Judgment In The Sanctuary
Robert Wurtz II
For it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God. And if it starts with us, what will be the fate of those who are disobedient to the gospel of God? And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners? (1 Peter 4:17–18 NET)
Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house. (Ezekiel 9:6 emphasis added)
One of the most disturbing things about our times is the ever increasing rebellion against God’s word among His own people. We expect the world to trample God’s word under foot, but what are we to make of things when it happens in God’s own house? It’s like multitudes no longer believe in the inspiration of scripture. God has spoken in His word and He will not change His mind. Nevertheless, with each passing day something new is being compromised. And then we wonder why we don’t have revival. Nay verily; we may as well brace ourselves for a bloodbath. If history is any indicator, it’s only a matter of time.
It is sobering to consider that the accounts of Israel’s apostasy and judgment, according to Paul, “were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11 NKJV) We are to learn from their experiences. In fact, the renowned Greek scholar of the late 19th century A.T. Robertson remarked that 1 Peter 4:17-18 is taken from the vision of Ezekiel 9. You will notice in Ezekiel 9:6 that the wrath of God is first revealed upon those who are called by the name of the Lord but are not obeying the truth (Romans 1:18). Beginning with those who most knew better (or should have known better), God’s judgment started with them. Why? Because they deserved the greater condemnation in that they had the greater privilege; and with privilege comes accountability.
The Ancient Men First
In Ezekiel 9:6 God told the executioners not just to begin with the sanctuary, but with the sub-group that were to be first judged within the sanctuary; i.e., the ancient men. These were not the righteous ancients, but the ancients whom were spoken of in the previous chapter who were not really loyal to God at all, but committed abominations in the darkness (in secret). The seventy elders, also known as the Sanhedrin, were the first people who came under the judgment of God (Ezekiel 8:11). This tells us that judgment begins first upon unrighteous leaders who are secretly or publicly rebelling against God. After judgment falls on the unrighteous leaders — judgment flows down through the sanctuary and out into a rebellious society.
In modern times we can almost see a similar scenario setting up. Radical Islam, a modern and savage version of ancient Assyria and Babylon, is chomping at the bit — waiting to baptize Christians in fire and blood. Their resurgence is no accident. The ancient Assyrians were a murderous band of barbarians who were legends in fierce brutality. Nevertheless, in modern times ISIS, in its insatiable bloodthirstiness, is training up ten-year old boys to execute who they term as “infidels” by carving them with knives or riddling their heads and bodies with bullets. If they had their way they would brutalize every Christian on earth in ways that would make Mary I (Bloody Mary) of England blush. In a figure, these brain-washed and demon-possessed people are massing on the borders of our peace and security. All the while, a general hostility towards Christianity grows in the Western World. Could these people be the agents by which God will purge His house? Are we on the brink of a modern-day 1 Peter 4:17-18?
The Seal of Sorrow
And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer’s inkhorn by his side; And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. (Ezekiel 9:3b, 4)
One of the great lessons of the Old Testament is that people often fail to see God’s perspective of circumstances. They fail to feel as He feels. Nevertheless, there is always a remnant who knows the times and reacts according to the ungodliness thereof. Our passage reveals that God had set a seal upon the people who were vexed from day to day with the lawless deeds of the people around them (2 Peter 2:8 lit. tortured). While the rest of those naming the name of God were getting more and more worldly, content with the wickedness of our day as though it had no effect on them — the righteous felt as God felt about things.
Understand that rebellion is a very subtle thing at times. Most people are able to see rebellion in others, but cannot see it in themselves. Believers justify all kinds of compromise and call it Christian liberty. However, if the behavior does not line up with the plainly revealed word of God — it is rebellion. Some want to identify with the world and sin and not only “be saved,” but have influential ministry. We must discern the rebellion. The enemy is working overtime to get people into positions of leadership who refuse to do God’s will and obey His word.
If the pattern of the past has any meaning today, God has already rejected many and placed them on the list for judgment. Paul said that the stories of the Old Testament were recorded, written down, reported for our example and learning. To those in Ezekiel their secret agreement with sin and iniquity, manifesting itself in silent approval and tearless eyes, was enough to level upon them the full fury of God’s wrath. They received no mark in their foreheads.
Today the world is loaded with those who hate righteousness and love iniquity. Nevertheless, we are called to be as Christ who loved righteousness and hated iniquity (Hebrews 1:9). The Spirit of Christ wells up in those in whom He dwells as a revolting reaction to the sin and compromise that grieves His holiness. A Christian reaction to sin (especially their own) can only be described as vexation; that is, torture. When sinners have rejected Christ, trodden under foot the blood that could have sanctified them, and are sinning with a high-hand we ought to be gravely disturbed. God sent His messenger to set a seal upon the people who were vexed in Ezekiel’s day. The Lord knoweth how to deliver the Godly out of temptations. The wrath of God will someday consume those that know Him not nor obey the Gospel. The only real proof that we are not in line for this judgment is whether the Spirit of God who is in us is grieved within us — or are we as those who have no grief, but rather take pleasure in those who commit such sins (Romans 1:32). They who are born of God are vexed by rebellion and sin — just as He is.
