A pantheistic creation story
“Big History” is a modern origins story that is being developed online for school students and is supported by Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men. The objective is to develop a framework for learning about anything and everything that includes a deeper awareness of our past. It claims to tell a story that our children need to know. But what will they learn?
History of the universe
“Big History” is based on eight “threshold moments” when the universe increased in complexity:
- Origin of the universe billions of years ago as explained by the big bang theory.
- Stars light up from the remnants of the exploding gases.
- New chemical elements form when stars die and create new types of atoms.
- Rocky planets such as the earth and the solar system form around stars.
- Molecules combine to form single celled living organisms that evolve into multi-celled organisms.
- Human beings appear as a consequence of evolutionary processes.
- After the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, humans develop agriculture.
- The modern revolution, characterized by the use of fossil fuels and global communication.
Although “Big History” is based on humanity’s current scientific and historical understanding, the following questions come to mind.
Although Big History states these as facts, it assumes that:
- The origin and development of the universe can be explained by the laws of science.
- The early universe was simple.
- The universe has become more complex with time.
Once these are assumed, the rest follows as a consequence. So the course is teaching that these assumptions are facts. Instead they are scientifically unprovable.
As history trumps science when dealing with the past, the Bible surpasses science with regard to the origin of the universe and the nature of the early universe. In particular, the assumption of the uniformity of scientific laws isn’t valid past the creation of the universe about 6,000 years ago. So history shows the first two assumptions are false.
The assumption that “The universe has become more complex with time”, goes against common sense and the law of cause and effect. How can an inanimate object gain increasing complexity and increasing information by using the laws of science alone and not outside intelligence? How can an animal or plant gain increasing complexity and increasing information by using the laws of science alone and not outside intelligence?
This secular origins story is based on miracles than can’t be explained by science. Yet it claims to be scientific!
Before the beginning of time it assumes there was nothing – no time, mass, energy or space. After the beginning of time a tiny particle smaller than an atom appears that contains everything in today’s universe. This means that something appears from nothing, which is not allowed in the laws of physics! In a science where there is no place for miracles, this is certainly a miracle. How was all the mass and energy within the universe created out of absolutely nothing using only the physical forces within the universe? How could the universe create itself?
According to Big History, the universe can create complexity and information. This happens as a series of stages, each of which produces something utterly new. Each of these threshold moments is a miracle as the increase in complexity and information cannot be explained by the laws of science. How could the universe increase complexity and information by itself?
How does the universe create complexity despite the second law of thermodynamics, which says that “The general tendency of the universe is to move from order and structure to lack of order and lack of structure”? This is never explained. There is just a statement that it can create complexity, but with great difficulty! So the universe builds itself, which is pantheism. The universe is god. So intelligence and intent is attributed to inanimate objects or concepts, such as “Life interjects” and “DNA learns”.
It is interesting to note that the example of increasing complexity used in Big History was our modern society and not a biological example such as the DNA molecule or the human mind.
Big History is guilty of circular reasoning. It states assumptions and ideas as facts. Its key findings are based on its assumptions and presuppositions. For example, it reveals how complexity slowly evolved. But this is also an assumption.
Big history is speculative. It says, “We can imagine the early universe breaking up into billions of clouds”.
Big history is a product of the secular paradigm or worldview that has rejected the God of the Bible.
Big History is certainly ambitious. It has big assumptions, big miracles, big extrapolation and big imagination. Although it claims to be big on history, it actually includes little recorded history.
As “the story of how the universe creates complexity” and the “unifying story that gives a sense of the whole of history”, it is a pantheistic creation story that replaces the Bible.
Do our children need to know this? How much better if they knew the Bible and accepted its message as the unifying story that gives a sense of the whole of history?
Written, October 2013
When history trumps science
Crime investigation often involves eyewitnesses and forensic science. But when these conflict, which gets precedence? Forensic science uses the evidence to infer what happened in the past and so deduce who committed the crime. Eyewitnesses report what they saw happen and who actually committed the crime. More importance is usually given to a reliable eyewitness than to forensic science, but forensic science can help explain an eyewitness account.
History and science are two main ways to investigate events that occurred in the past. History is like an eyewitness and science is like forensic science. In this article, we use the term “ancient forensic science” to refer to the use of science to investigate ancient times. Let’s look at the relationship between history and ancient forensic science.
How history works
History is the study of past events. Its accuracy depends on the accuracy of the information available to the historian, which is also related to the amount of time between the events studied and the historical investigation. Obviously, all other things being equal, the greater this time gap, the greater the uncertainty in the investigation.
History is more accurate when there are written records available than when these are absent. History can also use other evidence such as oral records and archaeological findings.
As a result of historical research, the historian produces a written account of past events and attempts to put them in chronological order.
How ancient forensic science works
Ancient forensic science uses the scientific method to investigate ancient times. This approach has been used in astronomy, archaeology, biology, chemistry and geology to investigate ancient times. Because it relates to past events that were not observed and the evidence is thousands of years old, ancient forensic science is based on more assumptions than most science. Many assumptions need to be made to interpret the evidence. An example of an assumption made by modern forensic science in that “everyone’s fingerprint is unique”. The assumptions of ancient forensic science include extrapolation from present conditions backwards in time assuming uniformity of scientific laws. If an assumption is incorrect, then the findings of the forensic investigation can be unreliable.
By the way, science can only address situations that are described by scientific laws. This means it can’t address questions such as the ultimate origin of matter and energy in the universe.
As a result of ancient forensic scientific research, the scientist also produces a written account of past events and attempts to put them in chronological order.
The historical record
The Bible is the best record of ancient history we have today. It contains documentary evidence from eyewitnesses which has been accurately preserved over the years. The authors were either eyewitnesses themselves or they spoke with eyewitnesses. In the case of the original creation, the account was given to Moses by God, who was the Creator. God asked Job, “Where were you?” when this happened (Job 8:4-7)! He hadn’t been born yet! Therefore, it is an eyewitness account! Likewise, the question for us today is “Were you there?”. Obviously the answer is “no”! We can only look back thousands of years towards this event.
The Bible says that God created the universe rapidly in six days and that people have existed since the sixth day of creation. The creation was mature and fully functional from the beginning. It didn’t need to develop gradually over time from simple to more complex. This means that at the beginning, the apparent age of things didn’t match the actual age. The Bible also says that Adam lived about 6,000 years ago and the global flood was about 4,500 years ago.
The ancient forensic scientific explanation
Ancient forensic science says that the universe developed slowly over billions of years. During this time, things developed gradually from simple to more complex. First there were stars, then planets, then single-celled organisms, then multi-celled organisms, followed by fish, plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and finally human beings.
Much of this explanation relies on the “big bang” theory and the idea of evolution. However, ancient forensic science is unable to answer questions like:
- How did the first life originate?
- Why was there a “big-bang”?
- What happened before the “big-bang”
- How did something come from nothing?
This conflicts with the biblical record as the dates are significantly older, all things developed gradually from simple to more complex instead of being complex from the beginning, and people appear after billions of years of evolution.
How can we resolve this conflict?
Scientists use mathematical methods to make predictions. These mathematical methods (which are called “models”) are developed from measurements (observations) that have been made over a certain period of time and under a certain range of conditions. The predictions are most accurate for circumstances that lie within those under which the model was developed. Predictions made outside these circumstances are less reliable as they are extrapolations outside the realm that was measured and observed.
The ancient forensic scientific explanation of ancient history uses theories and observations made in the past few hundred years to make statements about what happened millions and billions of years ago. In science it is well known that the accuracy of a prediction decreases as it extends outside the region of measurement and observation.
Orders of magnitude are used to compare very large differences between numbers. It this case the difference is expressed as the power of 10. For example, 1,000 is one order of magnitude greater than 100, two orders of magnitude greater than 10, and three orders of magnitude greater than 1.
We will now estimate the degree of extrapolation that is made by ancient forensic science. In order to be conservative, we will assume that the scientific theories and observations have been developed from measurements and observations made in the past 1,000 years. So any prediction that applies greater than 1,000 years ago is an extrapolation outside the range of measurement and observation. Therefore, a prediction of an event 10,000 years ago represents an extrapolation of one order of magnitude. Using the dates taught in the Big History Project, we see that the extrapolations are at least 2 to 7 orders of magnitude. As the degree of uncertainty usually increases with the size of the extrapolation, these enormous extrapolations indicate a huge uncertainty in these predictions. In normal science such extrapolations would be viewed as being speculative guesses.
|Proposed Event||Extrapolation – Orders of magnitude
|Big bang||7 (a factor of 107 )|
|Earth and solar system formed||6 (a factor of 106)|
|First life on earth||6 (a factor of 106)|
|First humans||2 (a factor of 102)|
Resolving the conflict
As eyewitnesses trump forensic science in criminal investigations, we need to see what implications the historical record has for the ancient forensic scientific explanation. The most obvious implication is that it is wrong to extrapolate backwards in time past about 6,000 years because this was when the universe was “stretched out” by God (Jer. 10:12). The creative week was a unique time that can’t be explained by the laws of science. Scientists would call it a “boundary condition” or an “initial condition”. The assumption of the uniformity of scientific laws only applies since this time. Extrapolation backwards past this time is invalid because the current scientific laws may not apply when God was creating the universe.
This means that most of the apparent billions of years in the ancient forensic scientific explanation represent what God did in less than a week. This was the miracle of creation. So the billions of years is related to how far God stretched out the universe, not the age of the universe.
Because it is wrong to extrapolate backwards in time past about 6,000 years, the millions of years of evolution are also incorrect.
So when the ancient forensic scientific explanation is corrected by imposing historical eyewitness boundary conditions, we see that the assumptions behind the “big-bang” theory and the theory of evolution are obviously incorrect.
Does it matter?
Why can’t we accept both ancient forensic science and the Bible? Because the ancient forensic scientific explanation destroys the gospel message in the Bible. It destroys the source of sin and death, removes the need for a Savior, and ruins the possibility of future restoration of the earth when Christ reigns (Acts 3:21). This means removing creation, the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin as real events in real places.
It also moves the source of sin, disease, decay and death away from Adam and Eve’s disobedience. It makes them a normal part of our world. They are not viewed as being abnormal. It puts death before sin, not after it. It means that the created world, which God said was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), was marred by disease and death from the beginning. It takes away the fact that the original sin affected all of God’s creation (Rom. 8:19-23). It takes away the promise that all creation will be liberated from its “bondage to decay” when Christ returns to rule over it.
As a reliable eyewitness is superior to forensic science in the investigation of crime, so reliable history is better than ancient forensic science in investigating ancient times. So history trumps science when dealing with the past.
Let’s follow the reliable history of the Bible, instead of the erroneous assumptions and extrapolations of ancient forensic science.
Written, October 2013
According to a recent Australian government inquiry, the story of Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli in Turkey in World War 1 is largely a myth. It was found that the accounts of Simpson’s exceptional bravery were based on false or faulty evidence and fraudulent witnesses. Also, a war correspondent embellished his account of Simpson and his donkey and this was repeated until Simpson became a hero and a legend. So the heroism of Simpson and his donkey is more myth than reality and more fiction than fact. It was found that his deeds were no more exceptional than those of hundreds of other stretcher bearers working at Gallipoli at the time.
The battle of Gallipoli was a disastrous defeat for the Allies which claimed the lives of about 8,700 young Australian men. It was in the context of this bad news that the good news story of Simpson and his donkey was created.
The demise of this hero shows the importance of reliable historical records and eyewitness accounts. When the historical records were examined the facts were established and the story was found to be unreliable. This can also be the case in movies where historical accounts can be embellished until they are more myth than reality and more fiction than fact.
If this can happen for an event that occurred about 100 years ago, what about an event that occurred about 2,000 years ago! What about the story of Jesus Christ in the Bible? Fortunately, the Bible is not a myth – see my post: “How many witnesses does it take to bust a myth”. It is based on multiple eye-witnesses and contains multiple accounts of Christ’s life and His resurrection.
The writers of the Bible were usually eyewitnesses of the events they documented. On the other hand, the legend of Simpson and his donkey was not written by eyewitnesses. That’s one reason why an ancient account can be more accurate than a modern one.
So the Bible is a reliable and robust historical account of events in ancient times.
Written, March 2013
Promise and judgment
Recently I was asked this question about the Bible: I was wondering, what about the parts of the Bible that say that God ordained for the Israelites to slaughter so many people. Yes, I understand that was God’s judgment on a wicked people, but that doesn’t explain slaughtering innocent children, and in some cases of wiping out a people. It seems inconsistent with a God who is against abortion and offers forgiveness to sinners. I agree that wholesale slaughter of nations seems incompatible with a God of love and mercy. It’s an argument that is often brought against the Old Testament.
The context of the Israelite invasion of Canaan begins with Abram who was in the 20th generation of life on earth. Abram was given many promises including that his descendants would be a great nation, the Jews who were God’s special people on earth. They were to be different and separate to the other nations: “you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession” (Dt. 7:6NIV). The Israelites were given special laws to follow, including “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices” (Lev. 18:2-3).
In the 10th generation, Noah cursed his grandson Canaan (Gen. 9:25), which was an act of divine judgment. As the Old Testament is an account of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel, we will see that Israel as God’s representatives on earth was to be involved with the judgment of the sins of the Canaanites.
When Abram travelled to Canaan, God told him, “To your offspring I will give this land” forever (Gen. 12:7; 13:15; 17:8; 1 Chron. 16:15-18). God confirmed this promise in a covenant: “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it” (Gen 15:7). The promise was repeated to Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses (Gen. 50:24-25; Ex. 6:8). This was an unconditional promise (Ps. 105:8-11). It was like a grant given by a king to a loyal subject.
What land would they receive? “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites” (Gen. 15:18-21). They were to be given the land of Canaan that was occupied by these nations.
When would this happen? “Know for certain that for 400 years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there (Egypt). But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions … In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:13-16). So under the leadership of Moses, the Israelites would leave Egypt and travel to occupy Canaan. Note that the timing of being given the land was when the sin of the Amorites was fully developed. This is explained in Deuteronomy, “it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you” (Dt. 9:4).
Sins of the Canaanites
The Bible describes the wickedness of the Canaanite nations: “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you” (Dt. 18:9-12).
Their sexual immorality is described in Leviticus 18 as detestable. The Israelites were told “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Lev. 18:24-25). They were also warned against child sacrifice to the god Molek (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5) and against religious prostitution (1 Ki. 14:24; Dt. 23:17).
So the Canaanites were characterised by extreme wickedness, like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. They have been likened to a cancer in society. In such situations, God gives a warning of His judgment. In the days of Abraham they had the witness of Melchizedek the king-priest of Salem (Jerusalem) (Gen. 14:19-20) and the judgment of Sodom and Gormorrah (Gen. 19:1-29).
