The Purifying of God's Remnant Church
God sent two main prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to encourage the people with the assurance that God was with them and would strengthen them to rebuild the walls, the temple, and the city.
Most of the Israelites preferred to stay in Babylon, where they had built comfortable houses instead of making the dangerous and difficult trip to a city in ruins.
The first divine appeal by the prophet to the people was: “Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you” (). When the prophet asked the Lord: “How long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years? And the Lord answered
. . . with good words and comfortable words” (verses 12, 13).
And the Lord added: “I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the Lord of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem” (verse 16).
Our Lord is a God of love, grace and mercy, and full of compassion. In spite of the rebellion of His people Israel, He bore with them for a long time. He was more than willing to guide, save, and protect them as long as they were willing to accept His instructions. The prophet revealed the great interest of God in their prosperity with these words: “He who toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye” ().
Zechariah had a very comforting vision in which he saw the high priest Joshua making intercession for his people before Jesus (the Angel of the everlasting covenant). In this vision, Satan was accusing God’s people and Joshua of sin and was asking the Lord permission to destroy His disobedient children.
“Joshua was clothed with filthy garments” (), representing his people before the Lord. He couldn’t deny the accusations of Satan, but he presented their repentance and faith in the Redeemer.
Zechariah represented both Joshua and the people as being justified by faith in the promised Messiah, and the Lord gave him the assurance of sins forgiven with these beautiful words: “Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment” (verse 4).
After that the Lord promised His people power from above to make them able to perform the necessary work of reformation: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” () with the additional assurance that “the hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it” (verse 9).
Another divine appeal was presented to the people, instructing them how to deal with their fellow brothers and sisters: “Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart” ().
“These are the things that ye shall do: Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: and let none imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord” ().
The Lord also promised the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, to restore His children to the favor of the Lord through a perfect life and death as a supreme sacrifice. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” ().
Christ would fulfill the everlasting covenant. Through His sacrifice on the cross, He would redeem His people from the pit of despair to place them on a higher spiritual level before heaven. “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water” (Verse 11).
Based on the virtue of the covenant of grace, God invited His people to Himself with these beautiful words: “Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even today do I declare that I will render double unto thee” (Verse 12).
This inspired expression, “prisoners of hope,” gives the idea of a people who will not give up. Hope is part of their life. And the Lord addresses this small remnant with encouraging words: “Turn you to the stronghold.” Then our hope is established on a very strong foundation. For sure, Christ is our stronghold.
The psalmist expresses his trust in the Lord, saying: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” ().
Micah applied this title to Christ, when he said: “And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem” ().
This inspired expression, “prisoners of hope,” gives the idea of a people who will not give up. Hope is part of their life.
Nahum used different words to say the same truth about Christ: “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him” (). Notice this inspired thought: Christ is a stronghold for those who trust in Him.
When are we protected within the stronghold of the Lord? When we totally surrender our life to Christ.
“When the soul surrenders itself to Christ, a new power takes possession of the new heart. A change is wrought which man can never accomplish for himself. It is a supernatural work, bringing a supernatural element into human nature. The soul that is yielded to Christ becomes His own fortress, which He holds in a revolted world, and He intends that no authority shall be known in it but His own. A soul thus kept in possession by the heavenly agencies is impregnable to the assaults of Satan. But unless we do yield ourselves to the control of Christ, we shall be dominated by the wicked one. We must inevitably be under the control of the one or the other of the two great powers that are contending for the supremacy of the world. It is not necessary for us deliberately to choose the service of the kingdom of darkness in order to come under its dominion. We have only to neglect to ally ourselves with the kingdom of light. If we do not co-operate with the heavenly agencies, Satan will take possession of the heart and will make it his abiding place. The only defense against evil is the indwelling of Christ in the heart through faith in His righteousness. Unless we become vitally connected with God, we can never resist the unhallowed effects of self-love, self-indulgence, and temptation to sin. We may leave off many bad habits, for the time we may part company with Satan; but without a vital connection with God, through the surrender of ourselves to Him moment by moment, we shall be overcome. Without a personal acquaintance with Christ, and a continual communion, we are at the mercy of the enemy, and shall do his bidding in the end.”#cit1
In this wonderful quotation, we find very important and comforting truths. When we give back our life to Christ, we enter into an impregnable stronghold which the enemy cannot enter, because Christ is much more powerful than the enemy. The converted soul itself becomes a fortress under the control of the Holy Spirit. We can be kept in the stronghold by faith in Christ and vital connection with God through prayer and obedience to His word. This surrender is not an isolated incident but a continuous relationship with the Lord. Any time we neglect this vital connection we will be in trouble, becoming an easy prey for the enemy.
There are millions of people who are prisoners of the enemy, slaves to sin and vice, and “having no hope, and without God in the world” (). In the following verse, Paul presents a very different picture: “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off made nigh by the blood of Christ” (verse 13).
“Christ became the sinless sacrifice for a guilty race, making men prisoners of hope, so that, through repentance toward God because they had broken His holy law, and through faith in Christ as their substitute, surety, and righteousness, they might be brought back to loyalty to God and to obedience to His holy law.”#cit2
We shouldn’t selfishly keep this hope only to ourselves. As soon as we have received this hope, we need to take it to those who are in despair.
