The National Geographic Channel is screening a documentary series “The story of God with Morgan Freeman”. It asks big cosmological questions like; How did we get here? What happens when we die? Why does evil exist? What is the apocalypse? And, the power of miracles. The series blends science, history, anthropology and personal experience on a journey to understand humanity’s religious devotion. It tells the story of religion and spirituality, across disciplines and faiths.
Freeman played God in the movie “Bruce Almighty”. When asked about his picture of God, Freeman said, “I don’t think there is an image of God. I like the idea of rays coming down from clouds. I like the idea of seeing the Milky Way on a clear and starry night or under a full moon. That is the essence of existence. You’re there totally with the great unknown. That’s God”. Also, “The highest power is the human mind. That’s where God came from, and my belief in God is my belief in myself”.
Many people are aware of a spiritual dimension to life. They may sense a divine higher being that provides meaning and purpose and moral guidance. Or they may realize that their capacity for thinking, willing and feeling is beyond the physical realm. The fact that we need to find meaning and purpose in our lives means that we are spiritual beings.
A Google search on “spiritual answers” gives a range of responses including those based on, meditation, yoga, Christianity, Hinduism, Mormonism, psychics, mysticism, and higher consciousness. Some say that all religions lead to God and heaven. But, according to the Bible that’s not true.
True and false
When Jesus was in Sychar, He asked a Samaritan woman for water to drink from the well. In their conversation Jesus mentioned her previous five husbands. She responded by calling him a prophet and discussing places of worship. Then Jesus said, “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:21-22NIV). The Samaritan Bible contained only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Samaritans worshipped the true God, but their failure to accept much of His revelation meant that they knew little about Him. They mixed the law of Moses with idolatry and built a temple on Mount Gerizim. Consequently, Jesus condemned their ways of worship and spiritual practices, which must have been inconsistent with the Old Testament (the Bible at that time). He corrected her by saying that God’s revelation in Scripture came through the Jews (their Scripture taught that a Messiah was coming into the world) and the Messiah (who was talking to her) was Jewish.
Jesus is saying that God can now be worshipped in any place. In the Old Testament the Israelites were to worship God at the tabernacle (as it moved from Sinai to Canaan) or at the temple (in Jerusalem). But after Jesus came, there’s no one special place to worship God. Instead, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). We can worship God anywhere. And corporate worship is possible wherever Christians gather together. Also, Jesus said that He was metaphorically the new temple, the new meeting place with God – “Destroy this temple (His body), and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19).
Then Jesus said that because God is spirit, people must worship God “in the Spirit and in truth” – “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (Jn. 4:23-24).
Because truth is associated with Jesus Christ, true worship must include Jesus (Jn. 1:14; 14:6). Jesus is “full of grace and truth”. And He’s “the way and the truth and the life”. So there is true worship and false worship. There is true religion and false religion. There is true spirituality and false spirituality. This is how to test spiritual answers. Because the Samaritan worship didn’t include Jesus (as Messiah), it was a false worship. A false religion. Jesus said, “Whoever rejects me rejects Him who sent me (Lk. 10:16). If you reject Jesus, you reject the true God. This means that Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and any other religion or philosophy that does not accept Jesus as the divine Savior of the world who came to die for sinners and rise again and become the Mediator between God and humanity is false. The Bible says that only one religion leads to God and heaven – true Christianity. Despite our pluralistic, multicultural, relativistic and all-tolerant world, all other religions are false.
What about Morgan Freeman’s search around the world for spiritual answers? He said that “the great unknown” is God. Is this true or false? It’s false because God has revealed much more about Himself in the Bible. His search doesn’t include Jesus at all. And God is much more that our mind or our self-belief. What about all the religions and philosophies? All except Christianity as described in the Bible are false. They don’t include Jesus. Or if they do include Jesus, it’s not the Jesus described in the Bible.
Lessons for us
Don’t be like Morgan Freeman and look for spiritual answers in the wrong places. And the results of a Google search that don’t include Jesus as described in the Bible are wrong places.
It’s easy to be influenced by others. For example, the Israelites were influenced to worship the gods of other nations. Likewise, today we can be influenced by the news media, social media, academics, politicians, and movies. In fact, we can be influenced by anyone.
Let’s look in the Bible for our spiritual answers and not be swayed by the other false religions and philosophies.
Written, May 2016
Have 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
After 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.
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
Apple products are declared “obsolete” if they haven’t been manufactured for at least 7 years; and “vintage” if they haven’t been manufactured for at least 5 years. Spare parts and service isn’t available for all obsolete products and for most vintage products.
Today we will see that the Jewish temple is now obsolete. Because Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sin, we no longer need a temple where priests offer animal sacrifices. Instead of living in a special building, God now lives in His people. This means that congregations of people are more important than the buildings they use.
In about 1450 BC, the Hebrew tabernacle (a tent) was built in Sinai and transported to Canaan, where it was later superseded by the temple in Jerusalem. The first temple, completed by king Solomon in about 950 BC, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Babylonians were God’s agents in this judgment of Judah’s idolatry which was called “the day of the Lord” (Jer. 1:14-16; 4:5-17; 5:15-19; 9:11; 12:7-15; 19:3, 11; 21:3-7; Zeph. 1:1-18). The temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian exile by Zerubbabel in 538-515 BC. Later, king Herod renovated and expanded this temple, commencing in 19 BC (Jn. 2:20). It took 46 years to complete the main building and another 36 years to finish the entire Temple complex.
The house of the Lord
The term “the house of the Lord” (Strongs #1004 #3068) appears about 221 times in the Old Testament. It meant a place of worship such as the tabernacle and the temple. The following verses show that it’s synonymous with the “temple” (#1964) of the Lord.
