Observations on life; particularly spiritual

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Why did Jesus do miracles?

why-jesus-did-miracles-400pxI have been asked the question, “In which situations did Jesus decide or know to use His miraculous power?” The Bible records that crowds of people were amazed at His miracles. For example, after Jesus healed a paralyzed man, “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today’” (Lk. 5:26NIV). That’s a healthy response to a miracle, like the disciples who worshipped Jesus after His resurrection (Mt. 18:17).

The Bible records about 36 miracles that were associated with the ministry of Jesus. When John’s disciples asked Jesus if He was the Messiah, Jesus said, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” and Luke commented, “Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind” (Lk. 7:21-22). The context of these miracles is given below.

The situations when miracles occurred

When preaching and teaching

Jesus healed the sick when He was preaching and teaching in the synagogue about the good news of the kingdom of God (Mt. 4:23-25; 9:35). When news spread about this, large crowds followed Him and He healed all those who were sick. When Jesus was preaching, He forgave the sins of a paralyzed man and healed him (Mk. 2:1-12).

Those who came to Him

Jesus also healed those who came to Him (Mt. 8:1-4). This included those who touched Him (Mt. 9:20-22; 14:35-36). He even raised dead people back to life (Mt. 9:23-26)! And He healed two blind men after asking if they believed that He could do this (Mt. 9:27-31). On a least two occasions, Jesus fed a crowd of people in a remote place when they needed food (Mt. 14:15-21; Mk. 8:1-9).

Those He was told about

Jesus even healed people when someone else came to Him on their behalf (Mt. 8:5-13). So the person didn’t need to be close to Jesus to be healed. Even the daughter of a Canaanite woman was healed in this way (Mt. 15:22-28). She was healed because her mother had “great faith”, even though Jesus’ ministry was to Jews and not to Gentiles.

Those He saw

Jesus also healed those He saw during His daily life (Mt. 8:14-15; 28-34). When confronted by a demon possessed man, Jesus delivered him from the demon (Mk. 1:23-26). Jesus told blind Bartimaeus, “your faith has healed you” (Mk. 10:46-52). And He knew the Samaritan woman’s life story (Jn. 4:18-19).

As a witness to His disciples

Near the beginning of His ministry, Jesus turned water into wine when the wine ran out at a wedding (Jn. 2:1-11). His disciples were at the wedding and because of this miracle they “believed in Him”. John called such miracles, “signs through which He showed His glory” (Jn. 2:11). So the miracles were evidence of His divine power as the Messiah (the Son of God).

Jesus calmed a storm when the disciples urged Him to save them from drowning (Mt. 8:23-27; Mk. 4:35-41). On another occasion, He walked on water so He could calm a storm (Mt. 14:22-33). Jesus showed His omniscience in obtaining money for the temple tax from a fish that Peter caught, and predicting Peter’s denial (Mt. 17:24-27; 26:33-34).

The purpose of miracles

Confirmation of Christ’s divinity

Many of these miracles were done publicly. On the day of Pentecost, Peter said “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). So Christ’s miracles were well known.

The miracles of Jesus demonstrated His divine power over disease, nature, the spirit world, material things and death. These miracles showed that Jesus is the Messiah (Mt. 11:1-6; Lk. 7:18-23) and the Son of God (Mt. 14:25-33). The Jewish people were expecting their Messiah to perform miracles, such as giving sight to the blind (Is. 42:7). The apostle John witnessed most of these miracles and wrote, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:30-31). This purpose can still be achieved today when people read the account of Christ’s life in the Bible. But some people still rejected the evidence of Christ’s divinity despite the miracles He performed.

Confirmation of Christ’s message

Jesus came to preach the good news that He was the Messiah through whom salvation is possible (Mk. 1:14-15; 38; Lk. 19:10). In a warning about returning to Jewish practices, the early church was told, “How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those (the apostles) who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will” (Heb. 2:2-3). So miracles were God’s confirmation of the gospel message. Although this passage applies to the early church, the same principle applies to the time of Jesus – the miracles were God’s confirmation of Christ’s message. They confirmed that He was the Messiah and that His message was from God. That’s why miracles accompanied Christ’s preaching and teaching.

To help Jews accept Christ’s message

Christ’s ministry was to Jews who demanded to see miracles (Mt. 12:38; 16:1,4; Mk. 8:11-12; Lk. 11:16, 29; Jn. 2:18; 4:48; 6:30). They would believe a message was from God if a miracle was shown to them (1 Cor. 1:22). Christ’s miracles were “signs through which He revealed His glory” and because of these, “His disciples believe in Him” (Jn. 1:11). After the Jewish people saw a miracle, they believed that Jesus was the Messiah (Jn. 6:14-15).

To bring people to belief, repentance, and eternal life

A major purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to bring people to repentance (Mt. 11:20-24). That’s why He denounced the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. And He could not do any miracles at His hometown of Nazareth, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith – they didn’t believe that Jesus could heal (Mk. 6:1-6). The Pharisees and Herod hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle (Mt. 13:38; Mk. 8:11; Lk. 23:8). And those who had seen Him feed 5,000 men asked for another miracle (Jn. 6:30). In these instances, Jesus didn’t do miracles because He knew they wouldn’t believe His message.

Large crowds followed Jesus because of His miraculous healing of the sick (Jn. 6:2). When Jesus used five small loaves of bread and two small fish to feed over 5,000 people, they thought He was a prophet (Jn. 6:14). Then Jesus told them that God’s will for the Jews was to look to Jesus (“the one He has sent”) and believe in Him to receive eternal life (Jn. 6:36, 40). So, the miracles were evidence that Jesus was more than a prophet. Instead He was the Messiah who had been sent by God the Father.

A blind man was healed to display the works of God (Jn. 9:1-38). Afterwards the man believed that Jesus was the Messiah and he worshipped Him. Lazarus was raised from the dead “for God’s glory so that God’s Son (Jesus) may be glorified through it” (Jn. 11:4). After this miracle, the Jewish religious leaders said that if they let Jesus continue to do such miracles then “everyone will believe in Him” (Jn. 11:47-57). So they planned to arrest and kill Jesus.

An expression of compassion

Jesus healed people when He had compassion on them (Mt. 14:14; 20:34). He fed a hungry crowd when He had compassion on them (Mt. 15:32). And He raised her son from the dead when He had compassion on the widow of Nain (Lk. 7:13). In these examples, He was relieving people of suffering. So, although the spiritual needs of people are paramount, we see that Jesus was concerned about their physical needs as well. But Jesus only healed one of the many disabled people at the pool of Bethesda (Jn. 5:2-9). So Jesus was selective in using His miraculous power.