Before Jericho was destroyed, Rahab told the spies, “I know that the LORD has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Josh. 2:8-11). They knew about God’s promise – the land grant – made over 400 years before and were fearful because of the exodus 40 years beforehand when the God of the Israelites defeated the Egyptians, who were the most powerful nation at that time. This fear had been predicted (Ex. 15:14-17). They also knew about the Israelites recent military victories. Most people would flee when their country was invaded by a stronger army (Jer. 4:29; 6:1). The Amorite and Canaanite kings were also afraid because they knew that God had dried up the Jordan river so the Israelites could cross over (Josh. 5:1). As the Israelite invasion would be gradual (“little by little”), the Canaanites had plenty of time to escape (Ex. 23:30; Dt. 7:22). So they knew what was coming and they could either repent of their ways or escape by migrating out of the land of Canaan.
God had promised that the Israelites would occupy the land of Canaan. When we look at how this is described in the Bible we see two kinds of words: the Canaanite nations were both “driven out” and “destroyed”. What does this mean? We see that the Canaanites had a choice, either migrate before the Israelites arrive or be executed. It was an eviction, not a genocide. This meant that the wicked Canaanite culture and nation was to be destroyed, but most of the people could be assimilated into the surrounding nations. Also, it was to protect the Israelites from being influenced by the Canaanite idolatry and wickedness.
For example, God said, “I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you” and “I will wipe them out” (Ex. 23:23, 31). The people were to be banished or killed and their idols destroyed. To avoid idolatry, there were to be no treaties and intermingling: “Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against Me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you” (Ex. 23:32-33). More detail is given in Deuteronomy and Numbers: “you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them” (Dt. 7:2-3); “drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess” (Num. 33:52-53); “in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God” (Dt. 20:16-18).
So the Canaanites were to be driven out of the land (Lev. 18:24-25) and those who refused to leave were to be executed as judgment of their wickedness and to minimise the chance of the Israelites catching their wicked ways. It was an expulsion, not an extermination. As some always escaped and migrated elsewhere, there were no instances of “wiping out a people”.
Later when the Israelites followed the idolatry of the Canaanites, they were also evicted from Canaan and deported to Babylon (Lev. 18:28)!
Was this fair? Was it consistent with the ways of God?
God’s revelation to those who have not heard the gospel
According to Paul, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:18-20).
This passage describes people like the Canaanites. They could see the works of God in the created world. A creation requires a creator, it can’t create itself, and it doesn’t happen by accident or just by the physical laws of this world. The immensity and magnificence of the created world requires a creator with power and knowledge that greatly exceeds those of humanity. This should be obvious. There is no excuse for not realising that a powerful being has made the universe.
However, people rejected and suppressed this truth and foolishly worshipped idols (Rom. 1:21-32). Their gods were created things instead of the One who created everything. This led to sexual immorality and other sinful behaviour. That’s why the Canaanites were under God’s wrath and judgment. God was fair, He had revealed Himself in His creation and then He waited 400 years while the Israelites were in Egypt. God was patient in judgment (2 Pt. 3:9). He allowed evil to run its course and allowed plenty of time for repentance. Instead of turning to God, the Canaanites turned to increased sinfulness. Physical death was one of the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:19). In this instance, people died prematurely during the Israelite invasion. This means of death discontinued after the Israelites were defeated and captured by the Babylonians. After their captivity, God’s people were not required to kill so they could occupy the promised land.
In the instance of Sodom and Gomorrah, God said he would not destroy these cities if there were ten righteous people there (Gen 18:32). As He enabled Lot’s family to escape this destruction and Rahab’s family to be protected at Jericho (Josh. 6:25), we can infer that all the Canaanites who died had rejected God’s revelation and decided to stay and oppose the Israelites.
What about the children?
We have seen that the Canaanite inhabitants, including children, were either driven out or killed to prevent intermarriage and idolatry (Dt. 7:3-4; 20:16-18). Otherwise, the children who were killed would have probably followed the ways of their parents who were the leaders and those deeply involved in the Canaanite culture.
Also, with respect to idolatry, God said He punishes “the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Dt. 5:9). Here we see that children suffer the consequences of their parent’s actions, which is also the case today. For example, if parents are involved in crime or drugs or are alcoholics, it affects the lives of their children. As they lived in extended households, more generations of the Israelites and Canaanites were victims of their family circumstances than would be the case today. For example, Achan’s family were stoned because of his disobedience – the plunder was put under the family tent (Josh. 7:20-25). Household members share in the fate or fortune of the parents, like collateral damage in a war. The fate of the Canaanite children depended on whether their parents migrated out of Canaan or stayed there. On the other hand, Rahab’s family were saved because they were in her house when Jericho was destroyed – they shared in Rahab’s fortune. We should blame the parents and not God for the “slaughtering of innocent children”.
The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5; 58:3). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So children are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death is a bigger issue than physical death.
Three Bible verses teach that young children are not accountable for their sin. Firstly, when the Israelites rebelled and refused to enter Canaan, they were punished with all their army except Joshua and Caleb dying while they wandered 38 years in the desert. At this time God promised that their young children would enter Canaan, “And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it” (Dt. 1:39, Num. 14:31). Because they did not yet know good from bad, they were not responsible or accountable for the Israelites’ disobedience.
Secondly, when the king of Judah was being attacked by the kings of Syria and Israel, he was given a sign that his enemies would be defeated by Assyria. Isaiah was to have a son and before he “knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right” the land of the two kings will be laid waste (Isa. 7:14-16). Children who are not accountable do not know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil. They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.
Thirdly, when God rebuked Jonah, He similarly distinguished between children and adults,“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jon. 4:11).
At what age can a child respond to God’s revelation in creation (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15-16)? It is the age at which they can understand the issue and respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in their life (Jn. 16:8-9). It is when they can recognise His works of creation and choose to accept, honour and thank Him (Rom. 1:21). Those who die at a younger age go to heaven rather than be condemned to spiritual death.
Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for … the sins of the whole world’ (1 Jn. 2:2). As a loving and merciful God, it is reasonable to assume that He accepts Christ’s payment for the sin of those who are unable to understand God’s revelation and their sinful state such as young children. After all, Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). Once children reach the age of God-consciousness, they are accountable for their sin.
Lessons for us
What can we learn from this (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11)?
Clearly, Israel’s God was greater than the false Canaanite gods, showing that there is only one true God (Isa. 43:10-12).
God kept His promise to the Israelites. It was a unique time when God established His kingdom across Canaan for a period of about 800 years, which was a foretaste of His future promised kingdom over all the earth for 1000 years. Also, God has given Christians many spiritual promises in the New Testament which He will also fulfil.
God punished the extreme wickedness of the Canaanites. This reminds us that sin has consequences. It results in physical and spiritual death. The only remedy is that eternal life is available for those who accept Christ’s gift of salvation.
God warned the Canaanites of the coming invasion and gave them plenty of time to escape. Today, the gospel message goes out and God is patiently waiting for people to turn to him (2 Pt. 3:9).
Household members, including children, shared the fortunes of their parents. We need to realise that our actions can have consequences for others.
Canaan was Israel’s promised inheritance, which was gained by their faith and obedience and lost by their disobedience. After being rescued (redeemed) from Egypt, because of their backsliding, most of the Israelites died before they reached Canaan. They succumbed to the temptations and trials of this sinful world. Canaan symbolises our present spiritual inheritance. God has given us many spiritual promises in the Bible. By claiming these and living lives in obedience to Scripture, we will be rewarded in heaven at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Let’s resist the temptations and claim God’s promises like the Israelites who claimed Canaan. It’s not easy, but God has supplied our weapons including; the truth in the Bible, our righteousness, the gospel, our faith in God, God’s salvation, the Bible and prayer (Eph. 6:10-20).
God’s main aim was to destroy the Canaanite religion, not the Canaanite people. This was to protect Israel from idolatry and the sins that were associated with idolatry. Likewise, we are told to flee idolatry (1 Cor. 10:1-14). When we are tempted, God will also provide a way out so that we can endure it. Christians are to be separate from all forms of sin, wickedness and idolatry such as are practiced by unbelievers. We are to flee from these like the Jewish exiles fled from idolatrous Babylon (2 Cor. 6:17).
So this unique period in history reminds us that God keeps His promises and judges sin.
Written, October 2012
The Bible is Not a Myth
MythBusters is a TV show on the Discovery Channel that sorts out myths and facts in an entertaining way. Did you know that the Bible is written in a way to show that it is not a myth?
The Bible teaches that the truth of a matter should be established on the testimony of at least two or three eye-witnesses (Dt. 17:6; 19:15; Mt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Ti. 5:19; Heb. 10:28). This is also the case in law courts.
Paul emphasised that the resurrection was a proven fact and not a myth because afterwards Christ “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep (died). Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also” (1 Cor. 15:6-8NIV). There were many more than two or three eye-witnesses! As most of these were still alive, they could be questioned by anyone who doubted Paul’s account.
The life of Christ
The most comprehensive record of the life of Christ is given in the books of the Bible written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are obviously four accounts of the same events, which satisfy the requirement of at least two or three witnesses. Who were these authors?
Matthew and John were two of the twelve disciples who accompanied Christ during His public ministry (Mt. 4: 21-22; 9:9; 10:2-4; Mk. 1:19-20; 2:14; Lk. 5:10-11; 27-28). They were there and saw the events they recorded. They were part of the twelve apostles who were Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8). When Judas was replaced by Matthias, Peter said that an apostle was a man who had “been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us”, who was “a witness with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).
As a tax collector, Mathew was skilled in writing and keeping records. John’s testimony is reliable: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (Jn. 21:24). John was one of the three apostles that were closest to Jesus, the others were Peter and James (Mt. 17:1; Mk. 14:33). Also, he may have been a cousin of Jesus (Mt. 27:56; Mk. 15:40).
Mark lived in Jerusalem during Christ’s public ministry and was a cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10). Mark may have been at the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested as he wrote; “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind” (Mk. 14:51-52).
Tradition says that Mark was Peter’s interpreter and wrote down Peter’s account of the life of Jesus. This is supported by the fact that he was with Peter when 1 Peter was written (1 Pt. 5:13). Also, when Peter escaped from prison, he went to Mark’s mother’s house (Acts 12:12-17).
Luke was a historian. His record begins: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Lk. 1:1-5). He interviewed eye-witnesses of the life of Christ, including Mary as he gives the best account of Christ’s early years.
Luke was a Gentile medical doctor who travelled with Paul and was one of his fellow workers (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24). He was well educated and had an outstanding command of the Greek language. He also wrote the book of Acts and witnessed many of the events recorded in Acts.
Confirmed and busted
As documented history always trumps science with regard to past events, we don’t need the MythBusters to test the truth of the Bible. Instead, because of multiple eye-witnesses the resurrection of Christ and the Biblical account of the life of Christ are confirmed to be proven facts and not myths. So the viewpoint that the Bible is myth is busted!
Postscript – The rest of the New Testament
The other New Testament writers were also eye-witnesses of the events they documented.
Peter was a disciple and apostle like Matthew and John. He was present during the public ministry of Christ and the life of the early church. He witnessed everything that Jesus did, including His death and resurrection (Acts 10:39-41; 1 Pt. 5:1). Silas may have helped Peter write his first letter (1 Pt. 5:12).
James and Jude were half-brothers of Jesus: they had the same mother, but different fathers (Mt. 13:55; Mk. 6:3). Although they didn’t follow Jesus at the time, they grew up with Him and were aware of His public ministry. The Lord appeared to James after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). James and Jude became believers after the resurrection and were part of the life of the early church (Jn. 7:5; Acts 1:14; Gal. 1:19).
Paul was different to the other apostles as he became an apostle by special revelation. Instead of living with Christ during His three years of public ministry, Paul saw the Lord in a vision (1 Cor. 9:1; Gal. 1:16). He wrote that in this sense he was inferior to the others, like a premature birth compared to a normal one (1 Cor. 15:8). Nevertheless, he was to be a witness who told others about what he had seen (Acts 22:15; 26:16).
Paul was a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; 26:4-5). As he studied under Gamaliel at Jerusalem, he was well educated (Acts 22:3; Gal. 1:14). Paul established churches in Asia Minor and Europe and was part of the life of the early church.
Written, September 2012
Made to be inhabited
A letter in a newspaper stated that Genesis chapter 1-11 is pre-history and is probably best described as a ”saga”, which is a story. They said it was a different genre to the rest of Genesis, which I assume was considered to be real history which had been verified by archaeology. Well, what does the evidence show us?
The history of the universe from the beginning of time according to those who reject the Bible and the God of the Bible is often told as follows:
- About 15 billion years ago – there was a “big bang” and stars like the sun formed from the exploding gases
- Then about 4.6 billion years ago – planets like earth formed around the stars
- 3.5 billion years ago – the first life appeared in deep water when molecules combined to form single-celled organisms
- 1 billion years ago – multi-cellar organisms evolved
- 600 million years ago – invertebrate animals and fish evolved
- 475 million years ago – land plants evolved
- 360 million years ago – amphibians and then the first land animals evolved
- 250 million years ago – reptiles ruled
- 200 million years ago – birds and mammals ruled
- 90 million years ago – flowering plants evolved
- 200 thousand years ago – the first humans evolved
Bill Gates is funding a project to present this information online for high school students. Let’s look at what the Bible says about such “big history”.
According to Jesus
When Jesus was discussing divorce and marriage He went back to Genesis and quoted from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife …” (Mk. 10:6-7NIV). These verses refer to the first people Adam and Eve. Here He links the “beginning of creation” with the beginning of the human race.
When Jesus was condemning the Pharisees, he quoted the range of martyrs in the Old Testament, “the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” (Lk. 11:50-51). Abel was in the first family (Genesis 4) and Zechariah was mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24, the last book in the Jewish Old Testament. Here He links the “beginning of the world” with the first family.
Clearly Jesus believed that early Genesis was real history, not just a story.
We can also learn something about the beginning of everything from Jesus. It is instructive to consider how Jesus demonstrated God’s power. He did many miracles; more than is recorded in the Bible (Jn. 20:30). For example:
- A storm was calmed straight away (Mk. 4:39)
- 5,000 men plus women and children were fed from five loaves and two fish (Mk. 6:30-44)
- People were healed immediately: the blind could see (Mt. 20:34); the crippled could walk (Lk. 13:13) and the dead stood up (Mk. 5:42; Jn. 11:43-44).
So Jesus could change the physical world instantly. He didn’t need time to do it in gradual steps. Likewise, God can create physical things instantly. He doesn’t need time to do it in gradual steps from the simple to the complex.
According to Paul
When looking at why people who have not heard the gospel still face God’s judgment, Paul wrote “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:21). God’s attributes have been evident to people “since the creation of the world”, not just since people have been on the earth. The implication is that people have been here since the creation of the world. This is consistent with what Jesus said about Adam, Eve and Abel.
Paul also believed in Adam and Eve (Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). For example, He contrasted Adam and Jesus in three passages of the New Testament:
- “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:44-45). From Adam we have physical life in a natural body, but from Jesus we can have eternal life now and a redeemed body at the resurrection.
- “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin … through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12-21). So death entered the world because of Adam’s sin, but eternal life is possible through Jesus.
- “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). From Adam we have physical death, but from Jesus people can be resurrected from the dead.