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple” (Ps. 27:4NIV).
“He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men” (Ezek. 8:16).
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’ This is also what the prophets said who were present when the foundation was laid for the house of the Lord Almighty.” (Zech. 8:9).
The tabernacle/temple was a place for God to live amongst His people the Israelites (Ex. 25:8-9; 29:45-46; 2 Chron. 6:2; Isa. 8:18). God’s presence was shown by the cloud above them (Ex. 40: 34-38; 1 Ki. 8:10-11). Although Solomon said that God lived in the temple, he knew that God wasn’t restricted to one place (1 Ki. 8:13, 27). Before the end of the first temple, Ezekiel had a vision of God’s glory departing from the temple because of the people’s idolatry (Ezek. 8-10).
The tabernacle/temple was where the Jews offered sacrifices to God (Lev. 1:1 – 7:27) and celebrated their festivals, particularly the Passover, Pentecost and the Tabernacles (Dt. 16:16). On such an occasion David said, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” (Ps. 122:1).
After Solomon finished the first temple, God said that if the Israelites turned away from obeying the Lord, then “this temple will become a heap of rubble” (1 Ki. 9:8; 2 Chron. 7:21). And the temple was destroyed for this reason in 586 BC. While Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple, Daniel predicted that it would be destroyed likewise after the Anointed One (Christ) was put to death (Dan. 9:26).
The fact that the curtain of Herod’s temple was torn in two when Christ died symbolized that His death opened new access to God (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). Priests and animal sacrifices were no longer required. Although the temple was now obsolete, the Jews kept offering animal sacrifices. But God put an end to this when Herod’s temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 (like he used the Babylonians to destroy Solomon’s temple in 586 BC) and it wasn’t rebuilt. These two destructions both occurred on the 9th day of Av (5th month in the Hebrew calendar; which is in July-August in the modern calendar)! As predicted by Jesus, Herod’s grand temple was completely dismantled (Mt. 23:38; 24:2; Mk. 13:2; Lk. 13:35; 19:44; 21:6, 20-24).
God’s house today
What is the “house of God today”? The Bible says that God doesn’t live in a building (Acts 7:48; 17:24). Instead the Christian congregation (church) is said to be “God’s temple”; “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16NLT). In this figure of speech, the collective body of believers is like the temple. In a similar metaphor, they are said to be a “spiritual house” (1 Pt. 2:5).
“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are His house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory” (Heb 3:6). Here the writer explains what God’s house is today. It is made up of all true believers in Christ. Their endurance in the faith (holding firmly to their “confidence” and “hope”) shows the reality of their faith. Those who don’t endure aren’t true believers (Heb. 3:7-19).
As Christ is the head of the church, He is the leader of the “house of God”. The book of Hebrews says He is metaphorically like a great high priest; “we have a great priest over the house of God” (Heb 10:21).
And each Christian’s body is a metaphorical temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). So Christians, individually and collectively, are the “house of God” today! What was a physical term in the Old Testament is now a metaphorical one.
Lessons for us
We have seen that God tore the temple curtain when Christ died and He used the Romans to destroy the temple in AD 70. Because Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sin, we no longer need a temple where priests offer animal sacrifices. So the Jewish temple is now obsolete. Instead of living in a special building, God now lives in His people. This means that congregations of people are more important than the buildings they use. So let’s keep the right balance between people and buildings.
Also, because the “house of the Lord” is no longer a building, we shouldn’t call a church building “the house of the Lord”. God’s people are the house of the Lord (God’s temple) today, whether they are aware of it or not!
Written, November 2015
Checklist in Hebrews 13
Before you climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge there’s a checklist that covers your: age, height, blood alcohol reading, pregnancy status, essential medication, and health. To climb the bridge, you need to satisfy all these requirements.
Today we are looking at a checklist given at the end of Hebrews that helps us to keep following Jesus and not turn back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.
Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being tempted to give up following Jesus and turn back to their Jewish religious customs. Hebrews tells them what God wanted them to know and to do. They were to know three things. First, that Jesus is greater than all their Jewish heroes like the prophets, angels, Moses, and the priests (Ch 1-10). Second, that following Jesus is like running in a marathon race (Ch 10-12). As athletes keep running through adversity, we can keep following Jesus through adversity by: focusing on God and Jesus; encouraging one another; and removing the obstacles that hinder us. Third, the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins (Ch. 1-12). Once they knew these truths the final chapter tells them what to do about it.
As Hebrews was probably written to a church about AD 68, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then.
Hebrews 13 begins with three outward things.
Love one another (v.1)
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.
The Greek noun used here is philadelphia (Strongs #5360), which is love among brothers and sisters in a family. It describes the connection and relationship that should be felt with all true Christians. Because God is now like our Father and we are like His children, all who have trusted in Him are like siblings in a spiritual family. That’s why we often call each other brothers and sisters. These metaphors should influence our thoughts and behavior towards each other. Paul wrote, “Be devoted to one another in love (philadelphia)” (Rom. 12:10NIV).
Do we feel the family connection with believers in our church? Do we feel the connection with other believers in our area? In our city? In our state? In our nation? In other nations across the world?
Practice hospitality (v.2)
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
The Greek noun translated “hospitality” (#5381) means friendliness shown to strangers. It’s providing them with food and shelter. The Bible also says “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” and “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pt. 4:9). Christians who were fleeing from persecution certainly needed hospitality. Jesus commended those who showed hospitality, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Mt. 25:35).
