Apostolic Light to the Nations

1. The Old Testament Prophetic Perspective

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”(Hab 2:14 Cf. Num 14:21; Ps 72:19; 108:5; Isa 11:9)

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” ”(Isa 6:1-3)

“verse 3 is the most powerful affirmative of the earth that can ever be spoken” (Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, p.79)  It is the prophet, and not the priest, who hears this word.

That the glory of God fills all things is the surprising revelation, not that God is holy.  It is the idolatry of limiting God to the sanctuary that stops people seeing the expanse of the glory.

The later testimony of Isaiah is that it is through Israel/Servant that God’s glory will reach the world.

““It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth
.”” (Isa 49:6) Cf. Isa 9:2 “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined”

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
3 And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising
.” (Isa 60:1-3)

3 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Dan 7:13-14)

The Messiah appears with the glory of luminous majesty, as one invested with the clouds of glory.

2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above;  and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Dan 12:2-3)

They have been witness-lights who have turned many to righteousness, and at their resurrection-glorification will be radiant lights, replicas of the Son of man adorned with the glory clouds (Dan 7:13-14).

2. Jesus the Light and the Glory of God

This role to all peoples is marked out for Jesus from birth, “for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.””(Luke 2:30-32)

It however only becomes apparent when he is rejected by Israel.

“So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.””(John 12:18)

“So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”

Jesus’ departure is like the departure of the glory of the Lord from the temple due for destruction (Ezek 10).

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.

Jesus is the light of the glory of God that Isaiah saw in the temple.  This light is manifest in the midst of Israel, but not received by it (John 1:5;3:19-20).

42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:34-43)

The Pharisees, who wish to locate the glory of God exclusively in the religious system, oppose Jesus.

3.  The Apostles proclaim the Prophetic Vision of the Glory of God

Paul’s conversion is a conversion under the light.  “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”(Acts 9:3- 5), “At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me.”(Acts 26:13).

It is a commission to communicate the light in the midst of darkness, “delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,”(Acts 26:17- 18) “testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”” (Acts 26:23).

The main opposition to the apostolic mission, especially to the Gentiles, is the synagogue (Matt 10:17; Mark 13:9; Luke 4:28; 12:11; 13:14; 21:12; John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2; Acts 6:9; 9:2; Rev 2:9; 3:9).

What is essentially new in the apostolic proclamation is that the glory of God is now to be revealed universally, i.e. to the Gentiles.  It is no longer restricted to Israel, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.” (Rom 9:4).

This becomes most clear in Paul’s first missionary journey; the locus of salvation is no longer in Jerusalem but among the nations.  The incident at Pisidian Antioch is paradigmatic for all Paul’s travels.  Of greatest significance is that the apostles now take up the role of Jesus (applied to him in Luke 2:32) as the servant to the Gentiles.

“The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”” (Acts 13:44-47).

(Paul always sees his vocation in terms of the nations.  “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom 1:5); “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” 10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope… to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” Rom 15:8-12,16).

The apostolic ministry, received from the ascended Lord (Acts 9:25; 13:1, 47; 22:8; 26:15) is a ministry of illumination, “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Eph 3:9), by a manifold wisdom viz. not restricted to the racial and cultural bounds of Judaism, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”(Eph 3:10).

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”(2 Cor 4:3- 6) Cf. Eph 1:18 “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,”

The light shines in the heart, it is internal and not external.  It is not a created light, as per Genesis 1:3 “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”, but the uncreated light of God’s own inner glory, God himself has shone in our hearts.

The knowledge of the glory of God in Jesus’ face (2 Cor 4:6) must be equivalent to the eschatological knowledge of God in all things (Hab 2:14).

The way in which this light comes, is by the Word, Psalm 119:130, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”

The glory is seen in the face of Jesus. Cf. Acts 3:20 “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things”  J.Y.’s vision of Jesus restoring all things is equivalent to the manifestation/release of the glory of God in all the world, as seen by Isaiah and recognized as belonging to Jesus by John (chapter 12).

