Sunday, January 31, 2010

ZION: The New Testament (Matthew to Revelation)

THE NEW TESTAMENT (Matthew to Revelation)

It is worthy of note that in all the books of the New Testament we have a total of only seven references to the word Zion. Two of those are quotations of Isaiah's and Zechariah's prophecies about the Messiah who will come sitting on an ass. (See Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9).  As we have mentioned already, when the word appears in the text it is rendered "Sion," the Greek translation of Zion.

JST Matthew 21:3-5

These verses are the fulfillment of the aforementioned prophecies about the Messiah. Think of its significance. Jehovah, the unembodied spirit of Christ in his role as the God of the Old Testament, inspires his prophets to write the prophecy, then he fulfills it when he comes in mortality. The multitudes turned out during the Passover celebration to hail Jesus Christ as the Messiah, to literally fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was an honor accorded only to kings and conquerors, yet less than a week later he was crucified by evil conspirators then resurrected as he had prophesied to complete the atonement.

All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,
Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy king cometh unto thee, and he is meek, and he is sitting upon an ass, and a colt, the foal of an ass.
And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them; and brought the colt, and put on it their clothes; and Jesus took the colt and sat thereon; and they followed him.

John 12:15

This is John's account of the same fulfillment:

Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt.

Romans 9:31-33

Much could be said by way of commentary concerning the central message of Paul's letter to the Romans. (See the author's earlier post, "The Impossible Gospel of Jesus Christ," for example). Let this much suffice --  Paul was writing to members of the church at Rome, hoping to persuade them that their dead works of righteousness were not sufficient for salvation. He was pointing out the necessity of faith in their Savior's redemptive grace. Uninformed but sincere "born again Christians" today contend they are saved by grace only, based upon Paul's assertions that works are not sufficient to save. Properly understood, the doctrine of grace and works is a companionship that works together like opposing blades of a pair of scissors, not a debate between conflicting doctrines. Good works are the natural outgrowth of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Good works without the Spirit to guide and direct cannot save, neither can empty professions of faith that do not grow into good works. Both are essential, and one without the other voids salvation. Faith comes first, "lest any man should boast" of his good works, then come the works growing out of companionship with the Holy Ghost.

Many members of the Church today think that their multitudinous good works as set forth in endless checklists and goals (real or imagined) will save them, forgetting the necessity of demonstrating their faith by walking by the light of the Holy Ghost. Some well-meaning leaders in the Church at the local levels seem to be trying to take the place of the Holy Ghost in our lives by prescribing a cradle-to-grave formula for salvation that is really only a contemporary hedging up of the path of salvation similar to the Pharisaical tradition Christ so openly condemned. Some modern-day saints by putting their works first, hoping thereby to somehow prove themselves worthy of the grace of God or the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, may be even more offensive than the smooth-faced hypocrites who assert they are saved by grace alone. Thinking we must first prove to be worthy of Christ’s grace is a little bit like trying to cure yourself of cancer before you go to see the doctor. It’s silly and Christ as the Great Physician is the only one who has the cure.

The message of Paul in Romans, like all timeless scripture, is a valuable record for us today. If we could only come to agreement on this fundamental doctrine with the rest of the Christian world, the Church would reap an incredible harvest of converts. Nominal “Christians” are offended by our emphasis on works, and we are so uncertain of the doctrine of grace that it is seldom even mentioned in our meetings.

Lest we digress too far, this passage is Paul's caution to those who had joined the church at Rome, having accepted baptism after living the law of Moses. He warns that living the law is always a stumblingblock for faith in Christ if the law becomes the object of faith. Faith in the institution of Judaism, rather than faith in the Messiah, is precisely the reason the Jews were the instrument of Christ's death on Calvary's cross. Let us beware and take care, lest the same folly overtake us in our day.

But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. (See Isaiah 8:14).

JST Romans 11:25-27

Paul explains that the blindness and callousness of the Jews because of their steadfastness in holding to the law of Moses will prevail until the fullness of the Gentiles is come. That we are living at the end of the times of the Gentiles should be obvious now that the fullness of priesthood blessings is available to all God's children without restriction. The JST makes a slight change in verse 26 – then replaces so.

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.
And then all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

Hebrews 12:22-29

Paul unfolds to our view in these verses the glories of the exalted saints who comprise the church of the Firstborn. (See D&C 76:50-70; 92-95).  In preceding verses he speaks of Moses as the type and shadow for all those who seek to see God, and cautions against being an "Esau," one who for a morsel of meat fornicates with false gods and sells his birthright as a son of God eternally. He also speaks of the Lord shaking down Babylon, removing those things which are shaken so the things that cannot be shaken will remain. Again, the theme of Babylon's ultimate demise is a common one with all the prophets. Despite the warnings, however, it's so hard not to love Babylon's carnal comforts.

