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May we go in there?

Tabernacle 5 400pxImagine an ancient Moabite gazing down upon the Tabernacle of Israel from a hillside. This Moabite is attracted by what he sees so he and his wife descend the hill and make their way toward the Tabernacle. They walk around this high wall of dazzling linen until they come to a gate and at the gate, they see a man.

“May we go in there?” they ask, pointing through the gate to where the bustle of activity in the Tabernacle’s outer court can be seen. “Who are You?” demands the man suspiciously. Any Israelite would know they could go in there. “We’re from Moab”, they reply. “Well, I’m very sorry, but you can’t go in there. You see, it’s not for you. The Law of Moses has barred all Moabites from any part in the worship of Israel” (Dt. 23:3).

The Moabites looked so sad and said, “Well, what would we have to do to go in there?” “You would have to be born again,” the gatekeeper replies. “You would have to be born an Israelite”. “Oh, we wish we had been born Israelites”, they say and as they look again, they see one of the priests, having offered a sacrifice at the bronze altar and cleansed himself at the bronze basin and then they see the priest enter the Tabernacle’s interior. “What’s in there?” they ask. “Inside the main building, we mean”. “Oh,” the gatekeeper says, “That’s the Tabernacle itself. Inside it contains a lampstand, a table, and an altar of gold. The man you saw was a priest. He will trim the lamp, eat of the bread upon the table and burn incense to the living God upon the golden altar”.

“Ah,” the Moabites sigh, “We wish we were Israelites so we could do that. We would so love to worship God in there and help to trim the lamp and offer Him incense and eat bread at that table”. “Oh, no”, the gatekeeper hastens to say, “even I could not do that. To worship in the Holy Place one must not only be born an Israelite, one must be born of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron”. “And even if she was born of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron, your wife couldn’t go in there, because only males are allowed” (Ex. 27:21). Sadly, the Moabite woman turned away. She had no hope in all the world of ever entering there!

The man from Moab sighs again, “I wish that I had been born of Israel of the tribe of Levi of the family of Aaron”, and then, as he gazes wistfully at the closed Tabernacle door, he says, “What else is in there?” “Oh, there’s a veil. It’s a beautiful veil I’m told and it divides the Tabernacle in two. Beyond the veil is what we call ‘the Most Holy Place’”. “What’s in the Most Holy Place?” the Moabite asks. “Well, there’s the sacred chest in there and it’s called the Ark of the Covenant. It contains holy memorials of our past. Its top is gold and we call that the mercy seat because God sits there between the golden cherubim. Do you see that pillar of cloud hovering over the Tabernacle? That’s God’s visible presence. It rests on the mercy seat”, said the gatekeeper.

Again, a look of longing comes over the face of the Moabite man. “Oh,” he said, “if only I were a priest! How I would love to go into the Holy of Holies and gaze upon the glory of God and worship Him there in the beauty of His holiness!’. “Oh no!” said the man at the gate. “You couldn’t do that even if you were a priest! Only the high priest can enter the Most Holy Place. Only he can go in there. Nobody else!”

The heart of the man from Moab yearns once more. “Oh,” he cried, “If only I had been born an Israelite, of the tribe of Levi, of the family of Aaron. If only I had been born a high priest! I would go in there every day! I would go in there three times a day! I would worship continually in the Most Holy Place!”. The gatekeeper looked at the man from Moab again and once more shook his head. “Oh no,” he said, “you couldn’t do that! Even the high priest of Israel can go in there only once a year, and then only after the most elaborate preparations and even then only for a little while”.

Sadly, the Moabite turned away. He had no hope in all the world of ever entering there!

That’s the old way. But it’s not the end! There’s more!

The new way

As Gentiles, the Moabites were, “excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12NIV). But Jesus changed this situation. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off (like the Gentile Moabites) have been brought near (like theJewish High Priest) by the blood (death) of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). The old way to God, which was exclusive to the Jews, has been replaced by the new way, which is open to everyone. Here’s how it happened.

When Christ died “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” by an earthquake (Mt. 27:51, 54; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). This signified that all people could now have access to God through Christ’s vicarious (substitutionary) death. And they don’t have to come via human priests.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place (like the High Priest) by the blood (death) of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest (Jesus Christ) over the house of God (all true believers, Heb. 3:6), let us draw near to God (in prayer, praise and worship) with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings” (Hebrews 10:19-22). The curtain represented the body of Christ and its tearing represented His death. By this act, God indicated that all believers have access to God. They could be close to Him like the High Priest, not distant like the Moabites and the gatekeeper. This new way of approaching God is open to all who trust in Christ’s sacrificial death when they come in sincerity, assurance, salvation, and sanctification (Heb. 10:22).

So today, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). All true Christians have the same spiritual status. “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11). As far as their standing before God is concerned, all believers are on the same level. No believer is spiritually superior to anyone else.

While the old way of approaching God illustrated the new way; the new way is superior to the old way.

Reference
This blog is based on an illustration in “Exploring Hebrews” (p.94-96) by John Phillips (2002), which was brought to my attention by Jared Wilson.

Written, March 2016

Also see: What does Galatians 3:28 mean?

Ten reasons why Jesus is more than a prophet

Obituaries 2 400pxHave you ever been to a funeral where the eulogy doesn’t seem to match your experience of the person? Sometimes our reporting is selective or biased.

How do we discover facts about someone who lived about 2,000 years ago? We examine history books written as closely as possible to their lifetime. To find out about Jesus we read parts of the Bible that were written by eyewitnesses and their contemporaries, 30-60 years after He lived. In this post we see that according to those who knew Jesus best, He was more than a prophet because He is the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.

What’s a prophet?

In the Bible, a prophet is one who speaks on behalf of someone else. For example, Aaron was Moses’ spokesman (Ex. 7:1). So he was a prophet of Moses. God’s prophets brought messages from God, which were called prophesies. They were God’s messengers to humanity who were enabled by the Holy Spirit (Neh. 9:30; Joel 2:28; Mic. 3:8; 2 Chr. 15:1). So a prophet spoke God’s words. There were two kinds of prophets, those who were true and those who were false.

In the context of Christ’s coming reign on earth, Peter said that Jesus would be a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:21-23). The similarity is that both are raised up by God (Dt. 18:15, 18). Does this mean that Jesus was just a prophet like Moses, Isaiah, and John the Baptist? Indeed, after He was rejected in Nazareth, Jesus identified with the prophets by saying, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Lk. 4:24-26). He also gave examples of this using Elijah and Elisha who were prophets. Jesus also predicted that He would die in Jerusalem where many prophets had been put to death (Lk. 13:33).

So, who did Jesus claim to be?

1. What Jesus said

Jesus said He was similar to God. He asserted, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19); “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9); “The one who looks at me is seeing the One who sent me” (John 12:45); “Whoever hates me, hates my Father as well” (John 15:23); “All may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). These references certainly indicate that Jesus looked at Himself as being more than just a man; rather He was equal with God.

When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30), He meant that He is united with God the Father. Because of their unity, Jesus displayed God the Father (Jn. 14:9). Then He said, “the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (Jn. 10:38; 14:10-11). They were interconnected.

The titles used by Jesus (“Son of God”, “Son of Man”, and “I am”) showed His divinity. During His trial, Jesus was cross-examined by Caiaphas the high priest “‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’. The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They all condemned Him as worthy of death” (Mk. 14:61-64). So Jesus said He was the Son of God. No other prophet ever called himself the Son of God.

The Jews knew that the “Son of Man” was heir to the divine throne because “all nations and peoples of every language worshiped Him” and He will have “everlasting dominion that will never pass away” (Dan. 7:13-14). He’ll rule forever. Nations will worship Him and His kingdom will be unstoppable.

Jesus told the Jews, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!” (Jn. 8:58). “I am” was a title that God used when he revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:14). In fact, Jesus had dwelt with God the Father from all eternity, which is a long time before the time of Abraham! So Jesus claimed to be Israel’s God.

Jesus also said that He was “the First and the Last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13), which is another title of God (Isa. 44:6; 48:12). Also, Jesus said that He was the Jewish Messiah (the Christ) (Mt. 16:16-17; 26:63-64; Mk. 14:61-62; Jn. 4:25-26; 17:3). Furthermore, Jesus claimed to be the judge of humanity and the one who grants eternal life (Jn. 5:21-22; 10:27-28).

