Book Sale

Thursday 30 March 2023

Refiner's Fire


Image: Unsplash

One of the things I find interesting in the Bible is how consistent it is in its imagery and how promises and their fulfillments are threaded through the Bible. It is a remarkable work of art that spreads a consistent message across two covenants, 66 books, and several thousand years. A divine effort. A good example comes from Isaiah 1, I read this the other day, and here is what it says:

Isaiah 1:21-31

21 How the faithful city
    has become a whore,
    she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
    but now murderers.
22 Your silver has become dross,
    your best wine mixed with water.
23 Your princes are rebels
    and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
    and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
    and the widow's cause does not come to them.

24 Therefore the Lord declares,
    the Lord of hosts,
    the Mighty One of Israel:
“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies
    and avenge myself on my foes.
25 I will turn my hand against you
    and will smelt away your dross as with lye
    and remove all your alloy.
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first,
    and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
    the faithful city.”

27 Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
    and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners shall be broken together,
    and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.
29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks
    that you desired;
and you shall blush for the gardens
    that you have chosen.
30 For you shall be like an oak
    whose leaf withers,
    and like a garden without water.
31 And the strong shall become tinder,
    and his work a spark,
and both of them shall burn together,
    with none to quench them.”

God here is angry at his people and because of this he is going punish them, but he is also going to refine them. He is going to restore them and make them the righteous city again. Note especially what verses 25-26 says, “25 I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. 26 And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.”

I already reflected on verse 26 about the restoration of the judges a week or so ago in a previous piece. This time I want you to note the imagery in verses 25 and 26 about the smelting and cleaning. God is telling us that he is going to refine Zion, like a blacksmith refines gold or fine metals in a fire, or like a cleaner who washes something. He is going to remove their dross and make them new again. He is going to restore their shine, their glow, their righteousness in other words. This is a wonderful promise, a grand promise, and something that Peter picks up on in his first letter.

We read 1 Peter 1:3-7,

“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Just as God promised to make his formerly holy city again holy and righteous and good, so too does Peter take this teaching and it apply it to believers in the New Testament. Just as God said he was going to do, so he is actually going to do, and so do we actually experience. The Old Covenant set the stage for the work of God to call to himself a holy people, but it was ultimately a covenant that was not capable of fully achieving this goal. It was, however, perfectly capable of preserving for us a faithful remnant through which the Messiah, our Lord Jesus, came. Just because it appears that Israel had failed, this is not the case, the intention was always to achieve the refining of God’s people and God shows us the end result of this process in Revelation 21:

“9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass.” (Revelation 21:9-14, 18).

What is this city, this holy Jerusalem? Well, we know it is the bride, because John is told that he will be shown the bride, and then he comes and he sees this beautiful city that is built on the foundation of the Apostles (cf. Rev. 21:14, Eph. 2:20), and more than that, this city also shines like a bright jewel, like a diamond. God’s bride is not an actual city, this city represents the beauty of his bride. Note what verse 18 says, the wall of the city “was pure gold, like clear glass.” Why is this gold so pure as to be see-through, so cleansed as to shine so bright? Because this city is the people of God, the bride who has been prepared for her groom, the Lord, and kept pure and made more pure beyond that. So pure it is like clear glass. A city, a people, that has also been washed and thoroughly cleansed. As John tells us, “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,” (Rev. 1:5).

This is the fulfilment of the promise to the city of God, Zion, in Isaiah 1. The faithful city is no longer apostate, it is no longer like a whore, she has been restored to her status as faithful, pure and chaste, and what is more we know that the Lord has done this, and that the Lord will do this for us. We are this pure city.

This is our hope. The sin that entangles us and oppresses us and tempts us and harms us will eventually be washed out completely. It’s stain will be removed completely. Eventually we shall be this pure city, this dwelling place of the Lord, cleansed not just spiritually, but actually from our sins by our Lord Jesus. I look forward to this, do you? It is a wonderful hope. And it is remarkable to see how the Lord teaches this consistently in his word and shows us the remarkable beauty towards which he is restoring us. Praise God.


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