Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “worship

Worshipping God and idols at Bethel

Good start, but bad finish

John Akhwari had a good start in the 1968 Olympic marathon race, but he also had a bad finish. He fell during the race and dislocated his knee but kept on going to finish last over one hour behind the winner. Likewise, the town of Bethel in Israel had a good start but a bad finish.

Geography

Bethel was 20 km (12 miles) north of Jerusalem; west of Ai (Gen. 12:8) and south of Shiloh (Jud. 21:19). It has been identified with modern Beitin (or Benin) or with el-Bireh. Bethel was on the ancient north-south ridge road that has been referred to as the Road of the Patriarchs. This road went through Shechem, Shiloh, Bethel, Jerusalem, Hebron and Beersheba.

Bethel was on the northern border of the land allocated to the tribe of Benjamin and Jerusalem was on the southern border. Bethel was assigned to the Benjamites, but they did not possess it, as the Ephraimites captured it from the Canaanites  (Josh. 18:21-22; Jud. 1:22-26). So Bethel was an Ephraimite town (1 Chron. 7:28). (more…)


When to praise God

Emotions are a powerful part of our lives. But do we control our emotions or do our emotions control us? For example, do we only praise God when we feel like it?

Job was a wealthy man with a large family who lived before the time of Moses. One day four separate disasters wiped out all his possessions and children. His oxen, donkeys and camels were stolen and his sheep were killed by lightning. This was a total loss because there was no insurance in those days. And his children died when a house collapsed on them in a severe storm.

How did Job respond to these calamities? He would have been devastated and stricken with grief and loss. Did he stop trusting in God in such trying circumstances? (more…)


Responding to external problems

What keeps you awake at night? According to the World Economic Forum, the biggest risks facing our world in 2019 are climate change, natural disasters, large-scale conflicts and cyber attacks. And many people struggle with poverty. David wrote many psalms in the Bible and it seems as though he spent many sleepless nights. One of the biggest problems he faced was that king Saul wanted to kill him. During this time period, David lived as a fugitive, seeking refuge in various places and moving around to avoid Saul and his men (1 Sam. 18-30). He feared for his life. Also, the Philistines were a perennial enemy of Israel and David faced them in battles. The best known of these is his victory over Goliath.

25 of the psalms are prayers by David for God’s help against his enemies. But most of these (84%) end up praising God and with an assurance that God has heard his prayer and will answer it (see Appendix). And only 8% have no praise or assurance. For example, in Psalm 54 David prays for deliverance from enemies (Saul’s supporters) who are trying to kill him (v.1-5NIV). The Ziphites betrayed David by revealing his location to Saul (1 Sam. 23:19-20). So David writes: (more…)


Responding to personal problems

chemotherapy 3 400pxMy parents in-law are going through tough times with weakness because of chemotherapy and confusion because of dementia. We can all experience such internal problems, which can be physical or mental. After all, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (Jn. 16:33NIV).

Twelve of the psalms are prayers for God’s help for illness or depression (See Appendix; Ps 6, 13, 16, 30, 38, 41, 42, 43, 71, 88, 102, 116). In these lament psalms the psalmist brings their problems to God. But most of them (83%) end with praise to God. For example, Psalm 13 describes David’s suffering:

1How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts [he was depressed]
and day after day have sorrow in my heart [soul, spirit]?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
(more…)


Human destinies: Heaven

Heaven 5 400pxChristianity provides the most comforting and comprehensive way of life which addresses the fundamental aspects of human life. Some of the major questions we ask are: Where do we come from? It’s a question of human origin. The Bible says that God created humanity in the beginning. Who are we? It’s a question of human identity.  Christians are children of God. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here and what is the purpose of human existence on earth? It’s a question of human purpose. Where are we heading? And where are we going? It’s a question of human destiny. Christianity doesn’t only provide a reasonable answer to these questions for believers alone, but it addresses every human being. Is this post we look at the last topic: Where are we going? What is our destiny? This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on this topic by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan.

Heaven and hell

It’s very important for us to understand that the question of human destiny is based upon the question of the Jesus’ identity. Who Jesus is and what He is doing for us is determining human destinies. If someone believes in Jesus and His sacrificial death for human sin, then their destiny is fixed with Him. But if someone doesn’t believe in Jesus and His death for human sin and for the destiny of the world, then that person’s destiny is fixed without Christ for the whole of eternity. So Jesus is the decisive person here and now. The choice we make here in relation to Jesus and in relation to the good news (gospel message) in Scripture is going to decide our future destiny.

What does the Bible generally say about the destiny of human life? In this post, we will not look at what happens immediately after death or future events such as the tribulation or the millennial reign of Christ. But we are going to focus on the final destiny of human life. The Bible says that people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27NIV). So death is certain. It’s like we all have a terminal disease. Some will die early and some will die later, but we will all die. This is a consequence of Adam’s rebellion against God. And after death there is judgement. There are various kinds of judgements described in the Bible. But God’s final judgement is going to divide everyone who ever lived from Adam down to the end of time into two groups. “Then they [unbelievers] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [believers] to eternal life” (Mt. 25:46). The first group is unbelievers (who don’t trust in Jesus Christ) who face eternal punishment (hell). And the other group are believers saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who face eternal life (heaven). This post describes heaven, and the next one describes hell.

The Bible addresses human need, but not human curiosity. For example, it doesn’t tell us what Lazarus experienced after death. The Bible is like a love letter from a Father to His children saying that I am in control, trust me as we pass from death to eternity. We are excited about heaven. But heaven isn’t a surprise. Instead it is an outcome of all the decisions and the choices we make today. A small, simple, clear decision and encounter with Jesus we make is going to decide that destiny.

What is heaven?

According to the Bible, heaven is where Jesus is. It’s a place that God promised to prepare for us where there is no sin, no disease and no death. But is heaven going to be a place? It can be a spiritual place. We understand things through comparison, and analysis, and verification, and through examples. We don’t have realities in this world to compare with the heavenly. But we have symbols to express these realities like parables, similes and metaphors, which are the language we use to speak about the eternal and the heavenly and things that we do not know but are revealed in the Bible.

The word “heaven” is used in the Bible for three main purposes. It’s meaning in a particular passage is determined by the context. It’s “shamayim” in the Old Testament Hebrew language and “ouranos” in the New Testament Greek language. It is used for the atmosphere (sky), the universe (stars and galaxies) and the abode of God (the third heaven). In this post we are looking at the third meaning of heaven. The Bible says that this heaven is:

God’s home

It’s a spiritual home. A place of God’s being. When Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray, He said “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven …’” (Mt. 6:9). So, heaven is a place where God is. It’s God’s home. And in the Bible the word heaven is synonymous with God Himself. And Jesus told them, “My Father’s house has many rooms” (Jn. 14:2). So, heaven is our Father’s home.

