Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Answer

Are miracles scientific?

Can the Bible’s miracles be explained away by science? Many people who refuse to believe in God think they can explain away His existence and miracles using scientific explanations.

This post comes from a children’s book by Hughes and Cosner (2018).

What is a miracle?

A miracle is an unusual event from God that He uses to tell us about Himself. Examples from the Bible include healings, raising from the dead, and displays of power over nature. This is different from God’s providential care over creation, which can be described scientifically (Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:3). For instance, the laws of physics partially describe how God is upholding creation in an orderly way (1 Cor. 14:33). (more…)


Sampling the abyss

The abyss 2 400pxThe abyss is the largest and deepest habitat on the planet, covering half the world’s oceans, but it remains the most unexplored environment on earth. During the “Sampling the abyss” voyage in 2017, over 100 different fish species were collected from the deep ocean at depths of up to 4800 metres in Australian waters. That’s an example of how the word “abyss” is used today. But what does this word mean in the Bible? For example, when Jesus cast the demons out of the demon-possessed man, the demons begged Jesus “not to order them to go into the Abyss” (Lk. 8:31NIV). So what is “the abyss”?

Old Testament usage

The equivalent Hebrew word is the noun tehom (Strongs #8415), which means deep. It occurs 36 times in the Old Testament and is used in three ways.

The first refers to the sea or the depths of the sea (Gen. 1:2; Ex. 15:5, 8; Ps. 135:6; Ezek. 26:19). For example, when Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea, the Israelites sang “The deep waters (tehom) have covered them” (Ex. 15:5). And the psalmist says that all the creatures of the ocean depths (tehom) praise the Lord their creator (Ps. 148:7).

The second refers to subterranean water from deep within the earth (Gen. 7:11; 8:2; 49:25; Dt. 8:7; 33:13; Ps. 33:7). For example, Canaan was “a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs (tehom) gushing out into the valleys and hills” (Dt. 8:7).

These are the most common meanings of abyss in the Old Testament. But there is a single instance of another meaning.

The third is a figure of speech for times of distress and trouble. In a prayer for help in old age the psalmist says that God will restore them from their troubles.

“Though you (God) have made me see troubles,
many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths (tehom) of the earth
you will again bring me up.” (Ps. 71:20).

Here God has permitted troubles and “the depths of the earth” stands for the psalmist’s distress and trouble, and not subterranean water. Tehom is also used in this way in, “Deep (tehom) calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls (Ps. 42:7). Here the psalmist is depressed because of his troubles (Ps. 42:6, 11).

But the word “abyss” is used differently in the New Testament.

New Testament usage

The Greek adjective abussos (Strongs #12) means very deep or bottomless. It means “a deep hole”—so deep that it seems bottomless or immeasurable. Paul (AD 57), Luke (AD 60) and John (AD 95) used the word. It occurs 9 times in the New Testament and is used in two ways.

The place where demons are imprisoned

Luke says that the demons didn’t want to be sent to the abyss (Lk. 8:31). The NLT calls it “the bottomless pit” or “the underworld”. Instead, Jesus sent them into a herd of pigs who rushed into the Sea of Galilee and drowned.

Demons or evil spirits describe angels who rebelled against God. Some demons seem to be free to roam and others are locked in the abyss (Rev. 9:1-2). Their leader is called Destroyer (Rev. 9:11).

Jude said, “the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these He (God) has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 6). This seems to describe demons imprisoned in the abyss  until the day of judgment.

And Peter said, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell (Tartarus in Greek), putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment” (2 Pt. 2:4). According the NET, “Tartarus was thought of by the Greeks as a subterranean place lower than Hades where divine punishment was meted out, and so regarded in Israelite apocalyptic as well”. It seems as though “Tartarus” is equivalent to the “abyss”.

According to John, in the future, demons from the abyss will empower a great political leader who will persecute God’s people (Rev. 11:7; 17:8). After this Satan will be bound in the abyss for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3). Then Satan is released “from his prison” (Rev. 20:7). Finally Satan will be thrown into the Lake of Fire to be “tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

Demons are spirits who inhabit a different world to ours. And the abyss is where they are imprisoned pending their final judgement. It’s probably a spiritual place, and not necessarily a physical place.

Now we will look at the other meaning of abyss.

The realm of the dead

Paul taught that people don’t have to go to great lengths to obtain salvation – ‘Faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead (abussos)?’ (to bring Christ back to life again)’ (Rom. 10:6-7). This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 30:11-14 where Moses says that the law of God was easy to understand and was readily available; “what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach … the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Dt. 30:11, 14). So Paul is using this to say that the Christian gospel is also readily available. We don’t have to go up to heaven to get it because Jesus has already brought it down to earth. And we don’t have descend into the realm of the dead to bring Christ up from among the dead, because Christ has already risen from the dead. Faith will cause us to fully believe in the incarnation and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Because, if we declare with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved (Rom. 10:9).

So in the New Testament the word “abyss”  is used as a metaphor for the place for the containment of demons and for the realm of the dead.

Lessons for us

In the Old Testament the abyss usually means the sea, the depths of the sea, or subterranean water from deep within the earth. In the New Testament it usually means the place where demons are imprisoned. This shows how words can change their meaning over time.

It also indicates that there is a spiritual world that’s different to our physical world. We ignore it at our peril. Because that’s where God dwells and He is the source of our salvation.

Do you realize that God’s salvation is readily available to us? (When Paul taught this he used the abyss to mean the realm of the dead) We just have to believe in what Jesus did for us (in coming to earth, dying, resurrecting back to life, and ascending to heaven) and accept it as payment for our sin. But we can’t do this after we die. It’s too late!

Meanwhile, we don’t need to be afraid of demons or evil spirits because God has ultimate power over them.

Reference
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

Written, June 2018


What happened to the temple?

Apple PC 3 400px

Apple products are declared “obsolete” if they haven’t been manufactured for at least 7 years; and “vintage” if they haven’t been manufactured for at least 5 years. Spare parts and service isn’t available for all obsolete products and for most vintage products.

Today we will see that the Jewish temple is now obsolete. Because Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sin, we no longer need a temple where priests offer animal sacrifices. Instead of living in a special building, God now lives in His people. This means that congregations of people are more important than the buildings they use.

Ancient history

In about 1450 BC, the Hebrew tabernacle (a tent) was built in Sinai and transported to Canaan, where it was later superseded by the temple in Jerusalem. The first temple, completed by king Solomon in about 950 BC, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Babylonians were God’s agents in this judgment of Judah’s idolatry which was called “the day of the Lord” (Jer. 1:14-16; 4:5-17; 5:15-19; 9:11; 12:7-15; 19:3, 11; 21:3-7; Zeph. 1:1-18). The temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian exile by Zerubbabel in 538-515 BC. Later, king Herod renovated and expanded this temple, commencing in 19 BC (Jn. 2:20). It took 46 years to complete the main building and another 36 years to finish the entire Temple complex.

The house of the Lord

The term “the house of the Lord” (Strongs #1004 #3068) appears about 221 times in the Old Testament. It meant a place of worship such as the tabernacle and the temple. The following verses show that it’s synonymous with the “temple” (#1964) of the Lord.
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple” (Ps. 27:4NIV).
“He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men” (Ezek. 8:16).
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’ This is also what the prophets said who were present when the foundation was laid for the house of the Lord Almighty.” (Zech. 8:9).

The tabernacle/temple was a place for God to live amongst His people the Israelites (Ex. 25:8-9; 29:45-46; 2 Chron. 6:2; Isa. 8:18). God’s presence was shown by the cloud above them (Ex. 40: 34-38; 1 Ki. 8:10-11). Although Solomon said that God lived in the temple, he knew that God wasn’t restricted to one place (1 Ki. 8:13, 27). Before the end of the first temple, Ezekiel had a vision of God’s glory departing from the temple because of the people’s idolatry (Ezek. 8-10).

The tabernacle/temple was where the Jews offered sacrifices to God (Lev. 1:1 – 7:27) and celebrated their festivals, particularly the Passover, Pentecost and the Tabernacles (Dt. 16:16). On such an occasion David said, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” (Ps. 122:1).

After Solomon finished the first temple, God said that if the Israelites turned away from obeying the Lord, then “this temple will become a heap of rubble” (1 Ki. 9:8; 2 Chron. 7:21). And the temple was destroyed for this reason in 586 BC. While Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple, Daniel predicted that it would be destroyed likewise after the Anointed One (Christ) was put to death (Dan. 9:26).

The fact that the curtain of Herod’s temple was torn in two when Christ died symbolized that His death opened new access to God (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). Priests and animal sacrifices were no longer required. Although the temple was now obsolete, the Jews kept offering animal sacrifices. But God put an end to this when Herod’s temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 (like he used the Babylonians to destroy Solomon’s temple in 586 BC) and it wasn’t rebuilt. These two destructions both occurred on the 9th day of Av (5th month in the Hebrew calendar; which is in July-August in the modern calendar)! As predicted by Jesus, Herod’s grand temple was completely dismantled (Mt. 23:38; 24:2; Mk. 13:2; Lk. 13:35; 19:44; 21:6, 20-24).

God’s house today

What is the “house of God today”? The Bible says that God doesn’t live in a building (Acts 7:48; 17:24). Instead the Christian congregation (church) is said to be “God’s temple”; “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16NLT). In this figure of speech, the collective body of believers is like the temple. In a similar metaphor, they are said to be a “spiritual house” (1 Pt. 2:5).

“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are His house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory” (Heb 3:6). Here the writer explains what God’s house is today. It is made up of all true believers in Christ. Their endurance in the faith (holding firmly to their “confidence” and “hope”) shows the reality of their faith. Those who don’t endure aren’t true believers (Heb. 3:7-19).

As Christ is the head of the church, He is the leader of the “house of God”. The book of Hebrews says He is metaphorically like a great high priest; “we have a great priest over the house of God” (Heb 10:21).

And each Christian’s body is a metaphorical temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). So Christians, individually and collectively, are the “house of God” today! What was a physical term in the Old Testament is now a metaphorical one.

Lessons for us

We have seen that God tore the temple curtain when Christ died and He used the Romans to destroy the temple in AD 70. Because Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sin, we no longer need a temple where priests offer animal sacrifices. So the Jewish temple is now obsolete. Instead of living in a special building, God now lives in His people. This means that congregations of people are more important than the buildings they use. So let’s keep the right balance between people and buildings.

