Saturday, December 31, 2011

Countdown to Destruction: 3

Romans 9:6 states that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” The next verse even takes it further to specify that not all of Abraham’s descendants are his children. What the Apostle Paul was talking about was the house, or family—later, the kingdom—that God has established as a separate people, with a family tree that reaches back to Adam and Eve. And through the ages, this family has grown into a nation as it extended its membership outside the physical borders of the nation that claims its origin. Through simple invitation, God offers one proposition to all He calls out to: to be His child and co-heirs with His Only Begotten, Jesus Christ.

From Old Testament times, God has maintained the integrity of His house through a policy of obedience to His laws; to the delinquents, He reached out in reconciliation, urging them to repentance; to the rebellious, He warned of pruning, truncating, and, in extreme instances, uprooting. These principles are markedly taught and symbolized in the Holy Scriptures, and expressly lived as a cultural cornerstone of God’s people. Years before Jesus’ birth, for example, His cousin John the Baptist held a preaching ministry in the Judean desert, urging the nation of Israel to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2).

According to Biblical historians, the particular period that covered the life of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the early days of the Christians in Israel was considered as the most corrupt episode of religious Israel. For one thing, the office of high priest, which God prescribed for only one person, was held by several persons of unscrupulous and formidably terrifying political reputation. But the most despicable aspect of this controversy was that none of these pretenders were in any way, shape, or form descended from the house of Aaron, the brother of Moses.

Design Pics/Darren Greenwood/Corbis
In Exodus 28:1, God handpicked Aaron and his sons to minister before Him as priests. In the fortieth chapter, He commanded Moses to anoint Aaron first, then his sons, in their sacred garments, for the service. “Their anointing,” God said, “will be to a priesthood that will continue for all generations to come”  (verse 15). No other family in the Bible was awarded the office of priesthood
aside from Aaron’s. In the twenty-fifth chapter of Numbers, Aaron’s house gets blessed with a covenant of lasting priesthood, through the zealous act of Phinehas that turned the anger of God away from the Israelites. The priesthood recognized by the Mosaic culture, therefore, was the Aaronic priesthood. It was a mandate straight out of heaven shamelessly disregarded in the last fifty turbulent years before Jesus’ birth, when an aristocrat named Annas was appointed high priest in Jerusalem. The nation, probably tired of reacting against their foreign oppressors, tolerated the appointment further when Annas maneuvers to swap and share the office with his son Caiaphas and another relative to accomplish a unique multi-headed mutation of an originally Divine design. Very often in the gospels, the controversial plurality of “chief priests” is confirmed in many passages, beginning in Matthew 2:4 to John 19:21; then from Acts 4:23 to 26:12.

What was meant to be a single-headed leadership with the high priesthood on top turned into a religious council patterned like a Greek-style oligarchic supreme court. It was almost the four-headed, four-winged leopard monster in the Prophet Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7:6).

In 586 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army swept down into the Kingdom of Judah and sent the entire nation into exile. As prophesied by the holy men of Israel, the buildings dedicated as monuments of religion and political kingdom were torn down, including the Temple in Jerusalem built by kings David and Solomon. With the Temple gone, the aspect of Judaism anchored to it went into a period of dormancy. It was in this time when the exiles of God developed the portable system of worship in which the synagogue came into existence.

Photo: ©American Colony Photographers/National Geographic Society/Corbis

The synagogue is one of the symbols of the Jewish cultural and religious will to survive and flourish on foreign soil. Its system took over the Jewish religious culture when there was no Temple to fulfill God’s Mosaic mandate in rites and rituals. It took over the requirement of religious assembly as every community in different localities could conveniently set up one its own. The “rabbi,” or teacher, took over the role of the priest. And instead of sacrifices, prayers were offered up to God.

The synagogue form of worship was based on the message of the Prophets who called for the repentance of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and then of the Southern Kingdom of Judah until both succumbed to their respective judgments. In order for their message to be remembered, great men of God like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, Haggai, and others, left behind documentation, known to us today as books, which were gathered by the faithful who believed their words. Those who later realized the truth as they wept by the waters of Babylon learned from the prophetic books and letters that the people of God must set an example for the rest of the world to follow. This was therefore how the books of the Prophets were added to the Mosaic Pentateuch and provide the foundation of the synagogue way of life. It was the religious system that saved Judaism from deteriorating during the Babylonian captivity and especially in the 1,800-year Diaspora that lasted from 135 A.D. to May 14, 1948, when the Jewish people lived a life of exile after exile from one nation to another, from Western Europe to Eastern Europe and then back again to the West.

©Brooklyn Museum/Corbis
This new religious order went with a top council of elders of who were considered the wisest and most experienced men of all the tribes of Israel. This was later called the Sanhedrin, a leadership body that ideally possessed the functions of a senate and a supreme court. Traces of its framework goes back to Israel’s slave days in Egypt when there already existed “elders of Israel” whom God told Moses to gather and speak to regarding the people’s coming deliverance (Exodus 3:16). Moses and Aaron often gathered the elders when they needed something coursed to the people—probably a command from God (Deuteronomy 27:1), an instruction (Exodus 12:21), or a provision (17:6); to gather every single Israelite in worship (Leviticus 9:1); or to have fellowship with (18:12; 24:11). God consecrated this body of elders to assist Moses in governing His people:

“The Lord said to Moses: ‘Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone. So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again. However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp” (Numbers 11:16–17,24–26).

Either joining the membership or along with this body of elders were judges, “capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain” appointed as “officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:21).

This addition was suggested by Moses’ father-in-law Jethro when he once witnessed how Moses officiated specific disputes among the masses.

“Have them serve as judges for the people at all times,” said Jethro in verse 22, “but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” (verses 22 to 23).