By showing hospitality, we can support God’s people and God’s servants. Abraham (Gen. 18:1-15), Lot (Gen. 19:1-17), Gideon (Jud. 6:11-24 and Samson’s father Manoah (Jud. 13:9-23) each showed hospitality to angels although they didn’t know who their visitors were at the time.
Do we show hospitality to Christians who are in need? Have we taken the initiative and invited them into our home? In this way we can share in their Christian lives and our family can benefit from the interaction. Do we show hospitality to non-Christians? Have we invited a non-Christian into our home over the past year? This can be a blessing to both families.
Practice empathy (v.3)
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Christians were imprisoned and mistreated during this time of persecution. Their colleagues were told to remember them in a particular way. The Greek text says “as being bound with them” in prison and “as also yourselves being in their body” when they are mistreated. This is empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Paul expressed it as, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Previously they had “stood side by side” with those who were persecuted and “suffered along with those in prison” (Heb. 10:33-34). Also, Jesus commended those who visited prisoners, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt. 25:36). Ancient prisons didn’t give prisoners any food, so visits from friends were essential.
Do we have empathy for Christians who are suffering? Can we imagine what it is like walking in their shoes?
Hebrews 13 then addresses two inward things.
Be sexually pure (v.4)
Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Before sin came into the world, God created marriage between a man and a woman. He wants us to hold it in high regard. On the other hand, the Bible says that sexual immorality is a sin against God (Gen. 39:9). Besides the problems it causes in this life, it brings God’s judgement unless one is pardoned through Christ’s death as our substitute.
A reason to honor marriage is because it is to be an example of the loving relationship between Christ and His bride the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Marriage is dishonoured by adultery and sexual immorality, which is having sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse. Sexual sin impacts one’s relationships, family and Christian witness. It has more influence on one’s life than other sins (1 Cor. 6:18). God’s people need to exercise self-control in this area. After all, one of the gifts of the Spirit is self-control.
How are we influenced by the loose sexual standards in society today? What about pornography? If we are married, are we faithful to our spouse?
Be contented (v.5-6)
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
These Christians were tempted to want more money and what it can buy. Paul used the same Greek adjective (#866) to say that a church elder shouldn’t be “a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3). He also learnt “to be content whatever the circumstances” and taught that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”, which brings griefs and causes people to wander from the Christian faith (Phil. 4:11-13; 1 Tim. 6:6-10). Instead they were to be content with what they had, which was Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Verse 5 quotes Moses at the end of his life telling the Israelites that God would help them possess the land of Canaan, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Dt. 31:6). This strong promise is the key to being freed from the love of money. It’s realizing that God is always with us; we’re never alone.
Verse 6 quotes the Israelites giving thanks to God for deliverance from their enemies “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The LORD is with me; He is my helper” (Ps. 118:6-7). Nothing can separate us from God and His love and His promise of eternal life. Likewise, Christians can trust God for their safety, protection and economic welfare. They shouldn’t fear financial loss or poverty. Instead trust God to take care of you.
If we believe the promise that the Lord is always with us and empowers us, then we will love one another, show hospitality and empathy, be sexually pure, and avoid the love of money.
Are we contented with what we have in life? Or are we discontent and influenced by materialism? Are we greedy? Are we afraid of the future? Or do we trust that the Lord is with us?
Hebrews 13 then looks at how we live our spiritual lives, beginning with a source of strength to live a Christian life like this.
Follow godly church leaders (v.7-8, 17)
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
They are given the example of godly church leaders to follow and imitate. In the past these leaders had taught them God’s word. The leaders kept following Jesus throughout their lives – they were faithful despite the difficulties, and they finished well. They didn’t go back to their previous Jewish ways of worship. That’s the kind of faith to follow and imitate.
These leaders’ teaching and faith was based on the fact that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v.8). This means that His character is the same, not that He does the same things in every age. As God, He has the same love, wisdom, righteousness, power, knowledge and plan. He never changes His mind because of unforeseen circumstances.
Church leaders are also mentioned in v.17.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
Church elders are to care for (“keep watch over”) the spiritual welfare of the congregation. Elders are accountable to God at the Judgment Seat of Christ for this pastoral care. This is serious business. They will be asked, what did you teach? How did you live? How did you care for the lonely, the suffering, and the disobedient?
The congregation is to respect, trust and follow such godly leaders (elders) because of the work they do. This gives them joy and the congregation benefits.
If we are an elder are we a godly example for the congregation? Are we keeping watch over them? Do we pray for them regularly? Are we interested in their spiritual growth? Are we ready to give an account of our time and effort used in this task? If we are in the congregation, do we respect the elders? Do we pray for them? Are we willing to let them take an interest in our spiritual growth?
Next they are urged not to return to the false teachings of Jewish legalism.
Follow Jesus (v.9-12)
Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat (v.9-10)
Holiness doesn’t come from following rituals and food laws, which were some of the false teachings they were being tempted to follow. Only God’s love and kindness shown to us by Jesus can empower believers to live holy lives through their relationship with God. It takes inner strength to live the Christian life as it is described in Hebrews 13.
Then it says “we have an altar”, which is a figure of speech (metonymy) for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Through it we can have forgiveness and hope. Instead of Jewish rituals and rules, we have Christ’s supreme sacrifice and the blessings it brings. All those involved with the Jewish religion had no right to the better things of Christianity (because they rejected Jesus as their Savior). They must first confess and repent of their sins and accept Him as Lord and Savior.
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood. (v.11-12)
Under the Jewish sacrificial system, certain animals were killed and their blood was brought into the most holy place of the temple by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin. The people’s sins were symbolically transferred to the sacrificial animal. The body of the animal was disposed of away from the temple (or “outside the camp”) (Ex. 29:14; Lev. 4:12, 21; 9:11; 16:14, 27). Likewise, Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem at a place where criminals (those rejected by society) were punished (Jn. 19:17). His death enabled us to have our sins forgiven so we can be holy before God. It says that God can make us holy through the death of Jesus (“His own blood” means His death).