Jesus often showed people, by His actions, that He had divine authority. For example, He claimed to forgive sins (Mt. 9:2-8; Mk. 2:3-12; Lk. 5:18-26). While priests and prophets could mediate forgiveness by praying for people, forgiving sins committed against God was something the Jewish religious leaders believed only God had the authority to do (Mk. 2:7). Because of claims like this they tried to kill Him.

Before He ascended back to heaven, Jesus told his followers “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). This is a claim of omnipresence, which is a characteristic of God.

So in many ways, Jesus often claimed to be divine. But what did God the Father say about Jesus?

2. What God said

When Jesus was baptized, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased’” (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22).  Here God the Father quotes from Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. As the context of these verses is a king and a servant, they indicate Christ’s regal rule and suffering servant roles.

At the transfiguration, Peter offered to put up three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. He was giving them equal status. But God the Father interrupted and told Peter, James and John, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Mt. 17:5; Mk. 9:7; Lk. 9:35). It’s the same message as that given at Christ’s baptism. So God says that Jesus is pre-eminent, and not just a great prophet.

When Jesus predicted His death, He prayed “Father, glorify your name!”. Then God the Father replied, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (Jn. 12:28). This means that God was glorified by all that Jesus did, particularly His death, resurrection and ascension. After all, John said, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn.1:14).

So God said that Jesus was His Son who glorified God. But what did the disciples say about Jesus?

3. What His disciples said

Immediately after Christ’s death, two of His disciples said that He was “a prophet powerful in word and deed” (Lk. 24:19). But at other times His disciples said that He was more than a prophet. For example, when they were called to follow Jesus, Andrew said He was the Messiah and Nathanael said He was the Son of God (Jn. 1:41, 49).

When Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter answered “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16-20). So Jesus was recognized as Israel’s Messiah and God the Son. Then Jesus commended Peter and told His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. Here the Bible uses “son” metaphorically to refer to someone other than a biological son. In the ancient world, the majority of sons took up the same occupation as their father. The son was identified by his father and his occupation. For example, Jesus was known as “the carpenter’s son” (Mt. 13:55). In this case “Son” indicates the close relationship and unity between Jesus and God the Father.

Peter wrote about, “Our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 1:1). He also urged Christians to “revere Christ as Lord” (1 Pt. 2:15).

After the resurrection, Thomas called Jesus “my Lord and my God!” and Jesus commended him for this (Jn. 20:28). So although the disciples were taught that Jesus was distinct from God the Father who sent Him, they also recognized that He was God.

John made many claims about Jesus:

  • “the word (Jesus Christ) was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made” (Jn. 1:1-2). And Jesus was God in the flesh (Jn. 1:14).
  • “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son (Jesus Christ), who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known” (Jn. 1:18).
  • “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 Jn. 2:22-23).
  • “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:11-12).

So the disciples said that Jesus was the Son of God. But what did the Jewish religious leaders say about Jesus?

4. What the Jewish religious leaders said

After Jesus healed a disabled man on the Sabbath day, the religious leaders accused Him of “calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (Jn. 5:18-30). Then Jesus gave more reasons why He was equal with God the Father. So the Jewish leaders tried to kill Jesus because He claimed to be God and the Son of God (Jn. 10:33; 19:7).

Even His enemies could see that Jesus was presenting Himself as God. The religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy (Mt. 9:3; 26:65; Mk. 2:7; 14:64; Lk. 5:21; Jn. 10:33, 36). And that was the reason Jesus was crucified.

So the religious leaders had Jesus killed because He claimed to be equal with God. But what did the common people say about Jesus?

5. What the common people said

When Jesus asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, the disciples replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Mt. 16:14; Mk. 8:28; Lk. 9:19). And when He came to Jerusalem as King, the crowds said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11). That’s why the religious leaders found it difficult to arrest Him (Mt. 21:46).

After Jesus raised a widow’s son back to life, the crowd said He was a “great prophet” (Lk. 7:11-17). And the Samaritan woman thought Jesus was a prophet (Jn. 4:19). When Jesus healed a blind man, the man referred to Him initially as “the man”, then he said, “He is a prophet”, and finally after speaking with Jesus, He said “’Lord, I believe’, and he worshipped Him” (Jn. 9:11, 17, 38). So He came to acknowledge Him as the Son of God.

After Jesus feed 5,000 men, some thought He was the Prophet promised by Moses (Dt. 18:15, 18; Jn. 6:16; 7:40-41, 52). Others said that Jesus was Christ, the Messiah. But some thought this was impossible. They believed that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and there was no prophecy in the Old Testament that the Messaih would come out of Galilee.

Finally, the centurion who witnessed Christ’s crucifixion said “Surely this man is the Son of God!” (Mk. 15:39).

So the common people had a range of views about Jesus. But some of those who had a close encounter with Jesus recognized Him as the Son of God. What did Paul say about Jesus?

6. What Paul said

In his letters, Paul referred to Jesus as:

  • “God over all” (Rom. 9:5)
  • “in very nature God”, having “equality with God” (Phil. 2:5-6)
  • “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15)
  • “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col 2:9)
  • “Our great God and Savior” (Ti. 2:13)

As Romans was written in AD 57, the term “God” was applied to Jesus early on in the Church’s life.

The writer of Hebrews applies a Psalm to Jesus; “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever” (Ps. 45:6; Heb. 1:8).

So Paul said that Jesus was God. But what did His birth show about Jesus?

7. His birth

The birth of Christ was unique in many ways. The Old Testament predicted it to be in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2, 4; Mt. 2:6), and that His mother would be a virgin and He will be called Immanuel (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1:23). The birth was announced by angels (Mt. 1:20-21; Lk. 1:28-38; 2:9-12). And a special star guided the Magi to where Jesus was in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:1-11).

Mary was the sole natural parent of Jesus (Mt. 1:18-25; Lk. 1:26-38). Because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, an angel said, “the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). He was called the “holy one” because He was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26). Jesus never sinned like the rest of the prophets.

Because of this unique birth (He was both fully human and fully divine), Christ was uniquely qualified as the sinless One to go to the cross to die as the Lamb of God. This is why the Old Testament predicted the Messiah to be a servant whose death would pay for all the sins of humanity (Isa. 53:5-6).

His names were also significant. Before His birth, Jesus was given the name Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Mt. 1:23). And He was called “Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).

So His birth shows that Jesus is the unique Son of God. But what did the resurrection indicate about Jesus?

8. His resurrection

Three times Jesus told His disciples that He was going to be killed (Mk. 8:31-32; 9:30-32; 10:33-34). On each occasion He predicted that “three days later He will rise” back to life. And it happened like He said it would. The Romans sealed His tomb with a large stone and posted a guard nearby. But this didn’t stop the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible says that Jesus raised Himself from the dead (Jn. 2:19-21; 10:17-18). So He had power over life and death.

After His death on the cross Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb which was visited three days later by some of the disciples and women who had followed Jesus. They expected to find a body to mourn, but instead they found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb and the body of Jesus was no longer there. Many attempts have been made to explain away the empty tomb – from the idea that the disciples stole the body, to the idea that they went to the wrong tomb. But none of these satisfactorily explain the transformation in the lives of the disciples who were willing to face death because they believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Besides this, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at once (1 Cor. 15:6).

Because of the resurrection, Jesus is still alive. This is different to the Biblical prophets who are all dead now. Although Enoch and Elijah went to heaven without dying, none of the Old Testament prophets resurrected never to die again.

So the resurrection shows that Jesus is alive. But what did the miracles indicate about Jesus?

9. His miraculous power

When He was on earth, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and controlled the forces of nature.

He instantly cured: fevers, paralysis, chronic bleeding; blindness, dumbness, chronic invalidity, withered limbs, deafness, leprosy, a severed ear, and demon possession (Mt. 8:1:30-31; 9:1-8, 27-33; 12:10-13, 22; Mk. 7:31-37; Lk. 8:43-48; 17:11-19; 22:50-51; Jn. 5:1-9). In fact, Jesus “healed all the sick” who were brought to Him, “healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Mt. 4:23; 8:16-17).

