Choose your own adventure was a series of children’s books where the reader choose the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome. This style of writing has been called gamebooks and interactive fiction. Today we are looking at choosing your own metaphors.
The key message of the Bible is the good news (or message) about Jesus, which includes:
– Our sinful state,
– Who Jesus is,
– What blessings God has promised to us, and
– What our response must be.
Various methods are used in the New Testament to communicate the message about Jesus including: parables, letters, speeches, sermons, conversations, and discussion meetings. Today God uses people like us to tell the message to humanity so that they can repent of their sin, trust that Jesus paid their penalty for rebelling and ignoring God, and follow and obey Him (Rom. 10:14-15).
The Bible gives us different ways to tell the message about Jesus to different people. To Jews, the apostles presented Jesus as the risen Savior and they quoted from the Old Testament. For example, Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Whereas to the Gentiles they talked about God’s providence (sending rain, making crops grow, providing food), His creation, and the universal human desire to worship a god. For example, Paul’s preaching at Athens (Acts 17).
Transgression and guilt
In the past we have often explained the gospel message like this. “We have all done things that we know are wrong, and if we break one law, it’s equivalent to breaking all of God’s laws. We stand guilty before God. We deserve to be punished by Him. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will forgive and justify us”. It describes how we can move from sinfulness to salvation.
This worked well in the previous generation for Billy Graham because people were familiar with the Bible. But many people no longer believe in absolutes and they aren’t familiar with the Bible. They see laws as just oppressive institutions, such as governments and churches, wielding power. So, we should probably be looking for other models of sin and salvation to this one of transgression/guilt and forgiveness/justification. Some other models for sin are given below.
Shame and dishonor
Smith, Warner and Bancroft brought shame and dishonor to the Australian cricket team last year for cheating in South Africa and were banned from playing for up to 12 months. They brought the game into disrepute and let down their teammates. When Paul preached to Gentiles, he said that they had been enjoying God’s general creation blessings but didn’t thank Him for them. Because they dishonored God, they needed to repent (Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-31). So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We have not been honoring God” or “We have shamed God”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will restore us.
Defilement and impurity
Women who suffer domestic abuse often feel defiled by what they have suffered. And those who are addicted to drugs can feel defiled and disgusted with themselves. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We feel defiled”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will purify us.
All our relationships have some level of brokenness. This includes our relationship with ourselves, our relationships with others and our relationship with God. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “Our relationship with God our Father is also broken”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can be reconciled with God.
We tend to look down on people that are not like us. If we care for the environment, we will look down on those who don’t care for the environment. If we are happily married, we will look down on those whose marriages have failed. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We are guilty of putting other people down and having an elevated view of ourselves”. We feel morally superior to them. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can find our identity in Christ.
God gives us life, freedom, pleasure, success, health, sports, school, work, family, friends, wealth and possessions. But we can live for these instead of the God who gave them. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We become enslaved to what we live for and neglect the giver”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can find real freedom as we worship Him.
People are often urged to make the most of every opportunity and be the best they can to make a difference in this world. It’s a common message at school speech days. And we can do lots of good things, but we’re not good enough to be God’s children. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We need to admit we fall short of being a child of God”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we become a child of God.
Because of fractured relationships at home and work, many people long for peace. Every aspect of our lives is affected by disharmony, disruption and despair. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We need peace in our lives”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we will have peace with God.
One commonly used definition is “Sin is anything that we think, say or do that is against what God says in the Bible”. It displeases God and separates us from God. And that’s right. But we can also use other words to describe sin. That’s what Jesus did in His parables. In the parable of the rich fool, it’s described as storing up earthly wealth but not having a rich relationship with God (Lk. 12:21). In the parable of the lost sheep, it’s being lost (Lk. 15:1-7). In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, it’s being confident of our righteousness and looking down on others (Lk. 18:9). Also, the meaning of the word “sin” has changed to the idea of a guilty, playful pleasure, like chocolates, ice cream, candy (lollies), or lingerie. It’s something that we have a delightful giggle about. Not something that can have serious consequences. So, some other ways to describe sin are: shame and dishonor, defilement and impurity, brokenness, self-righteousness, idolatry, falling short, and needing peace.
Likewise, we can use other metaphors to describe salvation (see Appendix).
Let’s be creative and use these metaphors appropriately to present the message about Jesus to others.
Appendix: Tabular summary of metaphors for sin and salvation
|Sin or sinful state||Correct response||Salvation (blessings)|
|Recognize our defilement||Cleansed
|Recognize our brokenness||Becoming a child of God
Looking down on others Pride
|Calling on Jesus name||Have our identity in Christ|
|Idolatry||Worshiping God||God’s favor|
|Falling short (of God’s righteousness)||Calling on Jesus’ name||Reconciliation|
|Enemy of God||Ceasing our hostilities||Peace
|Following God’s ways||Being on the correct path Restoration|
|Recognize our blindness/disease||Healing
|Deafness||Recognize our deafness||Healing
|Deadness||Recognize our lack of spiritual life||Life
|Ignorant of God||Listen to Jesus||Know God personally|
|Not a child of God||Repentance
|Thirsting||Recognize our thirst||Contentment|
|Recognize our hunger||Contentment|
|Calling on Jesus name||Rescued
|Calling on Jesus name||Rest|
This blogpost was sourced from the following book,
Chan S (2018) “Evangelism in a skeptical world”, Zondervan, p. 63-101.
Written, November 2018
The most common logo of the Christian faith is a cross. But it isn’t mentioned in this way on the Bible. However, there are other symbols in the Bible that should identify and characterize Christians.
During corporate worship, Christians often celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20). This was instituted by Jesus at the Passover just before His crucifixion. The Jewish Passover was a symbolic reminder of an historical event. It was an annual celebration to remember God’s act of passing over the firstborn of Israel and their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. In the first Lord’s Supper, Jesus took two symbols associated with the Passover, bread and wine, and gave them a new meaning. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration to remember the death of Jesus just like the Passover celebration was to remember God’s passing over the Israelites.
Bread as a metaphor
The Scriptures about the Lord’s Supper use the word “bread” in a figurative sense. The figure of speech is called a metaphor, where something is described by something else that is considered to possess similar characteristics. It’s like saying, “You are my sunshine” or “The Lord is my shepherd”. Jesus took some bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to His disciples. He told them to eat it because, “This [bread] is my body, which is given for you; do this [eat it] in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19NIV; 1 Cor. 11:24). He meant that the broken bread was to be a symbol of His body. The broken bread represents Christ’s suffering body when He died. When they ate it they were to remember Christ’s death for their sins. Likewise, when we eat the broken bread we are to remember Christ’s death for our sins.
Cup as a metonymy
The Scriptures about the Lord’s Supper use the word “cup” in a figurative sense. The figure of speech is called a metonymy, where something is described by something else that is associated with it. Like, “can you give me a hand?” or “the team needs some new blood”.
Then Jesus took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and told His disciples to drink from it. Paul calls it to “drink this cup” and he mentions someone who “drinks the cup of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:26-27). But we drink the contents, not the cup. In this case, the container is substituted for the contents. The cup stands for its contents. Like “God so loved the world”, which means the people who inhabit the earth. What were the contents of the cup? Matthew says that it was “from the fruit of the vine”, which was wine (Mt. 26:29, Mk. 14:25). So in this context, “cup” means “wine” (or grape juice).
Jesus said that the disciples were to drink the wine “in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). The wine represents Christ’s death. When they drank it they were to remember Christ’s death for their sins. Likewise, when we drink the wine (or grape juice) we are to remember Christ’s death for our sins.
Cup as a metaphor
But “cup” also has another figurative sense in the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus gave the disciples the cup of wine, He said “This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28)”. Elsewhere it is recorded as: “This cup is the new covenant in [through] my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:20). And “This cup is the new covenant in [through] my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25).
So the cup (wine) is said to be “ my blood” and “the new covenant”. That’s what it symbolizes. These are more metaphors. In this context, the poured out wine is a symbol of the shedding of blood, which indicates a violent death. But it was one that established a new covenant. So the cup of wine represents both Christ’s death and the new covenant. When they drank it they were to remember Christ’s death for their sins and the new relationship it brought with God. Likewise, when we drink the wine (or grape juice) we are to remember Christ’s death for our sins and the new relationship we can have with God.
Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith. Like the Passover, it’s when God delivered us from sin. “For He [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves [Jesus], in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).
In His death, Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7). Jesus commanded His followers to celebrate the Lord’s Supper regularly as a reminder of this fact. By doing this together, we are proclaiming the core of the gospel to each other (1 Cor. 11:26). As the Passover recalled the defining moment in the history of the Israelites, so the Lord’s Supper recalls the defining moment in our history.
So according to the Bible, the Christian logo is a drama, not an image. It’s eating bread and drinking wine (or grape juice). In the Lord’s Supper we remember what Christ did for us and we celebrate what we receive as a result of His sacrifice. It’s about the gospel. How Jesus sacrificed Himself so we could have a new relationship with God. Let’s celebrate it weekly (Acts 20:7) and recall our spiritual blessings at this time.
Written, September 2018
Recently I travelled from Australia to Europe to spend time with some family members. It was good to see them after a trip of over 26 hours. The people at the destination made the tiring trip worthwhile.
Before leaving Australia, I attended a funeral where it was said that it’s not our destination that matters, but the journey along the way. This was probably a creative way to say that life is better than death. Or focusing on the present and enjoying the present instead of worrying about what will happen at the end of life.
Abraham travelled from Mesopotamia to Canaan, a distance of about 1770 km (1100 miles). His descendants, the Israelites, travelled from Egypt to Canaan. This took 40 years and most of the adults died along the way. Later, after their exile in Babylon, the Jews travelled back to Judah. The purpose of these journeys was achieved when the people reached their destination.
Jesus travelled within Palestine preaching the good news about the kingdom of God. Then He travelled to Jerusalem to give up His life sacrificially. After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, Paul and the apostles took missionary journeys across the Roman Empire. For Paul, sometimes the journey was difficult (2 Cor. 11:23-33). Likewise, the purpose of these journeys was achieved at their destinations.
The journey of life
A journey is also a great metaphor for life. Life is a difficult journey and a time of testing, challenges and maybe persecution. Like Job we have many questions about life and its unfairness. But God steers His people through difficult times (Isa. 43:1-7). May God help us trust in Him for what we don’t understand (Job 42:3). And may we take up the opportunities to trust in God’s faithfulness over and over again.
But the busyness of life can distract us from the important things of life like being aware of God’s presence and His willingness to help in times of need. Life is a journey in history, with a past, present and future. As time goes by our present becomes past memories and our final destination comes closer. Death and life after death is our ultimate destination.
Lessons for us
Let’s face the reality of our journey of life. Few of us would think of taking a two-week vacation without any plans as to where we will go or what we will do. But we often forget to consider our personal destination.