The body of elders continued to function as designed alongside Joshua’s leadership (Joshua 8:33; 23:2). In the time of the Judges, they proved to be the most consistent human leadership that kept Israel a standing nation despite the sporadic raids and vulnerability to foreign domination. By holding faithful to their role of overseeing their respective tribes, they succeeded in buttressing national independence or tribal power until the rise of a Judge, such as Deborah and Barak, Gideon, and Samson. They served as the political and cultural adhesion that kept Israel from breaking apart. It was a job that wore out those in position during the turbulent uncertain period of the Judges so that by the time of the Prophet Samuel, they came to him as one man and finally asked for a king. Their demand in the Eighth Chapter of 1 Samuel bears the exasperation of the pressures that entailed their office during that time:

©Roger Wood/CORBIS
“Give us a king to lead us” (verse 6), who would “go out before us and fight our battles” (verse 20).

Right: Yeah, "a king to lead us, to go out before us and fight our battles," just like how the Egyptian monarch Ramses had gone out and humiliated the Nubians, as depicted in the relief, and how he shelved the Philistines in coastal Palestine to pester the Israelites from the time of the Judges till King David tamed them in his reign.  
Below: What the queen that sent the great Prophet Elijah running for his life might have looked like: Cybele, the Near-Eastern cult goddess that may have inspired the fertility deities of Classical literature.

©Araldo de Luca/CORBIS
This frustration is also seen in the Prophet Elijah when he took to flight when the godless Queen Jezebel threatened to take his life. The Book of 1 Kings stated that he “went a day’s journey into the desert” where he sat down under a tree and prayed that he might die (19:4). “All at once,” said the fifth verse, “an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’” Here, it may be safe to assume that God was pampering His prophet for “there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water” (verse 6). The same verse said that Elijah finished it all up “and then lay down again.” The angel came back a second time, again with food and drink for him, and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you” (verse 7). God understood what His prophet was going through, but forty days of running away may have crystallized his resolve to quit his calling:

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (verse 10, and also 14).

God graciously respected Elijah’s resignation. He gave the outgoing prophet his last mission: the anointing of two men who would be kings of their nations—Hazael of Aram and Jehu of the Northern Israelite Kingdom; and the commissioning of Elisha, his replacement.

And with the elders of Israel who clamored for a king to lead them, God complied by giving them what they wanted: a king and a reflection of their spiritual relationship with God.

For several hundred years after the Prophet Samuel the council stood by its king until the twin kingdoms of the Northern and the Southern were hurled into exile. But even in Babylon, it did not take long when the people of God were allowed a gradual measure of self-government, and it was at this chance when the council was revived. Without a Jewish king to advise, however, the council could only function in the religious and cultural, not in the political as the imperial authority they were under would prevent them from establishing their own king lest the people of God be independent.

©Macduff Everton/CORBIS

There is speculation regarding the people of God establishing their post-exilic king in a prince named Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:23), a descendant of the royal house of David. He was among the first wave of re-settlers in Jerusalem along with a Zadokite priest named Jeshua. Unfortunately, Zerubbabel never made it to the throne, making it only as far as “governor of Judah” (Haggai 1:1, 14; 2:2). Though the Bible is silent regarding this, some scholars hold that the people of Israel attempted to crown Zerrubbabel king. Learning about this, the Persian authorities arrested, tried, and executed the prince on the grounds of high treason. On the other hand, as the Persians had no objections to a high priest being king, they passed on the administration of Judah to Jeshua, the Zadokite priest. The prophecy spoken by the Prophet Zechariah thus came true:

“Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two” (Zechariah 6:11,13).

A high priest as king became the shape of things to come, for even in the days when the Greeks came Hellenizing the world which they later won from the Persians, they maintained sitting a high priest in charge of Judah. As with the Persians, the Greeks trusted the Jews to self-government because of the outstanding check-and-balance they maintained in their leadership through the function of the Sanhedrin. Any abuse of power by invoking Divine will was controlled by the Sanhedrin’s expertise on the Mosaic Law.

The Sanhedrin’s membership, as discussed earlier, came from the leading families, scholars, and intellectuals of Israel. It had in all seventy-one members; in the time of Moses, there were seventy. Twenty-three judges composed a committee judging cases involving capital offenses. A minimum of three members formed a body handling civil cases and lesser criminal offenses.

The rabbis of the Sanhedrin adhered to a legal system based on the dignity of man and individual equality before the law. The law, they believed, was a vehicle for justice; laws without justice were regarded as immoral (Max I. Dimont, Jews, God and History [Mentor: New York, 1994], p.84).

For the next five hundred years, the Sanhedrin played an unparalleled role in an age when the High Priest was ruler in the Jewish realm. Yet because of the counter-balancing presence of the Sanhedrin the theocratic aspect of the Jewish government represented High Priest would only remain a shell of an actual secular core (Ibid., p.72). Then one day after the Seleucid kings wrested power from the Ptolemaics in 198 B.C., a sudden crack in the theocratic shell would send the nation into a tailspin of misery and corruption.

[Aaaaaand...we ain't done! Happy New Year from Manila! I live in the noisiest part of the Metro at the noisiest time of the year, New Year's Eve. The fireworks were awesome; the firecrackers were deafening. Thank God the firecrackers are over! Happy New Year, folks—God bless us all!]

