Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “glory

Good times ahead

Freedom from the presence of sin

Do you look forward to good times on weekends and vacations? It’s relaxing to get away from the pressures of life. John Bunyan likened the Christian life to a journey which he called “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (Appendix A and B). The journey begins with justification (deliverance from the penalty of sin), continues with sanctification (deliverance from the power of sin) and ends with glorification (deliverance from the presence of sin).

In this blogpost we look at the topic of the believer’s glorification. We will see that the best is yet to come for believers. They can look forward to living with Jesus Christ in heaven where there is no sin, suffering, disease or death. It’s the best time of their life.

The meaning of “glory”

Isaiah had a vision of “the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1NIV). And the angels were calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3). This verse suggests that the glory of God is when His holiness is visible. It’s the display of God’s holiness – the fact that He is unique, perfect, great, and incomparable.

The Hebrew noun kabowd (Strongs #3519) translated “glory” in this verse means the splendor, wealth and honor of a person or God (Brown-Driver-Briggs). When used in respect of God it means the greatness of His entire character.

The apostle John had a vision of God seated on a throne being worshipped with glory, honor and power (Rev. 4:10-11). And a vision of every creature in the universe worshipping God the Father and God the Son with praise, honor, glory and power (Rev. 5:13). Here the word “glory” is linked with praise, honor and power. It means to be exalted, extolled, and honored.

The Greek verb doxazo (Strongs #1392) translated “glory” means to exalt to a glorious rank or position (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). It’s used to describe both God (Jn. 7:39; 12:16; Acts 3:13) and believers (Rom. 8:30). The equivalent noun doxa (Strongs #1391) used in the verses in Revelation means glorious and exalted.

God’s glory

We have already seen that glory is one of the attributes of the eternal God. Jesus shared that glory with the rest of the trinity in eternity past, which was visible to the angels.

But Jesus gave up that visible glory when He was born and lived on earth (Phil. 2:5-8). Instead, He was seen as the son of a carpenter. Before His death Jesus prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence [in heaven] with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn. 17:5). “Now” indicates that Jesus had finished His work on earth and He was ready for the next phase—His crucifixion and return to heaven. His glory was shown in His resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand in heaven. The principle of this verse is that after His ascension, Jesus returned to His glory as God. Jesus now shares that glory with the rest of the trinity in eternity future, which is visible to the angels. And it will be visible to all creation at His future appearing on earth in great power and glory. The giving up and regaining of Christ’s glory is shown in the schematic diagram.

At the transfiguration Jesus briefly showed His glory to Peter, James and John when “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Mt. 17:2).

How often do we praise God for His glory like Paul and Jude? “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17). And “to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 25).

In God’s plan of salvation, God shares His glory with believers. Let’s investigate the nature of this salvation.

Is salvation an event or a process?

The answer is yes and no! Justification, which is freedom from the penalty of sin (Rom. 8:24), is an event (Eph. 1:13-14). It’s receiving a gift from God. To be physically alive, we need to be born first. It’s an event. To be spiritually alive, we need to be born again (Jn. 3:3-21). It’s also an event.

Those who came forward at the recent Franklin Graham Tour in Australia were given a booklet titled “Living in Christ”. In the front of this book there was a form to fill out with the date they accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

And in “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Christian was saved at the cross when his burden of sin fell from his shoulders and he was given the scroll to enter the Celestial City (heaven). That’s when he was justified and his name was written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:27).

But deliverance from temptation and sin during the life of a believer is a process. After Christian was saved he was tempted by Formality and Hypocrisy near the Hill of Difficulty. He was attacked by Apollyon, one of Satan’s demons who tried to force Christian to return to his domain and service. He was tempted by worldliness at Vanity Fair. When he was tempted to take an easier path through By-path Meadow, he was captured by Giant Despair and imprisoned in Doubting Castle.

Sanctification (holiness) is freedom from the power of sin. God calls believers to “a holy life” (2 Tim. 1:9). This means being set apart for Him, and serving Him by living fruitful lives. Believers are already sanctified positionally before God. That’s their status before God. But they are expected to show this practically in their daily lives. Sanctification (holiness) is a progressive change in character. It’s a process, not an event.

Glorification, which is freedom from the presence of sin, is God’s final work for the believer. It’s a heavenly experience. Justification is the beginning, sanctification (holiness) is the middle and glorification is the end of the process of salvation.

It the past, Christ’s love was shown in the believer’s justification. In the present, it’s seen in their sanctification. In the future, it will be shown in their glorification.

The process of salvation is described in the book of Romans, as follows:
– We are all sinners who need salvation (1:18-3:20).
– The gospel is God’s solution to our sins (3:21-5:21). This includes justification through Jesus Christ (5:12-21).
– Justification is followed by sanctification (holiness); living in the power of the Holy Spirit (6:1-8:17).
– Sanctification is followed by glorification (8:18-39). We will now look at the main points in this biblical passage.

Glorification in Romans 8

“Since we [believers] are His [God’s] children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who His children really are” (8:17-19NLT). This is a promise that each believer will share Christ’s glory. Like Jesus, in a future day, this glory will be revealed when Christ returns in great power and glory to rule upon the earth. But a little suffering precedes the massive glorification.

In “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Christian and Faithful were arrested and persecuted at Vanity Fair. Faithful was put on trial and executed and Christian was imprisoned.

And it looks like Israel Folau is being banned from playing Rugby Union in Australia, because he quoted the Bible on his own social media page. Outspoken Christians are not tolerated today. But our suffering as a Christian is insignificant compared to our future glory.

“… we ourselves [believers], who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). The Holy Spirit is the first instalment of the believer’s glorification. As an engagement ring involves a promise of a future wedding, so the indwelling Holy Spirit is God’s promise of the believer’s future glorification. And the coming glory is associated with the resurrection of believer’s bodies which occurs at the rapture. Click on this link for more information about the sequence of future events according to the Bible.

“We [believers] were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently)” (8:24-25NLT). Believers don’t receive all the benefits of salvation at the moment of conversion. So they can look forward to being delivered from sin, suffering, disease and death. That’s the hope of heaven. Something better lies ahead.

What are you looking forward to? What are you anticipating with joy? An achievement, an event, a holiday, a purchase, or a stage in life? But these are all momentary compared to eternal life in heaven.

“And we [believers] know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him [believers], who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son [made holy], that He [Jesus Christ] might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He [God] predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30). Believers can look back and see that God foreknew, predestined and called them to trust in Jesus. Then they were justified. God has called them with a purpose: “to be conformed to the image of His Son [Jesus]”. They are being sanctified (made holy). That’s the context of Romans 8:28. Whatever God permits to come into their lives is designed to make them more like Jesus, to make them more holy. Their lives are not controlled by impersonal forces like chance, luck or fate, but by their personal Lord. And in future they will be glorified. In heaven they will be holy like Jesus and be free from the presence of sin and have glorified bodies like His.

We will now look at the sequence of events associated with the glorification of a believer.

Glorification of the soul

In “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, the river that Christian crossed to get to the Celestial City was called the River of Death. When a person dies their spirit and soul separate from their body. In the case of a believer, their body stays on earth until the resurrection, while their spirit and soul goes to be with the Lord. In view of future glory, Paul longed to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). It will be better in heaven without a body than living on earth in our sinful bodies.

Colossians says, “… now He [God] has reconciled you [believers] by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:22). At this time believers are presented to God the Father as holy and “without blemish and free from accusation”.