Many opinions about this topic are available on the internet. But the best ones are in the Bible because God is the “author” (or “source”) of life (Acts 3:15). And Jesus is the “word of life” and the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:35, 48; 1 Jn. 1:1). These metaphors describe God’s role in physical and spiritual life.
Although the journey of life is better than death, it isn’t better than eternal life. Physical life ends, but spiritual life doesn’t end. And the purpose of life isn’t to enjoy ourselves or accumulate wealth or possessions. Instead our spiritual destination is more important than the journey. Is our future destination secure? At the end of our earthly life journey we will leave everything physical behind. So our enjoyment, wealth, and possessions provide no security for our future destination. But if we put God first instead of material things, we will be rewarded in heaven for the things we do that have eternal value (Mt. 6:19-24). Have we started on that spiritual journey? Do we focus on things of eternal consequence? Do we follow Jesus? Do we help other people to follow Jesus? Do we live by faith, and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)? Are we motivated by what lies at the end of the journey (Heb. 11:13-16)? Are we progressing spiritually (2 Cor. 3:18)? Are we becoming more Christ-like (Phil. 1:20-21)?
Written, August 2018
Same-sex marriage has been legalized in about 23 countries including: The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland), Ireland, Luxemburg, United States, Colombia, Greenland, Finland, and Slovenia.
This month Australia faces a postal survey on marriage law. The survey form asks the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” In this context, a recent article in the local media claims that it’s wrong to claim that marriage is “a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible” and it’s wrong to claim that “a biblical view of marriage is between one man and one woman”. So what does the Bible say about gender and marriage? We will look at the portion of the New Testament written to the church (Acts to Revelation) in the first century AD because the principles given in this part of the Bible are directly relevant to us today.
According to the Oxford dictionary, sexual orientation is “A person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted; the fact of being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual”. The media article also says that “There is nothing like the contemporary concept of sexual orientation in the biblical text”, with the implication that this is a modern idea to which the Bible is irrelevant.
But same-gender attraction isn’t new. It (and homosexuality) was prevalent in the Roman Empire. And homosexual sexual activity is mentioned specifically in three passages of the Bible between Acts and Revelation (Romans. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). These weren’t isolated incidences of homosexual practices, but were characteristic patterns of behavior by a sector of people in society at that time. So, the Bible certainly addresses homosexuality. And if sexual orientation includes homosexual sexual activities, then what the Bible says is relevant to “the contemporary concept of sexual orientation”. So the article’s claim about sexual orientation and the Bible is false.
Husband and wife
The Greek noun translated “man” (aner Strongs #435) means a male human being or a husband or a group of people, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “husband” or “husbands” in 36 verses in Acts to Revelation.
The Greek noun translated woman (gune #1135) means a female human being or a wife, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “wife” or “wife’s” in 32 verses and “wives” in 11 verses in Acts to Revelation.
What was the pattern of these marriages in the early church? The early Christians followed the teachings of the apostles who had been trained by Jesus. And the apostles followed the teachings of Jesus who said, “at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mk. 10:6-9NIV). This was repeated by Paul, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). Clearly, these marriages involved the union of one man and one woman. It involved both genders (heterosexual marriage), and not only a single gender (homosexual marriage).
Is heterosexual marriage a command, a model or a report?
The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not necessarily worth following today. For this post, all the verses in the ESV that included any of the words, “husband”, “wife”, or “marriage” were examined.
Heterosexual marriage commanded
Paul mentioned husbands and wives when he wrote, “Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:1-2). Here Paul is correcting two false teachings, that the married should abstain from sexual relations and an acceptance of sexual relations outside marriage (adultery or homosexuality). His command restricts sexual relations to marriage. And the marriage is where “each man” has “his own wife” and “each woman” has “her own husband”. So sexual relations should be restricted to heterosexual marriage. “Husband” is mentioned in six more verses in this chapter with the same meaning. “Wife” is mentioned in ten more verses in this chapter with the same meaning. And “wives” is mentioned in one more verse in this chapter. So, in this passage, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
Paul’s main instructions for marriage are given in Ephesians 5:22-33. And a short summary of these is given in Colossians 3:19-19, Titus 2:4-5 and 1 Peter 3:1-7. He commands husbands to lead and love their wives, and wives to respect and submit to their husbands. These are commands for heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman. Elsewhere, he condemns homosexual sexual activity (Romans. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11).
The Bible says that a church leader (one of the elders) must be “faithful to his wife” (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Tit. 1:6). So, if they were married, it was to be to a woman (wife). Likewise, a widow that was supported by the church must have been “faithful to her husband” (1 Tim. 5:9). In these passages, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
One of the purposes of heterosexual marriage was to have children (1 Tim. 5:14). In this verse, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. In those days, homosexuals could only have children by adoption.
Another purpose of heterosexual marriage was to prevent sexual immorality (1 Cor. 7:2, 8-9). In this passage, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. On the other hand, same-sex marriage promotes sexual immorality in the form of homosexual sexual activity.
According to the Bible, another characteristic of heterosexual marriage is that it is intended to be a lifelong relationship (Rom. 7:2-3). And divorce was meant to be rare. Unfortunately, this is not the case today where divorce and serial marriage is common.
We see that in all these instances when the Bible issues commands to people that are married, the marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
But what about models of marriage in this portion of the Bible that aren’t commands?
Heterosexual marriage modelled
There are other verses that indicate that the pattern of marriage in the early church was monogamous and heterosexual. Paul wrote, “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). When describing the relationship between husbands and wives, Paul implies that each wife had a single husband. Similarly, if wives had any questions at church, they were to “ask their own husbands” as the head of the household (1 Cor. 14:35). In these passages, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
Paul stayed in Corinth with Aquila and his wife Priscilla (Acts 18:1-3). And the apostles and their wives were entitled to be supported by the churches (1 Cor. 9:5). In these passages, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
But what about when marriage is reported in this portion of the Bible and it isn’t necessarily an example to follow?
Heterosexual marriage reported
There are other verses that indicate that the pattern of marriage in the early church was monogamous and that the most common pattern of marriage in the first century was heterosexual. Ananias and Sapphira were a husband and wife who set a bad example (Acts. 5:1-10). And the governor of Judea, Antonius Felix had a wife called Drusilla (Acts 24:24). Apparently he married three queens in quick succession. In these cases, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. This makes sense because the continuation of the human race depended on the birth of children, which required a husband and a wife.
In an illustration, Paul said that adultery was wrong (being different to the pattern endorsed by Jesus), but a woman could marry another man if her first husband dies (Rom. 7:2-3). This marriage involved one man and one woman. Like adultery, homosexual marriage is also wrong (being different to the pattern endorsed by Jesus).
Besides these references to marriage between a man and a woman, marriage is also used as a metaphor in the Bible.
Marriage as a metaphor
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is said to be like a bridegroom (or husband) and the church is said to be like His bride (or wife). Paul said, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). After mentioning marriage, Paul says “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). So the union of a man and a woman in marriage is an illustration of the union between Jesus and the people of God (the church). The metaphorical union culminates in the wedding of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). So heaven begins with a wedding! It’s a wedding where two different types of people are united (Jesus and the church). In the Bible they are likened to husband and wife, man and woman; and not man and man or woman and woman. The metaphor only works for heterosexual marriage, and not for homosexual marriage (as there is no “husband” or “wife”, just “partners”).
Other types of marriage?
I am not aware of any other verses between Acts and Revelation in the Bible that are related to marriage. So the Bible doesn’t teach any other pattern for marriage besides a man and a woman. This means that homosexual marriage is a human invention, whereas heterosexual marriage is God-ordained.
Other media claims
We will now look at four additional claims in the media article. First, “There is nothing inherently Christian about the so-called traditional arrangement of the nuclear family”. This is deceptive. The topic is “same-sex marriage”, not “the nuclear family”. I have shown that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. As one of the purposes of marriage is to raise children, then a normal family includes: a husband, a wife, and their children (a nuclear family). But it isn’t restricted to only a nuclear family! Of course a household may also include other generations and/or relatives.
Second, “You can find that model (heterosexual marriage) in the Bible if you look for it, but it is not the dominant view. Nor does the Bible condemn what we understand to be loving, mutual LGBTQI relationships today”. This statement is based on the Old Testament, which was written under the Old Covenant of Moses. As the Bible is a progressive revelation of the will of God, we should give more weight to the portion written to the church (Acts to Revelation). When we do this it is evident that heterosexual marriage is the dominant view. So the article is wrong. The Bible condemns homosexual sexual activity. If “loving, mutual LGBTQI relationships today” include homosexual sexual activity, then the Bible condemns them as sinful.
Third, “Paul, thinks celibacy is preferable (above marriage) for a Christian”. But this isn’t representative of Paul’s view on marriage. It’s cherry-picking. The passage being referred to addresses those who were unmarried (1 Cor. 7:7-9). Paul was unmarried when he wrote it. But we don’t know whether he had always been a bachelor or whether he was a widower at the time. Paul expands on this passage in verses 25-38. His principle was if you are married, don’t get divorced, and if you are unmarried stay that way if you can because you will have more time to serve the Lord and marriage brings extra troubles. “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry”. Furthermore, about ten years later Paul condemned those who “forbid people to marry” (1 Tim. 4:3). So, Paul’s view wasn’t as simple as that proposed in the media article.
And finally, it also claims Paul’s statement that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you (Christians) are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28), “profoundly disrupts patriarchal family structures, gender roles and hierarchy”. This verse states that the unity between Christians transcends their racial, social and gender differences. They are equally accepted by God. The differences between them are demolished with regard to our salvation, our position (status) before God and our inheritance. But the distinctions still existed in everyday life. So the statement has no impact on “family structures, gender roles and hierarchy”, apart from Christians recognizing that no category has more acceptance with God than another. See my post on the common misuse of this verse.
We have seen that the biblical view of marriage in the first century AD was between one man and one woman. As we are still under the new covenant today, the biblical view of marriage for us in the 21st century AD is also between one man and one woman. So the media article is wrong.
Written, September 2017
20 Biblical images of Jesus
According to a survey, 40% of people in England don’t believe that Jesus was a real person. Instead they think He is a mythical figure. Some think that the characters in the Bible are metaphors for something deeper. That the Bible is a symbolic story. That the gospels are historical fiction. On the other hand, some think that Jesus was a historical figure, but His resurrection was a metaphor rather than a real event.
What do the historical records show? According to the New Testament scholar Darrell Bock (2015), “Christ’s story is just as well attested as Caesar’s. You can accept or deny claims made about Jesus in the Gospels, but you can’t pretend they were never made …
If we believe what the best sources say about Julius Caesar, then we should believe what the best sources say about Jesus Christ”.
Today we will look at what Jesus is like from the images given in the Bible. This will help us to follow Him. Paul said, “I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor.11:1NIV). And Peter said, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pt. 2:21). Jesus told His followers “follow me” and “learn from me” (Mt. 11:29; 16:24).
The big picture
The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. Today we are looking at Jesus, who is God the Son.