To see this light and its glory is to have an insight into the consummation of all things in Christ.  “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day— and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations.” (Rev 21:22-26).

“And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”(Rev 22:5)

The gospel manifests the light of the new creation.  “manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10).  The nations begin to walk in this eternal light NOW, as they are discipled to Christ through the gospel.  This discipleship cannot be restricted, for example, by a religious boundary.

The nations receive the apostolic message with joy, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” (Acts 13:48-49).

4. The Light of God in the Face of Christ Dispels the Darkness of Judgement

The revelation of the glory of God as light, means the end of judgement (cf . 2 Tim 1:10).  This is clear at a number of levels.  The background to Saul’s conversion and his call to ministry, is similar to that of one of his predecessors, Ezekiel:

1:4 I looked, and I saw a wind-storm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The centre of the fire looked like glowing metal, … 26 Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. 27 I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. 28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking. 2:1 He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” 2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, (Ezekiel 1:4, 26-28; 2:1-3).

The rainbow points to the grace which returns after the execution of judgement.  Here it is a universal sign of favour upon the human race, not upon Israel exclusively.  The revealed Lord commands the whole universe, the end of the dwelling of the chosen people in the land does not mean the end of his dominion, but signifies previously unimagined possibilities in the setting up of his kingdom on earth.

In the apocalyptic vision of John, the face of Jesus is illuminated by a rainbow that signifies grace beyond judgement.

“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.” (Rev 10:1)

(There are a number of reasons for identifying this “angel” with Jesus. See G.K.Beale, The Book of Revelation (New International Greek Testament Commentary) Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. pp.522 ff

1. The adjective “mighty” (Greek – ischyron) signifies strength that belongs to God alone. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the use of this word in the heavenly sphere was reserved only for God Himself. The Gospel writers use the same term to describe Jesus as the One who is “mightier” than John the Baptist (cf. Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16).

2. The divine aura of this being is further indicated by his apparel. The “mighty angel” is “robed in a cloud”. Throughout the Old Testament only the coming of God is surrounded by the clouds of heaven. The Psalmist declares: “He makes the clouds His chariots and rides on the wings of the wind.” (Psalm 104:3). In the pillar of cloud and fire, the Lord led Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 13:21; 14:19-20; Numbers 9:17-21) and the Shekinah, the glory cloud of the divine presence rested over the ark of the covenant in tabernacle and temple (Exodus 40:34-35; Leviticus 16:2; 1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chronicles 5:13). The Angel of the Lord, is also associated with the cloud of God’s glory (Exodus 14:19-20). (The angel of Yahweh is identified with Yahweh himself e.g. Gen 16:10; 22:11-18; 24:7; 31:11-13; Ex 3:2-12; 14:19; Judges 2:1; 6:22; 13:20-22; cf. Zech 3:1-3 with Jude 9; also Dan 3:25; Acts 7:30, 35, 38.) In Daniel 7:13, the Son of Man approaches the Ancient of Days surrounded by the clouds. God speaks to Jesus from the cloud at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). When Jesus returns to judge the earth He will come “on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 24:30). Revelation 1:7 speaks of Jesus “coming with the clouds”. Thus, without exception, throughout Scripture, only God is ever spoken of as having been “robed in a cloud.” (Cf. Lamentations 3:42-44; Ezekiel 1:4, 28).

3. Another divine identifying mark of this angel is the rainbow above his head. The Greek of 10:1 contains the definite article, “the rainbow”, probably referring back to 4:3 where a rainbow encircled the heavenly throne of God. In Ezekiel 1:28 the prophet tells us “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around Him.”  The rainbow had originally been given as a gracious reminder of God’s covenant promise not to destroy the world again by a flood (Genesis 8:22;9:13-17).  The structure of Revelation 10 (2, 8 -10) is similar to Ezekiel 1-3, where the heavenly being holds a book which is taken and eaten by the prophet.

