The School of Christ International's "Class of the Week"
Class of the Week
The Controversy Of Zion
Lesson 2 from the series, "The Conflict"
Isaiah 34:8 "For it is the day of the Lord's vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion."
What is the controversy of Zion? Remember these lessons are dealing with life. The only justification for our being here. The controversy of Zion is the controversy for the life of Zion. Zion is often represented in the Old Testament as Jehovah's bride. We are familiar with the phrase the virgin daughters of Jerusalem. Zion was constantly in the realm of dispute. Always the object of envy, covetous, and antagonism of the nations. All the nations were at one time found in some kind of relationship with Zion. God's controversy with the nations was for the life of Zion. Let us bear that in mind as we take up the New Testament and consider the spiritual interpretation of this. In the book of Revelation we find the new city, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God adorned as a bride, the wife of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9 & 10). The Apostle goes on to say, "And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God" The closing chapter of Revelation brings us into the city where the central thing is a tree of life. From the center of the city flows the river of water of life. As this fullness is viewed, the Spirit and the Bride say come. In the midst of all of this they say come. Here you see the spiritual flow of what we are saying.
The controversy of the life of Zion is at an end. And life full and triumphant is the characteristic of it all in the finality. Throughout the book of Revelation God is dealing with the nations and at its close all nations are seen as having been brought under the judgment of the Son. The controversy of Zion then has been settled once and for all and Zion is found at last triumphing in fullness of life. We've said enough to establish the fact that the controversy is in relation to life and is that which we are concerned at this moment. There is a spiritual sense in which we are in God's controversy for Zion today. Take the sixth chapter of the book of Ephesians that represents what is going on in that spiritual realm, namely a conflict with world rulers, then the rest of that letter makes it perfectly clear the controversy is with the church and the life of that church. We are in the controversy and the issue is life. We've seen it in the other lessons, the preeminent thing with God is the testimony of life. It is not the tradition that they had. Nor so much Christian work and activity, they were in. Not so many good and commendable things that were praise worthy even in the sight of God. That which was central and basic to divine election choice apprehension is the testimony of life. These other things are worthless without that.
In the first chapter of the book of Revelation the Lord is presented as the one who is living, who was dead, is now alive forevermore and has the keys of death and hell. Alive from the dead He is standing in the midst of the lampstand, and judging them according to what He sees as the living one, the one who has conquered death. He is judging those lampstands and the church, according to Christ, the one that has overcome death. What He discovers and reveals to those churches is the measure in which the testimony to Him has been lost. He shows the thing, which has struck a blow at the testimony and names it. The things which have interfered with the full expression of Himself as the living one. So it is revealed that the thing most precious to Him is spiritual life in fullness, in power, and in expression. And where that is not so, that which calls itself a church is a misrepresentation of God. I want to carry that thought through the Old Testament, to see in a fuller way how jealous God is over life and what His relationship is to life. We go right back to the beginning to Adam's disobedience and losing his position in relation to God.
The question of the tree of life arises. Notice following the judgment after mans fall, God takes His first step of precaution in relation to the tree of life. God set His cherubim to keep the way of the tree of life with a flaming sword turning in every direction so that the tree of life could not be approached. Notice, "could not be approached." The interpretation is found in the last chapter of the Bible. The tree of life in the midst of the city of God is something from which all sin and sinfulness is excluded. No one can know eternal life unless the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ has been made effective in him. The point is right at the beginning God took a step to protect the tree of life from the touch and appropriation of sinful man. God was not going to have a sinful state perpetuated indefinitely. The state perpetuated is a state in fullness of life, by reason of what the Lamb has wrought through the shedding of His blood. We see right at the beginning God's jealous attitude in relation to life. It is wonderful to note that He suspends the possession of eternal life until the mighty work of the cross has dealt with the sinful state which it perpetuated would result in, a world outside of the intention of God.
Then we come to Cain and Abel. The next step in the unveiling of God's attitude toward life is seen here in His dealing with Cain and Abel. When Cain slew Abel God instantly appeared on the scene. Here is something that concerns Him preeminently. One of the first things He said, "Where is Abel thy brother?" Cain said, "I know not. Am I my brothers keeper?" God replies, "What hast thou done? The voice of thy brothers blood cried unto me from the ground." (Genesis 4:9 & 10) Then we see what God says to Cain. He is cursed, he is marked, and God branded him. Cain cried, "My punishment is greater than I can bear." (Vs. 13) That is God's attitude toward life. Look at Noah. The terms of the covenant with Noah are familiar to us. The equalizing of things in that covenant and the terrible warning to man. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." (Genesis 9:6) God will keep things equal. No man shall gain an advantage in this. No man who touches that which is precious to God shall come by any gain. You rob man, you will be robbed. That is a solemn warning but it shows God's attitude toward life. We move on to Enoch. There is a great revelation of the Old Testament of God's mind for man in this matter of life. God's thought is life, not death. Keep that in mind. We look back at Enoch who breaks the long story of death. "Enoch walked with God: and he was not for God took him." (Genesis 5:24) Showing God's thought when man comes in to living fellowship with Himself, it is life not death that has ever been the thought of God. That remains God's thoughts and its going to be it fully and gloriously expressed in a company of His own believing children who are alive and remain will be translated into His presence. They shall not see death nor the grave.