The believer’s promised home

Jesus told His disciples “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:2-3). So heaven is also a place for believers. Jesus promised to return and take believers to be with Him in heaven. What a great promise to encourage us when we face the pain, struggles, tears, weakness, and challenges of life.

The believer’s citizenship

Paul told the Christians in Philippi, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). We are travelers and sojourners here. Our life is very short. It’s temporary. The brevity of life is going to give way to the permanent citizenship of heaven. Are we happy to be a permanent citizen of heaven? Mortality will be swallowed up in immortality. Corruptibility will be swallowed up in incorruptibility. And the temporal will be swallowed up in the eternal. Are we waiting for these joys of heaven?

The believer’s eternal home

After Paul described the rapture of the dead, he said “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them [resurrected believers] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we [all believers] will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). At the rapture all believers will leave the earth to live with the Lord. It will be an endless life in heaven. It’s a great destiny which is described in the Bible as follows.

A place of inheritance

An inheritance is kept in heaven for those who trust in Jesus. Peter writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us [believers] new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you [believers], who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time “ (1 Pt. 1:3-5). Its been said that “he is not a fool who gives away what he cannot keep for the sake of what he cannot lose”. Believers are not fools. They give up the perishable things of this world to secure, gain and keep forever the imperishable things to come. It’s an eternal inheritance. In heaven, God will deliver all believers from the presence of evil and sin.

A place of hope

Paul often thanks God for the faithfulness of His people, “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:4-5). This hope is not a virtue or an attribute. Jesus Christ is our hope: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). It’s the assurance of eternal life in heaven (Tit. 1:2). Jesus Christ is returning to take His followers to be with Him. Are we ready to meet Him with confidence?

A place of God’s presence

A passage about the eternal state says, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them” (Rev. 21:3).

A place of perfection

John wrote, “now we [believers] are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). They will not become gods or semi-gods. But they will be like Jesus in His risen body. In His resurrected glory. Christlikeness is their destiny.

A place of joy

A passage about the eternal state says, “‘He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Everything will be new. No more suffering or physical ailments.

A place of glory

A passage about the eternal state says, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev. 21:23). God provided light so that the Israelites could travel by night (Ex. 13:21-22). But this eternal light will be more glorious than that. We can’t imagine what it will be like. There will be no time, space or mass.

A place of resting

Believers are promised eternal rest. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (Heb. 4:9-11). What a great prospect for those who live in a restless world.

A place of worshipping and serving

But what are believers going to do in heaven? There will be plenty to do. There is worship. In this passage three groups of people are worshipping God 24/7. They are the multitude of believers, the 24 elders and the four living creatures. And the elders, “lay their crowns before the throne”, showing that God alone is worthy of praise and worship (Rev. 4:10).

In a coming time when God defeats those who persecute His people, there will be praise and worship in heaven. “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah [Praise the Lord]! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” And again they shouted: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!” Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you His servants, you who fear Him, both great and small!” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb [Jesus] has come, and His bride [believers] has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:1-7).

A place of fellowship and celebration

In contrast to the law of Moses [the old covenant], the new covenant is described as, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24). Believers are not alone in heaven. They are with a crowd of angels and human beings who are resurrected, restored, and enjoying the presence of God in celebration. Heaven is a place of celebration and joy and fellowship with God. Are you excited? Live up to that. Then one day Jesus will call, “Come on! I’m ready. Come out of your graves! Come out of your bodies, and pain and tears and suffering. Servants of God, who have put their trust in Jesus. Come home. Enjoy your rest”. May God keep us focused on the fellowship and celebration of eternal glory. May we cherish the eternal heaven of God which is our home, promised for us forever and ever.

Summary

Heaven is our destiny if we trust in the death of Christ on the cross to forgive our sins. It’s God’s home, the believer’s promised eternal home, and the believer’s citizenship. It’s a place of eternal inheritance, hope, God’s presence, perfection, joy, glory, resting, worshipping and serving, and fellowship and celebration.

Let’s not forget our faith or our journey with Jesus. And never lose the enjoyment of God in our life because that’s what’s going to keep us going until we reach our heavenly home.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on this topic. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.

Written, October 2018

Also see: Heaven and hell: What is heaven like?
What are the new heaven and new earth like?


Who and how to worship

Domitian 3 400pxThe book of Revelation was written during a time when emperor-worship unified the Roman Empire. The emperor was viewed as a divine figure, to whom temples, altars and priesthoods were dedicated. Emperors were worshipped, honored, respected and served at any cost. Because he rejected emperor worship, John was banished to the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9-11). From Patmos John urged first century Christians to worship the true God and not the emperor, and he recorded this message in the book of Revelation.

The Greek verb to worship, proskuneo (Strongs #4352), occurs 60 times in the New Testament and 24 (40%) of these are in the book of Revelation. It’s the main book about worship in the New Testament. In this way, the book of Revelation is like the book of Psalms, which is the main book about worship in the Old Testament. In Revelation, worship describes homage or reverence towards God, or a person or an idol or an angel. This shows that if we don’t worship God, then we will worship someone else or something else. Who will we worship? The true God or Satan who is the power behind all false gods? This is important because it determines our eternal destiny.

The book of Revelation is framed with worship – it’s in the first and last chapters. After John sees a vision of the glorified Christ, he “fell at His feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17NIV). This was an act of worship. After the final vison, John “fell down at the feet of the angel who had been showing” the visions to him (22:8). But the angel tells him to “Worship God” instead (22:9).

In Revelation, worshippers serve (7:15; 22:3), praise (19:5), and offer thanks (4:9; 7:12; 11:17). And they fall down (in worship) before God (4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4) and Christ (1:17; 5:8, 14).

The book of Revelation shows us who to worship and who not to worship.

Don’t worship angels

Angels are messengers from God. On two occasions when John received visions, he bowed down to the angel associated with them (19:10; 22:8). But he was told not to worship the angel. Jesus is superior to angels (Heb. 1-14). And Christians at Colossae were warned not to worship angels (Col. 2:18). So, don’t worship angels.

It is evident in the book of Revelation that there is a cosmic battle for our allegiance and worship. The true God and the victorious Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) continually reign and are being worshipped behind the scenes by angels and the redeemed in heaven, even during times when Satan seems to have his greatest impact. But Satan deceives the world into worshipping false gods and idols (12;9; 13:2-4; 20:2-3). 46% of the instances of The Greek verb to worship proskuneo in the book of Revelation refer to false forms of worship. In the end, Satan and his followers will be judged and cast into eternal punishment (20:1-4, 15). So, don’t worship Satan, who is an angel who rebelled against God.