So Paul viewed both Adam and Jesus as true historical characters, not as mythical figures. He saw the creation and fall into sin of early Genesis as historical events that had a significant impact on our world, not as “pre-history” stories.
According to historical records
If there has been a crime or a car accident, the police determine what happened from the evidence and by interviewing witnesses. The Biblical writers witnessed what they wrote about, except for situations such as creation when God was the witness.
History is the study of past events. We don’t use operational science because it’s only reliable for present events – we can’t do experiments on the past or the future unless we make assumptions (then the finding relies on the assumptions made). Documentary evidence is the best form of historical record. Let’s look at what the historical records in the Bible meant for its original readers, the Children of Israel.
When God gave them the ten commandments, He said “in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 20:11). This was a model for their working week. In this context, the heavens are the stars and galaxies. God took 6 days to create the universe, but could have taken 6 hours, 6 minutes or 6 seconds. After all, God is outside the time of our finite world. He is infinite and all powerful.
God didn’t use a long process to create everything. He commanded and it was done immediately (Ps. 33:6-9; Heb. 11:3). I am not aware of any Scriptures which indicate long ages of time were involved in creation.
This is also supported by the resurrection which is described as “we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51-52). So our resurrection bodies will be created instantly. This is consistent with the original creation taking a short period of time and Christ’s miracles happening instantly. God doesn’t need lots of time to create something new.
The creation was finished on day 6, which was when Adam and Eve were created. So we know that people have been on earth since then.
A mature universe
On the day they were created, Adam named the animals and Adam and Eve were married (Gen. 2:19-20, 24). They were created as mature adults. The universe and the earth that God created were mature. Its complex interacting systems functioned properly from the beginning. The animals and plants lived in mature and functioning ecosystems. So the creation was mature and fully functional from the beginning. It didn’t need to develop gradually over time from simple to more complex.
This means that at that time the apparent age of things didn’t match the actual age. Scientists calculate the age of the universe by assuming that all the stars and galaxies have expanded to their positions after a big explosion. It is an assumption that is also based on using the red- shift of light and the Hubble law to calculate the expansion rates and the distances of galaxies. However, the Bible says that God placed them in their positions on day 4 of creation by stretching them out (Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 104:2). So the difference between their apparent age of 15 billion years and the Biblical age of thousands of years represents the miracle that God did on day 4.
When did this happen? Is Genesis 1-11 pre-history? It is followed by Genesis 12-25 which is about Abraham. Do we know much about before this time? Yes we do. In Genesis 5 and 11 we have detailed genealogies from Adam to Abraham (Gen 5:1-32; 11:10-26). These are not just lists of ancestors and descendants. Their ages at the birth of their child in the family tree and their death are also given. Some Biblical genealogies have gaps because their purpose is to show their main ancestors (Ezra 7:1-5; Mt. 1:1-16). But these ones are worded in such a way as to exclude omissions and gaps. They are the most comprehensive genealogies in the Bible. Because they cover 19 generations, we know more about these people than our own ancestors!
Besides this, there are two other genealogies that cover this period in the Bible (1 Chron. 1:1-27; Lk. 3:33-38). There are three genealogies in the Bible covering the period back to Adam that some allege is pre-history! So it’s real history. It seems as though in recent times some people call it pre-history to explain the inconsistency with the recent extra-biblical account.
When you add up that dates given in Scripture you find that Adam lived about 6,000 years ago and the global flood was about 4,500 years ago. That’s a long time, thousands of years, but it’s not millions of years. When compared to the extra-biblical timeline, the historical timeline:
- Is documented historically instead of being calculated
- Is shorter (about 6,000 years compared to about 15 billion years)
- Has people appearing near the beginning (people have been here for 99.9998% of the time); instead of near the end (people have been here for 1.3% of the time). People have been here most of the time. After all, God made the world to be inhabited, “For this is what the LORD says—He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited … I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isa. 45:18-19).
The extra-biblical account is inconsistent with recorded history. As it relies on assumptions of people who were not there when it happened, clearly these assumptions are wrong. What are these incorrect assumptions?
- They rule out a God of miracles. This means they have to rely on current physical processes and forces to explain the past.
- Consequently, they believe that the present is the key to the past, but according to the Bible the past is the key to the present – after all history goes forwards, not backwards!
- They believe that given enough time everything can create itself and organisms always evolve or build up gradually over time from simple to complex. Therefore the biological world has become more complex with time.
- They believe simple organisms are primitive and developed earlier than more complex organisms.
Does it matter if the extra-biblical explanation of the past history of the world is wrong? Yes, because it destroys the gospel message. It destroys the source of sin and death, removes the need for a Savior, and ruins the possibility of future restoration of the earth when Christ reigns (Acts 3:21). That’s what happens if the first three chapters of Genesis are not historical, but a story that isn’t necessarily true. This means removing creation, the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin as real events in real places.
This explanation moves the source of sin, disease, decay and death from Adam and Eve’s disobedience to making it be a part of our world (which Christians call God’s creation). In this case disease, decay and death have always been a part of our world. They are the normal situation; and not viewed as being abnormal. It takes away the lack of disease and death before the fall. It puts death before sin, not after it. It puts evil before sin, not after it. It means that the created world, which God said was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), was marred by disease and death. It takes away the fact that the original sin affected all of God’s creation (Rom. 8:19-23). It takes away the promise that all creation will be liberated from its “bondage to decay” when Christ returns to rule over it.
Lessons for us
As believers, our thoughts and opinions should be controlled by God, not by the views of those who reject God. This means that our thoughts and opinions should be controlled by the Bible, not by the extra-biblical theories which rule out the possibility of divine intervention in the natural world, such as miracles. The Bible says that God has intervened in our big history and He will intervene again. We ignore that at our peril.
Sin, death and salvation are important aspects of the Bible and Christianity. Let’s be aware of the implications of ideas such as extra-biblical big history which are inconsistent with the Biblical record.
Finally, the Bible is not a science book; but it is a history book. It is the best record of ancient history we have today; a supreme example of ancient history; and a big history book. It contains documentary evidence by eyewitnesses which has been accurately preserved over the years. So we can trust the Bible on big history.
Written, June 2012
Living under the curse & outside the garden
The 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the north-east coast of Japan, left more than 28,000 people dead or missing and knocked out the Fukushima nuclear plant’s cooling system. The reactor’s sea-wall, designed to withstand a 5.5 metre (18 feet) wave, was breached by a surge estimated to be 14 metre (46 feet) high.
Such devastating natural disasters change people’s lives forever. They are dreadful catastrophes which wreak destruction, and tragedies which overwhelm people with great distress and can cause a high death toll. People ask where was God when innocent people suffered and died? How can He allow such calamities to happen? Doesn’t He love people?
Disasters in the Old Testament
Many natural disasters are mentioned in the Old Testament. Most of these were God’s instrument of punishment and judgement. The Bible says that they were God’s judgment against sin. For example, the global flood was God’s judgement of the immense wickedness on the earth and people rejecting Noah’s preaching and continuing in their sinful ways (Gen. 6:3-5). God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness; there were less than ten righteous people in Sodom (Gen. 18:32). God brought disastrous plagues on the Egyptians because they persecuted the Jews (Ex. 7:14 – 11:29).
If the Jews didn’t obey the law, God promised disasters (Deut. 28:61). This would be God’s punishment for their idolatry (Deut. 29:16-29; Jos. 24:20). Jeremiah confirmed that disasters affected the Jews because of their idolatry (Jer. 44:1-23). It was a disaster when the Jews were defeated, scattered and captured by the Babylonians. God also promised disasters on many ungodly nations (Jer. 46:21; 49:8, 32; 51:2, 64).
Futhermore, famines occurred periodically, including the 7-year famine when Joseph was in Egypt (Gen. 41:53-57; 47:13-25).
Disasters in the New Testament
Disasters are also mentioned in the New Testament. There were earthquakes when Christ died and when he came back to life and when Paul and Silas were in prison.
In ancient times it was believed that disasters fell only on those who were extremely sinful. But Jesus taught otherwise when He mentioned “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish’” (Lk. 13:4-5). The answer was not that they deserved punishment more that the others. Suffering is not directly proportional to sin. Disasters happen to us all. All are sinners who must turn to God or perish in hell. The massacre of the Galileans who had come to Jerusalem to worship and the collapse of the tower wasn’t necessarily God’s judgement on their sinfulness, but a warning to all that unless they repented of their sin, they were doomed to eternal punishment in hell. So, disasters are not necessarily God’s judgement, but they are warnings of His coming judgement. They remind us of our need to be right with God.
Jesus also said that the weather doesn’t discriminate between good and bad people. When He taught the disciples to love their enemies He said that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45). The lesson was that God shows His love to people without distinction.
Revelation talks about the horrible disasters that will make life on earth miserable during the coming Great Tribulation (Rev. Chapters 6; 8-18). The Bible says that they will be God’s judgement on the sin of humanity.
Disasters follow the curse
After God had finished creating the universe, the Bible says “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). There were no disasters and no suffering or pain in the original creation.
After Adam and Eve sinned, God told Adam: “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:17-19). Here we see that a radical change took place. God’s good creation was placed under a curse; the ground was cursed. Weeds grew for the first time. It was now hard work to earn a living because nature was out of balance. Death was introduced. Animals and people now grew old until they died. This change was the source of all disasters. After all, natural disasters are characterised by nature out of balance and by death.
Because all of God’s creation was cursed, no part of it is immune from disasters. That’s why we have disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, bushfires, and droughts. The curse and disasters affect us all. The world is full of natural disasters because we live in a fallen world. Sin has polluted our perfect world. Disasters are a sign of a fallen creation. We now live under the curse and outside the Garden of Eden. That’s not what God planned, but it is a consequence of our rebellion and sinfulness.
Paul described it like this: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:18-23). Here there are more signs of the curse. All creation is under “bondage to decay”; it’s groaning and suffering like a woman in childbirth. As the scope is “the whole creation”, this affects Christians as well as the rest of God’s creation.
When people say, “how could a loving God create such a world?”, they show their ignorance of the history of our world. He didn’t create it that way in the beginning. We are reaping what Adam sowed. Today, life is a struggle for all creation and there is much suffering. The foundational reason is that we live in a fallen, cursed world. It is not what God intended, but a world of our own making. Disasters are part of the trouble that is inevitable in the sinful world (Jn. 16:33).
God’s response to disasters
What has God done about disasters? He has done something about the sin, suffering and death in our world. He sent Jesus, so that we can have eternal life without these things (Rom. 6:23).
The big picture is visualized in the diagram. God created a perfect world where there were no disasters because there was no sin. This world was changed and spoiled when humanity sinned. We now live under the curse and outside the garden where there are all kinds of disasters. We live between the fall and the restoration. But God sent His Son to take the punishment by dying for us so that those who accept the rescue plan can enter into God’s new creation where there will be no disasters because there will be no sin. As long as there is sin, there is the curse and there are disasters.
Why does God allow disasters and suffering, when He has promised a new creation where there are no disasters or suffering? Peter wrote, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:8-9). Why the delay? First, because God is outside space and time what seems a long time to us is not a long time to Him. Second, before the new creation, God promised to judge the wicked and destroy the world. Because He desires everyone to repent so they can enjoy the new creation, God has delayed His judgement. He is being patient. So, while there are disasters, there is opportunity to avoid God’s coming judgement by confessing our sins and turning to God by realising that Jesus has already taken the punishment that we deserve.
Meanwhile believers wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies and, together with the rest of God’s creation, we can look forward to the Lord’s coming reign over the earth (Rom. 8:19, 23). When the Lord returns to set up His kingdom, the creation will be released from the affects of the curse and re-created to be “very good” once again. The Garden of Eden will be restored and the curse will be abolished and there will be no more suffering and disasters (Acts 3:21; Rev. 22:3).
What about Romans 8:28?
Romans 8:28 is set in the context of things to help us through difficult times, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”. This verse is addressed to believers. God’s purpose, which is given in the next verse, is to conform us “to the image of His Son”. God wants to make all believers like Jesus Christ; so they share His character. He wants their lives to be transformed (2 Cor. 3:18). Everything that happens has this purpose, including disasters, suffering and tragedy. So disasters provide opportunities for spiritual growth in developing our divine nature and becoming more Christ-like (Eph.4:22-24).
But it can be difficult to balance the physical and spiritual aspects of life. Paul said that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Here we see that the blessings that are promised to believers are spiritual, not physical. Although disasters, suffering and tragedy may destroy our physical possessions, they don’t take away our spiritual blessings. God gives us what we need, not what we want. After all, Jesus died to save our spirit and soul, not our body. Of course, at the resurrection He gives us new bodies. We know God loves us, not because of how our lives go, but because of Christ’s death at Calvary.
Are disasters a sign of the end times?
When Jesus was asked about the supernatural events (or signs) that would precede His second coming to the earth, He described events that will occur in the time of Tribulation after the Rapture. Some of these events “will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Mt. 24:7b-8; Mk. 13:8; Lk. 21:11). They are not precursors to the Tribulation, but evidence of its presence. These earthquakes are also predicted in Revelation, culminating in devastating earthquakes in Jerusalem (Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18). As the supernatural events associated with these earthquakes have not yet occurred, these earthquakes are future events.
So, although future earthquakes will be a sign of the end times, I am not aware of a Biblical passage that says that current disasters are a sign of the end times. Of course some people believe that we live in the end times and the Bible says that we need to be expecting the rapture at any moment. Also, we need to realise that no matter when we live, God can call us at a moment’s notice. How do we know that we’ll even be alive tomorrow morning (Lk. 12:16-20)? Our life could end suddenly like the rich fool.
Dealing with disasters
We all will face disasters of some kind, and death sooner or later. The Bible says, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Jesus said, unless we repent and turn to God, we will perish in hell. Like in First Aid, we need to look after ourselves before we can help others. Are we ready to face disasters and death?
Today it is arrogant and presumptuous for Christians to pronounce any disaster as God’s judgment upon this earth. We don’t know because God hasn’t told us. When Peter addressed the end times, which are characterised by disasters, he advised: keep praying, help the needy, and use our gifts to serve others (1 Pt. 4:7-11). Disasters provide opportunities to help others, bring comfort and relief, and pray for them.
God is with us in disasters
When the Jews faced disasters in the Old Testament times, they were told, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Is. 43:2). David said, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). This is the valley of the shadow of death; it’s a disaster, a tragedy, a crisis. A time of great fear. But when he realises that God is with him, he is comforted. Disasters don’t separate believers from God (Rom. 8:35-39). In fact, nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
The worst is the best
Paul said that “the sting of death is sin”; sin that is unconfessed and unforgiven (1 Cor. 15:56). Because the Lord has forgiven the sins of the believer, the sting of death has been removed. That’s how to be ready to face disasters and death. Instead, death is the door to eternal life for Christians. If we know that our sins are forgiven, we can face death with confidence. Like David, we know that God is with us through the disasters whatever they may be. Death is the worst thing that can happen to us and this ushers us into God’s presence, which is the best thing that can happen to us! Paul said “to die is gain” because it means going to be with the Lord (Phil. 1:21).