Also, because the “house of the Lord” is no longer a building, we shouldn’t call a church building “the house of the Lord”. God’s people are the house of the Lord (God’s temple) today, whether they are aware of it or not!

Written, November 2015


Why didn’t Jesus respect His family at Capernaum?

Recently I was asked this question by a person who said, “In our (Chinese) culture we always respect our family”.

The town of Capernaum on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee was the headquarters for Christ’s ministry in Galilee (Mt. 4:13; Mk. 2:1). Once when Jesus was teaching a crowd of people in a house in Capernaum, He was so busy that He didn’t have a chance to eat. (Mk. 3:20). The event described below is recorded in three gospels (Mt. 12:46-50; Mk. 3:31-35; Lk. 8:19-21).

mk 3-35 400px“Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’
‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ He asked.
Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mk. 3:31-35NIV).

Why didn’t Jesus obey the request from His family? To answer this question we need find the purpose behind it.

The news about what Jesus was doing “spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee” (Mk. 1:28). After it reached His family at Nazareth they became concerned and travelled about 50 km (30 miles) to reach him at Capernaum. His mother and brothers were outside the house where He was teaching but they weren’t able to get near Him because of the crowd (Lk. 8:19). So they sent a message saying they wanted to speak with Him. The reason for their visit is given as “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind’” (Mk. 3:21). The Greek word translated “out of His mind” is exeste (Strongs #1839). In the other verse of the Bible that uses the word in this sense (2 Cor. 5:13), it means the opposite of a “right mind” (NIV, ESV) or of a “sound mind” (HCSB, NET). When they heard about the crowds that gathered around Jesus, they thought He was insane. As the brothers didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God (Jn. 7:5), they may have thought He was a religious fanatic, or deluded or had a mental illness.

The fact that Joseph is not named possibly indicates his death. This means that at this time Jesus, as the eldest son, was the head of the household and expected to care for His widowed mother. Instead of this He was away from the household and crowds followed Him everywhere.

In that culture someone who was insane or out of their mind would bring shame and disgrace on their family. So they probably believed that the leader of their family was bringing shame and disgrace on them. Therefore, the family wanted to “take charge of Him” (NIV), or “to seize Him” (ESV), or “to restrain Him” (HCSB, NET). So they wanted to take Him away from society so that crowds couldn’t follow Him.

But Christ’s mission was “to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10). He was sent to earth by God to save the people of the world from the penalty of their sinfulness (Jn. 3:17; 1 Tim. 1:5). This was done by preaching and dying. He came to preach by calling sinners to repent (Mk. 1:38; 2:17). He also came to die sacrificially for the sins of mankind (Rom. 5:8).

So the purpose of His family’s visit was to stop Jesus preaching by taking Him back to the family home. They were seeking to stop Jesus’ ministry. As this was against God’s will, Jesus didn’t comply with their request. Instead He used this situation to teach a spiritual truth.

Instead of heeding the family’s request, Jesus changes the topic from the small biological family to the large spiritual family. He says that whoever obeys God is part of His spiritual family and that this spiritual family is more important than our human family. When there is a conflict between the two families we are to obey God. Like Jesus, we should respect God’s will more than we respect our family.

This doesn’t mean we are not to provide for our family. After all, Paul wrote “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). And when He was being executed, Jesus introduced John to His mother Mary as a surrogate son to take care of her (Jn. 19:26-27).

Fortunately at a later time the family had a change of heart as Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers were amongst the believers after Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:12-14).

Have we changed by turning around to follow Jesus? When there is a conflict between something in our life and God’s will for us, which do we give priority to? Do we put God’s interests above those of our family? Do we love Jesus more than our family (Lk. 14:26)? Are our relationships with fellow-Christians stronger than with unbelieving relatives? Do we also care for and not neglect our family?

Written, June 2015


When David said he was sinful at birth & from conception in Psalm 51:5, what did he mean?

birth 2 400px“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5NIV).

This verse is part of David’s prayer of confession for his sins (adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah). The prayer demonstrates the parallelism and figurative language of Hebrew poetry. Some of the figures of speech are related to how he wanted his sin to be removed: “blot out”, “wash away” and “cleanse” (v. 1-2); “wash” with hyssop so he is “whiter than snow” (v.7); “hear joy and gladness” (the effect is substituted for the cause), and “let the bones (body) you have crushed rejoice” (v. 8).

In verse 5 he makes the parallel statements, “Surely I was sinful at birth” and “sinful from the time my mother conceived me”. This is an example of hyperbole, where the writer exaggerates to make a point. Hyperbole is used commonly in the Bible to grab our attention and cause us to stop and think about what is being said. In this case it’s a colorful way of saying, “I’ve been sinful all my life” or “I’ve always been a sinner”. As such it is figurative and not literal.

David begins to use hyperbole in this prayer when he says, “my sin is always before me” (v.3). Was it on his mind 24 hours a day? No it wasn’t, but it filled his mind. He continues to use hyperbole in the next verse, “against you (God), you only, have I sinned” (v.4). What about his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah? He leaves them out because these sins were less important that his sin against God. The pattern of hyperbole continues in the next verse, “Surely I was sinful at birth” and “sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (v.5). Had David sinned from the time of his conception? No he hadn’t, but he feels so guilty it’s as if he’s been sinning all his life.

David also has similar thoughts in Psalm 58 where he asked God to punish unjust rulers. He uses hyperbole to describe them:
“Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies” (Ps. 58:3).
This a clearly figurative language because babies don’t spread lies from birth (they can’t communicate using words). In this case it’s a colorful way of saying, “they’ve been sinful all their lives”. Had they gone astray from birth? Of course not. Had they spread lies from birth? Of course not. As such it is figurative and not literal.

There are other figures of speech in the next verse where the unjust leader’s speech is described as “venom”, which is probably a metaphor for slander (v.4). This metaphor is extended to them being like a deaf snake, which implies they are deaf to the voice of God.

It would be wrong to use this Hebrew poetry in Psalms 51 and 58 to develop a theology of when sin starts in a child’s life. That topic isn’t being addressed in these verses.

Does this mean that babies are innocent? No and yes! On one hand they already have a sinful nature which is a characteristic of humanity (Rom. 3:10, 23; Eph. 2:1-3), but on the other hand, they are not yet accountable for their sin (Dt, 1:39; Is. 7:14-14; Jon. 4:11). Sinful behavior comes naturally. No one has to teach a child to lie or be selfish. No one is sinless (1 Jn. 1:7).

So when interpreting a passage in the Bible, we need to be careful to note its genre (is it prose or poetry?) and the occurrence of figures of speech.

Written, February 2015

Also see: If an infant dies, do they go to heaven?


When God has plans “to prosper you” & “to give you a hope and a future” in Jeremiah 29:11, what does He mean? Does this promise apply to us today?

God's plan for you 400px“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11NIV).

This verse is part of Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. They were prisoners of war (POWs) following a Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. The death and deportment of the Jews and the eventual devastation of Jerusalem was God’s judgement of the sins of Judah. The letter was probably written about 597BC.

The exiles were in a hopeless situation. But God had plans for them. What were these plans? They are described in the adjacent verses (v. 10, 14).
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place” (Jer. 29:10).
“I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile” (Jer. 29:14).

God’s plan is that they spend 70 years as POWs in Babylon. After this they will be released and able to return to Jerusalem and their homeland. God gave them hope for their nation after all. But the benefits wouldn’t come for 70 years! In the meantime they were POWs.

This plan was fulfilled with the decree of Cyrus in 538 BC (Ezra 1:2-4; Jer. 29:11), which enabled a remnant of Jews to return to their homeland under Zerubbabel (538BC), Ezra (458BC) and Nehemiah (444BC). So this promise given in 597BC has already been fulfilled.

Application

This promise gave the POWs something to look forward to during their long exile. It also taught them that their situation wasn’t helpless or hopeless because God promised ultimate deliverance and restoration from their exile. Their way to optimism was to remember this plan for their future. But there was no shortcut; they had to go through suffering along the way.

What about us today as Christians? As the promise given to the Jewish exiles in Jeremiah 29:11 has already been fulfilled, it doesn’t apply to us today. But the principle behind the promise can apply to us today. The lesson that our situation is never helpless or hopeless applies to us as well. However, our ultimate deliverance and restoration is spiritual, not physical. When there’s despair, discouragement or bad news our hope is the good news of Jesus. Heaven is the ultimate hope for Christians, though we expect to go through suffering along the way.

God’s plan for believers is for them to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). But does He have individual plans for us today? Paul says that Christians “are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Good works should be the fruit of our salvation. They are the evidence of our new life (Jas. 2:14-26). What kind of good works should we do? Those which God has “prepared in advance for us to do”. That sounds like an individual plan to me. So God does have a plan of good works for each of our lives.

Finding God’s plan for us

To find out the good works God has planned for us to do individually, we should:
– confess and repent of sin in our lives (1 Jn. 1:9);
– put God first in our life;
– study the Bible and obey it;
– ask God in prayer (Jas. 1:5);
– seize opportunities of service as they arise; and
– listen to the advice of godly Christians.

We can begin by being faithful where we are (Mt. 25:21). As we do this, God usually reveals the next step. It’s one step at a time, not a jump to our final destiny.

So if you want a verse to support the fact that God has a plan for our lives, it would be better to use Paul’s example (Eph. 2:10) than Jeremiah’s (Jer. 29:11).

Written, February 2015


Why didn’t Jesus know the date of His second advent?

white horse 400pxJesus said that “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” knows the day or the hour of His second advent (Mt. 24:36; Mk. 13:32). This says that Jesus didn’t know something. Are there any other passages in the Gospels that say or imply that Jesus didn’t know something? I can only find one other. Luke says that “Jesus grew in wisdom” when He was young (Lk. 2:52), which refers to His mental development and implies that He learned as He grew. This means that He didn’t know everything when He was young.

What about when Jesus asked “who touched my clothes” (Mk. 5:30)? Didn’t He know who touched Him and was healed? In the following verses we see that the question was asked so the woman could publicly declare her faith in Christ, not because Jesus didn’t know the answer.

What about when Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken from Him, if that was possible (Matt. 26:39)? Does this indicate that He thought there could be another alternative to the crucifixion? Is this a lack of knowledge? There was no answer to this prayer because it was rhetorical. It shows us that there was no other way for sinners to be saved than for Christ to die as our substitute on the cross.