As a spirit, God doesn’t have a body like us. He’s invisible. But when Jesus came to earth, He took a human body. So God was visible when Jesus lived on earth. Paul wrote, “The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He’s “the exact representation of His (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So Jesus is the best image of God. However, He lived before cameras were invented, so the only images we have of Him are words in the Bible.
Metaphors as images of Jesus
The best way to know what Jesus is like is to look at what the Bible says about Him because it’s a message from God. In the New Testament, there’s lots of information about what Jesus said and did.
But today we’re looking at images of Jesus in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors which are powerful images which help to show who Jesus is and what our relationship with Jesus can be like.
First; Jesus is likened to certain people.
When Jesus is described as being a “Son” it doesn’t mean a biological son, Instead, it’s a figure of speech. For example, Judas Iscariot was called the “son of destruction” (Jn. 17:12ESV). This means he was characterised by destruction. James and John were called “sons of thunder”, which meant they were like thunder (Mk. 3:17). Likewise, Jesus was called “Son of Man” and “Son of God”. So it means that Jesus was like a man and like God. In fact, He was both a man and God. He was fully human and fully divine.
The most common title that Jesus used for Himself was “Son of Man” (Mk. 8:31; 14:62). It’s used 78 times in the gospels. It had two meanings in the Old Testament. In Daniel’s vision the son of man was the heavenly Messiah who will rule over the whole earth in a kingdom that will never end (Dan. 7:13-14). This was a subtle way of saying that He was the Jewish Messiah (Mt. 26:64). But “son of man” also meant a human being (Ps. 8:4; 144:3; 146:3). God called the prophet Ezekiel “son of man” 93 times. So the title “Son of Man” indicates that Jesus is both the Messiah and a human being. In Jesus, the invisible God is revealed (Col. 1:15).
The other title “Son of God” (Lk. 1:35; Jn. 5:25; 10:36; 11:4), meant that Jesus was God in human form and that’s why the religious leaders had Him killed (Jn. 1:14; 10:33-36; 19:7). Sometimes this is abbreviated to “the Son” (Mt. 11:27).
Jesus is also called “Son of David” (Mt. 21:9; Lk. 18:38). This title is equivalent to “Messiah”. He fulfilled the Davidic covenant and with respect to His humanity, He was a descendant of king David (2 Sam. 7:11-16, Ps. 89: 4, 36-37). Jesus was the only one who was qualified to be the Jewish Messiah. And because His lives forever, His kingdom will last forever,
If Jesus is Son of Man and Son of God, then He is both human and divine. Because he was human, He could die. And because He was God, He was sinless. So He’s the only one who could take the punishment for our sin.
Jesus is like a lord or master. A lord or master had power and authority over servants, slaves, or property.
The Greek noun kurios (Strongs #2962) translated “Lord” means master or owner. One who has power, authority and control. The master rules the servant and the servant respects and submits to the master. In the Bible, the title is given to God as the ruler of the universe.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from Joel “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21), which the Jews would have understood as a reference to God the Father. But then he said that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). So, He’s giving Jesus the same title as that given to God the Father in the Old Testament. It means that Jesus is the ruler of everything in the universe. He is supreme over all creation (Col. 1:15). And we know this is true because He is both the Creator and the Redeemer (Col. 1:16, 20). Besides this, Jesus is head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23).
Paul said, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). And Jesus is “Lord of all”; both of the Jews and the Gentiles (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:12). In future, everyone will “acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11). And John said that Jesus is “Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).
This metaphor caused tension in the Roman Empire. It was declaring that there was only one God, not many. Jesus was above all their other gods. Also, it was deemed to be unpatriotic because the Emperor was treated as being divine. But Jesus was above the Emperor.
If Jesus is like our master, then it’s like we’re under His rule. This image reminds us of the need to submit to Him and obey Him.
Jesus is also like a bridegroom and husband. A bridegroom loves and cares for his bride. They belong together.
The church is the bride of Christ. Christians belong to Christ, like a bride belongs to her husband (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-32).
Christ showed His love for the church in three ways (Eph. 5:25-27). By:
– Redemption – “He gave Himself up for her, to make her holy”. He gave up His life on the cross to make us positionally holy before God.
– Sanctification – He’s “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word”. As we hear and obey the words of Scripture, we are being made holy practically.
– Glorification – He will “present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless”. In the future the church will be perfectly holy.
This metaphor continues after the rapture when there is rejoicing “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7-9). Jesus is like the bridegroom and the church is like the bride. And their union is like a wedding and a wedding supper.
If Jesus is like our bridegroom, then we are like His bride. We belong together. This image reminds us of His love for us.
Jesus is like a king. In ancient times, a king ruled a city or nation. A king has authority over all others. They have ultimate authority.
Nathaniel, the crowds, and the religious leaders called Jesus “king of Israel” (Jn. 1:49; 12:13; Mt. 27:42). This title is equivalent to “Messiah” (Mk. 15:32). The Magi came to visit “the King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2). And the notice on His cross said that He was “The King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:19-21).
This metaphor is absent in the Scriptures that describe the period between Christ’s death and his second coming. Instead, the main title used by the early church was for Jesus was “Lord”. But Jesus comes as the “King of kings” in His second coming (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). And after this as a great “King” he will judge the Gentile nations (Mt. 25:31-46).
If Jesus is like a king, then the time will come when He will defeat all opposing powers to bring justice and peace and rule over all creation.
Jesus is also like a judge. A judge assesses the guilt of the accused and determines the penalty if they are guilty.
When John had a vision of Jesus as a judge, he was told “I hold the keys to death and Hades” (Rev. 1:12-18). This means that He controls both the body and the soul. And Jesus can raise the dead. Then Jesus judges the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2:1 – 3:22).
After the rapture, believers will be rewarded according to their service at “the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 2:6; 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 15:58; 2 Cor. 5:10). The rewards are expressed in the second coming and the millennial kingdom (Lk. 19:17-19; Mt. 17:27; Rev. 3:21).
In His second coming (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), Jesus judges those left after the rapture and after this He will judge the Gentile nations (Mt. 25:31-46).
Peter said that God appointed Jesus “as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). This is consistent with God the Father “entrusting all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22). This means that Jesus will be the judge at the Great White Throne where each unbeliever will be judged “according to what they had done” (Rev. 21:11-15). That’s when people’s secrets will be judged (Rom. 2:16).
If Jesus is like a judge, then we are like the accused. Because Jesus paid our penalty, this image reminds us of God’s love for us.
Jesus is like a shepherd. A shepherd cares for sheep by protecting, guiding and sustaining them.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). He laid down His life for both Jews and Gentiles (Jn. 10:15-16). The relationship between Jesus and His sheep is like that between Jesus and God the Father. In contrast, the religious leaders were like hired hands who abandon the sheep when there is trouble (Jn. 10:12-14). They are selfish and don’t care about the sheep.
The Bible says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Our sinfulness is likened to sheep going astray. But Jesus, like a Great Shepherd, gave His life for our protection (Heb. 13:20; 1 Pt. 2:25). When He returns at the rapture it will be as the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt. 5:4).
If Jesus is like a shepherd, then we are like the sheep. This image reminds us of His loving care.
Jesus is also ike a high priest. A high priest went into the Most Holy Place of the Jewish temple once a year to atone for the sins of the people of Israel.
Jesus was a great high Priest, who was tempted like us, but didn’t sin (Heb. 4:14-15). As a High Priest, when He died Jesus made atonement for the sins of the people (Heb. 2:17). Jesus was a mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 9:15).
He was a high priest of the order of Melchizedek. Unlike other Jewish high priests he wasn’t a descendant of Aaron or from the tribe of Levi (Heb. 5:6-10; 7:1-28). “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood”. His sacrifice was “once for all” and “He always lives to intercede” for us. And His new covenant is better than the old one (Heb. 8:1-13).
If Jesus is like a high priest, then we are like sinners separated from God. Because Jesus was both the sacrifice and the High Priest, this image reminds us that because of Jesus was can approach God the Father.
Jesus is like a servant. A servant serves others. It’s a humble position.
There are four servant songs about the Messiah in the book of Isaiah (Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13 – 53:12). The last one about the suffering righteous servant is often quoted in the New Testament in regard to Christ’s suffering. Its central verse is, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Christ’s death brought spiritual healing; forgiveness and salvation; to those who trust in Him. That’s His greatest work as a servant.
Paul says that Jesus took the very nature of a servant (Phil. 2:7). Jesus told His disciples, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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. 10:44-45). He gave up the enjoyment of His rights to live a life of obedience to God the Father.
If Jesus is like God’s servant (Acts 3:26), then we can benefit from His work of salvation. If He’s our example, then serving God and others is more important than serving ourselves.
Second; Jesus is likened to some animals.
Jesus is also like a lion. A lion was a symbol of sovereignty, strength and courage.
In Revelation, Jesus is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). This title comes from Jacob’s final message to his son Judah (Gen. 49:8-10). He said, “The sceptre (of royalty) will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Gen. 49:10). This was initially fulfilled by David, but as it was also stated by Ezekiel, it refers to Jesus, their Messiah (Ezek. 21:27).
In this verse, Jesus is also called the “Root of David” (Rev. 5:5). This is a reference to the millennial rule of the Messiah that includes Gentiles (Isa. 11:1-10; Rom. 15:12).
If Jesus is like a lion and a great ruler, then everyone should submit to Him (Phil .2:10-11). This image reminds us of His coming reign as Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).
Jesus is like a lamb. A lamb is a young sheep.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).
The Israelites killed a lamb in the first Passover and annually since then (Ex. 12:21). Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7).
Lambs were also sacrificed in the fellowship offering, the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the guilt offering. (Lev. 3:7; 4:32; 9:3; 14:12). When they walked up Mount Moriah, Isaac asked his father, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7-8). Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”. Isaiah wrote about the servant who was “led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7; Acts 8:32). Peter said He was sinless; “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pt. 1:19).
In the book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb” 28 times. In John’s vision of heaven, he “saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6) who was being praised, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain (Rev. 5:12).
If Jesus is like a lamb, then His death was a sacrifice for our sin. This image reminds us of the need to accept His sacrifice as the only way to be reconciled with God.
Third; Jesus is likened to some inanimate objects. Now physical things are used to teach spiritual truths.
Jesus is also like bread. Bread is food that helps to sustain us physically.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (Jn. 6:35). And, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51). To “eat this bread” means to believe in Him and receive eternal life (Jn. 6:47). Those who accept Him in this way satisfy their spiritual hunger forever.
If Jesus is like bread, then His death provides spiritual life to those who believe in Him. This image reminds us that without accepting Jesus, we are spiritually dead.
Jesus is like a light, which is the opposite of darkness. We need light to see and to know the way to go at night.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). And, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (Jn. 12:46). To follow Jesus means to believe in Him by repenting of our sin, trusting that His death paid the penalty we owe, and committing our life to Him.
Conversion involves moving from darkness into His wonderful light (1 Pt. 2:9). So darkness symbolises evil, sin and separation from God.
