WHO IS AUTHORIZED TO LEAD THE ELECT OF GOD TODAY?Back to Alphabetical Index | Back to Chapter Index
It has been almost 1900 years since the demise of the early church. Since that time, the truth of God has been perverted in almost every conceivable way by quasi-Christianity and others who have sought to destroy it.
Around 300 A.D. the historical record of the early church and its spiritual leadership seems to have almost completely disappeared. The records that exist of individuals and groups of people who have attempted to maintain some of the original teachings of the early church throughout the centuries show a total lack of continuity in the succession of spiritual leadership among the scattered elect of God. However, these records do show men and women who assumed positions of authority and leadership within these various groups without any clear authority or precedent to do so.
It can easily be shown from the Bible and secular history that no unbroken succession of spiritual leadership from the time of the early church exists today. Therefore, it is extremely important to find out if the spiritual leaders of the group of people with whom one associates have been sanctioned by Jesus Christ. Moreover, it is imperative that we know how to recognize a person whom Jesus Christ has sanctioned as a spiritual leader.
The scriptures clearly show that Jesus Christ delegated authority and responsibility for the care and protection his Father's chosen people to his disciples who, in turn, delegated some of their authority to others:
"And Jesus came and spoke to them, he said, All authority is given to me in heaven and in earth. Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt.28:18-20 Para.).
Many Appropriate Christ's Name
There are many people in this age who use the name of Jesus in their ministry. The problem is to determine the difference between those whom Jesus Christ has sent to do a work for him, those whom Satan has sent to mislead people, and those who think that Jesus has sent them, but actually have sent themselves.
In many cases it is very difficult to determine if a person is truly under the authority of God the Father and Jesus Christ, because there are many sincere people in the world who honestly believe that they are serving Christ through their efforts to preach the Bible and the performance of physical and supernatural works. However, sincerity is not a test of righteousness nor is it a proof that Jesus Christ has authorized a person to do a work for him. Sincerity is just an indication of how dedicated a person is to what they are doing:
"Not everyone that says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess to them I never knew you: depart from me you that work lawlessness" (Matt.7:21-23 KJV). See also Mk.3:16; Lk.21:8.
There is no doubt that many people today have the ability to perform awesome natural and supernatural works. And many people who do these things claim that they are doing them on behalf of Jesus Christ. However, Jesus said that many would come in his name (appropriating his name) and deceive many (Matt.24:4-5; Mk.13:6). It does not matter if a person intentionally or unintentionally deceives another person, because the end result is the same. Therefore, one who is called by God must be extremely cautious with whom one associates on a spiritual level.
There are also many who are able to present their beliefs about the Bible and God with great zeal and persuasiveness; however, this does not mean what they preach is true or what they teach is taught for the right purposes. Each individual that the Father has called to salvation during this age is warned to test the spirits in order to determine if the source or intent of a belief, teaching, or supernatural work is good or evil (1.Jn.4:1).
THE CHOOSING OF SPIRITUAL LEADERSPAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
The question of how spiritual leaders were chosen and ordained during the early church is easily understood. However, how are the spiritual leaders of the church chosen and ordained today and who does the choosing and ordaining? In order to answer these two questions, what took place in the early church concerning the selection and ordination of apostles, elders, and other spiritual leaders must be understood.
The Early Church
At the beginning of Christ's ministry he chose twelve men to be his close companions and proclaim the coming Kingdom of God. He also chose seventy others and commissioned them to proclaim the same message. Although Jesus gave all of these men the power to heal and cast out evil spirits, none of these eighty-two men had the holy spirit residing within them until after Christ's death and resurrection.
A Replacement for Judas
After the Festival of Pentecost, when the holy spirit was bestowed upon those who were worthy of receiving it, the apostles selected a replacement for the traitor Judas who had committed suicide:
"And they [the eleven apostles] selected Joseph who was called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And when they had prayed, and said, You Lord, who knows the hearts of all men, show which of these two men you have chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas through transgression fell . . . And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:23-26).
The following are three very important things that are revealed in Acts 1:23-26:
An Apostle to the Gentiles
The circumstances and events that surrounded the call of Paul to serve the Father and Jesus Christ as an apostle (Acts 9:1-31) reveal some major clues to understanding how to recognize spiritual leaders who are in the service of the Father and Jesus Christ today and those who will serve in the end of the age just before Christ's return:
Aside from these five clues, there is another major point to consider concerning those who were chosen to become apostles: None of the apostles were chosen to fulfill their responsibilities by men; they were all chosen by Jesus Christ through his authority from the Father as the chief administrator of the church of God. This shows us that, during the early days of the church, Jesus Christ was very much involved in determining who would be used to proclaim the gospel and minister to God's people.
Ordaining Spiritual Leaders
Nowhere in the New Testament do we find an authorization for non-elders to select or ordain people for service as spiritual leaders of congregations, as is the custom in some congregations today. However, the following scriptures leave no doubt that the apostles, evangelists, and elders of the early church had the authority to ordain elders at their discretion as they established congregations in the places that they evangelized.