He raised back to life people who had died: Lazarus, the widow’s son, and Jairus’ daughter (Mt. 9: 18-26; Lk. 7:11-18; Jn. 11:1-46).

He calmed a storm, enabled a huge haul of fish, fed thousands of people, turned water into wine, walked on water, and withered a tree (Mt. 8:23-27; 21:18-22; Mk. 6:48-51; Lk. 5:1-11; Jn. 2:1-11)

These are called miracles because they illustrate supernatural power. So the miracles confirm that Jesus had divine power (Mt. 11:2-5; Jn. 20:30-31).

10. The parable of the wicked farmers

Vineyard 400pxAfter Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a king and cleared commercialism from the temple, the religious leaders asked Him who gave Him the authority to teach, to perform miracles and to cleanse the temple (Mt. 21:23; Mk. 11:28; Lk. 20:1-2).

Then Jesus told a parable which taught that He was more than a prophet (Mt. 21:33-46; Mk. 12:1-12; Lk. 20:9-19). A landowner (like God) rented a vineyard to some farmers (like the religious leaders). Whenever he sent his servants (like the Old testament prophets, Jer. 7:25; 44:4) to collect his fruit, the farmers persecuted or killed them. Finally, he sent his son (like Jesus), but they killed him as well to seize his inheritance. So the landowner rented the vineyard to other famers (like Gentile believers) instead. When the religious leaders heard this parable, they knew it was about them and that it meant that Jesus wasn’t just another prophet like John the Baptist (who was killed), but the Son of God (Mk.12:12). Like the son in the parable, Jesus claimed to own everything that belongs to the Father.

Then Jesus quoted the reason for His authority as “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps. 118:22; Mt 21:42; Mk. 12:10; Lk. 20:17). He was saying that the stone that was rejected (like Jesus was killed) would become the most important stone (like Jesus was raised back to life and given the place of pre-eminence by God). His authority came from being equal with God.

So the parable of the wicked farmers shows that Jesus is God’s Son and heir. He’s greater than a prophet, as a son is greater than a servant.

Conclusion

We have looked at ten reasons why Jesus is more than a prophet. These are all consistent with Jesus being the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.

This wasn’t always evident when He was on earth, because most of Jesus’ teaching was via parables and the meaning of these was restricted to the disciples and not the crowd because the latter would reject Him (Mt. 13:11-13). Also, people were influenced by the Jewish religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat to their power and authority. So Jesus polarized society.

Let’s be those who accept the Biblical record about Jesus and not those who reject it. Let’s exalt Him now.

“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

Written, March 2016

Clever Nature!

Elastin sheets for tissue repair - Mar 2016 400pxDuring a person’s life, the elastin in a blood vessel will go through an estimated two billion cycles of pulsation. Elastin’s flexibility allows skin to stretch and twist, blood vessels to expand and relax with every heartbeat, and lungs to swell and contract with each breath.

An international team of researchers has discovered the molecular motions of elastin, one of the proteins that gives blood vessels and skin their strength and flexibility. They found a hierarchical structure of scissor-shaped molecules that gives elastin its remarkable properties. Elastin tissues are made up of molecules of a protein called tropoelastin, which are strung together in a chain-like structure. First they discovered the shape and structure of the tropoelastin molecules. Then they studied the dynamics of the material as it forms large structures that can stretch and rebound. The dynamics turned out to be complex and surprising,. “It’s almost like a dance the molecule does, with a scissors twist – like a ballerina doing a dance”. Then, the scissors-like appendages of one molecule naturally lock onto the narrow end of another molecule, like one ballerina riding piggyback on top of the next. This process continues, building up long, chain-like structures. These long chains weave together to produce the flexible tissues that our lives depend on – including skin, lungs, and blood vessels. These structures assemble very rapidly. A key part of the puzzle was the movements of the molecule itself, which the team found were controlled by the structure of key local regions and the overall shape of the protein.

A researcher said, “Studying how these materials fail under extreme conditions yields important insights for the design of new materials that replace those in our body, or for materials that we can use in engineering applications in which durable materials are critical. Designing materials that last for many decades without breaking down is a major engineering challenge that nature has beautifully accomplished, and on which we hope to build”.

So the amazing features of elastin are attributed to nature. Isn’t nature clever! Apparently its designed and constructed complex materials that last for many decades without breaking down. If it’s more clever than us, then I think it deserves a capital “N” – Nature.

Maybe they should also research what the Bible says, “Through Him (God the Son, Jesus Christ) all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made” (Jn. 1:3NIV).

Written, March 2016

Also see: Evolution is theomorphic

What does Galatians 3:28 mean?

Christian unity

Refugees 4 400pxEurope is fracturing over how to handle hundreds of thousands of immigrants fleeing the Middle East and North Africa. Many people don’t want refugees in their neighborhood. They look differently, speak differently and there is a lot of resentment. There is a cultural clash – the role of women in society and dress. The Dutch, Danes and French are in favor of gender equality, while the Muslim immigrants see differently.

The Christians in Galatia were being fractured by Jewish legalism. They were adding their previous religion to Christianity. So Paul corrected them vigorously. In this post we look at the meaning of the verse, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28NIV). We will see that instead of discriminating against each other, Paul tells them to concentrate on what they have in common.

Context

The first Christians were Jews and Jewish proselytes (Acts 2:5, 8-11). After Christianity spread to other nations, the question arose as to whether the new Christians needed to follow Jewish practises. This was resolved at a meeting in Jerusalem in AD 49-50 (Acts 15). It was agreed that Jewish practices associated with the law of Moses, like male circumcision, weren’t required for salvation. This is the topic that’s being addressed in Paul’s letter written about AD 48-50 to the churches in Galatia. The theme is the contrast between the law of Moses and faith in Christ.

The major divisions of Paul’s letter are:
– Introduction (1:1-10),
– Paul defends his authority (1:11 – 2:21),
– Christian doctrine (3:1 – 4:31),
– Practical application of the doctrine (5:1 – 6:10), and
– Conclusion (6:11-18).

Galatians 3:28 is in the section on doctrine, which contains the following teaching:
– Faith or works of the law (3:1-14)? This contrasts Christian faith and “the works of the law” (3:2, 10).
– Law versus promise (3:15-22). God’s promise to Abraham was unconditional; it didn’t depend on works at all. The law was given to the Israelites to show humanity’s sinfulness.
– Children of God (3:23-4:7). After the day of Pentecost, Jews and Gentiles could be children together in God’s family. Both Jews and Gentiles as mature sons can inherit God’s blessings promised to Abraham and fulfilled in Christ.
– Paul’s concern for the Galatians (4:8-20). They were seeking God’s favour by following legal observances. While Paul sought their spiritual welfare, the Judaizers wanted to isolate them from Paul.
– Hagar and Sarah (4:21-31). Hagar represented the law and Sarah represented God’s grace. Hagar’s son (Ishmael) was a slave, while Sarah’s son (Isaac) was free. As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the Judaizers persecuted the Christians. So don’t mix law and grace. Instead, get rid of the legalism.

Galatians 3:28 is in the subsection on “Children of God”, which teaches:
– Christians aren’t required to keep the law of Moses today. But in the Old Testament times the Jews were viewed as being under the guardianship of the law (3:23-25)
– Christians are children (“sons” in ESV, HCSB, NET) of God through faith in Christ. They share a kind of unity and the inheritance promised to Abraham which was fulfilled in Christ (3:26-29)
– The Christian Jews had changed from being slaves to the law to being sons of God. They have a great inheritance awaiting them (4:1-7).

Oneness

In Galatians 3:28 Paul tells the Galatian Christians “you are all one in Christ Jesus”. What does this oneness mean? In this case it means a unity in Christ amongst their diversity. At that time “you are all one” was used to signify a common characteristic that was present amongst diverse objects. For example, those who plant and those who water share a common purpose (1 Cor. 3:8), God the Father and God the Son share divinity (Jn. 10:30), husband and wife share “one flesh” (Mt. 19:6; Mk. 10:8), and all Christians share a corporate body in Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17). In all these cases the word “one” describes a unity between diverse people, not between similar people. So it means that the diverse believers in Galatia were united in oneness in Christ. They had unity, not uniformity or unlimited equality.