Ephesians says, “For He [God] chose us [believers] in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Eph. 1:4). And the Lord Jesus will present believers “to Himself as a radiant [glorious] church [of believers], without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). When believers get to heaven they will be “holy and blameless”. Being “radiant” or glorious is a figuratively equivalent to being free from sin. And “without stain” means to be pure.

And Jude says, “To Him [God] who is able to keep you [believers] from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24). Believers will be faultless in the throne room of the universe.

The Daily Meditation Podcast is doing a series on mental cleansing to purify your thoughts, but it won’t make you holy and blameless.

In the Lord’s presence in heaven, believers are perfectly holy. Their sanctification (holiness) is complete in a place where Satan can no longer tempt people into sin and evil. Their soul is separated from sin and the capacity to sin. So at death the spiritual aspect of human nature (the soul and spirit) is glorified.

Do we view death as the access to heaven? It enables the believer to  be “at home with the Lord”.

Glorification of the body

Paul describes the rapture when Christ comes to take His people to heaven as follows. At the trumpet of God, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we [believers] who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:16–17). And, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We [believers] shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we [who are alive] shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).

The bodies of those who have died will be resurrected and reunited with their spirit and soul in heaven. The bodies of those who are alive will be transformed and they will be transported to heaven. This is not science fiction! But in the Bible God tells us about future events. These new spiritual bodies will not decay or be affected by disease or death (2 Cor. 5:38-50). And they will be glorious and powerful like the resurrection body of Christ (Phil. 3:20-21).

Paul said that the Corinthian believers “will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8). And he prayed that the Philippian believers would live pure and blameless lives now so that they are ready “for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-11). The day of Christ is the rapture when Christ comes to take believers to heaven and they become all that God intends them to be. And they will be finally and forever delivered from the presence of sin.

South Korean scientists are working to resurrect the prehistoric woolly mammoth using cloning technology and the flesh of perfectly preserved specimens once buried in Northern Siberia. They hope to find an active cell from the meaty leg of a frozen mammoth, which could hold the keys to bringing back the extinct species. But despite dedicated effort, scientists have not yet managed to clone a woolly mammoth, although they keep trying. Of course, God has a better resurrection record. And at the rapture, there will be transformations to perfect bodies, not just resurrections of old imperfect ones.

Having perfect bodies in heaven will be better than living in their sinful bodies on earth and better than when believers have no bodies (between their death and the resurrection) (2 Cor. 5:1-8). It’s the fulfilment of God’s promises to the believer and the best time of their life.

Are we looking ahead to the rapture and new heavenly bodies?

Glorification displayed

We have already mentioned that Christ’s glory as God will be visible to all creation at His future appearing on earth in great power and glory. And that believers will “share in His glory” (Rom. 8:17).

When Jesus comes as a warrior to reign on the earth for 1000 years, “The armies of heaven were following Him” (Rev. 19:14). They are “dressed in fine linen, white and clean”. At the wedding of the Lamb, believers are given “fine linen, white and clean” to wear (Rev. 19:7). These armies are angels (Mt. 25:31; Mk. 8:38;  13:27; 2 Th. 2:7-8) and believers (Col. 3:4; 1 Th. 3:13; 2 Th. 1:7, 10; Rev. 17:14). At this time, Jesus conquers and judges His enemies and sets up His kingdom on earth.

Colossians says, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you [believers] also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). When Jesus appears in great glory, believers will appear with Him. It will be to His glory to have His followers with Him. And believers will be glorified to come with Him and be with Him for ever. The word “then” shows that God links believers to Christ’s coming.

2 Thessalonians says, “on the day He [Jesus Christ] comes to be glorified in His holy people [believers] and to be marveled at among all those who have believed” (2 Th. 1:10). At His second coming Jesus will be glorified “in”, not “by”, believers. He will be honored because He transformed the lives of so many people. Their justification, sanctification, and glorification will be tribute to Christ’s amazing grace and power.

After the second coming, Christ will reign on earth. And Paul says “we [believers] will also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). This includes judging in the Millennial reign of Christ (1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 20:4) and judging angels (1 Cor 6:3). Meanwhile, positionally, in Christ Jesus believers are already seated “with Him [Christ] in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6).

On April 11 2019, Scientists revealed the first-ever photograph of a black hole. They say it’s a picture of the super-dense object that’s billions of times more massive than the sun and about 55 million light-years from Earth. But this is a minor revelation compared to the revelation of believers coming in glory with Christ at the second coming.

So believers will share in Christ’s glory when He returns to the earth in great power and glory. And when they rule with Him during the Millennial kingdom.

The process of a believer’s salvation from justification to sanctification, and then to glorification is shown in the schematic diagram.

Assurance of glorification

In Romans 8, after Paul presented God’s way of salvation through justification, sanctification (holiness) and glorification, he assured the readers of its certainty (Rom 8:31-39).

“He [God] who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He [God] not also, along with Him [Jesus Christ], graciously give us [believers] all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Since God gave believers His greatest gift, He will give them any other gift they need. If God did the greater, He will surely do the lesser. “All things” here refers to glorification in eternity. So the believer’s glorification is guaranteed by God! They are eternally secure. Nothing can separate them from eternal life with God. Paul was convinced of this (Rom. 8:38-39); are we convinced? He was certain about the promise of eternal life. Our confidence in future glorification is based on God’s revelation to us in the Bible. It says that, God is bringing many believers to glory (Heb. 2:10). God’s purpose is to bring all believers to His eternal glory.

The author of Hebrews gives four illustrations of our confidence in future glorification and eternal salvation. He says, “we [believers] who have fled to Him [God] for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary [heaven]. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:18-20).

The illustrations are:
– Heaven is a safe place like a fortress or a city of refuge.
– The believer’s hope in heaven is like an anchor for their souls that’s anchored in Jesus.
– Jesus is like a forerunner who believers will follow to heaven. John the Baptist was the forerunner for Jesus (Mt. 17:10-13). And a forerunner goes ahead of the pack.
– Jesus is like a High Priest who intercedes for believers with God the Father. His eternal priesthood guarantees their eternal security in heaven.

On 17 April 2019, Scott Morrison (leader of the government in Australia) pledged $100 million for farm irrigation in Tasmania, and Bill Shorten (leader of the opposition) promising $20 million for blood cancer trials. But sometimes politicians make excuses for not fulfilling election promises. Fortunately, God’s promises are reliable.

Scriptural hope is confidence in what God has promised. It’s an anchor for believers. One of these promises is “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27); the confidence that all believers will share in the glory of Christ (Col. 3:4; 1 Pt. 5:10).

Did you notice in our readings the pattern of suffering and glory for both Jesus and believers?

Pattern of suffering and glory

The pattern for Jesus

Through the Old Testament prophets, the Holy Spirit “predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow” (1 Pt. 1:11). But they didn’t know that that these two events would be separated by at least 2,000 years.

Jesus told the two on the road to Emmaus that the Old Testament prophets taught that the Messiah had “to suffer these things and then enter His glory” (Lk. 24:26). For Jesus, suffering precedes glory.

Although humanity lost dominion over God’s creation because of their sin, “we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while [for 33 years], now crowned with glory and honor [forever] because He suffered death … for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Because He suffered death, Jesus is now “crowned with glory and honor”. The cross led to the crown.

Paul said that after Christ suffered “death on a cross”, “God exalted Him to the highest place” (Phil. 2:8-9).

The pattern for believers

Paul said, “I consider that our [believers] present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). The difference between the believer’s sufferings and glory is so great, they are not worth comparing. And the suffering is present, while the glory is future.