Are we tempted like the Jewish Christians to go back to our old ways of life? To the things that occupied us before we changed to follow the Lord.
Because of Jesus, Christians don’t need to sacrifice animals. Instead they offer different sacrifices.
Suffering, praise and good works (v.13-16)
Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (v.13-14)
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (v.16-17)
Instead of offering sacrifices at Jerusalem, as Christians they were to offer three other kinds of sacrifices. The first is a sacrifice of suffering for Christ (v.13-14). Because Jesus suffered outside the city of Jerusalem to meet our need (v.12), Christians are urged to join Jesus in His sufferings (v.13). “The camp” represented their old Jewish religion centred at Jerusalem (for us it can mean our previous way of life before we followed Christ). The Jewish believers escaped from Jerusalem because they were persecuted and ridiculed by the Jewish religious leaders for following Jesus (Acts 8:1-4). They suffered insults and shame. As disciples of Christ they denied themselves, took up their cross and followed Him (Mk. 8:34). Likewise, to meet the needs of this world we need to leave our comforts and security. Instead of putting our efforts into building our lives in this world, which won’t endure; we should be putting them into heaven, which is everlasting.
The Jewish religion was centred on the city of Jerusalem. That’s where the temple was.
But Christians don’t have a special city on earth. Instead, they look ahead to the new Jerusalem (the coming city) where God and Jesus are enthroned (v.14). Unlike earthy cities, this city is permanent and secure. They long for heaven and its joy and eternal pleasures (Ps. 16:11). Because they are satisfied with all that God has done, they long to be with Him. They value the Creator above the creation. They’re only visiting this planet, it’s not their home.
The second is a sacrifice of words of praise offered to God through the Lord Jesus (v.15). It’s “through Jesus” because that’s the only way we can approach God (Heb. 7:25; 10:19-21). He’s our mediator. This is to be “continual” verbal praise, not just on Sunday. Every day of the week and in good times and bad times (Acts 16:23-25). It flows from our satisfaction with God and longing to be with Him (v.14). How can we creatively mention our faith in Jesus and God’s greatness and goodness in our conversations? Are our meetings God-centred?
The third is a sacrifice of good works (v.16). It says “to do good and to share with others” who are in need. This would include the things mentioned earlier in the chapter, such as using our time and possessions in loving one another, and showing hospitality and empathy. Living for others. Doing the good works that God has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10). Then a reason is given for doing this “for with such sacrifices God is pleased”. God is pleased with this sacrifice because when we live like this, we show that He is more valuable than the things of this world. If God is our treasure, we’ll serve Him by helping others instead of being devoted to the things of this world.
How do we rate on these sacrifices? Are we willing to suffer and be ridiculed because we are a Christian? What about moving outside our churches to evangelize our neighbourhoods, our cities, our nation and the nations of the world? Do we have a heart of praise? Do we live for others?
Up to now the book of Hebrews has been like a sermon, but it finishes like a letter.
Keep praying (v.18-19)
Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.
The writer appeals for their prayers. Because he says he has a clear conscience and desires to live honorably in every way, he may have been attacked by Jewish critics. As he also asks them to pray that he might be able to visit them soon, it seems as though he had been delayed. Perhaps he was in prison (v.23). Prayer is another way to seek God’s help to live a life that pleases Him.
Do we pray for others?
The writer now expresses his final desire and prayer for those he is writing to.
Recognize God’s work (v.20-21)
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
He calls God the “God of peace”, because through Jesus we can have peace with God. Our sins separate us from God, but through Jesus we can be reconciled and draw near to God.
The fact that Jesus was raised back to life after being in the tomb showed that His mission was accomplished – His death paid the penalty owing for the sin of humanity. Because of this we can share in God’s eternal covenant, which is also called the new covenant. A covenant is a promise, and because of what Jesus did, we know that God keeps His promises.
Jesus is called the “great Shepherd of the sheep”, which is a metaphor for a great leader of all the redeemed. Sheep need guiding to fresh pasture and protection from predators. Because He is alive, and because by His Spirit He is always with us, He can guide and protect those who follow Him.
His prayer was that God would give them the desire and resources to do His will and the power to carry it out (also see Phil. 2:13). Doing God’s will is what pleases Him. Then they could be faithful and keep following and serving Christ and have inner strength and faith to persevere to the end (Jer.32:40).
All this equipping believers and pleasing God is achieved “through Jesus Christ”. It’s the same explanation as given for how Paul learnt to be content in all circumstances: “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). That’s why Jesus deserves glory and praise for ever and ever.
Do we give Jesus glory, honor and praise as our great spiritual leader? Do we realize that God equips us and works in us? Are we like Paul whose goal was to please God (2 Cor. 5:9; Col. 1:10; 1 Th. 4:1)?
We have seen that an understanding of the greatness of Jesus, the importance of perseverance and the danger of unbelief needs to be expressed by loving one another; showing hospitality and empathy; sexual purity; avoiding the love of money; following Jesus and godly church leaders instead of false teachings; persevering in the Christian faith by accepting suffering, by continual praise and by doing good works; prayer; and by letting God work though us.
In 1935 a Boeing B-17 aircraft crashed when being evaluated by the US Army. The crash was caused by pilot error. When they realized that flying the plane was too complex to rely on the pilot’s memory, they developed checklists to make sure nothing was forgotten.
Let’s use this checklist in Hebrews 13 to keep following Jesus and not turning back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.