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Close Encounters of the Lethal Kind

© PoodlesRock/Corbis
It was a universal fear for the people of God during Old Testament times to behold the face of God. God warned Moses and the children of Israel about this in Exodus 19 where He commanded them to “Put limits for the people around the mountain” and telling them to “Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it” (verse 12). Moses then had to consecrate the people (verse 14), common man or priest (verse 22), and warn them not to “force their way through to see the Lord [or] many of them [will] perish” (verse 21). Yet to the people God designated to come up to Him—Aaron (verse 24); his sons Nadab and Abihu (Exodus 24:9); and the seventy elders of Israel (verse 10)—no harm came to them. Exodus 24:9 to 11 says:

“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.”
The incident was very different in 2 Samuel 6:6 to 7 when a man named Uzzah “reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled.” In this story, it has been some forty years that the Ark of God’s covenant had been absent from Jerusalem; how this came to be is told in 1 Samuel 4:1 to 11. After wreaking havoc in Philistine territory for seven months (1 Samuel 6:1), the Ark was set on an ox-drawn cart and sent to meander toward the border of Judah. The Israelites of the town of Beth Shemesh alerted their nearby brethren in the city of Kiriath-Jearim, some ten miles away, regarding the precise handling of the ark after seventy of the men of Beth Shemesh had been struck dead “because they had looked into the ark of the Lord” (verse 19). It turned out that the handling experience of those from the city only brought the ark as far as the home of a Levite named Abinadab in Kiriath-Jearim.'s__Death_1193_100
For almost half a century, the Ark was sheltered in Abinadab’s house. Abinadab’s son Eleazar was consecrated to guard it. When King David came into power, one of his first objectives was to bring the Ark into Jerusalem. In 2 Samuel 6:3, the king prepared a new cart and set the Ark upon it in the same manner the men of Kiriath-Jearim decades before managed to transport the
holy artifact. This is when it happened. Uzzah, one of Abinadab’s sons, who grew up considering the Ark as some trifling furniture that had been in his house all his childhood days, disrespectfully grabbed the Ark when the cart threatened to rock it off. The Bible says that, “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he
died there beside the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:7).

While it was prevalent in the Old Testament that looking at the face of God or being exposed to His Presence would kill a man, it seems in our examples that God was rather selective on those who would die and those who would not. Was it God playing favorites?
Concerning the Ark of the Covenant, it was a major rule that no one was allowed to touch it except for God’s authorized personnel. In the Third Chapter of Numbers, it was not the High Priest Aaron who was given charge of the Ark’s care but his tribe folk, the Levites; indicated in Deuteronomy 31:25, they were also the ones to officially convey the Ark when the entire Israelite nation headed out in the desert or when the fighters went out for war. Anyone else that touched the Ark was dead flesh.

© The Gallery Collection/Corbis
In the New Testament, the Presence of God traveled all around Israel preaching, teaching, and healing and nobody died; in fact, people lived with total pardon of their sins. This was because the Presence of God was housed in a specially designed device called a human body that facilitated Jesus to function harmoniously in the material world. And even after His resurrection when He rose with a body imperishable—that can suddenly materialize in a locked room (John 20:19,26), disappear into thin air (Luke 24:31), and get lifted up to the sky in plain sight (Acts 1:9)—no living human being was reported to have been struck down for too much of His Presence. Except for two people: the Apostle John in Revelation 1:17, whom we will deal with in a moment; and Saul of Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul.
There are those who say it was the "Light of God" that shown around Saul that got him blind. There are also those who don't sell out to this proposition. When God showed Himself in a burning bush, Moses noted that "though the bush was on fire it did not burn up" (Exodus 3:2), a phenomenon that prompted Moses to "go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up" (verse 3). It would make no sense, therefore, why God, who is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), would want to scar Saul of Tarsus with blindness when He showed Himself on the road to Damascus. It would make more sense to speculate that he lost his sight through an accident.

©2006 NewStar
In Acts 9:4, it says that "he fell to the ground." Some people believe that his blindness came as a result of him falling off his ride. It would be more logical, they say, that Saul hit his head on a rock and lost his sight, instead of saying that the Light of God blinded him. I heard this taught by a faith advocacy group that held that a Perfect God will never be the source of sickness, disease, or infirmity. Instead, they believe that all infirmity among His children can result out of the several factors: their own doing, the Devil—who certainly comes to "steal, kill and destroy" (John 10:10)—and natural laws. As a backgrounder, this faith group was once composed of members who had in their habit to blame God for every sickness or misfortune that befell them. To curb this attitude, their leaders ingeniously developed the sub-doctrine of an unscourging God, who merely allows misfortune to befall His people in times of obstinate disobedience instead of directly causing it. And I must admit, the doctrine has great merits. I agree that we live in a world where physical corruption affects the righteous and the unrighteous in the same way as the rain falls upon the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). The difference standing between the righteous and the unrighteous is God who rewards each man according to the good works he performs (Matthew 6:2,4,6,16,18; 10:41,42; 16:27; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:23,35; 23:41); and then, of course, there's the mercy of God that silences both the righteous and the unrighteous on whomever He wants to bless or not to bless (Exodus 9:16; Matthew 20:13 to 16; Romans 9:15 to 16, verse 18). I also believe that there is an ugly Devil running around the face of the earth casting dirty and serious tricks on the righteous and the unrighteous (1 Peter 5:8). And I also believe that you and I ain't perfect, that at some point of our lives we get to let go of good judgment and we just pay for it!

Ariel Skelley/CORBIS
For years I believed the proposition promoted by the particular faith group I mention above, of which also I was affiliated with. I myself have lost my sense of smell through a road accident ten years ago, when I got side-swiped by two motorbikes. Oftenly complaining about it, the doctor one day asked me, "Would you have rather lost your sight than your power to smell?"

Well, I still tell my 7-year-old daughter that the flowers smell great, based on what I remember of how they smell. Then I'd tell her that Daddy can no longer smell; does that stop her? No. She just drives that flower at my nose and says, "C'mon, Daddy, just try!"