“The members of the church need now to confess their backslidings and press together. My brethren, allow nothing to come in that will separate you from one another or from God. Talk not of differences of opinion, but unite in the love of the truth as it is in Jesus. Come before God, and plead the shed blood of the Saviour as a reason why you should receive help in the warfare against evil. You will not plead in vain. As you draw near to God, with heartfelt contrition and in full assurance of faith, the enemy who seeks to destroy you will be overcome.
“Turn to the Lord, ye prisoners of hope. Seek strength from God, the living God. Show an unwavering, humble faith in His power and His willingness to save. From Christ is flowing the living stream of salvation. He is the Fountain of life, the Source of all power. When in faith we take hold of His strength, He will change, wonderfully change, the most hopeless, discouraging outlook. He will do this for the glory of His name.
“God calls upon His faithful ones, who believe in Him, to talk courage to those who are unbelieving and hopeless. May the Lord help us to help one another and to prove Him by living faith.”#cit3
Writing to Titus, Paul talks about “that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” ().
The second coming of Christ is “our blessed hope,” the climax of the plan of redemption. All our hopes will be fulfilled when our Saviour and Lord will appear in the clouds of heaven to take His people to the heavenly abode.
“Jesus is soon coming; and it is for us who believe this solemn truth to give the warning to the world. We should show by our dress, our conversation, and our actions, that our minds are fixed on something better than the business and pleasures of this short life. We are but pilgrims and strangers here, and should give some evidence that we are ready and waiting for the appearing of our divine Lord. Let the world see that you are journeying from this to a better land, dear reader—to an immortal inheritance that passeth not away; that you cannot afford to devote your life to the things of this world, but that your concern is to prepare for the home that awaits you in the kingdom of God.
“How shall we make this preparation? It is by bringing our appetites and passions into subjection to the will of God and showing in our lives the fruits of holiness. We must deal justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God. We must let Christ into our hearts and homes. We must cultivate love, sympathy, and true courtesy one to another. Our happiness depends upon our taking this course. The reason that there are so many hard-hearted men and women in the world is that generous affection has been regarded as weakness and has been discouraged and repressed. If we would have tender hearts, such as Jesus had when He was upon the earth, and sanctified sympathy, such as the angels have for erring mortals, we must cultivate the simple, unaffected affections of childhood. Then we shall be directed by heavenly principles, which are refining and elevating in their tendency.
“Our lives should be consecrated to the good and happiness of others, as was our Saviour’s. This is the joy of angels, and the work in which they are ever engaged. The spirit of Christ’s self-sacrificing love is the spirit that pervades heaven and is the source of its blessedness. And it must be our spirit, if we would be fitted to join the society of the angelic host. In proportion as the love of Christ fills our hearts and controls our lives, selfishness and love of ease will be overcome; it will be our pleasure to minister to others, and to do the will of our Lord, whom we hope soon to see.”#cit4
There is a very interesting parallel between the remnant of Israel in the time of Zechariah, and the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement. Few in number, with a faith that separates us from the world, without worldly power, we depend only on the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill our prophetic task to be used by the Lord to finish His worldwide plan.
When we give back our life to Christ, we enter into an impregnable stronghold which the enemy cannot enter.
The author of Revelation, foreseeing the true remnant, wrote: “The dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” ().
“Zechariah’s vision of Joshua and the Angel applies with peculiar force to the experience of God’s people in the closing scenes of the great day of atonement. The remnant church will then be brought into great trial and distress. Those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus will feel the ire of the dragon and his hosts. Satan numbers the world as his subjects; he has gained control even of many professing Christians. But here is a little company who are resisting his supremacy. If he could blot them from the earth, his triumph would be complete. As he influenced the heathen nations to destroy Israel, so in the near future he will stir up the wicked powers of earth to destroy the people of God. Men will be required to render obedience to human edicts in violation of the divine law.
“Those who are true to God will be menaced, denounced, proscribed. They will be ‘betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends,” even unto death. (). Their only hope is in the mercy of God; their only defense will be prayer. As Joshua pleaded before the Angel, so the remnant church, with brokenness of heart and unfaltering faith, will plead for pardon and deliverance through Jesus, their Advocate. They are fully conscious of the sinfulness of their lives, they see their weakness and unworthiness; and they are ready to despair. . . .
“As the people of God afflict their souls before Him, pleading for purity of heart, the command is given, ‘Take away the filthy garments,’ and the encouraging words are spoken, ‘Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment’ (5). The spotless robe of Christ’s righteousness is placed upon the tried, tempted, faithful children of God. The despised remnant are clothed in glorious apparel, nevermore to be defiled by the corruptions of the world. Their names are retained in the Lamb’s book of life, enrolled among the faithful of all ages. They have resisted the wiles of the deceiver; they have not been turned from their loyalty by the dragon’s roar. Now they are eternally secure from the tempter’s devices. Their sins are transferred to the originator of sin. A ‘fair miter’ is set upon their heads.”
“We must behold Christ. It is ignorance of Him that makes men so uplifted in their own righteousness. When we contemplate His purity and excellence, we shall see our own weakness and poverty and defects as they really are. We shall see ourselves lost and hopeless, clad in garments of self-righteousness, like every other sinner. We shall see that if we are ever saved, it will not be through our own goodness, but through God’s infinite grace.”6
“Clad in the armor of Christ’s righteousness, the church is to enter upon her final conflict. ‘Fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners’ (7), she is to go forth into all the world, conquering and to conquer.”
Are you, dear reader, a prisoner of hope? Let us go to our stronghold, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. While we remain in Him, Satan has no power to separate us from our divine safety.