If Jesus is like a light, then He is the solution to the evil and sin in the world. This image reminds that without accepting Jesus, we are in spiritual darkness.
Jesus is like a gate. A farm gate keeps animals safe from danger and predators.
Jesus said that He was “the gate for the sheep” into the sheep pen (Jn.10:1-10). The sheep would be safe if they went through the gate to the protection of the sheep pen. In contrast, the religious leaders were like thieves and robbers who climb into the sheep pen by some other way so they can steal, kill and destroy the sheep.
If Jesus is like a gate to the sheep pen, then we are like sheep. If we rely on His provision for us, then we will be safe. This image reminds us of the security of Jesus’ salvation.
Jesus is also like a vine. A grape vine has branches and fruit.
On the night He was arrested Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). If we keep in fellowship with the Lord by prayer, reading and obeying His word, and fellowshipping with His people, we can be fruitful. This fruit is associated with peace, love and joy (Jn. 14:27; 15:9-11). It’s Christ’s character, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). It’s evident as answered prayer, being aware of God’s love for us, and the joy of being used by God (Jn. 15:7, 9-11).
If Jesus is like a vine, then we are like its branches. This image reminds us of the need to stay connected with Him.
Jesus is like a stone. In those days, buildings were constructed with stones.
When Peter describes the Christian’s privileges in the church he uses the illustration of a stone building (1 Pt. 2:4-8). He uses the metaphor of “the living Stone” to describe Jesus. He was rejected by people, but chosen by God. Because of His resurrection, Jesus is alive forevermore. And He gives spiritual life to those who believe in Him, who are called “living stones”. They are being built into a “spiritual house” like the Old Testament temple where God dwelt and was worshipped. Jesus is like the most important stone in the building, the foundational cornerstone (1 Cor. 3:10-11). The cornerstone was the first stone to be set in the foundation and all the other stones were placed in position with reference to it. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. He’s precious to believers, but rejected by unbelievers. Peter takes the stone imagery from the Old Testament and applies it to Jesus (Ps, 118:22; Isa. 8:14-15; 28:16). Before this time, Jesus quoted this verse in the parable of the wicked tenants and Peter in an address to the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mt. 21:42; Acts 4:11).
If Jesus is like a cornerstone, then we are like stones orientated with respect to the cornerstone. This image reminds us that our faith is based on Jesus and what He and the apostles taught.
Jesus is also like a star. A star shines in the night sky.
Jesus is called the “bright morning star”, which appears in the night sky before dawn (2 Pt 1:19; Rev. 22:16). The dawning of the day symbolizes the end of the present church age (Rom. 13:12). And the morning star symbolizes Christ coming for the church. While we wait for the rapture, the Scripture is a like a light shining in a dark place.
Just as the morning star is followed by the sunrise, the rapture is followed by the second coming and reign of Christ, which is likened to the sunrise of the “Sun of Righteousness” (Mal. 4:2; Lk.1:78-79). Once again, Jesus will be like light coming to a dark world.
If Jesus is like the morning star, we can look forward to His coming for us. This image reminds us that better days are ahead for us.
Fourth; Jesus is likened to certain attributes.
Beginning and the end
Jesus is like the beginning and the end, which is symbolized by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13). As Creator of the universe, He was there when it began. He rules over history and has authority to reward the faithful and punish the wicked, “according to what they have done” (Rev. 22:11). And the Lamb is in the eternal new heaven and the new earth after the end of time (Rev. 21:1-22:5).
If Jesus is like the beginning and the end, then He is always present. This image reminds us that Jesus is eternal.
Jesus is also like a savior. A savior saves someone, like a lifeguard (or lifesaver) rescues people in danger of drowning.
The angel told the shepherds that Jesus was a Savior (Lk. 2:11). And the Samaritans said He was “the Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42). Savior is used so much in the Bible that it is often used as a title of Jesus Christ.
A similar metaphor is that Jesus is like a redeemer who liberates and releases from a bad situation by paying a ransom. Jesus redeems believers from their sinful situation at the cost of His death (Gal. 4:5; 1 Pt. 1:18-19). The result is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous in God’s sight (Rom. 3:24; Col. 1:14).
If Jesus is like a savior, then people are like those rescued. This image reminds us that Jesus came to rescue us from the judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Have you been rescued in this way yet?
Jesus is like words. Words communicate a message.
Jesus is called “the Word” (Jn. 1:1). As He is eternal, He had no beginning. He enjoyed a personal relationship with God the Father and was fully God. The Word came to live on earth as a human being (Jn. 1:14). That’s amazing, God living as one of His creations!
Jesus is also called the “Word of God” (Rev. 19:13). Words express thoughts. We communicate our thoughts in words. Jesus expressed the thoughts of God. In this instance He executes judgment on the wicked.
So, Jesus was God’s communication or message to humanity. He showed us what God is like. For example, by His death, He showed us how much God loved us.
If Jesus is like words, then He tells us what God is like. This image reminds us of the uniqueness of Jesus.
Finally, Jesus is like a pathway. A pathway is a route to follow to a destination.
When Jesus told the disciples about heaven, Thomas asked about the way to get there. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). He is the only way, the exclusive way, to God and heaven (Acts 4:12). The early church was called “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23;22:4; 24:14, 22).
He is also the truth, everything He said is true. John said He was full of truth (Jn. 1:14). He is also the life, the source of physical and spiritual life. Eternal life comes from knowing Jesus Christ (Jn. 17:3). He is also “the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25-26). He has the power of resurrection and of life.
If Jesus is like a pathway, then there is no other route to God or heaven. This image reminds us to be on the right pathway.
Jesus also like a lawyer, a pioneer, and a last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49; Heb. 2:10; 12:2; 1 Jn. 2:1).
We have seen that the Bible uses many images to show what Jesus is like. Different images highlight different aspects of His life and character. For example, He:
Is both human and divine, as Son of Man and Son of God
Rules like a master and a lion
Loves like a bridegroom
Reigns like a king
Sentences like a judge
Cares like a shepherd
Mediates like a high priest
Serves like a servant
Sacrifices like a lamb
Sustains like bread and fruit of the vine
Overcomes darkness like a light
Secures like a gate
Is a foundation like a cornerstone
Is coming soon like the morning star
Saves like a lifeguard (lifesaver)
Is a message that tells us what God is like
Shows us the way to God and heaven like a pathway
And, is always there.
So, that’s the example for us to follow (1 Cor. 11:1). In response, do we:
Live like He is the unique Son of God?
Follow His divine instructions in the Bible?
Feel secure in His love?
Have a close relationship with Him?
Anticipate His coming and His reign?
Realize that Jesus paid our penalty?
Care for one another?
Approach God the Father through Jesus?
Serve Him and others?
Feel thankful for His sacrifice?
Stay connected to the Lord?
Shine like a light in a dark world?
Feel safe in salvation through Christ?
Tell others about salvation through Christ?
Realize Christ’s presence with God on our behalf?
So, let’s “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Pet. 3:18).
Written, April 2016
19 Biblical images of God
Some things are invisible like the wind, electricity, gravity, atoms, gas, electromagnetic fields (such as X-rays, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves). We can’t see them, but we use many of them every day (such as the radio waves used by cell phones). God is also invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17).
Today we will see that multiple images are required to show us what God’s like.
Does God exist?
But some people think that God doesn’t exist. That He’s as real as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. They don’t believe the first verse of the Bible that says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1NIV). Instead they think that science has explained what used to be attributed to God.
But science can’t explain the origin of matter and energy. How something came from nothing. The ideas of the big bang and evolution can’t explain it. And it’s outside the laws of science. Also the origin of life is a mystery to science, they can’t create it in the laboratory without using cells from living creatures.
I think that God exists because something like us and the universe exists. God is the ultimate cause of the effects that we see around us. No one has come up with a better explanation yet. And God never attempts to prove His existence because, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1).
The big picture
We’ll begin with some general aspects of God. As a creator is always greater than their creations, God is greater than us. More powerful and more intelligent.
The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: Father, Son and Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. Today we are looking at God the Father.
God doesn’t have a body like us, He’s a spirit. The Bible says “God is spirit” (Jn. 4:24). That’s why:
– God is invisible.
– God’s not limited in space and time like the physical world.
– We rely on God’s revelation in Scripture to learn about the spirit world.
– God doesn’t have a gender. God isn’t male or female, although we generally speak of God using male pronouns. Also when the Bible mentions God’s hand, ear, eyes and mouth, it’s a figure of speech (Dt. 33:27; 2 Chron. 16:9; Isa. 59:1; Mt. 4:4;). We will see that the Bible uses lots of figures of speech to describe God. That’s one way of describing someone who is invisible.
Note that I write “someone” and not “something”. God isn’t a force or a principle. God is a person. A person has “personality”, a “soul” (Hebrew and Greek). They have a mind, emotions and a will. God has these (Ps. 78:41; 139:17; 1 Cor. 1:1). They are able to think about what they are doing (unlike animals and machines). They have relationships with other persons. Although the three “persons” of the godhead are united in the one being, they also relate to one another. They are divine persons.
How can we know what God is like if He’s invisible? The best way is to look at what the Bible says about God because it’s a message from Him. It uses at least four kind of words to describe God: names, adjectives, verbs and metaphors.
– Names are titles.
– Adjectives are words that describe nouns or pronouns.
– Verbs are words that describe actions.
– Metaphors are figures of speech which compare two unrelated things. Like, “You’re an angel”, “Don’t be a pig”, “It wasn’t long before their relationship turned sour”.
Today we’re looking at images of God in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors because the Bible teems with metaphors.
Metaphors as images of God
These are powerful images which help to show who God is and what our relationship with God can be like. First; God is likened to certain people.
God’s like a father. A kind and loving father. A father was the head of the household. He protected and provided for the needs of the family. And his sons inherited his wealth.
God the Father is the supreme sovereign of the universe because He created it (Eph. 4:6). The Israelites called Him Father because He created their nation (Dt. 32:5-6; Isa. 64:7-8; Mal. 2:10) and He continued to sustain them (Jer. 3:19; 31:9) and protect them (Isa. 63:16). They were like His children.
In God’s covenant with David, God said “I will be his (Solomon’s) father, and he will be my son” (2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13; 22:10). Later this verse was applied to Christ (Heb. 1:5). So the father-son relationship is a metaphor for both the relationship between God and His people, and God the Father and Jesus Christ.
As a father interacts with his children, God interacts with us. We can communicate with Him through prayer. Jesus told His disciples to pray “Father, hallowed be your name” ( Luke 11:2). In the parable of the lost son, God is like the father who welcomed his son back after he had wasted his inheritance (Lk. 15:11-32).
For Paul this fatherhood is based on the salvation He has made available in Jesus Christ. This is why Paul refers to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31). It’s through the work of Christ that God invites us to call him “Father”. And through Christ grace and peace have resulted and we have become God’s children with an inheritance (Rom. 8:12-17; 1 Pt. 1:3-4; 1 Jn. 3:1).