However, death is the beginning of eternal punishment for unbelievers. In this case death is terrible. But God has been patient in giving them plenty of time to turn to Him (2 Pt. 3:9).
Lessons for us
We have seen that there are two main reasons for disasters. First, we live under the curse and outside the Garden of Eden; disasters are a consequence of our sinful world. Second, God is patient. He is delaying the coming judgement and the perfect world without sin and suffering because He doesn’t want anyone to perish in hell, but everyone to repent so they can go to heaven. Because we are not there yet, it’s a time of opportunity for people to enter the kingdom of God in response to the gospel message.
Today we don’t know whether disasters are God’s judgement, but they are warnings of His coming judgement. They remind us of our need to be right with God.
Disasters can also remind us of the fragility of life. They teach us that life can be taken away in an instant and there may never be a tomorrow. “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (Jas. 4:14). We live in an uncertain world. Calamity and tragedy could strike any one of us at any time. Therefore, we need to be ready by having both our priorities and our relationship to God right. Live every day as if it will be your last. Those going to sacrifice in Jerusalem didn’t know that would be their last day; those working on the tower of Siloam didn’t know that would be their last day. Likewise, we don’t know if today will be our last. One day that will be true for each of us.
Everything that happens to believers, including disasters, is to make us more Christ-like.
So, where is God when disaster strikes? As usual, He is on the throne of the universe, ruling over all creation, loving us and caring for us and preparing us for eternity.
Written, April 2011
In the previous article in this series we saw that some of the prophecies concerning the “day of the Lord” involved the Jewish captivity in Babylon and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans.
Outline of Future Events
In the New Testament times, prophecies about the “day the Lord” were given by Christ (Mt 24; Mk 13; Lk 21), Paul (1 Th. 5:1-11; 2 Th. 1:6-10; 2:1-12), Peter (2 Pt. 3:2-12 and John (Rev 6-20). The timing of these future events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation. These are shown in a schematic diagram (a timeline where time increases from left to right; includes events on earth and in heaven): at present the church is on earth (Rev. 2-3), the next event is the rapture when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven (not mentioned specifically here; there is just a jump from earth to heaven between ch 3 and 4), while the church is in heaven (Rev. 4-5) there will be a period of tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18), which will end with the return of the Lord in great power and glory (Rev. 19:11-21), followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth (the millennium) (Rev. 20:1-10), and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21-22). The arrows in the diagram show when all Christians will be taken to heaven and when they will return from heaven. The future “day of the Lord” relates to the events between the rapture and the new heaven and the new earth.
The Greek word translated “tribulation” (Strongs #2347) means suffering and trouble. The references to the future time of “tribulation” are also translated as “anguish”, “distress”, “trouble” and “suffering” (Mt. 24:21,29; Rev. 7:14 NIV, NLT, The Message). According to the dictionary, “tribulation” means “grievous trouble” or “severe trial”. Christians may be persecuted by the world, but this tribulation is God’s judgement on the world, which lasts for about seven years.
John wrote, “Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals” (Rev. 5:1). The scroll contained a record of the judgements that must fall on the earth before the Lord Jesus can set up His kingdom (Rev.5:9). The judgements included a series of plagues like there were in Egypt before the exodus, which are called: six seals (Rev. 6); seven trumpets (Rev. 8 & 9); and seven bowls of God’s wrath (Rev. 16). This period of tribulation is characterised by “God’s wrath” and “God’s fury” (Rev. 6:16; 14:10,19; 15:1,7; 16:1,19): “For the great day of their (God’s) wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Rev. 6:17). It will be a time of intense persecution of the Jews: “Then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Mt. 24:21-22). At the end of this period, Israel is attacked from the south and the north and the armies of the world gather for the final battle at Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). Also, “Babylon the Great”, an influential religious and commercial system based in Rome, will be destroyed by the Antichrist (Rev. 17 & 18).
It is clear that these judgements are not for the church. The church is not mentioned in Rev. 6-19. Christians will not experience the tribulation as God promised the church in Philadelphia, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). Also, “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief” (1 Th. 5:4) and “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:9). This is about the Tribulation, not hell; as hell is a place, not a period of time. Instead, Christians will be raptured to be with the Lord – they will be taken away, like Noah was taken away from destruction of the global flood and Lot was taken away from the destruction of Sodom.
The key personalities in the Tribulation include:
- Satan and his demons, who are cast out of heaven to the earth and will persecute the Jews (Rev. 12).
- “The beast” (or Antichrist)—a political leader based in Rome who will appear as a peacemaker to solve many of the world’s problems (Rev. 16:2), and be worshipped like a god and will persecute God’s people (Rev.13:1-9). His number is 666. The Antichrist will work like Satan works (2 Th. 2:9-12). He will be able to do miracles and people will be amazed at his signs and wonders. Many will be deceived and believe that that these miracles prove that he is divine. But this is a lie; Satan and demons can also perform miracles. In that day, God will send a powerful delusion so that those who deliberately rejected the truth will believe the lie that the Antichrist is the Messiah; God on earth. As most people rejected the real Messiah, most people in the tribulation will accept the false Messiah. This shows how much Satan and sin have affected humanity.
- “The false prophet”—a religious leader, based in Jerusalem, who uses supernatural powers to support the beast (Rev. 13:11-18). At the mid-point of the tribulation, he will set up an idol of the beast in the Jewish temple and make people worship it or be killed (Mt. 24:15).
Who will be saved during the Tribulation and enter into the Millennium?
- 144,000 Jewish believers will preach the gospel of the kingdom in the first half of the tribulation (Mt. 24:14; Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5). This gospel was preached at Christ’s first coming, but it was rejected by most of the Jews. Now, amidst suffering, some will turn to God and they will suffer intense persecution (Rom. 1:25-26).
- Two prophets who will witness for 3.5 years (Rev. 11:1-13). The Jewish temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem (Mt. 24:15; Rev. 11:1-2).
- There will also be Gentile believers (Rev. 7:9,10,14).
The Tribulation ends when the Lord appears in great power:
- Jesus quoted from Isaiah, saying that He would return immediately after the Great Tribulation: “Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Mt. 24:29-30).
- The final catastrophic events that precede the appearing are world wide. Lk 21:35 “For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.”
- The Lord appears as “King of kings and Lord of lords” as the supreme ruler, with believers (“the armies of heaven”) (Rev. 19:1-21). “With justice He judges and makes war” (v.11).
- The beast and the armies of the world make war against the Lord (v.19). The beast and the false prophet will be thrown into the “lake of burning sulphur” and the others will be killed (v.20).
- Today Christ is hidden and many people even deny His existence. But when He appears visibly, He will be seen by all, so that no one will be able to deny or avoid Him. Christ’s victory will be visible to all. At that time, God will reveal to the world what He has been doing with His people through all these years. So, not only is Jesus Christ revealed, but His followers will be revealed as well (Rom. 8:19; 2 Th. 2:10). God’s plan is that Christians will be with Him and like Him forever (2 Th. 2:14).
- The unsaved will be cast into hell, while the faithful will be gathered to enter the Millennium (Mt. 25:34,41): “And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Mt. 24:31).
Next Satan will be bound for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-6). As this hasn’t happened yet, we are not in the millennium today. During this period, Jesus will rule on earth as the king and those who have part of the first resurrection will reign with Him (Rev. 5:10). These are believers from the church and the tribulation periods.
Peter addressed Jews in Jerusalem, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that He may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive Him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets” (Acts 3:19-21). Following repentance of the Jews in the tribulation, The Lord will return in power to establish His Millennial kingdom. According to Joel’s prophecy, the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all people and they will prophesy. The day of Pentecost was a foretaste of this time.
“The Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to His blessings in the last days” (Hos. 3:4-5). The Jews will be blessed under the rule of Christ in the Millennium. It will be a time of restoration, peace and prosperity. All of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants will be fulfilled at this time.
Finally the Lord’s prayer will be answered, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). For example, there will be no war: “And He (God) will judge between the nations, and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more” (Is. 2:4).
After the millennium Satan will be released and deceive many people who were born during the Millennium so that they form an army to attack Jerusalem, but God will intervene with fire from heaven and Satan will be thrown into the “lake of burning sulphur”. After this, unbelievers will take part in the second resurrection, be judged before God at the great white throne according to what they have done and thrown into the lake of fire, which is called the second death (Rev. 20:71-15).
The Great Fire
The poem “The hollow men” by T S Elliott ends with:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
But he got it wrong.
“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:3-9).
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up. … That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat” (2 Pt. 3:10, 12b). This is the final destruction of the heavens and earth with fire. “The heavens” means the atmosphere, and maybe the rest of the universe, but not God’s dwelling place. It will be unexpected. All matter will be destroyed in what resembles a nuclear explosion. We know that matter is stored-up energy. At present it is held together by the Lord (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). At that time is seems as though the energy stored up in matter will be released, not with a whimper but a bang.
The “day of the Lord” is a theme that is particularly applied to the Jews and their enemies in the prophetic Scriptures from Isaiah to Revelation. It is a period of time when God intervenes in the world, primarily for judgement. It also describes God’s triumph over all His enemies and His granting security and blessing to His people. It will be a time of justice and retribution; of punishment and reward. A time when it will be clear to all that God is in control of our world. Some of the prophecies concerning the “day of the Lord” concerned the Jewish captivity in Babylon and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans. As these prophecies came true, so will those concerning the future.
Like food, prophecy is “sweet” and “sour/bitter” (Rev. 10:10). There is good news and there is bad news.
- The bad news is: much suffering and judgement is coming to all who reject the Saviour (during the Tribulation and eternally); the prophets warn people of their sinful ways and the need to repent and turn to God.
- The good news is: God will triumph over Satan and his demons and all who do evil; Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord and Saviour; there will be justice and He will rule during the Millennium.
Lessons for us
The choice for us is rapture or God’s wrath. What will it be for you? Only believers escape the judgment coming on the earth in the Tribulation. We need to repent and turn to God.
Since there is a coming time of Tribulation, a Millennium and a great fire, how should we live as believers?
- “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober” (1 Th. 5:6). Believers should be awake, not asleep. This means expecting Christ’s return at any moment and living for Him; not being lazy, careless, distracted from living for God, wasting time in self-indulgence, seeking wealth or fame, or falling into patterns of sinful behaviour. Secondly, believers should also be sober, not drunk. This means taking life seriously and using the opportunities we have to further the kingdom of God, instead of always seeking amusement and entertainment. It also means being self-controlled and not losing control over our behaviour including our speech, eating and drinking.
- God will rapture all believers to heaven before the Tribulation, so they are removed from the suffering of that part of the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:9). The rapture will be a great reunion of believers dead and alive. Like the early believers, we should expect it to occur at any moment. Are we eagerly waiting for it and encouraging one another withthis promise (1 Th. 5:11)?
- “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives …” (2 Pt. 3:11-12a). As the material world will be burnt up, we should not be devoted to it. Instead, live for the spiritual things that last by being holy (separated from sin) and godly (be devoted to worship and serve God).
- Paul taught the young believers at Thessalonica about these future prophetic events (2 Th. 2:5). This gave them an eternal perspective and helped them endure suffering and persecution. Likewise, we should know and teach these things to help keep our eternal perspective.
Written, May 2007
See the other article in this series:
- The Day of the Lord. Part 1: The past
The Bible teaches that God rules over everything—He’s the Boss. He is also holy, good, loving and just. Yet we live in a world where there is much suffering and evil and God’s justice and His other attributes are not evident to all. People ask, if there is a God, “Why doesn’t He do something about it?”. Well, He will.
In this article we will look at a major topic of Scripture that few Christians understand—“the day of the Lord”. This phrase occurs at least 20 times in the Bible between Isaiah and Revelation; it’s always in a prophetic passage that addresses the future.
Old Testament Prophecies
God made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants. These were physical and spiritual blessings which God will always keep. They included things such as prominence, prosperity and the promised land. However, whether the Jews experienced these promises at a particular time depended on their obedience to God’s laws. When they obeyed, they would prosper “in the land He has given you” (Deut. 28:1-14). When they disobeyed they would be punished and driven out of the promised land (Deut. 28:15-68; 29:1-29). If they turned back to the Lord, then the blessings would resume and they would return to the promised land (Deut. 30:1-20).
According to Scripture, after Abraham’s time there were two categories of people: Jews (God’s chosen people) and Gentiles (those who were not Jews). The 17 books on prophecy in the Old Testament are addressed to the Jews. The phrase the “day of the Lord” occurs in the prophetic books between Isaiah and Malachi (see timeline). In this period the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem in about 586 BC and the Jews were captured and scattered to other nations.
The themes addressed by the Jewish prophets (Isaiah to Malachi) that are relevant to our topic include:
- The sin and failure of God’s chosen people
- A call to repentance
- God’s judgement on them if they didn’t repent, which included captivity and being dispersed among other nations
- God’s judgement on the surrounding nations
- The coming Messiah and His rejection and power and glory. They didn’t realise that there would be two comings of Christ with the church period between these comings.
- The restoration of God’s chosen people, which included returning to the promised land
- The Messiah’s universal reign
Let’s look at what some of the passages that mention the “day of the Lord” say:
“Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty” (Isa. 13:6).
“See, the day of the LORD is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it” (Isa. 13:9).
“For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near—a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations (Ezek. 30:3).
“The LORD thunders at the head of His army; His forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys His command. The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11).
“I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Joel 2:30-31).
“The great day of the LORD is near—near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the LORD is bitter, the Mighty Warrior shouts His battle cry. That day will be a day of wrath—a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness—a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. I will bring distress on all people and they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath. In the fire of His jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth” (Zeph. 1:14-18).
The “day of the Lord” refers to any time when God puts down evil and rebellion. In these cases it was referring to immediate judgements (such as their captivity in Babylon) and those that had not yet been fulfilled (which we will look at in Part 2 of this series). In particular it refers to a time of persecution and trials for the Jews—Jeremiah called it a time of trouble for Jacob (or Jacob’s trouble; Jer. 30:7).
The law of double reference helps to understand some of these Old Testament prophecies—some of them had both an immediate partial fulfilment and a distant complete fulfilment. Some of the Jewish prophecies about the “day of the Lord” were fulfilled when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. It happened like they said. This was a “day of the Lord” for the Jews. But Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi prophesied about the “day of the Lord” after the captivity (see the Old Testament timeline).
The Old Testament Jewish prophets had two main messages about the future: God’s judgement (the “day of the Lord”) and God’s blessing—the Messiah will come and lead their nation.
The Fall of Jerusalem
Now we move ahead by over 400 years in time (see timeline). In the week before His death, the Lord prophesied about great tribulation (“pressure” or suffering or distress) (Mt 24:21-22) and the return of the Lord to the earth in great power (v.29-31) that is associated with the day of the Lord.
“As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mk. 13:1). Apparently, Herod’s Temple was ten stories high and adorned with gold, silver, and other precious items. But Jesus predicted that is would be reduced to rubble, with not one stone left on another: “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Mk. 13:2).
Furthermore, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk. 21:20-24).