Summary

We have seen that the Bible says Jesus used His miraculous power when preaching and teaching, when people came to Him, when He was told about people, when He saw people, and as a witness to His disciples. And He was selective in the use of His divine power. The purpose of these miracles was to confirm Christ’s divinity; to confirm His message; to help Jews accept the message; to bring people to belief, repentance, and eternal life; and to show compassion. So Jesus used His miraculous power when these purposes could be achieved

Written, November 2016

Also see: How did Jesus do miracles?

How did Jesus do miracles?

jesus-miracles-400pxI have been asked the question, “Where did Jesus’ power come from – God, Jesus Himself, and/or the Holy Spirit?” The Bible records that Jesus definitely had miraculous power. In His hometown Nazareth, the people asked, “Where did this man (Jesus) get this wisdom and these miraculous powers” (Mt. 13:54NIV)? Even king Herod said that “miraculous powers are at work in Him” (Mt. 14:2).

The miracles associated with Jesus were events that couldn’t be explained by natural occurrences. So they require supernatural explanations. That’s why they are said to confirm Christ’s divinity (Jn. 20:30-31).

As Jesus was sent to earth by God the Father, was this the source of His power?

God the Father

After Philip asked, “show us the Father”, Jesus said, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing His work” (Jn. 14:10). The NET translates “His work” as “His miraculous deeds”, and says that this is most likely a reference to the miracles that Jesus had performed as a manifestation of the mighty acts of God. And Luke said that God the Father did miracles through Jesus Christ and “because God was with Him” (Acts 2:22; 10:38). Finally, through His “incomparably great power” and “mighty strength”, God the Father, “raised Christ from the dead” (Eph. 1:19-20). This was the greatest miracle of all.

So, God the Father was the power behind Christ’s miracles. But as Jesus was a member of the divine trinity, was this another source of His power?

His own divine power

Jesus’ miracles demonstrated His amazing power. When Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee during a storm and calmed the storm, the disciples said “Truly you are the Son of God” (Mt. 14:22-32). When Jesus said He could forgive a paralyzed man’s sins and heal him, the religious leaders knew that only God could do this (Mt. 9:1-8; Mk. 2:5-12; Lk. 5:18-26). Then Jesus healed the paralytic (a visible miracle) to confirm that the man’s sins had been forgiven (an invisible miracle). And when Jesus healed a paralyzed man on the Sabbath day He referred to it as His work (Jn. 5:17). As Christ’s miracles provided evidence of His divinity, they were evidence of His inherent divine power (Jn. 20:31).

Luke said “the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick” (Lk. 5:17). The Greek noun kurios translated “Lord” (Strongs #2962) in this verse, which means master and owner, is applied to Jesus in Luke 5: 8, 12 elsewhere in this passage. Therefore, according to the context, in v.17 it means that Jesus had absolute power to heal the sick (some infer that the lack of an article in the Greek text implies the reference is to God the Father, but the article is also absent in verses 8 and 12). Contrary to some teaching, Jesus didn’t empty Himself of His divine power when He became a man (Phil. 2:7). Instead, He always had this divine power, which could be used when required.

When Jesus defended His claim to be equal with God He said, “the Son (Jesus) can do nothing by Himself, He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (Jn. 5:19). This doesn’t mean that Jesus had no inherent ability to accomplish anything miraculous on His own. He was so closely united with God the Father that He could only do the very things which He saw His Father doing. Jesus also said, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him (God the Father) who sent me” (Jn. 5:30). Jesus is so closely united with God the Father that He could not act by Himself. He could not do anything that was independent or inconsistent with His Father’s will. Instead, He was obedient to His Father and always in fellowship and harmony with Him. Finally, Jesus raised Himself from death (Jn. 2:19; 10:17-18). As already mentioned, this was the greatest miracle of all.

So, His own divine nature was the power behind Christ’s miracles. But as Jesus was “full of the (Holy) Spirit”, was this the source of His power (Lk. 4:1)?

The Holy Spirit

From His baptism, Jesus was indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 3:16; Lk. 4:18). During this period, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Mt. 4:1); empowered Jesus’ return to Galilee (Lk. 4:14); empowered Jesus to drive out demons (Mt. 12:28); and empowered Jesus to instruct the apostles (Acts 1:2). When the 72 disciples returned with joy from a missionary trip, Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit” (Lk. 10:21). The sin of blasphemy against the Spirit was attributing Christ’s power over demons to Satan’s power rather than the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:31-32; Mk. 3:29).

According to Scripture, the main miracle associated with the Holy Spirit seems to be driving out demons. So, the Holy Spirit was the power behind some of Christ’s miracles.

Summary

We have seen that the Bible says Jesus had miraculous power and that the source of this power was God the Father, Christ’s divine nature and the Holy Spirit. So, the whole divine trinity provided the power for Christ’s miracles.

Written, November 2016

Also see: Why did Jesus do miracles?

Who raised Jesus from death?

cross_and_tomb-3Christ’s resurrection and the feeding of the 5,000 are the only miracles recorded in each of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John of the Bible. According to the Bible, Jesus was the first person to be raised from death to eternal life, never to die again (Rom. 6:9; 1 Cor. 15:23). But who raised Jesus back to life from death? The Bible gives various answers to this question.

God did it

The most frequent explanation is that God raised Jesus from death (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 33, 34, 37; 17:31; Rom. 4:24; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:15; Col. 2:12; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pt. 1:21). “God raised Him (Jesus) from the dead so that He (Jesus) will never be subject to decay” (Acts 13:34NIV). As Jesus was both a physical human being and the spiritual Son of God, the death and “decay” refer to His physical body, and not to His divine nature. Only people die, not spirits. His earthly body wasn’t eternal but was subject to death just as ours is.

Righteousness is promised “for us who believe in Him (God) who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:24-25). So Christ’s death dealt with the problem of our sins and the fact that He rose confirms that the price has been paid to make us right with God. As Paul says, ‘‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him (Jesus) from the dead, you will be saved’ (Rom. 10:9).

Also, “by His power God raised the Lord (Jesus) from the dead, and He (God) will raise us also” (1 Cor. 6:14). So because God raised Jesus from death, in the future He will also raise the bodies of believers from death. Resurrection is the opposite of death. Death separates the body from the soul and spirit, while resurrection reunites them. But as noted above, it didn’t affect the divine part of Jesus.

