by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’” Aaron remained silent.
When God instructed the children of Israel to build a sanctuary that He may dwell among them, He made it very clear to Moses that they were to build it exactly according to the pattern of the heavenly sanctuary which God had shown Moses. God was very clear that there was to be no deviation from the pattern. The reason for this is that everything in the sanctuary revealed the glory of God.
In the last study, we looked at the significance of the fire that came from God Himself and consumed the sacrificial lamb. We saw that this fire which consumed the lamb on the brazen altar represented God’s just wrath on His Son Jesus Christ in order that we might be liberated from sin. In other words, we saw that God made Him to be a curse for us, that we might be redeemed from that curse. We discovered that curse was God the Father and the Son, out of love, submitting themselves to the full and complete wages of sin which is the second death. God did not spare His Son the full agony. Remember that it hurt the Father as much as it hurt the Son. It was painful to the Godhead but it was essential for our salvation.
The devil has always tried to enshroud this truth — the supreme sacrifice of Christ — in darkness. When that is done, the King James Version of the Bible calls it “strange fire.” In some modern translations it is called “unauthorized fire.” In Leviticus 9:24, we read:
Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.
In other words, here we see God revealing the truth of the cross. His wrath was poured upon our sin in the person of Jesus Christ. It was our sins that were consumed in Jesus Christ. They were not consumed in us. We are dealing with the objective facts of the gospel. We have not come to the application. That we will do in a later study, but here we are dealing with what God did to you and to me in Christ. That’s the foundation. If we get the foundation wrong, the building will be wrong. So do not apply this to yourself at the moment; we will come to that later. We are looking now at what God did to His Son because out of love He wanted to redeem us.
When we read in Leviticus chapter 10 of the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, using unauthorized fire, the question we must raise is, “Why did God bring fire and zap them?” We must not get the picture that God is a cruel God who is waiting for every mistake that you make that He may zap you. That is not why God did that. If we look at the context, the implication in verse nine of this chapter is that these two men were drunk. The Spirit of Prophecy confirms that. In Leviticus 10:9, the Lord told Aaron:
You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come,....
These two men were intoxicated and, therefore, the devil led them to use unauthorized fire and, by doing that, they perverted the truth of the cross as given in the type. God was warning Israel that you do not tamper with the gospel. If you do you will receive the wrath of God without mercy.
In the book of Galatians, this strange fire appears in New Testament times. It was brought by the Judaizers. They perverted the gospel that God had given Paul to preach to the Galatians. Notice how Paul looked upon this perversion and the people who did it. The Galatian Christians were converted by Paul. He had established them in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He had established this church in the province of Galatia and had left them. Then the Judaizers came and perverted the gospel and the Galatians fell for it.
This is what Paul says in the first chapter of his letter to them. In Galatians 1:6-9, he says:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
May the fire of God come and burn him up! That’s the Old Testament terminology: “As we have already said, so now I say again.” He is repeating his warning because he wants the Galatians to take this seriously. “Do not tamper with the truth of the gospel. If any man preach any other gospel to you than you have received, let him be accursed.” This is exactly what Nadab and Abihu did when they brought this strange fire. They were perverting the truth as it is in Christ.
We are living today where the Christian Church is confused about the cross. The devil has enshrouded the cross in darkness and he has done it by strange fire. Let us look at four kinds of strange fire. We touched on the first one in the last chapter. When you try to look at the cross through the Roman perspective, you will go wrong. To the Romans, the cross was simply capital punishment. We agree, it was a terrible way of dying. It was painful. It was shameful, but it was still something that man inflicted upon man.
The Jews did not look at the cross as men inflicting upon man. They saw it as God inflicting it upon man. We saw in the last study that the cross to the Jews was the irrevocable curse of God upon sin. Therefore, we must never look at the cross through Roman spectacles. It was not the Romans who cried, “Crucify Him”; it was the Jews. When they cried “Crucify Him,” they were not thinking in Roman mentality. They thought as Jews. They knew that there was a commandment in Deuteronomy that when anyone was hanged on a tree, he was cursed from God. And, of course, Paul, who was a Jew, takes this up in Galatians 3:13 and says, “Christ was made a curse for us.” Then he quotes Deuteronomy:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”
I have mentioned the second problem which is the doctrine of the immortal soul that crept into the Christian Church after the Jewish disciples had died and the church leadership fell into the hands of the Greeks. The Greeks believed in the immortal soul. It is not a Hebrew concept but a Greek concept. When the doctrine of the immortal soul crept into the Christian Church, it created a problem.
