Thursday, July 23, 2009

Iron Rod

Many Chrisitans believe that Jesus will eventually return to earth and rule the world from Jerusalem. He will oversee a large bureaucracy and powerful army that will force people to obey and worship him. This view of Jesus is based on misunderstanding of an expression used several times in the bible: “He will rule them with an iron rod” (Rev 19:15).

The iron rod is a fairly simple image. Iron represents permanence and strength. The rod is a shepherds crook. New Zealanders should understand this phrase, because the aluminum shepherds crook was invented here. Aluminum was a superior metal for crooks, because it is lighter to carry and can be bent more accurately.

When I was a young farmer in the late 1960s, I would use my crook to catch a sheep that needed assistance. While the sheep was staring at my dog, I would sneak up behind the sheep and hook its hind leg. The crook presses on a nerve that forces the sheep to move backwards towards me, so I could grab it and tip it up to give the attention needed.

I used my crook to catch sheep the needed assistance and to catch lambs that had strayed from their mother. If a sheep was being attacked by wandering dogs, I would have used my crook to drive them away from the sheep. I never used my metal crook to strike the sheep.

The iron rod is an image of Jesus caring for his flock; it is not a weapon used by him to enforce obedience.

Many Christians think that Jesus sitting in Jerusalem and ruling as a king would be the perfect government, but this is awful. The thought of Jesus using an “iron bar” to crush his opposition is repulsive, because it is contrary to the gospel. God will never use force to change to the world. He prefers to touch the hearts of people, so that they will freely choose to obey him. His answer to the problems of the world is the gospel of Jesus and the healing power of the Spirit. If Jesus has to come back to sort out the world, the gospel must be powerless and the Holy Spirit is a failure. God is backing the Holy Spirit to get the job done, so wait for Jesus to return to do it is a false hope.

We must never forget a very important fact. God’s greatest gift to mankind is freedom. Therefore, he will never force people unwillingto obey him. He will allow them to experience the consequences of their choices, because that is part of freedom, but he will not stop people choosing. God wants people to obey him, because they love him, not because they have to. The most that he will do to make them obey him is the stirring of the Holy Spirit in their conscience.

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