Those Who Are Sent
"How, then, shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tiding of good things!" (Rom.10:14-15 KJV).
Paul's Instruction to Titus
"To Titus, my own son after the common faith: grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior. For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set things in order, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you" (Tit.1:4-5 Para.).
The Greek word for 'elders' here is 'presbyters', which means 'elderly', 'older', 'a senior.' Specifically, it denotes an Israelite of the Sanhedrin. Figuratively, it denotes a member of the celestial council.
Titus was a convert of the apostle Paul and was regarded as a son after the faith. In this scripture, Paul gives an authorization for an elder to ordain other elders. Titus 1:6-9 shows some of the prerequisites necessary to be considered a candidate for the eldership of the early church.
"And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed" (Acts 14:23 KJV).
Servants Within the Congregations:
For much of the twentieth century, there has been a major controversy concerning the ordination, authority, and function of those who are separated for physical service to the church (i.e., deacons/deaconesses). What is very clear from the Book of Acts is that these individuals had to be selected by people of the local congregations who were themselves authorized by the apostles to make these selections:
"And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples to them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look you out among you seven men of honest report, full of the holy spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business" (Acts 6:1-3 KJV).
Although the apostles asked the brotherhood to select those whom they wanted to serve them in a physical capacity (Acts 6:6), it was the apostles who accepted those who were selected and prayed over them with the laying on of hands. We are not told what the apostles said in their prayer, but we can assume they asked for these men to be blessed in their effort to serve the church in this physical capacity.
"And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of the holy spirit, . . .. Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands upon them" (Acts 6:5-6 KJV).
This scripture shows that the apostles had the authorization to select and separate certain individuals to perform certain tasks for the congregations of God. Other scriptures seem to indicate that the congregational elders also had this same authorization in order to help them serve the elect of God.
Other Spiritual Leaders
Besides the office of an apostle, there are a number of other positions of spiritual leadership and responsibility within and without the congregations of God for which there is no formal public ceremony of ordination. It is important to be aware of these positions of responsibility, because some of these positions of spiritual leadership will exist among the elect of God during the end of the age.
Under the first covenant with national Israel, the Creator God chose men who were to serve as priests from the tribe of Levi and, specifically, from the descendants of Aaron (the first high priest of Israel). After Israel's rebellion in the wilderness, God chose some men who were not descended from the tribe of Levi or Aaron to serve as prophets, judges, teachers, kings, and for other physical and spiritual responsibilities within the houses of Judah and Israel.
After the establishment of the early church, certain individuals were chosen and authorized by Christ to fulfill certain spiritual responsibilities. The scriptures show that Paul was personally chosen by Jesus Christ for his task (Acts 9:1-18) and Barnabas was chosen as a prophet and teacher before he was separated to the ministry as an evangelist (Acts 13:2) .
Below are some individuals who were chosen and separated as spiritual leaders outside the eldership ordination process:
"Stephen was full of faith and power, and did great wonders and miracles among the people" (Acts 6:8).
"Now in the church in Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen" (Acts 13:1 Para.).
"And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them" (Acts 15:30 KJV).
"And God has set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets,thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of languages" (1.Cor. 12:28 KJV). See also Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17; 21:9-10.
It is important to understand that, during the age of the early church, some men were chosen to perform specific spiritual responsibilities, although they were not ordained as elders by other elders.
Nowhere in the scriptures is it found that prophets or teachers were ordained to their offices by either the priesthood or the eldership. What is found are prophets and teachers who were personally chosen to a position of spiritual service, authority, and responsibility by the Creator God (Jesus Christ) after which they were acknowledged by God's people as they fulfilled these positions.
The scriptures show individuals (men and women) under both the first and second covenant given physical and spiritual responsibilities by the Creator God (Jesus Christ) outside of physical bloodlines or formal ordination by other men. Therefore, there is a precedent for this same situation to exist during the end of the age.
Authority of the Early Church
When we review all of the scriptures that pertain to the ordination of men as apostles or elders within the congregations of God, it becomes apparent that all apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors, teachers, miracle workers, and other spiritual leaders, besides congregational elders, were chosen by God the Father and Jesus Christ for their offices (1.Cor.12:28; Eph.4:11-12).
As the chief apostle over the church (Heb.3:1), Jesus Christ is the only one whom the Father has authorized to call and place individuals into positions of spiritual leadership for the care and protection of his people and the ministry of proclaiming his good news message.
It is also clear from the Bible and secular history that the apostles of the early church who comprised its governing body were authorized by Jesus Christ to ordain elders to local congregations. Secular history shows that this authorization continued until the organized effort of the early church disappeared sometime after the death of the apostle John.
SPIRITUAL LEADERS TODAY
Many people in positions of leadership within the congregations of God today cite various scriptures and obscure historical references in an attempt to validate their authority to lead God's people. However, the facts show that none of these men or women can prove that they are authorized by Jesus Christ to lead God's people.