This metaphor, Father, is used so often that it’s a title of God. It’s appropriately masculine because God has given husbands authority in the family and elders authority in the church.
If God is like our father, then we are like God’s children. Like His sons, an inheritance awaits us. This image reminds us of God’s provision for us.
God’s also like a mother. A mother brings infants into the world and cares for them. Young children spend most of their time with their mother and feel secure with her.
God “gave birth” to the Israelites when he created their nation (Dt 32:18). He cared for them like a mother eagle cared for its young (Dt. 32:11-12). His love and care can be compared to that of a concerned, caring and comforting mother (Ps. 131:2; Isa. 49:14-16; 66:13).
If God is like our mother, then we are like God’s children. As His children, we can be secure. This image reminds us of God’s care and love for us.
God’s like a lord or master. A lord or master had power and authority over servants, slaves, or property.
God’s rule and authority rests ultimately upon His creation and ownership of all things and all people. David said:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for He founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters” (Ps. 24:1-2)
God is the owner and governor of the whole earth (Ps. 97:5; 114:7; Isa. 1:24; Mt. 1:22; Mk. 5:19; Acts 7:33). That means He has authority over people whether they realize it or not. The psalmist uses “Lord” to honor God and express thanksgiving (Ps. 16:2; 57:9-10).
This metaphor is also used as a title of God in the both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Hebrew noun Adonai (Strongs #136) applies to someone of higher rank in society (Gen. 18:12). The master rules the servant and the servant submits to the master. The Greek noun kurios (#2962) means master (Mt. 1:20; 7:21; 18:27). It signifies power, authority, and ownership.
What’s the modern equivalent of “lord”? Sir? Master? Manager? Ruler? Captain? Commander? Chief? Leader? Boss?
If God is like our boss, then it’s like we’re under God’s rule. This image reminds us of God’s leadership and management.
God’s like a bridegroom and husband. A bridegroom loves and cares for his bride. They belong together.
The relationship between God and Israel is likened to that between a bridegroom and a bride (Isa. 54:5). Israel belonged to God. But Israel and Judah were unfaithful. This is illustrated by the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife.
The equivalent New Testament metaphor is that the church is the bride of Christ. Christians belong to Christ, like a bride belongs to her husband.
If Jesus is like our bridegroom, then we are like His bride. We belong together. This image reminds us of God’s love for us.
God’s also like a king. In ancient times, a king ruled a city or nation. A king has authority over all others. They have ultimate authority. In democratic countries like ours it’s difficult to imagine a king with absolute power and where there is no avenue for appeal.
God’s covenant with Moses was like a Suzerain-Vassal treaty. God was the Suzerain, the great king who promises to be Israel’s King and Protector. The ark of the covenant was His throne and the tabernacle/temple was His palace.
God was like Israel’s king (Ps. 5:2; 74:12; 95:3; 98:6; 145:1; Jer.10:10; Zeph. 3:15). He said, “I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King” (Isa. 43:15).
He is also like a king over all creation (Ps. 29:10; 47:2, 6-8; Zech. 14:9; Rev. 15:3; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16). “For God is the King of all the earth” (Ps. 47:7).
In the gospels, Jesus only once (Mt. 5:35) explicitly called God king and in the parables (Mt. 18:23; 22:2, 7, 11 13) He only indirectly calls God king. In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt. 18:21-35), God is like the king who cancelled the servant’s debt. In the parable of the wedding banquet, God is like the king who invites people to his son’s wedding (Mt. 22:1-14). This shows God’s mercy and grace.
If God is like our king, we are like the subjects of His kingdom. This image reminds us of God’s authority and power. Eventually, God will defeat all opposing powers to bring justice and peace.
God’s like a judge. A judge assesses the guilt of the accused and determines the penalty if they are guilty.
Abraham called God “the Judge of all” (Gen. 18:25). And David said, “God is a righteous judge” (Ps. 7:11). God was Israel’s Lawgiver and Judge (Isa. 33:22). Peter said that God “judges each person’s work impartially” (1 Pt. 1:17).
There’s good news and bad news. At the exodus, the Israelites were rescued, but the Egyptians were judged. In future, Christians will be rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ for their obedience and service (1 Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). This is because Jesus has already paid the penalty for their sinfulness. But, unbelievers will be judged and sentenced as guilty at the great white throne “according to what they had done” (Rev. 20:11-15). Meanwhile God is patiently waiting for people to repent and turn to follow Him because He doesn’t want anyone to face this judgment (2 Pt. 3:7-10).
If God is like a judge, then we are like the accused. Because Jesus paid our penalty, this image reminds us of God’s love for us.
God’s also like a warrior. A warrior defends and protects against enemies.
After the exodus, the Israelites sang “The Lord is a warrior” (Ex. 15:3). David often pictured God as a warrior who delivered him from his enemies (Ps. 18:13-14). Nehemiah said, “Our God will fight for us!” (Neh. 4:20). God also defends the weak (Dt. 10:18; Ps. 10:14; 68:5-6; 146:7-9; 147:6). He is “the Mighty Warrior who saves” (Zeph. 3:17).
One of God’s titles is “Almighty” (Gen. 17:1; Rev. 21:22). This means He is all powerful (omnipotent).
Satan is our greatest enemy. But Jesus was God’s means of defeating Satan. And Jesus is also described as a warrior (Rev. 19:11-21).
If God is like a warrior, then we are like those needing deliverance from Satan. This image reminds us of God’s power to defend and protect.
God’s like a potter. A potter makes pottery out of clay. The pottery displays the potter’s creative skill. They make a work of art from a lump of clay. Isaiah said,
“you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8)
The potter can do what they want with the clay. For example, Jeremiah said that the fate of Judah was up to God, like the fate of the clay is in the potter’s hands (Jer. 18:1-10). As the clay doesn’t question the potter, we shouldn’t question God (Isa. 29:16; 45:9; Rom. 9:21). As the clay is at the mercy of the potter, we also rely of God’s mercy.
If God is like a potter, then we are like the clay. This image reminds us of God’s creativity and sovereignty.
God’s also like a shepherd. A shepherd cares for sheep.
In Old Testament times God chose a nation of people, the Israelites, to follow and obey Him. The picture that’s used is of God being their shepherd; “Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock” (Ps. 80:1; Jer:31:10). He would lead them and care for them and they were to follow where He led. The imagery of a shepherd and his flock provided a picture of the way God cared for His people
David said, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). The shepherd sustains and guides the sheep (Ps. 23:1-4; 28:9). Ezekiel contrasts selfish leaders (Ezek. 34:1-10) and God’s leadership (Ezek. 34:11-16). Isaiah described God’s deliverance of the Jews from exile as:
“He tends His flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in His arms
and carries them close to His heart;
He gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11).
If God is like a shepherd, then we are like the sheep. This image reminds us of God’s loving leadership.
God’s like a gardener. A gardener cares for plants.
In the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as God’s vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7). A failed grape harvest was a symbol of Israel’s disobedience, rebellion and idolatry. In the New Testament, Jesus is pictured as the true vine, believers are the branches and God the Father is the gardener (Jn. 15:1-8). God prunes us to be more fruitful.
If God is like a gardener, then we are like the branches of a plant. This image reminds us of God’s loving care.
Second; God is likened to some animals.
God’s like a lion. A lion is a predator that rules the land.
God’s judgement of Israel and Judah (Hos. 5:14; 13:7-8) and ungodly nations (Jer. 25:37-38; 49:19; 50:44) is likened to the devastation caused by a lion.
If God is like a lion, then His judgment should be feared. This image reminds us of God’s punishment of sin.
God’s like an eagle. An eagle is a majestic bird that rules the sky.
After the exodus, God helped the Israelites like an eagle helps its young to fly (Dt. 32:11). God is like an eagle, He covers us, shelters us (Ps. 36:7, 63:7, 91:3-4) and hides us (Ps. 17:8).
The Psalmist wrote, “Surely He (God) will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:3-4).
If God is like an eagle, then he can provide refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.
Third; God is likened to some inanimate things.
God’s like a light: “God is light; in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). Light is the opposite of darkness. In the Bible, light symbolizes purity and goodness, and darkness signifies evil and sin. So God is pure, righteous and holy.
Psalm 119 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps. 119:105). Light reveals things. It shows us what’s ahead. It this case the Bible shows God’s truth.
David said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1). Here “light” is associated with deliverance from one’s enemies.
God will be the “everlasting light” in the new Jerusalem (Isa. 60:19-20). He will be the source of all truth and righteousness.
If God is like a light, then He can show us the truth and the way to go. This image also reminds us of God’s holiness.
Rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield
God’s also like a rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield. These are used for protection against enemies.
Ancient cities and fortresses were often built on rocky hills. David hid in these areas to avoid his enemies. When he praised God for deliverance from his enemies, David said, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps. 18:2).
This image is associated with safety and security (Dt. 32:4, 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:2, 32, 47; Ps. 18:2; 31:3; 62:2; 71:3; 78:35; Isa. 17:10). A more direct metaphor is to say that God is like a refuge: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27; Ps. 46:1).
If God is like a rock, then he can provide a safe refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.
God’s like a fire. A fire burns and consumes whatever is combustible.
When the Israelites were warned against idolatry, they were told “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” (Dt. 4:24). This shows God’s righteous anger against the sin of unfaithfulness and disobedience. The same imagery is used to express how God will destroy the Canaanites because of their wickedness (Dt. 9:3). The consuming fire is a symbol of God’s judgement of sin (Isa. 29:6; 30:27, 30; 33:14). Today God is like a consuming fire to all who refuse to listen to Him and is to be worshipped with reverence and awe (Heb. 12:29).
Ezekiel had an image of God as a man full of fire surrounded by brilliant light (Ezek. 1:26-28). God’s presence is often symbolically revealed in the form of fire and light (Ex. 13:21; 19:18; 4:17; 40:34, 38; Isa. 66:15). They are symbols of God’s holiness, which can’t tolerate any sin.
If God is like a fire, then His awesome holiness means that He will judge everything that is contrary to this holiness. This image reminds us of God’s judgement of sin.
God’s like a tree. A tree has flowers and fruit.
God told Israel that “your fruitfulness comes from me”, because He was “like a flourishing juniper tree” (Hos. 14:8). This tree is evergreen, its leaves don’t fall off in winter. Its fruit is a pine cone that’s the source of nuts. As the tree provides the nuts, so God is the source of Israel’s blessings.
If God is like a tree, then Israel was like His fruit. This image reminds us that God sustains His people.
Fourth; God is likened to certain attributes.
Beginning and the end
God’s like the beginning and the end, which is symbolized by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega (Rev. 21:6). As Creator of the universe, He was there when it began. As God will also be there at the end, He rules over all human history.
If God is like the beginning and the end, then He is always present. This image reminds us that God is eternal.
God’s loving (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). In particular, He loves His people (Dt. 7:8, 13).
This kind of love is described as, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).
It means that God doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Instead, He has shown His love in this way, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:16-17).