So this personal experience reinforced my understanding of Saul's blindness as something acquired from falling off his horse. Or his carriage. And I don't mean he was drinking, in case some reader would seriously consider that! There are, however, some passages in the Bible that the Unscourging God doctrine comes diametrically in conflict with. One of them is in the Fourth Chapter of Exodus, where God stated:
"Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or dumb? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" 

This was said in the time of Moses' calling when God appeared to him in a burning bush. Here, Moses' hand turned leprous after plunging it into his cloak at God's command (Exodus 4:6 to 7). In addition to this, we can find great men in the Bible who were afflicted with impairment or great physical debility when bleached in the manifest Presence of God.

In Luke 1:20 we find the priest Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, being stricken dumb until the eighth day after his son's birth for doubting the message of the Angel Gabriel.

Muhamed Gaff/Corbis
In the Tenth Chapter of Daniel in the Old Testament, the Prophet Daniel fell extremely weak—"I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then...I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground" (Daniel 10:8,9).

The same was experienced by the Apostle John in Revelation 1:17 when, upon beholding Jesus in all His heavenly glory, "fell" at His feet "as though dead."

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The power that surrounds God's heavenly Presence has been said to be so strong that man's earthly body could not withstand being around Him. Later in Saul's life, by then his name changed to Paul, he wrote a study on the principle of why the human flesh falls infirmed before God. He said in 1 Corinthians 15:50, "...flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." If interpreted with the lens of 2 Corinthians 6:14 to 18, we begin to understand that the basic absence of fellowship between a corrupt flesh and the heavenly incorruptible Presence of God causes the first one to crumble before the latter:

© Roger Wood/CORBIS
"For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you" (2 Corinthians 6:14–16,17).

Like oil is to water, the latter recoils in the presence of the first one.

Writing in the context of the resurrection, Paul taught that there are "earthly bodies" and there are "heavenly bodies" (1 Corinthians 15:40). "But," he continues, "the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another." The earthly body of man, he further remarked in 2 Corinthians 4:16, is "wasting away"; it is a part of the visible world which is merely "temporary," as opposed to the "unseen" which is "eternal" (verse 18). The only way, therefore, for flesh and blood to withstand the subduing power of God's Presence is to be in fellowship with Him:

"For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory'" (1 Corinthians 15:53,54).

In other words, flesh and blood has to die, to "come out...and be separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17), to be clothed with the imperishable. Years before Paul, Jesus alluded to the same principle when He told of the parable of the wedding banquet, the "imperishable" of Paul here represented by His "wedding clothes":

"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth'" (Matthew 22:11–13).

©The Gallery Collection/CORBIS
The purpose of God's visitation upon the great men of the Bible, ironically however, had nothing to do with their deaths. He did not appear before Moses, for instance, and informed him that his time had come; or to Saul of Tarsus to tell him that it was payback time for the lives that he made suffer! He, instead, told the Prophet Daniel to "stand up" (Daniel 10:11); to "write" (Revelation 1:19) in commanding John; to "go and tell" (Isaiah 6:9) to the Prophet Isaiah; to "stand up on your feet" (Ezekiel 2:1), when He spoke to the Prophet Ezekiel. Each of the people mentioned here experienced the touch of God. It was as if God, through His touch, returned the life that was ebbing away from the prophets' physical bodies. It was as if God plugged a bit of His imperishable nature upon perishing flesh to save the life from hemorrhaging away.

©Alinari Archive/CORBIS
 With the Prophet Ezekiel the Spirit of God came into him and raised him to his feet (Ezekiel 2:2). The glorified Jesus came and placed His hand upon the Apostle John (Revelation 1:17). The Prophet Daniel received his strength back through the touch of the man he saw in a vision:

"So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision: I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell in to a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, 'Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength" (Daniel 10:8–10, 15–16, 18, 19).
This reminds us of the blood of the spotless lamb God prescribed the people of Israel to smear on the doorposts of their homes during the first Passover night, to spare them the death of the firstborn when the Angel of Death came prowling the land of Egypt.

In the New Testament things got a little different in that Jesus, through His Spirit, empowers His people to advance His purpose. In this principle, He appeared in a vision to the disciple Ananias and told him to head for the blinded Saul and restore his sight (Acts 9:10 to 12). Ananias obeyed, went to the house God singled out—“the house of Judas on Straight Street” (verse 11)—placed his hands on Saul, and “Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again” (verse 18).

Only a handful of men in the Bible had experienced the lethal close encounter with God. God, however, made sure all of them lived to tell about it, and in perfect health! Because of the fatal nature of the encounter, we may be tempted to question the integrity of the beholders—what was it about them that led God to bleach them alive in His Presence? Was it because of Isaiah’s unclean lips, or Saul’s misplaced zeal against the believers? If such were the case, what problem of character did the Prophet Daniel have that we can read about?
A close look into the accounts of these powerful manifestations reveals that they ultimately introduced a call in the beholder’s life, a call of monumental proportions. Moses, for example, was designated to lead the children of Israel out of their 430-year Egyptian bondage. The prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah were sent on a life-long and life-threatening mission of prophesying—almost preaching—God’s mercy for the rebellious Kingdom of Judah as its years neared judgment. The Prophet Daniel, on the other hand, was called to a ministry of prayer in that his people would face extraordinary ordeal and spiritual decline when he saw the events unfolding after the Jews return to Jerusalem until the birth of the Messiah. Then in the years after Jesus ascended into heaven, it was the Apostle John’s turn to do a Prophet Daniel when he witnessed the events from the apostolic years of Christianity to the return of the Messiah. Paul was given the task to surgically cleave the Church away from Judaism, in the same way as God used Moses to extract the Israelites away from Egypt, to facilitate the survival and growth of the Christians in a hostile world they would nonetheless be reaching out for Jesus.