Written, May 2015
Also see summary of the book of Hebrews:
Never give up!
The Islamic State is killing minorities in Iraq and Syria who won’t convert to Islam. It’s genocide. Women and children are taken as sexual slaves. People are fleeing to save their lives. How would you feel in the face of this onslaught if you were one of the Turkmen, Shabaks, Yazidis or Christians? Terrified? Shocked in unbelief? Wanting to escape?
This article looks at the book of Zephaniah where the Jews are warned of an impending terrible destruction. We will see that, because of the sins of humanity, judgment is coming, but deliverance is promised for the repentant.
Zephaniah prophesised “during the reign of Josiah” (Zeph. 1:1NIV), who was king over Judah in 640 – 609 BC. At this time Judah was influenced by three foreign powers: Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. There was tension between these super powers for world supremacy (like between USA, Russia and China today). Power shifted from Assyria and Egypt to Babylonia when Assyria was conquered in 612BC and Egypt conquered in 605BC. These large nations dominated the smaller ones. Judah was a vassal state of Assyria during much of the 7th century BC. So Judah was a weak nation that was surrounded by many enemies.
Josiah’s father Amon and grandfather Manasseh were wicked kings who spread idolatry across Judah. They worshipped Baal, Asherah, and the stars and planets, with child sacrifice to Molech and ritual prostitution (2 Ki. 21:6-9; 2 Chr. 33:6-9). There was occultism and the righteous were martyred. Josiah turned back to God and repaired the temple, restoring temple worship in 622BC.
Zephaniah was part of a line of Old Testament prophets. He lived about 70 years after Isaiah and Micah and was a contemporary of Nahum and the young Jeremiah. He is recognised as the last pre-exilic prophet.
Before Zephaniah, Isaiah proclaimed God’s judgement and deliverance. He warned that Judah’s wickedness would be punished by the Babylonians. The judgment is called “the day of the Lord”. But they would be restored when the Messiah would reign. Micah also proclaimed God’s judgement and deliverance. He lists their sins, and predicts a ruler from Bethlehem and the restoration of a remnant. The main theme of these prophets was God’s judgment and God’s restoration of Judah. We will see that this is what Zephaniah prophesied as well. So he may have been already familiar with the content of his message from the earlier prophets.
During the time of Zephaniah, Nahum predicted the destruction of Nineveh, the largest city of the time. This would have been good news for Judah who had been threatened by Assyria since the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. It showed that God judges His enemies. At this time, Jeremiah (Ch. 1-38) denounced the sins of Judah. He predicted that because of these they would be defeated by the Babylonians and be exiled for 70 years. But he also predicted their restoration and life under the Messiah with a new covenant.
So, at the time when Zephaniah prophesised, the Judeans were threatened by foreign enemies. Idolatry and sinfulness were prevalent; they were no longer following the laws given to Moses. So Zephaniah warns them of the consequences of their behavior.
Apart from the first verse, the book of Zephaniah is poetry, not prose. It teems with figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, metonymy and synecdoche.
God is the central character. He is a God of action. At the beginning He is a merciless judge. But by the end he shows mercy and pardons people. Zephaniah is a humble spokesman: he speaks about God and not himself.
The story is that God wants Judah to serve Him. However, this is prevented by their sins.
Through “the day of the Lord”, Judah is restored to serve Him and they are joined by believing Gentiles.
The two main themes of Zephaniah are predictions of God’s judgment and God’s deliverance, which show His justice and mercy. Zephaniah mainly concerns the coming judgment and punishment of Judah and other nations because of their sinfulness (1:2-3:8). This is followed by the promised restoration of a Jewish remnant (3:9-20). So an imminent threat is balanced by the hope of ultimate deliverance.
Those who “have sinned against the Lord” (1:17) will be judged and those who obey and trust the Lord will be restored (2:3; 3:12). The themes of judgment and restoration are linked by a call to repentance (2:1-3).
Looking at these linkages shown in the schematic diagram, four major themes can be identified: Humanity’s sinfulness, God’s warning, God’s judgment, and God’s deliverance. We will now look at each of these in turn.
Zephaniah shows that human sinfulness is a universal problem; it affected both Judah and the other nations.
The sins of Judah included: idolatry (1:3, 4), syncretism (where the true God is worshipped through or alongside other gods) (1:5; 2 Ki. 17:41), apostasy (1:6), following foreign (pagan) customs and culture, which compromised their identity as God’s special people (1:8-9), violence (1:9), apathy and pride (1:12; 3:11), love of money (1:18), oppression (3:10), rebellion (3:10), self-sufficiency, unruliness and ungodliness (3:2), greedy and corrupt leaders (3:3-4, 7), lying and deceit (1:9; 3:13), and thinking that God doesn’t punish sins or reward repentance (1:12). They didn’t “seek the Lord” or “inquire of Him” via prayer or the Scriptures (1:6).
The sins of other nations included: pride (2:10, 15), self-sufficiency (2:15), and insulting, mocking and threatening God’s people (2:8, 10).
This sinfulness was the source and reason for God’s judgment. God had given His people standards to live by in the Mosaic law. So they should have known better.
Now we come to God’s response to their sins.
The prophets warned God’s people about the consequences of their sinfulness. They were breaking the covenant with their God. Instead of living like God’s people, they were living like pagans. They were breaking most of the ten commandments. The punishment for disobeying the covenant is given in the Pentateuch (Lev. 26:14-45; Dt. 28:15-68). It included being defeated by their enemies, having their cities besieged, plundered and destroyed and their people captured and scattered to other nations.