Don’t worship heroes

Revelation describes political and religious leaders that oppose God’s people and God’s purposes (13:1-18). They are called beasts. And they deceive many people into worshipping them (13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9, 11; 19:20; 20:4). Paul also warned about worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). We are not to worship saints, prophets, political leaders, religious leaders, or Mary, the mother of Jesus. So, don’t worship human heroes, no matter how great they are.

Don’t worship idols

An idol is anything we worship instead of the true God. Anything we want more than God. Anything we rely on more than God. Anything we give a higher priority than God. And anything we look to for greater fulfillment than God. In Revelation idols are described as “the work of their hands” and “idols that cannot see or hear or walk” (9:20). In those days it referred to images and statues, which people were urged to worship. It was like when some of the Jews (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) told the king of Babylonia, “we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up“ (Dan. 3:18).

Idolatry also refers to false gods such as materialism, naturalism, wealth, power, selfish ambition, self-indulgence, self-esteem (pride), recreation, and pleasure. And Paul said that it includes, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (Col. 3:5). Idols can also be “good” things that we’ve elevated in importance. For example, our children, spouse, physical attractiveness, money, job, or friendships. And technology.

Revelation also says that worshipping idols is equivalent to worshipping demons (9:20). This means that Satan is the influence behind idolatry. So, don’t worship idols. Instead let’s turn away from idols “to serve the living and true God” (1 Th. 1:9).

So the book of Revelation says not to worship angels, Satan, heroes or idols. These are false (counterfeit) gods. But what does it say about worshipping the true God?

Worship the true God

In Revelation we learn about what worship is like in heaven. It’s mostly corporate (the redeemed and angels), not individual. Vast numbers of people and angels worship God together (5:11-12; 19:1, 6). And it’s God-centered – directed to God and Jesus Christ. Here’s three examples of this worship.

First, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (4:11). So, let’s praise and worship our God as the great Creator.

Second, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (5:9-10).

And at this time the angels said, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (5:12)!

So, let’s praise and worship Jesus as the great Redeemer/Saviour/Rescuer. His death and resurrection enabled people from around the world to have their sins forgiven so they could be reconciled with God. This is the greatest example of unconditional love.

Third, “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (15:3-4).

The context of this passage is God’s judgement of the ungodly. So, let’s praise and worship God as Judge of all. He is pure, holy and just. He’s the one who will right all the wrongs. He judges rebels and rewards His servants. And He is to be praised for His righteous judgements.

The book of Revelation is full of corporate praise and worship like, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory” (19:6-7)! And, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever” (5:13)!

The redeemed will worship God throughout eternity. They “are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple” (7:14). And they will worship and serve God forever (22:1-5).

Summary

People were made to worship. Bob Dylan sang, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody”. We worship either the true God or we worship a counterfeit. So, let’s worship the true God and not false gods. Let’s worship Him based on the patterns of heavenly worship depicted in Revelation. He’s the great creator, the great redeemer and the great judge.

Written, December 2017


True worship

worship 400pxWhat is “true worship”? You may think that worship is limited to a church meeting or the singing in such a meeting. But it’s much more than that!

In Romans Paul shows that worship is an important part of our Christian lives. After 11 chapters on doctrine (what we believe about what God has done for us), he turns to practice (how we should live in view of what God has done for us).

This turning point in the book of Romans begins, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom. 12:1NIV)

Christians are urged to do something here. It says that our actions, conduct and behavior should flow from an appreciation of what God has done from us. He says, “I urge you”. It’s not a command from a dictator, but an appeal from a friend. God is urging us to live in fellowship with Him.

This appeal is in view of “God’s mercy”. All that God has done for us and given us is described in the previous 11 chapters. This includes: salvation, forgiveness, justification, grace, redemption, righteousness, peace, hope, love, reconciliation, a spiritual life, the Holy Spirit, being released from the law of Moses, and being children of God, heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ. It’s so amazing that Paul concludes this section with a doxology expressing awe and wonder at what God has done and continues to do though Jesus (Rom. 11:33-36). That’s the basis of why we should live for God.

Paul says “offer your bodies” to God as a living sacrifice. This means to offer our whole lives to God, like sacrifices were offered in the ancient world. It’s our whole body, soul and spirit and all we do, not just in a meeting at church. It’s a total commitment.

It’s a “living sacrifice”. Like animals were sacrificed daily to God in the Old Testament, we are to be the sacrifice. We give up our rights and obey God. Our sacrifice is to be “holy”, exclusively for God. Just as in marriage we give ourselves fully to our spouse, so we give ourselves fully to God. The sacrifice is also to be “pleasing to God”. We are to live to please God.

This is “true and proper worship”. It’s what worship is! It’s offering ourselves to God because of all He’s done for us. It’s our logical and reasonable response to God.

We have seen that Romans 12:1 describes what worship is for each believer. It’s a way of life. It’s individual worship. This worship is not just a church meeting or singing, but the whole of our lives.

So according to the Bible, worship is a part of our response to God’s revelation. It is an attitude and an action. The attitude is offering adoration, respect and honor to God (Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 5:14). And the action is showing this respect by a life of service, obeying God (Rom. 12:1). Everyone worships something or someone. It’s evident in how we spend our time and money.

But God also calls us to collective worship (1 Cor. 11: 23-33). That’s how our individual worship can be combined and expressed corporately. It’s an opportunity to express our adoration, respect and honor of the Lord collectively. Corporate worship is focused on what the Lord has done in dying for us. That’s one of the purposes of the Lord’s Supper. Like individual worship, this should engage our minds, wills and emotions.

Let’s worship the Lord “in the Spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23-24).

Written, March 2017


Where’s Zion?

The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

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

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

Hill of Ophel

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

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

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

Temple Mount

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

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

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

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

Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

Western hill

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

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

Millennial Jerusalem

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

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

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

Heavenly Jerusalem

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

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

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

Lessons for us

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

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

Written, August 2016

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho|
Rebellion and deception at Samaria
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice
Worshipping God and idols at Bethel


Looking for spiritual answers

Story of GodThe National Geographic Channel is screening a documentary series “The story of God with Morgan Freeman”. It asks big cosmological questions like; How did we get here? What happens when we die? Why does evil exist? What is the apocalypse? And, the power of miracles. The series blends science, history, anthropology and personal experience on a journey to understand humanity’s religious devotion. It tells the story of religion and spirituality, across disciplines and faiths.

Freeman played God in the movie “Bruce Almighty”. When asked about his picture of God, Freeman said, “I don’t think there is an image of God. I like the idea of rays coming down from clouds. I like the idea of seeing the Milky Way on a clear and starry night or under a full moon. That is the essence of existence. You’re there totally with the great unknown. That’s God”. Also, “The highest power is the human mind. That’s where God came from, and my belief in God is my belief in myself”.