Marked out by God
When God set His mark upon the people it was a single Hebrew letter “tav.” This letter, in some ancient texts, is in the shape of an X or a T. Perhaps this symbolized the fact that the righteous would be saved but scarcely (1 Peter 4:18 lit. with great difficulty). 1 Peter 4:18 tells us that judgment begins at the house of God, but if it first begins at us, and if the righteous scarcely be saved; what shall the end be of those who obey not the gospel? To those who so rightly deserve judgment — judgment will be applied first, and to each one in their own order. The Lord knows they who are His; His name is in their foreheads.
Driving God from His Temple
It is a dangerous thing to let sin reign in our mortal bodies. It is akin to allowing the devil to run rampant in the Temple in Jerusalem. Satan is the great defiler of sanctuaries. He lures men and women to backslide away from God where He once dwelled in them. Have we not all seen it? They did run well and now they are moving in carnality and sin. What a dangerous place to be in. We have some examples of how these things play out from the Old Testament. God never leaves without some form of warning.
Ezekiel was a priest whom God used to prophesy to Israel.
In Chapter 1, God revealed Himself to Ezekiel.
In Chapter 2, God anointed Him with His Spirit (Ezekiel 2:2).
In Chapter 3, God put His words in His mouth as a scroll and warned Him to be a watchman of the people to warn them-lest their blood be upon his hands.
In Chapter 4, Ezekiel cooked up some dung cakes to get the peoples attention (for they were sorely hardened and inattentive).
In Chapter 5, He shaved his head, divided the hair into three equal parts, burnt the first third (for they were consumed by pestilence and famine), diced up the second third (for a third part died by the sword), and tossed the latter third into the wind (for they were scattered into the nations).
In chapter 8 God showed Ezekiel that the ancients were driving His presence from the Temple because of their lewd imaginations. In verse 8-10 we read: Then said he unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged in the wall, behold a door. And he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here. So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, printed (carved out) upon the wall round about. The leaders were committing abominations in their heads and they thought that God was not watching. Verse 12 reads: Then He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what the elders of the house of Israel are committing in the dark, each man in the room of his carved images? For they say, ‘The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land.’” For this cause God was being driven from the Temple because of their sin (Ezekiel 8:6).
Getting Used to Darkness
“I stumbled into the dimly lit dungeon, fell over a chair and mumbled that I needed a flashlight to read the menu. When the food came I ate it by faith and not by sight. Gradually, however, I began to make out objects a little more distinctly. You know how it is if you sit a while in a dark room. And my friend remarked, ‘Funny, isn’t it, how you get used to the dark.’” (Vance Havner)
This “getting used to the dark” often takes place over time; that is the subtlety of it. Once the sins that were committed “in the darkness” have ran their course the enemy closes in on our borders. These are the times we are living in. Hardened hearts in congregations all throughout the nation will cry out to the righteous as they did in the days of Isaiah… Seer’s — See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits (Isaiah 30:10). Rebellion has no time for truth. It has no time to hear what the Spirit is saying. And it happens according to the true prophecy of the Apostle Paul which said… For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Timothy 4:3,4).
A Deadly Combination
(A Hard Heart, a Soft Chisel, and a Weak Arm)
When a generation hardened itself against God throughout history, God always stepped up the power, wisdom and fortitude of His ministers to meet their highhanded backsliding head on (Isaiah 50:7, Jeremiah 1:8-10). It cost the prophets their lives, including John the Baptist. All but one of the Apostles were martyred according to tradition. Even the Lord Jesus. Anyone that communicates the life of God to this darkened world is a target of the enemy.
What if the messengers of God were so “bound up” with sin and so ready to compromise God’s word that they couldn’t preach with authority (Ezekiel 8-9)? What if a famine of the word of the Lord existed in an hour and society that so desperately needed rebuked and called back to repentance (Amos 8:1ff)? What if the watchmen were drunk, not with wine or strong drink, but on the elixir of their own sin and rebellion — unable to sound the warning call (Ezekiel 3:1ff)? What if every end-time prophecy was being fulfilled at once — would they who name the name of Christ, who are living in rebellion within the churches of God, follow the world into their secret chambers?
The quaker philosopher Elton Trueblood once stated that “By the year 2000 the church will be a conscious minority surrounded by an arrogant, militant paganism.” This is 2015 and we are not only surrounded by an arrogant militant paganism, but by radical Islam. The time to get serious was many years ago and yet the masses have slumbered. For it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God. And if it starts with us, what will be the fate of those who are disobedient to the gospel of God? And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners? (1 Peter 4:17–18 NET)