Zephaniah calls for repentance (2:3). There is deliverance for the humble who trust God. But Jerusalem is unrepentant (3:6-7). They didn’t learn from the mistakes of the northern kingdom about 100 years earlier that lead to them being captured by the Assyrians and destroyed as a nation.
So God is merciful: He warns His people of the consequences of their behavior. And we know that king Josiah did repent.
There are two possible responses to a warning. The first is to ignore it. Now we come to the major theme of God’s judgment.
Judgment is predicted for both Judah and other nations for their ongoing sinfulness.
First for the Jews. The “day of the Lord” is mentioned at least eleven times in the book of Zephaniah (1:7, 8, 9, 10, 14 (twice), 15, 18; 2: 2 (twice), 3). Each occurrence is associated with a message to Judah. According to the NET Bible the concept of “the day of the Lord” may have originated in the ancient Near Eastern idea of the sovereign’s day of conquest, where a king would boast that he had concluded an entire military campaign in a single day. In the Old Testament the phrase first appears in the book of Amos (Amos 5:18-20).
It is a time of great judgement. But when and where will it occur? The book begins with God declaring (1:2-3): “I will sweep away (“destroy” NET) everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. “I will sweep away both man and beast; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.
At the end of chapter 1, Zephaniah comments (1:18): “In the fire of His jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.”
So everything on the ground will be devastated. Where will it occur? It is clear from the next verse that both Judah and Jerusalem will be attacked (1:4). He calls it “the day of the Lord” (1:7, 14) and “the day of the Lord’s wrath” (1:18; 2:2). Jerusalem will be devastated (1:10-13) because of her sinfulness (3:1-5) and unrepentance (3:7).
But why does the NIV say the judgment is on “the face of the earth” (1:2, 3), “the whole earth” and “all who live on the earth” (1:18)? It seems to me that these phrases are translated poorly by most modern translations of the Bible. Click the link to see my reasons. A better translation is: “the land (of Judah)” (1:2, 3), “the whole land (of Judah)”, and “all who live on the land (of Judah) (1:18).
The judgment is directed to the unrepentant, those who don’t seek the Lord (1:6). Zephaniah gives three pictures of God’s judgement, “the day of the Lord”: a devastating flood (1:2-3), a great sacrifice (1:7-8), and a great battle (1:14-18).
As it described total destruction of living things and idols, yet there are survivors (a humble remnant), the description of the judgment seems to include hyperbole (1:2-3, 18b, 2:3; 3:11-13). Some resolve this dilemma by assuming that the verses on deliverance (3:9-20) were written after the time of Zephaniah. But this isn’t necessary because the combination of the themes of judgement, deliverance of a remnant and a new life of blessing for the faithful is an old as Noah’s flood. So the day of the Lord includes both punishment and purification. Zephaniah wasn’t just a prophet of doom, but of doom and hope. After all God is characterised by both justice (when he punishes sinners) and mercy (when he restores the repentant).
When will the judgment occur? “The great day of the Lord is near—near and coming quickly” (1:7, 14). It’s imminent. It describes the desolation after an army invades Judah and Jerusalem (1:4-18a). Nothing will be able to save the Judeans (1:18a). It will be “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (1:15). A time of wailing (1:11). This prediction was probably given at least 30 years before it was fulfilled when Babylonia invaded Jerusalem. That’s when the judgment was to occur. In the meantime, the purpose of the distress was so Judah would repent.
Secondly, judgment is also predicted as total destruction for nations around Judah. Philistia in the west (2:4-6), Moab and Ammon in the east (2:8-11), Egypt in the south (2:12) and Assyria in the north (2:13-15). As there is judgment in all directions, no one can escape. God also promised to judge all the wicked Gentiles (3:8). This is when other nations experience “the day of the Lord”. It was announced by Zephaniah to call Judah to repentance (3:6-7).
About 50 years later Ezekiel also prophesied the destruction of Ammon, Moab and Philistia (Ch. 25) (Assyria had already been invaded by the Babylonians). Ammon and Moab would be invaded by Babylonia. God would take vengeance on Philistia. Also, Egypt and its allies would be invaded by Babylonia (Ch 29-32). After this it was invaded by the Persians. So all these judgements occurred within 100 years of Zephaniah’s predictions.
God’s judgment in “the day of the Lord” shows that justice comes to all.
The other response to a warning is to take notice and change your behavior so as to avoid the consequences. Now we come to the other major theme of God’s deliverance.
Deliverance is predicted for both Judah and other nations.
First for the Jews. Believers would be protected during “the day of the Lord” (2:3). Then God promises to restore a Jewish remnant (2:7; 3:10-13, 18-20). Deliverance and salvation follow judgment. The scattered Jews will return to the land of Judah. They will seek the Lord, trust in Him, obey Him and be humble (2:3; 3:12). They will resume the temple offerings. Their enemies will be punished and there will be peace and honesty in their land. Shame and wickedness will cease (3:11-13). The Jews will be praised and honored around the world – praise and honor has replaced their shame. They will occupy Philistia, Moab and Ammon (2:7, 9c). This leads to joyful celebration in Jerusalem under God’s leadership (3:14-17). Singing has replaced their wailing (3:14), because the punishment has been taken away, the enemies turned back and God is with them (v.15). There is joy and singing in heaven as well (3:17). God “will rejoice over you with singing”.