An honest review of the prerequisites for a man to be ordained as an elder within the early church and a review of the spiritual responsibility and authority that was given to the spiritual leadership of the early church shows that there are no spiritual leaders within the various congregations of God today (1998 A.D.) who have the same credentials as earlier spiritual leaders of God's people.
Because no spiritual leaders exist within the congregations of God as authorized and ordained within the early church, in the rest of this study, we will attempt to come to an understanding of who a Christian can safely look to and trust for spiritual leadership?
It is a Christian's responsibility to carefully study this subject in order to make informed decisions about whom to put their trust in when it comes to spiritual matters. Moreover, a Christian's eternal life may depend on making the correct decisions about those who lead them.
In order to gain any understanding of who the spiritual leaders of the elect of God are today, and who will lead God's people during the end of the age, it is important to understand the prophecies concerning the spiritual leaders that will exist in the last seven years before Christ's return as Conquering King. These prophecies and related scriptures reveal how to recognize those who will be sent to lead God's people.
THE THIRD ELIJAH
Along with a strong warning for all Israelites to repent, return to God, and begin to worship him in truth, the prophet Malachi was inspired to record many major events that will occur before Christ's return. One of these events is the sending of a messenger to prepare the way for this return:
"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come", says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiners fire or a launderers soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness" (Mal.3:1-3 NIV).
Malachi's prophecy shows that, when the messenger who has been sent to prepare the way for Christ's return has completed his task, Jesus Christ will quickly come to his temple. Therefore, the sending of the third Elijah is a part of the events that surround the existence of a temple in Jerusalem for the worship of the true God. Moreover, whether the third Elijah is a person or a group of true Christians, it is clear that Elijah will be in the service of God the Father and Jesus Christ and will know and understand the Father's true gospel message.
"Behold I am sending you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the heart of the sons to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction" (Mal.4:5-6 Para.).
The scriptures do not reveal exactly how far in advance of the Day of the Lord that this Elijah will be sent or how long his ministry will last. They only reveal that Elijah will be sent by the Creator God (Jesus Christ), and that he is charged with preaching a message of repentance and restoration of the Faith Once Delivered. Moreover, he will be sent to preach this message in order to convince people to return to God, so that God will not completely destroy the earth.
The third Elijah has an extremely important responsibility and mission concerning the return of Christ and the survival of humanity. Clearly, the third Elijah will be sent to prepare the way for Christ's return and perform a great spiritual work of the restoration of truth.
Why Elijah Must Come
The disciples were well versed in the prophecies as many of their day were; however, they did not understand them. They knew that the prophet Malachi foretold that Elijah would be sent before the advent of the Messiah:
"And his [Jesus'] disciples asked him, Why do the Scribes say that Elijah must come first? Jesus replied, Elijah truly will come first and restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him what ever they wanted to do. Likewise shall the Son of Man suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist" (Matt.17:10-13 Para.). See also Matt.11:10-14; Mk.9:11-13.
Jesus clearly says that John the Baptist was the prophetic Elijah who was to come before the Messiah. When he says, "Elijah truly will come first and restore all things," Jesus reveals that there is still another Elijah to come after John the Baptist. John the Baptist did not come to restore anything; however, when the third Elijah comes, he will be involved in the restoration of things pertaining to the worship of God.
What are these things that Elijah will restore? It is important to answer this question, because an understanding of the things to be restored is a major clue to the identity of Elijah and those who are authorized to lead and teach God's people.
The only clear prophecies concerning Elijah's ministry during the time just before Christ's return as Lord of Lords and King of kings are found in the prophecies of Malachi and Matthew. Within these prophecies are the keys to understanding the ministry of Elijah and the things that the spiritual leaders of God's people should teach during the end of the age. Notice that he will prepare the way before Christ's return, and that, Elijah will turn the hearts of the fathers to the sons and the sons to the fathers.
The Fathers and the Sons
The reference to fathers and sons by Malachi is a reference to the fathers who taught the truth of God, such as the Patriarchs, Moses, the Aaronic priesthood, and later the Apostles. The sons are a reference to those who are taught the righteous ways of God through these teachers of righteousness.
"Behold I am sending you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the heart of the sons to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction" (Mal.4:5-6 Para.). See also Mal.3:1.
The Things to be Restored
"And Jesus replied, Elijah truly will come first and restore all things" (Matt.17:11 Para.).
The reference to Elijah's restoration of all things by Jesus is a reference to the restoration of God's worship system, which includes the sacrificial system and Jesus' teachings concerning the salvation of humanity and the spiritual relationship between God the Father and his elect children. See our study papers about the covenants and the sacrificial system that will be established after the return of Christ.
The message of the third Elijah is centered around the restoration of the truth of God. Therefore, we should expect the third Elijah to restore an understanding of how the worship system that God instituted at Mount Sinai and the worship system that Jesus Christ instituted at Jerusalem work together in the salvation of those who will believe and worship God the Father in truth. Moreover, we should expect other true spiritual leaders of God's people to teach these same things.
