Conferees’ reactions that weekend varied, however. Some thought it was merely a stimulating conversation piece. Others approved of how perfectly it honored their hero. But others felt it came close to encouraging a form of idolatry. Some recalled the infamous golden calf built by the Jews in the Sinai desert.
Biblically speaking, the latter group’s weighty concerns must not be ignored. Scripture is replete with warnings about the pervasiveness and deceitfulness of idolatry within the human experience—especially, and often, among the people of God.
However, the most dangerous idols are not found as statues or altars. Rather, they reside inside human hearts.
Watch Jesus cleanse the competition from the temple
After his triumphal entry to offer himself as Israel’s Redeemer King, what was Jesus’ next move? It was to stride, with a whip in hand, into the most prominent, sacred structure in Jerusalem—the temple built by Herod. There he overturned tables of merchandise and money. Commercialized sacrificial animals scattered in all directions as Jesus decried how widespread greed had turned a place meant for worshiping the living God into a “den of thieves” (as he called them).
Jesus was determined to eliminate every object that was preventing people from seeking God in prayer. In truth, the trappings of trade had evolved into a pantheon of “idols”—pursuits competing with the glory of the Lord. (See more in Matthew 21.)
His uncompromising action was not just for that generation. By it, Jesus was foreshadowing this grander mission: Our Savior came into this world to smash idols wherever they are found—but above all, the idols of our hearts!
Jesus is still in the idol-smashing business!
Here’s one way to define the active work of Christ at this very hour: He’s displacing idols with the saving power of himself; he’s replacing idols with the adoration of himself; he’s vanquishing spiritual illusions with increasing infusions of the wonders of himself—not only within this nation but effectively within millions of redeemed hearts across the globe.
We might say that Jesus reigns today as the supreme “Cosmic Iconoclast!” You can be certain of this: He has his eyes fixed on you! So, will you let him eliminate any idols that remain in your heart?
Let’s dig a little deeper into this phenomenon
These definitions will help:
- An idol is a representation of a god that inspires extreme admiration, love, or reverence.
- Idolatry is expressing committed devotion to such a representation.
- An iconoclast is someone who destroys images that have been substituted for the worship of the one true God.
At the opening of the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20), it states, “You shall have no other gods besides me”—that is, “I’m the only god there is; there no room for any other.”
Then, Jehovah continues:
Did you notice how God describes himself? “Jealous” means he will tolerate no competitors—none—for the affections and veneration that belong to him alone.
STORY: Soon after Moses returned from the top of Mount Sinai with these very commands in hand, the most famous Old Testament “iconoclasm” took place.
During Moses’ 40 days of absence on the mountain top, impatient Israel decided to retreat from the scarcity of wilderness living and go back to square meals in Egypt. So, they created a revised form of Jehovah, shaping him from melted jewelry into a gold-plated statue of a calf that they could hold to lead them. Then they worshiped it—feverishly.
In the heat of holy anger, Moses not only demolished that image into a million pieces but mixed the particles of it into their drinking water. He forced the entire multitude to drink the bitter brew of their idolatry to its bottom dregs.
Now that’s what I call being a radical iconoclast, don’t you?
But Moses’ actions were only a snapshot of the ultimate iconoclastic King and Kingdom that would come—with the ultimate mandate to rid the entire universe of every kind of false god that defies the claims of the One who will be Lord of all.
What does one do with an “idol factory”?
How desperately the entire human race needs for Jesus to smash our idols. No one else can. That’s because, as John Calvin famously said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” In other words, we are incapable of delivering ourselves!
This was Paul’s conclusion about the human race in Romans 1:
Here Paul exposes the depths of human depravity and lostness. Therefore, only the saving, reigning Son of God can successfully overthrow these idols—these usurpers. He alone knows how to permanently eliminate them.
Nothing apart from his saving power, nothing short of the intervention of the gospel of Christ—igniting in us repentance and faith toward the one true God and bringing us into new birth and the transforming work of the Spirit—can exorcise the idols that inhabit us and rule over us.
Only by the redemption Jesus brings to those who surrender to him can any of us experience the kind of iconoclastic healing that the brand-new Christians in Thessalonica underwent, where we read:
What form do idols take in the 21st century?