Explanation

The paragraph v.26-29 is all about being children (or sons) of God. Paul describes how it happens (v.26), when it happens (v.27), what is changed from being under the law of Moses (v.28) and the resultant inheritance (v.29).

Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

The subject of verse 28 is those “in Christ Jesus” (Christians), who are referred to as “you” in verses 26-29. This is in contrast to the previous paragraph (v.23-24) which is addressed to Jews who are indicated by “we”. So there had been a change from living under the law up to the Day of Pentecost to becoming children (or sons) of God through faith in Christ after the Day of Pentecost. Paul told the Galatians, “you are all children of God through faith” (v.26). They had a new spiritual status through their relationship with Christ.

Then Paul explains that the new spiritual status started when they were “baptized into Christ” (v.27). Although it takes place at the time of conversion (the baptism of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 12:13), it’s confessed publicly in water baptism. This public identification with Christ is like a soldier being identified by his uniform: they had clothed themselves with Christ (v.27). Paul has used this metaphor elsewhere for exchanging an old way of life for a new one (Rom. 13:12-14; Eph.6:11-14; Col. 3-10).

Then Paul says that true Christians are united through their common relationship with Christ – they are “all one in Christ Jesus”. In this respect there is no difference between “Jew” and “Gentile”, “slave” and “free”, or “male and female”. Each pair represents all of humanity. These are binary categories of people divided according to race, social class and gender.

We need to interpret Galatians 3:28 in terms of the contrast between the law of Moses and faith in Christ (which is its context). The implication is that in Christianity there is a unity within the categories of people that is absent under the law.

What kind of a unity is this? The doctrinal portion of Galatians (Ch. 3-4) is mainly about the differences between the law of Moses and the Christian faith. These were ways to enter into a relationship with God before/after the day of Pentecost and what that brings. So the unity involves entering a relationship with God and the resultant blessings. It meant that the way of salvation is the same now for both Jew and Gentile. And for both slave and free. And for both male and female. This is consistent with Paul saying that God’s salvation is equally available to everyone regardless of race (Rom. 10:11-13) and that this salvation removes ethnic barriers (Eph. 2:15-16).

Furthermore, all Christians have the same position in Christ regardless of their race, social class and gender. They are all born again, justified, forgiven, redeemed, adopted, a child of God, spiritually alive in Christ, a new creation, in God’s spiritual kingdom, citizens of heaven, seated with Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and headed for heaven. Each also has eternal life and peace with God. So no one has an advantage in the kingdom of God because of their race, social class or gender.

Equality of inheritance of all God’s blessings maybe Paul’s main point because it’s the subject of the next verse: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (v.29). This means that no race or social class receives more inheritance than another and that males don’t receive more inheritance than females.

In the New Testament, salvation is described metaphorically as an inheritance which anyone may personally receive. Under the law of Moses, inheritance of land left by their fathers was restricted to Jewish free men (Dt. 21:15-17). That’s probably why Paul introduces slaves (or social class) and women (or gender) into Galatians 3:28. He’s saying that in Christ, Gentiles, slaves and women receive the inheritance in the same way as Jews, the free, and men. So everyone who receives the inheritance of salvation receives it in the same way.

On the other hand, under the law of Moses, Jews were privileged over Gentiles (Dt. 7:6; 14:1-2), and society was hierarchical and patriarchal, with a free man more favoured than a slave and a man more privileged than a woman. Jews were the children of God, while Gentiles were sinners (Gal. 2:15). What a contrast!

Principle and application

According to Grant Ritchison, the principle of Galatians 3:28 is “God does not recognize human distinctions in those who are in Christ”. Then he makes this application:

“Human role distinctions (1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Ti. 2:11-15; Eph. 5:22-24; 6:1-8) have nothing to do with our spiritual significance before God. Christian feminists completely miss the point of this passage which says the male has no spiritual privilege over the female. Every person, male or female, rich or poor, has the same spiritual status before God”.

“When we make distinctions in people, we form a basis for prejudice against them, making some superior and others inferior. Christians should not make race, economic status, or gender a measuring stick of acceptance”.

“However, God maintains differences in roles within society. God designed differences in sexual roles so there are functional differences between men and women. He did not create unisex; He created gender difference. If so, where is the distinction? Spiritually, men and women are the same. Physically and functionally, they are different. Spiritual blessing is one thing but human function is another thing”.

What does it mean today?

Today it means that the diverse believers in any place are united in a oneness in Christ. As the context is one’s standing before God and one’s spiritual relationships and blessings and not one’s functions or roles (in the family, in the church or in society), it means that racial, social and gender distinctives are irrelevant to salvation (entering into a relationship with God). These distinctives are also irrelevant to position before God and the blessings that accompany salvation.

Consequently, because of what we share in Christ, believers should accept Christians of a different race and respect their customs. It’s unity amidst ethnic (or cultural) diversity and not showing ethnic (or cultural) bias or favoritism. Paul rebuked Peter at Antioch because Peter was following the prejudice of His previous religion (Gal. 2:11-14).

Because of what we share in Christ, believers should accept Christians of a different social class and respect their position in society. It’s unity amidst social diversity and not showing social bias or favoritism.

Because of what we share in Christ, believers should accept Christians of a different gender and respect their gender. It’s unity amidst male and female and not showing gender bias or favoritism.

The same applies to all other differences between people that don’t affect salvation like: rich/poor, younger/older, literate/illiterate, socialist/capitalist etc. Christians who differ in these respects should also be accepted without bias or favoritism.

After all, Paul encouraged the Jewish and Christian believers in the church at Rome to live harmoniously (Rom. 15:5). His guiding principle for them was “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7). If Christ has accepted a person, then we should also accept them. Then he reminds them that the ministry of Jesus Christ includes Jews and Gentiles, and the implication is that we should welcome both as well (Rom. 15:8-13).

India is a large country with a range of races, languages, cultures, customs and religious faiths. It is multiracial and multicultural. In spite of this diversity, there is a sense of national unity and oneness among all the Indians that keeps them bonded together.

What doesn’t it mean today?

Be careful of using Galatians 3:28 to over-ride other verses in the New Testament. For example, it doesn’t mean that:
– we ignore or remove all ethnic or cultural customs, or
– we ignore or remove all social differences, or
– we ignore or remove all gender differences by assuming that their roles are identical. If this aspect is elevated to override the rest of Scripture, it can be used to justify homosexuality.
So the Christian faith wasn’t designed to abolish racial, social and gender distinctions. In fact, it’s impossible to obliterate one’s race or gender.

“You are all one” doesn’t mean you are all equal. Because people are equal in one respect (salvation and its blessings), it doesn’t follow that they are equal (the same) in other respects. For example, it doesn’t mean that men and women have interchangeable roles in the home and church.

Instead, the New Testament does recognize the distinction between races (Rom. 15:27; Gal. 2:14) and between slaves and masters (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22 – 4:1). It also recognizes the distinction between men and women. For example, the elders that lead the early church were always male (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6). In order to practice the teachings of the early church it’s important not to be deceived by the emphasis on gender equality in the western world.

Instead, let’s accept a diversity of customs and social class and distinct male and female roles without unbiblical bias or favoritism. After all each of us has a particular race, a particular social class and a particular gender. But these differences don’t matter in one’s relationship with God.

Similar passages

Paul has expressed similar thoughts to this in other Scriptures.

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11). This verse refers to the “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (3:10). It follows references to the believer’s standing and state (or position and practice). He wants their state to be consistent with their standing (or their daily behavior to be consistent with their Christian faith). Verse 11 teaches that as far as their standing before God is concerned, all believers are on the same level. Christ “is in all” in the form of the Holy Spirit. So no-one is spiritually superior to anyone else. And Christians can no longer blame and excuse wrong conduct (such as anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying, v. 8-9) on racial background (“Gentile or Jew”) or social class (“barbarian, Scythian, slave or free”).