Paul also said, “For our [believers] light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). What a contrast, insignificant and quick troubles, compared to significant and endless glory.

Some say that if you’re suffering or not successful, then it’s due to a lack of faith. Others say that when bad things happen it’s outside God’s control. But the Bible says that suffering is part of God’s plan for believers.

How patient and resilient are we in suffering? Can we see the big picture that present suffering leads to future glory?

So for Jesus, suffering preceded glory. The same is true for believers. It’s the sure hope of glory that makes suffering bearable. The essential perspective to develop is that the eternal purpose of God is to make believers holy or Christlike.

Conclusion

Let’s be assured of our justification. Since then we are free from the penalty of sin. And be patient with our sanctification. Each day we are being freed increasingly from the power of sin. And be eager for our glorification. One day we will be freed from the presence of sin.

The best is yet to come for believers. They can look forward to living with Jesus Christ in heaven where there is no sin, suffering, disease or death. It’s the fulfilment of God’s promises to the believer and the best time of their life.

Let’s look forward with joyful anticipation to our glorious future.

Appendix A: First summary of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (From: Encylopaedia Britannia)

Part I of Pilgrim’s progress was published by John Bunyan in 1678. It’s the story of a journey “from this world to that which is to come”. It’s the spiritual journey of a man named Christian from where he lives in the City of Destruction to the Celestial City (meaning heaven). “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory or parable in which the literal, physical level of action is intended as a picture of something else. For example, if you are living in sin, you are in the City of Destruction. The Lord on the hill is God. The Shining Ones are angels.

It’s a story of the author’s dream of the trials and adventures of Christian (an everyman figure) as he travels from his home, the City of Destruction, to the Celestial City. Christian seeks to rid himself of a terrible burden, the weight of his sins, that he feels after reading a book (the Bible). Evangelist points him toward a wicket-gate, and he heads off, leaving his family behind. He falls into the Slough of Despond, dragged down by his burden, but is saved by a man named Help. Christian next meets Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who persuades him to disregard Evangelist’s advice and instead go to the village of Morality and seek out Mr. Legality or his son Civility. However, Christian’s burden becomes heavier, and he stops. Evangelist reappears and sets him back on the path to the wicket-gate. The gatekeeper, Good-will, lets him through and directs him to the house of the Interpreter, where he receives instruction on Christian grace. As Christian continues his journey, he comes upon a cross and a sepulchre, and at that point his burden falls from his shoulders. Three Shining Ones appear and give him a sealed scroll that he must present when he reaches the Celestial Gate.

Christian continues on his way, and when he reaches the Hill Difficulty, he chooses the straight and narrow path. Partway up he falls asleep in an arbor, allowing the scroll to fall from his hands. When he wakes, he proceeds to the top of the hill only to find he must return to the arbor to find his lost scroll. He later arrives at the palace Beautiful, where he meets the damsels Discretion, Prudence, Piety, and Charity. They give Christian armour, and he learns that a former neighbour, Faithful, is traveling ahead of him.

Christian next traverses the Valley of Humiliation, where he does battle with the monster Apollyon. He then passes through the terrifying Valley of the Shadow of Death. Shortly afterward he catches up with Faithful. The two enter the town of Vanity, home of the ancient Vanity Fair, which is set up to ensnare pilgrims en route to the Celestial City. Their strange clothing and lack of interest in the fair’s merchandise causes a commotion, and they are arrested. Arraigned before Lord Hate-good, Faithful is condemned to death and executed, and he is immediately taken into the Celestial City. Christian is returned to prison, but he later escapes.

Christian leaves Vanity, accompanied by Hopeful, who was inspired by Faithful. Christian and Hopeful cross the plain of Ease and resist the temptation of a silver mine. The path later becomes more difficult, and, at Christian’s encouragement, the two travelers take an easier route, through By-path Meadow. However, when they become lost and are caught in a storm, Christian realizes that he has led them astray. Trying to turn back, they stumble onto the grounds of Doubting Castle, where they are caught, imprisoned, and beaten by the Giant Despair. At last, Christian remembers that he has a key called Promise, which he and Hopeful use to unlock the doors and escape. They reach the Delectable Mountains, just outside the Celestial City, but make the mistake of following Flatterer and must be rescued by a Shining One. Before they can enter the Celestial City, they must cross a river as a test of faith, and then, after presenting their scrolls, Christian and Hopeful are admitted into the city.

Appendix B: Second summary of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (From: Wikipedia)

The allegory’s protagonist, Christian, is an everyman character, and the plot centers on his journey from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” (“this world”), to the “Celestial City” (“that which is to come”: Heaven) atop Mount Zion. Christian is weighed down by a great burden—the knowledge of his sin—which he believed came from his reading “the book in his hand” (the Bible). This burden, which would cause him to sink into Hell, is so unbearable that Christian must seek deliverance. He meets Evangelist as he is walking out in the fields, who directs him to the “Wicket Gate” for deliverance. Since Christian cannot see the “Wicket Gate” in the distance, Evangelist directs him to go to a “shining light,” which Christian thinks he sees.  Christian leaves his home, his wife, and children to save himself: he cannot persuade them to accompany him. Obstinate and Pliable go after Christian to bring him back, but Christian refuses. Obstinate returns disgusted, but Pliable is persuaded to go with Christian, hoping to take advantage of the Paradise that Christian claims lies at the end of his journey. Pliable’s journey with Christian is cut short when the two of them fall into the Slough of Despond, a boggy mire-like swamp where pilgrims’ doubts, fears, temptations, lusts, shames, guilts, and sins of their present condition of being a sinner are used to sink them into the mud of the swamp. It is there in that bog where Pliable abandons Christian after getting himself out. After struggling to the other side of the slough, Christian is pulled out by Help, who has heard his cries and tells him the swamp is made out of the decadence, scum, and filth of sin, but the ground is good at the narrow Wicket Gate.

On his way to the Wicket Gate, Christian is diverted by the secular ethics of Mr. Worldly Wiseman into seeking deliverance from his burden through the Law, supposedly with the help of a Mr. Legality and his son Civility in the village of Morality, rather than through Christ, allegorically by way of the Wicket Gate. Evangelist meets the wayward Christian as he stops before Mount Sinai on the way to Mr. Legality’s home. It hangs over the road and threatens to crush any who would pass it; also the mountain flashed with fire. Evangelist shows Christian that he had sinned by turning out of his way and tells him that Mr. Legality and his son Civility are descendants of slaves and Mr. Worldly Wiseman is a false guide, but he assures him that he will be welcomed at the Wicket Gate if he should turn around and go there, which Christian does.

At the Wicket Gate begins the “straight and narrow” King’s Highway, and Christian is directed onto it by the gatekeeper Goodwill who saves him from Beelzebub’s archers at Beelzebub’s castle near the Wicket Gate and shows him the heavenly way he must go. In the Second Part, Goodwill is shown to be Jesus Himself. To Christian’s query about relief from his burden, Goodwill directs him forward to “the place of deliverance.”

Christian makes his way from there to the House of the Interpreter, where he is shown pictures and tableaux that portray or dramatize aspects of the Christian faith and life. Roger Sharrock denotes them “emblems”.

