Marked for life:discernment ministry in light of Ezekiel 9:1-11
By Larry DeBruyn
Someone once said that sin is as much breaking God's heart as it is His Law. When God looked down on the perversity of the people on earth before the Deluge, it is recorded that He "was grieved in His heart" (Genesis 6:6b). When confronted by resident wickedness both without and within the professing church, Christians can manifest one of three reactions: approval (1 Corinthians 5:2), indifference (Zephaniah 1:12), or disapproval as indicated by the presence of either anger (Psalm 119:53) or grief (Psalm 119:136). So the question becomes, as we see the worldliness and wickedness invading the church, how do we feel about it? Are we agitated by, indifferent to, or accommodating of it?Not unlike the society and church of our times, during Ezekiel's ministry Judah found herself in a moral and spiritual "melt down." Fraud, violence, adultery, and idolatry were running rampant amongst God's chosen people. Idols had been set up in the Temple (Ezekiel 8:17; 9:9). From his location in Babylon, the Lord took Ezekiel on a virtual reality tour of the Temple, the place where on the Mercy Seat beneath the Cherubim, God's Shekinah glory was to have been seated (Ezekiel 8:4).
What he saw in that place of worship stunned the prophet. On his guided tour of the inner court, the Lord showed the prophet where first the people had substituted an idol image for Yahweh; where second, the elders worshipped animals; where third, the women sobbed over the death of Tammuz, a mythological fertility god who had married the Egyptian goddess Ishtar; and where fourth, the priests worshipped the sun (Ezekiel 8:5-18).
Up-close and personal, the prophet saw how the nation had drifted into apostasy, how Israel had turned from worshipping the Creator to idolizing the creation and its creatures.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things - Romans 1: 20-23.Yet in the midst of all those "alternative spiritualities," and like the remnant of Elijah's day who refused to bow their knee to Baal and kiss the idol god (1 Kings 19:18), some believers preserved themselves to be holy to the Lord. So the Lord instructed the angel dressed in white to mark an "X" on the foreheads of the faithful, a mark that would spare them from the coming divine judgment (circa 600 BC).
Most have heard about "the mark of the beast", the mark the deceived will receive at the end of the age, an identity without which they will neither be able to buy nor sell (Revelation 13:17 cf. 14:9-12). The prophet Ezekiel wrote about a different mark, an "X" that was to be written on the foreheads of those in Judah who had refused to go along with the popular spiritual trends of that day. The "X" would spare them from the coming divine wrath.
So the Lord instructed the angel:
Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst - Ezekiel 9:4.
Pause with me . . . for a moment let's think back to that era and ask ourselves the following question:
If we had been alive in Ezekiel's day, would the angel have marked us to be spared from divine judgment?
It was a remnant who strongly disapproved of the apostasy of the majority. In the words of the Lord, they groaned and sighed over the "abominations" (Ezekiel 8:6, 9, 13, 15, 17; 9:4) they saw being committed in the name of religion in their midst. What they saw sickened them to the core of their spiritual and emotional being. Would the angel have marked us if we had lived in that day? We should examine our feelings.
Charles Feinberg observed:
Grief is always the portion of those who know the Lord in an evil day. The marked ones were penitent and faithful at a time of widespread departure from the will of the Lord.
Another commentator states that the criterion for receiving the mark was an affair of the heart--a passionate concern for God and His people. Failing that, there was no mark...
Some in the mainstream Christian media have called those involved in discernment ministry "Christian attack dogs."
Maybe a better metaphor-label would be "Christian guard dogs"! Discerners so love their Master (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ) and His Bride (i.e., the church) that they agonize to protect His truth and her purity.
Allow me to propose a litmus test as to whether or not we might have been marked in Ezekiel's day. But before asking some questions, we should note Peter the apostle's warning:
But there were false prophets among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you - 2 Peter 2:1; Compare Matthew 7:13-15; Jude 17-19).Based upon Peter's prediction, does the world- liness that is invading the church bother us?
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God - James 4:4Does it concern us when we see churches being manipulated by the mechanics of church growth, when the end of growth justifies any means to achieve it?
For we are not, as so many, peddling the Word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ - 2 Corinthians 2:17.Does it bother our souls to see the goal of growth eclipsing the Gospel, to see methods employed usurping the Message preached?
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek - Romans 1:16.
Does it grieve us to observe the church believing God's truth less while enjoying "worship celebrations" more?