The Bible is clear. Romans 6:23a:
For the wages of sin is death....
The Old Testament is clear. For example, Ezekiel 18:20a:
The one who sins is the one who will die.
According to scripture, death is the cessation of life. In other words, death is goodbye to life. The life which we have — created life — had a beginning; therefore, it can have an end. Adam never had immortal life. He had conditional immortality. If we teach that man has immortal life (the word “soul” means life or the life principle) and, if a man has an immortal soul, it means that the life can never die. Then what do we do with the wages of sin? We will have to give it a different definition.
The definition the Christian Church gave to the wages of sin is “burning in hell fire forever and ever.” We had to come up with some kind of solution because we had given man an immortal soul. Now here is the problem and it’s twofold:
There are human beings, some of them Christians and some non-Christian, who have suffered physically more than Christ. So what do you do with the supreme sacrifice? I don’t mind suffering three days if I’m going to live through eternity. But on the cross Jesus was saying “Goodbye” forever. There was no hope for Him. He was willing to take the full curse of sin which is eternal separation from His Father, for our sakes.
So the doctrine of the immortal soul has enshrouded the cross in darkness and deprived the truth of its glory. That is why the real issue of the immortal soul is not that of spiritualism. Yes, that is part of the problem, but the real reason why the devil has introduced the doctrine into the church is to deprive it of Christ’s self-emptying love.
Now there is a third problem that came into the church through the door of liberal theology. Unfortunately, it is creeping into our church through some professors of our colleges. It is called “the moral influence theory.” Romans 3:25 is one of the texts that has created the problem. Read verse 24 to get the context:
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished....
Some translations will have the word “expiation” or “propitiation” instead of “sacrifice of atonement.” Now the Greek word is hilasterion. It is a word that was used in secular Greek to refer to pagan sacrifices offered to an angry god to appease him. Many of the liberal theologians did not like that, and they were correct, because Christ didn’t die to appease an angry god.
We must be clear that the word “wrath” in the Bible is very different from the word “wrath” in the dictionary. We must never project human wrath — which is anger, an emotional thing, primarily — to God’s wrath, which is a just thing. He simply lets go of sin because sin is saying “goodbye” to God and God is saying, “All right, I’ll let go of you.” That is why the difference between the Roman cross and the Jewish cross was this: In the Roman cross it is man that is inflicting the punishment, but in the Jewish cross it is God, not for three days, but forever. That is the wages of sin because sin is saying “goodbye” to God forever. The result is that, when God says “goodbye” to you, the Source of life says “goodbye” to you, and when the Source of life says “goodbye” to you, there is nothing else left but eternal death.
We must be clear that Christ did not die to appease an angry God. We must never make a distinction between Christ as a loving person and God as an angry judge. God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:18-19:
All this is from God [God is the Source of all things], who reconciled us [It is God who has reconciled us] to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Why is it that God did not impute our sins upon us, which is our just worth? Verse 21 tells us why:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus had not committed a single sin but God made Him to be what we are, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
What the liberal theologians did was to get our minds detracted from the idea that Christ was not offered to appease an angry God; they went to the other extreme and beat away with the legal framework of the cross. In other words, they began teaching — and this is what is creeping into our church — that Christ really did not have to die to save us. He only died to demonstrate that He loved us. This is just like the U.S. aid in giving money to the third world. We gave it to Nicaragua for political diplomacy so that we could keep those nations on our side in our fight against the communists. The communists had a goal that in 50 years they would have the whole world in their hands, including the United States. It was a battle between two super powers. Of course, we gave aid to show that we love them and we wanted them to join our side.
The theory is in theological teaching that God allowed His Son to be tortured by man to show this world that He loved us. It was only a demonstration, the theory says. Now it is true that, on the cross, we see the supreme sacrifice of Christ in the sense that Christ emptied Himself and revealed His agape toward us. But the moment we remove the legal framework from the cross, there is no need for Him to die the second death, because it is the law that demands the wages of sin. So all we have left to present is physical torture.
As has been stated there are many who have died a physical death worse than Christ. There was Balinda, a young French girl during the French Revolution who was caught by the French people who were against the Bible and was asked to deny Christ. She refused. She had long hair and they held her by the hair and dragged her through the cobble streets of Gaul for three days keeping her head on the cobble stones. At the end of that time they tied her up by the hair and said, “You give up Christ or you die.” In a faint whisper she said, “I am a Christian.” So they put her into a net and brought an angry bull to charge her. One of the horns went right through her body and slowly she died that cruel death. Yet all the time she had a hope. God never removed that hope from her.
