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We now come to the second characteristic that marks the returning remnant. In addition to being governed by a positive, heavenly vision, this third group is also…
Willing to Take up the Cross in Relation to the Heavenly Vision
This returning remnant is fundamentally different from both the rebels and the refugees in their primary motivation for pursuing an “outside the camp”, organic expression of the Church. Whereas the other two groups are pursuing such an expression primarily for personal, self-oriented reasons, those who are in this group are doing so for a vision and purpose that is far above and beyond themselves. They are ultimately God-centered and not self-centered in their spiritual pursuit. They are more concerned with Christ having His Church on His terms than they are with themselves having “their church” on their terms. This group is motivated by spiritual conviction, not spiritual convenience. They are willing, therefore, to take up the cross in relation to the heavenly vision, that God’s eternal purpose may ultimately be realized within a people.
So, what is the nature of this cross that they are willing to take up for the sake of the heavenly vision?
I believe Scripture gives us a wealth of insight and understanding into the costly nature of this call of the returning remnant in the “restoration books” of the Old Testament. Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi in particular deal with the remnant that returned from Babylon to the land of Judah to rebuild Zion. What Paul said concerning the former Israelites who were part of the “exodus” from Egypt under Moses, I believe could equally be said concerning this returning remnant: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11 ESV)
At the end of the Old Testament “age”, God stirred up the hearts of a remnant of His people to come out of captivity in Babylon, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple and the city which lay in ruins. Now at the end of the Church “age”, God is once again stirring up the hearts of a remnant of His people to come out of captivity in “spiritual Babylon”, to return to “spiritual Jerusalem” and rebuild the living temple and city of God which also lies in “ruins”. The restoration books are a primary source of God’s instruction and wisdom for this end-time remnant.
In these books we see striking parallels of the types of sacrifice and suffering that these two returning remnants were/are willing to embrace and endure in order to see God’s house rebuilt. I will just touch on them briefly.
- Displacement – The Jewish remnant was called out of Babylon where they had settled down for over half a century. They had their homes, businesses, synagogues and social lives well established there. They were returning to Jerusalem, a place that lay burned and in ruins for over half a century with only the possessions they could take with them. This willingness to be displaced from what they had known and be relocated to that which was unknown was a significant sacrifice that they embraced for the sake of the vision of Zion being rebuilt. The spiritual returning remnant is likewise called out of that which is familiar and comfortable to that which is unfamiliar and fraught with challenge and difficulty. They are called out of that which is established, to that which lies in ruins. They are called out of that which has abundance to that which is desolate. They are called out of that which is common and popular to that which is abandoned and forsaken. This is the call of faith, and it is a costly way of sacrifice concerning that which they most naturally desire and gravitate towards for that which is foreign and daunting.
- Estrangement – This minute Jewish remnant (estimated around 2-5% of the Israelites in Babylon) uprooted and became physically separated and estranged from their extended family, friends, acquaintances and religious community. Lifelong ties were severed, never to be reconnected again. The end-time spiritual remnant will, likewise, suffer a costly degree of estrangement from certain friends, family, acquaintances and spiritual community due to the path that they are called to take. They do not choose to alienate themselves, but the spiritual convictions in their hearts and the choices they make mark them as those who are “marching to the beat of a different drum.” They are thus often treated by others as “outsiders”, or stereo-typed with labels that discredit and bring estrangement. This is part of the price that a returning remnant has to pay to follow the Lord for the restoration of His House in this last day.