In AD 70, it happened like He said—the ungodly Jews were scattered. The sign of this was armies of the Roman Empire around Jerusalem.According to the Bible, Jerusalem will remain under Gentile control until the Lord returns to the earth.
Some of the Jewish and Christ’s prophecies about the “day of the Lord” were fulfilled when Jerusalem was conquered by the Romans in AD 70. This was a “day of the Lord” for the Jews. However, it is clear from the Lord’s Olivet discourse (Mt 24, 25; Mk 13; Lk 21), that at this time there were still unfulfilled prophecies about the “day of the Lord”. Similar prophecies are also given in 1&2 Thessalonians and Revelation, which was written after AD70 (see timeline).
The day of Pentecost
The day of Pentecost is an example of the law of double reference.
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Act 2:17-21).
Here Paul applies a prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28-32) to the day of Pentecost. Joel’s prophecy was given to Jews and “Your sons and daughters”, which meant that the prophecy applied to descendants of the Jews. We will see in Part 2 of this series that the complete fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy is when the Lord returns to the earth in great power and glory (v.30-31; 19-20) and the faithful of that time will be rescued to go into the Millennium (v.32; v.21). The gift of the Holy Spirit will be given to all the faithful, not just the chosen few as was the case in Joel’s time—they will receive prophetic messages; which will be revealed by dreams and visions (v.28-29; v.17-18).
How does this apply to the day of Pentecost? Well, those who were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4), were all Jews (Acts 2:22). The Holy Spirit indwelt all believers on that day, not just the chosen few as had been the case beforehand. Also, they were given prophetic messages (God had used dreams and visions to bring messages to the Old Testament prophets). So, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was active, as He will be in the Millennium.
After the day of Pentecost, there were three categories of people: Jews, Gentiles and the Church: “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). The promises given to the Jews are primarily earthly, and those given to the church are primarily heavenly. When interpreting Scripture, we need to be careful to note who is being addressed: the Jews or the Church.
The “day of the Lord” is a theme that is particularly applied to the Jews and their enemies in the prophetic Scriptures from Isaiah to Revelation. It is a period of time when God intervenes in the world, primarily for judgement. Some of the prophecies concerning the “day of the Lord” concerned the Jewish captivity in Babylon and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans. As these prophecies all came true, there is no reason to doubt that the remaining prophecies about the “day of the Lord” will also come true. This gives us confidence in the prophetic Scriptures yet to be fulfilled.
Written, May 2007
See the other article in this series:
- The Day of the Lord. Part 2: The future
Repentance is the key to restoration
In the previous article in this series we saw that life for the first human beings, Adam and Eve, changed from joy and innocence to fear and guilt. This was caused by the sin of disobedience which resulted in a fallen universe and death for animals and people. Today we see how Genesis 3:8-24 shows us how to live in a world that’s dying.
Repentance and Restoration
The Bible starts with God seeking people whereas other religions begin with people seeking God. God asked Adam and Eve a series of questions. Firstly, “Where are you?” (v.9NIV); because Adam and Eve needed to realise that they were away from God. The fellowship they had with God was broken.
Secondly, “Who told you that you were naked?” (v.11). Where did this knowledge come from? This was a rhetorical question because no one told them that they were naked. The feeling of shame, guilt and fear had come from their human conscience. Adam and Eve needed to realise that it came from within them.
Finally, “What is this you have done?” (v.13). After blaming someone else they both confessed their sin, saying “I ate” of the forbidden fruit. Here God is bringing them to confession and repentance. He helps them see what they have done and acknowledge their sin. When they reached this point God stopped asking questions. If Adam and Eve had not been honest in answering God’s questions, then God would not have been able to help them as He did.
The same applies to us when we stray away from God’s intentions for us. We need to ask ourselves: “Where am I?”; “How do I know?”; “What have I done?”. We need to know where we are in life if God is to help us. We need to acknowledge that we are not where we should be because of our inner sinful human nature. We need to take responsibility for it. God wants to bring us to repentance where we acknowledge specifically what is wrong. He wants us to face the facts before He can restore us.
Jesus confirmed that we are defiled by the evil desires within our minds—it comes from within us (Mt. 15:19-20). This is our inner sinful human nature as shown in this instance by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
The Bible tells us what to do after we are convicted of our sin: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn.1:9). Repentance is needed to start the Christian life. There is a need to confess one’s sins to God and realise that Jesus has taken the penalty for these sins. This rescues us from the eternal punishment of those who have rejected God. Repentance is also needed to live the Christian life. In order to live in fellowship with God and with each other, we must confess our sins on a daily basis. After we confess our sins God forgives us.
So the sequence of events from temptation to restoration is: temptation can lead to sin; sin leads to separation from God (spiritual death); conviction by a guilty conscience (Rom. 2:14-15) can then lead to confession; this leads to repentance and forgiveness; and the outcome is restoration back into fellowship with God (see Graphic). This is the process for restoring the sinner, which we see repeated throughout the bible (Gal. 6:1,2).
Three examples are:
- King David’s adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11-12). He sinned and then tried to hide the sin and made it worse by having Bathsheba’s husband killed. After being convicted by Nathan’s parable, he confessed his sin and repented (Ps. 51). Then he was restored and David and Bathsheba reared Solomon.
- Israel’s idolatry. The minor prophets Hosea, Joel and Amos accused the Israelites of being unfaithful to God and named their sins. They called for repentance and stressed that restoration only comes after repentance.
- The prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32) The son took his inheritance and wasted it in a distant country. He finished up destitute and eating the pigs food. Later he came to his senses and returned home and confessed to his father. Then he was restored to his family.
We can short-circuit this process by stopping temptation leading to sin. But when we do sin we need to follow God’s process for restoration and reconciliation. This means allowing our conscience to convict us and then specifically confessing and repenting of our sin. This is how to keep in touch with God and live in a sinful world.
The Blessings of a Fallen World
After Adam and Eve repented, God judged Satan and placed a curse on him. Then God reminded them of what life would be like for them in a sinful and dying world. For Eve it was pain in childbirth and the leadership of her husband. For Adam it was his toil in work and ultimate death. The death penalty was a blessing as well as a curse. It stopped Adam and his descendants from living in a state of sin, with its consequences, forever. It meant that the separation from fellowship with God need not be eternal. As death was the penalty for sin, it also enabled Jesus Christ to pay that penalty (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:12-28).
We suffer because we live in a fallen world. Life is tough. But God has turned the hardships of life into a source of blessing. All these things in our fallen world remind us of our need to rely on God and not ourselves. They counteract our pride and independence. Instead we are very limited and dependent on God. Any of us can be struck down by disease or death. What a humbling thought. Mankind constantly seeks miracle cures for diseases, but as soon as some disease is cured it seems as though another one arises. We need to realise that we are mortals created by God to be on this earth for 70 to 80 years or so. They remind us who we are; people who rely on God and His creation for our life support. They remind us where we are; in a sinful world. They bring us down to earth. Suffering, illness and death affect all in society. Those with power and wealth cannot escape them.
For believers, the “struggle against sin” and the hardships of life are said to be for our good, as they can bring “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:4, 11). So the suffering experienced in our fallen world should lead to spiritual growth. The sinful world is God’s training ground; God’s gymnasium for us. It gives us a tough workout. The symbol used in Hebrews is of a father training his son. God is at work using the struggles of life to mould our character. He wants us to be what He made us to be. He wants us to rely on Him.
Paul wrote, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The context of this verse is “our present sufferings” and “our weakness” and a creation that groans in pain (Rom. 8:18, 22, 26). So if you walk in the Spirit, God will cause adversity to work for your good. Likewise, Peter wrote, “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Pt. 5:10). Don’t be discouraged, God is working behind the scenes to restore and strengthen us. The suffering is only for a little while compared with the eternal glory to come. By persevering in the suffering and struggles of the fallen world we can experience God’s blessings of spiritual growth and maturity.
New Name and New Clothes
Next God provides Eve with a new name and both of them with new clothes. What is the reason for this? It seems to be part of their new way of life in a fallen world. “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living” (v.20). Here we see that the name of the first woman changed from “Woman” to “Eve”. “Woman” means “taken out of man” and “Eve” means “life” (Gen. 2:23). From the beginning, Adam would have known that Eve was to be an ancestor of mankind (Gen. 1:28). In that sense she was the mother of all humanity. But Eve had also repented of her sin and her fellowship with God was restored. She was also at enmity with Satan and believed God’s promise (v.13,15). In that sense she was the mother of the redeemed. It is interesting that biblical characters change their name when there is a change within them. For example Abram and Sarai changed their names to Abraham and Sarah when God promised that they would be the father and mother of many nations and that they would have a son called Isaac (Gen. 15:3-5, 15-16, 19). Because Eve now trusted God, her destiny had changed from eternal death to eternal life (Jn. 5:24; 1 Jn. 3:14). Through her new name “life” she may be recognised as the mother of all those who would find life through Jesus Christ.
When Adam and Eve felt guilty and afraid after they disobeyed God, they made some clothes out of fig leaves (Gen. 3:7,10). These were “coverings for themselves”. Then God endorsed clothing for mankind when He “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (v.21). This would have been more comfortable and more effective clothing than fig leaves. Skin comes from animals and to obtain enough for a garment implies the death of the animal. Maybe God was the first one to kill an animal on earth. Maybe this was the first animal sacrifice. This verse is the main reason we should not be nudists. Why do we wear clothes? God gave clothes because of sin. God showed that clothing is necessary for people living in a sinful world. As Adam and Eve saw things differently after the fall into sin there was a need to wear clothes as a covering for the body (Ex. 22:27; 28:42).
Banished from the Garden
Then “the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever’” (v. 22). The tree of life in the garden in Eden seems to have had the power to convey immortality. In the book of Revelation it symbolises eternal life in heaven (Rev. 22;2, 14,19). All true Christians will “eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). If Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of life they would have lived forever in bodies subject to guilt, shame, fear, sickness and degeneration. It would mean that humanity would never die physically but would go on in their sinful ways forever. But God had a better plan for the eternal part of their life.
“So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After He drove the man out, He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (v.23-24). The cherubim that God used to keep Adam and Eve away from the tree of life were angels that usually stand close to God’s throne. They were represented symbolically on the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:18-22) and temple (2 Chron. 3:7) and seen by the prophet Ezekiel in a vision of the restored Jerusalem (Ez. 41:18-20). Ezekiel described four “living creatures” or cherubim each with four faces and four wings (Ez. 1:5-24; 10:2-22).
Afterthey sinned, Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden in order to “guard the way to the tree of life”, so they would find the right way, not the wrong one. There is no longer a physical way to the tree of life. There is nothing we can do physically to get eternal life. We can go to church each Sunday and do all the things that a Christian does, but if it just a physical thing God will remain outside our lives. The way to the tree of eternal life is now via the unseen part of our lives. We come to God in the realm of our soul and spirit. Jesus is now the tree of life—He is the way to heaven because He is the source of truth and the source of life (Jn. 14:6). Jesus is the only way to eternal life. He paid the penalty for sin so we can go to heaven.
Restored to the beginning
Many of the events we have seen in Genesis 1-3 are matched by events described in Revelation 20-21 (see Table). This is because, through Jesus, God plans to restore the relationships that were affected by sin; “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:19-20). Here we see that believers are already reconciled to God; we are part of “a new creation” described by the right hand column of the table (2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 1:21). Eventually all of creation except for Satan, demons and unbelievers will be restored to its original perfect condition (Col. 1:20). However, the latter will come under His rule on judgment day (Phil. 2:10-11). But we can look forward to a paradise that is like the original garden in Eden.
Table: Comparisons between Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 20-22.
|Topic||Genesis 1-3||Revelation 20-22|
|Heavens and earth||Created (2:1,4)||Destroyed by fire (20:11; 2 Pt. 3:10).Renewed (21:1).|
|Day and night||Created (1:3-5)||No night (21:25; 22:5)|
|Sun & moon||Created (1:14-18)||Not needed (21:23)|
|Marriage & wife||Of first Adam (2:24-25)||Of last Adam (19:7; 21:9)|
|Satan||Enters (3:1)||Thrown into the lake of fire (20:10)|
|Sin||Origin (3:6)||Removed (21:27).|
|Pain etc||Origin (3:16-19)||Removed (21:4)|
|Curse on creation||Imposed (3:17-19)||Removed (22:3).|
|Death||Origin (3:19; 5:5)||Second death— the lake of fire (20:14; 21:8)Removed (21:4)|
|Access to tree of life||Denied (3:24)||Restored (22:2,19)|
Foundation of the Bible
Genesis 1-3 is the foundation to understanding the key message of the Bible. It gives the foundation of the gospel and of many Biblical truths and principles. The original sin of Adam and Eve resulted in death and a sinful fallen world. This is the reason why Jesus Christ was born. The good news is that Christ’s death and resurrection paid the penalty for the sin of those who accept His gift of salvation and eternal life.
Genesis 1-3 reveals: God is the Creator; the universe was created in six days; humanity is made in the image of God; humanity rules over the rest of creation; Satan is the tempter; sin leads to a guilty conscience; the original sin affected the rest of creation. It also describes the origin of: sin, conflict, pain, thorns and thistles, toil, work, marriage, death, and clothes.
Finally, let’s remember what Jesus said: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13). He spans time from the beginning to the end. He who created it all in the beginning, and who redeems, will also finish it at the end.
Written, July 2004
See the first article in this series:
- In the beginning. Part 1: The first week (Genesis 1)
Written, July 2004
Temptation and its consequences
The first human beings, Adam and Eve lived as husband and wife in the garden in Eden. They were innocent and felt no shame. There was no sin and nothing to be ashamed about. God told them, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). In this article we look at the next episode in the early history of mankind in Genesis 3:1-19.
Here we see a new character introduced, which is “nachash” in Hebrew (v.1). Is this a mythical creature, or an animal called a snake or someone that was like a snake? The words associated with “nachash” in Genesis 3 are “wild animals” and “livestock”, which refer to animals (v.3,14); and “you will crawl on your belly” and “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”, which could refer to snakes as we know them today (v.14,15).
“Nachash” occurs in six other verses written by Moses. The descendants of Dan are likened to a snake in a metaphor (Gen. 49:17). A staff became a snake when Moses and Aaron visited Pharaoh, and Moses made a bronze snake to heal the Israelites who had been bitten by venomous snakes (Ex. 4:3; 7:15; Num. 21:6, 7,9). So, Moses used the word in both a literal way and a symbolic way and he seems to make the meaning clear in each instance.
Paul treats it as a real historical event and not an allegory: “Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning” (2 Cor. 11:3). The only other occasion he used the Greek word for serpent “ophis”, was when he said the Israelites “were killed by snakes” (1 Cor. 10:9). Therefore, the meaning for the Israelites to whom Genesis was written was an animal called a snake. But this was a talking animal! Now that is unusual, but according to the Bible, God caused Balaam’s donkey to speak and Peter accepted this as truth (Num. 22:28-30; 2 Pt. 2:16). So, some amazing things have happened in the past!