But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect (see TPJS, 325, where Joseph Smith teaches that the spirits of just men are made ministering servants to those who are sealed up unto eternal life. He says these matters of revelation may be known only by answer to prayer),
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
For our God is a consuming fire.

JST 1 Peter 2:6-9

Peter explains that Christ is the chief cornerstone in Zion, and he is the stone the unbelievers always reject in building their eternal soul while here in mortality. We who have the fullness of the gospel must accept him as our Redeemer, and build upon the rock of our salvation. Joseph Smith made alterations in these verses in the JST.

Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.
Unto you therefore who believe, he is precious; but unto them who are disobedient, who stumble at the word, through disobedience, whereunto they were appointed, a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.
For the stone which the builders disallowed, is become the head of the corner.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (See also Exodus 19:1-6 and Deuteronomy 7:6).

Revelation 14:1

John sees the culmination of events leading to the Savior's appearance on mount Zion with the 144,000 to whom he makes earlier reference in Revelation 7.

And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.  (For more detail on the 144,000 see D&C 77:10-11).

It is satisfying to conclude our scriptural tour of Zion through the Bible on this significant and timely subject, but we need to expand the topic further to expand and deepen our awareness of how these high priests relate to our subject matter of Zion.

The writings and sermons of the Prophet Joseph Smith are replete with his admonitions and encouragement for us to be included among that great priesthood host of 144,000, and he links the admonition to become one of this vast priesthood host to “making our calling and election sure.” He said:

There will be 144,000 saviors on Mount Zion, and with them an innumerable host that no man can number. Oh! I beseech you to go forward, go forward and make your calling and your election sure. . . (TPJS, 366).

Let us now enquire as to our current understanding about the one hundred forty-four thousand high priests, twelve thousand from each tribe of Israel. There is a symbol here of completeness, since 144,000 is a multiple of 12, a symbol as a number that represents complete, whole or finished.  Which tribes will literally be involved? What does it mean that they are “sealed?” What does it mean to have “his Father’s named written in their forehead?” How are these high priests related to the inheritance of lands promised to Abraham? What is the timing of this event in relation to their initial sealing as revealed in Revelation 7? The answers to these and other questions will be considered before moving on.

Let it be remembered that Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel, had four wives and twelve sons. (See Genesis 29:28-35; 30:1-24). He was the covenant son of Isaac, who was the covenant son of Abraham. The family also had a daughter (a fact seldom referred to) whose name was Dinah. The wives of Jacob are listed in their marriage order below, along with each of the children and their respective birth orders. The two bolded sons listed in red, Reuben and Joseph represent the transfer of  the birthright covenant blessings:

#1 Leah
1. Reuben
2. Simeon
3. Levi
4. Judah
9. Issachar
10. Zebulun
13. Dinah (girl)

#2 Rachel
11. Joseph
12. Benjamin

#3 Bilhah (Rachel’s handmaid)
5. Dan
6. Naphtali

#4 Zilpah (Leah’s handmaid)
7. Gad
8. Asher

With respect to the Abrahamic Covenant and the natural heir to their father, Reuben the firstborn was the covenant son. However, Reuben forfeited his inheritance by committing adultery with Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid. Jacob referred to the incident in the patriarchal blessing he gave to Reuben. (See Genesis 49:3-4).  By virtue of the ancient law of “primogeniture” the birthright then passed to the firstborn son of the second wife, Joseph (even though Joseph was eleventh in birth order) rather than to Simeon the second born son of the first wife as one might suppose. Once again, this fact is clearly spelled out in Joseph’s blessing from his father. (See Genesis 49:22-26).

When Ezekiel sees the eventual inheritance of the sons of Israel in and around Jerusalem in that forthcoming millennial day (see Ezekiel 48), we discover that Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons, have received their father’s double portion. The double blessing seems to have come as a result of Joseph’s having saved his father’s entire family when the famine in Canaan drove them to Egypt. Joseph Smith explains how Jacob conveyed this double portion to Joseph in these verses from the Inspired Version:

And now, of thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt, before I came unto thee into Egypt; behold, they are mine, and the God of my fathers shall bless them; even as Reuben and Simeon they shall be blessed, for they are mine; wherefore they shall be called after my name. (Therefore they were called Israel.)
And thy issue which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance, in the tribes; therefore they were called the tribes of Manasseh and of Ephraim.
And Jacob said unto Joseph when the God of my fathers appeared unto me in Luz, in the land of Canaan; he sware unto me, that he would give unto me, and unto my seed, the land for an everlasting possession.
Therefore, O my son, he hath blessed me in raising thee up to be a servant unto me, in saving my house from death;
In delivering my people, thy brethren, from famine which was sore in the land; wherefore the of thy fathers shall bless thee, and the fruit of thy loins, that they shall be blessed above thy brethren, and above thy father's house;
For thou hast prevailed, and thy father's house hath bowed down unto thee, even as it was shown unto thee, before thou wast sold into Egypt by the hands of thy brethren; wherefore thy brethren shall bow down unto thee, from generation to generation, unto the fruit of thy loins for ever;
For thou shalt be a light unto my people, to deliver them in the days of their captivity, from bondage; and to bring salvation unto them, when they are altogether bowed down under sin. (See JST Genesis 48:7-12).