Many people are aware of a spiritual dimension to life. They may sense a divine higher being that provides meaning and purpose and moral guidance. Or they may realize that their capacity for thinking, willing and feeling is beyond the physical realm. The fact that we need to find meaning and purpose in our lives means that we are spiritual beings.

A Google search on “spiritual answers” gives a range of responses including those based on, meditation, yoga, Christianity, Hinduism, Mormonism, psychics, mysticism, and higher consciousness. Some say that all religions lead to God and heaven. But, according to the Bible that’s not true.

True and false

When Jesus was in Sychar, He asked a Samaritan woman for water to drink from the well. In their conversation Jesus mentioned her previous five husbands. She responded by calling him a prophet and discussing places of worship. Then Jesus said, “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:21-22NIV). The Samaritan Bible contained only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Samaritans worshipped the true God, but their failure to accept much of His revelation meant that they knew little about Him. They mixed the law of Moses with idolatry and built a temple on Mount Gerizim. Consequently, Jesus condemned their ways of worship and spiritual practices, which must have been inconsistent with the Old Testament (the Bible at that time). He corrected her by saying that God’s revelation in Scripture came through the Jews (their Scripture taught that a Messiah was coming into the world) and the Messiah (who was talking to her) was Jewish.

Jesus is saying that God can now be worshipped in any place. In the Old Testament the Israelites were to worship God at the tabernacle (as it moved from Sinai to Canaan) or at the temple (in Jerusalem). But after Jesus came, there’s no one special place to worship God. Instead, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). We can worship God anywhere. And corporate worship is possible wherever Christians gather together. Also, Jesus said that He was metaphorically the new temple, the new meeting place with God – “Destroy this temple (His body), and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19).

Then Jesus said that because God is spirit, people must worship God “in the Spirit and in truth” – “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (Jn. 4:23-24).

Because truth is associated with Jesus Christ, true worship must include Jesus (Jn. 1:14; 14:6). Jesus is “full of grace and truth”. And He’s “the way and the truth and the life”. So there is true worship and false worship. There is true religion and false religion. There is true spirituality and false spirituality. This is how to test spiritual answers. Because the Samaritan worship didn’t include Jesus (as Messiah), it was a false worship. A false religion. Jesus said, “Whoever rejects me rejects Him who sent me (Lk. 10:16). If you reject Jesus, you reject the true God. This means that Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and any other religion or philosophy that does not accept Jesus as the divine Savior of the world who came to die for sinners and rise again and become the Mediator between God and humanity is false. The Bible says that only one religion leads to God and heaven – true Christianity. Despite our pluralistic, multicultural, relativistic and all-tolerant world, all other religions are false.

What about Morgan Freeman’s search around the world for spiritual answers? He said that “the great unknown” is God. Is this true or false? It’s false because God has revealed much more about Himself in the Bible. His search doesn’t include Jesus at all. And God is much more that our mind or our self-belief. What about all the religions and philosophies? All except Christianity as described in the Bible are false. They don’t include Jesus. Or if they do include Jesus, it’s not the Jesus described in the Bible.

Lessons for us

Don’t be like Morgan Freeman and look for spiritual answers in the wrong places. And the results of a Google search that don’t include Jesus as described in the Bible are wrong places.

It’s easy to be influenced by others. For example, the Israelites were influenced to worship the gods of other nations. Likewise, today we can be influenced by the news media, social media, academics, politicians, and movies. In fact, we can be influenced by anyone.

Let’s look in the Bible for our spiritual answers and not be swayed by the other false religions and philosophies.

Written, May 2016


What happened to the priests?

Vinyl record 400pxI have collection of vinyl musical records, but no record player because they are obsolete today. Likewise, audio cassette tapes are obsolete. And CDs are heading that way as well! Smart phones have replaced alarms, diaries, low quality cameras, calculators, MP3 players, and GPS devices. These are also obsolete! New technology replaces the old.

Let’s look at the roles of priests in public worship in Old Testament times and whether there are any implications for the New Testament church. We will see that because Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sin, we no longer need priests. They are obsolete because there is no need for a human mediator between us and God. But all Christians have a joint responsibility to worship and serve the Lord and to bring the good news about Jesus to all the nations of the world.

Israelite/Jewish priests

The Hebrew noun translated “priest” (kohen, Strongs #3548) occurs 750 times in the Old Testament. It is used frequently for men who represented the people before God by offering sacrifices, carrying out rituals and speaking prayers.

Before the Israelite priesthood was instituted, the heads of families functioned as priests by offering sacrifices to God. For example, Noah, Abram, Isaac, Jacob and Job did this (Gen. 8:20; 15:9-10; 26:25; 31:54; Job 1:5).

God’s covenant with Israel provided for two types of priests, individual and national.

Individual

The high priest was the head of priestly affairs and the spiritual head of Israel. He had special duties, like entering the Most Holy Place of the temple annually on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). The high priest wore special clothing that symbolized the nature and importance of his office. There was only one high priest at any given time. He was chosen by God (Heb. 5:1, 4). And he represented all the Israelites as he made “atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17NIV).

Priests were male descendants of Aaron, the first high priest (Ex. 28:1 – 29:46). The priests served in the tabernacle and then the temple. Their main function was to offer continual sacrifices to God in order to atone for sin. They were also teachers and judges and wore special clothing. However, this priesthood was never intended to be permanent (Heb. 7:11). In the New Testament we see that Christ completed and superseded the Aaronic priesthood.

Levites were male members of the tribe of Levi. They assisted the priests, sang psalms, kept the temple courts clean, and assisted with sacrifices and teaching. As the priests and Levites worked full-time in the tabernacle and temple, they were supported by the people’s tithes (10% of their income) and by eating some of the sacrifices. So by profession they were priests and Levites; that was their occupation.

Jewish public worship was carried out by priests, who were all male. There were no female priests. Does this have any implications for public worship in church today?

Also, there was a clear separation between the priests and the people in Jewish public worship. Does this have any implications for public worship in church today?

According to the Mosaic covenant, animal sacrifices to God can only be offered to God on altars at the tabernacle or the temple in Jerusalem. As the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 and it hasn’t been rebuilt since then, no Jewish priests have offered sacrifices for the past 1,945 years. This is why there are no individual Jewish priests today.

National

When Moses was on Mount Sinai God gave him this message for the Israelites, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). Here the nation of Israel is referred to as “priests”, those who serve in the presence of God. This conditional covenant means they could all be priests and all be holy (set apart from other nations).

The Israelites were to constitute God’s kingdom (the people who acknowledged Him as their king) and, like priests, were to be devoted to His service. They were to be “holy” (set apart) to do God’s will (Dt. 7:6; 14:2, 21; 26:19). In their priestly role, the Israelites were to be channels of God’s grace to the nations, leading to their salvation (Gen. 12:2-3; Is. 49:6; 61:6). In a coming day, the Gentile nations will follow the God of the Jews and there will be peace and security (Zech. 2:11; 3:1-10; 8:20-23). This didn’t happen in Old Testament times because the Jews disobeyed the covenant. However, they will fulfil this role in a coming day when they recognize Christ as the Messiah under the new covenant.