On the other hand, we know that Jesus knew what others were thinking (Mk. 2:8; Lk. 11:17). He knew the Samaritan woman had five husbands and knew everything she had done (Jn. 4:18-19, 29). He knew the future (Mt. 16:21) and He knew everything (Jn. 16:29-30; 21:17).

An explanation

The apparent inconsistency between Jesus not knowing something and knowing everything can be resolved by looking at the relationship between Christ’s divine nature and His human nature. Jesus was both fully divine and fully human. This means that He could demonstrate the attributes of either nature. For example, his mortal body was human, and not divine. While His omniscience and omnipotence was divine, and not human. As a human being, Jesus had limited knowledge of certain things, but He was still divine. As the divine God, Jesus knew everything, but He was still human. His human nature was always evident, but His divine nature was sometimes hidden (but was evident when He did miracles).

Let’s apply this to our question about Jesus not knowing the date of His second advent. Jesus said that “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” knows the day or the hour when He comes to establish His kingdom on earth (Mt. 24:36; Mk. 13:32). Angels are finite beings created by God with limited knowledge, so it isn’t surprising that they don’t know the date. This is the case for all of God’s creation, including humanity. At the other extreme, God the Father knows everything, so it isn’t surprising that He knows the date. As God the Son, Jesus is both human and divine. Therefore one would expect that His human nature wouldn’t know the date, but His divine nature would know the date.

So, when the Bible says that Jesus didn’t know the date of His second advent it is referring to him as a finite human being, not as the divine Son of God.

Some also note that Jesus said, “a servant does not know his master’s business” (Jn. 15:15). So, in the sense that Jesus came as a Servant who was obedient to God the Father (Mt. 20:28; Heb. 10:5-7), we could say that Jesus didn’t know the date of His second advent.

Written, February 2015

Also see: Did Jesus use any of His divine power when He was on earth?


Why does the Bible describe “death” as “sleep”?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs this metaphor is used in the Old Testament, that is where we will begin. It is related to three Hebrew words: shakab (Strongs #7109), which means “to lie down”; yashen (Strongs #3462), which means “sleep”; and shenah (Strongs #8142), which also means “sleep”.

In one of the oldest books of the Bible, death is described as to “lie down in the dust” (Job 7:21; 20:11; 21:26NIV). In death an Israelite’s body is said to be resting with their ancestors Ge. 47:30; Dt. 31:16; 2 Sam 7:12; 1 Ki. 2:10). Here we see that in ancient history, death is associated with lying down to rest.

In Psalms, death is described as the “sleep of death” (Ps. 13:3; 90:5) and the death of the Assyrian army is called their “final sleep” (Ps. 76:5). In God’s predicted judgment of Babylon, they will “sleep forever and not awake” (Jer. 51:39, 57). Here we see that the Israelites associated death with sleep. This metaphor is also evident in Greek mythology.

In the following verse the word “sleep” has been added by the translators by inference as it isn’t in the text, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Clearly in this context “sleep” means “death” and “sleep in the dust of the earth” means the body after death (corpse). So, in the context of death, the word “sleep” refers to the corpse. Therefore, “awake” means resurrection of the body. Here we see a clear indication that death isn’t the end of the body.

New Testament

Both Jesus and Paul use “sleep” as a metaphor for death in the Bible. They would have been familiar with this metaphor from their knowledge of the Old Testament.

The Greek word koimao (Strongs #2837) means “to sleep, to fall asleep, or to die”. Similarly the Greek word katheudo (Strongs #2518) means “sleep or sleeping”. Both words are also used metaphorically for death, with the meaning in a particular passage being determined by the context in which it is used.

The clearest explanation of the metaphor is given in the following Scripture passages.
‘After He had said this, He went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but His disciples thought He meant natural sleep. So then He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead …’ (Jn. 11:11-14NIV).
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Th. 4:13).

The metaphor is used to refer to the deaths of:
– The girl who died and was raised back to life (Mt 9:24, Mk 5:39, Lk. 8:52)
– Lazarus (Jn. 11:11-14)
– Some godly people who died in Old Testament times (Mt. 27:52)
– Stephen (Acts 7:60)
– David (Acts 13:36)
– A husband (1 Cor. 7:39)
– Some of those who abuse the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:30)
– Christians (1 Cor. 15:6, 18; 1 Th. 4:13-15)
– People who died in Old Testament times (1 Cor. 15:20)
– Jewish ancestors (2 Pt. 3:4)

Also, 1 Corinthians 15:51 and 1 Thessalonians 5:10 say that not all Christians will die (or sleep) because the bodies of Christians that are alive at the rapture will be transformed without going through death.

“Death”, “departure” and “sleep”

How is death like sleep? Sleep is the time period between falling asleep and awaking when the body rests. It is a temporary condition, not a permanent one. How is death a temporary condition, not a permanent or eternal one? The Bible teaches that although our bodies decay after death, they will be resurrected on a future day. In fact everyone will be raised from death to one of two destinies (Acts 24:15). Jesus said “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (Jn. 5:28-29). Here goodness is evidence of salvation and evil is evidence of unbelief.

At death there is a separation of the body and soul and the believer’s soul goes to be with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8). As the soul is very much alive, when the word “sleep” is used in connection with death in the New Testament, it refers to the body, not the soul. The body is “sleeping” until its resurrection.

It is said that the early Christians called their burial grounds koimeterion (or “sleeping places”, a word derived from Strongs #2837 and used by the Greeks to describe a rest-house for strangers). This is the derivation of the English word “cemetery” (meaning “the sleeping place”).

The state of the soul after death is illustrated by the story of the rich man, Lazarus and Abraham (Lk. 16:22-31). After he died, the rich man had an extended conversation with Abraham, who died about 2,000 years earlier. Likewise, Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. 17:3; Mk. 9:4; Lk. 9:30-31). Moses died about 1,400 years earlier and Elijah was raptured about 850 years earlier. This is consistent with the soul of a believer living with the Lord after death. The Bible metaphor for the soul at death is “departure” as the soul departs from the body to be with Christ, which is better than the struggles of life on earth (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23).

Awakening

As people awake after sleeping, so in a coming day our bodies will be resurrected. The first resurrection takes place in various stages, including the rapture (1 Cor. 15:20; Mt. 27:52-53; 1 Th. 4:16; Rev. 20:4). It includes Jesus Christ and all those who have trusted in God. These are rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). They are raised to eternal life and immortality with the Lord.

The second resurrection is when those who have rejected God’s witness to them are judged at the Great White Throne (Jn. 5:29; Rev. 20:4-5, 12-13). The penalty is to be thrown into the lake of fire where they are tormented forever. They are raised to condemnation and banishment from the presence of the Lord.

So the metaphor of sleep for death should be a warning to be ready for the resurrection when we will face Jesus as either a lifesaver or a judge. What will it be?

Written, January 2015


What does the Bible say about cremation?

funeral pyre 3 from the Iliad 400pxWith the rising cost of funeral expenses today, many people are choosing cremation instead of burial. Let’s look at what the Bible says about this topic.

According to the Bible, the Israelites in the Old Testament and the early Christians in the New Testament practiced burial, not cremation. Jesus attacked many Jewish traditions, but not burial of the dead. In fact, an Israelite was dishonored if they didn’t receive a proper burial (1 Ki. 13:21-22; 21:23-24; Jer. 16:4, 6; 22:19). One of the sins of Moab is said to be “he burned to ashes the bones of Edom’s king” (Amos 2:1). In this instance it seems as though cremation denied the king a proper burial.

Is this Biblical practice of burial a command, a model to follow or just a report of events?

Is burial a command?

It doesn’t seem to be a command, because any commands seem to relate to specific circumstances. For example, Joseph issued a command regarding the burial of his body (Heb. 11:22) and the bodies of hanged criminals were to be buried on the same day (Dt. 21:23). Also, there are no curses or judgments in the Bible on someone who was cremated. The examples that are usually quoted for curses are instances when people are burned when they are alive, not after their death (Gen. 19:24; Lev. 10:1-2; Num. 16:35; 2 Pt. 2:6). There are two exceptions, Achan was stoned and then cremated for plundering Jericho (Josh. 7:25-26) and King Josiah executed pagan priests and cremated their bodies (2 Ki. 23:19-20).

Although there is no general command for burial, cremation is said to be a sin in Old Testament times (Amos 2:1). This is the only clear reference to cremation in the Bible and no reason or explanation is given in this brief statement.

The bodies of King Saul and his sons were “burned” by the Israelites (1 Sam. 31:11-13). However, there is no mention of cremation in the parallel account of this event and its retelling to David (2 Sam. 2:4-5; 1 Ch. 10:12). As a result of this, some think this is burning incense, not a cremation (2 Ch. 16:14; 21:19).

Today traditional Jews are prohibited under their law from practicing cremation because they believe that cremation rules out the possibility of resurrection. But it’s not more difficult for God to resurrect a body that has been cremated. All believers will one day receive a new body (1 Cor. 15:42-49; 1 Th. 4:13-18), regardless of what remains of their old body. All human bodies eventually decay and become like ashes or dust. Cremation mainly speeds up this process (Gen. 3:19).

Whether cremation was a sin in New Testament times is debatable because cremation isn’t mentioned in the New Testament.

Because burial was common, Paul used it as a metaphor for baptism and the fact that a Christian has “buried” their old sinful self and is no longer a slave to sin (Rom. 6:4-7; Col. 2:12).

Is burial a model or a report?

If burial isn’t commanded in the Bible, then it is either a model to follow or a report of events that are not necessarily right or wrong. I find it hard to decide between these alternatives.

Some say that because Christ was buried after He died, He is an example to follow (1 Cor. 15:4). But this seems like “cherry picking” to me. Christ was also crucified; is that an example to follow? Only in the sense of being a metaphor for self-denial (Lk. 9:23). Also, if it is a model to follow, what is the principle behind the practice? Is burial essential for resurrection? Surely not!

Biblical burial practices included funeral fires or burning incense (2 Ch. 16:14; 21:19; Jer. 34:5), anointing the corpse with perfumes and spices (2 Ch. 16:14; Mk. 16:1; Lk. 23:56–24:1; Jn. 19:39-40), burial in caves (Genesis 49:29-32; Jn. 11:38), and family tombs (2 Ch. 16:14). “Spices were likely used in each of the three phases of burial: corpse preparation (Mt. 26:12), funeral procession and interment” (Brink and Green Eds., “Commemorating the dead – Texts and artifacts in context”, 2008).