- An uncharted, treacherous journey – The remnant that returned from Babylon to Jerusalem traveled some 500 miles over many months through unfamiliar, dangerous territory before they came to Jerusalem to begin the work of rebuilding. This journey worked in them a complete dependence on the Lord and helped to get “Babylon” out of their system before they began to rebuild and restore Zion. The spiritual remnant that is returning from the place of religious confusion (symbolic meaning of Babylon) to the spiritual City of Peace (literal meaning of “Jerusalem”) is also on an uncharted, treacherous journey. This is, likewise, working in them a complete dependence on the Lord and is helping to get “religious Babylon” out of their system. Those who are a part of this remnant should not be surprised if they find themselves journeying through “no-man’s-land”, a “wilderness”, that reduces them down to Christ and Christ alone. This is part of God’s preparation for those who will eventually rebuild “Zion”. It may be a long difficult journey, even more than many months, before there is even an arrival at the “site” and actual rebuilding work to be done or joined. This, also, is an integral aspect of the cost of being a part of this returning remnant.
- “The day of small things” – When the Jewish remnant were in the land and the foundation of the new temple was laid, many of the older men and women who had seen the former temple were weeping instead of rejoicing. Haggai said, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” (Hag. 2:3) The rebuilt temple was considerably smaller than the original temple of Solomon. Both Haggai and Zechariah, however, encouraged the people to keep on building and not despise “the day of small things.” (Zech. 4:10) They also were given great hope, for Haggai declared, “‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Hag.2:9) It was not the size that ultimately mattered, but the glory that would fill it and be displayed out through it. So it will be with the end-time remnant. The living temples that will be built by the Spirit among them will most likely be comparatively “small things”. If God’s word through Haggai is not only prophetic of his time, but also of the last days, then the glory of these end-time “houses” will exceed that of what has gone before. It will require a taking up of the cross by faith, however, not to despise “the day of small things.”
- Opposition within and without – Rebuilding the temple and wall of Jerusalem was fraught with opposition from within and without. Infiltrating the ranks of the returning remnant were false prophets and counselors, some of whom had been hired by the leaders of the surrounding nations to instill fear, give discouraging counsel, and deceive the leadership (Ezra 4:5, Neh. 6:10-14). These nations not only brought opposition from within, but launched repeated attacks to hinder and halt the building of the temple and wall from without. This intense and constant opposition, filled with taunts, deception, and brute force, is a picture of the intense and constant spiritual warfare that the end-time returning remnant will, likewise, face to hinder and stop them from rebuilding the spiritual house of the Lord. Through direct spiritual attack or through those whom Satan has influenced, the returning remnant will be buffeted and assaulted repeatedly. Like Nehemiah’s laborers, they must be willing to work with a “sword” (the Word of God) in one hand for spiritual warfare as they labor with the other to restore and build up “the wall”. This is yet another aspect of the cross they must take up in relation to this heavenly vision.
- Obstacles within and without – Finally, in addition to internal and external opposition, the Jewish remnant also had to overcome numerous obstacles within and without. Internally, they faced the persistent obstacles of discouragement, exhaustion, fear, greed, selfishness and moral compromise. Externally, the remnant under Nehemiah was overwhelmed by the immense amount of “rubble” that they encountered while rebuilding the wall (Neh. 4:10). The end-time remnant will likewise face the internal obstacles of the full gamut of negative emotions and moral failures among their ranks. They will also be overwhelmed at times sorting through the enormous amount of “spiritual rubble” that exists as a result of two thousand years of man-made traditions, practices, doctrines, and dogmas cluttering the building site. Taking up the cross in relation to all of these internal and external obstacles will be necessary for them to overcome and ultimately fulfill their calling.
Those who have been apprehended by God’s heavenly vision of Christ and His Church according to God’s eternal purpose will sacrifice and suffer much in the pursuit of it. They will undoubtedly experience the deep working of the cross through the varied testings and trials of displacement, estrangement, treacherous journeying, “small things”, opposition and obstacles as they faithfully seek to fulfill their part in God’s end-time work of restoration. They will be tempted to give up at times and turn back, but their convictions will keep them pressing on, and the faithfulness of God will sustain them. In the end, the Lord’s purpose will be fulfilled and the Lord will have His restored remnant House throughout the nations, the glory of which will exceed that which has gone before. This is the passion and the hope of the end-time returning remnant for which they are willing to take up the cross…until it is fulfilled.
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Part 4 – Conclusion to follow…