If God is loving, then people are the objects of His love. This image reminds us that Jesus was God’s love gift to us. Have you accepted God’s gift? This kind of love drives out fear of judgment (1 Jn. 4:18).
God’s a savior. A savior saves someone, like a lifeguard (or lifesaver) rescues people in danger of drowning.
Because David was often saved from his enemies, he wrote “Our God is a God who saves” (Ps. 68:20). God sees and watches all of us (Ps. 33:13-14). Savior is used so much in the Bible that it is often used as a title of Jesus Christ.
If God is a savior, then people are the ones He rescues. This image reminds us that God sent Jesus to rescue us from the judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Have you been rescued yet?
God’s also like an eyelid, a builder, physician and teacher (Dt. 32:10; Ps. 103:3; 119:33; 147:2; Isa. 28:26).
We have looked at several images of God from the Bible. Different images highlight different characteristics of God. If God was on Facebook, He could choose between these profile pictures because He:
Provides like a father
Cares and loves like a mother
Manages like a boss
Loves like a bridegroom
Reigns like a king
Sentences like a judge
Defends and protects like a warrior
Creates like a potter
Leads like a shepherd
Prunes like a gardener
Punishes like a lion
Illuminates and is pure and holy like a light
Protects like an eagle and a rock
Judges sin like a fire
Sustains his people, like a tree provides fruit
Saves like a lifeguard (lifesaver)
Is always there
So God can meet all our needs. In response, do we:
Live like a child of God?
Feel secure in God’s love?
Follow God’s instructions?
Have a close relationship with God?
Respect God’s reign?
Realize that Jesus paid our sentence?
Realize that Satan is defeated?
Acknowledge that God made us?
Follow God’s leading and guidance?
Accept God’s discipline?
Fear God’s punishment?
Feel safe in God’s salvation?
Recognize God’s sustenance?
Realize God’s presence?
So multiple images are required to show us what God is like. But I’ve left the best image till last. Paul wrote, “The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He’s “the exact representation of His (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So Jesus is the best image of God.
Written, February 2016
Runny nose, excess mucus, wheeze, dry cough, heavy chest, sore muscles, aches and pains, headache, loss of appetite, and fatigue. My body’s in a combat zone! My immune system has been fighting since these symptoms arose after a long haul jet flight. I’ve read that these symptoms can go on for weeks regardless of the treatment followed. I know the body will eventually return to normal, but not how long it will take. In the meantime I’ve fasted, restricted my diet, rested, tried shallow breathing and taken medication.
Paul used the metaphor of a fight to describe: the self-control required for Christian service; the way to oppose false teachers and godless philosophies; and how to live the Christian life daily.
The Christian’s main task is to serve the Lord. For this they need self-control, just like a boxer or any sportsman (1 Cor. 9:24-27). In fact, to help attain success, sportsmen need to exercise self-control in all parts of their life.
Paul fought against false teachers and godless philosophies (2 Cor. 10:4-5) by comparing them against what God has revealed in Scripture. He used the divine power of the Bible to demolish these human arguments because they undermined the knowledge of God. He wanted all humanity’s teachings and speculations judged in the light of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul compared contending against false teachers to fighting in a battle (1 Ti. 1:18).
Paul urges Timothy to strive to live out his Christian faith in daily life like a soldier (1 Ti. 6:12; 2 Ti. 2:3). Discipline is required to be ready for service for the Lord, while not being distracted by less important things.
Near the end of his life Paul looked back over 30 years of ministry and wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Ti. 4:7-8NIV). He looked forward to the reward for faithful service.
Paul also said we are in a literal battle against Satan and his demons (Eph. 4:12). The weapons provided for us in this fight are: to live by the truths of Scripture, to live with integrity, to be ready to share the good news of the gospel, to exercise our Christian faith by always trusting in the Lord and His word, to realize our salvation assures us of ultimate victory, to trust God’s revelation in the Bible, and to pray continually (Eph. 4:10-20).
Remember our spiritual disciplines and battles are more important than our physical ones. But we need to care for our physical life so as to be able to continue serving the Lord.
Written, February 2015
As this metaphor is used in the Old Testament, that is where we will begin. It is related to three Hebrew words: shakab (Strongs #7109), which means “to lie down”; yashen (Strongs #3462), which means “sleep”; and shenah (Strongs #8142), which also means “sleep”.
In one of the oldest books of the Bible, death is described as to “lie down in the dust” (Job 7:21; 20:11; 21:26NIV). In death an Israelite’s body is said to be resting with their ancestors Ge. 47:30; Dt. 31:16; 2 Sam 7:12; 1 Ki. 2:10). Here we see that in ancient history, death is associated with lying down to rest.
In Psalms, death is described as the “sleep of death” (Ps. 13:3; 90:5) and the death of the Assyrian army is called their “final sleep” (Ps. 76:5). In God’s predicted judgment of Babylon, they will “sleep forever and not awake” (Jer. 51:39, 57). Here we see that the Israelites associated death with sleep. This metaphor is also evident in Greek mythology.
In the following verse the word “sleep” has been added by the translators by inference as it isn’t in the text, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Clearly in this context “sleep” means “death” and “sleep in the dust of the earth” means the body after death (corpse). So, in the context of death, the word “sleep” refers to the corpse. Therefore, “awake” means resurrection of the body. Here we see a clear indication that death isn’t the end of the body.
Both Jesus and Paul use “sleep” as a metaphor for death in the Bible. They would have been familiar with this metaphor from their knowledge of the Old Testament.
The Greek word koimao (Strongs #2837) means “to sleep, to fall asleep, or to die”. Similarly the Greek word katheudo (Strongs #2518) means “sleep or sleeping”. Both words are also used metaphorically for death, with the meaning in a particular passage being determined by the context in which it is used.
The clearest explanation of the metaphor is given in the following Scripture passages.
‘After He had said this, He went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but His disciples thought He meant natural sleep. So then He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead …’ (Jn. 11:11-14NIV).
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Th. 4:13).
The metaphor is used to refer to the deaths of:
– The girl who died and was raised back to life (Mt 9:24, Mk 5:39, Lk. 8:52)
– Lazarus (Jn. 11:11-14)
– Some godly people who died in Old Testament times (Mt. 27:52)
– Stephen (Acts 7:60)
– David (Acts 13:36)
– A husband (1 Cor. 7:39)
– Some of those who abuse the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:30)
– Christians (1 Cor. 15:6, 18; 1 Th. 4:13-15)
– People who died in Old Testament times (1 Cor. 15:20)
– Jewish ancestors (2 Pt. 3:4)
Also, 1 Corinthians 15:51 and 1 Thessalonians 5:10 say that not all Christians will die (or sleep) because the bodies of Christians that are alive at the rapture will be transformed without going through death.
“Death”, “departure” and “sleep”
How is death like sleep? Sleep is the time period between falling asleep and awaking when the body rests. It is a temporary condition, not a permanent one. How is death a temporary condition, not a permanent or eternal one? The Bible teaches that although our bodies decay after death, they will be resurrected on a future day. In fact everyone will be raised from death to one of two destinies (Acts 24:15). Jesus said “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (Jn. 5:28-29). Here goodness is evidence of salvation and evil is evidence of unbelief.
At death there is a separation of the body and soul and the believer’s soul goes to be with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8). As the soul is very much alive, when the word “sleep” is used in connection with death in the New Testament, it refers to the body, not the soul. The body is “sleeping” until its resurrection.
It is said that the early Christians called their burial grounds koimeterion (or “sleeping places”, a word derived from Strongs #2837 and used by the Greeks to describe a rest-house for strangers). This is the derivation of the English word “cemetery” (meaning “the sleeping place”).
The state of the soul after death is illustrated by the story of the rich man, Lazarus and Abraham (Lk. 16:22-31). After he died, the rich man had an extended conversation with Abraham, who died about 2,000 years earlier. Likewise, Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. 17:3; Mk. 9:4; Lk. 9:30-31). Moses died about 1,400 years earlier and Elijah was raptured about 850 years earlier. This is consistent with the soul of a believer living with the Lord after death. The Bible metaphor for the soul at death is “departure” as the soul departs from the body to be with Christ, which is better than the struggles of life on earth (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23).
As people awake after sleeping, so in a coming day our bodies will be resurrected. The first resurrection takes place in various stages, including the rapture (1 Cor. 15:20; Mt. 27:52-53; 1 Th. 4:16; Rev. 20:4). It includes Jesus Christ and all those who have trusted in God. These are rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). They are raised to eternal life and immortality with the Lord.
The second resurrection is when those who have rejected God’s witness to them are judged at the Great White Throne (Jn. 5:29; Rev. 20:4-5, 12-13). The penalty is to be thrown into the lake of fire where they are tormented forever. They are raised to condemnation and banishment from the presence of the Lord.
So the metaphor of sleep for death should be a warning to be ready for the resurrection when we will face Jesus as either a lifesaver or a judge. What will it be?
Written, January 2015
We are all slaves to what we follow
Immigrants to Australia are told we have freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of movement. We are a democracy with laws against discrimination based on race, gender, disability or age. People are autonomous and are generally free to live as they want to. Therefore, we don’t have slavery where people are owned by their master and are totally dependent on them. But are we really free?
Slaves of sin
Jesus said we are not as free as we think. When He was on earth, He told the Jews “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32NIV). They objected: we’ve never been slaves, so how can we be set free? They had forgotten about the Babylonian captivity. Also, in Jesus’ time they were ruled by the Romans. But Jesus explained “everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (v.34).
So Jesus describes two types of people. Those who are slaves and those who are free. First the slaves. He says whoever practices sin is a slave of sin. As slaves have masters, such people are owned and controlled and committed to sin. They can’t break free by their own strength. Sinners can’t escape sin. Are we like them; slaves of sin, ignorance, false teaching, and superstition?
Second the freed. But “if the Son (Jesus Christ) sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v.36). When a person trusts in Christ’s sacrificial death, they are freed from the slavery of sin. The evidence of this is that they “hold to my teaching”. They follow Jesus. Is there enough evidence to show that we follow Jesus? Jesus calls these people sons.
Are you a slave or a son (v.35)? Here we see that because slavery was common in Biblical times, the Bible often uses it to illustrate spiritual truths. And there are more to come.
Freedom purchased – Redemption
Slavery can involve hard work and cruelty. Slaves seek freedom from their slavery. Let’s look at two examples from the Old Testament. First, when God promised to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He said, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Ex. 6:6).
To redeem means to buy back or to release by means of a payment. It costs. This was illustrated in the 10th plague when the firstborn across Egypt died, except for the Israelites. In this case the payment was the lamb that died instead of the first born (Ex. 13:13-15). So God used a mighty display of power (described as “an outstretched arm”) to release them from slavery. He also judged the Egyptians in the plagues and when the army and their chariots and horses were lost in the Red Sea.