If you think that burial is a Biblical model to follow, then I don’t think you need to adopt the Jewish practices of funeral fires, burning incense, and anointing the corpse with perfumes and spices. For example the body doesn’t need to be anointed with about 34 kg (75 pounds) of perfumes and spices as was the case for Jesus (Jn. 19:39)!

Some believe that the symbolism of destroying a body (cremation) that God created and that God will resurrect is the wrong message to send at a funeral.

But if you don’t think that burial is a Biblical model to follow, then you can ask the following questions about cremation: Will it bring the most glory to God? Are we acting in love? Will it reflect the dignity of the human body? Will the future bodily resurrection be paramount? Are we accepting one another regardless of their views on this topic? What do other family members think? Will it help or hinder the harmony of believers and of families? Are we judging believers on matters of secondary importance? Will it hinder the spiritual progress of a weaker believer? Will it promote order or disorder in the local church? Will it help or hinder the gospel witness of the church?

We also need to consider local associations. For example, cremation is mandated by the Hindu religion because of their belief in reincarnation. They think that the fire helps the spirit detach from the body on its way to a new body. Because of this link, Christians who converted from Hinduism may be hindered by cremation. Also in Hindu areas, some may assume that cremation signals approval of idolatrous practices. So it would be better to favor burial above cremation in areas with a large Hindu population.

By the way, cremated remains can still be buried, interred in someone else’s grave or placed in a cremation plot.

Summary

Although burial was used instead of cremation in Biblical times, the Bible seems to be written to allow some people to think it is a model to follow today and others to think it is just a report of what happened and so cremation is also acceptable today. If you are considering cremation, then it would be good to consider the matters raised above.

Finally, the Bible focuses on our life when our bodies are alive. It is less concerned about what happens to our corpses.

Written, January 2015


What is paradise?

God's throne in heavenThe Greek word paradeisos (Strongs #3857) only occurs in the following three passages of the New Testament. It is an ancient Persian word meaning “enclosure, garden, or park”.

When Jesus was being crucified one of the criminals alongside Him said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” Then Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:42-43).

When Paul described a vision he had 14 years ago, he said “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Cor. 12:2-4).

Jesus concludes His message to the church at Ephesus with, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7).

Explanation

As Paul says he was “caught up to the third heaven” and “caught up to paradise”, “paradise” is synonymous with “the third heaven”. This is the heaven which is God’s abode (see link). The other ways of using the Greek word for “heaven” in Scripture are the earth’s atmosphere and the universe of stars and galaxies. So Paul had a personal audience with the Lord.

The repentant thief was promised that when he died from crucifixion, his soul and spirit would go to God’s dwelling place. However, according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, some Jews thought that in this context “paradise” was the part of Hades which was the abode of the souls of the pious until the resurrection (Lk. 16:23).

The passage in Revelation says that true believers will enjoy eternal life in heaven, just like Adam and Eve enjoyed being in the Garden of Eden before they sinned. Note that it is called “the paradise of God” because God is there.

So the word “paradise” is used in the Bible to describe where God lives. This place is commonly called “heaven”.

Written, January 2015

Also see: The good thief went to “Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22NKJV). Are they two different places? Are they intermediate heavens or the real thing? And where do Christians go who die today?


Does the Bible make contradictory statements about remarriage?

Herod Antipas coin - year 30In the book of Mark, king Herod is condemned for marrying his brother’s wife, but it says later that Moses approved marriage to a brother’s wife (Mk. 6:18; 12:19). Aren’t these statements contradictory?

King Herod Antipas (who reigned 4 BC to AD 39) was married to Phasaelis the daughter of Aretas IV, king of the Nabateans. He was king over the states of Galilee and Perea (the east bank of the Jordan river) in Palestine, which were under the control of the Roman Empire. His half-brother Herod Philip was married to Herodias and they had a daughter Salome.

Herod Antipas divorced Phasaelis to marry his sister-in-law Herodias. So Herodias left her first husband Philip to live with her second husband Herod Antipas. Then John the Baptist told King Herod “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mt. 14:4; Mk. 6:18). He was referring to the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, which forbade marriage to a brother’s wife (Lev. 18:16; 20:21).

When the Sadducees asked Jesus a hypothetical question they said “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother” (Mt. 22:24; Mk. 12:19; Lk. 20:28). They were quoting the levirate (brother-in-law) marriage, which was given to protect the widow and ensure continuance of the family line (Dt. 25:5-10). If an Israelite died without a son, there was the danger that his name would die out and his property pass out of the family and his widow would have no means of support. In this case, an unmarried brother of the dead man was to marry the widow.

These two cases of remarriage differ because in the case of Herodias, her first husband (Philip) was still alive, whereas levirate marriage was applied after the first husband had died and there was no male heir. As God intended marriage to last a life-time, a person is free to re-marry after their spouse has died (Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:39).

So because they refer to different situations, these statements about remarriage in the book of Mark aren’t contradictory.

Written, January 2015


What are we here for?

bear grylls 400pxThis question was asked recently by an elderly widower who was blind. He said that religious people say it is to make a better world. Then he added “Things don’t start from nothing – there must be somebody who put it together”.

To know Christ personally

King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. His search for meaning in life is given in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. He found that apart from God, life is meaningless. His conclusion was to “remember your Creator” and “fear God” and obey Him (Eccl. 12:1, 13-14). From this we see that our purpose in life is related to the God who created the universe and to whom we are accountable.

The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, had a close relationship with God. They were told to care and rule over the created earth (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). But this relationship was destroyed when they disobeyed God. As a result, today most people don’t have a close relationship with God.

Paul tried to please God by being religious. After he entered into a close relationship with Jesus Christ, he found that this religious activity was worthless (Phil. 3:4-11). His new goal was: “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised Him from the dead. I want to suffer with Him, sharing in His death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Phil. 3:10-11NLT). He gave up his previous way of life in order to know Christ personally. Then he looked ahead to living the Christian life and being rewarded when he gets to heaven (Phil. 3:13-14). In the meantime he wanted to live as a citizen of heaven eagerly waiting for Christ to return and change his weak mortal body into an glorious eternal body like His own (Phil. 3:20-21).

What was Jesus here for? In the Bible we see that the One “who put it together” gave Jesus a task to do.

Christ’s mission

Jesus was sent by God into the world (Jn. 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25). “God sent His Son” to rescue people from their slavery to sin (Gal. 4:4-5). He came “to give His life as a ransom” for us (Mk. 10:45). He was “an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:9-10). This is how God enabled us to have a close relationship with Him today.

Lifesavers rescue those who are drowning. At the beach they watch the surfers and give warnings when there is danger such as sharks, rips or rough waves. Jesus was God’s lifesaver. God sent Him on a rescue mission to save us from God’s eternal judgment. His big rescue plan can give us purpose and meaning – Someone and something to live for.

Have you recognised Jesus as your lifesaver and accepted His help? That’s what you are here for. It’s how Paul commenced his close relationship with Jesus Christ.

But we are here for more than this. In the Bible we see that the One “who put it together” often gave people a task to do. Their goal or mission was to complete this task.

Our mission

Abram was to travel to a foreign country so the people of the earth could be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). His descendants wrote most of the Bible, which communicates this blessing to humanity. Joseph went to Egypt to save lives in a famine (Gen. 45:5-8). Although he was forced to go there as a slave, he realized that he was sent there by God.

Moses was sent to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex. 3:10). Even though Moses was reluctant and gave excuses why he couldn’t carry out his mission, God enabled him to do it (Ex. 3:11-13; 4:1-16).

God sent the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Haggai to warn Judah of their idolatry and sinfulness (Isa. 6:8; Ezek. 3:4-5; Hag. 1:12). In fact all the prophets were sent by God (Jer. 7:25; 25:4; Zech 7:12). John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah (Mal. 3:1; Mk. 1:2).

Jesus sent the disciples to preach to the Jews (Mt. 10:5-33). Later He sent out 72 people to preach (Lk. 10:1-16). Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus commissioned the disciples to preach to the known world (“all nations”) (Mt. 28:19-20). He promised to always be with them.

There are many commands and models for Christians to follow in the New Testament. For example, they are to do good works as a consequence of their relationship with God (Eph. 2:10).

The car manufacturer Land River has engaged Bear Grylls as an ambassador to promote their products because he embodies the spirit of adventure and survival in the wilderness. In this context his mission is to help sell cars.

Paul said that Christians are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). Our mission is to help people be reconciled to God. Are we obedient (like Paul) or disobedient (like Jonah)?

Conclusion

According to the Bible, we are not here to make a better world. But we are here to have a close relationship with the God who created the universe. This is prohibited by our rebellious sinful nature. Fortunately God sent Jesus to earth to overcome this barrier so we can be reconciled with God. Have you accepted this gift? For those who have, we are here to live godly lives and help others turn towards God and be reconciled with Him.

Written, December 2014

Also see:
What’s the purpose of life?
Something to live for
Why Jesus was sent


What about unconfessed trespasses?

trespassing 2Someone asked a question about unconfessed trespasses.

Trespasses

Have you seen a sign on a property saying “No trespassing” or “Trespasses will be prosecuted”? This means that unauthorized people are prohibited from being on the property without the owner’s permission. In this case trespassing is disobeying a prohibition.

The Greek word “paraptoma” (Strongs #3900, which is translated “trespass”, is used in Romans 5:15-20 with regard to “the trespass of the one man” (v.15, 17) and “one trespass” (v.18). It is also described as “the disobedience of the one man” (v.19). Obviously the “one man” was Adam who disobeyed the following command, “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 from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). So disobeying a command is trespassing.

The Bible says that “all wrongdoing is sin” (1 Jn. 5:17). “Wrongdoing” or sin means anything that we think, say or do that the Bible says is wrong.

So trespassing is disobeying a known command, law or rule. Because trespasses are a particular type, kind or subset of sins, all trespasses are sins. So whatever is true for sins as a whole is also true for all trespasses. Therefore the conclusions in my post about unconfessed sins also apply to unconfessed transgressions.

Parental forgiveness

Jesus told His disciples, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:14-15). This refers to parental (conditional or practical) forgiveness that is necessary to maintain fellowship with God the Father. If Christians are unwilling to forgive someone who has wronged them, how can they expect to be in fellowship with their Father who has forgiven all their wrong-doings? Jesus expects His followers to forgive others (Mt. 6:12).