When these two aspects of the Father's worship system are understood in connection with his plan for the salvation of humanity and believed by those whom he calls to salvation, it can truly be said that the hearts of the fathers are turned to the sons and the sons to the fathers. Indeed, belief in and adherence to God's true worship system results in a return to a harmonious relationship between the fathers who taught righteousness (i.e., the Patriarchs, Moses, Aaron, the Apostles, and others) and the sons (i.e., those who are taught righteousness and believe).
To Whom is the Third Elijah Sent?
The first Elijah and the second Elijah (John the Baptist) were both sent to the covenant people (Israelites). All the prophecies concerning national Israel just before Christ's return clearly show a powerful warning and witness message being given to the House of Judah (the Jews) and the House of Israel (the ten scattered tribes of Israel). From these prophecies, we can see that the third Elijah will also proclaim God's message to these people. If indeed the third Elijah is sent to modern day Israel, his message will be heard loudly and clearly by the Jews in the nation of Israel as well as by the other tribes of Israel who are scattered around the world.
The Third Elijah's Message
The ministries of the first Elijah and the second Elijah had one major thing in common; they both preached a powerful warning message of repentance to God's covenant people and a call for them to return to the true and uncorrupted worship of the true God so that they would not have to face the wrath of God.
The primary emphasis of the ministries of the first and second Elijah concerned the restoration of a correct spiritual relationship between the covenant people and their God. It is also evident by what is said of the third Elijah's ministry that this will also be one of his messages.
A Warning of Punishment
Before God administers punishment, he always sends a prophet to warn his covenant people that he is about to punish them for their wickedness and rebellion against him. Therefore, because the third Elijah will be a prophet, it is logical to assume that, along with his call for Israel to repent and return to their God, he will warn them about the consequences of not repenting. See Amos 3:17.
If the third Elijah comes with the same type of authority and discretionary power as the first Elijah, he will most likely use this power like the first Elijah did in the performance of his responsibilities.
How Will Elijah be Recognized?
Because the second Elijah was not recognized until Christ revealed that he was John the Baptist, how will the third Elijah be recognized for who and what he is? There are three major traits that will help one recognize the prophet Elijah:
1. His message of the restoration of the spiritual truths concerning God's first covenant with national Israel and the new covenant that God the Father established through Jesus Christ.
2. His call for the civil and religious leaders and the people of the houses of Judah and Israel to repent and return to the true worship of God.
3. His knowledge, understanding, and proclamation of the true gospel message as set forth by Jesus Christ, the apostles, and the unified spirit-filled body of Christ.
The things that distinguish the prophet Elijah and his work from false prophets and their work are also many of the things that separate a true spiritual leader of God's people from those who are not sent or sanctioned by Jesus Christ to lead and teach his Father's children.
THE TWO WITNESSES
Within the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah, there are a number of spiritual leaders spoken of who will live during the end of the age and are associated with the Levitical Priesthood and the congregations of God.
The two men who are called the Two Witnesses in Revelation chapter 11 are two of the elect of God who will play a pivotal role in fulfilling prophecies concerning the calling of humanity to repentance and the proclaiming of God the Father's good news message to the world.
The scriptures show that these two men will have tremendous authority, responsibility, and spiritual power in order for them to accomplish their mission just before the first resurrection and the return of Jesus Christ to conquer the earth and establish the Kingdom of God on earth (Matt.24:14).
Because the actions of these two men and those who are associated with their ministry will have a dramatic impact on the whole world during their 3 ½ year ministry, it is important to understand who they are and why God has sent them. This study will present the major prophecies concerning these two men in chronological order, because their initial call to repentance and their subsequent service to Jesus Christ reveals much about other men whom Christ will use as spiritual leaders within his church during the last few years before his return.
THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM
Because the building of a temple and the establishment of the sacrificial system of worship is central to the mission of the Two Witnesses and the fulfillment of many of the prophecies leading up to the first resurrection and the return of Christ, it is important to have an overview of how the building of the temple will develop in Jerusalem.
The prophet Daniel speaks of the daily sacrifices being stopped and the desecration of the holy place within the end of the age temple at Jerusalem. Matthew records that Jesus referred to this same event as being one of the signs leading to his coming. In order for the daily sacrifices to be stopped and the holy place to be desecrated, there are a minimum of three things that must exist in Jerusalem in accordance with the Sinai covenant: An altar for sacrifices, priests of the Aaronic bloodline to perform the sacrifices, and a temple with a holy place.
The temple is the focal point of the Two Witnesses' ministry; therefore, the Aaronic priesthood must be reestablished with a high priest officiating over it, and a temple must be constructed in Jerusalem before Christ's return. A question that needs to be answered is who will begin the process of building the temple and the establishment of the priesthood and sacrificial system in Jerusalem?
THE PROPHET, ZERUBBABEL, AND JOSHUA
Haggai 1:1-8 shows that a prophet of God will be sent to the prophetic Zerubbabel and Joshua with a message regarding the building of a temple in Jerusalem a short time before Christ returns:
"In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua, the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying: So speaks the Lord of hosts, saying, These people say, The time has not yet come for the Lords house to be built" (vs.1-2 Para.).