©Alinari Archives/CORBIS
God had designated the people whom He believed were cut out for job. In Jeremiah 1:4, God said to the prophet:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

He also understood that it would not be easy for these individuals to accept the mere verbal assurance, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). Continuing the account of the Prophet Jeremiah, he replied: “Ah, Sovereign Lord…I do not know how to speak; I am only a child” (verse 6). It can be recalled that even the Prophet Moses made a somewhat similar reply in his inclination to dodge his calling:

“O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 3:10).

©Elio Ciol/Corbis
We know what God’s response to Moses was. At least with Jeremiah, there was not so much display of anger, though the reader today can imagine some smoke rising when God answered, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:7 to 8).

Donatello's Habakkuk

For this reason, He unclothes Himself in all His awesome glory to show His chosen who is really the one to fear. Jesus pointed this out in Matthew 10:28 where He taught:

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

©PBNJ Productions/Blend Images/Corbis
To some of His beholders, like the Prophet Daniel and the Apostle John, He allowed them to experience what it was like to be close to being dead probably to remove their fear of death. It can be recalled that the prophet had been through a brush with death when he was thrown into the lion’s den (Daniel 6:16), an experience which, though ending in God’s supernatural deliverance, had sent unforgettable shivers up and down his spine. The Apostle John, some time in the span of 60 to 96 A.D., was known to have survived execution and exiled to the isle of Patmos. For such experiences, God may have found it necessary to reach out to them with His touch and comfort the terror away from their souls. It might be in this context that prompted how the glorified Jesus introduced Himself to His former disciple:

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17 to 18).

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The Apostle John was afraid and the Prophet Daniel could not stop trembling that it took several times for the man in his vision to touch him and calm him down, gradually.

God had it in His agenda of meeting to comfort His beholders with His touch perhaps to make it clear that He wished no death to come to them. When God purposed to show Himself a second time to Moses, He chose to cover His prophet’s eyes with His hand, and not with any other device like a dark cloud or some heavenly blanket, to keep Moses’ gaze away from His holy face lest he dies.

“And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you…. But…you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33: 19,20,22).

With Paul, God’s agenda did not change. After striking him with blindness, the Bible showed a man headed for death. In Acts 9:9, it stated that “For three days, he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” In those three days, God informed Ananias that Saul was praying and having a vision of a man named Ananias placing his hands on him to restore his sight (verse 11). When the obedient Ananias came to the exact location God had given him, he laid his hands on Saul as he said these words:

“Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (verse 17).

It was almost similar to when the risen Jesus visited His disciples and “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). It was the New Testament way of touching those who came to God. With “Brother Saul,” something like scales fell from his eyes immediately, and he could see again (Acts 9:18). And just like the Prophet Daniel gradually felt his vigor restored, Saul ate and “regained his strength” (Ibid.).

[Hey, I didn't know it would go this long! But I'm glad it did! Another thing: MERRY CHRISTMAS! Manila time—well, at least it's 12:26 am on my PC. MERRY CHRISTMAS! Next up: a longer one! MERRY CHRISTMAS!]

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Heavenlies

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In our past study we learned that the elements of both the natural and the spiritual were originally arranged to occupy one sphere. From the start, one was meant to be part of the other, and that is the way we still see it today. Spirit beings crossing over were not uncommon. God came down from His holy mountain in the cool of the day and spent time with Adam and the rest of His creation. Angels likewise were welcome to come across and intimately savor the beauty of God's creation, even to mingle with God incarnate likeness. We have also seen the probability that God's ethereal abobe of heaven may not really have been that semi-transparent floating city in the sky that we common picture after modern media's rendition, but as a very high mountain peak way above the clouds as several verses in the Bible support. From the pinnacle, God views His creation; from that point, He beholds the stars which the ancients believed then were attached to the clouds. So when Lucifer aspired to raise himself "above the stars of God" (Isaiah 14:13), there was no doubt he was planning to topple God from the highest point of the sacred mount of heaven, or "the mount of assembly." At this point we take off to venture into a world just below heaven but immediately right above the earth; a world represented by the clouds, known to some as the gateway to heaven. It is called the Heavenlies.

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The modern notion about two worlds invisible to yet intersecting each other is principally based on the corruption of sin that God’s presence can and ever will not endure. This was how the Spirit of God drew away from man “for they are only mortal flesh” (Genesis 6:3, New Living Translation), which if translated loosely means, “because they have chosen the path of corruption.” Yet even now in earth's corrupted state, the world continues to be a home for spirits and a crossroad of visiting spirits good and malevolent. And among these spirits of the latter type, one seized the heavenlies and turn it into his throne room.

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In a prophetic narrative given by Ezekiel, this Guardian Cherub was in Eden (Ezekiel 28:13), adorned with “every precious stone,” his “settings and mountings were made of gold.” But “wickedness was found” (verse 15) in this “model of perfection” (verse 12). He filled his heart with rebellion and sought to overthrow God from His throne (Isaiah 14:13), raise himself above the other angels of heaven (Ibid.). The attempt failed miserably and, according to the Prophet Ezekiel, the Guardian Cherub was cast to the earth (Ezekiel 28:17), out of his heavenly position forever. Despite his fallen state, this spiritual being maintained his access traversing the physical sphere. In fact, he later successfully established a virtually permanent residence on the planet shortly after his fall. From then on, he had been able to found certain bases of his sinister operation in specific regions in the globe. Pergamum, for example, was singled out in the Bible to be one of these places (Revelation 2:13).

