26 March 2014

Who Are the “Lost” According to the Bible?

While leading a weekly devotion meeting today using the latest weekly topic from The Wired Word that was dealing with the lost flight 370 incident, in the questions at the end, this multi-part question was raised:

What does the Bible mean when it speaks of "the lost"? In what way, if any, does that term relate to people who are missing? Some Christians use the term "lost" to describe people who don't (to their knowledge) have a relationship with Christ. Is that a useful or accurate term? If so, in what way is it possible to be "lost" from God?

The question resonated with me because only a couple months earlier I had preached a message on the parable of the Prodigal son that had touched on this area of thought, so I quickly pulled out a few quotes on the topic to share with the group. Here are those thoughts, which make a pretty good stand-alone article:

While it has become a common practice these days to call all non-believers “lost” – that is not how the term is used biblically for the few times the term is used. One of the key passages that use the term is Luke 19:10 - For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. So, what was lost that he came to save? Most today would say the lost are everyone outside of Christ. But let us put that statement back in context, as the above verse is actually the end of sentence:

Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:9-10 ESV)

Hmmmm, so what does him being a son of Abraham have to do with this topic of the lost? Well, everything actually. A key problem with many in the modern church is that they focus too much on the New Testament, and fail to comprehend or connect it with the Old Testament story. 

The New Testament is actually the final chapters of a long story that contains many promises that were being consummated finally. Honestly, without a firm grasp on the depths of the Hebrew Scriptures, a true understanding of the New Testament will be impossible. Gospel means “good news” and that news is only good when you understand how bad the first two-thirds of the story were, and the promises that were connected with it.

So, let’s look back and a very, very brief overview of who were lost that Jesus came to save. It starts with knowing there were the 12 tribes, and that they previously split into two separate nations. The two tribes of Judah and Benjamin were considered the Southern Kingdom, and together they were referred to as the house of Judah

The other ten tribes made up the Northern Kingdom, and they were designated commonly by the house of Israel. In the book of Hosea, we see that Hosea is told by the Lord to take a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom which is connected symbolism with the tribes. These children are named names that represent the tribes in various ways. The first son was named Jezreel:

Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. (Hosea 1:4 ESV) 

So, here we are told the ten tribes referred to as the house of Israel will be brought to their end – Jezreel means that God has sown – as in the sowing or scattering of seeds. Then we are told the next child was a daughter named No Mercy:
Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. (Hosea 1:6-7 ESV)

And then another son came:

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, "Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God." (Hosea 1:8-9 ESV)

So, here is what we are told. These children will be the end of the kingdom of the house of Israel, they will be scattered and sown, and they will be called ‘no mercy’ and ‘not my people.’ But in verse 11 the promise to them is made:

And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head.  (Hosea 1:11a ESV)

This one head they will under is of course the Messiah. So, the promise is that although they are no longer a nation and will be scattered away from the covenant, one day they will be brought back and reconciled unto God through the Messiah.

Now, we jump to Ezekiel where the prophet is taken to a valley, shown old dry bones, and they are given flesh and brought back to life with the Spirit of God. This is understood as resurrection imagery looking to the day when the people are restored to life in the land of promise. The story is followed by a second, the two sticks story.

Son of man, take a stick and write on it, 'For Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him'; then take another stick and write on it, 'For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.' And join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. (Ezekiel 37:16-18 ESV)

So, we have two sticks, each representing the kingdom groups of Northern and Southern kingdoms as we’ve already discussed. He says they will be one day brought back into one stick. When inquired as to what this means, we are told:

Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms…My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. (Ezekiel 37:21-24 ESV)

What we have here is a promise of restoring the people of Israel who had been scattered among the nations -  to bring them back and merge them with Judah so that there are no longer two kingdoms, but one. And that one kingdom shall be ruled by David – which we understand to be Jesus, the Messiah, the descendant of David.

They shall be ruled by him, and they shall have one shepherd. Hopefully, the idea of shepherd here is something you have come across frequently in the ministry of the Messiah, who called himself the shepherd, tying it right into to Ezekiel. He stated:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:14-16 ESV)

Again, we see the Messiah as shepherd, going forth to find the sheep not of the current fold to bring them in and make one flock under one shepherd. Another time, in responding to the pleas of the Caananite woman, Jesus plainly states he is there for one particular and main focus in his ministry:

I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 15:24 ESV)

Here is the mention of those lost, scattered people of the house of Israel. This is who the Messiah was first interested in retrieving as promised in Hosea and Ezekiel. Earlier in Matthew, when Jesus was sending out the Apostles to preach, he plainly told them to be on this mission too:

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 10:5-6 ESV)

Their mission for that time was not to be unto anyone except these lost sheep of the house of Israel, again, in fulfillment of promises in Hosea and Ezekiel. So, the main focus of Christ’s work was to retrieve those lost sheep of Israel.

This is further seen as being the case when we can jump over into 1 Peter, where we see he is writing to these same dispersed people, the house of Israel:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia… (1 Peter 1:1 ESV)
And what does he say to these dispersed people of the house of Israel? He goes through the rest of chapter one showing them some of the plan of God in salvation, and then we get to chapter 2:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

Remember, in Hosea the children’s names, referring to the house of Israel were called no mercy and not a people, so Peter is directly addressing the promise of Hosea here with this same language. He states later in that same chapter to those same people:

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25)

There is so many more areas we could cover to see this, but let this be an introduction to show that technically, the term “lost” as it is used in Scripture is used as a focus to the ending of the story of the restoration of the ten tribes that had been lost from the covenant. They were previously cast out and dispersed among the heathen nations – but the good news is, the time had come where under the early ministry of the Jesus and the Apostles, they were being brought back in to the fold, into the new covenant, under their shepherd Messiah. The remnant from all twelve tribes were being brought back into one new tribe which was later combined with the entrance of people from the heathen nations, and now, as Gal. 3 tells us, in this new people in Christ, there are “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”