From the House of the Interpreter, Christian finally reaches the “place of deliverance” (allegorically, the cross of Calvary and the open sepulchre of Christ), where the “straps” that bound Christian’s burden to him break, and it rolls away into the open sepulcher. This event happens relatively early in the narrative: the immediate need of Christian at the beginning of the story is quickly remedied. After Christian is relieved of his burden, he is greeted by three angels, who give him the greeting of peace, new garments, and a scroll as a passport into the Celestial City. Encouraged by all this, Christian happily continues his journey until he comes upon three men named Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. Christian tries to help them, but they disregard his advice. Before coming to the Hill of Difficulty, Christian meets two well-dressed men named Formality and Hypocrisy who prove to be false Christians that perish in the two dangerous bypasses near the hill, named Danger and Destruction. Christian falls asleep at the arbor above the hill and loses his scroll, forcing him to go back and get it. Near the top of the Hill of Difficulty, he meets two weak pilgrims named Mistrust and Timorous who tell him of the great lions of the Palace Beautiful. Christian frightfully avoids the lions through Watchful the porter who tells them that they are chained and put there to test the faith of pilgrims.

Atop the Hill of Difficulty, Christian makes his first stop for the night at the House of the Palace Beautiful, which is a place built by God for the refresh of pilgrims and godly travelers. Christian spends three days here, and leaves clothed with the Armor of God (Eph. 6:11–18), which stands him in good stead in his battle against the demonic dragon-like Apollyon (the lord and god of the City of Destruction) in the Valley of Humiliation. This battle lasts “over half a day” until Christian manages to wound and stab Apollyon with his two-edged sword (a reference to the Bible, Heb. 4:12). “And with that Apollyon spread his dragon wings and sped away.”

As night falls, Christian enters the fearful Valley of the Shadow of Death. When he is in the middle of the Valley amidst the gloom, terror, and demons, he hears the words of the Twenty-third Psalm, spoken possibly by his friend Faithful: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you [the Lord] are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). As he leaves this valley the sun rises on a new day.

Just outside the Valley of the Shadow of Death he meets Faithful, also a former resident of the City of Destruction, who accompanies him to Vanity Fair, a place built by Beelzebub where every thing is to a human’s tastes, delights, and lusts are sold daily, where both are arrested and detained because of their disdain for the wares and business of the Fair. Faithful is put on trial and executed by burning at the stake as a martyr. A celestial chariot then takes Faithful to the Celestial City, martyrdom being a shortcut there. Hopeful, a resident of Vanity Fair, takes Faithful’s place to be Christian’s companion for the rest of the way.

Christian and Hopeful then come to a mining hill called Lucre. Its owner named Demas offers them all the silver of the mine but Christian sees through Demas’s trickery and they avoid the mine. Afterward, a false pilgrim named By-Ends and his friends, who followed Christian and Hopeful only to take advantage of them, perish at the Hill Lucre, never to be seen or heard from again. On a rough, stony stretch of road, Christian and Hopeful leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow, where a rainstorm forces them to spend the night. In the morning they are captured by Giant Despair, who is known for his savage cruelty, and his wife Diffidence; the pilgrims are taken to the Giant’s Doubting Castle, where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The Giant and the Giantess want them to commit suicide, but they endure the ordeal until Christian realizes that a key he has, called Promise, will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key and the Giant’s weakness to sunlight, they escape.

The Delectable Mountains form the next stage of Christian and Hopeful’s journey, where the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as “Immanuel’s Land”. The pilgrims are shown sights that strengthen their faith and warn them against sinning, like the Hill Error or the Mountain Caution. On Mount Clear, they are able to see the Celestial City through the shepherd’s “perspective glass”, which serves as a telescope. The shepherds tell the pilgrims to beware of the Flatterer and to avoid the Enchanted Ground. Soon they come to a crossroad and a man dressed in white comes to help them. Thinking he is a “shining one” (angel), the pilgrims follow the man, but soon get stuck in a net and realize their so-called angelic guide was the Flatterer. A true shining one comes and frees them from the net. The Angel punishes them for following the Flatterer and then puts them back on the right path. The pilgrims meet an Atheist, who tells them Heaven and God do not exist, but Christian and Hopeful remember the shepherds and pay no attention to the man. Christian and Hopeful come to a place where a man named Little-Faith is chained by the ropes of seven demons who take him to a shortcut to the Lake of Fire (Hell).

On the way, Christian and Hopeful meet a lad named Ignorance, who believes that he will be allowed into the Celestial City through his own good deeds rather than as a gift of God’s grace. Christian and Hopeful meet up with him twice and try to persuade him to journey to the Celestial City in the right way. Ignorance persists in his own way that he thinks will lead him into Heaven. After getting over the River of Death on the ferry boat of Vain Hope without overcoming the hazards of wading across it, Ignorance appears before the gates of Celestial City without a passport, which he would have acquired had he gone into the King’s Highway through the Wicket Gate. The Lord of the Celestial City orders the shining ones (angels) to take Ignorance to one of the byways of Hell and throw him in.

Christian and Hopeful make it through the dangerous Enchanted Ground (a place where the air makes them sleepy and if they fall asleep, they never wake up) into the Land of Beulah, where they ready themselves to cross the dreaded River of Death on foot to Mount Zion and the Celestial City. Christian has a rough time of it because of his past sins wearing him down, but Hopeful helps him over, and they are welcomed into the Celestial City.

Written, April 2019

Also see: Outline of future events


True Christmas: Sacrifice and Celebration

birthday-jesus-4-400pxAt a birthday party we celebrate a person’s life. But what if a person isn’t mentioned at their birthday party? That would be embarrassing! Christmas can be like that, because Christmas is when our culture chooses to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, but not everyone does this.

We usually celebrate Christmas with family and friends. But I was reminded recently that Christmas is not only a time of celebration. It also involves a lot of sacrifice; because it took sacrifices to get Christ here into this world. A sacrifice is something that’s given up (forfeited or surrendered) for the sake of a better cause. This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on this topic by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan.

Christmas is not just holidays, or food, or drinks, or decorations, or Santa Claus or gifts, or greetings. That’s the celebrative part of Christmas, which is an outcome of the real Christmas. But celebrating without recognizing the birthday person (Jesus Christ) is embarrassing and tragic.

The first Christmas

There was a great celebration that first Christmas. When the shepherds were told the good news about the baby Jesus, the angels praised God, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Lk. 2:14-18NIV). And the shepherds were very excited when they saw the baby Jesus.

But what about Mary’s family? Because of their shame, they probably weren’t celebrating. Her pregnancy would have been known in their local community. But no-one would have believed that she was carrying a holy baby. Like everyone else, her family would have thought she was carrying an illegitimate child, which brought shame and disgrace on the family and into the community. Even her fiancé (Joseph) planned to divorce her quietly (Mt. 1:18-25). But he changed his mind when an angel told him that Jesus was indeed a holy baby.

Did God celebrate at the first Christmas? Probably not. That was when God lost His Son, giving Him to the world as a human being to stand forever with people who were sinners. So behind the scenes there is a sacrificial aspect to the first Christmas.

Christmas was God’s idea

Jesus taught Nicodemus, “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). There are four things in this verse: God’s love, God giving, an invitation to believe, and an invitation to live. The first two and the last two are linked together. God so loved that He gave. For God, to love means to give. And He gave the best He could give. That is Himself. And then He says “whoever believes”. Nicodemus is urged to believe that Jesus is the Son of God in order to have eternal life instead perishing. Giving is always sacrificial, while receiving (in this case, believing to receive eternal life) is a reason to celebrate.

At Christmas we remember that God gave Himself, which is a sacrifice. Sending Jesus to earth was God’s idea. In this sense, God invented Christmas. And when we receive God’s gift (of forgiveness, love, joy, peace, and eternal life through Jesus), that’s a reason for celebration. Let’s look at four things that God sacrificed on the first Christmas so that we can celebrate.