Here, a prophet is sent by Christ to stir these two men and the Jews to action concerning the building of a temple in modern Jerusalem.
"Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O you, to dwell in your finished houses, and this house lie waste? Now, therefore, this says the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways [examine what you are doing.] You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but you have not enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earns wages earns wages to put it into a bag with holes. This says the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways [think about what you are doing]. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house [the temple]; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, says the Lord" (vs.3-8 Para.).
Here, the prophetic Haggai (a prophet who is chosen for this specific purpose) brings a stern reprimand from God to the prophetic Zerubbabel (a high Israeli civil official) and the prophetic Joshua (the high priest) regarding the lack of enthusiasm that they and the people of the House of Judah (the Jews) have for building God's temple in which to perform his worship system.
After this stern reprimand from God through his prophet, the civil official, the high priest, and many of the Jewish people will be moved to build a temple for the worship of God (Hag.1:12).
The Prophet Sent Again
"Then the Lords messenger Haggai, spoke the Lords message to the people, saying, I am with you, says the Lord. And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God. In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king" (Hag.1:13-15 Para.).
God will again send a messenger to encourage these two men and the people to start building the temple. This clearly shows that Christ will ordain and send prophets and messengers to instruct and reprimand those whom he has called to serve him during the end of the age.
THE PROPHETIC ZERUBBABEL
The prophetic Zerubbabel (a civil official in the Jewish nation of Israel) will receive a number of different messages from Jesus Christ through prophets and other men in positions of leadership within the body of the elect concerning his call to repentance and salvation. These men are intended to inform him of the authority, spiritual power, and responsibilities that he will be given during the end of this age.
His Call and Authority
"The second time the word of the Lord came to Haggai in the twenty fourth day of the ninth month, saying. Speak to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow their chariots, and their riders and horses, and their riders shall come down, each one by the sword of his brother. In that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel, my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the Lord, and will make you as a signet: for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts" (Hag.2:21-23 Para.).
Clearly this prophecy is for the end of this age when God will shake the heavens and the earth before coming to conquer the nations of this world. Notice that Zerubbabel is called to be a signet (Heb: Sum hotam, i.e., an authorized seal) for God. This man is called to become a son of God and is given the authority to use the awesome power of God in a discretionary manner in order to carry out his responsibilities during the end of the age.
His Power Over Nations
In order to understand this prophecy, one should keep in mind that all of this prophecy is in the context of a prophet of God being sent to command a governmental official in the Jewish nation of Israel to initiate the process of building the temple. Whatever Zerubbabel is going to do for God, he is going to do it through the spiritual power that God gives him.
"This is Gods message to Zerubbabel. Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of Hosts. Who are you, O great mountain [government/nation]? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. And he will bring forth the capstone [a reference to Christ] to shouts of Grace! Grace to it. And the word of the Lord came to me [Zechariah] saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you" (Zech.4:6-9 Para.).
This shows the awesome power over this world's nations that the prophetic Zerubbabel will have. Moreover, it shows that he will participate in proclaiming the gospel message that will result in the first resurrection and Christ's triumphant return.
The prophecies of Zechariah leave little doubt that a high ranking civil official of the Jewish nation of Israel is the prophetic Zerubbabel who will initiate the building of the temple in Jerusalem. Additionally, these prophecies may indicate that he is one of the two witnesses. But, if he is not one of the two witnesses, he is surely an extremely important and powerful man within the Church of God who will proclaim the Father's gospel message to the world during the end of this age.
THE PROPHETIC JOSHUA
The third chapter of Zechariah contains the prophecy concerning the conversion of the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem to true Christianity during the end of the age.
Zechariah 3:1-10 Paraphrased
"Then he [God's messenger] showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this [Joshua] a burning stick snatched from the fire? And Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and he stood before the angel" (vs.1-3). See also Amos 4:11.
This prophetic Joshua is called a burning stick pulled out of the fire, which symbolically pictures him as one who is in the process of being destroyed because of his sinfulness; however, God has rescued him from eternal death for his own righteous purpose. Notice that Joshua's garments are very dirty. This is another reference to the spiritual condition of this man before his conversion to true Christianity.
Joshua's Sins Forgiven
Verses four and five show that a prophet from God (the prophetic Zechariah) is directly involved in the events surrounding the high priest's conversion to a son of God under the New Covenant.
"The angel [messenger] said to those who were standing before him, Take off his filthy clothes. Then he said to Joshua, See, I have taken away your sin [lawlessness], and I will cloth you with a change of ceremonial robes. Then I [Zechariah] said, Put a clean turban on his head. So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by" (vs.4-5).
Notice that the angel (messenger) says that he has taken away this man's sins. Also notice that it is the prophet (the prophetic Zechariah) who says to place a clean turban upon Joshua's head. The placing of the turban shows that the prophet from God is involved in the conversion process of the high priest.