God the Father did it

The Bible also says that God the Father raised Jesus from death (Rom. 6:4; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:19-21; 1 Pt. 1:3). Paul said that through His “incomparably great power” and “mighty strength”, God the Father, “raised Christ from the dead and seated Him (Jesus) at His (God the Father’s) right hand in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:19-20). So Jesus was raised and given the place of highest honor and authority (the right hand) in God’s dwelling place (the heavenly realms).

It should be noted that some of the instances of the word “God” used in the context of Christ’s resurrection actually refer to God the Father (1 Th. 1:9-10).

Jesus did it

The Bible also says that Jesus raised Himself from death (Jn. 2:19; 10:17-18). Jesus told the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19-21). In this instance, the temple was a metaphor for His body. So to “destroy this temple” was a figurative way to predict His death and to “raise it again” was a figurative way to predict His resurrection. When Jesus said that He had the power to raise Himself back to life, it shows that He had divine power, because this is impossible for a human being to do.

When Jesus predicted that faithful Jews and faithful Gentiles would be united in the Christian church, He described how this would be made possible: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father (Jn. 10:17-18)”. To “lay down” one’s life is to die willingly and to “take it up again” is to resurrect back to life. So He willingly died and rose again for those who trust in the saving power of His death and resurrection. This passage says that Jesus used His divine power to rise from death in obedience to the command (instruction or plan) of God the Father. This was possible because His divine power wasn’t affected by His death – it wasn’t destroyed.

Did the Holy Spirit do it?

Some think that the Bible also says that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death (Rom. 8:11; 1 Pt. 3:18). Romans 3:18 says:
NIV: “And if (since) the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you”.
ESV: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you”.
HCSB: “And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you”.
NET: “Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through His Spirit who lives in you”. And according to the NET Bible “the one who raised Jesus from the dead” and “the one who raised Christ from the death” refer to God. So this verse belongs to the first category. “God did it”.

Another possibility is that the term “Spirit of Him” could be a title of the Holy Spirit like “Spirit of God” (Rom. 8:9). According to this interpretation, the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death. But according to its context, this verse is saying that the Spirit of God within us is stronger than the sin that is in our bodies. Which is similar to “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). So this verse doesn’t definitely say that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death – it is only a debatable inference.

1 Peter 3:18 says that Christ was:
NIV: “made alive in the Spirit”.
ESV: “made alive in the spirit”.
HCSB: “made alive in the spiritual realm”.
NET: “made alive in the spirit”. And according to the NET Bible “The reference may not be to the Holy Spirit directly, but indirectly, since the Spirit permeates and characterizes the spiritual mode of existence”.
As most of these contemporary translations don’t capitalize “spiritual”, there is no conclusive evidence in 1 Peter 3:18 that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from death.

Summary

The Bible definitely teaches that Jesus was raised from the dead by God, God the Father and by Himself. Is this a contradiction? No, because God the Father and Jesus Christ are referred to as “God” in the Bible and they can do what God alone can do (Heb. 1:8).

None of the verses say that God the Father alone raised Jesus from the dead, or that Jesus by Himself without the aid of the Father raised Himself, or that Jesus didn’t have the power to raise Himself. Paul called Jesus “the author of life” (Acts 3:15) and Jesus certainly had the power to resurrect Lazarus back to life (Jn. 11:11-44). Furthermore, Jesus told Martha “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25).

Also, it doesn’t follow that the Father and the Son must be one and the same person in order for all these statements to be correct, since all that is required is for them to have the same ability and power to raise the dead. After all, Jesus said that He could do everything that the Father does (Jn. 5:19-24).

Whether the Holy Spirit, who is also referred to as “God” (Acts 5:3-4), was involved in the Resurrection of Christ is a debatable matter as the Bible doesn’t seem to provide conclusive evidence of this.

Written, October 2016

Symbols of Christ’s death

symbols-of-christs-death-collage

12 images of Christ’s death

oregano-test-400px
Earlier this year consumer advocate Choice found that dried oregano is being padded with substitute olive and sumac leaves. One product contained less than 10% of the real thing, while other brands had just 11-50%. Dried olive and sumac leaves were a cheaper substitute that looked similar to oregano. Some of the suspect samples came from Turkey.
Other food scandals include imitation honey, horsemeat marketed as beef, mislabelled seafood, and peanuts being mixed into ground cumin. These are examples of bad substitution. Today we are looking at a good substitution by God.

Every good drama, movie or story has at least one climax. The climax is the turning point of the story when the main problem is addressed. Today we are looking at the climax of the bible.

In the introduction of the Bible it describes how our earliest ancestors Adam and Eve rebelled against the God who made them and this resulted in all the problems we experience today like evil, pain, suffering, disease and death.

The climax is when God solves the problem of people’s sinfulness. He does this by coming to the earth and taking the punishment that we all deserve – that’s the substitution. The Bible’s climax has two twists. Firstly, Jesus’ followers believe He is the Messiah, but their hopes are dashed when instead of setting up His kingdom on earth, He is executed as a criminal. So their great expectations are replaced by grief and loss. Secondly, a few days after His burial Jesus miraculously resurrects back to life and the grief and loss is replaced with joy! What a dramatic fluctuation in emotions!

There is a movie called “God’s not dead!”. Well today we are looking at when God died. That’s amazing! How could the God with the power to create and sustain the universe die like a human being? We will see that multiple images and symbols are required to convey the message of Christ’s death and its impact.

The symbols of Christ’s death are categorized below as: people, animals, inanimate things, and religious ceremonies.

People

Abraham sacrificing Isaac

Hebrews 11 says, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son” (Heb. 11:17NIV). When God tested Abraham’s faith about 4,000 years ago, he told him to sacrifice Isaac his only son. At the last minute, God provided a ram to take Isaac’s place. That’s another substitution. This climax in Abraham’s life happened on Mount Moriah, which was also near the place where Christ later died, in Jerusalem (Gen 22:1-14; 2 Chron. 3:1).

Isaac is like Jesus: they were only sons loved by their fathers, and willing to do their father’s will (Gen. 22:2; Mt. 4:17). But there is a difference: Isaac didn’t die as a sacrifice but Jesus did; and Abraham was spared the grief but God wasn’t.

If the death of Jesus is like Isaac bound on the altar, it reminds us of the role of God the Father and God the Son. This symbol also reminds us of how the death of Jesus was God’s plan which depended on Christ’s obedience. It’s all about God.