So the list of the future family land distribution is adjusted somewhat in Ezekiel’s vision to include the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh in place of Joseph, and looks like this:

1. Dan
2. Asher
3. Nahtali
4. Manasseh
5. Ephraim
6. Reuben
7. Judah
8. Levi (Levites are intermingled with all tribes)
9. Benjamin
10. Simeon
11. Issachar
12. Zebulun
13. Gad

It is this proposed distribution of land inheritances, of course, that gives rise to the modern disputes between the Jews living in the State of Israel and their Muslim neighbors. The Jews claim the land in and around Jerusalem by inheritance, while the Muslims contend the Jews have only taken it away from them through conquest. To this day the Muslims, also descendents of Father Abraham, view the Holy Land merely as occupied territory that is rightfully theirs. Nevertheless, Ezekiel saw the latter-day vision of the land, “and the sanctuary of the Lord shall be in the midst thereof,” he said. (Ezekiel 48:10). In the preceding chapter Ezekiel is shown the latter-day temple in Jerusalem and the water that will issue there from to heal the Dead Sea. Joseph Smith described this event as one that would have to occur before the Second Coming of the Lord. (See TPJS, 286).

Although Dan is the first tribe mentioned in the allocation of the lands by Ezekiel, his name is missing altogether from John the Revelator’s list of tribes in Revelation 7:5-8. John names the twelve tribes from which the one hundred forty-four thousand high priests will come, twelve thousand from each. These are the ultimate spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant, whereas Ezekiel’s vision was focused on the temporal inheritance involving the land. Here is John’s list:

1. Juda (Judah)
2. Reuben
3. Gad
4. Aser (Asher)
5. Nephthalim (Naphtali)
6. Manasses (Manasseh)
7. Simeon
8. Levi
9. Issachar
10. Zabulon (Zebulun)
11. Joseph (Ephraim)
12. Benjamin

Speculation abounds as to why Dan would not be included in the spiritual blessings, some suggesting that a clue may be found in his patriarchal blessing. (See Genesis 49:16-18). At least one Bible scholar (Dummelow) suggests that a probable reason is that Jewish tradition says the Antichrist mentioned in Daniel will come from the tribe of Dan. (See Dummelow’s, The One Volume Bible Commentary, 1079).

But let us turn now to what comprises these supernal spiritual blessings in connection with the one hundred forty-four thousand high priests. In his vision John sees a remarkable host of priesthood bearers, and is given to understand that many of the judgments awaiting the wicked living on the earth in the last days are being forestalled until the servants of God are “sealed in their foreheads.” It is noteworthy that the opening sentence of this chapter begins with the words, “And after these things,” referring to the things that have just preceded this chapter, specifically, the “great earthquake.” The events described in Revelation 7 correlate with the events of the sixth seal, as we learn from the Prophet Joseph in the following revelation:

Q. What time are the things spoken of in this chapter to be accomplished?
A. They are to be accomplished in the sixth thousand years, or the opening of the sixth seal. (D&C 77:10).

The first four verses of the JST version of Revelation 7 tell us the following:

And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God; and I heard him cry with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,
Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
And the number of them who were sealed, were an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.

The Prophet gave direct answers to several questions concerning these verses as recorded in modern scripture:

Q. What are we to understand by the four angels, spoken of in the 7th chapter and 1st verse of Revelation?
A. We are to understand that they are four angels sent forth from God, to whom is given power over the four parts of the earth, to save life and to destroy; these are they who have the everlasting gospel to commit to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; having power to shut up the heavens, to seal up unto life, or to cast down to the regions of darkness.
Q. What are we to understand by the angel ascending from the east, Revelation 7th chapter and 2nd verse?
A. We are to understand that the angel ascending from the east is he to whom is given the seal of the living God over the twelve tribes of Israel; wherefore, he crieth unto the four angels having the everlasting gospel, saying: Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And, if you will receive it, this is Elias which was to come to gather together the tribes of Israel and restore all things. . .
Q. What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel -- twelve thousand out of every tribe?
A. We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn. (D&C 77:8-9, 11).

The grand key to understanding this chapter of holy writ lies in a funeral sermon delivered by the Prophet Joseph at the services for Judge Elias Higbee. In part, the Prophet said:

The world is reserved unto burning in the last days. He shall send Elijah the prophet, and he shall reveal the covenants of the fathers in relation to the children, and the covenants of the children in relation to the fathers.
Four destroying angels holding power over the four quarters of the earth until the servants of God are sealed in their foreheads, which signifies sealing the blessing upon their heads, meaning the everlasting covenant, thereby making their calling and election made sure. (TPJS, 319-21).