Concerning the messenger noted in verses four and five, it must be understood that angels do not have the authority to forgive sins. There are only two beings shown in the scriptures who can remove sins: God the Father and Jesus Christ through the authority given to him by his Father. Since the Father will not come to earth until his plan for the salvation of humanity has been completed, this messenger must either be Jesus Christ himself or someone else who has been authorized to give this message of forgiveness to the high priest.
"The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: This is what the Lord Almighty says: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you will judge my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place to walk among these standing here" (vs.6-7).
There are several extremely important things to note in verses 6 and 7.
1. The high priest had not been a righteous man, because he had lived his life as a Jew and followed the practices of Judaism, which is a practice that Jesus says is in opposition to the righteous ways of his heavenly Father. See Matt.3:7; 12:33-34; 15:7-9.
2. In order to continue in his office as high priest, this man must not only observe and practice the way of righteousness that has been revealed to him, he must also perform the mission that he has been given.
3. This man is being offered the awesome opportunity to represent God the Father and Jesus Christ, govern the household of God (the servants of God), be responsible for spiritual things of God on earth, and fellowship with the servants of God.
4. Not only does this man have an awesome opportunity, he also has an equally awesome responsibility. However, if he does not follow through with what he has been instructed to do, he will lose his eternal salvation. Whoever functions as the high priest in the end of the age is one of the two witnesses and will have God's holy spirit. And anyone who fails to follow God's ways after receiving the holy spirit will die the second death in the Lake of Fire. See Matt.13:36- 42; Rom.6:23; Rev.21:8.
"Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting before you, for they are men of symbol. For, behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch. For behold, the stone which I have set before Joshua: on the one stone are seven eyes; behold I will engrave an engraving, says the Lord of hosts, and I will remove iniquity of that land in one day. In that day, says the Lord of hosts, you shall call each man his neighbor to sit under the vine and under the fig-tree" (vs.8-10).
These men of symbolism who sit before Joshua are probably his fellow priests that are mentioned here as men who form the foundation of the congregation of God in Jerusalem during the end of the age.
THE THREE MEN FROM BABYLON
Either just before or shortly after the temple has been constructed in Jerusalem, there will be three individuals who come to the high priest bearing gold and silver to be used in the making of crowns for his use as he officiates in his capacities of high priest and one of the Two Witnesses.
This is an extremely technical prophecy that is difficult to understand. Perhaps the only ones who will fully understand it before Christ's return will be those who are directly involved in its fulfillment. However, there is some important information that can be gleaned from this prophecy regarding the high priest, his end of the age ministry, and the servants of God who will be sent to him.
Zechariah 6:9-12, 14-15 Paraphrased
"And the Lord spoke to me saying, Take of them, from the exiles Heldai, and from Tobijah, and from Jedaiah who have come from Babylon; and in that day you go and enter into the house of Josiah, the son of Zephaniah" (vs.9-10).
At this point in time, there will be several men who are in the service of Christ and truly understand the Father's good news message. Moreover, these men will have been given the authority and responsibility to teach this message to other people.
These men will come to Jerusalem from among the ten scattered tribes of Israel (the exiles) who are collectively called spiritual Babylon. Then, these three will meet with another child of God who lives in Jerusalem (Zech.6:10) and all four men will go to Joshua the high priest to present him with the Faith Once Delivered. These men are sent to give the high priest God's gospel message because the high priest is going to be instrumental in proclaiming this same message (Zech.6:11-13). This meeting seems to constitute the beginning of the conversion process of the Two Witnesses. Moreover, it will probably occur either shortly before or after the completion of the temple construction in Jerusalem and the institution of the sacrificial system (early Winter about 4 to 6 years before Christ's return).
"And take the silver and gold and make crowns, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: And tell him this is what the Lord of hosts says, Behold! The man whose name is the Branch! And he shall spring up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. . . And these crowns will be to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen the son of Zephaniah a memorial in the temple of God" (vs.11-12, 14).
Verse 14 seems to support the premise that the crowns are symbolic of the Faith Once Delivered that will become a memorial to these four men in the temple (the end of the age church). If this is true these three men could also be a part of a group of Christians who come to Jerusalem to be a part of proclaiming the Father's message to the priesthood and the Jews.
"And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you" (v15).
Those who will come to build will understand the prophecies concerning the temple and the Two Witnesses.
Notice also the expression "you shall know that, the Lord of hosts has sent me to you." Who is going to know this? And who is sent? The ones who will understand this information are the prophetic Joshua who is the high priest and his fellow priests who will serve with him in the temple in Jerusalem. Moreover, the one who brings this information is a prophet of God.
Another interesting thing to take note of in verse 15, is that the word 'you' is in the plural form, which suggests that a group of people are being addressed by the prophet.
The conversion of the high priest and many of his fellow priests clearly shows that, just before his return, Jesus will call and ordain many people to fulfill the responsibilities of prophets and spiritual leaders among those who are called to salvation.