John helps us to understand what is going on when he described Satan metaphorically as a serpent (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). In fact, snakes have become the universal symbol of Satan. So Satan appeared in the garden in Eden as an animal that talks. We don’t know what he looked like, but Eve was not afraid to have a conversation with him. This animal was more cunning than any other creature God had made (v.1). It was Satan in disguise, as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). God allowed Satan into the garden and allowed him to tempt Eve because God made mankind with a free will to make moral choices. This was a part of being made in the image of God.
The tempter asked Eve a question, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (v.1). He was trying to get her to doubt God’s word and distrust God’s love by thinking that such a command was not fair. She answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (v.2-3). Then the tempter said, “You will not surely die” (v.4). This is a lie; it is opposite to what God told Adam (Gen. 2:17). But he is cunning because it relates to a future event which she couldn’t verify herself. Of course, she could have checked with Adam or God, but she was deceived when the tempter backed up the lie with a distorted truth, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v.5). He mixed truth and error. Their eyes would be opened, but it would be to sin and shame. Also, they would know good and evil, but it would be through the harsh experiences of life lived apart from dependence upon God. The tempter implied that they would have great knowledge be able to see things like God does and do whatever they wanted to. He also questioned God’s motives for the command not to eat the forbidden fruit. With this in her mind, Eve looked at the tree and “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (v.6). Here we see that she was mixing up what God had told them and what the tempter had told her (Gen. 2:6; 3:5). She was seeking knowledge and wisdom outside the boundaries that had been established by God. Satan had infiltrated her mind.
As she looked at the fruit of the tree she must have thought. It’s good for food and I’m hungry. It’s beautiful and pleasing to the eye, a pleasure to experience, so it must be good (Heb. 11:25). It’s desirable for gaining wisdom. Then “she took some and ate it” (v.6). The thoughts sown in her mind by the tempter resulted in an action; she ate some of the forbidden fruit. She acted independently of her husband and God. She should have consulted with them before acting on such an important matter. Where was Adam at this time? If Adam was with her during her temptation, he should have spoken up and taken his leadership role. It’s always more difficult to resist temptation when we are alone. But evil can triumph if another is silent.
Then “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (v.6). It seems as though Adam ate the forbidden fruit when he was given it by his wife; he was not deceived by the tempter—“Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived” (1 Tim. 2:14). We don’t know what she told him, but the fact that he “was with her” implies that he knew what had happened. He deliberately disobeyed God’s command and acted independently of God. This is the origin of sin. We are all sinners because we are descendants of Adam.
Now we see a radical change in their world. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (v.7). But they had always been naked (Gen. 2:25). Something happened inside them. They felt naked, guilty and ashamed, so they fashioned some clothes out of fig leaves. This was the beginning of self-consciousness and clothing.
God visited the garden to talk with Adam and Eve (v.8). What a privilege for them to converse with the great Creator! But now they were so guilty and ashamed that they hid from God among the trees of the garden. Fancy trying to hide from the one who made themselves and the trees! It was impossible. This was not a game of hide and seek, it was a garden where joy and fellowship with God had changed into shame and fear and hiding from God. This is the first description of the human conscience.
Now we see how God addresses the situation, He takes the initiative. First He asked Adam, “Where are you?” (v.9). As God would have known their location, this was a rhetorical question. They had moved away from their position of close communion with God. God was asking the head of the human family to consider his new position. Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (v.10). He was now afraid of God. God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v.11). So, God traces the source of their guilt and fear to their disobedience. Then Adam said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (v.12). This is called blame someone else, or pass the buck! He blames God and Eve. But he did acknowledge that he had eaten the forbidden fruit. Then God asked Eve “What is this you have done?” (v.13). She said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate”. This is called ditto – blame someone else, or pass the buck once again! Here we see that when called to account by God, sinners excuse themselves. In this case they both ultimately blamed God, who allowed them to be tempted. But, like Adam, Eve did acknowledge having eaten the forbidden fruit.
Now that Adam and Eve have failed the test and acknowledged this to God, what will God do? After all, He had promised that they would surely die, although the tempter had denied this. Now we see some changes in His creation that was originally said to be “very good”. He addressed each of the characters in turn and described what life will be like for them.
God said to the tempter, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (v.14-15). God said that the tempter was the ultimate cause of the fall into sin. This curse can be taken at two levels. Firstly, the snake, which is symbolic of Satan, will crawl on the ground. That is the animal as we know it today. The implication is that previously it didn’t crawl on the ground. Eve would have hated this animal because of how Satan had used it to deceive her. This would have been the beginning of conflict between snakes and people. People often fear snakes and seek to kill them by crushing, while snakes generally attack the lower parts of the body. So, this was the beginning of conflict and hatred on earth.
Secondly, Satan and people who follow him will be the enemies of those who follow God. I believe that Eve followed God so she would have hated how Satan had deceived her. Here we have the first promise of the Messiah and a description of the battle between God and Satan. Christ’s victory over Satan is evident in “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”. The suffering and death He endured is like Satan striking at His heel. But Christ’s death and resurrection is said to crush Satan’s head, which indicates a decisive victory. Now the genealogies in the bible usually trace descent through men, not through women. The “he” in v.15 was a man who was the offspring of the woman. Jesus Christ was the offspring of Eve in special way; He had a virgin birth. This first prophecy would have only been known in general terms by the Israelites it was written for. But for us today, it sums up the gospel message of the Bible.
Then God said to Eve, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (v.16). He brings consequences in two areas of her life. Firstly she will experience pain in childbirth. It may also imply that bringing up her children would be painful at times. So, this was the beginning of pain on earth. Secondly, the relationship between husbands and wives seems to be clarified. It states that the husband is to “rule” over the wife. The Hebrew word is “masal”, which means to have dominion. The same word is used to describe mankind ruling over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26,28). It means that the husband is to lead the wife and the family in a benevolent way. This is a responsibility that husbands should take seriously.
Then God said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (v.17-19). Here we see that Adam neglected his leadership role. He listened to his wife when he should not have taken notice. Only take notice when she gives good advice, but not otherwise! God made Adam accountable and spelled out what he had done which led to two consequences. Firstly, God cursed the ground. Adam’s work changed; now it would take painful toil and sweat to make a living. Nature changed and cultivation would be more difficult with the introduction of weeds such as thorns and thistles. This is the beginning of the “bondage to decay” and “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” in “the whole creation” (Rom. 8:21,22). It is a fallen universe. Secondly, mankind would die. This is the beginning of death for the animals and people of the earth.
How temptation can lead to sin and death
Like Adam and Eve, we are always tempted to go beyond the limits that God has placed upon us. James described the strategy that Satan uses when he tempts mankind: “… each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:14-15). Sin brings death, including the eternal spiritual death of being separated from God. (Rom. 5:12, 14; 6:23).
God does not tempt us to sin. He will test us (Gen. 2:16-17; 22:1, Deut 8:2), but it is Satan who tempts us (Mt. 4:1; 1 Cor. 7:5, 1 Th. 3:5). In fact Paul called Satan “the tempter” (1 Th. 3:5). Of course he disguises himself and makes the temptation seem to be something good rather than something bad. It begins with our feelings (evil desire). Then James uses the illustration of conception and birth. The pattern is: a temptation (an evil desire based on our feelings) is planted like a seed in the mind, it grows and develops like a baby and leads to the birth of sin, which in turn leads to death. So the evil desire influences the mind and leads to an action which results in death. When the emotions are aroused first, we rationalize instead of thinking rationally. We don’t think properly, for example thinking of an immediate need but not a long term consequence. This is what happened in the garden in Eden and what happens to us as well. We all face temptation and battle the desire to yield to it. Then when we fail once again, we feel guilty.
How to handle temptation
Where is the battle lost? At the beginning, when the temptation is planted in the mind. Eve was defeated after Satan’s first question when she accepted the possibility that God could not be trusted. But God provides a way out for believers, “… He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
After 40 days of fasting in the desert, Jesus was tempted by Satan who tried to get Him to use His supernatural powers for selfish reasons (Lk. 4:1-13). Satan said: “tell this stone to become bread” – get food for yourself; If you worship me, all the kingdoms of the world will be yours – become a king without going to the cross; and, throw yourself down from the highest point of the temple – attract public attention. On each occasion Jesus answered with Scripture. He said: we should rely on God for spiritual nourishment; God is the one we should worship; and do not test God. To do this we must know the bible, so that the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind when we need it. God “has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:4).
Fortunately God is greater than Satan and “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18; 1 Jn. 4:4). We should occupy our mind with good things and call on God to help in times of temptation. (Prov. 18:10; Phil. 4:8).
Lessons for us
The fall into sin is the ultimate explanation for our struggles in life. This pattern of the temptation and the fall into sin occurs daily both individually and collectively. It is the ultimate explanation for the tensions, sickness, suffering, sorrow, heartache, misery, tragedy, fear, guilt, and death. Here is the reason for addictive behaviour, for the passion for power and the lure of wealth and the enticement of immorality. It is the key to understanding humanity and ourselves.
The fall into sin has made us sinners. We are victims of emotional urges. That is a part of human nature. Only God can open our eyes and help us distinguish between right and wrong (Rom. 6:23). We are either slaves to sin or slaves to God. If we stay sinners then death is the outcome, eternal separation from God. But if we accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ, then we have eternal life. So our destiny is either eternal life or eternal death.
In Eve’s case the tempter was a being outside herself as she was sinless and she began with no urge to do wrong. Since the fall into sin, the tempter is within our human nature and we always face the urge to do wrong. We carry a tempter within us wherever we go, he has access to us continually.
Like Adam and Eve, we have real choices in life. God gives us limits and boundaries as well. Are we willing to accept them? We often try and relieve our guilt by blaming someone or something by saying, “It wasn’t my fault; I’m a victim of circumstance”. We don’t like taking responsibility for our behaviour. As the ideal environment of the garden did not prevent the entrance of sin, we shouldn’t blame the surroundings or our situation on our problems. Instead, we need to take responsibility for our responses and behavior.
So, let’s be aware of Satan’s ways of temptation so he does not outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11). Follow Jesus and use the resources God has given us, such as the Bible.
See the next article in this series:
– In the beginning. Part 4: Living in a dying world
Abraham: Trusting God’s Promises
God has given Christians many promises that can help them face the circumstances they encounter each day. Let’s look at why these promises are important in living a life that pleases God.
God’s Promises To Abraham
Abraham lived in the Middle East about 4,000 years ago. He was an ancestor of both the Jews and Arabs, which is why they still struggle over control of the Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron where Abraham is buried. During the 40 years between leaving Ur and coming to Mt. Moriah, Abraham was given four great promises: a promised son (Isaac), a promised people (Jews), a promised land (Canaan), and a promised blessing for all people, (Jews wrote the Scriptures; Jesus Christ was Jewish).
There were two problems with the promises he was given at Ur (Gen. 12:1-4). First, all the promises depended on them having a child, and his wife Sarai was unable to have children (Gen. 11:30). The fact that they had no hope of having any children was devastating, when families usually had many children. Second, the promises required that Abraham leave his country and family, and go where God directed (Acts 7:2-3; Heb. 11:8-9). This 1,100 mile trip from Ur to Haran and then to Israel, was extremely long when the only means of transport was walking and using animals.
Ur was the capital of the second Sumerian state. The Sumerians practiced polytheism, and a form of astrology which associated the planets and stars with their many gods. After Ur was destroyed, Babylon replaced it as the dominant city in the Middle East.
The next 40 years of Abraham’s life are summarized in the figure below in terms of whether he was trusting God’s promises or doubting them. The graph goes up when he trusted the promises and down when he doubted them. These episodes of Abraham’s life are summarized according to whether he trusted or doubted God’s promises.
Trust: At the beginning of Abraham’s journey of faith he obeyed the Lord and left Ur and travelled to Haran on the way to Canaan (Gen. 11:31).
Doubt: But Abraham and his family stopped and settled in Haran, about half-way to Canaan. He did not trust God as he had not yet left his family.
Trust: After God intervened and his father died, Abraham, now 75, traveled to Canaan, the Promised Land (Gen. 12:4-8; Acts 7:4). He was not afraid even though the land was occupied by the Canaanites. After God renewed His promise, Abraham built an altar and worshiped. When his faith was strong, he built a new altar each time he moved to a new locality.
Doubt: Later, when he visited Egypt, Abraham doubted God and forgot His promises which couldn’t be fulfilled unless he was alive to father a child (Gen. 12:10-20). He feared that Pharaoh would kill him to take his beautiful wife for his harem. Rather than seek God’s protection, Abraham took matters into his own hands and deceived Pharaoh. But God intervened and Abraham and his household were cast out of Egypt.
Trust: After this, Abraham worshiped the Lord again and the promises were renewed (Gen. 13:4,14-18). The Lord told him to explore the Promised Land and this gave him a vision of God’s provision.
Doubt: Abraham, still childless, thought his servant Eliezer would be his heir as this was the law at the time (Gen. 15:1-3). He had forgotten God’s promise of numerous descendants; he was living by sight not faith.
Trust: After God promised him a son and repeated the other promises, Abraham “believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). God accepted Abraham because he believed His promises: he trusted God. God then confirmed the promises unconditionally.
Doubt: Sarah, unable to have any children, persuaded Abraham to father a child by her servant, Hagar (Gen. 16:2). The child was Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabic people. It was 11 years since Abraham heard the promise of many descendants and a great nation. They lacked faith and took matters into their own hands again.
Trust: Thirteen years later the promises were repeated by God (Gen. 17:1-16). As a sign of the promises they were instructed to circumcise every male in their household. Abraham’s faith was renewed and he worshiped because of these reminders of unconditional agreement.
Doubt: When they were told that Sarah would have a son, Abraham worshiped and laughed in amazement, while Sarah laughed in disbelief as she was past the childbearing age (Gen. 17:17-18; 18:9-15). In this case Sarah doubted and needed to hear, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
Trust: God responded to Abraham’s request and said that Ishmael would be blessed and have many descendants, and on that day Abraham circumcised all the males in his household (Gen. 17:18-27). This obedience indicates that his faith was strong.
Doubt: Later, Abraham doubted God again because he thought he would be killed by King Abimelech, because of his wife’s beauty (Gen. 20:1-18). This was a repeat of his failure in Egypt 20 years earlier. It shows how prone we are to sin. Once again, Abraham was living by sight, not faith. Fortunately God intervened again to rescue Abraham and Sarah.
Trust: The miraculous conception and birth of Isaac to parents aged 100 and 90 was a pinnacle in the life of Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 17:17; 21:1-7). This happened “at the very time God had promised.” Abraham circumcised Isaac, and Sarah acknowledged God’s miracle. This was the only promise fulfilled in their lifetime; it strengthened their trust in Him.
After 40 years, Abraham’s faith was tested when God ordered him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:1-14; Heb. 11:17-19). Isaac was the promised son through whom the other promises were to be fulfilled! But Abraham obeyed God even though it looked like the death of Isaac. He had learned his lesson to trust without doubting. He believed God could bring Isaac back to life to fulfill His promises. He passed the test, being confident in God, while God stopped it before harm could come to Isaac. Surely, Isaac remembered this close encounter all of his life! God then encouraged Abraham’s faith by repeating His promises (Gen. 22:15-18).