New Testament priests

The Greek noun translated “priest” (hiereus, Strongs #2409) has a similar meaning to kohen in the Old Testament. It’s used in the book of Hebrews for Melchizedek, Jewish priests, and Jesus Christ. But it’s never used in Scripture to describe a sub-group of people within the church. One of the reasons for this is that because of Christ’s sacrificial death there was no longer a need to offer sacrifices for the sins of the congregation. Because “sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary” (Heb. 10:18), the priests that made these sacrifices are also no longer necessary. This is why there were no priests in the New Testament church.

High priest

In the book of Hebrews, Jesus is described as a priest who offered a perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity. He is also a high priest in God’s presence on our behalf. He is a superior high priest to those under the old covenant. The priesthood of Christ completed and superseded the Aaronic priesthood (Co. 2:17; Heb. 5-10).

The fact that the curtain of the temple was torn in two when Christ died symbolized that His death opened new access to God (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). No longer did their access to God depend on a human priest and animal sacrifices. Today all Christians can approach God through Christ (Jn. 14:6; Rom. 5:1-2; Eph. 2:18; Heb. 6:19-20). They can confess their sins directly to God (Mt. 6:12; Lk. 18:13; Acts 2:37-38; 17:30). So, they don’t need a priest as a mediator.

Priests

There are no individual priests mentioned in the New Testament church to carry out priestly functions for other Christians. Instead Peter writes, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pt. 2:5)”; and “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Pt.2:9).

This letter was written to Christians who were scattered throughout Asia Minor (modern Turkey) (1 Pt. 1:1). And these verses are in a section that describes a Christian’s privileges and duties (1 Pt. 1:1 – 2:10).

In these verses, Christians are said to be priests that are both holy and royal. They are “holy” because they serve a holy God (1 Pt. 2:5). The “spiritual sacrifices” they offer are Christian worship and service to God and His purposes. They can offer their bodies (Rom. 12:1), offer money or material goods (Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:16), offer good works (Heb. 13:16), offer praise (Heb. 13:15), and serve the Lord (Rom. 15:6). For example, Paul called his proclamation of the gospel a “priestly duty” (Rom. 15:15-16).

Christians are also said to be “royal” because they are privileged (1 Pt. 2:9). This term is associated with being “a chosen people”, “a holy nation” and “God’s special possession”, which reminds us of the Jews and Exodus 19:5-6. Through Christ, they had direct access to God. This also implies that Christians should be priests to all nations. Of course this must involve bringing them to Jesus Christ as the high priest. So as Jews were God’s special people in Old Testament times, Christians are God’s special people today. Peter says that our response should be to praise God (1 Pt.2:9).

John also says that Christians have been made a kingdom and priests to serve God the Father (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). As priests they have free access to God, and offer up the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, and of grateful service.

Discussion

So what happened to the Jewish priests? There are no individual Jewish priests today because there is no Jewish temple.

It’s significant that there were no Christian priests in New Testament times to mediate between God and people, as we find in the Old Testament. Because of Christ’s sacrificial death, there is no longer a need to offer sacrifices for sin. As the role of priests in the Old Testament wasn’t carried over into the church, the fact that they were male has no implications for the gender roles in Christian public worship. Likewise in Christian worship, there is no need for a clear separation between a sub-group (like the priests) and the rest of the people.

What about other roles that were carried out by Jewish priests and Levites?
• They were spiritual leaders. The model for the overall leadership in the New Testament church is a group of male elders (1 Ti. 3:1-7; Ti. 5-9).
• They inherited their role. This was not the case for elders in the New Testament church.
• Their needed to behave appropriately. Likewise for elders in the New Testament church.
• They spoke public prayers. There are no models indicating who did this in the New Testament church.
• They carried out rituals. There are no models indicating who led the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament church. Some baptisms were done by missionaries, such as Philip and Paul.
• They were prominent in public worship and rest of the people were spectators. There are no models for this in the New Testament church.
• They taught. Those with the gift of teaching taught in the New Testament church.
• They judged. Paul says that Christians should resolve civil disputes rather than taking them to court (1 Cor. 6:1-6). Also, a spiritual Christian can help one who has fallen into sin (Gal. 6:1-2). Jesus also gave a process for dealing with a sin (Mt. 18:15-20).
• They wore special clothing. There is no instance of this mentioned in the New Testament church.
• They sang psalms. There is no mention of song leading in the New Testament church.
• They kept the temple courts clean. The New Testament church usually met in people’s homes.
• They were professional. In the New Testament church there was provision for financial support as required for apostles (1 Cor. 9:4-14), elders (1 Ti. 5:17-18), teachers (Gal. 6:6) and missionaries (Phil. 4:4-19). But each of these could also be tent-makers like Paul.

So the only types of Christian “priesthood” in the New Testament are the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:17; 3:1), and the priesthood of all believers (1 Pt. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6).

Conclusion

We have seen that the roles of priests in public worship in Old Testament times have no implications for gender roles in church meetings today. Because Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sin, we no longer need priests. They are obsolete because there is no need for a human mediator between us and God. However, because they are God’s special people, all Christians have a joint responsibility to worship and serve the Lord and to bring the good news about Jesus to all the nations of the world.

Written, December 2015


What does the New Testament say about the Sabbath?

Sabbath vs Lord's DayI have received the following comment about a post on whether Christians should gather together on the Sabbath day.

I am so disturbed to learn that we as Christians have decided that the Sabbath which was commanded by God can be dealt away with. There is nowhere in scripture we are told to change that. In face Jesus says if you love me follow my commandments. There was no new commandment set by Jesus to abandon the sabbath. He said I came to do my fathers will. Sunday worship comes from Rome and the worship of Roman gods. The same goes for Christmas and Easter. All these are pagan celebrations which has infiltrated the church. The true Christians under Paul and Peter never celebrated anything besides preaching on the Sabath. In the book of Revelation, John declares he saw seven golden candle sticks, a symbol from the old testament and Christ was in the midst of this. The God, Yahweh has never changed and will never changed. His laws remains the same till the end of time. I truly believe its satan worship if we tell Christains to worship on Sunday’s and don’t follow the laws of God. That’s against everything God stands for, if you love me keep my commandments. Which commandments? We still obey the laws because we Gentiles are the spiritual Israelites, but our path way salvation is Christ not just obeying the Law. I dont understand why anyone will teach this to the Christian world that you can disobey the Creator because of what man has decided it’s the new religion. Wake up and come out of Babylon, we are called by God and not by man. There if God says 7th day is the week is the day of worship, nothing changes because Yahweh doesn’t change. The first day of the week is the worship of the Sun God, do some research and you will know Constantine started this with the Roman Church. You cannot change God’s Law or command. Jesus said I came to fulfill, not to change. Jesus said I came to do my fathers will. So there is no where Sunday worship was instituted and declared the Holy Day of the Lord. Brother George ask the Holy Spirit for deep teaching and insight so you don’t deceive his children. Shalom

This post is based on a survey of the instances when the Sabbath day (7th day of the week) is mentioned in the New Testament between Acts and Revelation inclusive. These are the books of the Bible that apply to the Christian church, which began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). In the previous books of the Bible (Exodus to John), the Israelites (or Jews) are God’s special people on earth who are commanded to obey the Mosaic law (which included animal sacrifices, male circumcision and keeping the Sabbath). Because there is no Jewish temple (with altars for sacrifices) or priesthood, today it is impossible to practice the Mosaic covenant as it was followed in the Old Testament.