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Each Christian is different (like a part of a body), but they share the fact that each is baptized by and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is the case regardless of their race (“Jews or Gentiles”) or social class (“slave or free”). So as far as salvation goes, ethnic and social distinctions are irrelevant.

So in AD 55 and AD 60, Paul told those in Corinth and Colossae that race and social class were irrelevant to salvation and wrong behaviour. And we have seen that in AD 50 Paul told those in Galatia that race, social class and gender were irrelevant to the way of salvation and their position “in Christ”. So Paul’s teaching is consistent over this ten-year period.

Practical applications in Galatians

Galatians 3:28 is in the doctrinal portion of this letter (3:1-4:31). The practical applications made in the letter are:
– Don’t tolerate legalism, like requiring believers to follow the law of Moses (5:1-12)
– Serve one another humbly in love (6:13-15)
– Express the fruit of the Spirit, not the acts of the flesh (5:16-26)
– Share each other’s burdens (6:1-6)
– Do good to all, especially to believers (6:7-10).

Note that none of these applications relate to gender roles or functions in the church. In fact, there is no mention of gender roles in the whole letter. Therefore, to apply Romans 3:28 to gender roles or functions in the church is “cherry-picking” (in this case taking a verse totally out of context and reading in a meaning that wasn’t intended by the author).

More on slavery and gender

We have looked at what Paul wrote (~ AD 50) in Galatians 3:28 about slavery. The Bible contains additional instructions for slaves that were written about AD 60-64 (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-25; Phile.; 1 Tim. 6:1-2; Ti. 2:9-10; 1 Pt. 2:18-21). These mainly involve obeying, serving and respecting their master. If Galatians 3:28 meant abolishing slavery, then we would expect this to be mentioned in some of these passages which were written 10-14 years afterwards. But it isn’t. This is consistent with Galatians 3:28 teaching that slaves and their masters can share the same Christian faith and have the same inheritance in Christ. This is equivalent to saying that people in all social classes and positions in society can share the same Christian faith and have the same inheritance in Christ.

We have also looked at what Paul wrote (~ AD 50) in Galatians 3:28 about gender. The Bible contains additional instructions for women that were written about AD 55-64 (1 Cor. 11:3-16; 14:34-35; Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; 1 Ti. 2:9-15; 1 Pt. 3:1-6). These mainly involve godly behavior, including submission to husbands. If Galatians 3:28 meant abolishing gender roles, then we would expect this to be mentioned in some of these passages which were written 5-14 years afterwards. But it isn’t. This is consistent with Galatians 3:28 teaching that women and their husbands can share the same Christian faith and have the same inheritance in Christ.

Summary

We have seen from Galatians 3:28 that in Christianity, ethnic (cultural), social and gender differences are demolished with regard to our salvation, our position before God and our inheritance. That’s why the labels that can separate believers are often replaced by the words “brother” and “sister”. All believers are saved the same way and all are entitled to the same privileges as children (sons) of God.

So, instead of discriminating against other Christians like the Galatians, let’s concentrate on what we have in common.

References
Hove R. W. (1999) “Equality in Christ? Galatians 3:28 and the gender dispute”, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois.
Ritchison G. <www.versebyversecommentary.com/galatians/galatians-338>, 1 March 2016

Written, March 2016

Also see: May we go in there?

What’s God like?

What is God like collage 900px

19 Images of God

Some things are invisible like the wind, electricity, gravity, atoms, gas, electromagnetic fields (such as X-rays, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves). We can’t see them, but we use many of them every day (such as the radio waves used by cell phones). God is also invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17).

Today we will see that multiple images are required to show us what God’s like.

Does God exist?

But some people think that God doesn’t exist. That He’s as real as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. They don’t believe the first verse of the Bible that says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1NIV). Instead they think that science has explained what used to be attributed to God.

But science can’t explain the origin of matter and energy. How something came from nothing. The ideas of the big bang and evolution can’t explain it. And it’s outside the laws of science. Also the origin of life is a mystery to science, they can’t create it in the laboratory without using cells from living creatures.

I think that God exists because something like us and the universe exists. God is the ultimate cause of the effects that we see around us. No one has come up with a better explanation yet. And God never attempts to prove His existence because, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1).

The big picture

We’ll begin with some general aspects of God. As a creator is always greater than their creations, God is greater than us. More powerful and more intelligent.

The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: Father, Son and Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. Today we are looking at God the Father.

God doesn’t have a body like us, He’s a spirit. The Bible says “God is spirit” (Jn. 4:24). That’s why:
– God is invisible.
– God’s not limited in space and time like the physical world.
– We rely on God’s revelation in Scripture to learn about the spirit world.
– God doesn’t have a gender. God isn’t male or female, although we generally speak of God using male pronouns. Also when the Bible mentions God’s hand, ear, eyes and mouth, it’s a figure of speech (Dt. 33:27; 2 Chron. 16:9; Isa. 59:1; Mt. 4:4;). We will see that the Bible uses lots of figures of speech to describe God. That’s one way of describing someone who is invisible.

Note that I write “someone” and not “something”. God isn’t a force or a principle. God is a person. A person has “personality”, a “soul” (Hebrew and Greek). They have a mind, emotions and a will. God has these (Ps. 78:41; 139:17; 1 Cor. 1:1). They are able to think about what they are doing (unlike animals and machines). They have relationships with other persons. Although the three “persons” of the godhead are united in the one being, they also relate to one another. They are divine persons.

Method

How can we know what God is like if He’s invisible? The best way is to look at what the Bible says about God because it’s a message from Him. It uses at least four kind of words to describe God: names, adjectives, verbs and metaphors.
– Names are titles.
– Adjectives are words that describe nouns or pronouns.
– Verbs are words that describe actions.
– Metaphors are figures of speech which compare two unrelated things. Like, “You’re an angel”, “Don’t be a pig”, “It wasn’t long before their relationship turned sour”.

Today we’re looking at images of God in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors because the Bible teems with metaphors.

Metaphors as images of God

These are powerful images which help to show who God is and what our relationship with God can be like. First; God is likened to certain people.

People

Father

God’s like a father. A kind and loving father. A father was the head of the household. He protected and provided for the needs of the family. And his sons inherited his wealth.

God the Father is the supreme sovereign of the universe because He created it (Eph. 4:6). The Israelites called Him Father because He created their nation (Dt. 32:5-6; Isa. 64:7-8; Mal. 2:10) and He continued to sustain them (Jer. 3:19; 31:9) and protect them (Isa. 63:16). They were like His children.

In God’s covenant with David, God said “I will be his (Solomon’s) father, and he will be my son” (2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13; 22:10). Later this verse was applied to Christ (Heb. 1:5). So the father-son relationship is a metaphor for both the relationship between God and His people, and God the Father and Jesus Christ.

As a father interacts with his children, God interacts with us. We can communicate with Him through prayer. Jesus told His disciples to pray “Father, hallowed be your name” ( Luke 11:2). In the parable of the lost son, God is like the father who welcomed his son back after he had wasted his inheritance (Lk. 15:11-32).

For Paul this fatherhood is based on the salvation He has made available in Jesus Christ. This is why Paul refers to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31). It’s through the work of Christ that God invites us to call him “Father”. And through Christ grace and peace have resulted and we have become God’s children with an inheritance (Rom. 8:12-17; 1 Pt. 1:3-4; 1 Jn. 3:1).

This metaphor, Father, is used so often that it’s a title of God. It’s appropriately masculine because God has given husbands authority in the family and elders authority in the church.

If God is like our father, then we are like God’s children. Like His sons, an inheritance awaits us. This image reminds us of God’s provision for us.

Mother

God’s also like a mother. A mother brings infants into the world and cares for them. Young children spend most of their time with their mother and feel secure with her.

God “gave birth” to the Israelites when he created their nation (Dt 32:18). He cared for them like a mother eagle cared for its young (Dt. 32:11-12). His love and care can be compared to that of a concerned, caring and comforting mother (Ps. 131:2; Isa. 49:14-16; 66:13).

If God is like our mother, then we are like God’s children. As His children, we can be secure. This image reminds us of God’s care and love for us.

Lord

God’s like a lord or master. A lord or master had power and authority over servants, slaves, or property.