In this case their eternal salvation is not affected because that is based on the judicial (unconditional or positional) forgiveness from the penalty of sin that is obtained by trusting in Christ as their Savior. Before this time we are spiritually dead because of our sins. This means we are unresponsive to God, separated from God and His enemies (Eph. 2:1, 5; 5:10). But after this time our sins and trespasses are forgiven. So judicial forgiveness has eternal consequences.

It is important to distinguish between judicial and parental forgiveness. Because we can’t have fellowship with God as a Father until we become His child, parental forgiveness is impossible without judicial forgiveness. Judicial forgiveness must precede parental forgiveness.

We are to confess to those we have sinned against and to forgive those who confess to us (Lk. 17:3-4; Jas. 5:16). What about those who have not yet confessed to us? In all cases we are to forgive “just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). This means having a forgiving attitude even if they have not confessed.

How do murder victims’ families ever forgive the murderer? After her husband and two sons were killed in India in 1999, Gladys Stains said, “God enabled me to forgive the killers. Forgiveness allowed the healing to start flowing in my life. Being unwilling to forgive the person who has wronged us in any way, allows bitterness to come into our relationships and we are the ones affected. Forgiveness does not mean that we are free of the consequences of what has happened. Forgiving the murderers of my family has not brought them back, but has given me peace in the midst of sorrow. God gave me the strength to forgive. It was His strength, not mine” (Know your Bible – Celebrate God! Bible Soc. of Australia, 2007).

If forgiving another person takes years, then one’s fellowship with God is broken for those years. This could be caused by bitterness, hate, a victim mentality or vengeance instead of obeying the Biblical command to imitate Christ’s forgiveness. God can give us the power to bear our trials and can provide a way out of them (1 Cor. 10:13).

If a Christian dies with an unresolved trespass this is no longer important because they are forever with the Lord. None of our sins are taken to heaven because “the old (sinful) order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). We are not rejected from heaven for not forgiving someone else.

Conclusion

So unforgiven trespasses are not a barrier to heaven, but they do destroy our relationship with God. It’s our attitude that is important because that is what we are responsible for.

Written, July 2014


Who is a saint?

IMG_4293 400pxMany places in France are named after saints. Recently I visited the city of Saint-Étienne, which is named after Stephen the first Christian martyr (Acts 6:8 – 7:60).

According to the dictionary, today a saint is:

  • A person who after death is officially recognized because of holy deeds or behavior, as being entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding to God for people on earth, or
  • A person of exceptional kindness, goodness or holiness.

The word “saint” comes from the Latin word “sānctus” that means holy and was used in the Vulgate version of the Bible (which was used in western Europe, AD 400–1530). In the middle ages saints were often depicted with halos, a symbol of holiness. “Saint” is also the French word for holy.

Bible usage

The English word “saint” dates from the 13th century and was first used in a Scripture translation in the Geneva Bible version of 1587. It was carried over into the King James Version in 1611 and continues today in the New King James Version and other versions as a translation of the Greek word “hagios” (Strongs #40) in the New Testament. The Greek word means set apart by (or for) God, holy, and sacred. It is an adjective used to describe God, things connected with God, or people connected with God. The Hebrew word “qaddish” (Strongs #6922) has a similar meaning in the Old Testament (Dan. 7:18-21, 25, 27).

Six of Paul’s letters to churches are addressed to these people (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians). Paul also said that before he became a Christian, “I put many of the Lord’s people in prison” (Acts 26:10NIV). These people were Christ’s disciples and followers (Acts 9:1-2; 13-14). They were Christians who were living at that time. So the in the Bible, the word “hagios” means a follower of Jesus Christ, a Christian.

The Biblical meaning of “hagios” differs from the most common meanings of “saint”, because:

  • A Christian is not “a person of exceptional kindness, goodness or holiness or goodness”. They can disagree with one another (Acts 15:39) and they can sin (Gal. 2:11-14). But they are holy in God’s sight as they received Christ’s righteousness when He took their sin – a marvellous exchange.
  • A Christian is not “a person who after death is officially recognized because of holy deeds or behaviour, as being entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth”. The Christian’s in the New Testament were on earth, not in heaven – they were alive, not dead. They were saved by Christ’s death and resurrection, not by good works. They weren’t venerated – in the Bible, Peter is not called Saint Peter, Paul is not called Saint Paul and Stephen was not called Saint Stephen after he was martyred (Acts 11:19; 22:20). God alone was to be venerated. Although they could pray when alive, there is no mention in the Bible of them praying after they died.

Because the Biblical meaning of the Greek word “hagios” differs from the common meaning of the English word “saint”, Bibles translated into everyday spoken English don’t use the word “saint”. Consequently, the NIV Bible mainly uses “the Lord’s (holy) people” or “God’s (holy) people” instead of “the saints”

The frequency of occurrence of the English word “saint(s)” in various translations of the Bible is given below:

  • 98 times – NKJV
  • 82 times – ESV
  • 63 times – HCSB
  • 62 times – NET
  • 0 times – NIV
  • 0 times – NLT

As indicated above, in the versions that include the word “saint”, this word has a meaning that differs from common usage. A reader should be told this technical (jargon) meaning in order to correctly understand these Bibles.

This is one of the reasons why I prefer the NIV translation of the Bible.


Who is accountable to God?

What's your excuse illustration design over whiteChildren grow up from infancy, to childhood, to adolescence and then to adulthood. At the beginning they are totally dependent on their parents and are not held accountable for their behavior. But as they grow up, they are trained to be responsible and accountable. The Bible teaches that everyone is answerable to God (Mt. 12:36-37; Rom. 3:19; Heb. 9:27). But when are children accountable to God?

The Bible says that both Christians and non-Christians are accountable to God. At the end of their lives, Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10NIV) when “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Rom. 14:12). This is used to determine their rewards in heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Non-Christians are “judged according to what they had done” at the “great white throne” (Rev. 20:11-15). This is used to determine their punishment in hell.

Is this fair? God has revealed Himself to everyone in at least two ways. First the natural world demands a Creator – complicated things, like animals and plants and people, don’t make themselves (Rom. 1:19-20). Second, we all have a conscience and so can know instinctively what is right and wrong and feel guilty when we do wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). If someone hasn’t heard about how God revealed Himself in history (in the Bible), then they are judged according to their response to these more general revelations of God. So God is fair and “people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

Non-accountable

The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth (Gen. 8:21; 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 leads to eternal separation from God (Jn. 3:16; Rom 6:23).

The Bible also teaches that because they do not yet know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil, infants are not accountable for their sin (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:31; Isa. 7:14-16; Jon. 4:11). They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.

So very young children are not accountable for their sin. Their minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong. But what about when they grow past this stage of life?

Accountable

The Bible makes two types of statements about the sins of parents and children. First, with regard to the commandment given to the Israelites against idolatry, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing 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). As they lived in households that extended to three or four generations, this means that the temporal judgment for their rebellion against God was on themselves and their households. The Bible gives examples of households that experienced the consequence of God’s judgment of the sins of their patriarch (Num. 16:31-35; Josh. 7:24-25). Likewise, today the consequences of a parent’s behavior can impact others in their household.

When the Jews used this statement to say that they were suffering for their ancestors’ sins, Ezekiel corrected them writing “The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4, 20). This is an example of the second type of statement, which relates to the death penalty. “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin” (Dt. 24:16; 2 Ki. 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4). So in the Israelite legal system, a penalty was to be imposed only on those who committed the crime, and not on those who were innocent. This meant that after children reached the age when they knew the difference between right and wrong, they were accountable for their behavior. Likewise, today when children are old enough to respond to their conscience they are responsible to God for their own behavior.

Conclusion

So the statement that everyone is accountable to God doesn’t apply to young children or those whose minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong.

But those who have grown past this stage of life and can understand these things are accountable to God. They have no excuse. That’s why it’s important to know that our sinful ways separate us from God, but Jesus died to take the punishment that we deserve (which is hell) and reconcile us to God. We need to take responsibility for our behavior and confess our sins, because God cannot forgive our sin until it is confessed.

Written, May 2014


What is the unforgivable or unpardonable sin?

Unforgivable sin 1A New Zealand prime minister once said, “New Zealanders who emigrate to Australia raise the IQs of both countries”. That’s slander; a false spoken malicious statement that damages someone’s reputation.

After Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who couldn’t see or speak, the common people were astonished and wondered whether He was the Messiah. This enraged the Pharisees who claimed He did it in the power of “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24). That’s slander because Beelzebub is another word for Satan (Mt. 12:26) and Jesus said that He drove out demons in the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:28). So they called the Holy Spirit, Satan or a demon! In saying that someone who was good was evil, they were totally wrong. Whereas as Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees knew about the prophecies concerning the Messiah (Lk. 4:16-21; 7:18-22).

Then Jesus told the Pharisees, “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:31). He repeated, “anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:32). The account is repeated in Mark, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (Mk. 3:29). He said that the reason for this was because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit” (Mk. 3:30). Jesus said this because He “knew their thoughts” and their future behavior (Mt. 12:25). He knew they would continue to be hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent in their opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit. They would stubbornly reject all the evidence before them and be blind to the truth. Forgiveness is impossible as long as one continues to reject the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Although the Pharisees observed His powerful miracles, they continued to oppose Christ until they convinced the Romans to crucify Him.

Jesus pointed out the Pharisees inconsistency (Mt. 12:25-29; 33-37). It makes no sense to say He’s a bad tree (demonic) producing good fruit (healings). Using this illustration, blasphemy against the Spirit is saying that Jesus’ good works (by the Spirit) are the fruit of a bad (demonic) tree.

The Greek word translated “blaspheme” (blasphemis, Strong’s #988) means slander; speech that injures another’s good name. The ones who made these accusations were Jewish religious leaders who had travelled all the way from Jerusalem (Mk. 3:22). Because they thought their role was threatened by Jesus, they had plotted how they might kill Him (Mt. 12:14). So they were full of evil intent.

In this context, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean swearing or bad language. As the Holy Spirit’s mission was to testify about Christ – “He will testify about Me” (Jn. 15:16), it  was saying that Jesus performed miracles by the power of Satan rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit, and continuing to reject Christ as the Messiah throughout their lifetime.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Th. 5:19). Also, it doesn’t apply to everyone who openly rejects Christ, because Peter and Paul did this but became leaders in the early church (Jn. 18:15-17; Acts 9:1-2). This sin is not based on a single act, but on someone’s spiritual state.