The sacrifice of God’s glory

On the night before He was executed, Jesus prayed to God the Father, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn. 17:5). Before Christ came into the world, He lived in heaven with God the Father. He had the glory and splendor of deity. But on the first Christmas Jesus sacrificed (gave up) His glory. Instead of being visible, it was hidden (or veiled). In John 17 Jesus is praying that His visible glory might be restored in heaven.

Paul explains why Jesus sacrificed His glory, “What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (Rom. 9:23-24). God is preparing some people for glory. Jesus had to sacrifice His glory at the first Christmas so that we can regain our glory (which was lost by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden) by trusting in Jesus Christ.

On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory; He also sacrificed His riches.

The sacrifice of God’s riches

Paul said that Jesus was the greatest example of generosity: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus was enormously rich because He was God. But at the first Christmas, He became poor. So He went from wealth to poverty. Jesus gave up everything so poor sinners like us who were under God’s judgment can become rich in Him. We are rich “in Christ”. This has been expressed in verse as:
Let the weak say “I am strong”,
Let the poor say “I am rich”,
Let the blind say “I can see”,
Because of what the Lord has done in me.

We can’t understand Christmas without reference to the crucifixion and the resurrection, because the incarnation (Christ’s birth) became a saving event through the crucifixion.

On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory and His riches; He also sacrificed His nature.

The sacrifice of God’s nature

Paul said that Jesus was the greatest example of humility: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8)

God is a spirit who is immortal, eternal, and beyond our world of time, space, mass, and energy. But on the first Christmas, God shattered Himself and became a human being. The Creator of the universe transformed into a servant. A dependent baby. In this way, His divinity was hidden (or veiled).

Paul said that Christians had “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). God had to shatter Himself at the first Christmas so that sinners like us can be recreated. When we trust in Christ as Savior, we put on a new self, which is created in the image of God (just like God).

On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory and His riches and His nature; He also sacrificed His life.

The sacrifice of God’s life

Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:15) and “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).

When Jesus came as a baby the first Christmas, He came to sacrifice His life. So Christmas cost God’s life. Why? So that we may have His life. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). The “life” referred to here is spiritual life. This life is given by God upon trust in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5:39-40; 1 Jn. 5:11-12). Because we have spiritual life, we can celebrate at Christmas by celebrating Jesus who is the source of spiritual life. Christmas is a time to encounter this life in Christ Jesus. As we saw in John 3:16, He loved to give, and we believe to live (spiritually). But if we are spiritually dead, our Christmas is meaningless.

Summary

True Christmas is not just a time of celebration. It involves much more than celebration. Christmas is a time to:
– Reflect on God’s sacrifice (what He has done for us),
– Recognize Jesus our Savior,
– Reconnect with Christ (God’s Christmas gift to us), and
– Rejoice.

Let’s celebrate Christmas meaningfully by remembering God’s sacrifices. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s glory. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s riches. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s nature. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s life. And let’s be willing to sacrifice for others just as God sacrificed for us.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on “True Christmas: Sacrifice and Celebration”. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.

Written, December 2016


Big numbers

Stars 400pxScientists have estimated that the number of stars in the observable universe is 7 x 1022, which is “7” followed by 22 zeros! This is similar to their estimate of the number grains of sand on planet earth of 7 x 1021, which is “7” followed by 21 zeros. These are big numbers!

Many years ago (about 2,100BC), God promised Abraham: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). He was given this promise (“I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth”) before he had any children (Gen. 13:16; 15:5) and it was repeated (Gen. 28:14). Isaac and Jacob were given similar promises and Moses recorded them (Gen. 26:4; 32:12; Ex. 32:13). And its fulfilment was confirmed by the writer of Hebrews: “And so from this one man, and he as good as dead (he was childless at 99 years of age), came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” (Heb. 11:12).

The Bible says that the Israelite population grew rapidly in Egypt (Ex. 1:7-12). Moses wrote that the promise was fulfilled when they were about to enter Canaan (Dt. 1:10; 10:22; 28:62). “The Lord your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Dt. 1:10). As there were about 600,000 men in the exodus, their population would have been at least 2 million (Ex. 12:37; 38:26). This shows that God keeps His promises.

The statement, “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” was probably a metaphor or simile for a very large number. Apparently about 1,000 stars could be seen in the night sky in ancient times. But from the light in the night sky it is clear that there were more stars than this. The Bible says that although we can’t count all the stars, God can (Gen. 15:5; Ps. 147:4). Likewise for the grains of sand on the sea shore and the dust of the earth. In the ancient world these were symbols and illustrations of very big numbers. And modern science has verified that these are indeed very big numbers. In Abraham’s case they were symbols and illustrations of a large number of descendants.

For example the sand on the sea shore is used as a hyperbole for a large number (Gen. 41:49; Josh. 11:4; Jud. 7:12; 1 Sam. 13:5; 2 Sam. 17:11; 1 Ki. 4:20; Ps. 78:27; 139:18; Is. 10:22; 48:19; Jer. 15:8; Hos. 1:10; Hab. 1:9; Rom. 9:27; Rev. 20:8) or for something that is beyond measure (1 Ki. 4:49; Job 6:3).

We have seen that although the promise wasn’t fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime, it was fulfilled at a later date. Likewise God has given Christians promises that He will fulfill after our lifetime. For example, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:17-18). Also, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). This means that although we suffer in life, we are promised a glorious inheritance. Something fantastic is coming. There is a contrast between present suffering and future glory. The glory outweighs the suffering and it’s eternal instead of temporary. Like Abraham, we don’t see any evidence of this future glory now, but it’s assured.

Focusing on this promise helps us get through suffering and difficult times without giving up in despair. Then we can live in a way that glorifies God.

We have seen that God keeps His promises. Because He kept His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He will also keep this promise to His followers today.

Written, August 2015


From the cross to the crown

Suffering comes before glory

At Easter we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, events unique to the Christian faith. In this article we will look at what happened after His resurrection, and at four contrasts between His death and heavenly reign.

After the resurrection

After Christ’s resurrection, He appeared to His followers over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3). Then “He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God” (Mk. 16:19 niv). Luke reported, “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11). The disciples were given a promise by two angels that in the future Jesus would return to earth in an event as spectacular as His ascension.

The Bible says repeatedly that Jesus Christ is now at God’s “right hand” – a place of honor, power, dominion and authority. His exalted position was noted by Peter (Acts 2:32-33a; 5:30-31; 1 Pt. 3:21-22), seen by Stephen (Acts 7:55-56) and mentioned in Hebrews (Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). Paul added that Christ is above all other powers (Eph. 1:20-21) and that while He is at the right hand of God, He intercedes with the Father on our behalf (Rom. 8:34). Furthermore, believers will reign with the Lord in His coming kingdom: “I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

People sometimes say this was the greatest comeback since Lazarus because Lazarus came back from the dead, but died again because he was still mortal. But the resurrected Lord had a redeemed immortal body. He was the first to be resurrected to eternal life (1 Cor. 15:23). His was a different resurrection because He ascended into heaven to live forever. That’s a much greater comeback than Lazarus. In fact, Jesus went from the lowest place on earth, where He endured the suffering and humiliation of execution as a criminal, to the highest place in heaven, where He reigns over all creation. What a contrast!

Different crowns

Two types of crown are mentioned in the New Testament: a garland worn by a victorious athlete, and a diadem worn by royalty that symbolized the power to reign. Both of these crowns are used in the Bible to describe Jesus. Crowns are also mentioned in respect to His cross and reign.