When will the deliverance occur (Zeph. 3:10-20)? A Jewish remnant returned to Judah after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Although Gentiles called “on the name of the Lord” when they became Christians (Zeph. 3:9; Rom. 10:13), I don’t think that the deliverance described has been completed yet. Did Judah have peace (3:13)? After Jerusalem was rebuilt, Judea was ruled by the Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians and Romans. In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and in 134 AD the Romans attacked again and the Jews were killed, enslaved and dispersed to surrounding countries including Europe and North Africa. Since this time, Judea has been ruled by the Byzantine Empire, the Islamic Empire, the Crusaders, the Mamluk Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire. The Jews were persecuted and driven out of many regions culminating in the holocaust. Have the Jews been praised and honored in other lands (3:19-20)? It says “never again will you fear any harm” (3:15), yet Jerusalem, was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.
Secondly, redemption is also predicted for believing Gentiles. When God destroys Judah’s enemies (2:11): “Distant nations will bow down to Him, all of them in their own lands”. When they realise the awesomeness of God, they will repent and worship Him. They will also seek His help in prayer and serve Him (3:9). This has been fulfilled to some degree in the Christian church.
We have seen that Zephaniah told the Jews of the 7th century BC that because of humanity’s sinfulness, God will judge the Jews and the Gentiles in the “day of the Lord”. And God did judge them. But God is merciful. He warns them of their situation and their need to repent.
After this a Jewish remnant will be restored and they will worship Him as King of Israel.
So Zephaniah’s main themes are: Mankind’s sinfulness, God’s warning to repent, God’s judgment (the day of the Lord) for the unrepentant, and God’s deliverance for the repentant (the remnant). This is an example of “the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom. 11:22). These are two aspects of God’s character. The kindness is for those who repent, while the sternness is for the unrepentant.
The Jews should have known about these themes because they come from the Pentateuch. It contains rewards for obedience and punishment for disobedience. It also says if they confess their sins with humility, then God would remember their covenant (Lev. 26:40-45). So their repentance is the goal of their punishment. God wanted them to turn back to following Him once again.
Zephaniah also implies that God is the God of all nations. In those days each nation had their own gods. People were polytheistic. Here we see that Judah’s God is sovereign and supreme over other nations. He will destroy all the other gods (2:11). Therefore, He was sovereign and supreme over their gods. So the fact of one true God as expressed in the first two commandments is another theme of Zephaniah.
Furthermore, it implies that God intervenes in history (1:12). They thought He wouldn’t intervene, but God says He will search Jerusalem (2:11). So the fact that Judah’s God intervenes in human affairs and history is another theme of Zephaniah.
In order to apply Zephaniah’s prophecy to our modern world, we need to take of account of what God has revealed since then. Today we know that the New Testament teaches that because of humanity’s sinfulness, we all deserve God’s punishment. But God is merciful. In the Bible He warns us of our situation and our need to repent. Jesus took the punishment for us when He was crucified. Those who repent are redeemed to worship Him as their Lord.
When Paul addresses the sins of the self-righteous moralist, he writes “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5). So God warns people today of a coming judgment. Also, Peter warns that God’s final judgment of the universe is coming as “the day of the Lord” (2 Pt. 3:7-10). In the meantime, we are to be faithful followers of Christ (2 Pt. 3:11-14).
Even though it was written over 2,600 years ago, Zephaniah’s book is relevant to our times. We can apply the four main themes to ourselves. What are our sins? What are our gods? Are we apathetic? Are we materialistic? Are we selfish? How loyal are we to God? They had a choice. So do we. Will we confess and repent of our sins in order to maintain our relationship with the Lord? There is deliverance and salvation for the humble who trust in the death of Jesus Christ for their sins. Do we have the hope of heaven? The hope of a better time to come.
Because of the sins of humanity, judgment is coming; but deliverance and salvation is promised for the repentant.
Written, November 2014
Children grow up from infancy, to childhood, to adolescence and then to adulthood. At the beginning they are totally dependent on their parents and are not held accountable for their behavior. But as they grow up, they are trained to be responsible and accountable. The Bible teaches that everyone is answerable to God (Mt. 12:36-37; Rom. 3:19; Heb. 9:27). But when are children accountable to God?
The Bible says that both Christians and non-Christians are accountable to God. At the end of their lives, Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10NIV) when “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Rom. 14:12). This is used to determine their rewards in heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Non-Christians are “judged according to what they had done” at the “great white throne” (Rev. 20:11-15). This is used to determine their punishment in hell.
Is this fair? God has revealed Himself to everyone in at least two ways. First the natural world demands a Creator – complicated things, like animals and plants and people, don’t make themselves (Rom. 1:19-20). Second, we all have a conscience and so can know instinctively what is right and wrong and feel guilty when we do wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). If someone hasn’t heard about how God revealed Himself in history (in the Bible), then they are judged according to their response to these more general revelations of God. So God is fair and “people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth (Gen. 8:21; Ps. 51:5; 58:3). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So children are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death leads to eternal separation from God (Jn. 3:16; Rom 6:23).
The Bible also teaches that because they do not yet know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil, infants are not accountable for their sin (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:31; Isa. 7:14-16; Jon. 4:11). They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.
So very young children are not accountable for their sin. Their minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong. But what about when they grow past this stage of life?
The Bible makes two types of statements about the sins of parents and children. First, with regard to the commandment given to the Israelites against idolatry, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Dt. 5:9). As they lived in households that extended to three or four generations, this means that the temporal judgment for their rebellion against God was on themselves and their households. The Bible gives examples of households that experienced the consequence of God’s judgment of the sins of their patriarch (Num. 16:31-35; Josh. 7:24-25). Likewise, today the consequences of a parent’s behaviour can impact others in their household.
When the Jews used this statement to say that they were suffering for their ancestors’ sins, Ezekiel corrected them writing “The one who sins is the one who will die (Ezek. 18:4, 20). This is an example of the second type of statement, which relates to the death penalty. “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin” (Dt. 24:16; 2 Ki. 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4). So in the Israelite legal system, a penalty was to be imposed only on those who committed the crime, and not on those who were innocent. This meant that after children reached the age when they knew the difference between right and wrong, they were accountable for their behavior. Likewise, today when children are old enough to respond to their conscience they are responsible to God for their own behaviour.