4. The Christological character of this angel is further corroborated by his facial appearance— “His face was like the sun.” This again is language that Scripture reserves for God alone. The sun is a common image for the glory of God in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 60:1-3, 20; Psalm 84:11). Malachi designates the coming Messiah as “the Sun of Righteousness.” (Malachi 4:2). On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus’ face “shone like the sun.”(Matthew 17:2). When the exalted Christ appears to John in Revelation 1:16, “His face was like the sun shining in all of its brilliance.

5. One final detail completes the christophany— “and His legs were like fiery pillars.” The language recalls the description of the glorified Christ in the Prologue – “His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace.” (Revelation 1:15). The Son of Man in Daniel’s vision had “legs like the gleam of burnished bronze.” (Daniel 10:6) The slight shift in language here serves to evoke even more strongly the image of the fiery pillar with which the Lord led the Children of Israel on their way to the land of promise. In this way, the image of fiery pillars serves to express the strength and power of Christ as He serves to guard and guide His people.

6. The angel in 10:3 “called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring”, this reminds the reader of Christ “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (5:5).

7. In Ex 19:9-19, God descends on Sinai in “a thick cloud” and “in fire”, this is announced by “thunder” and “the sound of a trumpet”.  “Thunders” and “a trumpet call” are recorded in Rev 10:3- 4,7.

The pattern of a divine Angel of the Lord appearing to commission a prophet reflects the repeated pattern of the Old Testament (Gen; Ex 3:2-12; Judges 6:22; 2 Ki 1:3-15; 1 Chron 21:18).  Christ appears to John to commission him to replicate his role as prophetic witness.

All this is suggestive that the radiance that surrounds the face of Christ, in the visions of Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, Acts 9 and Revelation 1; 10, convey God’s covenant faithfulness that is greater than impending judgement.  This is the light that shines in the midst of the believers heart (2 Cor 4:6) and in the midst of the nations, “how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).

5. The Order of Revelation

The Father has “the glory of  God” (2 Cor 4:6; Heb 1:3), this is seen “in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6), in Christ the apostles are a light to the nations (Acts 13:47; Eph 3:9), the conversion/discipling of nations = formation of the church (Matt 28:18;16:18), reveals God’s wisdom to the powers (Eph 3:10)

6. The Problem Today

In the church today the fixation on ecclesial structures and ministries e.g. mega-church and its pastors, stops the people of God seeing his glory in the world.  As Israel was focused on the Temple in the time of the prophets and on the synagogue/ Temple in the New Testament era, so the church sees itself as a privileged society today.  It does not live effectively as if judgement has been taken away for all nations.

Appendix: The Light of God

1. God is Light

You are resplendent with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game (Psalm 76:4).

He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent (Psalm 104:2).

Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever. Amen (1 Timothy 6:16).

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you (Isaiah 60:1).

He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him (Daniel 2:22).

Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever. Amen (1 Timothy 6:16).

In the end, God Himself will provide the illumination so that the sun and the stars will not be needed for this function:

The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted (Isaiah 30:26).

The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory (Isaiah 60:19).

Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end (Isaiah 60:20).

The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world’s great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray (Revelation 18:23).

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it (Revelation 21:23-24).

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever (Revelation 22:5).

2. Israel called to be a Light

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2).

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6).

He says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

“Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations (Isaiah 51:4).

After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11).

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard (Isaiah 58:8).

Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn (Isaiah 60:3).

2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above;  and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Dan 12:2-3)

Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness (Micah 7:8-9).

3. Jesus is the Light

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).

There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light (Matthew 17:2).

“A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32).

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world (John 1:4-5, 7-9).

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:19-21).

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them (John 12:35-36).

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness (John 12:46).

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Rev 21:23)

4. Believers are Lights

Dan 12:3

He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. (John 5:35)

Matt 5:16-17

John 12:36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. (Phil 2:15-16)

As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Rev 1:20).

5. Paul as a Light -Bearer             

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:47).

“‘… to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’” (Acts 26:18).

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