Crown of thorns. Humanity, by way of the Roman soldiers, gave Christ the crown of thorns (Mt. 27:27-31; Mk. 15:16-20; Jn. 19:2-5), a purple robe and a staff in a mock coronation of the “king of the Jews.” Thorns are a product of the curse, which was God’s judgment on humanity’s fall into sinful behavior (Gen. 3:17-19). In Genesis thorns are associated with sin, struggle, sweat and death. At the cross, Christ had a symbol of the curse on His head.

Crown of glory. “We … see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). He was lower than the angels for 33 years. At His death He was the lowest of humanity, executed as a criminal. He came down to the cross and the grave. Now He is crowned with glory and honor, His exaltation a result of His suffering. The cross led to the crown. His glory was the reward of His suffering (Heb. 2:9; Phil. 2:7-9; Rev. 5:12). Seeing Jesus in His glory will give us great joy (Jn. 17:5,24).

Jesus prayed, “I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began” (Jn. 17:4-5). Before He came to earth, He lived with the Father in heaven and reigned over all creation as the Creator. He regained this when He ascended, but gained the additional glory of being the Redeemer of the fallen creation. So, at the cross, He was given the crown of thorns, but when He ascended to heaven, He was given the crown of glory.

Different companions

Christ was crucified between two criminals (Mt. 27:38). It was a shameful death and a time of much grief and sorrow (Lk. 23:27-28,48). However, before going to the cross He prayed, “Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory” (Jn. 17:24). At the cross He was in the company of criminals, but in heaven He is in the company of the redeemed and of angels (Rev. 5:11-12).

Different comings of Christ

The Lord was here once, and He’s coming again – the invisible God visibly present on earth. The purpose for His first coming was to die on the cross for sinners like us; to be a sacrifice. The purpose for His second coming will be to reveal His great power and glory (Mt. 24:30; 2 Th. 2:8; Rev. 1:7). It is the most prophesied event in the Bible. At that time, He will wear the crown of authority, dominion, government and sovereignty, judge all evil and set up His kingdom on earth. That is when all the wrongs done on earth will be made right, all crime will end, and justice will prevail.

In His first coming the Lord entered Jerusalem on a donkey. In His second coming He will be on a war horse: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns” (Rev. 19:11-12). His supremacy is emphasized by His wearing “many crowns.”

Suffering before glory

Although Christ’s suffering and glory were both foretold in the Old Testament, their relationship was not obvious at that time. Psalm 22:1-21 describes the Lord’s suffering. For example, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are you so far from saving Me, so far from My cries of anguish?” was spoken at the cross (Ps. 22:1; Mt. 27:46). Psalm 22:22-31 describe His millennial reign over the earth. For example, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and He rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:26-27). We see in the same passage the cross and the crown; the suffering and the glory.

Likewise, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isa. 9:6) describes Christ’s first coming which led to the cross, while the rest of this verse and the next describes the millennial kingdom established after His second coming: “And the government will be on His shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” Once again we see in the same passage the cross and the crown; the suffering and the glory. Other references to the Lord’s suffering and reign are Isaiah 53 and Psalm 110.

Christ’s cross and crown are keys to understanding the Bible. And aspects of His sacrifice and death for sinners, and His kingdom and future glory can be seen in many passages of Scripture. “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:10-11). The Old Testament prophets predicted the Lord’s sufferings and the glories that would follow, but they didn’t know that there would be thousands of years between these events.

Christ’s mission was to go to the cross to die for our sin. Now, having paid the price for sin, He is highly exalted at God’s right hand and will come again as King of kings and Lord of lords. His cross had to precede His crown: “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! 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. 2:8-11).

Lessons for us

Jesus went from the lowest place on earth (the cross) to the highest place in heaven where He reigns over all creation. What a change there is between His two comings to earth – from crown of thorns to crown of glory, from criminal to the redeemed, from death to dominion, and from suffering to glory.

Because Jesus endured the cross, He now wears the crown and we can have the assurance of eternal life with Him in heaven. For Jesus, suffering had to precede glory. The New Testament pattern of suffering followed by glory applies to us as well: believers suffer now, but will be released into the glory of immortal bodies at the resurrection (Rom. 8:16-25; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Like the Lord, believers must be willing to suffer and lose their lives for His sake (Lk. 9:23).

Paul wrote, “if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:17-18). Meanwhile, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

The Biblical pattern is that suffering in this life will lead to an inheritance of eternal glory. We should not be focusing on our present physical situation, but be looking ahead. We are not promised a trouble-free life; in fact the opposite is the case because Jesus tells us that trouble is inevitable (Jn. 16:33). Look at His life as an example, and focus on the One who went to the cross and who now wears the crown.

Published, April 2012

See the other article in this series:
From the Cradle to the Cross


The awe of God

The heavens declare the glory of God!

These notes were prepared for a presentation to be shown to High School students in New South Wales, Australia.

Academic qualifications

I have a Bachelor of Science with first class honours (BSc Hons) in Physics from the University of Sydney, and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Environmental Science from Macquarie University.

What is the meaning of the word “creation”?

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, the word “creation” is a noun meaning “that which is created”; or more specifically “the world”; or “the universe”. It describes something that has been created or made or an original work. In this presentation, we will use the word “creation” to describe “nature” or “the world” or “the universe”.

The word “creation” was used in the Bible by Paul to mean the universe: “Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:20-22NLT).

We live in a creative world. People are very creative. For example, artists create works of art, architects create buildings, inventors create inventions, engineers create machines, and authors create novels. Here the creations are works of art, buildings, machines, and novels. Even animals are creative. They make sounds to communicate with each other and make homes such as nests and holes in the ground.

The creative process involves two nouns and one verb:

  • The creator – someone or something who creates
  • The creation – what has been brought into existence. It’s something new. Something that had a beginning.
  • To create – is the action to bring something into existence.

In this process, the creator is the cause and the creation is the effect. Did you know that we live in a cause and effect universe? For every effect there is a cause. Likewise, for every creation there is a creator. The creation begins in the mind of the creator. As illustrated by the examples given above, the creator is always more intelligent than the creation (except in the case of biological offspring, where God is the real creator of a person’s DNA).

Why is it important to study creation?

As mentioned above, “creation” is “nature” or “the world” or “the universe”. We rely on creation for much of our health and well being. It is our life support system It provides the resources we use for: supplying food and water, which are essential for life; supplying energy; making buildings and transport systems, and supplying raw materials for the things we manufacture.

These resources include: animals on the land and in the water; plants, including forests; soils; and minerals and fossil fuels. We would die if all our plants and animals became extinct.

As we didn’t create any of these raw materials, we don’t know everything about them. Researchers study creation in order to understand how it works. They also study our bodies in order to keep healthy and treat injury and disease.

I hope the students watching this presentation learn more about creation in their studies. Maybe in future they can improve the knowledge of creation through research and investigations and apply it to the benefit of humanity.

As the pinnacle of God’s creation, people are given the responsibility to care for the rest of creation – the first man was told to:

  • “Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground” (Gen 1:26), and
  • “to tend and watch over” the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15).

This involves the management of earth’s resources for the benefit of everyone.

Couldn’t the universe have been created by chance?

Could Windows7 have been created by chance? Obviously no! As the universe is more complex than Windows7, it couldn’t have been created by chance either.

Everything which has a beginning has a cause. As the universe has a beginning, it has a cause. As the universe is a creation, it has a creator. What sort of creator is required? Could it have been due to chance such as a random event or random process?