ONE EXAMPLE: Traveling throughout India in many of the more than 600,000 villages that dot the subcontinent, I’ve witnessed how each community identifies with specific deities from the Hindu pantheon (that claims 33 million gods, scholars tell us). These gods are often represented at the village entrance by a wooden or stone image or even by just a pile of rocks. This is going on throughout the nation right now.
A SOPHISTICATED EXAMPLE: In Acts 17, when Paul got to Mars Hill, the gathering place of philosophers in Athens, he found them meeting in a city full of idols, including one marked to “An Unknown God” (to be sure no deity was left out and offended!). With all their vaunted wisdom, the sages’ and scholars’ lives were still marked with idolatry—until Paul preached Christ to them. A few received God’s salvation and were delivered from the power of the images forever.
In Ivy League universities today, how often does allegiance to rationalism or to certain worldviews become so dominant that idolatry takes the form of an all-absorbing worship of the intellect?
ADDITIONAL EXAMPLES: In 2021, there are many ways we replace the living God with things not made of stone, including these: fervent nationalism (white nationalism or Christian nationalism); political parties or grievous political personalities; and the drive for acquisition and the hoarding of the things we acquire. As Paul teaches in Colossians 3:5, “greed is a form of idolatry.”
At the end of the day, the real idols come down to any passions of the heart that prevent us from always moving Christward.
The antidote to idolatry
In fact, Paul’s antidote to the idolatry of greed mentioned in Colossians 3:5 is to keep Christians moving Christward. Consider his exhortation in the previous four verses where he appeals:
This is how the iconoclastic work of Christ takes place—not only by smashing our idols (like greed) but far more by capturing our hearts with increasingly deep affections for HIMSELF.
The same strategy surfaces at the end of John’s first epistle. In the very last sentence, the apostle warns: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” However, don’t overlook the words that immediately precede this alert:
In other words, only by being totally wrapped up in Christ, John tells us, can we be rescued from the idolatry around us and inside us.
So, what about the idols left in your heart?
Proverbs 4:23 urges us to “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” This means that confronting and casting out of your heart all competition with the reign of Jesus holds profound implications for every aspect of your life.
Are you willing to invite Jesus to fulfill for you his role as the “Cosmic Iconoclast,” going as far as he wants to take it?
One place to begin is to act on the directive of Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 (in three translations):
Keep your hearts at attention,
in adoration before Christ, your Master.
But give reverent honor in your hearts
to the Anointed One and treat him
as the holy Master of your lives.
(The Passion Translation)
But in your hearts set Christ apart as holy,
acknowledging Him and
giving Him first place in your lives as Lord.
(The Amplified Bible)
The cataclysmic iconoclasm just ahead of us!
But there’s more cleansing to come!
In the new heaven and earth, as described in Revelation 21, we’re told that all idolaters will be excluded from the glories of the eternal destiny designed for all who belong to Jesus.
Prior to that, however, there is the Final Iconoclasm that must take place.
Millennia ago, God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a dream about this event, which was interpreted for him by the court advisor, God’s prophet Daniel. The dream not only told the future of the Babylonian ruler but looked ahead to another day for all of us who are longing for the victorious return of the King of Glory.
The vision in Daniel 2 is about an image, partially encrusted with gold, that represented the fate of subsequent world powers, beginning with Babylon. But Daniel concludes his interpretation with this sobering forecast:
Today, Jesus, seated on the throne in heaven, is that “rock.” He will fulfill this vision to the uttermost in the hour that he comes to crush everything that remains that is not of his kingdom. You will be there. I will be there. We will see it together.
So why don’t you invite him to begin that cleansing work inside of you right now?
Where to begin? Here are two suggestions:
(1) Start by worshiping him for a few minutes, this very minute, using some of the worship videos waiting for you at ChristNow.com—HERE.
(2) Let me feed you some more as you listen to my discussion of this topic on a recent episode of The CHRIST TODAY Podcast—HERE.
Let your “idol factory” become an “adoration factory,” overflowing with the praises of Jesus!
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com. Enjoy his regular CHRIST TODAY podcast.
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