We will see that the model given in Scripture for the early church was for Sunday observance, which was different to the Jewish practice of Sabbath observance.

In this post we look at whether the instances of Sabbath day observance between Acts and Revelation are a command, a model to follow or merely a report of events. Instances of Sunday (1st day of the week) observance will be considered in the same way so the two can be compared.

Is Sabbath day observance 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 worth following today.

Sabbath observance commanded

I am not aware of any command to observe the Sabbath day between Acts and Revelation in the Bible. It is interesting to note that the other nine of the ten commandments given to Moses are repeated as commandments for Christians in this portion of Scripture, but the 4th commandment isn’t. Also, when they joined the early church which was largely Jewish, the Gentile Christians weren’t commanded to keep the Sabbath (Acts 15:19-20). Furthermore, Sabbath breaking is never mentioned as a sin in this portion of the Bible.

But if Sabbath observance isn’t commanded for the church, is it modelled?

Sabbath observance modelled

During his first missionary journey, Paul preached in the Jewish synagogue at Pisidian Antioch on two Sabbath days (Acts 13:14-49), but the message was rejected by the Jews. Then Paul preached to the Gentiles and they accepted the message. Paul and Barnabas left this town when they were expelled by the Jewish leaders (Acts 13:50-51).

During his second missionary journey, at Philippi Paul went outside the city gate to the river on the Sabbath day, where he expected to find a place of prayer (Acts 16:13-15). Paul must have preached there because Lydia responded to his message. But Paul and Silas had to leave this town after they were imprisoned. According to the NIV Study Bible, there were so few Jews in Philippi that there was no synagogue (ten married men were required), so the Jews who were there met for prayer along the banks of the Pangites river. It was customary for such places of prayer to be located outdoors near running water.

Next Paul visited Thessalonica where: “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:2-4). After this the Jewish leaders forced them to leave the city.

When Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah” (Acts 18:4-5NIV). But when the Jews opposed him and became abusive, Paul went next door and preached to the Gentiles.

So on his missionary trips Paul had a custom of visiting synagogues on the Sabbath. Why did he do this? What did he do there? From the four accounts summarized above we see that he preached that Jesus Christ was the Jewish Messiah that was promised in the Old Testament. Paul kept on doing this until he was forced to leave because of Jewish opposition. Then he preached to the Gentiles. So the purpose of this custom was to preach the message about Jesus to the Jews because they knew about the Old Testament. Paul only went to the synagogue on the Sabbath because there was an audience there for his message.

What is the example for us to follow? It is about preaching about Jesus whenever there is an opportunity and not about observing the Jewish Sabbath day. The other main occurrence of preaching to the Jews was Peter’s address on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). This was on a Sunday because the day of Pentecost was the 50th day after the after the Sabbath of Passover week (Lev. 23:15-16). So the apostles preached whenever the Jews were gathered together, whether it was on the Sabbath or on Sunday. The day of the week they preached wasn’t important to them.

Furthermore, there is no evidence that the early church met on the Sabbath. The meetings that Paul attended on the Sabbath during his missionary journeys were meetings of Jews held in a synagogue.

But if Sabbath observance isn’t commanded or modelled for the church, is it reported?

Sabbath observance reported

I am not aware of any other verses between Acts and Revelation in the Bible that are related to observance of the Sabbath day. The only other occasions the Sabbath is mentioned are in Colossians and Hebrews.

Paul prohibits Christians being condemned for not following particular food or drink regulations and for not observing particular religious activities that are held on an annual, monthly or weekly basis: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:16-17NIV). The examples given in this passage are arranged in the order of annual, monthly, and weekly. From Numbers 28:9-25 it is clear that the religious festivals were the annual Jewish festivals (such as the Passover), the New Moon celebration was the monthly Jewish offering, and the Sabbath day was the weekly Jewish Sabbath. As Christ has come, there is no value in keeping these things that foreshadowed His coming. Observance of these holy days is no longer required. Today we celebrate the reality, not the shadows.

Also, the “Sabbath-rest” in Hebrews 4:1-11, is different to the Sabbath day. This is the spiritual rest of salvation through faith in Christ (Heb. 11:2-3) that is likened to the physical rest of the Sabbath. Christians rest in the completed work of Christ (Mt. 11:28-30).

How does this compare with what the New Testament says about Sunday observance?

Is Sunday observance a command, a model or a report?

Sunday observance commanded

I am not aware of any command to observe Sunday (the 1st day of the week) between Acts and Revelation in the Bible.

But if Sunday observance isn’t commanded for the church, is it modelled?

Sunday observance modelled

When they visited Troas during Paul’s third missionary journey, Luke reported “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight” (Acts 20:7). In the previous verse it says that they stayed in Troas for seven days. Although he was in a hurry to travel to Jerusalem over the next month Paul seems to have waited until he could meet with the local church when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:6, 16). This is the most likely meaning of the saying “we came together to break bread”. It didn’t mean an ordinary meal, because they would have had these during the rest of the week and because Paul preached and taught as well. The Lord’s Supper and the apostles’ teaching, which are mentioned on this occasion, were two of the corporate activities of the early church (Acts 2:42). Therefore, the statement in the comment that “The true Christians under Paul and Peter never celebrated anything besides preaching on the Sabbath” is false.

Was this an unusual farewell meeting, and not necessarily indicative of normal practice? The fact that Paul spoke to midnight was probably unusual as the reason given for this is “because he intended to leave the next day”. But there is nothing in the passage to indicate that their celebration of the Lord’s supper was unusual or that Paul speaking after this celebration was unusual. In fact the prime reason given for meeting together on Sunday was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. There is a spiritual connection between the Lord’s supper and Sunday – the former symbolizes Christ’s death and the latter His resurrection.

So it seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians to gather together on the first day of the week in order to observe the Lord’s Supper and carry out other corporate activities.

When Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth he urged them to support needy believers in Jerusalem, “Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

Paul doesn’t say exactly how this money is collected, “set aside” or saved up. The Greek noun translated “collection” (Strongs #3048) only occurs I these two verses and none other in the Bible. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexion, in this context it means “money collected for the poor”. The passage seems to promote systematic giving. There was to be a collection each week so that the amount could accumulate over time and there would be no need for a collection when Paul came. So it was a corporate collection, not one done individually (if it was individual, there would need to be a collection when Paul came). If Paul wanted the collection to be done “at home” he could have included this phase as in 1 Corinthians 11:34; 14:35. This means that the finances of the early church were centralized as they were amongst the apostles when Jesus was on earth (Jn. 12:6; 13:29). So it seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians when they gathered together on the first day of the week to collect money from each other to support the needy.

Although Sunday observance is modelled for the church, is it reported elsewhere?

Sunday observance reported

I am not aware of any other verses between Acts and Revelation in the Bible that are related to Sunday observance. The only other possible mention of the first day of the week was when John said he saw a vision of Christ “on the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). The only other occurrence of this Greek adjective (Strongs #2960) in Scripture is a reference to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20). According to the NIV Study Bible, “The Lord’s Day” is a technical term for the first day of the week because Jesus rose from the dead on that day. It could indicate that John and the early church treated Sunday in a special way among all days.

Some think that Romans 14:5-6 addresses Sabbath or Sunday observance, but there is no evidence of this from the context of this passage.

Sabbath observance and Sunday observance compared

We have seen that the Greek noun for Sabbath (Strongs #4521) is associated with Paul preaching in the synagogue. It’s an example of Paul adapting to the customs of the Jews in order to win them to the Lord. “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law” (1 Cor. 9:19-20).

On the other hand, the phrase “the first day of the week” (Strong’s #1520 and #4521) is associated with gathering together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). This phrase is also linked in the gospels with Christ’s resurrection (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2; Lk.24:1; Jn. 20:1). So the resurrection of Christ seems to be the reason why the early church met on Sunday and this practice has continued down through the ages. Of course Christians can meet on other days of the week as the Bible doesn’t prohibit this. But there is no spiritual connection between the Lord’s supper (and His resurrection) and the Sabbath day.

I am not aware of any command given between Acts and Revelation in the Bible to the early church to observe either the Sabbath day or Sunday. There is no biblical command that either Saturday or Sunday be a day of worship.

It seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians to gather together on the first day of the week in order to observe the Lord’s Supper and to carry out other corporate activities including collecting money from each other to support the needy. But it’s not a day of rest or a holy day like the Sabbath was for the Jews. The only Christian practice in the Bible that’s related to the Sabbath is preaching about Jesus whenever there is an opportunity. As one of the opportunities was when Jews gathered on the Sabbath, that was when Paul preached (until he was rejected by the Jewish leaders). There is no model to follow for the church to meet on the Sabbath. It was only the Jews who held their services on the Sabbath.

Conclusion

A study of the portion of the Bible written about and to the early church (Acts to Revelation, inclusive) shows evidence for Sunday observance of the Lord’s supper and other corporate activities by Christians, but there is no evidence of Sabbath observance.

So the model given in Scripture for the early church was for Sunday observance, which was different to the Jewish practice of Sabbath observance.

Written, September 2015

Also see: What about keeping the Sabbath day?
I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses. Is this true?
I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God what does the Bible say about this topic?
The Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul
Why the new covenant is better
Is insistence on Sabbath-keeping legalism?


What does the Bible say about Mary the mother of Jesus?

Mary 1 400pxThe Pope’s exhortation “On the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world” issued in November 2013 to Roman Catholics makes some claims about Mary the mother of Jesus Christ that seem to be inconsistent with the Bible. Let’s look at some of them.

Don’t exalt, revere or worship Mary

Prayers to Mary?

The exhortation concludes with a long prayer to Mary that asks her to “pray for the church” and “pray for us” (p.216-217). Also a “prayer for help from Mary” is said to be “the manifestation of a theological life nourished by the working of the Holy Spirit” (p. 102). Furthermore, the Pope asks her “to help us proclaim the message of salvation to all and to enable new disciples to become evan­gelizers in turn” (p.214).

Most prayer in the Bible is addressed to God the Father. There are instances of prayers in the New Testament addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ, which is consistent with the fact that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and mankind (Acts 7:59; 1 Tim. 2:5). As Mary is neither divine nor a mediator between God and mankind, the Bible never suggests that people should pray to Mary and it gives no explanation of how Mary could answer such prayers.

Between Christ’s ascension and the day of Pentecost the apostles “all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14NIV). Notice that they prayed with Mary, not to her. She was waiting with them to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. She wasn’t different to the other believers. This is the last mention of Mary in the Bible.

Mary like Jesus and God?

The Pope says, “As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for people’s suffering …” (p.213) and “Many Christian parents ask that their children be baptized in a Marian shrine, as a sign of their faith in her motherhood which brings forth new children for God” (p.213). Also, “Mary offers them maternal comfort and love, and whispers in their ear: ‘Let your heart not be troubled… Am I not here, who am your Mother?’”.

In this instance Mary is given divine attributes like Jesus Christ and God the Father. In the Bible, Jesus is the one who said “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and is a sign of hope (Jn. 14:1; 1 Tim. 1:1NIV). God is the one who “brings forth new children for God”.

But Mary was not divine.  When she praised God for what He has done for her, Mary said “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk. 1:46-47). Because God was her Savior, she was not sinless. Mary didn’t have the power to do miracles, but she knew that Jesus could. When the wine was used up at the wedding at Cana, Mary told the servants “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn. 2:5).

Mary like the Holy Spirit?

In the Pope’s prayer to Mary he asked her to “Obtain for us now a new ardour … Give us a holy courage … help us to bear radiant witness …” for evangelism (p.216). He also says, “With the Holy Spirit, Mary is always pres­ent in the midst of the people” and her prayer “made possible the mis­sionary outburst which took place at Pentecost” (p.211) and “She is the missionary who draws near to us and ac­companies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love … she constantly surrounds us with God’s love” (p.213).

In this instance Mary is given divine attributes like the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, the Holy Spirit lives in each believer and gives power for evangelism (Acts 1:8; Rom. 8:9).

Shrines to Mary?

The Pope endorses shines to Mary (p.213).

When the Magi sought “the one who has been born king of the Jews”, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Mt. 2:1-2, 10). Here the Magi worshipped Jesus, not Mary.

After John was given great revelations by an angel, twice he fell down to worship him (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). Twice he was told, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you … Worship God!”. He was told to worship God, not the angel. If John had worshipped Mary, he would have been told to worship God, not Mary. The worship of any created being (angelic or human) is a form of idolatry. Christians are not to worship any other god except the one true God (1 Cor. 8:4-6) and not to worship idols (1 Cor. 10:7, 14; 1 Jn. 5:21). This was stated as the first and second commandments in the Old Testament (Ex. 20:3-6).