So the statement that everyone is accountable to God doesn’t apply to young children or those whose minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong.
But those who have grown past this stage of life and can understand these things are accountable to God. They have no excuse. That’s why it’s important to know that our sinful ways separate us from God, but Jesus died to take the punishment that we deserve (which is hell) and reconcile us to God. We need to take responsibility for our behavior and confess our sins, because God cannot forgive our sin until it is confessed.
Written, May 2014
Did you know that there is a full-sized replica of Noah’s ark in Dordrecht in The Netherlands? This post was inspired by a visit to this replica.
Many nations all over the world have flood stories. Even tribes that never heard of the Bible. The Biblical story in Genesis chapters 6 to 9 of the Bible is the only realistic flood story. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, for instance we find a brawl between gods and a cubic shaped ark, which is the least stable shape. However, the dimensions of Noah’s ark made it almost impossible to capsize. The ratio of 6:1 for length to width appears to be most stable and seaworthy and is still being used for unmotorised vessels.
When God decided to destroy the earth because of humanity’s corruption and violence, He told Noah to build an ark that was “three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high” (Gen. 6:15NIV). The length of a cubit was based on the distance from the elbow to the fingertips, so it varied between different ancient groups of people. Two types of cubit are mentioned in the Old Testament, with the older one being one handbreadth longer than the newer one (2 Chron. 3:3; Ezek. 40:5; 43:13). According to the NIV Study Bible, the old cubit was 7 handbreadths and the new one was 6 handbreadths.
Because it is not known what cubit Noah used, the replica uses a different definition of the cubit for each dimension! They call these the “three most famous cubit sizes” as follows:
• 45 cm (Hebrew) for the length, making 135 m
• 60 cm (Egyptian) for the width, making 30 m
• 70 cm (18th Century) for the height, making 21 m (but they state 23 m)
This means that the replica has a different shape to the original (being wider and higher for the given length). The original would have been about 140 m long, 25 m wide and 15 m high, which is shaped more like the barges that travel past the replica on the Rhine River.
Noah was told to “make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out” (Gen. 6:14NIV). The Hebrew word translated “rooms” also means “nests”. There were to be rooms within the ark, which were pitched both inside and outside. The ark had a very solid construction. It was partitioned into many compartments, which led to extra strength. These rooms had different functions. Some were used to store food and if the rooms were large enough, they could be used as an animal cage. Furthermore, in the case of damaged compartments, the remaining rooms would maintain the buoyancy of the ark.
It is not known what type of wood was used to construct the ark – many translations call it “gopher wood” which is a transliteration of the Hebrew text. Pinewood seems to be the best option – this was used in the 1599 Geneva Bible and many modern translations render the Hebrew term as “cypress” (NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV). The ark was to be covered with pitch, both inside and outside. Pitch can be made from pinewood and is created by putting pinewood waste under a pile of sand and burning it to produce a think liquid pitch. Because of the large amount of resin present, pinewood is soft and flexible. After several years, the wood and resin become hard and strong. If the ark was made out of pinewood, it would have been very strong and durable. The replica ark was built out of 12,000 Scots pine trees from Scandinavia.
Cain’s descendant Jabal “was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah” (Genesis 4:20-22NIV).
The Bible says that Tubal-Cain was a blacksmith and that there were stringed instruments at that time. The strings of a harp are made out of steel and are complicated to forge. Therefore, Tubal-Cain and his descendants must have been good blacksmiths. Tubal-Cain lived about 600 years before Noah. From this we can deduce that Noah probably had steel, hammers and nails for the construction of the ark.
Could all the animals fit in the ark?
Noah was told “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them” (Gen. 6:19-21).
A common criticism of the Biblical account is, “How can millions of species fit on the ark?”. But this fails to recognize that “every kind” does not mean “every species”. Instead, a “kind” is more like a “genus” than a “species”. Noah only needed a pair of every kind of creature, not of every species. For example, one kind of dog and one kind of horse, not many. Since the flood each kind has produced many species (variety within a genus). It is estimated that there were about 8,000 genera at that time, including extinct genera. This means that about 16,000 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians would need to be housed on the ark.
It is estimated that the median size of all animals on the ark would have been that of a small rat, while only about 10% would have been much larger than a sheep. As the animals were to repopulate the world after the flood, they would have been young and not old. The ark had three “decks”. If the smaller 90% of the animals were in two layers on one deck, each pair would have an average of 1 square metre. If the remainder of the animals were on another deck, each pair would have an average of 4 square metre. This indicates the feasibility of housing the animals in two thirds of the ark.
The Bible says that eight people survived the great deluge because they were on the ark. Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives. However, there would have been more than eight beds on the ark. What is the reason for that? It took Noah about 120 years to build the ark. During this time he told the people that they could be safe on the ark (2 Peter 2:5). Unfortunately no one accepted the invitation.
Jesus said He is preparing a place for us in heaven, just like Noah prepared a place for the people of his age (Jn.14:2). In Noah’s time the ark was the only way to survive the great deluge. In the same way, Jesus came to earth to save us. Just like in Noah’s time, the Lord has a way to rescue people. Because God loved the world so much, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to the earth. Jesus died on the cross, to bear our sins and He rose again so we can be saved from the penalty of our sin; eternal death (Jn. 3:16). We are to tell the world of this salvation. Otherwise those places will stay empty (Mt. 28:19)!
Written May 2014