How does it apply today?

Can this unpardonable sin be committed today? There are two main views on this topic. First, it is not possible in the sense of Jesus being physically on earth performing miracles and being accused of being demon-possessed. Also, it is not mentioned in any of the letters in the Bible written to the church. Furthermore, the accusation of demon possession is rare because today many people reject the idea of a spiritual dimension to life.

Second, the outcome of this sin still occurs today. As long as people reject Christ as Savior, their sins cannot be forgiven and pardoned. Today the only sin that is unforgivable is that of not receiving Jesus Christ as Savior. Permanently rejecting Christ is an unforgivable sin (Jn. 3:18, 36). There is no pardon for a person who dies in unbelief.  In this sense, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unbelief that persists throughout life. But only God knows in advance if this will be the case.

If a person continues in apostasy (those in the early church who reverted to Judaism; rejection of Christianity by those who had professed to be Christians; false teachers), they are unforgivable – they can’t be brought to repentance while they continue to reject Christ (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 1 Jn. 5:16-17). They continue “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace”. They trample Christ underfoot, say His death was useless and insult the Holy Spirit. Persistent sin against the trinity leads to spiritual death. Such hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit is similar to the behavior of the Pharisees who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. As they can repent and be forgiven, apostasy is only unpardonable if it continues to death and only God knows this in advance.

As the Holy Spirit’s mission today includes convicting us of our sins (Jn. 16:7-8), is deliberate, hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent rejection of one’s sinfulness equivalent to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

Written, March 2014


Why did Jesus tell the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven”?

forgive 1Politicians often make sweeping statements. But can we trust them? Because of our doubts, the Australian ABC news features a “Fact Check” which determines the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions. Their verdict often highlights the selective use of statistics.

People often doubt politician’s promises. When Jesus was on earth, many of the Jews doubted God’s promises in the Old Testament. They didn’t live like they were God’s covenant people. We will see that they were challenged by a message from God to consider their spiritual need for the forgiveness of their sins.

The promise

Because He healed many people, crowds of people followed Jesus at Capernaum in Galilee. When He was preaching in a house that was packed full of people, four men brought a paralyzed man to Jesus by lowering him down through a hole in the roof (Mk. 2:1-5)! The preaching was interrupted and “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’”. On another occasion Jesus also announced publicly that a woman’s sins were forgiven (Lk. 7:36-50). Later the man was healed instantly, took up his mat and walked home. This amazed everyone because they had never seen anything like it before.

The man and his companion’s faith may have come from the Old Testament or they may have heard the message of John the Baptist or Jesus of confessing and repenting of sins for forgiveness (Mt. 3:6; Mk 1:14-15; Lk. 3:3).

This happened before a crowd of people comprised of people with faith (like the paralytic and his friends), people with no faith (like the religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat), and people with uncertain and doubtful faith. What did the claim of “your sins are forgiven” mean to each of these groups?

The faithful

The faithful probably knew what the Old Testament says about sin and forgiveness. That is what Jesus would have preached about. For Jews, sin was disobedience of the laws given to Moses (Exodus – Deuteronomy). Sin was serious because it resulted in God’s punishment instead of His blessing. They were given sacrifices to be offered to atone for unintentional sins such as the sin offering, the guilt offering, and the annual day of atonement (Lev. 4:1 – 5:13; 5:14 – 6:7; 16:1-34).

Sin is serious because “you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). Our sins separate us from God (Isa. 59:2). Wilful sin was to be punished by execution or banishment (Num. 15:30-31). In the case of unintentional sin, a sacrifice restored their covenant relationship with the Lord.

Sin also has other consequences, for example Moses and Aaron didn’t enter Canaan because of their sin (Num. 20:12). The Old Testament records the sins of the Israelites and their consequences. History teaches that despite their deliverance from Egypt and sustenance in the wilderness journey, “they kept on sinning” (Ps. 78:32). Their sins were listed and Daniel confessed them (Ps. 106:6-46; Dan. 9:4-15). Their persistent sin and rebellion against God resulted in their conquest by the Assyrians and Babylonians (Ps. 79:8).

Like David (Ps. 51:1-10), they were to confess their sins and pray for God’s forgiveness (Ps. 19:12-13; 32:5; Prov. 28:13). When they did this, God promised to forgive them (Ps. 32:5; 99:8; 103:3; 130:3-4). Because the faithful had confessed their sins, when these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they took it as a message of assurance from God that their sins were forgiven. Their faith was affirmed.

The unfaithful

Like many of the religious leaders, the unfaithful Jews may still have followed the Jewish rituals and sacrifices, but they were selfish and didn’t trust in God. As the news of Jesus’ ministry spread the religious leaders became increasingly hostile. On this occasion they “had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem” with the purpose of finding some accusation against Him (Lk. 5:17).

When these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they knew that only God can forgive sins (Mk. 2:7). But they didn’t believe that Jesus had this power. Then Jesus said “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Lk. 2:10). His power to heal the man was a visible affirmation of His invisible power to forgive sins. But they continued in unbelief.

When these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they used it to make accusations against Jesus. While the faithful helped the helpless man, the unfaithful hindered Jesus’ ministry. They remained in their unbelief.

The doubtful and uncertain

What about people between the two previous categories with uncertain and doubtful faith? These would have been impacted by the miraculous healing. Because Jesus linked the physical healing and the spiritual forgiveness, they should have been challenged about their spiritual need and been convicted of their sin and reminded of the Old Testament or the message of John the Baptist or Jesus of confessing and repenting of sins for their forgiveness.

These were the people that Jesus was targeting because they needed to hear this message and respond to it. Because, “everyone who believes in Him (Christ) receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43).

Conclusion

Because we have the New Testament, we know much more than these people. They didn’t know that Jesus was the promised Messiah (Mt. 9:8) who would give up His life as a sacrifice so that no more sacrifices would be required for their sins. We have the Scriptural evidence that Jesus was the Son of God and not just another prophet. Because Christ died for our sins (past, present and future), God can forgive us (Mt. 26:28). His judicial forgiveness is eternal.

When we hear or read the words of God from the Bible, is our faith affirmed, our unbelief unchanged, or are we moved do something about it? Are we challenged to consider our spiritual need for the forgiveness of sins? The Bible says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (Jas. 1:22).

Written, March 2014


What does “all things are possible with God” mean?

impossibleThese words were spoken by Jesus to the disciples after he talked with a rich young man (Mt. 19:26; Mk. 10:27; Lk. 18:27). It occurred near the end of His ministry, after He began His last trip to Jerusalem (Lk. 17:11). The rich man wanted to do something to obtain eternal life. He thought he could obtain salvation by his own efforts, but was unwilling to acknowledge his sin of greed and covetousness. Because he wouldn’t admit his sinfulness, he was unable to obtain eternal life though faith in Christ. That’s why Jesus said it was difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. As prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing in Old Testament times (Dt. 28:1-14) and the man obeyed most of the commandments, the disciples were amazed and asked Jesus “Who then can be saved”? Jesus answered “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26NIV). Or, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible” (NLT). It has also been recorded as “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Lk. 18:27).

As the context of the verse is salvation, the word “this” stands for salvation. It addresses questions such as, “Who can be saved to go to heaven?” and “How are they saved?”. It teaches that there is no human component to a person’s salvation. We can’t save ourselves, because we are sinful. God does it all. Salvation comes from God’s grace and mercy alone, and human achievement has no role in it (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).

The Greek word translated “all things” (Strongs #3956), is also used in verses 20 and 27. In verse 20 it means “all” the commandments mentioned in v.18-19. In verse 27 it means “all” the things the disciples left behind to follow Jesus. Therefore, in v.26 it means “all” the things to do with salvation or “everything” to do with salvation.

The “all things” refers to God’s unlimited power which makes salvation possible. But it doesn’t mean that God can do anything. He can’t sin and He can’t deny who He is (2 Tim. 2:13). Instead, He can do all things that are consistent with His nature.

Prayer requests (except prayers of confession and repentance) and other miracles are outside the scope of how the verse was used by Jesus. Another implication of this incident is that prosperity is no longer a sign a God’s blessing, something difficult for the Jews of the day to understand.

So, “all things are possible with God” means that everything to do with the miracle of salvation is only possible through God’s power.

Written, September 2013


What are the new heaven and new earth like?

In the Bible, the words translated as “heaven” or “heavens” can mean either:

  • The earth’s atmosphere
  • The realm of the stars
  • The dwelling place of God and the angels

The term the “heaven and earth” is mentioned in 26 verses of the NIV Bible. Most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 14:19; Ps. 115:15, Isa. 37:16). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.

The term the “heavens and earth” is mentioned in 15 verses of the NIV Bible. Likewise most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 1:1; Jer. 32:17; Acts 14:15). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.

New heavens and new earth

The term “new heavens and new earth” is mentioned in two verses (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). Isaiah lived until at least 680 BC, which is about 75 years before the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem when Daniel was captured and deported to Babylon (in 605 BC) and about 94 years before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 BC) and took more captives. The book of Isaiah is about God’s judgment and deliverance of the Jews. Isaiah predicted that the judgment was imminent (Ch. 1-39), but they would be eventually restored (Ch. 40-66). It ends with restored people living on a restored earth under the rule of the Messiah.

In this portion of the book, Isaiah is looking ahead to when the Jews would be in exile in Babylon.  Isaiah 63:15 – 64:12 is a prayer of those in exile seeking deliverance from their captivity. The prayer is answered in Chapters 65-66, which mentions the new heavens and the new earth.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isa. 65:17NIV).
“‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so will your name and descendants endure’” (Isa. 66:22).

This new creation is characterised by (Is. 65:17-25; 66:19-24):

  • Longevity and no infant mortality (65:20)
  • There will be death and therefore sin will be present (65:20), but Satan will be bound (Rev. 20:2-3).
  • Children will be born (65:23)
  • No war or calamity (65:23)
  • Wild animals will be tame and not dangerous (65:25)
  • Jews return to Jerusalem (66:20)
  • Jewish worship and priesthood will be re-established, which implies that the temple will be rebuilt (66:21)
  • All humanity will worship the Lord (66:23)
  • Resurrected Christians will rule the world with Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:6)

So the Jews are promised a time of great blessing which has not yet occurred. When he spoke to Jews who rejected Christ, Peter called this the “times of refreshing” when God will “restore everything”, which was predicted by the Old Testament prophets (Acts 3:17-24). As it is referred to as a 1,000 year period in Revelation 20:1-7, this is often referred to as the Millennium.