Though this angel failed in his ambition to overthrow God out of heaven, he settled for the next best thing of effectively wresting away from man his God-given authority to rule “over all the earth” (Genesis 1:26). In Adam’s failure to secure his Divine commission, the entire natural sphere was corrupted and the title of prince of the earth transferred from him to the Guardian Cherub (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). Out this ancient right did the Cherub derive his audacity to offer Jesus Christ “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if He but just bow down and worship him (Matthew 4:9).

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Because of this change of management in the natural world, the exchange of love, goodwill, wisdom, and joy between the spheres was vexed. What was like a thick cloud of sweet-smelling incense of devotion rising from man to heaven thinned into a faint mist, almost undetectable; and instead the stench of rebellion and corruption crept upward and saturated the pure white clouds of the sky. If heaven shut its windows in contempt on what was happening on the natural sphere, the former
Guardian Cherub whose name he changed to Satan, or “slanderer,” in his undying dream to make himself “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14), seized the skies and made them his own heaven, just like the Most High.

The Heavenlies

It can be said that the skies became Satan’s fake heaven. Was there in any way a dethronement of Godly authority? Here is what happened.

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Satan, then known as Lucifer, the “morning star, son of the dawn” (Isaiah 14:12), learned a humiliating lesson about messing with the Most High. In Ezekiel 28:17 to 18, he was hurled to the earth, along with a third of the angelic host which made its choice of believing his delusion of becoming “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). In their fallen state, however, this angel of ambition somehow found his wish granted. According to his strategy in Isaiah 14, he would first “ascend to heaven” (verse 13) which he did, for a brief moment. Next, he would “raise [his] throne above the stars of God” (Ibid.) which, as we have mentioned, became a fact. In Revelation 12, John the Revelator noted “an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his head” (verse 3) that he identified as “the devil or Satan”(verse 9), with this historical detail: “His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth” (verse 4). In the Bible, angels were often referred to as stars. With this fallen third, Satan’s wish to rise “above the stars” was fulfilled.

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Then in the fourteenth verse of Isaiah 14, he determined to “ascend above the tops of the clouds” to “make [himself] like the Most High.” According to the Bible, God Most High sits enthroned in a place called heaven, spiritually located “above the tops of the clouds.” The psalmist of Psalm 113 was very specific when he pinpointed God’s throne “above the heavens” (verse 4) or “above the sky,” even describing how He “stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth” (verse 6). Two chapters ahead in Psalm 115:16, King David declares: “The highest heavens belong to the Lord.” With God officially and undisputedly owning heaven, Satan, being regurgitated from his position and his holy place, had to settle for the next best thing: the clouds.

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The earth has its imitation of heaven. Since ancient days, man’s earliest understanding of heaven was aided by the sight of the sky. Its vast stretch and inaccessible height was believed to have hidden a riddle of grandeur and of goodness that touched the earth and appreciated his existence. The rain, for instance, touches the ground and cools his world; brings the growing green to life; and floods the empty trenches with that which revitalizes flesh and blood. Because of this, mankind has learned to spiritually expect a wealth of good things from the sky called miracles, pleasant things of grace that benefited his chances to survive a brutal earth. This gratitude seems to be expressed in James 1:17 where the writer cited, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights….” Then as soon as the heavenly miracles were began to be seen as gifts, his curiosity shifted to this heavenly giver.

The Greek god Uranus is an example of the ancient peoples' appreciation and attempt to understand the sky by personifying it.

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The realm of the clouds was a very fertile dimension to establish domination. Being the most transcendent component of the natural sphere, whoever controlled it has conquered the earth, in spite of a higher heaven. In fact, the sky’s situation proved vitally strategic as it perfectly lay sandwiched between heaven and earth. This meant total control of anything exchanged between the natural and the supernatural. Satan seized this high region and remodeled it into a stronghold, a bastion to continue his campaign of defiance against God whom he swore to overthrow; against man who was favored with the authority to rule an entire creation; and against the earth, the world that has now served as his dead end. Unlike the radiant and festive atmosphere of heaven, the skies of the natural world were remote, silent, and lonely; yet it provided the fallen angels a convenient mock-up of the indigenous abode that they have lost in their unfaithfulness. This enthronement in the high place of the earth garnered Satan the title “ruler of the kingdom of the air,” as coined by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:2, and his minions, “thrones…powers…rulers…authorities” (Colossians 1:16), “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Mayan Serpent ©Boris Vallejo 1983
The Apostle Paul made numerous references to the spiritual skies ruled by the demons calling it the “heavenly realms” or the “heavenly places” (mostly in the King James Version). It was a realm the ancients perceived as bustling with supernatural activity and conflict against the heaven of God, the result of which manifested in the natural either as a triumph for good, righteousness, and justice, or as a hostile usurpation of wickedness and perversion. The most vivid account of this ethereal struggle can be seen in the tenth chapter of Daniel, featuring an angel of God waylaid and overpowered by a demon named the “prince of the Persian kingdom” (verse 13):

“Then he [the angel] continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. The Michael, on of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia’” (verses 12 to 14).

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The story introduced several figures of the spirit realm. Besides the angelic messenger, there was a prince (or principality, as used in Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 2:10) who, apparently by his name, held a key sway over the affairs of the Persian kingdom; another divinity called the “king of Persia”; and the archangel Michael who was known to guard the people of Israel (12:1). Moving on to the twentieth verse, the angel tells the Prophet Daniel that his journey back to heaven will entail another fight with the prince of Persia, the result of which will bear a greater significance than an angel’s unhassled trip back home: the entrance of another spiritual official known as the prince of Greece (10:20). Daniel’s life at this period was at a twilight, and so was the Persian kingdom. He had seen how Jerusalem fell into Babylonian hands. Later, he witnessed the Persian invasion of the Babylonian Empire. All of these events the Prophet had lived through were prophesied before they occurred. This means that they were decided by colliding forces in the heavenlies long before their appointed time of fulfillment. Now a new prince from the west was about to enter the imperial race, as spoken to him by God’s angel. Daniel never lived to see the very day this prince stepped in, but in 323 B.C. the Macedonian Alexander the Great rose to power and proved to be the goat of Daniel 8:5.

