The Plumb Line of God
There is a dangerous yet common misconception about God that is all too prevalent in the world and even some churches. It is a perception of God as one who is so kind and gentle and loving as to be weak and wishy-washy; that he would never judge a person nor send anyone to hell. Perhaps this false conception derives from a shallow, surface acquaintance with the Bible, which does show Jesus coming to this world the first time as a tiny baby, seemingly helpless, lying in a manger.
But this same Bible warns that this same Jesus is coming a second time, but this time having all power to dispense eternal judgment to every single human being who has ever lived (Jn. 5:22, Jn. 5:26-27, Jn. 17:2, Lk. 12:5). That judgment will be based on a truth and principle that cannot be altered in the least and it is a truth that is treated far too lightly by many in this world and even in the church. That truth is the subject of this article.
It is true that God is a God of love and mercy and kindness and that he does not want anyone to go to hell (1 Tim. 2:4). Because of this great love he has for every human being, he is very patient with us in our sinful behavior, forgiving sins and bearing with our weaknesses (Ps. 78:38).
But this long forbearance often leads many to form a false and dangerous picture of God, that he will continue to not punish them for their sins, and so they feel free to do whatever they want, living sinful, unrepentant lives, expecting God never to call them to account. Such presumptive people should read the following Scriptures and take seriously their warnings:
“”These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face” (Ps. 50:21 NIV).
“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31 NIV).
“This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares” (Rom. 2:16 NIV).
Why will this judgment take place through Jesus Christ? Because God bases his judgment of all human beings on truth, and Jesus Christ is the truth (Jn. 14:6). In this regard, there is a sobering illustration given long before Jesus arrived in this world, given by God to one of his prophets.
In the seventh chapter of Amos, the prophet sees a vision of the Lord sending two catastrophes upon the land and the people for their sin and abandonment of him: first a plague of locusts that eat up the crops (Amos 7:1-3) and then a fire (Amos 7:4-6). In both cases, the prophet prayed for the people and the land, and both times, the Lord heeded the prayer of his servant and relented.
But then comes the third vision of judgment (Amos 7:7-8). This time, there is no possibility of averting what the prophet is shown. The question naturally arises, then, “What is different about this third threat from God of judgment upon the people and land? Why can this particular judgment not be averted?” The answer to this question has very personal implications to every single person’s relationship with God, believer and unbeliever alike.
The reason the third vision and judgment cannot be averted by anything, whether in heaven or earth, including the prophet’s prayers, is that it involves not just a judgment in response to the people’s lack of repentance but a revelation of the basic principle or foundation upon which that judgment is based. And that foundation is truth. Truth is an unalterable aspect of reality and God. It cannot be changed. That is why Scripture says both that Jesus is the truth (Jn. 14:6) and also that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
The first two judgments shown to Amos were judgments of God for the people’s sin–judgments that can be averted by repentance. But the third vision is a notice that this action of mercy by God does not mean that the people can therefore continue to sin and never repent (Rom. 6:1-2); it is not to be taken as a sign that God will always forgive and never hold man accountable for his rebellion against him. It is a revelation of the principle behind the judgment of God, a judgment based on truth that cannot be changed because it is a characteristic of the God of truth (Ps. 31:5) who cannot change (Js. 1:17, Mal. 3:6).
“This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ ‘A plumb line,’ I replied. Then the Lord said, ‘Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer'” (Amos 3:7-8 NIV).
The problem with many in the world and, sadly now, even in many churches, is that when shown this revelation in Scripture, as seen by the prophet Amos, and are thereby asked the same question asked by God of Amos, “What do you see?”, they see nothing. They continue to see only the seemingly helpless baby Jesus in the manger, not the unyielding judge Jesus at his second coming to this world, who will no longer be able to save them because they failed to recognize his coming to them in the time allotted for accepting that salvation (Mt. 23:37).
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you'” (Lk. 19:41-44 NIV).