Our world is made up of physical and non-physical components. The physical components (matter and energy) cannot produce the non-physical components. For example, information, such as the code stored in the DNA and RNA of all forms of life, is a non-physical message. The only source of such information is an intelligent creator. How much intelligence is required?

For the following reasons, the creator of the universe is more intelligent than modern scientists!

  • Plants make food and oxygen from sunlight and water in the process of photosynthesis. But scientists are unable to do this (Sarfati, p. 125). So the creator of plant life is more intelligent than modern scientists!
  • The information in the human genome is wonderfully complex. The DNA sequence in each cell of our bodies is made up of about 3 billion pairs of molecules. Scientists certainly can’t make life. They can’t even manufacture a single living cell such as an amoeba. That’s why they use stem cells in their research. So the Creator of life on earth is more intelligent than modern scientists!

The complex design of our world requires a Designer. The information in the genetic code requires a source. Complex creation, design and information can’t occur by chance. That would be like a computer that occurred by chance and we all know that doesn’t happen. Instead what happens is that computers break down, they devolve. Likewise instead of getting more complex with time, the natural world is devolving, extinction is evident, not evolution. Did you now that most mutations involve a loss or corruption of genetic information? They are malfunctions that can cause illness such as cystic fibrosis.

This means the answer to the question is “no”, the universe could not have been created by chance. Chance cannot produce the complexity of our world. By the way, nothing can create itself, because that would mean that it existed before it came into existence, which is nonsense!

So the creation demonstrates that there must be a powerful creator, who we call God. David knew this 3,000 years ago when he sang, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.” (Ps. 19:1). This means that God’s existence can be inferred from nature, which is His creation.

How would you describe the creativity of God in creation?

The creativity shown in creation is enormous. Think of:

  • The vastness of the galaxies.
  • The grandeur of mountains
  • The structure of the atom
  • The enormous range in types of animals and plants.
  • The enormous diversity within each type of animal and plant.
  • The complexity of the design of each animal and plant
  • The range of the behaviour of each plant and animal
  • The range of ecological habitats across the world
  • The coordination between the plants and animals in every habitat
  • The complexity of a single living cell
  • The coordination between all the organs of the body
  • The beauty of a flower
  • Even the range of colours.

Creation is loaded with creativity. The Creator is a supreme architect, engineer and computer programmer in one being.

God is so creative that inventors copy things they see in creation. For example:

  • Aircraft were developed by copying the flight of birds.
  • The design of the human eye has been copied in the design of the optics of cameras (Sarfati, p. 31).
  • The iridescent blues in butterflies & birds are due to a natural diffraction grating, which has been copied to design for brighter and deeper colours (Sarfati, p. 53).

However, we need to realise that the creation has been corrupted since it was created. We can learn about this from the Bible which has been given to us by God who told its authors what to write. The Bible says that the original creation was perfect (“very good”), but this was spoilt when people rebelled against God. At this time, suffering, crime, disease, death and tragedy were introduced. When people say, “how could a loving God create such a world?”, they show their ignorance of the history of our world. He didn’t create it that way in the beginning.

So although God’s creativity is still evident, creation is marred by natural disasters, mismanagement, pollution and extinction.

Does religion fear science?

Christians believe that God the Creator has revealed Himself to us in the words of the Bible. The bible contains the history and destiny of humanity. It is a unique book.

As Christianity inspired and fostered the development of science, it does not fear true science. During the Reformation people interpreted Scripture in a historical-grammatical fashion. They believed that a rational God ruled the universe and realised that Adam had been told to “tend” or “take care” of creation (Gen. 2:15), which lead to scientific research, exploration and discovery.

Operational science studies the creation in order to understand how it works. If science stays within the bounds of the experimental method, there is no conflict with Scripture. However, if scientists extrapolate outside the range of their observations, their predictions become more speculative. Such predictions are not robust. For example, when scientists make statements about the origin of life many years ago, these cannot be proved because they are in the area of history, not operational science. How can you do an experiment about something that cannot be observed?

The facts of science do not change, but the theories proposed to explain these do change. This is because human knowledge is not perfect. In this sense, scientific theories are tentative.

Each year scientists reveal more detail about creation; but each discovery just leads to more questions and things to investigate. So science can reveal more about God’s creativity. As the existence of God is revealed in a general way in creation, by studying the wonders of creation, science can help to demonstrate His immense intelligence and power.

However, Christians do not agree with the philosophy of materialism/naturalism (that nature is all there is). Note, information is not material. This belief is contrary to Scripture – it ignores the Creator: “They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created (creation) instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!” (Rom. 1:25).

Does creation reveal God’s perfect love for humanity?

As people care about what happens to their creations, so God cares for His creation. For example:

  • He has provided all the resources we need for survival. Creation is our life support system.
  • He saw that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The original creation showed God’s perfect love for humanity.
  • He continues to sustain the creation: “You care for people and animals alike, O Lord” (Ps. 36:6). He cares for people, animals, birds and fish.

Furthermore:

  • “He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Mt. 5:45).
  • “He sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts”  (Acts 14:17).
  • “All the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine” (Ps. 50:10-11).
  • “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Mt. 10:29-31). The God cares for the sparrows, and He cares more for people.

So the powerful, loving and personal Creator God is engaged with His creation.

However, we also need to take into account the fact that creation has been impacted by people’s rebellion against God. Creation can be cruel. Balance the perfect and the corrupted. “Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:20-22). In this passage Creation is personified. Like a pregnant mother, it looks forward to being delivered from suffering, disease and death.

Does God take pleasure in His creation?  And if so, why does He?

As people take pleasure in their creations, so God takes pleasure in His creation.

During the week of creation God paused five times and noted that “it was good” (Gen. 1:4, 12, 18, 21, 25). Then when it was finished: “God looked over all He had made, and he saw that it was very good!” (Gen. 1:31). It sounds like He was pleased with what He had made.

Psalm 104 is about the God of creation. It says, “The Lord takes pleasure in all He has made!” (Ps. 104:31). A reason for being pleased is that the creation shows God’s power and wisdom: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display His craftsmanship” (Ps. 19:1).

Reference

Jonathan Sarfati (2008) “By Design – Evidence of nature’s Intelligent Designer – the God of the Bible”, Creation Book Publishers.

Written, November 2009


A Look at Second Thessalonians. Part 1: Encouragement during trials and suffering

Suffering and Glory

God allows Christians to go through trials, suffering and persecution. How can we cope in such tough times? Paul gives an answer in 2 Thessalonians 1.

Paul visited Thessalonica for a short time and in response to his preaching a church was established. After he left, he wrote them the letter of 1 Thessalonians. Have you ever explained something to someone and find the need to repeat it soon after? Well Paul also had this experience. Paul saw a need to encourage the believers in Thessalonica as they were still being persecuted. Some of them thought the tribulation described in Revelation had already arrived and some had stopped working. As Paul didn’t have telephone or e-mail, he wrote them another letter.

The Source of Strength

“Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th. 1:1-2NIV).

The introduction is similar to that for the first letter to the Thessalonians. It mentions the writer, the recipients and an opening greeting. Silas and Timothy were with Paul when he wrote this letter from Corinth. It was written to the “ekklessia”. As the Greek word “ekklessia” could mean any gathering of people, Paul described his readers as being believers at the city of Thessalonica. He needed to do this as elsewhere this word was used to describe a group of Jews, a riotous mob and a local governing body (Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 41).

The word “in” emphasises the close relationship that believers have with the Father and the Son—this is our primary relationship. The word “from” indicates that this relationship is the source of “grace” and “peace”.