God’s Promises Are Important
A promise is a commitment to do/not do something. The receiver has the right to expect fulfillment. God’s promises are trustworthy; He “does not lie” and “has the power to do what He has promised” (Tit. 1:2; Rom. 4:21).
The Bible contains many promises. The first, “He will crush your head” alludes to the destruction of Satan; the last, “I am coming soon” refers to Christ’s return (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 22:20). The main theme of the Bible is a promise of salvation for all who trust in the effectiveness of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is accepted by faith.
Christians are also called to “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). We can’t see the Lord, but we trust and obey Him daily. This is an act of faith. In fact, we need God’s saving power daily, and He has given us the pattern – He has given many promises. We should exercise faith and trust in His promises, offering thanks for His provision and goodness.
God’s promises are an important part of living by faith. Trusting God is trusting that His promises will come true. They are the objects of our faith and they help us to look ahead rather than behind (Heb. 11:10).
God’s promises also help us live a life that pleases Him. “He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them we may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4). God’s promises allow us to participate in the divine nature, and escape the corruption of the world.
Lessons From Abraham
Abraham’s example is mentioned in Galatians, Hebrews and Romans, which also says that “everything … was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The example of Abraham’s faith journey was written for all who believe that God raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 4:23-24). Because of their faith, Christians are viewed as “children of Abraham.” Like Isaac, we are “children of promise” and heirs (Rom, 4:16; Gal. 3:7, 29; 4:28).
Faith is a gift from God (Rom. 12:3). For 25 years Abraham’s faith wavered, but he learned trust, becoming known as “the father” of all the faithful (Rom. 4:16). We see in the graph that although his faith went up and down, it increased with time. He made many mistakes and had many doubts before he trusted God consistently. Because of human weakness we will also have times of doubt; but our faith should grow as his did.
Abraham learned to trust God over a long period of time. Isaac was born 25 years after the promise given at Ur. He was 40 when he married Rebecca; they had twins 20 years later. Abraham waited 85 years after the promise before he had a grandchild! In fact, when he died at 175, he had one son aged 75 years and two grandchildren aged 15 years – a slow beginning to the promises of numerous descendants and a great nation!
Like Abraham, we too are called to leave idolatry and walk by faith on our journey to the Promised Land. He trusted God when he was reminded of God’s promises, when he obeyed God, and when God did great things in his life. Likewise, our faith is strengthened as we are reminded of God’s promises, obey God and see the great things He’s doing through His Spirit.
The evidence of faith: Abraham is a great example of faith in action. “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac? … His faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend” (Jas. 2:21-23).
The attitude of faith: The key was that Abraham believed and trusted God (Rom. 4:3-5). He trusted that God could perform a miracle, regardless of circumstances (Rom. 4:18-21). Personal faith and trust are essential for a life that pleases God, but it must have a reliable foundation. Abraham’s faith depended on God, the only reliable foundation for our faith.
Barriers to trusting God: Abraham had doubts when he was fearful, impatient, and took more notice of others than of God’s promises.
• Circumstances: The Guinness Book of Records states that the oldest mother gave birth at age 57. When Isaac was to be conceived, Abraham faced the fact that 90 year-old Sarah was too old to have children, but he didn’t let the circumstances destroy his faith (Rom. 4:19).
• Possibilities: It’s hard to believe a promise when it seems too good to be true. But things impossible to us are possible to God. “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Rom. 4:18).
• Impatience: “After waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Heb. 6:15). He waited 25 years for a son and 85 for a grandson!
Benefits to trusting God: The following blessings were a result of Abraham’s trust in God’s promises: his faith was strengthened – Abraham became convinced of God’s power (Rom. 4:20-21); God was exalted – Abraham gave God the glory (Rom. 4:20); the promises came true – Abraham had a son and his descendants grew great in number (Acts 7:17).
Relying On God’s Promises
God’s promises are a vital ingredient in a life that pleases God. We should always remember, from Abraham’s example, that God keeps His promises. Don’t let the barriers of impatience and circumstances suppress our hope in God’s promises. Use the eyes of faith, not just those of sight.
Know God’s promises: Abraham’s faith increased when he was reminded of God’s promises. We have them in the Bible. Some apply to the present and others to the future. We need to know them, claim them and rejoice in them. Then we will progress on the journey of faith.
Focus on God’s promises: Ishmael mocked Isaac and was banished (Gen. 21:8-14). Likewise, we should banish anything that stops our focusing on God’s promises and using the faith He has put in our hearts (Gal. 4:21-31).
Claim God’s promises: We display trust in God’s promises by reminding others of them and claiming them in prayer. Live in view of God’s promise of a heavenly future and add the eternal dimension to life (Heb. 11:16).
Thank God for His promises: Abraham worshiped God long before Isaac was born, and he never saw the fulfillment of the other three promises. Likewise, we should thank God for His “great and precious promises.”
Published, November 2002
Dinosaurs capture the imagination of both young and old. They are big, fast, powerful, and sometimes deadly. These mysteries of the ancient world have entertained us all the way from the old Flint-stones cartoon series (currently being revived as a movie), to Barney, the current children’s TV favorite, to Jurassic Park, the block buster movie of a few years ago. But don’t let the current dinosaur-mania, and the idea of evolution that seems to undergird it, either undermine your faith in the God of the Bible or brainwash your children.
What are dinosaurs?
The word “dinosaur’ was coined in 1841 by Sir Richard Owen, who studied the bones of the Iguanadon and the Megalosaurus. He named this new order of animal the “dinosaur” which means “terrible, huge lizard.” The bones studied were fossils of creatures that lived in the past. A fossil is formed when minerals replace parts of the body and turn it into rock. Dinosaurs were amazing creatures. When did they live? What happened to them?
Any facts that we have concerning dinosaurs are gathered from fossil remains found in sedimentary rocks. When we consider fossils, we are dealing with evidence of past events, much like students of ancient history or forensic science do. We seek likely explanations of the past, which can be tested, but not proven conclusively. We need a witness, just like in a court case. And we have one, God, who was there in the beginning! He is the witness who knows everything, is reliable and has given us the Bible. In the book of Job, He asks, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” (Job 38:4 NIV).
Dinosaurs in Genesis
The King James Version of the Bible was translated in 1611, over 200 years before the word “dinosaur” was coined. For this reason, it does not occur specifically in the Bible, and the influence of evolution probably stopped translators from using it in more modern translations today. There are five events recorded in the Bible that have affected every person on the planet: the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the tower of Babel, and the life of Jesus Christ. Three of these shed light on the subject of dinosaurs.
The Creation: Dinosaurs were created on the sixth day with all the other land animals. Adam was also created then, so they lived together. This wasn’t a problem, as they were all plant eaters. Adam and Eve “ruled” over them and Adam named them. God saw that it was “very good” – the Garden of Eden was paradise on earth for both man and dinosaurs! (Gen. 1:25-30; 2:19,20).
The Fall: Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God resulted in a different world. After their sin, several things came in: suffering, conflict, decay and death. Romans 5:12 says, “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” Death affected all creation. Romans 8:21-22 says that all creation is waiting to be “liberated from its bondage to decay … We know that the whole of creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth up to the present time.”
The Flood: The earth was full of violence: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness had become.” He was grieved, and decided to “wipe … from the face of the earth – men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground” (Gen. 6:6-7). This statement includes dinosaurs, as does Genesis 6:19-21: “Bring into the ark … two of every kind … of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground … to be kept alive.”
Then Genesis 7:11 says that “all springs of the great deep burst forth and the floodgates of heaven were opened.” This would have led to erosion and the transport of sediments. It was a worldwide flood, not just a regional one. The ark was needed to save Noah’s family and the animals that were in the ark with him. Except for those in the ark, God destroyed the whole world as punishment for man’s sin and the evil that resulted from it. The flood was a catastrophe involving tremendous amounts of water and upheavals of the earth.
What would we expect to find after the flood? Billions of dead things buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the earth. And what do we find? Billions of dead things, buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the earth! Sedimentary rock – such as sandstone (from sand), shale (from mud and clay), and conglomerate (a mixture of both) – covers three quarters of the earth. Fossils required a quick burial –resulting from something such as a catastrophic flood – in mud or
sand that turned into rock. These fossil graveyards are everywhere. They provide us with fossil fuels such as oil – which supplies our world’s entire petro-chemical industry, and coal – a fossil fuel used Worldwide for heat, the production of electricity and many industrial uses.
Dinosaurs in Job
Except for Genesis 1-11, Job is the oldest book in the Bible. Its main character probably lived about 2,000 BC – after the flood, but before large cities were built again. The book shows that Job’s faith was very strong, despite the suffering he went through. In Chapters 38-42, Job is made to realize the vastness of God’s power as revealed in His creation of the physical and biological world. This realization made Job feel insignificant enough to say, “I know that you can do anything, and that no one can stop you” (Job 42:2). We don’t control the universe – God does. The climax of God’s response to Job is a description of the two largest creatures He had created – the behemoth and the leviathan.
The behemoth (Job 40:15-24) was the greatest of land animals. It ate plants; it was strong, powerful, unbothered by raging rivers, and beyond being captured. The leviathan (Job 41), another gigantic beast, lived in the water. It was a creature without fear; it terrified the mighty; it couldn’t be subdued; and the mere sight of it was overpowering. It had fearsome teeth, a flaming mouth and smoking nostrils. The leviathan is referred to as a dragon in the King James Version and a sea monster in the New International Version (Isa. 27:1).
Some say these creatures are mythical. But if they are, also referred to in the same passage are a lion, horse, ostrich and eagle, which are not mythical. Some say they are just other words for present day animals such as the hippopotamus, the elephant and the crocodile. If that’s the case, did the Jews have special words for the first two, but not the third? Or are they the now extinct Brachiosaurus and the Plesiosaurus dinosaurs?
Dinosaurs surely would have shown God’s power in creation! But then, any creature with life is amazing and demonstrates God’s creative power — even the smallest of things, such as the DNA molecule which carries the genetic code. The dinosaur probably became extinct after the flood, because of the much harsher, drier climate and the ice age; because of less vegetation; and possibly because of the impact of humans who continue to cause other animals to become extinct.
Dinosaurs in evolution
Evolutionary ideas about dinosaurs began at the beginning of the last century with Hutton (1795) and Lyell (1830), who taught that “the present is the key to the past.” They attempted to explain the past by present processes alone. So fossils were interpreted in terms of geologic ages, which are based on theoretical “index fossils” and an “evolutionary tree.” They say that dinosaurs lived from 200-70 million years ago inthe Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Ages. The so-called evolutionary tree presents the idea that all life has evolved by natural processes of development alone over millions of years – from molecules to man.
This idea of an evolutionary tree is held by most scientists. It is presented as a fact, not as a theory, which it is, since it can’t be proven. It is taught in schools, universities, museums and the media. Thus everyone is indoctrinated. But the Bible says they are wrong. And 2 Peter-3:3-7 says the exact opposite of what evolutionists teach: “In the last days scoffers will come … But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word … the earth was formed … By water also the world … was deluged and destroyed … The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire.”
The scoffers don’t believe that God created the world. They see no need for a Creator God, so there is no authority (Jud. 21:25). They say there are no moral absolutes, no sin, and, therefore, no need for a Savior! They do not believe that God destroyed the whole world by water. They do not believe that God will judge the world by fire. With no authority and no sin, there is no judgment or accountability – past, present or future.
Evolution attacks the very foundation of the Christian faith. It says that suffering and death existed from the beginning, before Adam and Eve ever sinned. But God is not the source of suffering and death, and He would never refer to a creation based on evolutionary theories as “good.” God’s purpose was the creation and redemption (or rescue) of mankind, not millions of years of evolution! 1 Timothy 6:20-21 says such “opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” cause some to “have wandered from the faith.” Don’t let this happen to you!
Dinosaurs were massive examples of God’s creation, but now they are dead and gone from the face of the earth, and we see them only as fossils. As such, they are merely symbols of God’s judgment of sin. The real examples of God’s judgment on the sin and wickedness of mankind are: the destruction caused by the global flood (be reminded of this every time you see sedimentary rock layers); the burning sulfur rained on Sodom and Gomorrah as God’s judgment on evil (verified by fossil remains); the coming tribulation period; and the coming final judgment and destruction by fire (both prophesied in the Bible).
Romans 6:23 is God’s provision for us: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Don’t let dinosaurmania and the idea of evolution either undermine your faith inthe God of the Bible or brainwash your children. Remember that Jurassic Park is just a fictitious, money-making movie with a comment on genetic engineering. The Bible tells the real story about the creation, existence and extinction of dinosaurs.
Published, December 1995
Rescues that save and protect people from harm and danger are God’s idea
Stories about the rescue of refugees from war-torn countries and people from earthquakes and severe accidents appear often in the news media. Last September, the rescue of thousands of people from the terrorists’ destruction of New York’s Twin Towers made news around the world. In this article we will look at four great rescues, three from the past and one yet to come: the boat that saved Noah’s family; the exodus from Egypt; the cross of Christ; and Christ’s second coming. These major rescues are key historical events that bring salvation to humanity. The typical sequence of events for these rescues is: a promise given, the people’s faith, God’s action enabling the rescue, and the thanksgiving afterward.
When God told Noah that, because of the wickedness of humanity, He was sending a global flood that would destroy everything that breathed, He promised that Noah’s family would be kept safe in a boat (Gen. 6:18). Before this major disaster occurred God had a rescue plan in mind.
God took the initiative, but also relied on Noah making a significant contribution to the rescue. He gave specific instructions on how to make the boat, including its dimensions and materials used. God designed the boat and Noah supervised its construction. Noah was also told what provisions to store for the first recorded voyage, when to enter the boat, and when to leave it (Gen. 6:14-16,21; 7:1; 8:16).
Because Noah did everything God told him to do, the boat carried its occupants safely through the disaster to re-populate the earth (Gen. 6:22; 7:5). It was a place of refuge for the eight people who were rescued because they believed the warning and trusted God’s promise (1 Pet. 3:20).
After they left the boat, Noah thanked God by offering sacrifices. God responded by blessing Noah’s family and by using a rainbow to signify His promise that there would be no more global floods (Gen. 8:20; 9:8-17).
“Exodus” is a Greek word meaning “departure.” Israel’s escape from four centuries of slavery in Egypt is another example of a great rescue by God. Many years before, Joseph had faith to speak about God’s promise to take the children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land (Gen. 50:24-25; Heb. 11:22). Later, God announced that He would free them from slavery in Egypt, redeem them with mighty power and great acts of judgment and bring them into the Promised Land (Ex. 6:6-8).
Moses “led them out of Egypt” after God used ten plagues to force Pharaoh to let them go (Acts 7:36 NIV). Very detailed instructions were given for the final plague, when each Jewish household had to kill a lamb and smear its blood on the door frame of the house. That night they were to eat a special meal that included lamb’s meat and unleavened bread in preparation for a long journey. They were to stay inside their houses until morning. The Israelites did as they were told, and at midnight the Lord killed all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians and the firstborn of their livestock. But the Jews were protected by the blood on their doorways.
