. Her clients had included seven of her own students. She didn’t stop even when already a teacher at 23. She said, “I was not able to separate my work in the escort service from my being a teacher.” Her school at the time eventually found out about it. A complaint was filed and she was fired. At that point, she began entertaining suicidal thoughts. She recounted, ‘I was so desperate. Life had no more purpose. Nobody wanted to be associated with me, but still I was full of pride and thought I needed no one. And I was also good at faking it; I was still active in my church. It was very easy for me to show that I was OK even when it wasn’t true.” The turning point came one night at her apartment in Ermita. After spending drug-crazed days and nights with different sex partners she overdosed. Thinking she was about to die, “I expected to go to heaven because I was always going to church.” But instead she said, “I saw a vision of myself in hell. There was no fire, but I was going down in a quicksand.” “I was crying and shouting to the Lord: ‘One more chance, one more, Lord; and if you bring me back, I promise You will not regret it.’” She snapped out of that horrific realm feeling drained and thirsty. She would learn days later that around that that time, her mother, who was in Thailand, was also praying for her dear Abi. Now at age 29, Abegail Mesa, founded Rescue Kabataan, an organization that seeks to steer young people away from the dark path she once took. Recently she represented the Philippines in the World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi, Russia.
4. What is wrong with the Church today?
What is wrong with the church today? The 83 year old Colombian saw the dirtiest robes are found among the elders and leaders of the church. Ezekiel gave a description that I can never erase it from my mind.
Ezekiel 8:7-13 described the detestable things done in the temple. ‘And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” Then he brought me to the entrance to the court. I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall. He said to me, “Son of man, now dig into the wall.” So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there. And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here.” So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and unclean animals and all the idols of Israel. In front of them stood seventy elders of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising. He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land.’” Again, he said, “You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.”
Ezekiel was taken to the temple to see the detestable things the people were doing. It is detestable things that will drive Jesus from the church. ‘A hole in the wall’ implies this particular detestable thing is done in secret by the leader of the church. The 70 elders symbolized all of the Temple’s or church’s leadership. Ezekiel 8:7-13 is clearly a reference of all the idolatries of our lives. The descriptions of the idolatries are they are detestable, committed in secret and they are filled with uncleanness and beastly in nature. God revealed that He will not dwell in the church of idolatry and sins are tolerated. The church that tolerates immorality will lose His presence and their place in God’s kingdom. The detestable things are the reason why God will clearly judge an individual or the church as a whole.
God reveals that He knows the ‘secret sins’ of His people, and calls them to repentance. I have always been drawn repeatedly by this passage of scripture in Ezekiel 8:7-13. The word detestable and abominable can be used interchangeably. The leaders were engaged in horrible practices. They are the most abominable wickedness’s; these are loathsome in their nature, and multiplied in number before God. The wickedness was so persistent and offensive to God that it made Him determined to go far away. It was His sanctuary, belonging to God Himself, but He would leave it because of their great abominations. It seems to indicate that men are behaving like animals. The thing that shocked Ezekiel was that the leaders were secret idolaters. Ezekiel is actually exposing the sins of spiritual leaders. The leaders were going about their ministries as usual believing their sins were hidden from the very sheep they were supposed to be leading and protecting. However, God sees all sin and showed the prophet Ezekiel through a vision their hidden sins. Further, this hole in the wall revelation is useful for understanding what is presently happening in the church. Considering the Bible teaches that history repeats itself, the Ezekiel revelation is very important in understanding how religious leaders covertly cover up sin. If the religious leaders of Israel covered their sins in the past and thought no one could see, what about the spiritual leaders now? Is it possible we will be able to uncover some parallels? The purpose of this commentary will be to show there is nothing new under the sun. Whatever has happened before, has, and will happen again.
Chuck Smith explained Ezekiel 8:7-13; ‘Ezekiel has been taken by God in a vision back to Jerusalem where he is allowed to see the abominations that are bringing the judgment upon the people. He sees a hole in the wall and is commanded to dig through the wall. Once inside he is horrified by all of the pornography that is painted upon the walls inside of the room. He is then informed by God that what he is seeing is the imagery or thoughts of the leaders of Israel.
There is an unbridled evil that is spreading in the church. Today pornography will proliferate. Homosexuality and other perverted sex will increase. Fornication and adultery are common place. The abominations are visible to all and are exceedingly great. Men and Women are engaged in vile activities. Some preacher titled Ezekiel 8:7-13 as Creepy Crawling Christian.
It runs parallel to Romans 1:26-32, ‘For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanders, haters of God insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant breakers, heartless, ruthless. Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them, but also approve of those who practice them’
The judgment that comes upon those who are involved in abominable idolatries will be sudden and surprising.