This judgment upon the city of Jerusalem for failing to heed the coming of Jesus to it for its salvation resulted in the tearing down of its wall of protection by its enemies. In 70 A.D., the Romans did this very thing, thus fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy (Mt. 24:2). This happened because the people placed their hope for protection from their enemies in a physical wall, something they could see. They did not see that their real wall of protection was Jesus, the truth, who came to them to save them from their false hope and who was rejected as that Savior.
What happened to Jerusalem and its people is what will happen to all who follow their example. For, as Amos was shown and as God has thus shown all in that Scripture, God has a wall of protection available to all who would hide behind it from their enemies of the world, the devil, and their own sinful flesh. That wall is Jesus Christ. He is the wall against which the plumb line of God rests. All who flee to him for protection from God’s righteous judgment over their sins will find protection indeed. For he is the truth, and the plumb line of God finds no fault with him and those who are enclosed within his protecting wall.
Zerubabel was chosen by God in the times of the Old Testament to build a temple in Jerusalem. Of him, Scripture says, “The hands of Zerubabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubabel” (Zech. 4:9-10 NIV).
Zerubabel is a type or forerunner of Jesus, laying the foundation for God’s temple, his people (1 Cor. 3:16), and just as men rejoiced at what Zerubabel had done for them, so do all those who accept Christ’s work for them on the cross rejoice when they see the plumb line in his hand. For those who love the Lord also love his truth and the fact that that truth is solid and unchanging. Even though that truth, the plumb line of God, exposes their own sin, they so love truth that they are willing for that sin to be exposed. Yes, they value truth, including the unflattering truth about themselves, so much that they are willing to embrace it even at the cost of the exposure of their own true, sinful nature.
“Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (Jn. 3:21 NIV).
This is the attitude necessary for salvation, a love of truth, a desire that everything that exists would be exposed for its true nature, so that there would be no false notions of what is real and what is not, no hiding of the true nature of things. It is actually a great desire of the true lover of truth that this should be, even at the expense of the exposing of his own sin, because that is the only way that true freedom and truth can exist, when all is exposed and revealed for its true nature. And that is exactly what occurs through the power of God in his Word and that Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12-13 NIV).
The above passage plainly states that judgment and the revealing of all things ultimately must take place. This will take place after the Lord Jesus comes again to this world. After this second coming, then a new Jerusalem will also come down (Rev. 12:10). This city has a wall (Rev. 12:12) and foundation (Rev. 12:14). That wall is straight and true, built on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11), he who is glorious in his majesty and ability to save all who believe in him. No wonder that those within his protecting wall rejoice.
“Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel” (Zech. 4:10 NIV).
They rejoice because his trueness and holiness has been imparted to those who are in him (Eph. 1:3-4).
“This is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain” (Zech. 8:3 NIV).
“‘And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within'” (Zech. 2:5 NIV).
“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev. 21:22-23 NIV).
Whether it is the temple built by Zerubabel or the new city of Jerusalem, each has its wall of truth that serves to protect those within that wall and to keep out those who reject the truth of that wall, Jesus Christ.
“Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15 NIV).
Thus, in the end, this principle of God follows that which he has followed all along in his dealings with his people and the world. Just as in the beginning, when in the first exodus of his people from slavery there was a cloud “coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long” (Ex. 14:20 NIV); so shall there be a separation and wall in the end, after the second exodus of his people from slavery, in the rapture.
“Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Lk. 16:26 NIV).
Between those who do not love the truth and do not conform their lives to the truth, and those who do love the truth and live by it, there is a wall. That wall is Jesus Christ. He is at once both that which separates sheep from goats (Mt. 25:32) and he who is the bridge that unites God’s people to himself (2 Cor. 5:19).
“I am the truth” (Jn. 14:6).
“God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ” (Rom. 2:16 NIV).
Jesus Christ is the truth and the plumb line of God. Do you fear that plumb line, or do you rejoice in it?