Pharaoh finally relented after the tragedy of the Passover, and the Jews were told to leave Egypt as quickly as possible (Ex. 12:31-33). When the Egyptians came in pursuit, the Israelites were afraid; but Moses said, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the Lord rescue you. The Egyptians that you see today will never be seen again. The Lord Himself will fight for you. You won’t have to lift a finger” (Ex. 14:13-14 nlt). Then God miraculously helped them cross the Red Sea while drowning the Egyptian army (Ex. 13:17-14:31).
God also performed other miracles to help two million Israelites get to Canaan: He guided them through the desert by pillars of cloud and fire, provided food and water in the desert, and victory over their enemies (Ex. 12:37; 13:21; 15:22-17:7; Num. 11:31; 20:2-11; 21:1-3, 21-35).
During their journey the people complained about their hardships (Num. 11:1-6). God told them to send spies to explore Canaan, but they reported that the inhabitants were too powerful, and the people complained again and said they wanted to return to Egypt! As a result of their rebellion, God caused them to wander for another 38 years in the desert. When they tried to enter the Promised Land in their own strength, they were defeated.
The Exodus from Egypt was God’s idea and happened under His power. Concerned about the suffering of His people in Egypt, God acted to rescue them and bring them to Canaan (Ex. 2:24-25; 3:7-10). He said, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but Me, no Savior except Me” (Hos. 13:4). God raised up Moses to bring His people out of Egypt and told him what to do and say (Ex. 3:14-22; 7:20). Moses obeyed God’s instructions and was the mediator and intercessor between God and the people. He was a vital part of God’s plan. The people had to obey and trust God in order to escape from Egypt.
After they crossed the Red Sea, the people sang a song of thanksgiving (Ex. 15:1-21). It began, “I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him” (Ex. 15:1-2).
The Exodus from Egypt was the greatest example of deliverance for Israel and undergirded their knowledge of God as the Savior, even though it was later forgotten (Ps. 106:21).
After the fall of humanity into sin, God promised that the Messiah would triumph over Satan (Gen. 3:15). There are many promises in the Old Testament about the Messiah. Christ’s mission was to “save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). The angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today … a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11). So Jesus saves people from great danger and brings them to a position of safety.
The Bible records that Jesus was executed on a cross. His death and resurrection are the central events of the Christian faith. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). This was God’s greatest rescue in history: “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).
Christ’s death and resurrection are God’s provision for us. When the flood came, the boat God provided for Noah’s family was the only means of being rescued; those outside perished. Similarly, personal acceptance of Christ’s work is the only way of being rescued from God’s coming judgment (1 Th. 1:10; 1 Pet. 3:18-21). His death and resurrection are also like Moses who rescued the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
In this case the rescue was planned by God and carried out by Christ “who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). “The Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14). The Bible also says that God has saved us, not because of anything we have done but because of His grace (2 Tim. 1:9). Only Jesus has the power to save people from the lake of fire. His name is the only one that can save anyone (Acts 4:12). God loved us so much that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).
In this case the rescue also depends on an act of faith: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Rom. 10: 9-10). The thanksgiving song that believers will sing throughout eternity is, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12).
The Second Coming
Christ’s second coming has two main parts, the Rapture and the Appearing. The Rapture is the next major scene in God’s rescue plan, marking the end of the Church age and the beginning of the Tribulation period. Like the Church, the Rapture was a mystery unknown in Old Testament times, but revealed in the New Testament (1 Cor. 15:51).
By the Rapture Christ rescues believers from the coming period of judgment called the Tribulation, and by the cross He rescues them from the eternal punishment of their sins (1 Th. 1:10).
When Jesus spoke about heaven He promised, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:2-3). The Rapture will be a miraculous event when Christ will raise the dead and transform the living. Christian faith ensures participation in this event. Afterward there will be much thanksgiving at the marriage feast of the Lamb. This will be a great celebration for all believers: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).
The other phase of the second coming is the appearing of the Lord; it ends the tribulation. After Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives two angels asked, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1: 11).
The Appearing, when the Lord comes to the earth in great power and judgment, will be an awesome event (2 Th. 1:6-10). In this life, faith ensures participation in this event, as one of those with the Lord when He establishes His kingdom on earth. Those rescued out of the Tribulation, who pass alive into the Millennium, sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb, the latter celebrating the final rescue from Satan (Rev. 15:2-3).
A Great Lifesaver
Rescues that save and protect people from harm and danger are God’s idea. He used a boat to save Noah’s family from the flood, and Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery and into the Promised Land. He sent Jesus on a rescue mission to die on the cross to save us from the lake of fire. He has promised to come again to take believers to heaven and return to the earth later to rescue those who trust in Him during the Tribulation. These examples make one thing clear: God has great power to save His people.
Peter reminds us that unbelievers will be punished, but God’s people will be rescued. If God rescued Noah’s family, then we are promised that “the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4-9).
As God rescued Noah’s family and the children of Israel, He will also rescue those who trust in Him. God has done His part to rescue us from our due punishment, and to restore us back to Him. What about you?
Are you in the boat or out in the flood? Will you be safe or sorry? There are only two alternatives. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but the choice is ours. Those who trust in Christ’s victory on the cross have been rescued from the power of Satan, their sins are forgiven and they are safely on their way to heaven (Col. 1:13-14). Those outside are destined to the lake of fire. Trust Him and He will rescue you for eternity.
As a Christian, are you following the pillars of cloud and fire towards the Promised Land or wandering around in the desert because of your sins (1 Cor. 10:1-13)? Are you on the right road or lost on a side road? We need God’s saving power day by day.
He wants to help us every day and He has given us the pattern which is the same as for the major rescues: God’s promises, plus our faith, followed by our thanksgiving: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7). Our faith should be continually increasing as faithfulness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (2 Cor. 10:15; Gal. 5:22). We are exhorted to “live by faith” (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:7).
He has given us many promises in the Bible and if we trust Him in these, like those saved in the great rescues of the Bible, we will see His power in our lives. We can trust in Christ’s victory to rescue us from the power of sin and Satan (1 Jn. 1:9).
Living in a world shaped by tragedy and heading for destruction
Disasters such as wars, famines and freak weather events can change the course of our lives. Let’s look at four major disasters, two from the past and two from the future, that bring great tragedy to humanity and the physical world.
The typical sequence of events for a disaster begins with a warning that may include a choice, followed by a cause which initiates the disaster, and a consequence which follows the disaster. The consequence can be immediate, or it can extend into the long-term future. Major disasters can have lifetime consequences that extend to the after-life.
1. The Fall Of Humanity
After God created Adam and Eve, He gave them a warning: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17 NIV). So Adam and Eve had a choice: either to follow God or to make their own rules and live without considering God. It was a test of obedience that we all face from time to time. In their case the penalty for disobedience was spiritual and physical death.
The cause of the first disaster on earth was Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God. They failed the test and were the first people to sin. After this they hid from God among the trees in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:8); they felt shame, fear and guilt and were separated from God. Later they were banished from the Garden (Gen. 3:23-24).
We all experience some consequences of their action; when they sinned, sin entered the entire human race and decay and death spread to everyone (Rom. 5:12; 6:23). It drastically changed everything in the world: the ground was not so productive and thorns and weeds came into existence (Gen. 3:18); people had to work hard and struggle to earn a living (Gen. 3:17, 19); “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22); there is pain, suffering, illness, tragedy and tears (Rev. 21:4); and humanity is destined to be separated from God, which is spiritual death.
The fall of humanity into sin was the predominant disaster and it has led to the other three disasters. It has affected us all, as we all inherit a rebellious sinful nature, being naturally rebellious and sinful from birth.
2. The Global Flood
Nine generations after Adam and Eve, the wickedness on earth was so great that God was actually sorry he had made people. He used Noah to warn them to change their ways. Noah preached for up to 120 years warning them of God’s judgment if they did not repent (Gen. 6:3; 1 Pet. 3:18-20; 2 Pet. 2:5). The next great disaster was caused by people rejecting Noah’s preaching and continuing in their sinful ways (Gen. 6:5).
God allowed all the underground waters to gush up everywhere, and torrential rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights (Gen. 7:11-12). Flood water covered the earth for 150 days. “Every living thing that moved on the earth perished – birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind … Only Noah was left, and those with him in the boat” (Gen. 7:20-24).
A global flood destroyed the landscape; living creatures and all land vertebrates died, except those on the boat (Gen. 7:22; 2 Pet. 3:6). It probably also destroyed any evidence of earlier civilization. The landscape was totally changed with the uplift of new mountain ranges and the formation of the continents and oceans as they are today. There was a new start to civilization on earth. As a result of this catastrophe there are huge sedimentary layers across the earth; fossil graveyards have been found and we use fossil fuels for transport and for generating electric power. All this should remind us of the worldwide flood of Noah’s time.
The Bible teaches that the ungodly will be judged by God. The next two disasters concern two aspects of these judgments – namely, events on earth culminating in its destruction, and the eternal state. They are both consequences of rejecting God’s revelation to mankind.
3. The Day Of The Lord
The phrase “day of the Lord” appears in 22 Bible verses, and it refers to any time that God acts in judgment (2 Pet. 3:10). In the New Testament, it means God’s judgment at the end times. It is “a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger – to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it” (Isa. 13:9). It is “a time of doom for the nations” (Ezek. 30:3), when “the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood” (Joel 2:31).
This coming “day of the Lord” is comprised of two main events – the tribulation, and the end of the world as we know it. The tribulation is a seven year period when God will judge unbelievers living on earth (1 Th. 5:2-3; 2 Th. 2:1-12), ending when He returns in judgment at His appearing in power and glory (Mt. 24:27,30; 2 Th. 1:7-10). Paul warned his generation that the “day of the Lord” was an event yet to come (2 Th. 2:2).
The Bible also teaches that the universe will be destroyed and re-created (2 Pet. 3:7,10,12-13). Everything will be destroyed, and the earth will be renewed and purified through a judgment by fire. Einstein discovered that matter (m) is stored-up energy (E = mc2, c being the speed of light) that can be released in nuclear reactions when matter is converted into vast amounts of energy. There is plenty of energy for a great disaster today, just as there was plenty of water in the early earth.
Of course there are scoffers who laugh at the warning of God’s imminent judgment (2 Pet. 3:3). They say, “You Christians have been threatening us with a terrible judgment upon the world. You tell us that God is going to intervene, punish the wicked and destroy the earth. It’s just nonsense! We have nothing to fear. We can live as we please. There is no evidence God has intervened in history. Why should we believe He ever will?”
But they ignore the biblical and geological evidence of the big flood, and the ancient traditions about it from many nations around the world. As in Noah’s time, people are being warned today of God’s judgment and told about the possibility of being rescued through the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Why the delay in God’s judgment? He is being patient because He does not want anyone to perish, and is giving people more time to repent (2 Pet. 3:9). So far He has waited thousands of years, giving everyone more opportunity to be rescued from the coming two disasters.
The cause of the “day of the Lord” is unbelief and refusal to accept God’s provision for mankind. Those who reject the good news of salvation will be left behind after the Rapture – when Christ comes to take the believers away to heaven as He promised, delivering them from the extreme distress of the tribulation (Dan. 12:1; 2 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:10).
This day will come upon the unsaved as a thief, by surprise and causing loss (Mk. 13:32; 1 Th. 5:2-3; Rev. 16:15). Because they will not be prepared or ready, they will experience extreme suffering that is “unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again. If those days had not been cut short, none would survive” (Mt. 24:21-22). The terrible consequences for those living at that time are described in the seals, trumpets and bowls of Revelation 6-19. It will be a time of great fear and terror when people will panic and wish they could die rather than face God’s judgment (Rev. 6:15-17). Christ spoke about this time in Matthew 24-25, which culminates in the battle of Armageddon where Christ defeats all His enemies on earth (Rev. 16:14-21).
4. The Lake Of Fire
The Bible says that a “day of judgment” is coming when God will judge the world in justice (2 Pet. 2:9; Acts 17:31). The “lake of fire” is a term to describe the place of everlasting punishment after the final judgment. Jesus also described it with the Greek word “Gehenna,” which was a valley near Jerusalem where a fire was kept burning at the city’s garbage dump (Mk. 9:43; Lk. 12:5).
As in Noah’s time, those who reject the warning of God’s judgment are destined to experience much suffering and pain (Mt. 22:8-13). There are two reasons why: first, they have rejected the true God as revealed in the creation and in their conscience (Rom. 1:18-2:16); secondly, they have rejected the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ (2 Th. 1:8).
The consequence is judgment at the great white throne and being sentenced to be “tormented day and night for ever and ever” in the “eternal fire” (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10-15). This “eternal punishment” is called the “second death” (Mt. 25:46; Rev. 2:11; 20:14) where there will be trouble and distress due to God’s wrath and anger (Rom. 2:8-9). The agony is described graphically by the rich man in Luke 16:22-28. The eternal torment and separation from God (2 Th. 1:9) is like an eternal death. There is no possibility of rescue or escape. It is the ultimate disaster that never ends.
The Key To Understanding Our World
Knowing of these four disasters helps us understand the future of our world. We have all been impacted by the Fall (of humanity), which teaches that we are all sinners. Our biggest problem today is that people are generally not aware of sin; the word seems to have been removed from their vocabulary. This is a result of unbelief in the Fall (into sin) as a real, historical event that has drastically altered the earth’s history.
The Fall should remind us that we are not gods or masters of our destiny. If we live as though we are, then our destiny is the lake of fire. Those not aware of the Fall are not aware of their dangerous situation; like the people of Noah’s time, they are on the road to disaster. The Fall was also the ultimate cause of pain, suffering and death. God allows us to experience the consequences of our choices so we will have more time to turn to Him and avoid the lake of fire.
The global flood should remind us that God judges sin, regardless of what humanity may think – remember, the scoffers perished in the disaster. We also see from the Fall and the flood that our choices can have lasting consequences (Gal. 6:7-8).
The day of the Lord and the lake of fire, the two disasters yet to occur, remind us that we are accountable to God. They show that disasters are on the horizon. Are you prepared for them? Those who trust in God will be rescued from them.
Unbelievers are scoffers who haven’t realized they are in danger. Don’t be like those who perished in the great flood. If we trust in God’s provision we can avoid the coming disasters and be prepared for the future – for life after death.
What should be our response as believers when thinking about the disasters facing the world or when facing personal disasters? According to the Bible we should:
- Be clear-minded, alert, prepared, self-controlled, not alarmed, and we should warn others (Mt. 24:6,44; 1 Th. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 4:7)
- Live by faith and obey God (Gen. 6:22; Heb. 11:7)
- Be holy, pure, godly and at peace (Gen. 6:9; 2 Pet. 3:11,14)
- Encourage one another (Heb. 10:25)
- Look forward to a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:13)
C. S. Lewis wrote: “God will invade our world … When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the Author walks on the stage the play is over… It will be too late then to choose your side … That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it or not. Today is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us the chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.”