Jonah swallowed by the big fish

Jesus said, “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man (Jesus) will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt. 12:40). When Jonah was thrown overboard in a Mediterranean storm in about 760 BC, he was swallowed by a huge fish and he was in the belly of the fish for three days (Jon. 1:17). After this he was vomited onto dry land (Jon. 2:10). Then Jonah preached in Nineveh and when they turned to follow God, the Israelites were relieved of the Assyrian threat.

The Bible says that Jonah is like Jesus: being swallowed by the fish was like Christ’s death, being in the fish for three days was like Christ buried in the tomb and being vomited out was like Christ’s resurrection back to life. It says that “God provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah” (Jon. 1:17). It was God provision. Likewise, God provided Christ’s death for us.

The Bible also says that Jesus rose on “the third day” after His death and burial (Mt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mk. 9:31; 10:34; Lk. 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Jn. 2:19; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4). The third day means the day after tomorrow (Lk. 13-31-33). Apparently the Jews counted parts of days as whole days.

If the death of Jesus is like Jonah being swallowed by the fish, it reminds us that the death of Jesus was God’s plan. He provided it. This symbol also reminds us that Christ was only dead for three days and then He rose back to new life.

Animals

Animal sacrifices

Animal sacrifices in Old Testament times were also symbols of Christ’s death. For example, the ram that replaced Isaac on Mount Moriah was like Jesus. An innocent animal died as a substitute instead of Isaac. Likewise, although He was sinless, Jesus took our punishment. He died in our place. Paul said, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. He died for us. And “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a … sacrifice to God” (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 5:2).

And during the Passover, a lamb was killed and its blood put on the door frames of their houses. The lamb had to be “without defect” (Ex. 12:5). This is like Jesus because Peter said, He was “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pt. 1:19). That’s a metaphor saying He’s like a lamb without blemish or defect. God said, “when I see the blood (on the door frames), I will pass over you” (Ex. 12:13). In this way the Israelites were saved from the death of their firstborn. None of the Israelites died because a lamb had died instead of them. They benefited from the animal’s death. They received mercy instead of judgment. They were protected from God’s judgment. On the next day, in the exodus they were delivered and rescued from slavery in Egypt. After this, the Passover was celebrated annually in remembrance of this great deliverance from slavery.

It’s interesting that Jesus celebrated the Passover on the evening before He died, and He was crucified on the day of the Passover (14 Aviv) – a Jewish day is comprised of a night followed by the daylight hours. Also Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). Another metaphor. So the Passover lamb is like Jesus. It died to save the household from God’s judgment.

John the Baptist called Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). The lamb was a sacrificial animal among the Jews. It was killed as a substitute and its blood was sprinkled around. Here all humanity benefits from Christ’s death (it’s for “the world”), not just the Jews.

Jewish animal sacrifices (like the burnt, fellowship and guilt offerings, and the day of atonement) that were required under the law of Moses are symbols of the death of Jesus. In all these cases, innocent animal life was given up to protect human life. The judgment and penalty for their sins were carried out through a transfer of the sin of the people to the animal sacrifice. Forgiveness is possible because the penalty of sin (death) is transferred to a sacrificial animal. The animal was a substitute for the people. The Bible says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). The shedding of blood means death.

A major difference between the animal sacrifices and Christ’s death is that the sacrifices continued daily, weekly, and annually, whereas Christ only needed to die once (Heb. 9:26; 10:1, 11-12). His single death fulfilled the animal sacrifices of the old covenant (Heb. 9:7-28; 13:11-12). So there is no need for animal sacrifices anymore (Heb. 10:18). His death was “once for all”. For all time and for all people.

If the death of Jesus is like an animal sacrifice, it reminds us that Jesus died for us. God died for us! The Creator died for His creation! His creatures! This symbol also reminds us that through the death of Jesus we can receive mercy instead of judgment. This symbol will endure because in heaven we will proclaim, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain” (Rev. 5:12).

The scapegoat

On the day of atonement, the Jewish High Priest put both his hands on the head of a goat and confessed all the sins of the Israelites and “put them on the goat’s head” (Lev. 16:7-10, 20-22). Their sins were symbolically placed on the goat. And the goat was taken away and released in the wilderness to carry all their sins to a remote place. Symbolically it carried away the sins of the people.

This is similar to what happened at Christ’s death. The sins of the whole world were placed on Jesus Christ. Peter said, ‘“He himself bore our sins” in His body on the cross’ (1 Pt. 2:24). And when He died He took the penalty for them – the wages of sin is death. So they were taken away for ever. Aaron laying his hands on the goat symbolizes the placing of our sins on Christ, to be taken away forever. As the goat substituted for the Israelites, Jesus substituted for us.

If the death of Jesus is like the scapegoat, it reminds us that Jesus died for us. This symbol also reminds us that through the death of Jesus our sins are taken away forever.

The heartbroken wife of Alice Springs man Kevin Reid, shot dead in Georgia US recently, has told of how he died protecting her during a robbery attempt. He moved her out of the way and probably saved her life. She said her husband died a hero. That’s an example of sacrifice.

Inanimate things

The bronze snake

When Jesus taught Nicodemus about the source of spiritual life, He said “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man (Jesus) must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him” (Jn. 3:14-15). So He referred to an incident when the Israelites were travelling through the wilderness towards Canaan in about 1400 BC (Num. 21:5-9). When they complained about God and Moses causing their poor living conditions, God sent venomous snakes and many died. After Moses prayed for the people, God told him to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole and “anyone who is bitten can look at it and live”. If they looked, they were delivered and healed of the snakebite. God provided a way to save them from death.

Jesus was saying that He must be lifted up on a pole (the cross) like the bronze snake, so that sinners looking to Him by faith might have everlasting life. The next verse says “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). That’s the context of this famous verse. It’s all about how God used the crucifixion to provide a way to save people from spiritual death. The death of Christ was how God loved the world and how He gave His only Son. Like the bronze snake, God has done His part. But we need to do something as well. Just as the Israelites needed to look at the snake on the pole to live, belief, acceptance and trust in God’s act of love is the only way to change our destiny from eternal death to eternal life.

If the death of Jesus is like the bronze snake, it reminds us that His death is the only way to eternal spiritual life. This symbol also reminds us that if we don’t accept that the death of Christ paid the penalty for our sins, we are doomed to eternal spiritual death.