THE TWENTY FOUR ELDERS
Revelation 4:4-11 and 5:1-14 picture an event that could be similar to Paul's experience in heaven. One thing that makes this event especially interesting from the perspective of the church during the end of the age is the fact that the 24 who are before the throne of God are called elders, have crowns, and are dressed in white. The English word 'elder' is translated from the Greek word 'presbuteros', which is never used to describe a spirit-being. It is always used in the Bible to describe men who are in positions of leadership. These men in white (symbolic of righteousness) have crowns (symbolic of authority) and are redeemed (purchased and saved) from among men by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus Christ).
Perhaps, Revelation chapters 4 and 5 picture 24 spiritual leaders of God's people at the throne of God. Although the 24 elders are spoken of before the first four seals are shown to be opened, this event concerning the 24 elders fits well into the chronological order of the end of the age, because it seems to occur in sequence leading to the sealing of the elect of God for their protection from the events that will follow the opening of the seventh seal.
One must remember that the things that are shown in the Book of Revelation are in a vision and without a consistent chronological flow of events as they progress toward Christ's return. Therefore, it is likely that the first four seals and their riders have been open and active since the demise of the early church. And the events that caused their opening will intensify as Christ opens other seals. See our study concerning the Four Horsemen for a detailed explanation of the first four seals.
It is also possible that the 24 Elders have something to do with the structure of the church in the end of the age. If this is so, the vision of the 24 being before God the Father and Jesus Christ seems to have something to do with their being given spiritual insight and knowledge. This was done with the apostle Paul to help him carry out his responsibilities to preach the gospel and minister to the elect of God. If Revelation chapters 4 and 5 give information about events surrounding the future church leadership, these 24 elders may also be very instrumental in doing the greater work that Jesus says will be done just before his return (Jn.14:12).
DURING THE FINAL YEARS
The scriptures clearly show that during the final years before Christ's return, a strong spiritual leadership will be sent to serve God's people and proclaim the Father's good news message. Those who will be sent are shown to be prophets, teachers, witnesses, and elders. Therefore, we can assume that these are positions of responsibility that will exist within at least one of the congregations of God.
The prophetic scriptures about the end of the age also show that there will be many false prophets and teachers among the congregations of God during this same time period. These facts place each individual who truly wants to follow God in a difficult situation concerning who to trust as a spiritual leader and teacher, and which people or groups to associate with in a spiritual context. Therefore, being able to recognize the third Elijah, the work of Elijah, the Two Witnesses, the 24 elders, the prophets, and other individuals who are chosen to lead and teach the elect of God from now until Christ comes is extremely important.
Fortunately, the scriptures are full of instructions concerning how to tell the difference between a spiritual leader who is authorized by Jesus Christ to lead and teach the elect of God and one who is not. However, it is the responsibility of each person to make the effort to study the word of God in order to have the information with which to determine who is or is not a true servant of God.
Known by Their Fruit
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but are in reality wolves . By their fruits you shall know them, Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs from thistles? So every good tree produces good fruits; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruits. A good tree cannot produce evil fruits, nor a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not produce good fruits is to be cut down and thrown into the fire. Then surely from their fruits you shall know them" (Matt.7:15-19 Para.).
Clearly, the way to determine who is or is not sent by God as a spiritual leader of his people is to analyze the message that they bring and the life that they lead.
Holy Spirit Reveals God's Servants
Those who are sent from God will be recognized by their message and lifestyle and these prophets, teachers, and spiritual leaders will be recognized by the elect of God as having authority in spiritual matters. It seems that these individuals will be revealed to those to whom they are sent by the holy spirit, because the holy spirit is the custodian and repository of all truth and resides within the child of God to reveal and teach the spiritual truth, knowledge, and understanding that is necessary for spiritual growth:
"It is the spirit of truth; which the world cannot receive, because it sees it not, neither knows it: but you know it; and it dwells with you, and shall be in you" (Jn.14:17 KJV). See also Jn.15:26.
"I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when it the spirit of truth, is come, it will guide you into all truth: for it shall not speak of itself; but whatever it shall hear, that shall it speak" (Jn.16:12-13 Para.). See also 1.Cor.2:11, 1.Pet.1:12.
Paul also confirms that the holy spirit guides the sons of God into spiritual knowledge.
"According as it has been written, 'Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,' nor has it come into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those that love him. But God revealed these things to us by his spirit, for the spirit searches all things, even the depths of God For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of man within him? So also no one has known the things of God except the spirit of God" (1.Cor.2:9-10 Para.). See also Psa.119:172; Rom.2:13.
Knowledge about humanity's physical realm of existence is discerned by the human spirit, and knowledge about the spiritual realm of existence is discerned by God's spirit:
"But we have not received the spirit of this world, but the spirit from God; that we may freely know the things given to us by God" (1.Cor.2:12 Para.).
The elect of God are not human as others are human; the elect have been given the Father's holy spirit, which gives them access to spiritual knowledge and understanding that includes God's plan for humanity, what the spirit of God is, who and what God is, and many other things pertaining to the spirit realm:
"Which things we also speak, not in words taught in human wisdom, but in words taught by the holy spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things" (1.Cor.2:13 Para.).
The knowledge taught by Paul, other apostles, and elders was not obtained from the spirit of man, but was knowledge conveyed to them through one of the functions of the holy spirit which resided within them.