The second example is how debt slaves could be freed from their slavery. When people fell into debt they could sell some or all of their family into slavery so they could work to eventually repay the debt (Lev. 25:47-49). Such debt slavery was a form of welfare. If a relative was able to repay the debt, then a debt slave could be released from their master. The price was determined by the number of years remaining until the year of jubilee when debts were cancelled (Lev. 25:50-52). This person was called the redeemer and the money paid was called the ransom (Lev. 19:20). The redeemer rescues people from a bad situation. In this case they were freed from slavery as shown in the diagram.
The Bible uses this illustration to describe what Jesus did. The Jews thought that Jesus would redeem them from Roman domination (Lk. 24:21), but God had a different redemption in mind (Rom. 3:24).
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole’” (Gal. 3:13). The curse of the law is death. That’s the main punishment for not keeping the commandments (with diseases & disasters Lev. 26:14-45; Dt. 11:26-28; 27:14-26; 28:15-67; 29; 19-28). Here we see that Jesus took the punishment instead so the Jewish believers were completely delivered from the law. He came “to redeem those under the law” (Gal. 4:5). That was the price paid for our deliverance from sin as well. The Bible says, “You were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23).
It’s like being released from slavery or kidnapping and set free. Jesus came to “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45) and “as a ransom for all people” (1 Tim. 2:6) – where the NLT says, “He gave His life to purchase freedom for everyone”. This redemption results in “forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). This means we can be released from the eternal penalty of our sins. The diagram shows that what Jesus did is similar to when a debt slave is redeemed by a ransom. Christ is the Redeemer and His death is the ransom paid.
The Bible says that Jesus died “to redeem us from all wickedness” (Tit. 2:14). We are delivered from being dominated by sin. From being slaves to sin. From being addicted to sin. We are also redeemed from our “empty way of life” (1 Pt. 1:18). All this is summarised as “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3). The Redeemer (Christ) paid the ransom (death) to release us from being slaves to sin. So Jesus is a Redeemer who can rescue us from slavery to sin.
Jesus as God’s slave
But Jesus was not just a Redeemer. When God promised the Messiah in Isaiah, He was called “my servant” (Isa. 42:1; 49:3, 6; 52:13; 53:11). “When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.” (Isa. 53:11NLT).
The Hebrew word translated as “servant” in this verse is ebed (Strong’s #5650), which means “slave”. It’s clear that these passages about the servant in Isaiah (Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 52:13-53:12) refer to the Lord Jesus because He was to experience suffering and be exalted (Isa. 52:13; 53:11). The image is of an obedient slave. This obedience was shown in the garden of Gethsemane when He prayed “your will be done” (Mt. 26:42). The Bible also says that He took “the very nature of a servant” when He lived as a human being (Phil. 2:7). The Greek word translated as “servant” in this verse is doulos (Strong’s #1401), which means “slave”.
That’s amazing! The one we call Lord was like a slave! The Redeemer was God’s slave. This means that redemption through Christ was God’s idea. It also means that Jesus obeyed God the Father as a slave obeyed their master. He is the greatest example of obedience and faithfulness for those who have been redeemed from slavery to sin to be God’s sons.
Slaves of Christ
What about those who have been redeemed? The Bible says that Peter, James, Paul and Epaphras were slaves of Jesus Christ. (Rom. 1:1; Col. 4:12; Jas. 1:1; 2 Pt. 1:1). Elsewhere Christians are called “slaves of Christ” who did the will of God from their heart (Eph. 6:6). What does this mean?
Slaves serve their master who is their lord as shown in the diagram. Jesus Christ has paid the price to release Christians from slavery to sin and Satan and they are now His slave as shown in the diagram. They now have a new master. He is their Lord and they are to serve Him. This applies to people from all nations as Peter told the Gentile Cornelius that Jesus Christ is “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). The Greek word translated “Lord” was kyrios (Strongs #2962), which means supreme in power and authority. It’s a title of honor and respect used by slaves to their masters (Mt. 13:27). Like a soldier says “Sir” to their commander. To confess Jesus as “Lord” is to say He is our “master” and “owner” and we are His slave. Thomas called Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28). In the New Testament, both Jesus Christ and God the Father are called “Lord”.
This illustration is consistent with the Old Testament where the Israelites were said to be God’s slaves. But they were unfaithful. As the Jews were to be devoted to God and Christ was devoted to His Father, so Christians are to be devoted to following and serving Christ.
Slaves of obedience and righteous living
We have looked at being slaves of sin and slaves of Christ. We are all slaves to what we follow. Sin and Christ are like two masters. The Bible teaches that we are slaves to one or the other. Its main message is that we have a choice of master. Paul describes this in Romans 6:
“Since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realise that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.
Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:15-23NLT)
Paul says that we are slaves to what controls us (v.16). No one is autonomous. We are either slaves of sin or slaves of Christ. In the first case, sin enslaves by spreading. It’s addictive. Sin can’t be avoided or overcome. Paul said, “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Rom. 7:21). Sin leads to more sin and being deeper into sin (v.19). It means we do things that we are ashamed of (v.21). And sin results in death. Moral death. Physical death. Eternal punishment and separation from God. This is summarised in the diagram.
The only alternative is to obey God so that sin no longer dominates. Believers have a new master! They are slaves of obedience and righteous living, which leads to holiness and eternal life. This choice is also shown in the diagram.
Because slavery was common in Biblical times, the Bible often uses it to illustrate spiritual truths. We have seen that because we are all controlled by something, there is no such thing as absolute autonomy and freedom. Instead there are choices to be made. Jesus said that we can’t serve two masters like God and money (Mt. 6:24). We can’t follow each way. It’s either one or the other.
We are born as slaves to sin. If we remain that way this leads to more sin and death and the consequence is eternal punishment. But we can be rescued from this situation. God has sent a redeemer who has paid the price so we can be God’s sons instead of slaves to sin. The consequence is eternal life instead of eternal punishment. Have you accepted this offer? It’s the most important decision in our lives.
Christians are redeemed from their previous way of life. They have a new master and Lord. Now they should obey and serve Christ like a slave does to a master and like Jesus obeyed and served God. This leads to holiness and the consequence is eternal life.
As we are all slaves to what we follow, let’s choose Christ as our master and Lord and obey and serve Him daily.
The choice Christians face each day is do I serve sin or do I serve God? Of course it’s best to follow our new master, not the old one. If we lapse, then we can confess our sin and repent by changing our behaviour.
Our choices have consequences. We reap what we sow and harvest what we plant (Gal. 7:7-10). Let’s remember, if we have trusted in the Lord Jesus, then we are His slaves. Then we will seek to please Him and He will work in our lives.
Written, July 2013
July 9, 2013 | Categories: Christian, Christian living, Spiritual | Tags: freedom, illustration, liberty, metaphor, obedience, redeem, redemption, righteous living, sin, slave, slavery, slaves | Leave a comment
According to the dictionary, the word “church” is used to describe either a building used for public Christian worship, a church service, or a group of Christian believers. In practice, the meaning is given by the context in which the word is used. In this article we look into what the Bible says about buildings used for Christian worship.
The Jewish temple
Before the church came into existence in Acts 2, the Jews were God’s people on earth. Their main place of worship was the tabernacle or temple, which was also called the “house of the Lord” and the “house of God” (Ex. 23:19; Ps. 42:4; 122:1). This was a special building which was used for festivals, sacrifices, prayers and psalms. God gave detailed specifications for the building and its furniture. God was said to live in the inner room of this building that was only entered by the High Priest once a year. However, Solomon knew that God wasn’t confined to the building (1 Ki. 8:27; Acts 7:47-50). Some thought they were safe in Jerusalem because God would always protect the temple, but Jeremiah criticised this superstitious faith in a building rather than in God (Jer. 7:4-14).
Because of Jewish idolatry, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. After the temple was rebuilt about 70 years later, Jewish sacrifices resumed and they continued until the temple was destroyed once more by the Romans in AD 70. So the physical house of God, which was associated with animal sacrifices, was destroyed and it doesn’t exist anywhere on earth today.
From about the third century BC, synagogues were also used by the Jews for worship and teaching their law. As this was the inter-testament period, they are not mentioned in the Old Testament. By the time Jesus was born, most Jewish communities had a synagogue. Jesus and Paul both taught in synagogues (Jn. 18:20; Acts 17:2).
The early church
For a brief period the early church met together in the outer court of the temple (a large open area), until persecution drove them out of Jerusalem (Acts 2:46; 5:12). Otherwise, the early church met in people’s homes. They were house churches. For example, there was a church in Priscilla and Aquila’s house in Rome and in Ephesus (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19) and in Philemon and Apphia’s house and in Nympha’s house in Colossae (Col. 4:15, 17; Phile. 2). It seems as though they may have also used public buildings such as the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8-10).
For the following reasons, church buildings are not mentioned in the New Testament and there are no specifications given for places of Christian worship:
- There was no longer any need for animal sacrifices at a particular place – Jesus was the “once for all” or last sacrifice (Jn. 4:20-21; Heb. 7:27; 9:26-28; 10:8-18)
- Buildings are not essential to the Christian faith – after all it is the people who are important not the building they meet in
- Special buildings are not required for small congregations that can meet in homes
- Special buildings can be expensive and can’t move and reproduce quickly
- Buildings can be a hindrance when the church is being persecuted
How the Christian church is like the Jewish temple
In the New Testament we learn that the people of the church are like a building. Paul told Gentile believers: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22NIV).
This metaphor or figure of speech reminds us of some important characteristics of the church. God owns it, the Holy Spirit lives in it and Jesus Christ is the foundation (1 Cor. 3:10-11; Heb. 3:5-6; 1 Pt. 2:4-6). Jesus is also the builder and the “cement” that holds it together (Mt. 16:18). Each believer is like a living stone.
In particular, the people of the Christian church are like the Jewish temple:
- God lived in the temple, the Holy Spirit lives in the church (1 Cor. 3:16-17)
- The temple was a place of worship, the church are a people of worship
- The temple was a place of sacrifice, the church offers sacrifices of praise and worship to God and service to one another
- The temple was a holy place, the church is a group of holy people
- The temple had great wealth and beauty, the church has a great spiritual inheritance and is being transformed to be like Christ
So the Jewish temple (which was the physical house of God) has been replaced by the people of the church (which is the spiritual house of God). In a metaphorical sense, any group of Christians are the house of God.
Written, October 2011
The Bible teaches that our ultimate destiny is either heaven or hell. In the previous article in this series, we saw that heaven is God’s home and the home of all who trust in Him. It’s a place of great beauty where they will be no sin and we will be worshipping, serving and reigning with the Lord Jesus. This article looks at what the Bible says about hell.