The cross

As Christ was crucified on a Roman cross, the word “cross” can be used as a figure of speech for Christ’s death. For example, Hebrews says, “For the joy set before Him He (Jesus) endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

As Christ’s crucifixion resulted in the good news of salvation, the word “cross” is also used as an extended figure of speech for the Christian gospel. For example, Paul said, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 12:18). The “message of the cross” is the good news (gospel) about the death of Christ. It’s belief in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to forgive sins. This is nonsense to unbelievers. But for believers it’s the power of God because God is at work in proclaiming the message and convicting sinners to come to faith in Christ. So both the word “cross” (Gal. 1; Eph. 2:16; Col. 2:13-14), and the phrase the “cross of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:17; Gal. 6:12, 14; Phil. 3:18;) are used to mean the gospel of Christ and all its benefits.

If the death of Jesus is symbolized by the cross, I’m reminded that there were three crosses. This symbol also reminds us of the impact of Christ’s death. The man on one cross believed that the death of Christ paid the penalty for his sins, while the other man rejected this opportunity.

Blood

The word “blood” is often used as a symbol of death in the Old Testament. And “shedding blood” means murder. Also, blood had a special role in animal sacrifices. The animal’s blood was evidence that the penalty (of death) had been paid. This is summarized in the New Testament, “the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed (ceremonially purified) with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). And covenants were confirmed by blood from animal sacrifices (Ex. 24:6-8).

In the New Testament, blood is often a symbol of Christ’s death. For example, Pilate told the Jews, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (Mt 27:24-25). And the people replied “His blood is on us and on our children!”. Paul said, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7). And John said, “the blood of Jesus … purifies us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7). Here the word “blood” means Christ’s death. By the way, Christ’s physical blood had no miraculous power or properties, but was just like that of any other person.

Jesus didn’t bleed to death, but the terms used in the Bible for Christ’s death include: the blood of Jesus, the blood of Christ, the blood of the Lamb, His own blood, His blood, my blood, and your blood. This symbol occurs so often, that it can be called a motif, which is a recurring element in a story that has symbolic significance. In their repetition, motifs emphasize what’s most important about a story. For example, in his most famous speech, Martin Luther King Jr. used “I have a dream” as a motif to tie together different ideas such as a quote from the US Declaration of Independence and people who once were at odds sitting down together.

The noun “blood”, is also used as an extended figure of speech for the Christian gospel and all the benefits of Christ’s death. These benefits associated with the figurative “blood of Christ” include:

  • Redemption (Eph. 1:7; 1 Pt. 1:18-19), like being released from slavery.
  • Salvation, like being delivered from danger.
  • Forgiveness ( 1:7), like cancelling debts.
  • Reconciliation, like restoring a broken relationship, and having peace with God (Rom. 1:20).
  • Justification (Rom. 5:9), like acquittal from condemnation and guilt.
  • Adoption, like an orphan finding a new family.
  • Sanctification (Heb. 10:10; ( 13:12; 1 Jn. 1:7), like gaining Christ’s righteousness, being holy and set apart for God. And cleansing from sin, like “takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29); “the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin (1 Jn. 1:7); “has freed us from our sins by His blood” (Rev. 1:5); and “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).

All of these benefits are associated with the term, the “blood of Christ”.

If the death of Jesus is symbolized by blood, it reminds us of all the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. This symbol also reminds us all the benefits of Christ’s death.

The torn curtain

When Jesus died, the heavy curtain that separated the Jewish temple in Jerusalem into two rooms (Ex. 26:31-33) was torn in half from the top to the bottom (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). As the ark of the covenant symbolized God’s throne and presence in the Most Holy Place, the curtain separated sinful humanity from a holy God. The only person who was allowed into the inner room (the Most Holy Place), was the High Priest who could only enter once per year on the Day of Atonement after the necessary animal sacrifices had been offered.

As the curtain symbolized Christ’s body, its tearing symbolized His death (Heb. 6:19-20; 10:19-20). The tearing of the curtain signified that through Christ’s death believers have direct access to God (Heb. 9:11-14; 10:19-22). It symbolized a new era of access to God for all nationalities, not just the Jews.

If the death of Jesus is symbolized by the torn curtain, it reminds us of the beginning of a new relationship with God. This symbol also reminds us that Christ’s death is the only way for people to approach God the Father.

A ransom

Jesus came to “give His life as a ransom for many” and He “gave Himself as a ransom for all people” (Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45; 1 Ti. 2:6). A ransom was the price paid to free a slave. Similarly, Christ paid the ransom price of His own life to free us from spiritual death and the slavery of sin. He died on behalf of us all, but not all will accept this offer of freedom.

If the death of Jesus is like a ransom, it reminds us that a cost was involved and God the Father and Jesus made that payment. This image also reminds us of the benefits of Christ’s death for believers – it’s like being freed from slavery.

A gift

John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (as a gift), that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. And God “did not spare His own Son, but gave Him (as a gift) up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). And Paul says that Jesus “gave Himself (as a gift) for our sins” as “a sacrifice to God” (Gal. 1:4; 2:20; Eph. 5:2).

A gift involves a giver and a receiver. Here the gift is salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection. The givers are God the Father and His only Son, Jesus. And the receivers are those who accept God’s supreme gift.

If the death of Jesus is like a gift, it reminds us of the love and generosity of the divine givers. This image also reminds us that we need to accept the gift in order to receive its benefits.

In March this year, Ryan Martin drowned just minutes after saving the life of a young girl near Coolangatta. He was one of a number of people who went to the girl’s aid. He didn’t know the girl, he just saw her in trouble and went to help. She was carried safely to shore but moments later Mr Martin began to struggle against the rough current. Surf lifesavers pulled him from the water but were unable to revive him. A friend said “He sacrificed himself to save the life of a young girl. The act of a true hero”. He gave her the gift of life, when she faced death.

Religious ceremonies

Water baptism

Christian baptism is a public identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-11). People are baptised by being immersed in water. It’s like a short version of Jonah being swallowed by the big fish. But they are under the water for a few seconds rather than three days! Going into the water is like death by drowning. Staying under the water is like burial, and coming up out of the water is like resurrection. It’s a drama that shows we are united with Christ’s death and should no longer be slaves to sin. And instead of being raised like Christ, we have a new spiritual life. Paul said “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (1 Cor. 5:17).

Paul summarized the gospel message as: “what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Christ’s death was the payment for sin. His burial was the proof of His death. And His resurrection was the proof of God the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ, and that death is conquered.