Heaven and the Millennium

Outline of future eventsBut those who trusted God before the death of Christ also go to heaven (God’s dwelling place). Although most of the promises they were given were physical (like the Millennium), they also had a heavenly hope. They realised that this earth was not their final home: “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” and “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). Therefore, the verses in Isaiah probably include the eternal state of heaven. The main difference between the two is that there is sin in the Millennium, but not in heaven. Their temporal relationship is shown in the timeline. The Bible indicates that the sinful world vanishes after the Millennium and before the eternal state (Isa. 51:4-6; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).

A new heaven and a new earth

The term “a new heaven and a new earth” is also mentioned two verses (2 Pt. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). 2 Peter 3 comments on those who doubt God’s final judgment of the physical world. They are called scoffers (v.3). As the earth was devastated by a global flood in Noah’s time, in future the universe will be devastated by a fire (v.6-7, 10-12). At this time the sinful world is replaced by a sinless one (Mt. 24:35; 2 Pt. 3:10; Rev. 21:1). This judgement occurs before the “day of God”, which is the eternal state. It’s God’s final triumph over sin and evil. Christians are told to look forward to the “day of God” and “a new heaven and a new earth” – these terms are equivalent. They are told, “But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pt. 3:13). They look forward to God’s new creation where there will be no sin (Rom. 8:21). In this sense, it will be like God’s original creation. The physical universe will be transformed and renewed in a similar manner to the bodies of believers (Rom. 8:20-23). So it seems as though the eternal state has a physical component.

Most of the book of Revelation describes future events. These include the second advent of Christ as a warrior who defeats all His enemies (19:11-20), and then as a king who reigns over the earth for 1,000 years (20:4-6). The final event is the new heaven and new earth, which is the eternal state (21:1-22:5). John says, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1).

This new creation is characterised by:

  • God is present – it’s His home (22:3)
  • No sadness, suffering or death and therefore no sin (21:4). It will be a place of harmony, peace and joy (Col. 3:20).
  • Only Christians will be there – non-Christians are excluded (21:27). It’s their eternal home where they have a close relationship with the Lord (21:3, 7; 22:4).
  • Christian will have new bodies, like that of the risen Lord (Phil. 3: 21).
  • Christians will be worshipping and praising the Lord, serving Him and reigning with Him (22:3, 5)

It is also described in: “Heaven and hell: What is heaven like?

Lessons for us

We can see that those who trust God are promised a future time of blessing. It’s what they longed for (Heb. 11:16a; 2 Pt. 3:12-13). They look ahead and forward, not behind and backwards. Are we anticipating a time without sin and being in the presence of our Savior?

In view of this we should “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” (2 Pt. 3:14). It should change our behavior. Are we pure? Are we blameless? Are we holy? Are we at peace or is there strife?

Written, July 2013


Can a person go to heaven if they have not heard about Jesus before they die?

Earth globeAs there will be people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” in heaven, it seems that some of these would not have heard about Jesus before they died (Rev. 5:9-10). I believe that infants go to heaven when they die because they are not accountable for their sin. We will look at other people in two categories, those who lived before and after Christ.

Before Christ

The Bible says that those who trusted God in Old Testament times go to heaven. Although most of the promises they were given were physical, they also had a heavenly hope. They realised that this earth was not their final home: “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” (Heb. 11:13NIV). Instead they were looking towards heaven: “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). We are told that God “has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16b). In particular, Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).

These people are commended in Hebrews as those who lived by faith. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The Jews were told, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). This faith was based on a revelation from God.

“Enoch walked faithfully with God” (Gen. 5:22, 24).  So did Noah (Gen. 6:9). This means they obeyed God. “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22). “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). Job repented after God revealed His power through nature (Job 38-41; 42:6).

So those who trusted in God’s revelation to them before the formation of the Israelite nation go to heaven. In their case, God usually spoke directly to them.

God spoke to the Israelites “at many times and in various ways” (Heb. 1:1). It is stated that Moses accepted “disgrace for the sake of Christ” (Heb. 11:26). But as Moses lived about 1,450 years before Christ, this seems to be a figure of speech. It means that Moses choose to be loyal to God and to associate with his fellow Israelites. The reason given is that “he was looking ahead to his reward”. As Hebrews was probably written about 65AD, the writer knew that the Messiah was the one through whom God guaranteed their promised future.

So the Israelites who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. In their case, the revelation was usually miracles and the law given through Moses.

We know God revealed Himself to the Israelites as they were His people during this period of time. But what about the Gentiles? The Israelites were told to follow the laws that God gave them through Moses so that other nations would come to know God: “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Dt. 4:6-8).

Rahab is a Gentile who trusted God (Heb. 11:31). She told the Israelite spies, “I know that the Lord has given you this land …  for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Josh. 2:9-11). Because of what she had heard of the Exodus and the defeat of the Amorites, she realised that the God of the Israelites was greater than the Canaanite gods. So she rejected the Canaanite gods to follow the God of the Israelites.

Also Ruth the Moabite told her Israelite mother-in-law, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Likewise, she rejected the gods of the Moabites to follow the God of the Israelites. God’s interest in the Gentiles is shown in the book of Jonah where Jonah was sent to Nineveh with a message of God’s judgment and the people repented of their sin (Jon. 3:1-10).

So the Gentiles who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. God revealed Himself to them through the Israelites when they heard about their law and the miraculous preservation of their nation.

All the above are examples of people who go to heaven without hearing about Jesus. But the Bible says the following about Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12NLT). And Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). This means that the only way to get into heaven is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Before Christ’s death people were saved according to their acceptance of God’s revelation to them. It was based on the future work of Christ. So those who trusted in God’s revelation in Old Testament times go to heaven because their faith in God was equivalent to faith in Jesus Christ. They were saved on credit. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25). In this way God overlooked the sins of those who trusted in Him before Christ’s death and resurrection.

After Christ

In Romans, God reveals that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23) and we can only get to heaven through trusting in Christ’s sacrifice for us (Rom. 3:22-26). But it also says that people are judged according to God’s revelation to them: “All who sin apart from the law (Gentiles) will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law (Jews) will be judged by the law” (Rom 2:12). The two main ways that God reveals himself to people who haven’t heard about Jesus are creation and conscience.

Firstly, the physical world demands a Creator. Its design requires a Designer. The laws of nature require a Lawmaker. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a creator God. “The truth about God is known instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20NLT). Enough of God is revealed in His creation that there is no excuse for not believing in Him. Those who reject this revelation follow idols and practice sinful behavior and suffer God’s judgment (Rom. 1:18-32).

Nature is a testimony of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4). Also, Paul said “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, He let all nations go their own way. Yet He has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:15-17).

So if people haven’t heard about Jesus, they can be judged according to their response to the revelation of God in creation. If they turn from idolatry and seek the true God, then God may give them additional revelation. For example, Cornelius was a Gentile who sought God. So God sent Peter to tell him about Jesus and salvation (Acts 11:14). God can appear to people in many ways throughout their lives. He can send people to inform them (Rom. 10:14-15). Because God doesn’t want anyone to perish in hell and wants everyone to repent of their sin, we must trust that He has made a way for those people (2 Pt. 3:9).

Secondly, everyone is born with a conscience. We all have an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. For example, most people know it is wrong to lie, steal, and commit adultery and murder. The Bible gives God’s standards for humanity. But for those who are ignorant of this it says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Rom. 2:15NLT). Anyone who has not heard about what the Bible says will be judged according to their conscience. God will say, “What did you think was right and wrong?” The next question is, “Did you always do the right and not the wrong?” By that standard, of course, everyone fails. The conscience proves that we are sinners like the law does for the Jew.

The issue is their response to a guilty conscience. If they were sorry for their behavior and would repent then they would probably go to heaven. This reasoning is based on the fact that God is just and wants all to be saved. He has made a way for all, but few accept it.

Like those who lived before Christ, the issue is whether they responded to God’s revelation to them. So through the creation and our conscience, God gives everyone the opportunity to turn to Him and be saved from the penalty of their sinfulness and go to heaven.

Lessons for us

Like the Israelites, a Christian’s behavior can influence an unbeliever to repent and follow God and go to heaven. “Live such good lives among the pagans (your unbelieving neighbors, NLT) that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pt. 2:12).

Although people can to be saved without hearing about Jesus, it isn’t likely to occur in very many instances. The usual way to go to heaven is to respond to hearing about Jesus. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14). That’s why it’s important to tell people about Jesus as much as possible and support others in this work.


Does the Bible condone rape?

Rape-is-RapeI have received this question about the Bible: It seems that rape was condoned in the Bible, which seems inconsistent with a God who is against abortion and offers forgiveness to sinners … I ask these hard questions for myself as well as unbelievers who use this to justify their hatred of God and the Bible.

Instances in the Bible

Rape is mentioned several times in the Bible. Dinah the daughter of Jacob was raped by Shechem the Hivite (Gen. 34:1-31NIV). Her brothers were shocked and furious at this “outrageous thing … that should not be done” (v.7).  When Shechem’s father went to Jacob to arrange their marriage, he was told that the bride price would be that their men become circumcised like the Israelites. After they agreed and were in pain due to the circumcision, two of Dinah’s brothers attacked the city of Shechem and killed all the men because Dinah had been treated “like a prostitute”. However, the word “God” is not mentioned in this chapter of the Bible.

When an Israelite traveller stopped overnight at Gibeah in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, “the wicked men of the city surrounded the house” and demanded to have homosexual sex with the visitor (Jud. 19:1-30). Instead they were given the Israelite’s concubine and “they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go” and she was found dead outside the door of the house. When the Israelites heard about this “lewd and outrageous act” and “awful thing”, they demanded that the perpetuators be handed over to be put to death (Jud. 20:1-48). After this was refused, most of the Benjamite warriors were killed in a war. The Bible’s description of this period is that “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Jud. 19:1; 21:23). It demonstrates the moral depravity that resulted when God’s people turned away from following Him.