On the cross the hope for Christ was removed! That is what makes His sacrifice supreme. And the moral influence theory has deprived us of the very thing they are trying to bring out. They have robbed the world of the assurance of salvation by removing the legal framework of the cross. We must be clear that, while Christ did not die to appease an angry God, justice had to be met, otherwise God becomes an unjust God. The difference between a pagan god and our God is this that the pagan god demands a sacrifice from you. In Christianity, God Himself is the sacrifice. We cannot call that pagan when it is far from the pagan concept.
To confirm this we read in 6 Bible Commentary, p. 1099:
“Justice demands that sin be not merely pardoned but the death penalty must be executed. God, in the gift of His only begotten Son met both these requirements. By dying in man’s stead Christ exhausted the penalty and provided the pardon.”
When we forgive our children when they have done wrong, we are not really forgiving. We are excusing.
I was at a meeting when I was in Nairobi, Kenya. I was coming to the meeting and couldn’t find a parking place. I looked and looked and finally found one marked for “embassy cars only.” You know the embassy has diplomatic immunity. I parked my car there. When I came back from the meeting I found a policeman there. I waited at a distance hoping he would go because I, too, love my pocketbook. I’m a sinner, too. Finally, I went up to him and he said, “This is your car?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “You have broken the law.” I said, “So has this embassy car.” He reminded me that this is an embassy car that has diplomatic immunity and I reminded him that I also was an ambassador. In fact I gave him the text in 2 Corinthians 5:20a:
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
He said, “How come you don’t have your embassy number plate?” I said, “Because the kingdom I represent doesn’t belong to this world and we don’t need number plates.”
He was a Roman Catholic. When he realized I was a pastor, he said, “I have committed a terrible sin. I am afraid to go to my priest because he knows me personally and I’m a policeman who is supposed to uphold the law. If I confess it to you, will you ask God to forgive me?” I said, “Well, I don’t have that privilege.” I sat down and spent a couple of hours giving him a Bible study, giving him the gospel. It was good news. He said, “You mean there is hope for me?” I said, “Yes.” He didn’t really forgive me but he said, “Every time you come here and I am in charge you can be sure nothing will happen.”
What he did was wonderful to me but was he just? No. He could be unjust in forgiving me because he was a sinner himself, but God cannot do that. He cannot forgive us by excusing sin! He loved us so much that He was willing to take the wages of sin upon Himself. That is where the moral influence theory has robbed the cross of its glory.
“The death of Christ proclaimed the justice of the Father’s law in punishing the transgressor in that He consented to suffer the penalty of the law Himself in order to save fallen man from its curse.” 2 Testimonies, p 201.
This is the definition that the disciples gave to the Greek word hilasterion; they did not give it a pagan meaning. We have a God who loves us to the point of being willing to be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (God abandonment, the curse of God). Let us not rob the cross of its glory through this moral influence theory. It sounds wonderful, but it is a subtle way of robbing the truth of its gospel.
Now we will turn to the fourth strange fire. It is a philosophical argument. The question that is raised by many, especially intellectuals is, “How could Christ actually experience the second death?”
We do not have all the answers to these arguments. We will be spending eternity studying the science of the cross. We cannot explain all the details. It is too great a problem to explain or to understand. But I will give you what has satisfied my own understanding and how I met these objections in my own mind.
Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died.
Why was Pilot shocked? It was because it was unheard of for a man to die within six hours on a cross. Impossible! The cross took three to seven days for one to die. It was a slow, lingering death. Here was a man who died within six hours. Why?
Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died.
He would not believe Joseph of Arimathaea. He called the centurion. Verse 45:
When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.
So it was not the cross that killed Him.
In John 19:31-34 we have a different approach from John’s account:
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.
Remember that the Jews did not want these men hanging on the cross all day and all night. There were two reasons. There was a law that they should not hang more than the evening. They should be killed. The next day was the Sabbath and these were holy men and they wanted to keep the Sabbath holy. Now that which kills a man hanging on a cross is suffocation. That which keeps him alive is raising his body by using his feet. The way they killed a person quickly was to break his legs. That’s all. He could not raise himself and he died of suffocation. They did that to the two thieves and then they came to Jesus but they did not break His legs because He was already dead. But the soldier would not believe that so he pierced His side and when the water and the plasma came separately they knew. It was a sign. It was one of the ways they would find out if a crucified person was dead. So we have two evidences that the cross did not kill Him. It was of a broken heart that He died.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Knosis is the Greek word for the self-emptying of Christ. Paul says in verse six that He was equal with God but He emptied Himself. This meant that He gave up His independent use of His divinity. In another sense He gave up the authority of His own life. Yes, in Christ was life, original, unborrowed, underived. He could lay it down, and he could pick it up but because of the incarnation and because of the knosis He gave up the authority of that. Which means that He was totally dependent, even for the resurrection.