God’s rule and authority rests ultimately upon His creation and ownership of all things and all people. David said:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for He founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters” (Ps. 24:1-2)

God is the owner and governor of the whole earth (Ps. 97:5; 114:7; Isa. 1:24; Mt. 1:22; Mk. 5:19; Acts 7:33). That means He has authority over people whether they realize it or not. The psalmist uses “Lord” to honor God and express thanksgiving (Ps. 16:2; 57:9-10).

This metaphor is also used as a title of God in the both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Hebrew noun Adonai (Strongs #136) applies to someone of higher rank in society (Gen. 18:12). The master rules the servant and the servant submits to the master. The Greek noun kurios (#2962) means master (Mt. 1:20; 7:21; 18:27). It signifies power, authority, and ownership.

What’s the modern equivalent of “lord”? Sir? Master? Manager? Ruler? Captain? Commander? Chief? Leader? Boss?

If God is like our boss, then it’s like we’re under God’s rule. This image reminds us of God’s leadership and management.

Bridegroom

God’s like a bridegroom and husband. A bridegroom loves and cares for his bride. They belong together.

The relationship between God and Israel is likened to that between a bridegroom and a bride (Isa. 54:5). Israel belonged to God. But Israel and Judah were unfaithful. This is illustrated by the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife.

The equivalent New Testament metaphor is that the church is the bride of Christ. Christians belong to Christ, like a bride belongs to her husband.

If Jesus is like our bridegroom, then we are like His bride. We belong together. This image reminds us of God’s love for us.

King

God’s also like a king. In ancient times, a king ruled a city or nation. A king has authority over all others. They have ultimate authority. In democratic countries like ours it’s difficult to imagine a king with absolute power and where there is no avenue for appeal.

God’s covenant with Moses was like a Suzerain-Vassal treaty. God was the Suzerain, the great king who promises to be Israel’s King and Protector. The ark of the covenant was His throne and the tabernacle/temple was His palace.

God was like Israel’s king (Ps. 5:2; 74:12; 95:3; 98:6; 145:1; Jer.10:10; Zeph. 3:15). He said, “I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King” (Isa. 43:15).

He is also like a king over all creation (Ps. 29:10; 47:2, 6-8; Zech. 14:9; Rev. 15:3; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16). “For God is the King of all the earth” (Ps. 47:7).

In the gospels, Jesus only once (Mt. 5:35) explicitly called God king and in the parables (Mt. 18:23; 22:2, 7, 11 13) He only indirectly calls God king. In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt. 18:21-35), God is like the king who cancelled the servant’s debt. In the parable of the wedding banquet, God is like the king who invites people to his son’s wedding (Mt. 22:1-14). This shows God’s mercy and grace.

If God is like our king, we are like the subjects of His kingdom. This image reminds us of God’s authority and power. Eventually, God will defeat all opposing powers to bring justice and peace.

Judge

God’s like a judge. A judge assesses the guilt of the accused and determines the penalty if they are guilty.

Abraham called God “the Judge of all” (Gen. 18:25). And David said, “God is a righteous judge” (Ps. 7:11). God was Israel’s Lawgiver and Judge (Isa. 33:22). Peter said that God “judges each person’s work impartially” (1 Pt. 1:17).

There’s good news and bad news. At the exodus, the Israelites were rescued, but the Egyptians were judged. In future, Christians will be rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ for their obedience and service (1 Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). This is because Jesus has already paid the penalty for their sinfulness. But, unbelievers will be judged and sentenced as guilty at the great white throne “according to what they had done” (Rev. 20:11-15). Meanwhile God is patiently waiting for people to repent and turn to follow Him because He doesn’t want anyone to face this judgment (2 Pt. 3:7-10).

If God is like a judge, then we are like the accused. Because Jesus paid our penalty, this image reminds us of God’s love for us.

Warrior

God’s also like a warrior. A warrior defends and protects against enemies.

After the exodus, the Israelites sang “The Lord is a warrior” (Ex. 15:3). David often pictured God as a warrior who delivered him from his enemies (Ps. 18:13-14). Nehemiah said, “Our God will fight for us!” (Neh. 4:20). God also defends the weak (Dt. 10:18; Ps. 10:14; 68:5-6; 146:7-9; 147:6). He is “the Mighty Warrior who saves” (Zeph. 3:17).

One of God’s titles is “Almighty” (Gen. 17:1; Rev. 21:22). This means He is all powerful (omnipotent).

Satan is our greatest enemy. But Jesus was God’s means of defeating Satan. And Jesus is also described as a warrior (Rev. 19:11-21).

If God is like a warrior, then we are like those needing deliverance from Satan. This image reminds us of God’s power to defend and protect.

Potter

God’s like a potter. A potter makes pottery out of clay. The pottery displays the potter’s creative skill. They make a work of art from a lump of clay. Isaiah said,
“you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8)

The potter can do what they want with the clay. For example, Jeremiah said that the fate of Judah was up to God, like the fate of the clay is in the potter’s hands (Jer. 18:1-10). As the clay doesn’t question the potter, we shouldn’t question God (Isa. 29:16; 45:9; Rom. 9:21). As the clay is at the mercy of the potter, we also rely of God’s mercy.

If God is like a potter, then we are like the clay. This image reminds us of God’s creativity and sovereignty.

Shepherd

God’s also like a shepherd. A shepherd cares for sheep.

In Old Testament times God chose a nation of people, the Israelites, to follow and obey Him. The picture that’s used is of God being their shepherd; “Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock” (Ps. 80:1; Jer:31:10). He would lead them and care for them and they were to follow where He led. The imagery of a shepherd and his flock provided a picture of the way God cared for His people

David said, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). The shepherd sustains and guides the sheep (Ps. 23:1-4; 28:9). Ezekiel contrasts selfish leaders (Ezek. 34:1-10) and God’s leadership (Ezek. 34:11-16). Isaiah described God’s deliverance of the Jews from exile as:
“He tends His flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in His arms
and carries them close to His heart;
He gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11).

If God is like a shepherd, then we are like the sheep. This image reminds us of God’s loving leadership.

Gardener

God’s like a gardener. A gardener cares for plants.

In the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as God’s vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7). A failed grape harvest was a symbol of Israel’s disobedience, rebellion and idolatry. In the New Testament, Jesus is pictured as the true vine, believers are the branches and God the Father is the gardener (Jn. 15:1-8). God prunes us to be more fruitful.

If God is like a gardener, then we are like the branches of a plant. This image reminds us of God’s loving care.

Second; God is likened to some animals.

Animals

Lion

God’s like a lion. A lion is a predator that rules the land.

God’s judgement of Israel and Judah (Hos. 5:14; 13:7-8) and ungodly nations (Jer. 25:37-38; 49:19; 50:44) is likened to the devastation caused by a lion.

If God is like a lion, then His judgment should be feared. This image reminds us of God’s punishment of sin.

Eagle

God’s like an eagle. An eagle is a majestic bird that rules the sky.

After the exodus, God helped the Israelites like an eagle helps its young to fly (Dt. 32:11). God is like an eagle, He covers us, shelters us (Ps. 36:7, 63:7, 91:3-4) and hides us (Ps. 17:8).

The Psalmist wrote, “Surely He (God) will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:3-4).

If God is like an eagle, then he can provide refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.

Third; God is likened to some inanimate things.

Inanimate things

Light

God’s like a light: “God is light; in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). Light is the opposite of darkness. In the Bible, light symbolizes purity and goodness, and darkness signifies evil and sin. So God is pure, righteous and holy.

Psalm 119 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps. 119:105). Light reveals things. It shows us what’s ahead. It this case the Bible shows God’s truth.

David said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1). Here “light” is associated with deliverance from one’s enemies.

God will be the “everlasting light” in the new Jerusalem (Isa. 60:19-20). He will be the source of all truth and righteousness.

If God is like a light, then He can show us the truth and the way to go. This image also reminds us of God’s holiness.

Rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield

God’s also like a rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield. These are used for protection against enemies.

Ancient cities and fortresses were often built on rocky hills. David hid in these areas to avoid his enemies. When he praised God for deliverance from his enemies, David said, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps. 18:2).