It was Joseph’s explicit instruction on this matter that an angel with a seal importunes on behalf of the twelve tribes of Israel, and commands that the four destroying angels be stayed on their missions of destruction until the servants of God (144,000 in number) were sealed. This sealing ordinance is equivalent in Joseph’s teachings to “making their calling and election sure.” The Prophet further elaborates that this angel is “Elias.”  (We know that Elias is not only an ancient prophet, but also the symbolic title of the office of the forerunner in some dispensations. The scriptural record confirms that many prophets have held this office, and as a result confusion as to the identity of Elias is often a problem. Time and space do not permit an extensive treatment of that topic here, but the reader is referred to excellent notes in the concordance of the new LDS edition of the Bible [see “Elias” in the Bible Dictionary], or to Elder McConkie’s Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol. 3, 491-2). While there can be no dispute that Elias can be many individuals, it was Elijah who conferred the sealing power upon the Prophet Joseph Smith. (See D&C 110:13-16; D&C 2:1-3; JS-H 1:38-39).  Joseph further taught that it was Elijah who would come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord to turn the hearts of children to their fathers and the hearts of fathers to their children. He stated that the word “turn” should have been translated “bind” or “seal.” (See TPJS, 330).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie gives this further explanation:

And now we learn that after the converts are made [out of all the] kindreds of the earth, there will be those among them who advance and progress until they become kings and priests. See Rev. 1:1-6; 5:1-14; 20:4-6. John here sees 144,000 of these kings and priests, 12,000 from each tribe, converted, baptized, endowed, married for eternity, and finally sealed up unto eternal life, having their calling and election made sure. See 2 Pet. 1:1-19. (DNTC, Vol. 3, 491. See also McConkie’s treatment of the doctrine of having one’s calling and election made sure in DNTC, Vol. 3, 323-350).

Let us conclude this topic with one further insight from Joseph Smith, as he elaborated on the organization within the Church that would become the instrument of the fulfillment of this remarkable prophecy associated with setting up the kingdom for the Second Coming of our Lord:

If the first Seventy are all employed, and there is a call for more laborers, it will be the duty of the seven presidents of the first Seventy to call and ordain other Seventy and send them forth to labor in the vineyard, until, if needs be, they set apart seven times seventy, and even until there are one hundred and forty-four thousand thus set apart for the ministry. (TPJS, 75).

At this writing (December, 2007) there are now eight Quorums of the Seventy (and by the way, they are all ordained High Priests though we still call them “Seventies”). We appear to be well on our way toward organizing ourselves as a Church in fulfillment of that glorious day when there are 144,000 of these high priests whom John envisioned.

Elder A. Theodore Tuttle further underscored the topic when he said, “The work performed in the temples [the sealing ordinances associated with the blessings of having one’s calling and election made sure] stays the judgments of God from smiting the earth with a curse.” (Ensign, May, 1980, 40).

Before leaving this discussion of the composition of the tribes of Israel, please refer to Appendix C for a “family group sheet” illustrating their relative position in the expansive family of Abraham. It is estimated between ninety and ninety-five percent of people living on the earth today are descended from this noble patriarch and his wives. Our role in the family as descendants of Ephraim, the son with the birthright blessing, is to deliver the fulness of the restored gospel message with its attendant temple ordinances and covenants to the rest of our Abrahamic cousins worldwide. Under an inspired latter-day prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, the Church is dotting the globe with missionaries and temples in fulfillment of that divine mandate to us. We are the messengers with the invitation to the wedding feast.

Consider the inspired and optimistic counsel to us from President Monson's predecessor, even in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks:

Now, I do not wish to be an alarmist. I do not wish to be a prophet of doom. I am optimistic. I do not believe the time is here when an all-consuming calamity will overtake us. I earnestly pray that it may not. There is so much of the Lord’s work yet to be done. We, and our children after us, must do it. (President Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Times in Which We Live,” Ensign, November, 2001, 72).

The work of gathering Israel and preparing them for their temple covenants continues unabated, despite the worldwide economic meltdown described by some as the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Just this week the Church announced the Payson Utah Temple, the fifteenth temple in Utah, and the 152nd temple either announced or operating worldwide.

President Spencer W. Kimball, a prophet among prophets, said this in 1980:

I have lived for more than half the 150 years the restored Church has been upon the earth in this last dispensation. I have witnessed its marvelous growth until it now is established in the four corners of the earth. As the Prophet Joseph said:

“Our missionaries are going forth to different nations, and in Germany, Palestine, New Holland, Australia, the East Indies, and other places, the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (History of the Church, 4:540).

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