If the death of Jesus is symbolized by baptism, it reminds us of its power over sin and Satan. This symbol also reminds us of how the death of Jesus can bring a new spiritual life.

The Lord’s supper

At His last Passover, Jesus told His disciples to remember Him regularly like the Jews had remembered the Passover associated with the exodus from Egypt. They were to do it by communally eating bread and drinking wine. The bread and wine were metaphors of Christ’s death. When Jesus said “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Mt. 26:26; Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24), He meant that the broken bread represented His broken body. When Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28; Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). He meant that the wine represented blood, which was a symbol of His death.

As the old Mosaic covenant between God and the Israelites was confirmed by blood from animal sacrifices (Ex. 24:6-8), the new covenant was confirmed by Christ’s death.

If the death of Jesus is symbolized by the Lord’s Supper (the bread and wine), it reminds us that His death is the source of our spiritual life. This symbol also reminds us that the new covenant is superior to the old one and to all other religions.

Summary

symbols-of-christs-death-collage-400pxWe have looked at several symbols of Christ’s death from the Bible. They show that: It depends on God the Father and God the Son like Abraham sacrificing Isaac. It’s followed by resurrection like when Jonah was swallowed and vomited out by the big fish. In it Jesus was our substitute like an animal sacrifice – He took our punishment so we could receive God’s forgiveness and mercy. Through it, a believer’s sins are taken away forever like the scapegoat. It’s the only way from spiritual death to spiritual life like the bronze snake. It offers a choice to accept or reject like the choices made by those on the other two crosses. It has many benefits associated with the motif of blood. It began a new relationship with God like the torn curtain. It results in freedom like a ransom. It needs to be accepted like a gift. It gives power over sin and Satan like baptism. And it’s superior to the old Jewish covenant and all other religions like the Lord’s supper.

So multiple images and symbols are required to convey the message of Christ’s death and its impact.

In response, have you accepted God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation? Have you entered into the new relationship with God? Have you transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life? It’s the most important thing we can do. If not, confess your sinfulness like that criminal on the cross, who turned (repented) to trust that through Christ’s sacrificial death he could be reconciled with God.

If we are believers: When we realize what they have done for us, how often do we thank God the Father and Jesus for this great sacrifice? Do we keep meeting collectively to obey the Lord’s command to “do this in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-25). Do we appreciate the exchange: Jesus took our punishment so we could receive God’s forgiveness and mercy? Are we assured that our sins are taken away forever? Are we free of the slavery of sin? Do we realize the implications of Christ’s resurrection and our new spiritual life? Is our spiritual life evident? And do we appreciate all the benefits associated with salvation?

Written, September 2016

Also see: Blood as a symbol of death in the Old Testament

Where’s Zion?

The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

Geographic names in New Zealand often reflect its native people and European settlement. Some place names were given by Māoris, explorers, surveyors and administrators. Others are named after British places and battles, historical events, immigrant ships, and important people (explorers, cultural heroes, political heroes, government officials, pioneers, and royalty). Each geographic name has a story associated with it. So, where is Zion and what’s its story?

“Zion” is a word that’s associated with God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The Hebrew word translated “Zion” Tsiyyon (Strongs #6726) occurs 152 times in the Old Testament (mainly in the Psalms and prophets).

Hill of Ophel

In about 1,000 BC, king David captured the fortress of Zion from the Jebusites (2 Sam. 5:6-10; 1 Chron. 11:4-9). The Jebusites were Canaanites (Gen. 10:15-16; Jud. 19:10) and their city Jebus (Jerusalem) was a natural fortress because it was on a ridge that was surrounded on three sides by steep valleys (Kidron, Hinnom, and Tyropoeon). This site was also called the “hill of Ophel”, which was in Jerusalem near the Water Gate and Gihon Spring (2 Chron. 27:3; 33:14; Neh. 3:26NIV). The spring was an essential water supply for the fortress. About 250-300 years after David’s victory, Kings Jotham and Manasseh strengthened the fortifications at Ophel.

When David took up residence at Ophel he “called it the City of David” (2 Chron. 32:30; 33:14). It was his royal city, where he built his palace and ruled over Israel. After David brought the ark to Ophel (Zion), it also became a sacred place where the priests and Levites regularly offered praise and worship to God (2 Sam. 6:10-19; 1 Chron. 16:1-38). David called it God’s “holy hill” (Ps. 3:4; 15:1ESV). So Ophel (Zion) was the key place in Israel for government and worship during the reign of King David. And it was still called Zion when king Solomon dedicated the temple in 966 BC (1 Ki. 8:1; 2 Chron. 5:2).

So in the first instance, Zion referred to the hill of Ophel which was the site of a Jebusite fortress and the City of David.

Temple Mount

During David’s reign the city of Jerusalem expanded towards the north. And after king Solomon built the Israelite temple on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Chron. 3:1), it became known as Mount Zion. This hill had been called Mount Moriah in Abraham’s time about 880 years earlier.

When the temple was dedicated, it was filled with a cloud which represented God’s presence (1 Ki. 8:10-12; 2 Chron. 5:13-14; 7:1-3). In this aspect it was similar to the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34-38). The temple was God’s dwelling place (Isa. 8:18; Ps. 132:7, 13). That’s where the Israelites went to meet God (Jer. 31:6). And that’s why Mount Zion was called, “the place of the Name of the Lord Almighty” (Isa. 18:7). This cloud occupied the temple for about 375 years until it departed in the days of Ezekiel (Ezek. 10).

Because the temple was the centre of Israelite praise and worship, God calls Mount Zion “my holy hill” (Ps. 2:6ESV). The temple gave it holiness. That’s where the priests and Levites regularly offered praise and worship to God. That’s where Jewish men travelled to three times a year for major religious festivals (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt. 16:16). So the temple was the center of their spiritual life. It was the center of Jewish religion.

So in the second instance, Zion referred to the temple mount which was north of the hill of Ophel.

Jerusalem

The word “Zion” can also refer to Jerusalem – it’s often used as a synonym for Jerusalem (2 Ki. 19:21; Ps. 69:35; Isa. 1:8; 40:9). This is clearest in poetic passages where “Zion” is the parallel term to “Jerusalem” (Ps. 51:18; 76:2; 102:21; 135:21; 147:12; Isa. 2:3; 33:20; 37:32; 40:9; 41:27; 62:1; Jer. 26:18; 51:35; Amos 1:2; Zeph. 3:14). In these instances, “Zion” and “Jerusalem” can also be figures of speech for the inhabitants of Jerusalem or for the land of Judah or Israel or for the Jewish people as a whole.