The question whether battle was the only way of deciding things in the heavenlies seems to be a great big yes. It was through battle that Lucifer attempted to secure his ambition and it was through battle that he lost his status as God’s anointed status, along with the third of the angels he deceived:

“And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan…was hurled down to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12:7 to 9).

In Judges 5:20, the Prophetess Deborah sang of how “from the heavens the stars fought…against Sisera,” the mighty Canaanite general that fell by the prowess of the Hebrew judge Barak and finally by the cunning hand of the woman Jael.

After Lucifer failed to secure his place in heaven, the only purpose for him left to give meaning to his worthless existence was to battle every move of God that originates out of heaven. The ancient believers may have known this so well that it was in this respect in which they found a very special aspect of God's omnipresence. If all God's activity originated out of heaven, they might have believed, then not all what God had intended came to fruition in that the malevolent layer of the heavenlies may have filtered the rising and descending traffic of prayers and bequests between God and His earthly believers. What was therefore needed was to establish multiple and separate points of the Divine spiritual exchange as an alternative to the first Godly base just above the demon-populated heavenlies. Through God's unique attribute of omnipresence, the intervening power of the heavenlies was rendered irrelevant, obsolete.

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So based on His omnipresence, God established multiple locations where prayers can be processed into answers. In Psalm 139:8, King David sang of this principle: "If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there." Before this, in Psalm 135:6, he declared, "The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths." So David cited several locations where God's prayer-processing branch offices could be found, other than from His original base: the earth, the seas, and the depths. In Psalm 95:4, he even saw "In his hand...the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks [which] belong to him." So wherever man was he can be sure God was there to listen to him, hear him praise Him, fill his needs, and bless him with success.

Jesus later built further on God's omnipresence: "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).

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Solomon, in his wisdom, contemplated on the logic of localizing God into a Temple in Jerusalem other than heaven for not even "the heavens...the highest heavens" could contain Him (1 Kings 8:27, 2 Chronicles 2:6, 2 Chronicles 6:18). This meant that wherever man spun his head, there was God to meet him! And process his requests! And have fellowship with him! And have a good time with him!

Even before the time of the father and son kings, God was way ahead in demonstrating His anti-localization policy and strategy to phase out the influence of the heavenlies. During the time of Moses, God made good His expressed intention dwell among His people once they hit the sands of freedom. He ordered a sanctuary made for Him so that He may dwell among them (Exodus 25:8). In Exodus 29:45, God was full of anticipation when He said, "Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God." In Exodus 29:46, we see in His own words the very reason why He imposed the freedom of Israel from Egyptian bondage:

"They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God."

In the fifteenth chapter of Exodus, Moses and his sister Mirriam sang how God, "By the power of [His] arm" (verse 16), would bring the Israelites "in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established" (verse 17).

And God did physically in all His glory descended upon the earth and dwelled in a tent pitched in the middle of all the tribes of Israel (Exodus 40:34–36, Numbers 9:15–17, 2 Samuel 7:2), made by human hands but under the specific guidelines of His Spirit (Exodus 25:9,33:9–11, 39:32). Here, Moses and Aaron the High Priest would meet God and carry out an active conversation (Numbers 7:89) where instructions, consecrations into office (Numbers 11:16–17), and reprimands (Numbers 12:4–9) were carried out—without the intervention of any ageny from the heavenlies.

But the most outstanding proof of God's sincere and determined mission to rid the barrier of the heavenlies getting between Him and His people was the incarnation of Jesus Christ, His Son. For thirty-three years, by the Holy Spirit and power, the Son of God "went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil" (Acts 10:38), honest-to-goodness acts of God unfiltered by any ghost of the heavenly realm. The three and a half years of His ministry of "doing good" was a festival of deliverance and miracles imparted directly from the hand of God to the person who precisely asked for it. It was like God was making sure the person making the request got what he needed.

And before Jesus ascended into the right hand of the Father, He promised "another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16–17), the Holy Spirit. If Jesus came to teach, so the Spirit would also "teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (verse 26), "guide you into all truth" (15:13), as well as "bring glory" to Jesus "by taking from what is mine and making it known to you" (verse 14). And if Jesus came to heal the sick and raise the dead, likewise, the Spirit will perform the same good deed, as St. Paul explained in Romans 8:11:

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"And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you."

El Greco's interpretation of the unforgettable day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended in the form of "tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them" (Acts 2:3), them being the believers holed up in the Upper Room. 

Yet aside from the sending the Holy Spirit after Him to safeguard the believers, Jesus' work did not end after He lifted His feet from the earth when He ascended to heaven. In the Book of Hebrews, the writer stated that Jesus our High Priest (4:14) and "mediator of a new covenant" (9:15) entered a sanctuary not made by human hands such as the Tabernacle built by Moses or the Temple created by David and Solomon, both of which the writer called "copies of the heavenly things" (9:23), and cleansed the original and heavenly Most Holy Place with His own blood (verse 12–14). Cleanse it from what? If this Most Holy Place was in heaven, why did He need to cleanse it with His blood? Did anybody sin in heaven? Remember the angelic rebellion, which resulted in the takeover of the heavenlies. When Jesus ascended to the Father, His quest by then was to retake the heavenlies from the enemy. In Colossians 2:15, the Apostle Paul explained how Jesus "disarmed the powers and authorities" and made a "public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in him."