The Greek word “Gehenna” (Strongs #1067) meant “the Valley of Hinnom”, which was near Jerusalem. This place was known for its burning fires (Is. 30:33); it was where children were sacrificed by fire to the heathen gods of Baal and Molech (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6; 32:35). After the practice of child sacrifice was outlawed by King Josiah (2 Ki. 23:10), it was the city waste dump (Jer. 19:2) and anything deemed unclean (including the bodies of executed criminals) was incinerated and a fire was constantly burning there. It also became their cemetery when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem (Jer. 7:32-33; 19:6-13). By the time of Jesus Christ, the deep, constantly-burning Valley of Gehenna, was thought of as the place “down there” where the wicked would eventually be cast into the flames for destruction. So in Scripture, the word “Gehenna” became a metaphor and synonym for hell, the place of eternal punishment.
God’s final judgement
The book of Revelation was the last to be written in the Bible and the one that says the most about the future. After the church has been raptured to heaven, Revelation describes a period of great judgement on earth called the tribulation, which is followed by Jesus returning to establish His kingdom on earth for 1,000 years, and then Satan will lead a final rebellion against God, which will be judged by fire from heaven.
Then we read, And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev. 20:10NIV). The fate of the trinity of evil (Satan, the beast, and the false prophet) is called the “lake of burning sulphur” where they will be tormented forever. So, hell is a place of eternal torment.
The next scene is a court with the accused before the judge, who is on a throne. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from His presence, and there was no place for them (Rev. 20:11). Here we see Jesus Christ on a great white throne about to judge mankind. This is after the end of the world as we know it (2 Pt. 3:10). Jesus is the judge because “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22). It’s a great throne because of the issues involved and white because of His perfection holiness and purity. God’s greatest attribute is His holiness – the word is repeated “holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).
Then John saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done (Rev. 20:12-13). Here we see two kinds of records: the book of life and records of people’s lives. The book of life lists all those who have received Christ as their personal Saviour and who will inherit eternal life. They are raised to life in what the Bible calls the first resurrection (Rev. 20:5). Jesus told His followers not to rejoice in what they had done, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10:20). The most important thing in life is: “Is my name written in the book of life?”.
Others will be raised in the second resurrection (Rev. 20:5) and judged according to what they had done in life (Rom. 2:6). It is all preserved in God’s great library, like the YouTube website. Books are used as symbols here; we would probably use videos. Just as there will be degrees of reward in heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15), so there will be degrees of punishment in hell (Mt. 11:22; Lk. 12:47-48). The depth of suffering in hell is conditional on the opportunities rejected and the sins indulged.
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15). The judgement is to be thrown into the lake of fire, which is also called “the second death”. As death involves the separation of the body from the spirit and soul, and Hades is where the spirit and soul are after death, hell involves the body, spirit and soul.
So hell is the judgement for sinners who refuse or ignore God’s free gift of eternal life. The Bible is full of references of the punishment of the wicked (Rom. 2:5-12; Gal. 6:7-8; Heb. 10:29-31; Rev. 20:11-15). In fact it has more references to hell than it does to heaven.
We will now look at what else the Bible tells us about hell. As we are looking at eternity which we haven’t experienced, the Bible uses metaphors to express what it is like. A metaphor is figurative language which says that one thing is like another thing in certain ways.
Characteristics of hell
In at least 9 verses, hell is described as being “eternal” or “everlasting” or “for ever” or “for ever and ever”, which means that it is endless (Mt. 18:8; 25:41, 46; Mk. 3:29; 2 Th. 1:9; Heb. 6:2; Jude 7, Rev. 14:11; 20:10). After all we are looking at eternity. For example, it is referred to as “eternal judgement” (Heb. 6:2). This is the only characteristic of hell that is like heaven; they are both eternal.
Made for Satan and demons
God made hell for Satan and his angels (demons), but unfortunately many people have chosen to go there as well: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). In contrast, heaven is the home of God and His angels and all true Christians. The sin that sends people to hell is the refusal to submit to Jesus Christ: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (Jn. 3:36).
Like a fire
In at least 18 verses, hell is described as involving “fire” or “being burned” or a “blazing furnace” or a “lake of fire” or a “fiery lake of burning sulphur” (Mt. 3:12; 5:22; 13:30,40,42,50; 18:8, 9; 25:41; Mk. 9:44,48; Lk.3:17; Jude 7; Rev. 19:20; 20:10,14,15; 21:8). The fire symbolises God’s judgement: the process of judgement is likened to the action of fire. Fire is said to test the believer’s work or service at the Judgement Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). In heaven the judgement is for rewards, while in hell it is an eternal reminder of one’s sin.
Like a second death
In at least 3 verses hell is described as being a “second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). Death involves separation and a change of state. In hell people are separated from God and all that is good. This is the opposite of heaven, where instead of eternal death there will be eternal life with God and all that is good.
In at least 6 verses hell is described as being “destroyed” or suffering “destruction” or to “destroy both body and soul” or to “perish” (Mt. 7:13; 10:28; Jn. 3:16; Phil. 3:19; 1 Th. 1:9; Heb. 10:39). “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 marvelled at among all those who have believed” (2 Th. 1:9-10). It means separation from the Lord, never to see the glory of His power, and “everlasting destruction”, which means loss of well-being, or ruin as far as the purpose of existence is concerned (Lk. 5:37), not the end of existence. Although some people believe that unbelievers cease to exist before God sets up the new heaven and the new earth, the Bible calls hell “eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46).
In at least 2 verses hell is described as involving “torment” or being “tormented” (Rev. 14:11; 20:10). For example the rich man was in torment and agony when he was in Hades, which is a precursor to hell (Lk. 16:23). This is the result of being eternally reminded of one’s sin, and contrasted by the joy of heaven.
There is no relief
In at least 5 verses the suffering in hell is described as being “unquenchable” or the “fire never goes out” or it continues “day and night” or there is “no rest day or night” or “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mt. 3:12; Mk. 9:44, 48; Lk.3:17; Rev. 14:11; 20:10). For example, Abraham told the rich man in Hades “between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Lk. 16:26). Like water in a lake, there is no way out or means of escape. There is no relief. This means that the torment is continual, whereas there is always joy in heaven .
Weeping and gnashing of teeth
In at least 6 verses hell is described as involving “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Here we have weeping and strong emotions where one’s teeth are clenched and grinding together (either due to anger or pain). This is opposite to heaven, where there will be no more sorrow or crying or pain.
In at least 4 verses hell is described as involving “darkness” or “blackest darkness” (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 2 Pt. 2:17; Jude 13). This means it is away from God who is the source of light. This is opposite to heaven, where people are with God.
Like being outside
In at least 4 verses hell is described as being “outside” (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Rev. 22:15). This means it is outside heaven and away from God, which is the opposite of heaven.
What will people be doing?
From the above we can see that people in hell will be being reminded of their sins, separated from God and all that is good, which will lead to being continually tormented, without relief, crying, and angry. This is opposite to those in heaven who will be worshipping, serving and reigning with the Lord.
Before the eternal state begins, Jesus promised to return for His people at the rapture and then to return in power and glory to judge the sinful world and usher in His millennial reign over the earth. Although believers look forward to this time, we don’t know when it will occur, but it could be soon. Although John wrote Revelation about 1,900 years ago and the Lord hasn’t come yet, our eternal destiny is set the moment we die, which could be very soon. In this sense, heaven and hell could be a breath away.
Lessons for us
The Bible has given us a glimpse into what hell is like. In the Bible, future events are always foretold in order to bring about changes in our present actions. What does this mean to us today?
First, don’t use the word “hell” as a swear word. It’s a place of eternal suffering, not a word to use when you are frustrated. The Bible warns about using “unwholesome talk” (Eph. 4:29).
Second, let’s fear God, because hell is a real place. Jesus told His disciples, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him” (Lk 12:4-5).
Third, you don’t want to be there. The only way to avoid hell is to have your name written in the book of life. There are two possible destinies. If your name is written in the book of life, you enter into eternal life. If you refuse God’s offer, then your ultimate fate is the lake of fire.
The Bible says, that God loved the people of the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him will not perish in hell but have eternal life in heaven (Jn. 3:16). Also, the Lord “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). That’s why we should reach out to people with the gospel message. Like Paul and Apollos, we can plant and water the seed of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can make it grow (1 Cor. 3:6).
Written, July 2010
See the other article in this series: What is heaven like?
Also see: Would a loving God send people to hell?
In the Old Testament, the word “star” is used figuratively to refer to a ruler (Num. 24:17). In the New Testament, the term “Morning Star” is used metaphorically of Jesus Christ: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16 NIV). According to Peter, believers should pay attention to the message of Scripture because it is “a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises” (2 Pet. 1:19).
The morning star appears in the sky before the sun rises at daybreak. Paul wrote that the finalization of our salvation is near because “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Rom. 13:12). This means that the present age is like a night that is darkened by sin. We know that Christ will come to rapture believers to heaven at the end of this age (1 Th. 4:13-18) and then judge the sinful world before reigning over all. After God’s judgment of sin, there will be no more darkness (Rev. 21:25-27; 22:5), as darkness is a symbol of sin (Jn. 3:19).
In the second coming, Christ is pictured as the morning star that precedes the day. This was promised to the believers at Thyatira: “I will also give them the morning star” (Rev. 2:28). It is clear that in these three instances, the morning star is a metaphor for Jesus Christ. This illustration is not surprising as Christ’s incarnation was likened to a sunrise (Is. 9:2; Lk. 1:78-79).
The only other passage of the Bible that includes the term “morning star” is Isaiah 14:12. Here is how different versions translate it.
“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” (NIV)
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!” (NKJV)
“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who weakened the nations!” (NASB)
The context of this verse is God’s judgment on the king of Babylon; it was part of a taunt sung by the Israelites (Isa. 14:3). This is the only place in Scripture where the Hebrew word heylel appears; it has been interpreted as “shining one” or “star of the morning.” Isaiah seems to be using this metaphor of a bright light, though not the greatest light, to illustrate the apparent power and boastfulness of the Babylonian king which then faded.
When the Old Testament was translated into Latin in 405 AD, heylel was translated as “lucifer” – a synonym for “morning star.” Today the word “lucifer” has two meanings: “the planet Venus, the morning star” (the next brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon) and a name of Satan. Both of these interpretations were mentioned in the 1611 (KJV) translation of Isaiah 14:12.
Although the primary context of the passage is about a king of Babylon, in Isaiah 14:12-17, the focus seems to move to the fall of the one who energized the king of Babylon, Satan (14:13-14), and represents supreme arrogance, pride and conceit, which were Satan’s sins (1 Tim. 3:6). In this interpretation, the metaphor, the “morning star” is applied to Satan. But as we have seen, this title is also used of Christ (Rev. 22:16). This is not inconsistent because the term “lion” is also applied to both Satan and Christ (1 Pet. 5:8; Rev. 5:5). This possible association of the king of Babylon with Satan seems to be the origin of “Lucifer” as a term for Satan.
The “morning star” is a metaphor in Scripture applied to Jesus, the king of Babylon and maybe Satan. This is appropriate because they either have been, are or will be rulers. The reign of the king of Babylon is past; Satan’s is a doomed present (Rev. 20:7-10); Christ’s will be supreme and eternal (1 Cor. 15:24-27).
Published, July 2009