The Holy Spirit Gives Discernment
"But a natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But truly the spiritual one discerns all things, but he is discerned by no one. For who knew the mind of the Lord? Who will teach him? But we have the mind of Christ" (1.Cor.2:14-16 Para.). See also 1.Cor.2:11.
A human with only the spirit of man cannot receive or understand the things of God, simply because they are of the original human creation. However, sons of God are not of the original creation; they are a new and different creature with the ability to discover and understand the true meaning of physical and spiritual things as they pertain to the plan of God. It is the power of the holy spirit that resides within a child of God that enables them to discern who is or is not a servant of God during the end of the age. See our study paper concerning the New Creation.
There are two important ways to gain knowledge and understanding that will help one to be able to determine what is or is not truth, and who is or is not a servant of God: Study God's word and prove all things.
Study God's Word
"Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of God. But shun profane babblings: for they will increase to more ungodliness" (2.Tim.2:15-16 KJV). See also 1.Thes.4:10-12; 2.Pet.3:13-18.
In order to be equipped to determine what is or is not truth and who is or is not a servant of God one must seek this knowledge and understanding through a serious study of God's word.
Prove All Things
"Test all things; and hold fast that which is good" (1.Thes.5:21 Para.). See also Rom.12:2.
A person can only know what is good if they understand the word of God; therefore, one must study God's word in order to gain knowledge and understanding.
"These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so. Therefore, many of them believed . . ." (Acts 17:11-12 KJV).
The more noble people were those who were serious about the truth of God; therefore, they seriously studied the scriptures in order to prove to themselves what was correct before God.
Today (1998), it is evident that there is no central authority guiding the people of God as there was during the apostolic age of the church.
The Book of Judges is important to the subject at hand, because it shows a period of time when the spiritual leaders of Israel had lost their ability to correctly influence the covenant people.
"In those days there was no king [Heb. 'melek'] in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Jdg.21:25 Para.). See also Jdg.17:6.
Although the Hebrew word 'melek' is mostly translated as meaning 'a king' in Judges 21:25 and 17:6, the word 'melek' also has many other meanings that have to do with authority. One of these meanings concerns spiritual leadership, and because one of the central themes of the Book of Judges has to do with the lack of spiritual leadership in Israel, it seems that these two verses show the result of the lack of a strong spiritual leader to guide the Israelites in the path of righteousness.
Among the people of God today, there is no 'melek' over the entire house of God, and the vast majority of God's people are doing whatever is right in their own eyes.
Although it is obvious that since the death of the apostle John, the spiritual body of Christ (the Father's elect children) has been essentially devoid of strong spiritual leadership, it is also obvious that from the time of Adam to now, God has always been favorable toward anyone who will honestly seek to obey him and learn his ways. Moreover, he always provides his people with the knowledge and understanding necessary for them to obtain salvation and remain in harmony with him.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all that do his commands: his praise endures forever" (Psa.111:10 Para.).
"And the angel said to Daniel, Go your way Daniel: for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand" (Dan.12:9-10 Para.). See also Rev.17:8.
The fulfillment of the promises concerning knowledge, understand- ing, and wisdom that are given to the elect of God require an honest effort to seek and do God's will in one's life.
The Last Seven Years
From what is said about the people of God who will live during the last seven years before Christ's return, it is found that some have righteous spiritual leaders who serve them well and some have spiritual leaders who are leading them astray. The scriptures clearly warn those who have been called to salvation to avoid placing trust in other people to make spiritual decisions on their behalf (Jer.9:4; Mic.7:5-7). Concerning trusting others with one's salvation, the apostle Paul says to the Philippians, "Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling" (Phil.2:12 KJV).
It is important to note that nowhere in the prophecies concerning the seven major groupings of the congregations of God that will exist during the end of the age do we find the slightest hint that these seven major groupings of God's people are united in a common effort. What we clearly see from the prophetic 10 virgins (Matt.25:1-13), the seven prophetic churches (Rev.2:1-29;3:1-21), and the prophetic woman and man child (Rev.12:1-17) is that there are churches and individuals separated by major doctrinal differences that are being dealt with collectively and individually by Jesus Christ.
The instruction from the word of God is to be continually alert to the danger posed by people who teach things that are in opposition to truth. Moreover, God instructs his children not to encourage or tolerate people, beliefs, or teachings that are inconsistent with the pure truth of God.
In the end, the Father's elect children will have lived under many different circumstances throughout the centuries, and each age will have presented its own unique challenges to God's people. Today is no different. This is a unique age with its own unique set of circumstances that must be dealt with in a righteous manner in order to obtain salvation and the rewards of a righteous life.
Clearly, it is Jesus Christ who will call, ordain, and send individuals to raise up congregations, lead the elect of God, and proclaim his Father's good news message before his return. While we await his arrival, it is our responsibility to remain watchful and faithful to God our Father and Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we may be found worthy to escape the things that will shortly come upon the earth and receive eternal and immortal life in the Family and Kingdom of God.