These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men - Matthew 15:8-9.
Does the rampant immorality amongst professing evangelicals cause us to sigh?
And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you - 1 Corinthians 5:2.
Were you bothered a few years ago when one evangelical leader, who led a movement in his state to preserve the institution of traditional marriage, was cornered into admitting that he solicited sex from a male prostitute?
Also I have seen a horrible thing in the prophets of Jerusalem: They commit adultery and walk in lies; They also strengthen the hands of evildoers, So that no one turns back from his wickedness. All of them are like Sodom to Me, And her inhabitants like Gomorrah - Jeremiah 23:14.
Do false teachers with their strange and unbiblical teachings annoy you?I know your works, your labour, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars - Revelation 2:2.
Given our media age, does the development of the personality cults around evangelical leaders and speakers, where appearance and a style trump substance, concern us?
Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ" - 1 Cor 1:12.
By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber - 2 Peter 2:3.
These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage - Jude 16.Are some of us not even aware that there are such creatures as false teachers who stupefy their followers with their heretical teachings?
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them - Romans 16:17.Does it upset us to see the Christian faith being publicly maligned for reason of the immoral behaviour and unbiblical teachings prevalent amongst professing evangelicals?
And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed - 2 Peter 2:2.In short, are we discerners?But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil - Hebrews 5:14.If we are not, then we should not expect to be marked.Well, you might be asking, how can we know whether or not a person is a false teacher?
Through Jeremiah the Lord provided this description of false prophets:The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds - Jeremiah 14:14.
Of such prophets Jeremiah said that,They speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord - Jeremiah 23:16b.Again, I ask you, do you know of any false prophets today? You may protest against the question saying, "Well, I know men who speak for God who are true." But that's not the question. Do you know any false teachers? I know this is a discomforting question--but do you? If you don't, I would say that you have a very grave problem . . . a very grave problem indeed. And it is this: You may not value God's truth enough to know what it is and thereby be incapable of discerning "the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error" - 1 John 4:4-6.
From his study of human history, a famous historian once remarked how he observed that the majority was seldom right. Jesus agreed. He said:Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves - Matthew 7:13-15.
Interesting, isn't it... that the Lord warned the multitudes to watch out for false prophets in the very context in which He differentiated the way of the majority from that of the minority. Jesus knew that to their own destruction the majority will follow the way of the false prophets and teachers. They will not be marked out for salvation. They will not be "X-Men". Like the compromisers of Ezekiel's day, they went along to get along.
So allow me to ask you again:
“Dear Reader, do you know of any false prophets around today, or are you living in denial, in a spiritual 'never- never land'"?
Will you choose to remain unconcerned by the very warning that Jesus and the rest of the prophets and apostles gave you; namely, that false prophets and teachers will arise who will lead multitudes to walk the broad way leading to destruction? Remember, the majority is seldom right.For any Christians concerned to discern, they may be comforted to know they're taking the narrow Way. A spirit of discernment is symptomatic of true faith. The Lord's sheep care, yes, even "sigh and groan" when they see fellow evangelicals lapsing into worldliness and ungodliness. Goats however, are unmoved (Matthew 25:31-46). Yet the caring can be comforted to know that their discernment evidences their solidarity with the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Being concerned to discern marks them out-- "X" -- as true believers Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father - 1 John 2:18-24.
The overriding emotion of discernment ought to be that of grief. There may be a time for anger. God gets angry. He was with Ezekiel's generation, so much so that after He had told the angel in white to mark the believing remnant, the Lord instructed the other six angels,Go after him through the city, and strike: do not let your eye spare, neither have pity: Slay utterly old and young men, both maidens and little children, and women: but do not come near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the elders who were before the house" - Ezekiel 9:5b-6.
But we are not God and we must remember that, "the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God" - James 1:20.It's truly a sad day when we see those professing to know God believing and behaving as if they do not. So it's significant to note that the divine judgment was to begin in the sanctuary and then work its way out through Jerusalem and the rest of the entire nation.
For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? - 1 Peter 4:17.This order of judgement compelled Paul to command the congregation at Rome:
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them. For those that are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple - Romans 16:17-18, KJV.
But if we are to engage in such marking, we ought to be reminded that the accompanying emotion ought to be one of grief. Yet we ought also to be reminded that in the end those who refuse to mark false teachers may not be marked by the Lord to be spared divine judgement.