Paul mentioned “grace” and “peace” in the introduction of 12 of his New Testament letters. The fact that they come from God the Father and God the Son implies equality between these members of the Godhead. In this context, “grace” means “to be in favor with”. Paul wanted the Thessalonians to be in favor with God and to have the peace that flows from this. He knew that God “shows favor to the humble and oppressed” (Prov. 3:34; Jas. 4:6). Of course peace is one’s desire in times of suffering and persecution.

In this letter, Paul used the full title “Lord Jesus Christ” on 50% of the occasions when he referred to God the Son. This is a high proportion compared to 29% for 1 Thessalonians, 13% for Acts to Revelation.

Thanksgiving

“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring” (2 Th. 1:3-4).

Paul’s prayers that their faith and love would grow had been answered (1 Th. 3:10, 12). Therefore he kept on thanking God for his spiritual children. Faith is Godward and love is towards one another. Faith keeps us in contact with God and this leads to love for one another. In the first letter faith, love and hope are mentioned together, but here “hope” is left out maybe because they needed correction concerning the second coming of the Lord (1 Th. 1:3; 5:8). Their hope was not clear. So Paul writes to correct the situation

They were doing so well that Paul boasted about their spiritual progress to other churches. Despite tough times of persecution and trial, their faith remained strong. By mentioning this in the letter, Paul is affirming their faith, love and perseverance.

Punishment and Relief

“All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well” (2 Th. 1:5-7a).

Their endurance in the face of persecution was evidence that God was at work among them! They were being persecuted because of their Christian faith, but God knew that they could bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). People who are under pressure give up easily unless something is strengthening them. God provided strength so they could endure their suffering and persecution. In fact, Christians can rejoice in suffering because it produces character and maturity (Rom 5:3-4; Jas. 1:2-4).

Paul points out three things about their suffering. First, it showed they were “worthy of the kingdom of God”. They had been made worthy by faith in Christ and this was evident in their endurance under suffering. The pattern is one of suffering followed by future glory. It is the same one that Jesus followed. The Old Testament prophets predicted; “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:11), but they didn’t understand that these events would be separated by at least 1,900 years. The Jews expected the Messiah to come in great power and glory, but instead He came in a humble way and suffered greatly. Whereas at His future appearing He will come in great power and glory. This pattern also applies to believers: Paul wrote: “… if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:17-18).

Second, their suffering showed that their persecutors deserved to be judged. Because God is just, He will punish the persecutors—“He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you”. The Greek word translated “trouble” in v.6 means to suffer due to the pressure of circumstances or under antagonism (Vine). We know that God judges unrepentant sinners, both on earth when He “gives them over” to suffer the consequences of their sins (Rom. 1:24,26,28) and at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15).

Third, their suffering showed that they deserved relief for their undeserved persecution. Because God is just, the punishment will be balanced with relief for the Thessalonians and Paul and his colleagues who were suffering as well. The Greek word translated “relief” means relief from persecution.

When will this all happen?

The Appearing

“This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you” (2 Th. 1:7b-10).

It will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven. Christ is now hidden and many people even deny His existence. But when He appears visibly, He will be seen by all, so that no one will be able to deny or avoid Him.

When will the Lord Jesus be “revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels”? As this hasn’t happened in the last 1,900 years, it is still future. Obviously, it’s a reference to the second coming. When Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, two angels said, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The second coming of the Lord is a series of events over a period of time. In fact there are two main comings, the rapture when Christ returns to the air to take all believers, both dead and alive, to be with Him in heaven (1 Th. 4:13-17) and the appearing when He returns to the earth in great power and glory to remove unbelievers for judgement (Rev 19:1-21).

The timing of these events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation: firstly the church is on earth (Rev. 2-3); then church in is heaven, which implies that the rapture has occurred between chapters 3 and 4 (Rev. 4-5); then there is tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18); which is followed by  the appearing (Rev. 19:11-21); and then the millennium (Rev. 20:1-10); and finally the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21-22).

Further evidence that the rapture and the appearing are separate events is shown by their relationship to the tribulation. Christians are said to be “saved from God’s wrath” (Rom. 5:9) and kept from “the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10); for “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:9). Of course, God’s “wrath” may refer to the tribulation (Rev. 6:16-17; 14:9-10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19) or to His eternal punishment of unbelievers. According to 1 Th. 5:9, the context is the tribulation. This is consistent with the rapture occurring before the tribulation—believers will be in heaven while the tribulation is occurring on the earth. This understanding is known as the pre-tribulation rapture.

On the other hand, the appearing occurs at the end of the tribulation. The tribulation is described in Matthew 24:3-28, and then the appearing in v.29-31. It is a time of awesome power and punishment of Christ’s enemies (Is. 66:15-16; Rev. 1:7).

When Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 10 about when this will happen, he means when it will be visible to all. From the story of the rich man and Lazarus we know that when a believer dies they obtain relief and all their suffering and persecution has ended—they are with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). So, after death, believers enjoy relief in heaven, while unbelievers suffer in hades.

Two classes are marked for punishment. First, “those who do not know God” – these have rejected the knowledge of the true God that is revealed to everyone through creation and conscience (Rom 1:19-20; 2:12-16). Of course, they may never have heard the gospel. But God has revealed Himself clearly to everyone that He is God. He is in charge of the world. Second, those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” – these have heard the gospel of salvation through a relationship with Jesus Christ, but sadly they have rejected it.

These people are punished because God’s justice demands punishment for sin. The punishment is “everlasting destruction”, which means eternal ruin; and being “shut out from the presence of the Lord”, which means without Him forever. They will reap the consequence of their choice to ignore God.

The appearing will be a time of great glory and amazement. The Lord Jesus will be glorified and the spectators (those saved during the tribulation) will be amazed at what God has done in the salvation of believers—“glorified in His holy people”. This will include the Thessalonian believers, because they believed Paul’s testimony to them. Paul also described this elsewhere: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Rom. 8:18-19).

God will reveal to the world what He has been doing with His people through all these years. So, not only is Jesus Christ revealed, but His followers will be revealed as well.

Paul’s Prayer

“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th. 1:11-12).

Paul prays that the believers may live lives that are worthy of their calling to participate in the appearing and to reign in the millennial kingdom. He asks for God’s power to enable them to obey every desire to do good and to carry out every deed prompted by faith. Here we see that God prompts such desires and deeds. When God answered this prayer, they were faithful ambassadors for Christ; bringing Him glory through their lives. Because of their relationship with Christ, the Thessalonians will also share in Christ’s glory.

Lessons for us

These are also difficult days and some are going through tough times. Let’s remember how Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to persevere at such times. Our primary relationship is with the Father and the Son; they are the source of grace and peace and endurance. Be encouraged that if you hold out against the pressures and temptations of this life it is evident that God is at work in your life in developing character and maturity.

Like the Thessalonians, we can be so occupied with suffering or persecution that we forget about our hope for the future. Do we have a clear view of what we are waiting for? Present suffering will be replaced by glory in future. Do we have a vision of the rapture and the appearing? There will be great power and glory when the Lord and His followers are revealed for all to see. It will be amazing, much more spectacular than the New Years fireworks show.

We can help believers who are going through tough times of trials, suffering or persecution by reminding them that in future things will be set right and the truth will be evident to all. Be encouraged that God is going to punish the persecutors and those guilty of wicked deeds. There will be retribution. Give them a reality check. Help them see the big picture; the eternal perspective. Remind them that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”. This helps them to cope.

Written, April 2007

See the next article in this series: Standing firm against false teachings
Also see summary of 2 Thessalonians: Don’t be deceived