This image is associated with safety and security (Dt. 32:4, 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:2, 32, 47; Ps. 18:2; 31:3; 62:2; 71:3; 78:35; Isa. 17:10). A more direct metaphor is to say that God is like a refuge: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27; Ps. 46:1).

If God is like a rock, then he can provide a safe refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.

Fire

God’s like a fire. A fire burns and consumes whatever is combustible.

When the Israelites were warned against idolatry, they were told “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” (Dt. 4:24). This shows God’s righteous anger against the sin of unfaithfulness and disobedience. The same imagery is used to express how God will destroy the Canaanites because of their wickedness (Dt. 9:3). The consuming fire is a symbol of God’s judgement of sin (Isa. 29:6; 30:27, 30; 33:14). Today God is like a consuming fire to all who refuse to listen to Him and is to be worshipped with reverence and awe (Heb. 12:29).

Ezekiel had an image of God as a man full of fire surrounded by brilliant light (Ezek. 1:26-28). God’s presence is often symbolically revealed in the form of fire and light (Ex. 13:21; 19:18; 4:17; 40:34, 38; Isa. 66:15). They are symbols of God’s holiness, which can’t tolerate any sin.

If God is like a fire, then His awesome holiness means that He will judge everything that is contrary to this holiness. This image reminds us of God’s judgement of sin.

Tree

God’s like a tree. A tree has flowers and fruit.

God told Israel that “your fruitfulness comes from me”, because He was “like a flourishing juniper tree” (Hos. 14:8). This tree is evergreen, its leaves don’t fall off in winter. Its fruit is a pine cone that’s the source of nuts. As the tree provides the nuts, so God is the source of Israel’s blessings.

If God is like a tree, then Israel was like His fruit. This image reminds us that God sustains His people.

Fourth; God is likened to certain attributes.

Attributes

Beginning and the end

God’s like the beginning and the end, which is symbolized by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega (Rev. 21:6). As Creator of the universe, He was there when it began. As God will also be there at the end, He rules over all human history.

If God is like the beginning and the end, then He is always present. This image reminds us that God is eternal.

Love

God’s loving (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). In particular, He loves His people (Dt. 7:8, 13).

This kind of love is described as, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).

It means that God doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Instead, He has shown His love in this way, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:16-17).

If God is loving, then people are the objects of His love. This image reminds us that Jesus was God’s love gift to us. Have you accepted God’s gift? This kind of love drives out fear of judgment (1 Jn. 4:18).

Savior

God’s a savior. A savior saves someone, like a lifeguard (or lifesaver) rescues people in danger of drowning.

Because David was often saved from his enemies, he wrote “Our God is a God who saves” (Ps. 68:20). God sees and watches all of us (Ps. 33:13-14). Savior is used so much in the Bible that it is often used as a title of Jesus Christ.

If God is a savior, then people are the ones He rescues. This image reminds us that God sent Jesus to rescue us from the judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Have you been rescued yet?

God’s also like a builder, physician and teacher (Ps. 103:3; 119:33; 147:2; Isa. 28:26).

Summary

We have looked at several images of God from the Bible. Different images highlight different characteristics of God. If God was on Facebook, He could choose between these profile pictures because He:
What is God like collage 400pxProvides like a father
Cares and loves like a mother
Manages like a boss
Loves like a bridegroom
Reigns like a king
Sentences like a judge
Defends and protects like a warrior
Creates like a potter
Leads like a shepherd
Prunes like a gardener
Punishes like a lion
Illuminates and is pure and holy like a light
Protects like an eagle and a rock
Judges sin like a fire
Sustains his people, like a tree provides fruit
Saves like a lifeguard (lifesaver)
Is always there
Loves everyone

So God can meet all our needs. In response, do we:
Live like a child of God?
Feel secure in God’s love?
Follow God’s instructions?
Have a close relationship with God?
Respect God’s reign?
Realize that Jesus paid our sentence?
Realize that Satan is defeated?
Acknowledge that God made us?
Follow God’s leading and guidance?
Accept God’s discipline?
Fear God’s punishment?
Feel safe in God’s salvation?
Recognize God’s sustenance?
Realize God’s presence?

So multiple images are required to show us what God is like. But I’ve left the best image till last. Paul wrote, “The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He’s “the exact representation of His (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So Jesus is the best image of God.

Written, February 2016

Also see: What’s Jesus like?

The greatest leaders

Adam And Christ 400pxAccording to Listovative.com the greatest leaders of all time were Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Franklin D Roosevelt, Julius Caesar, Winston Churchill, Asoka, Alexander The Great, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro.

But the Bible says that Adam and Jesus Christ are the greatest leaders of humanity. In this post we look at the contrast between Adam and Jesus in Romans 5:12-21, where it is evident that Adam is the leader of sinful humanity and Christ the leader of forgiven humanity. And Christ’s gift is greater than Adam’s sin.

Context

The theme of the book of Romans is the good news (gospel) that God has intervened in our history so that through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death we can be reconciled with God. It describes the universal need for this reconciliation (Rom. 1:18 – 3:20), how it can be obtained through faith in Christ (3:21-31), an example of similar faith in Old Testament times (4:1-25), and the benefits of such faith (5:1-11). Then the good news is summarized by contrasting Adam and Jesus (5:12-21), which is followed by a description of the process by which believers grow to maturity (sanctification) (6:1-23).

Contrast

The state and destiny of humanity is pictured in two men: Adam and Jesus. Adam trespassed by disobeying God (when he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). This resulted in humanity becoming sinful and God’s punishment was the death penalty (physical death and eternal spiritual death). That’s why people die. On the other hand, Jesus obeyed God (when He allowed men to execute Him). This resulted in humanity being freely offered to have the penalty of eternal spiritual death cancelled and replaced with eternal life. So Adam is the source of all our problems, suffering, pain, and God’s judgment; while Jesus is the source of our reconciliation with God and the promises this brings. Adam brought death and Christ brought life.

The major difference between Adam and Christ was their disobedience and obedience to God. This has a dramatic impact on our world and our destiny.

Adam and Jesus were both unique. Adam was the first man. Jesus was both human (a man) and divine (the Son of God). They were similar as men, but different because Adam wasn’t divine. They were also similar in that a single act (Adam eating the fruit and Jesus dying) impacted all humanity.

Adam’s sin

Romans 5:12-21 teaches that Adam is the leader of sinful humanity.
“just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people (everyone), because all sinned” (5:12NIV).
“death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam” (5:14)
“many (everyone) died by the trespass of the one man (Adam)” (5:15).
“the result of one man’s (Adam’s) sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation” (5:16).
“by the trespass of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man” (5:17).
“one trespass (Adam’s) resulted in condemnation for all people (everyone)” (5:18).
“through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many (everyone) were made sinners” (5:19).
“sin reigned in death” (5:21).

As a result of Adam’s disobedience, sin and death passed to all his descendants. Through Adam’s sin all were condemned as sinners. Death is the penalty for sin. Death shows our sinfulness. The proof that Adam’s sin affected the entire human race is that death is universal. So because of Adam all people are sinful in their nature and in their behavior. Adam’s sin altered our human nature so that it’s corrupt and rebellious. That’s the condition of humanity for you, me and everyone else. We’re habitual sinners because of Adam’s original sin. It’s the greatest problem of the human race and it’s the source of the evil in our world. That’s why the world is as it is.

Christ’s gift

This passage also teaches that Jesus Christ is the leader of forgiven humanity.
“how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many (believers)!” (5:15).
“the gift of God … the gift (of Christ’s righteousness, v.17) followed many trespasses and brought justification (to believers)” (5:16).
“how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness (believers) reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (5:17).
“one righteous act (Christ’s) resulted in justification and life for all people (believers)” (5:18).
“through the obedience of the one man (Christ) the many (believers) will be made righteous” (5:19).
“grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21).

What a contrast between Adam’s sin and Christ’s gift! Condemnation came to us through Adam’s sin, while justification comes to us through Christ’s gift of righteousness. The good news is that Christ’s gift paid the penalty for Adam’s sin, and we can be reconciled with God if we accept this gift. There’s no other way to get right with God.