Jerusalem is also called God’s “holy hill” (Ps. 48:1NET)(Jer. 31:23; Dan. 9:6; 20ESV). The city is said to be holy because it includes the temple. Joel gives a warning in Zion, God’s holy hill and promises future peace (Joel 2:1; 3:17). Likewise, God promises to return to Zion, the holy hill, and bring back the Jews to restore Jerusalem after their Babylonian captivity (Zech. 8:3).

In Psalm 48, Jerusalem is called “Zion”, “Mount Zion”, “the city of the Lord Almighty” and “the city of our God”. In Psalm 87, Jerusalem is called “Zion” and “city of God”. In captivity, the Jews said “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Ps. 137:1-5). The Babylonians had asked them, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”, but they couldn’t do this because they were committed to not forget Jerusalem.

So in the third instance, Zion referred to the city of Jerusalem or its inhabitants or the kingdom associated with Jerusalem.

Western hill

Following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the name Zion was assigned to its present location across the Tyropoeon Valley (see Josephus). Apparently the upper room where Jesus celebrated the Passover (Mk. 14:15; Lk. 22:12) and the room where the disciples gathered after Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:13) were in this area. So, today the more dominant western hill is called “Mount Zion”.

So in the fourth instance, Zion refers to the hill west of the Tyropoeon Valley. This means that “Zion” has been used to describe three hills in Jerusalem: the hill of Opel, the temple mount, and the western hill.

Millennial Jerusalem

In the coming millennial kingdom “the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem” (Isa. 24:23). In that day Jerusalem will be the religious and political capital of the world (Isa. 2:2-4; 25:6-8; Mic. 4:1-3, 7). Once again, God calls Zion “my holy hill” (Joel 3:17). That’s where Christ reigns and where people worship Him (Ps. 99:2,9). As king David ruled Israel from Jerusalem (Zion), so in future Jesus will rule the world from Jerusalem (Zion).

So in the fifth instance, Zion refers to the city of Jerusalem. This is similar to the third instance only Christ will be personally present, and not just represented by a cloud.

The Greek word translated “Zion” (Sion, Strongs #4622), occurs seven times in the New Testament. Five of these are synonyms of Jerusalem from the Old Testament prophets (Mt. 21:5; Jn. 12:15; Rom. 9:33; 11:26; 1 Pt. 2:6). Another seems to refer to the second coming, which results in Christ’s Millennial reign in Jerusalem (Rev. 14:1). We will now look at the other instance of “Zion” in the New Testament.

Heavenly Jerusalem

In the New Testament “Mount Zion” refers metaphorically to the heavenly Jerusalem, God’s holy, eternal city. Hebrews says, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22). This is the eternal dwelling place of God and His people (Rev. 21:2 – 22:5).

Just as there is an earthly Mount Zion in Jerusalem, so there will be a heavenly Mount Zion and new Jerusalem (Gal. 4:25-26). As the Bible progresses, the word Zion expands in scope and takes on an additional, spiritual meaning. As king David ruled Israel from Jerusalem (Zion), so in future Jesus will rule the universe from the new heavenly Jerusalem (Zion).

So in the sixth instance, Zion refers to the new heavenly Jerusalem inhabited eternally by God and His people.

Lessons for us

So the story behind Zion stretches from about 3,000 years ago into the eternal future. Zion was a holy place for the Jews because that was where God dwelt. This was true for the hill of Ophel, the Temple Mount and for the city of Jerusalem. But according to the Bible, God the Holy Spirit now lives in Christians. They are said to be temples of the Holy Spirit. This means that instead of holy places, we now have holy people. Does our practice match our position? Do we respect each other as being holy?

In the coming stages of God’s plan of salvation, Zion is associated with both Christ’s earthly reign from Jerusalem and with God’s eternal reign from the new heavenly Jerusalem. Are we looking forward to this time? Does it encourage us in our Christian lives?

Written, August 2016

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?

Where are Satan and demons?

Prince of Persia 400pxI have been asked this question: “Where is the place of the demon on air? For Daniel prayed and the prince of Persia held the Amen of his prayer”.

The Prince of Persia

“The prince of Persia” is mentioned in Daniel 10:13, 20. The book of Daniel was probably written about 530 BC. Daniel had been exiled to Babylon in about 605 BC and the exile finished when Zerubbabel returned to Jerusalem in 538 BC. His book is historical narrative (Ch. 1-6) and apocalyptic (Ch. 7-12).

Chapter 10 describes Daniel’s vision of a heavenly man in 537 BC. When Daniel received a vision of a great war, he was disturbed and prayed for God’s help. Then he mourned for three weeks until he had the vision of the heavenly man who was probably an angel (Dan. 10:5-21). The angel said that Daniel’s prayer had been heard and the angel had been sent to help him. But the angel had been delayed for 21 days by the prince of “the Persian kingdom”, presumably a demon associated with the Persian Empire (Note that the archangel Michael is called a “prince” in Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1). The angel said that the archangel Michael had helped them overcome the demon. This vision made Daniel weak and speechless, but the angel strengthened him. The angel came to reveal future events to Daniel. And after this, the angel would return to oppose the prince of Persia once again and later on the prince of Greece (presumably a demon associated with the Greek Empire) would come.

This shows that there was a spiritual battle going on. God’s prophet Daniel was being opposed by a particular demon that was associated with the Persian government. Maybe they were influencing the government to make life difficult for Daniel This opposition caused the answer to Daniel’s prayer to be delayed. But God’s angel protected Daniel from the demon’s influence and the prayer was eventually answered.

Likewise, the Christian life is a spiritual battle: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood (people), but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12NIV). Here Satan and demons are described as powerful beings that occupy the unseen heavenly realm.

The ruler of the kingdom of the air

The question is “Where is the place of the demon on air”? The word “air” isn’t mentioned in the passage in Daniel 10, but is mentioned in a New Testament passage: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph. 2:1-2).