Then we move on to Abraham and Isaac. When God has a great purpose in mind, He must have things brought on the grounds where death cannot touch that purpose. Isaac is the one whom the Spirit and purpose of God is bound up. Therefore for the sake of the purpose, Isaac must be beyond death. If that purpose is going to be fulfilled in him. he must come into death to have death destroyed. That is the great illustration of divine purpose being upon the ground of a deathless life. In the greater Isaac the purpose of God is going to be realized without any fear whatsoever of death breaking in to interrupt. In Christ, death is past, not future. He was dead, He is alive forevermore. With Christ, death is a past event, not future. All of these are vivid, strong, or sometimes agonized expressions of God's attitude to this matter of life. It is a very costly thing. It was infinitely costly to God. It cost those who were in fellowship with God much also. All of this is the controversy of Zion in principle, God's jealousy over life.
Then we go to Job. In the Book of Job Satan is found in the heavenliest with access to God. God challenges him. "Hast thou considered my servant Job, For there is none like him in the earth..." (Job 2:3) Satan sneers back at God, skin for skin. "Yea, all that a man hath will a man give for his life. But put forth thine hand and touch his bone and flesh and he will renounce thee to thy face." Cannot we see how the question of life is bound up in that challenge. God gives Satan permission to touch Job. Touch his body, family, property, everything he has. But says only, spare his life. Here again is God's jealousy for life. Satan presses along another line, by every means seeking to touch his life indirectly because he cannot touch him directly. Satan's indirect method is to get Job to break with God by cursing him so that his life is forfeited and life is destroyed.
To understand the book of Job we must understand it is a controversy of life. We've said it is a controversy over faith, but that is a relative factor. The real controversy is life, life, life. Job passed through great storms. The life-link is never broken and in the end life is triumphant. We see fullness, victory, everything that speaks of life at the end of Job's life. When the enemy is pressing to quench our spiritual life, when he is working to quench and bring it to an end, through the mind or through circumstances we are often brought very low as was Job. We have our questions. We get despondent. Every believer knows the story of how far it goes into gloom, even about God, His wisdom and His faithfulness. We must know God is jealous for life. God is a custodian of life. We are not merely talking about natural life, the issue is always more than we had before. We always emerge with increase in a lesser way.
We move on in the Old Testament to the Exodus. We are dealing with God's jealousy over life. The controversy over Zion. The story of Israel in the Exodus of Egypt is again the issue of life and death. God heads it right up to the vital issue, life and death. God moreover takes His own way and makes His own provision that when death is abroad in the land, His own people shall be immune to the death. They shall be alive because of blood. Death is everywhere, but not among His own people. Darkness is everywhere, but light is among His own people because of the shedding of blood. The life of his own people is taken into His own custody and if His own necessitates a smiting of a nation to preserve that life, then God will do it. God stops at nothing when the life of His people are at stake.
Then look at the Levitical law of life. These passages of scripture in Leviticus concern God's attitude toward life and the emphasis laid upon the people to avoid the drinking of blood because the life of the flesh is in the blood, Leviticus 7:27. Here is God preserving life. Life is sacred to God, it is His life. Man must not take life and make it his. Life is Gods and must be ever regarded as sacred to Him. All of these things when summed up bring us to this fact: life is sacred to God, He is very jealous over it. Life and not death is the will of God. Sin and death always go together. Just as righteousness and life go together. The Old Testament is an earthly type of heavenly truth. It is the Master bringing us to reality. All of this in those Old Testament scriptures as to God's attitude toward life, soul life. It is merely figurative. The Old Testament, a foreshadowing of that dispensation to come in which eternal life would be life given to man. So, we are moving when we come into the New Testament, not merely to the life of the soul of man it is another life called eternal life. "...I came that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10) It is over this life that God is represented as being jealous.
We are not in the New Testament very long before the controversy has been taken into another realm and is now seen to be man's spiritual life. The controversy now is eternal life. The controversy is waged on a two-fold issue. First, whether man shall become possessed of that life or not. Shall he? Second, whether that life once possessed shall be allowed its full opportunity of final expression in man or shall it be baffled and hindered by man? This is the conflict. That is the controversy and it is still over life. Now we come into the reality out from the shadows and types. We find there is a persistent assault upon life. So we look into the realm of reality. The assault of death upon that which is of God. We can take the types again in this connection, we look at them. Adam, what was in view? Undoubtedly the supreme thing for Adam was the Tree of Life, right there in the midst of that Garden. Adam did not possess that which the Tree of Life represented. But there is no doubt that was God's plan for man all along.
