I wanted to take a slight detour today to shine a light on a subject that needs some clarification. Unless you're one who delights [as I do] in studying the etymology of the Bible, then what I'm writing about today may have escaped you. I love researching the origin of words in the Bible and the historical understanding of them. As happens quite often, I have found that our 21st Century Greek mindset can sometimes assign a broad definition to a word, when in fact, taken in context, the word can render a completely different awareness of the nature of God. So forgive me if I take you on what is a typical journey for me.
I started my research while preparing for a Bible study lesson with my mother-in-law. We are in the Book of Matthew, and what I think is probably one of the most fascinating and difficult parables is the Parable of the Wedding [or Marriage] Feast. Jesus begins by saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
It is not too difficult to discern that "the king" in the parable is God, the Father, who is giving a wedding feast for His "son" (Jesus), and sends His "servants" (the prophets) to call "those who were invited" (the Jews) to the feast. But when they refused the invitation and then mistreated and killed His prophets, God became angry, and the Bible says "He sent His troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city".
Now, I know that is a difficult passage to accept ... God sends His "troops" to murder and burn the city of the Jews, which must rightfully be interpreted as Jerusalem. Can this be true? Does God send "troops" against His own people? We know that the parable goes on to tell us that God then sends more prophets to invite guests who had not been previously invited, which would be the Gentiles [and includes us]. But I want to concentrate on that image of an angry God who sent His "troops" against His own. Is it just a story, or is it found in history? And does God have an army other than the Heavenly Host of angels that we are familiar with?
First of all, I looked at various versions of this parable and found that the word "troops" is used here in the English Standard Version (ESV); "soldiers" is used in the Amplified Version (AMP); and "armies" is used in the King James Version (KJV). So, obviously this is a military image Jesus is painting for us, and He doesn't hide the fact that the Father was angry. And we can't ignore that this picture is being presented in the New Testament, where the usual interpretation of God's army is the "Heavenly Host"; an army of angels. Now, can we also agree that this angelic army [or "host"] does the Father's bidding and is organized for war? But our typical comprehension is that God's host goes to war against Satan and his army. So, again, is this parable of God bringing an army against His own people borne out in history?
Well, in 721 BC, God used the Assyrians to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and took all the tribes into captivity, except for the southern kingdom of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. In 586 BC, God used Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem and take Judah into captivity in Babylon. They are in captivity for 70 years in Babylon until King Cyrus lets them return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. And after the Jews reject Jesus as their Messiah and He is crucified, God sends the Roman troops to Jerusalem, once again destroying and burning the Temple in 70 AD.
The parable represents a disobedient and rebellious people who time and again turn their backs on God, and it results in a severe reprimand. God is obviously using nations as His disciplinarian "army". Is this a theme found only in the Old Testament and do we find any evidence that God can [and still will] choose this form of disciplining His sons and daughters? We can certainly find several such warnings in the Old Testament before God sent His Son to deliver us. In Deuteronomy 28:47-48, God shares what the curses for disobedience can look like: Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things [He has given you], therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.
In Jeremiah 30:8, we find God promising restoration from His discipline: And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. Yet, in verse 11, He still makes it clear that disobedience comes with a price: For I am with you to save you, declares the Lord; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished.
I don't know about you, but both those passages read as if they could have been spoken over our nation. And here's where it gets really interesting ... Joel, Chapter 2, is well-known as "The Day of the Lord", and it tells of a mighty army who charges and scales walls. They do not swerve from their paths; they burst through the weapons and are not halted. I have heard modern-day Christians described as this "Joel 2 Army", and that they represent a return to the Lord, walking out the lifestyle portrayed in Joel 2:12–17 of fasting and praying. But I believe that is a misunderstanding of the overall context of the entire chapter. I believe this Chapter again portrays the nature of God to destroy [in His sovereignty].
Joel 2:11 tells us that He will come with His heavenly army to once and for all destroy the nations loyal to Satan's evil agenda: The Lord utters His voice before His army, for His camp is exceedingly great; He who executes His word is powerful. For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it? And then, in verse 25, He makes a promise to the children of Zion, while letting them know He was the source of their discipline: "I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, My great army, which I sent among you."
So, we have plenty of examples of God using nations as His disciplinary troops against a rebellious member of His family. And lest you think all that discipline is only reserved for the Old Testament or the end of the Great Tribulation, let's take a look at another familiar passage, but from the perspective of the Father's discipline. In Roman's 13:1-4, Paul reminds us that God is still able to send "rulers" and "authorities" to avenge His demand for obedience and righteousness. And, as history shows us, these authorities don't necessarily represent Godliness. They might be set over us to discipline us for our rebellious ways. [That should make every one of us get on our knees and pray!] Here is Paul's warning: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.
We would do well to remind ourselves that God is Immutable; unchanging over time, or unable to change. He is the same God [with the same nature] as presented in the parable of the Wedding Feast; in Deuteronomy; in Jeremiah, and in Joel. Mind you, this is not His full nature, but one that has been "shoved out of sight", if you will, in what the Church likes to call this "Age of Grace". If we are going to see Him in His fullness, then we need to see all that He is ... a God who is jealous of those He has called and is not afraid to discipline them when necessary; and a God who will soon settle scores -- inflicting His wrath on the Evil in the world by telling His Son to "mount up" with all of His Heavenly army and deliver His Justice. As we come ever nearer to our national election, who will God assign to rule over us? Are we deserving of a righteous ruler? Will God's servant be for our good, or to avenge God for our rebelliousness? Will He restore us, or send us into destruction and captivity? Pray like you've never prayed before and join me in crying, "Come, Lord Jesus, Come!"
Revelation 3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.