Ephesians 2:1-3 shows our situation before becoming Christians. Here unbelievers are said to be spiritually dead (separated from God) and following the ways of Satan, who is “the ruler of the kingdom of the air”. Elsewhere Satan is called “the prince of this world”, “the god of this age”, and the whole world is said to be under his control (Jn. 14:30; 2 Cor. 4:3-4; 1 Jn. 5:19). There are three possible interpretations of “the kingdom of the air”:
– It’s the realm under Satan’s influence which is described elsewhere as “this world”, “the whole world”, and “this age”.
– It’s the realm occupied by demons. This may be part of the “heavenly realms” occupied by demons (evil spirits) (Eph. 1:3; 6:12). Christ is in the heavenly realms (Eph. 1:20) as are angels, Satan and demons (Eph. 3:10). Also, the Greek word translated “air” (aeros, Strongs #109) means the lower atmosphere and according to Jewish opinion, the demons occupy this realm (Thayer’s Greek Lexion).
– It’s Satan’s world system, his philosophy of life, which includes religion and righteousness without God, as well as sin. People in this system are subject to Satan’s influence.

The Greek word translated “spirit” (pneumatos, Strongs #4151) in Ephesians 2:2 means the influence which governs someone or the source of power, affection, emotion or desire (Thayer’s Greek Lexion). It’s saying that Satan is the dominant influence in the lives of non-Christians.

Heaven and earth

The activities of Satan and demons are more important than their place or location. As they are spirits without a body, they don’t necessarily occupy a physical place like we do. It’s clear that Satan and demons have access to both God in heaven and humanity on earth (Job 2:1-2).

Satan continually accuses believers before God (Rev. 12:10). For example, he questioned Job’s faithfulness (Job. 1:9-11; 2:4) and questioned the fitness of the Jews to carry out priestly functions after the exile (Zech. 3:1-5). But in future Satan will be evicted from heaven.

Satan impacts on God’s people as a “roaring lion” (1 Pt.5:8) and an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). As a roaring lion, Satan devours and destroys. For example, Jews and Christians have been persecuted for thousands of years. As an angel of light, Satan deceives both believers (2 Cor. 11:3-4) and unbelievers (Rev. 20:3). He propagates a counterfeit Jesus, a counterfeit spirit, and a counterfeit gospel. And his false apostles can prophesy future events and do miracles, including healing (Mt. 7:22-23; 2 Cor. 11:13). He also convinces people that he doesn’t exist. But in future Satan will be evicted from the earth.

Satan is also called “the tempter”, because he tempts people to sin (Mt. 4:3; 1 Th. 3:5). As Adam and Eve and Jesus were tempted to disobey God, so Satan tempts us all 1 Cor. 10:13).

Satan’s destiny

Fortunately, the evil acts of people and Satan are under God’s control (Job 1:12; Acts 4:28). So God restrains Satan and his demons. Satan is restrained in stages. Jesus did it when He was on earth (Mt. 12:29). It was guaranteed by the death and resurrection of Christ (Heb. 2:14). In future Satan won’t be able to deceive the nations during the millennial reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-3). And it will be eternally true when he is cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).

Though Satan has been defeated, and eventually will be thrown into the lake of fire, he is still actively spreading evil. Christians need to understand who he is, and what he is able to do while he is still active.

Written, August 2016

Also see: The unseen world of demons
Satan. Part 1: Knowing our enemy
Satan. Part 2: Knowing his strategies

An Olympic athlete

Opening ceremony 400pxThe Olympic Games at Rio de Janeiro, began with a spectacular opening ceremony, which included fireworks, more than 6,000 dancers and Brazil’s most famous song, “The Girl from Ipanema”. Over 11,000 athletes are competing in 306 events and 28 sports.

Competition and cooperation

These sports are performance driven – athletes are rated and rewarded according to their performance. But the Bible says that we are all important because we are all made “in the image of God “Gen. 1:26-27NLT). So let’s not value people according to their performance on the sporting arena or their performance in any other avenue of life.

Sports can bring out the best and the worst in people. How do we compete in sports and as a spectator? Do we respect other competitors? Do we respect coaches? Do we respect marshals, umpires and referees? Do we respect other spectators?

Sports can build character. Athletes need to respect and build relationships with team mates. This is particularly important in team sports where cooperation is vital. What about us? Let’s be good team mates by encouraging one another in our teams at work or church. And by forgiving one another.

Commitment and dedication

Athletes commit to training schedules that require discipline, perseverance and endurance. This is challenging and athletes push themselves to the limit. The Christian life is like a race (2 Tim. 4:7) – it requires discipline and endurance to get through life’s trials and temptations. The Bible says, “let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

Christians are to be involved and obedient like athletes, and not like spectators (2 Tim. 2:5). In the context of Christian service, Paul says “.. train yourself to be godly. Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). He’s saying that spiritual fitness is better that physical fitness. As physical training takes dedication and effort, spiritual training in godliness also takes dedication and effort.

The prize

Sports are games and the Olympics are called “Games”. Sport is play and not work (although it’s an occupation for professional athletes). Let’s keep this in mind when we watch the competitions. Let’s not value the game so highly that it becomes an idol that separates us from God.

Greek athletes competed for the “victors crown” (2 Tim. 2:5NIV), which was a wreath placed on the head of a victorious athlete. Paul uses this to illustrate Christians as striving for the prize of a reward for their faithful service for Christ: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize (crown) that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize (crown)” (1 Cor. 9:24-25). He’s saying that we should all run like winners. The goal of winning determines an athlete’s lifestyle. Likewise, striving for the eternal “crown of life” should characterize a Christian’s lifestyle (Jas. 1:12).

Christ the redeemer 400pxSilent spectator

There is a silent spectator watching the Olympic Games at Rio. The statute of “Christ the Redeemer” towers over the city. With a height of 30 metres (98 ft), on an 8 metre (26 ft) pedestal, it looks down from the top of Mount Corcovado, 700-metre (2,300 ft) above sea level. The statue, which can be seen from almost anywhere in Rio de Janeiro, is one of the main landmarks of Brazil. It can be a reminder of our spiritual lives. What do we think about Jesus? If we claim to be a Christian how committed and dedicated are we to serving Him?

Finally, are we “one of Jesus’ athleteslike in this children’s song?

Grab your sneakers, Tie your laces
Pull your socks up, Do you stretches
Hear the Marshall, On your marks
Ready set go, Out of the blocks

In my dreams I have been an Olympic athlete
I’ve been striving for gold down at Rio
In my life I can be one of Jesus’ athletes
And His golden reward lasts forever

Feel the spirit, Hold the torch
Carry the flame, Run the course
Cheer the Aussies, Olympic Games
Patriotic, Fade away

In my dreams I have been an Olympic athlete
I’ve been striving for gold down at Rio
In my life I can be one of Jesus’ athletes
And His golden reward lasts forever

(Neil Holman, 2000)

Written, August 2016

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