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According to the Scriptures, Jesus "was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9). It may have been that the demons of the realm attempted to overwhelm the ascending Christ and give Him a part two of the cross; or it may have been His momentous stopover to execute the next part of His plan and cleanse the heavenlies once and for all.

The Apostle Paul used an analogy from the victory march held by a conquering Roman Caesar who entered the Imperial capital and chained behind him were the humiliated throng of vanquished foes paraded on the streets of the city for all Romans to see and further humiliate as well. In this fashion, Jesus, risen in power, invaded the heavenlies corralled its denizens and marched them all over the universe in the sight of the holy host of heaven to humiliate. What Jesus did next seized all demondom by surprise: He took over the heavenlies. In Ephesians 1:21, it is said that Jesus took His seat at the right hand of God—we all know this, but what we don't is that the "right hand of God" is—"in the heavenly realms." So what was once a treacherous layer of the spiritual atmosphere which for a long period stood for frustrating the hand of God in blessing His people, had finally become an extension of heaven through Jesus Christ who had finally taken over and open its gates to pour out "every spiritual blessing" in His name (Ephesians 1:3). In this same place will His saints be seated, beside Him, as stated in 2:6:

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"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...."

The generations that followed Adam and Eve never knew God as well as their First Parents, aside from an exempt few, because of the incessant intrusion and meddling made by the heavenlies to frustrate the dynamic relationship between man and God. Through the ages, the devil and his horde stood in the middle of both heaven and earth and did their insidious best to block prayers rising from believers and arrest the gifts from God descending to His people. These enemies hidden in the clouds also deceived believers by frequently visiting man through various means seducing away their faith as they posed as the One True God. This was the reason for the unanswered prayers, the poverty, the hopelessness, the death of the innocent. One great reason for the widespread destruction and Satanic activity before and during the time of Christ was due to the demonic control of the heavenlies. As an example, ever notice how rampant demonic possession was during the time of Jesus that every now and then we read of a demoniac being delivered from the dark side?

The demonic control of the heavenlies did not entirely render God impotent until Jesus came along. In fact, great miracles and promises were imparted during Old Testament times that are still being upheld in our days as without equal in feat. God continued to speak through His prophets, making His promises, approvals, disapprovals, warnings, and judgments known. Hebrews 1:1 states that God spoke through the prophets "in various ways"; this means that God never found it a problem delivering to man His intentions even when it passed through the thickest concentration of heavenly demons in the air. That was when He did it Himself. But when He sent a messenger to do it, there was a problem, like in Daniel 10:12–14 when the angel God sent with the answer to the prophet's prayer was detained "twenty-one days" in the heavenlies until the Archangel Michael arrived to overpower the ruling Prince of Persia and send the imprisoned angel free to finally accomplish his task. In Old Testament times, we read of demons presenting themselves before the LORD along with all the holy angels of heaven, as in Job 1:6 and 2:1; in 1 Kings 22:21, a lying spirit—a spirit of the heavenlies—appeared before God and volunteered to confuse the prophets of Ahab to lead this Godless king to his death. During those times, the demons, though no longer sharing a part in God's presence seemed to just casually stroll back into the pearly gates and hang out with the guys up there! The access may have been provided by the heavenlies in which its role may have had something to do with being a gate (Matthew 7:13–14), a door (Luke 13:24), or a "narrow road" to heaven (Matthew 7:14). But when Jesus came, their happy days abruptly came to a crashing end. Revelation 12:8–9 tells the story as seen by John the Revelator:

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"But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him."

Now it does appear that John was recounting the old story of how Satan fell from heaven on his bid to rise "above the stars of God." But the following verses suddenly speak about the authority of the Messiah:

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"Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony" (verses 10 and 11).

The Apostle John may have been referring to the past, but after the ninth verse his focus had raced several thousands of years later when Jesus, after His resurrection, came along and kicked down heavenly doors, hammering the plain reality to the rebel angels that angels were not meant to rule, not in the heavenlies, not in heaven, not elsewhere! Not even in hell. Being kicked out of their cool places in the heavenlies, the demons came crashing upon the earth, according to Revelation 12:12:  

"Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."

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Jesus grabbed this piece of authority Adam surrendered to Satan when he sinned the sin of disobedience and gave substance to His words in Matthew 28:18, "Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.'" And them disenfranchised demons sprawled to the earth like a bunch of homeless rats scurrying here and there finding a place to hide their scared little heads because the One with the "iron scepter" is in town and here to stay, eager to "dash" His foes "like pieces of pottery" (Revelation 2:27).  This is why when we command a demon to relinquish its grip upon its possessed, it has no choice but to obey in Jesus' name. This is why the Apostle Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that "no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ. And so through him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God." Because Jesus had finally taken over the heavenlies—that vast symbol of God's authority, ubiquitously and eternally looking down upon the earth without slumber or sleep—He was able to assure the signs enumerated in Mark 16:17–18 to anyone who believes in His name:

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"they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

And now that Jesus sits enthroned in the heavenlies, what He said in John 14:6 may be understood in this "heavenly" light: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." After the age of the ruling spirits, it is just an encouragement to know that every prayer, every praise, every inquiry, and even every complaint no longer passes through a demonic filter, but through the Son of God Himself! And we can be sure whatever we send to God in faith gets sent to Him fast, whole, and easy. In another verse, Jesus taught about some "narrow gate" (Matthew 7:13 and 14) which anyone aspiring to enter eternal life must enter. In quite the same analogy presented in Luke 13:24, He speaks about a "narrow door." Again, Jesus seemed to speak about His second mission to retake the heavenlies and make it the gate of heaven as it was truly meant to be.

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[Whew! Good stuff! And there's gonna be more, so be here!]