By the way, if He had to raise Himself up, He had to be conscious. That means that He never died. Don’t ask me what happened to His divine consciousness. I don’t know. I am going to ask Him that question. “What happened to your divine consciousness since divinity could not die on the cross?” It can never die. I know one thing and that is that it was the Father who raised Him up. Turn to Acts 2:24, 32:
But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. ...God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.
We do not know what happened — I don’t know — but we do know that it was the Father who raised Him up. How He did it is not the issue. He could do it through the Holy Spirit. He could do it through the angels. He could do it by giving Christ permission, giving back the divine life but it was the Father who was the source of the resurrection of Christ. Romans 6:4:
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Ephesians 1:20 testifies to the same fact:
...He exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms....
It was the Father upon whom Christ depended on all through His earthly ministry. “I can of mine own self do nothing,” was His constant testimony. John 5:19, 30:
Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. ...By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”
In John 6:57 He said,
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.
John 14:10 also says,
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.“It is not I but the Father who dwells in Me. He is the one who does the works.”
Thus we have a whole list of statements from Christ Himself that He was totally God-dependent. The Father had promised Him the resurrection. That’s why Christ could predict the resurrection because the Father had promised Him but notice what happened at the cross. Christ cried out in Matthew 27:46:
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Now the Greek word for “forsaken” means to abandon forever. If the source of your resurrection says “goodbye” to you then the hope of the resurrection is gone. That’s what happened at the cross. The Father separated Himself from His Son. So as far as Christ was concerned, He could no longer depend on the Father for the resurrection since His Father had turned His back to Him. That is as far as His feelings were concerned. We know that the Father had not forsaken Him but, as far as Christ was concerned, He could no longer see the Father through His feelings or any means of communication that He had when He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus did not hear a whisper from heaven saying, “Son, I have not forsaken you.” There was no reply. In fact, He was enshrouded in darkness. He saw nothing but gloom. The only way left for Christ was to save Himself independent of the Father. He could have done that, but He refused to do it.
So there on the cross Jesus was willing to go through the full experience that the unbeliever will go through at the end of the millennium. There was one difference and that is that, when people die at the end of the millennium, they will have no choice because their probation has closed. If they had a choice they would never choose to die. I know that because they choose to attack the New Jerusalem because they don’t want to die.
But Jesus had a choice. He could come down from the cross and save Himself. He deliberately and willfully chose not to for only one reason and that is that He loved us more than Himself. It is this love, this self-emptying love of God that was revealed on the cross. This agape love of God is the love that must transform you and me. Look at John 12:32:
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
When the world sees that the God we worship is a self-emptying God, a God who loves us and was willing to bear the full payment of sin on Himself, when we lift up such a Christ, there will be a drawing power.
No one should be brought into a church through fear. My wife and I both came into this church through fear. The investigative judgment was preached in such a way that I was scared not to join this church. I joined God’s commandment-keeping people in order that I may make it in the judgment. It took me years after I was in the ministry to discover that it was the love of God that must draw me to Him. If we draw people through fear, we have to motivate that fear by giving incentives in order to get people to work. We want the love of God to control.
Let us read John 12:33-36:
He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die[the death of the cross — the death of the curse of God].
The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.
I cannot explain all the ramifications but I know one thing and that is that Jesus was willing to die that hopeless death for my sake.
John 13:31-32 says:
When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.”
In other words Christ said to His disciples, “Now you will see the glory, the self-emptying love of God.” And God said, “I am well pleased.”
No longer can the devil ever say to God, “You demand absolute love from your creatures. What about you God, do you love your creatures more than yourself? The law says you must love God with all your heart and you must love your neighbor as yourself. There is no self in God’s law. And Satan says to God, “Do you love your creatures more than yourself?” On the cross God said, “Yes, I love my creatures more than myself.”
It is because of this love that, when the wicked die at the end of time, it is a strange act. My prayer is that the love of God will constrain you. You will go out not because you have to or because you want a star in your crown but to give all the glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is my prayer that, as we behold Jesus Christ and Him crucified, we will react as the disciples did. When we perceive the love of God in dying for us on the cross, we will also love our neighbors, our brothers as Christ loved us. That will be the greatest demonstration that God can ever reveal through His church — the love of God reflecting from His believers. May God bless us as we grasp this truth and apply it to our lives.