The typology clearly indicates God's thought for man, was that he should become possessed of eternal life. "...lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life...and live forever." (Genesis 3:22) God had already determined eternal life for man. The great thing in view for Adam was eternal life in living fellowship with God Himself. Satan struck a blow at that union and succeeded for the time being. Adam lost it through sin. Paul tells us in Adam all died ( Corinthians 15:22). It was an assault upon that which was of God. The assault of death. The same thing is true in the case of Abel. Abel is spiritually minded, a man who recognized the great fundamentals of a true living relationship with God. Thus Abel stands in testimony for God on the ground of life which triumphs over death and Satan. Through Cain Satan comes as a murderer of that which is of God. That is what you have in the story. Read chapter 15 of the book of Genesis. Abraham was at that time coming into a new relationship with God concerning a people for God's name. A people who would escape the toils of death. At that time God was about to speak to Abraham concerning his seed in captivity. After four hundred years being delivered from the strong hand. Now just before that assuring vision broke upon Abraham, there by the altar with the sacrifice divided ascended this horror of darkness that you read about in the 15th chapter of Genesis.
In small ways you and I, God's people, know something of that experience of Abraham When God is about to do a new thing, or give further revelation, they go through a horror of darkness. They approach the new thing of God feeling that all life, all light, and all strength is gone. Anything but life seems to be this experience. It is death seeking to engulf that which God is about to do. It is death seeking to swallow that child immediately when it is born. It is the same old story. The same thing is true of Job. It was the assault of the spirit of death upon that which was standing for God at that particular time. We look back at the book of Esther. We are familiar with the illustration presented in the plot against the people of God. Haman had set in motion a plot that on a certain day all Jews are going to be destroyed. Once more, it is the assault upon the life of that which is of God. It is always that way. That is the spiritual warfare. We are not going to run the devil out of the country. But the warfare is over the manifestation of this life. We pass into the New Testament and come to the Lord Himself as He gathers every bit of this in Himself. Jesus is the greater in Abel.
All the Old Testament types are gathered up in the Lord Jesus Christ. At His birth, the devil tried to murder Him. From that attempt we pass over many years which we have no record of things that touched His life, then we find Him in the wilderness. The only explanation of those temptations, they were an assault upon His life. The temptations were intended to break His union with the Father to get Him into a realm where He could be smitten. That is the whole effort. In those experiences we are made to see that even He, had He cast Himself from the pinnacle of the Temple would have had no safeguard of angels. He had to move in the will of God. Angels have no commission to bear in their arms a man or woman who presumptuously tries to test God. All we are called upon to do is to believe God. From the wilderness He went to Nazareth. He opened the scripture, from the pulpit of Nazareth. They led Him to the brow of the hill on which the city stood to cast Him over. A little later the Jews take up stones to stone Him. He entered into an argument with them.
"Why go ye about to kill me?" (John 7:19) What is connected with such a question? You are of your father the devil. He was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). The Lord Jesus uncovers what is behind that action. He sees something more than mere opposition. He sees the devil as the murderer set against His life. Follow Him on the lake where the storm is about to capsize the boat. Being awakened He arose and in words identical with those which He used to cast out demons, He commanded the storm and it subsided. Thus showing there were other forces at work than just the wind. It is all an assault of death upon that which is of God. The same thing is carried on into the church. It is not long before Stephen is stoned, James is murdered, and Peter is taken with the same objective but is wonderfully delivered because God is not through with him. Paul was in death often, despairing sometime even of life. It is a battle with the powers of death. Even today, tens of thousands of Christians are being persecuted, called upon to lay down their life for the testimony of Christ. It is a controversy of Zion, it is a battle for the life of God's people. This is always the warfare and is what spiritual warfare is all about. May God bring home to our hearts the nature of the conflict we are in. We never truly seek the Lord in relation to the conflict or come in line with His intention of overcoming, and be His instrument against it, until we are fully alive as to what the issue is.
Satan is after that life. And when that life is gone, he doesn't care how fundamental you are. It doesn't matter as long as he can rob you of that life. If the church was truly alive to the issue she could never pray mere prayers. We would never allow words to run out of our mouth, and call it praying. We would be down on our faces in awful conflict against the evil that is seeking to devour the life of God's people. We will never pray in such a way until we fully understand the issue is a spiritual warfare. While we may know it in a spiritual way, it is necessary for us to wake up to what is happening and what it means. Behind those things is often another power. It is in this area that he fights most, in the prayer life of that believer. The enemy delights in our accounting of those things on natural ground. When we ought to be waking up to the fact there is a much greater issue at stake. What is the tendency? It is to destroy our prayer life. Does it work in the direction of bringing us into a state of weakness and uselessness to God? If so, we cannot accept that. If it works to bring us into that state then we accept it.
Do not look for the devil with horns and a tail. He hides himself all the while. He doesn't come in that direction. He covers his tracks. He comes in such an intangible way that he makes it look so natural. The church must recognize what has actually happening. The enemy does not mind how many so called churches there are, how much preaching there is, or how much religious worship there is. Satan is against life. In many places, He can find no fault for there is no sense of life. So it isn't a church. There is no registering of the testimony of the risen Lord against the evil forces that have come to destroy. The enemy is leading them into spiritual death. Spiritual death abounds everywhere because the church as a whole is not alive to the issue. The issue of life and death. That is something that is secured.