Clearly Christ’s gift of salvation is superior to Adam’s sin and the judgment we deserve. It’s “much more” (5:15, 17) and is sufficient for “many trespasses” (5:16) because Christ takes our judgement and we are seen in His righteousness. Instead of being ruled by death, in a coming day we will reign with Christ (5:17; Rev. 3:21). While Adam brought eternal death, Christ brings eternal life (1 Cor. 13:19-23).

Similar

Paul also says that Adam “is a pattern of the one to come (Jesus)” (5:14). How is Jesus like Adam? He explains this:
“Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God (Adam), many became sinners. But because one other person (Christ) obeyed God, many (believers) will be made righteous” (5:18-19NLT).

As Adam’s sin is imputed to everyone (5:12), Christ’s righteousness is imputed to all who trust in Him (1 Cor. 15:21-22). So, both judgment and salvation come from one man.

Summary

Adam and Jesus had a great influence on the human race. Adam is the leader of sinful humanity and Christ the leader of forgiven humanity. But Christ’s gift is greater than Adam’s sin.

The universal problem of the human race is sin and the universal solution is the gospel. All people, no matter what they have done, can get right with God because of Christ’s obedience and His righteousness. That’s the most important thing that we can do. But like any gift, it belongs only to those who accept it. Only those who by faith receive God’s gift of justification will enjoy the benefits of Christ’s obedience (5:17). Our eternal destiny depends on which humanity we choose: that of Adam or that of Christ.

Because of our humanity, we all begin life “in Adam”. A Christian changes their allegiance from Adam to Jesus. This means they are positioned “in Christ”. If we are in Christ, our salvation is secure not because of anything in us, but because we’re in Him.

Christians have accepted Christ’s gift, but they are still influenced by Adam’s sin. They have a new identity in Christ and an old identity in Adam. Whether our new identity is shown in our everyday life depends on whether we obey God’s instructions for us in the parts of the Bible written to the church (Acts to Revelation). Do we live like Adam (who disobeyed God) or like Jesus (who obeyed God)? Let’s be like Paul and follow the example of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).

Written, February 2016

Where’s hell?

Hell - image of 1180. 400pxThe Town of Paradise is in Newfoundland, Canada and there is an area near Boston, Ohio, called Hell Town. Place names arouse particular connotations, connections and feelings. The Old Testament prophets and Jesus used such associations in their teaching. For example, when Jesus spoke about what we call hell, He used the Greek word Gehenna. But what did the word “Gehenna” mean to those living in Jerusalem in the 1st century AD?

Hinnom valley

The ancient city of Jerusalem was bounded by Kidron valley on the east and Hinnom valley on the south and west. The boundary between the Israelite tribes of Judah & Benjamin was along Hinnom valley (Josh. 15:8; 18:16). The Greek word for this valley was Gehenna (Strongs #1067). Today it is called Wadi er-Rababi. The valley was probably named after a Jebusite named Hinnom. The southern part of Hinnom (#2011) valley is also lowest point near the ancient city. This area, named Topheth, was where there was child sacrifice to the god Molech in the 7th and 8th centuries BC and after this it was a garbage dump.

Child sacrifice

Topheth in the valley of Hinnom was a place of idol worship. The wicked kings Ahaz and Manassah of Judah practiced child sacrifice here (2 Ki. 16:3; 21:6; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). Parents would sacrifice their children in the fire on shrines to Molech, the god of the Ammonites (1 Ki. 11:5; 2 Ki. 23:10), which was prohibited by the law of Moses (Lev. 18:21; 20:2). It was a place of burning (Jer. 7:31; 32:35). Child sacrifices were also made to Baal (Jer. 19:5; 32:35).

During king Josiah’s reforms in the 7th century BC he demolished the pagan shrines and made them ceremonially unclean by covering the sites with human bones (Num. 19:16; 2 Ki. 23:10-14).

So in the first instance Gehenna was the site of horrendous fiery idolatry, which was destroyed by a godly king.

Garbage dump

After this we time read that one of the southern gates of Jerusalem was called the Potsherd gate (Jer.19:2). Potsherd is broken pottery. This gate led to the valley of Hinnom where potsherds were thrown (Jer. 19:10-11). It was later known as the Dung gate (Neh. 2:13; 3:13-14; 12:31). The Potsherd/Dung gate overlooked the valley, which was the main dump for broken pottery and other garbage.

The sacrificial laws God gave Israel required that the dung and certain portions of sacrificial animals were to the taken outside the camp (beyond the city walls in temple times) and burned (Ex. 29:14; Lev. 4:11-12; 8:17; 16:27).

So in the second instance Gehenna was a garbage dump for the disposal and burning of refuse.

Symbol of God’s judgment on Judah

Jeremiah used a clay jar in a dramatic message to the people of Jerusalem (Jer. 19:1-15). It was delivered at the Potsherd gate overlooking Topheth. After he smashed the jar, he claimed that God says “I will smash this nation and this city” and “I will make this city like Topheth” (Jer. 19:11-13NIV). He also predicted that the valley of Hinnom would be a vast cemetery (Jer. 7:30-34; 19:6). Just as the jar was smashed, the city will be destroyed and the people buried in the valley of Hinnom. Jerusalem will become a waste land devoid of life and littered with corpses and fires like Topheth. This was fulfilled when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem in 586 BC.

So in the third instance Gehenna was a symbol of God’s judgment on Jerusalem when they were invaded by the Babylonians.

Symbol of hell

In the 7th century BC Isaiah used “Topheth” as a metaphor for hell when he says its burning fires are ready to welcome the wicked king of Assyria (Is. 30:33). Elsewhere the Bible says that God’s enemies are judged by fire (Isa. 31:9; Zech. 12:6; Rev. 20:9-10). The image of everlasting punishment of God’s enemies in Isaiah 66:24 is also associated with Gehenna. It describes people looking at the valley of Hinnom, which was a picture of hell.

Jesus used the Greek word Gehenna 11 times in the New Testament. In four of these instances it is associated with fire (Mt. 5:22; 18:9; Mk. 9:43, 45). A person goes there after death; they are sent there by God: “Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell” (Lk. 12:5). Both body and soul are destroyed there: “be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). And it is eternal: “the fire never goes out” (Mk. 9:43). It is clear that this is a figure of speech and that Jesus wasn’t referring to going to the valley of Hinnom.

In this context, Gehenna is used to describe the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41); “the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8:12); “the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:42, 50); and “this place of torment” (Lk. 16:28). It’s a place of eternal punishment for unbelievers in contrast to the eternal life of believers (Mt. 25:46). Elsewhere it is called “everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord” (2 Th. 1:9); “blackest darkness” (2 Pt. 2:17; Jude 13); “the second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 21:8); “the fiery lake of burning sulfur” and “the lake of fire” (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14). It’s the final destiny of sinners who refuse God’s revelation and Christ’s offer of forgiveness.

According to the English dictionary, the word “hell” means “a place or state of existence where the wicked are punished after death”. So in the New Testament the Greek word Gehenna is used as a metaphor for hell. This isn’t evident to most readers because it is translated “hell” in modern English Bibles.

So in the fourth instance Gehenna was a symbol of God’s judgment of unbelievers in hell.

Symbol of Satan

James also uses the word Gehenna in his letter to Jewish Christians. In the context of a series of metaphors for uncontrolled speech, he writes “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (Jas. 3:6). Uncontrolled speech destroys our life like a wildfire destroys everything in its pathway. Then it says that hell (Gehenna) is the source of this evil. Because hell matches the characteristics and destiny of Satan, this is a figurative way of saying that Satan is the source of this evil.

So in the fourth instance Gehenna was a symbol of Satan.

Summary

The Bible doesn’t say where hell is. But the valley near Jerusalem called “Gehenna”, was a symbol of hell. People living in Jerusalem in the 1st century AD would have associated this valley with the wickedness of child sacrifice, the desolation of a garbage dump, the invasion of Judah by the Babylonians, the eternal punishment of the wicked in hell and Satan the source of all evil.

The only way to avoid hell is to listen to the message of Scripture (Lk. 16:27-31). Let’s believe that Jesus died so that we don’t have to endure its eternal suffering (Jn. 3:16).

Written, February 2016

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises

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