King David’s son Amnon lusted after his beautiful half-sister Tamar – they had different mothers (2 Sam. 13:1-39).   When he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister”, she said “No, my brother! Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you” (v.11-13) “But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her” (v.14). “When king David heard all this, he was furious” (v.21). Two years later, Tamar’s brother Absalom took revenge by arranging for Amnon to be killed “because he had disgraced his sister Tamar” (v.22).

The passage of how the Benjamites obtained wives from Jabesh Gilead and Shiloh has been alleged to involve rape, but Judges 21:10-25 concerns marriage, not rape. As noted above, this was time of moral depravity. Likewise, the marriage of captive women from outside Canaan was marriage, not rape (Dt. 21:10-14). The taking of female prisoners of war has also been alleged to be rape, but in this instance they probably became slaves and there is no indication of rape or sex slavery, although they may have subsequently married an Israelite (Num. 31:18).

The Bible also records instances of the rape of female prisoners of war by ungodly men such as: when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC (Lam. 5:11), when the Medes conquered Babylon in 539 BC (Isa. 13:16-17) and in a coming day when the nations attack Jerusalem before Christ returns to earth (Zech. 14:2).

Sexual immorality, including rape, was one of the sins of the Jews in Jerusalem (Ezek. 22:11). Because of these, they were conquered by the Babylonians and dispersed among the nations.

In all these cases, the Bible reports rape as an example of ungodly behavior.

What about Abram and Hagar?

Was Hagar was raped by Abram (Gen. 16:1-4)? When Abram’s husband, Sari, was unable to have children she thought “perhaps I can build a family through” Hagar, who was her slave. After Abram agreed, Sari gave Hagar to him “to be his wife”. This seems to be a euphemism for sexual intercourse because afterwards Hagar is still referred to as Sari’s slave and not Abram’s wife. Then Abram slept with Hagar and she became pregnant. As this was Sari’s idea and there is no indication that Hagar opposed it, there is no evidence of rape. Instead it seems to be an accepted practice in society at that time. This interpretation is supported by four instances in the life of Jacob (Gen. 30:1-13). On two occasions when Rachel was unable to have children she asked him to sleep with her servant Bilhah. This resulted in the births of Dan and Naphtali. Similarly, on two occasions when Leah was unable to have children she also asked him to sleep with her servant Zilpah. This resulted in the births of Gad and Asher. Later Bilhah is called Jacob’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). As secondary wives, concubines were associated with polygamy. While these cases seem to have been culturally acceptable at the time, they are contrary to God’s plan for marriage, which is monogamy (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-9).

Jewish law

According to the law that God gave to the Israelites, the crime of rape of a “young woman who was pledged to be married” was to be punished by death (Dt. 22:25-27). This penalty is the same as someone (male or female) guilty of adultery (Dt. 22:20-22). So rape was considered to be a serious crime.

However, if the young woman was not pledged to be married, the man was to marry her if her father agreed (Ex. 22:16-17; Dt. 22:28-29). In this case the penalty was to support her for the rest of her life. In those days a woman depended on her father or husband for her welfare. If the woman was no longer a virgin and was not pledged to be married, she would have been deemed undesirable for marriage and so would be subject to poverty after the death of her father. So this law moderated the penalty in order to provide for the welfare of the woman and her children. Taken in isolation, this could be used to assert that the Bible condoned rape. However, the rapist risked the revenge of the victim’s family as was the case with Shechem and Dinah (Gen. 34:1-31). Also, the rest of the Bible clearly condemns rape.

New Testament

Sexual immorality, such as rape, is a serious sin (1 Cor. 6:9-19) and a characteristic of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19-21). It is a sign of those who are under God’s judgement (v.9-11) and Christians are told to flee from it (v.18).

Summary

The Bible reports sinful behavior such as rape. Like history books and the news media, the Bible doesn’t necessarily approve all it reports. Also, much of the Bible is descriptive and not prescriptive. Clearly, the bible condemns rape as a serious sin. To claim otherwise is to misinterpret the text and context of these Scriptures.

Written, May 2013


Did the Hebrew language exist before the exile into Babylon?

Siloam inscriptionI received a comment on my blog claiming that the Hebrew language didn’t exist until the Jewish exile in Babylon. So, what does the evidence say?

According to the Bible, all people spoke the same language until around 2200 BC when God caused different languages to develop at Babel and people scattered to form different nations across the earth (Gen. 11:1-9). This was the source of the diversity of human languages.

The Hebrew nation settled in Canaan in the 14th century BC. They occupied Canaan until the first Jewish captives were deported to Babylon in 605 BC and the second wave were exiled in 586 BC when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed (Dan. 1; 2 Ki. 25).

Gezer calendarAccording to Wikipedia, the Siloam inscription records the construction of Hezekiah’s tunnel. The NIV Study Bible states that Hezekiah was king of Judah between 715 BC and 686 BC (2 Ki. 18:1-2). The tunnel, leading from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, was designed as an aqueduct to provide Jerusalem with water during an impending siege by the Assyrians, led by Sennacherib (2 Ki. 20:20; 2 Chr. 32:30). The inscription, which was discovered in the tunnel in 1880 and has been dated at 701 BC, is written in the “Biblical Hebrew” language, which uses the ancient Hebrew alphabet. So here we have a written example of the Hebrew language that dates at least 100 years before the Jewish exile.

Hebrew belongs to the Semantic family of languages which were used in the middle east. Geographically it was a Canaanite language like Phoenician, Ugaritic and Moabite. The Bible notes that Jacob’s language was different to Aramaic (Gen. 31:47). Scholars believe that Hebrew was spoken in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah during the 10th to 7th centuries BC.

IMG_1943 400pxTherefore, the reader’s comment seems to be inconsistent with the evidence available. It can be shown that the Hebrew language originated well before the Babylonian exile. In fact, Wikipedia claims that there is evidence of “Biblical Hebrew” as far back as the 10th century BC, which extends to the days of king David (2 Sam. 5:4). The Gezer calendar is dated in this time period. Likewise, the earliest known example of the Hebrew alphabet discovered at Tel Zayit is dated in the 10th century B.C.

Written, March 2013


Why do some Bibles use the word “ditches” in 2 Kings 3:16 and others the word “pools”?

Valley filled with waterWhen the armies of three nations ran out of water they sought the help of Elisha the prophet (2 Ki. 3:9-27). Elisha received a message from God saying that He would use a miracle to provide water for themselves and their animals. This happened on the following morning and God also used the appearance of the water to defeat their enemy. So God did more than they requested (Eph. 3:20).

The first part of God’s message as given in verse 16 has been translated in two ways:

  • “Make this valley full of ditches” (NKJV). This emphasises that the armies were to dig the ditches (or pits) and then the Lord would provide the water.
  • “I will fill this valley with pools of water” (NIV). This emphasises that God would provide the water.

See link for a comparison between different translations and a translation note from the New English Translation (NET). Here we see that both alternatives occur in more than one translation. The difference depends on whether the command is assumed to be literal or hyperbolic (a figure of speech). It has also been said that in this context “ditches” (or pits) and “pools” are nearly synonymous.

Possible applications to the two alternative translations are:

  • Pray, listen to God and do all you can to accomplish His purposes, while trusting God to act.
  • Pray and then wait and trust God to act.

Written, February 2013


What did Jesus mean when He said He would not eat the Passover again until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Lk. 22:16)?

last-supperThis statement is included in a description of how Jesus celebrated the Jewish Passover festival with His disciples just before He was executed.

When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table. And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God”. After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Lk. 22:14-18NIV).

The Lord looked forward to this occasion because it was the last Passover that He would share with His disciples and the last Passover of His first advent on earth. He also looked ahead to the kingdom of God. The previous mention of the “kingdom of God” in the book of Luke is associated with a description of Christ’s second advent (Lk. 21:25-31). This means that the next time He would be on earth to celebrate such a Jewish festival would be during His millennial kingdom, after His second advent on earth (Rev. 20:1-6). Jesus would eat no more Passover meals until this time.
Link to outline of events associated with the second advent.

As He is talking about a physical meal (v.15-16) and a physical drink (v.17-18), the Lord is addressing a future physical kingdom and not a spiritual one. At this time, the temple will be rebuilt, the Jewish priesthood restored and the Israelites will occupy their promised land (Ezek. Ch. 40-48). They will also resume Jewish festivals like the Passover (Ezek. 45:21). So, the future Passover is also physical like it was in the Old Testament (OT) times.

In the New Testament Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and “our Passover lamb” who “has been sacrificed” (Jn. 1:29, 1 Cor. 5:7). Through His sacrificial death on the cross He paid the penalty for our sin. In this way, Jesus was like the Passover lamb, which died as a substitute (Ex. 12:21-30). Furthermore, He was crucified on Passover day. But the fact that Christ has delivered sinners from hell and been victorious over Satan and the forces of evil will not be evident until He returns in great power to establish His kingdom on earth.

How is the Passover “fulfilled in the kingdom of God”? As the Israelites escape from slavery wasn’t realised until the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, so Christ’s victory over Satan will not be complete until Satan’s forces are defeated at the triumphant second advent (Rev. 19:11-21). The purpose of the Passover was so the Israelites could settle in Canaan as God’s people, living according to His commands. But because they disobeyed and rebelled against God over many years, God allowed them to be invaded and scattered to foreign countries. After this God predicted the Gentile kingdoms that would rule over the Jews, culminating with a promise to establish His eternal kingdom on earth (Dan. 2:44). So the victory that began with the first Passover in Egypt and was remembered whenever the Jewish Passover festival was celebrated will be ultimately finalised when Christ’s millennial kingdom is established on earth.

Soon after this passage in Luke, Jesus referred to the “kingdom of God” once again when He promised that the disciples would reign over the earth in the coming kingdom (Lk. 22:29-30; Rev. 5:9-10). So at this Passover, Christ looked ahead to the fulfilment of God’s purposes. Likewise, at the Lord’s Supper believers today look back to the Lord’s death and ahead to His coming again (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

At the Passover the OT Jews remembered their rescue from slavery in Egypt, whereas in the coming kingdom Jewish believers will remember that through the death of Christ, they have been rescued from the penalty of their sin.

In summary, Jesus hasn’t eaten the Passover since He ascended into heaven. Only after He returns to the earth as king to establish the kingdom of God on earth will He be able to celebrate the Passover again. The rescue mission that began with the Passover, which was a foretaste of Christ’s death, will be completed and evident to the universe at the second advent of Christ and in His subsequent kingdom.

Written, February 2013

Also see: An outline of future events