Mary is not mentioned any of the letters in the Bible that were written to the early church. Instead we read that the apostles and prophets laid the doctrinal foundation of the church in what they taught about Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-11; Eph. 2:20). Those with the most important spiritual gifts in the early church were the apostles, prophets and teachers (1 Cor. 12:28). They wrote these letters, not Mary. The letters describe their ministry, not Mary’s.

Next we look at some of the titles given to Mary in the Pope’s exhortation.

Don’t give Mary a special title

Mother?

The Pope often gives Mary the title Mother (215):

  • “Mother of the church” (p.211). The Pope states that on the cross “Jesus left us his mother to be our mother” and “Christ led us to Mary” (p. 212). The reason given is that “The Lord did not want to leave the Church without this icon of womanhood”.
  • “Mother of the living gospel” (p.214).
  • “Mother of evangelisation” (p.284).
  • “mother of all” (p.213).

None of these titles occur in the Bible. Also Mary is never called “the mother of God” in the Bible, because God has existed eternally.

When Christ was being crucified He said to Mary, “Woman, here is your son,” and to John “Here is your mother” and from that time on, John took her into his home (Jn. 19:26-27). Notice that Jesus didn’t call her “Mother”, but he instructed John to care for Mary as if she was his own mother. Jesus also called Mary “woman” at the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:4).

When a woman in the crowd called out to Jesus, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you”, He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk. 11:27-28). So a believer who hears the word of God and obeys it more blessed than the mother of Jesus. This means that Mary was more blessed as a believer than as the mother of Jesus.

Although the son mentioned in Revelation 12 is Jesus Christ, the mother symbolises Israel, not Mary. She is associated with the sun, the moon and 12 stars like in Joseph’s dream (Gen. 37:11, Rev. 12:1). The stars represent the tribes of Israel. Revelation 12 refers to the end times and is similar to Daniel 12. At that time the angel Michael protects the Jews (Dan. 12:1; Rev. 12:7-9). The woman’s offspring represent those who come to faith in the end times (Rev. 12:17).

Virgin?

The Pope also gives Mary the tile, “The Virgin Mary” (p. 212, 216, 217).

The Bible mentions Mary’s virginity to teach that a man wasn’t involved in Christ’s conception (Mt. 1:20; Lk. 1:31-35). As Jesus had brothers (James, Joseph, Simon and Judas) and sisters (Mt. 12:46-47; 13:55-56; Mk. 3:31-32; 6:3; Lk. 8:20-21; Jn. 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19), Mary didn’t remain a virgin after Christ’s birth. This is consistent with Joseph being told “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Mt. 1:20).

Other titles

The Pope also gives Mary other titles:

  • “Our Lady of help” (p.215).
  • “Bride of the eternal wedding feast” (p.217). But at the wedding of the Lamb mentioned in the Bible, the bride is the members of the church, not Mary (Rev. 19:7).
  • “Star of the new evangelisation” (p.217).

None of these titles is mentioned in the Bible.

Jesus taught that there is no place amongst believers for distinctive titles which elevate a person above the others; “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah” (Mt. 23:8-10). Instead our speech should reflect the equality between believers and distinctive titles should be reserved for the Godhead. If we shouldn’t elevate a person as our spiritual father, then we shouldn’t elevate another person as our spiritual mother.

Conclusion

The Pope’s claims about Mary that we have looked at above are inconsistent with the Bible. Presumably they come from extra-biblical traditional sources within the Roman Catholic church. Do they add to or take away from the Bible’s message (Rev. 22:18-19)? Is the different teaching with regard to Mary significant? Is it syncretism (the combination of different or opposing forms of belief or practice)? Is the Pope teaching a different gospel to the Bible’s gospel (Gal. 1:6-9)? That will be the topic of my next post.

Mary was a woman who was given a special role to be the mother who raised Jesus to adulthood. After the day of Pentecost she was a faithful member of the church in Jerusalem. Let’s imitate Mary’s faithfulness.

In the meantime, let’s exalt, revere and worship God the Father and Jesus, not Mary; and pray to God, not Mary.

Written December 2013

Also see – What is the Christian “good news”?


Worshiping materialism

materialismAccording to the Sydney Morning Herald  economics editor:

Too many of us spend too much time working and making money, and too little time enjoying the company of family and friends. We live in an era of heightened materialism, where getting and spending to acquire stuff crowds out the social and the spiritual. A higher material standard of living is sought regardless of what price we might pay to achieve that higher standard in terms of stress, reduced leisure, working on weekends or reduced time with family and friends.

What does the Bible say about this topic? King Solomon was one of the wisest and wealthiest people in the ancient world. He found that both wealth and money are meaningless without a relationship with God (Eccl. 2:17-26; 5:8 – 6:12). There is more to life than our material needs. So the economics editor has a valid concern, even though they may not have a long-term solution to the problem.

Idolizing the material world is a great source of evil, “The love of money (or the material world) is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10NIV). Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money (or material things)” (Mt. 6:24). Instead, the Bible urges us to be content with what we have (Mt. 6:31-32; 1 Tim. 6:8, 17).  “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5).

Greed is a serious sin, a form of idolatry, which leads to hoarding, self-sufficiency, indifference, worry, waste, and other sinful behaviors. It is a barrier to heaven and a hindrance to spiritual life. Worshiping money is futile because material wealth is fleeting, uncertain, and of no benefit beyond this life. Loving money is a barrier to loving God; it leads to spiritual weakness. This is a short-term investment that we can’t take with us after death. Anyone, whether religious or not, can abuse money. Is money our master or our servant? If money is our master we are in danger of missing out on heaven, and it’s too late to find this out after we die.

Written, March 2013

Also see:
“Living in a material world”
“Does God want us to be rich? Part 2”
“Does God want us to be rich? Part 3”


I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God. What does the Bible say about this topic?

Today the people of God comprise the church, which is made up of all true Christians. As the church commenced on the day of Pentecost, the part of the Bible that is specifically addressed to the church are the books from Acts to Revelation. Prior to this time (Genesis 12 to John); the Jews were God’s people on earth. Therefore, the answer to this question must be found between Acts and Revelation of the Bible.

The first mention in the Bible of a day of rest is when God rested at the end of the six days of creation (Gen. 2:2-3). But on this occasion God rested and there is no mention of humanity resting. The first mention of people resting on the seventh day occurs in the days of Moses, which is after people had been on earth for about 2,500 years (Ex. 12:16; 16:22-30). So there is no evidence that this practice was given at the creation of the world.

The distinctive day of the week for the Jews was Saturday, the Sabbath, the last day of the week. It was given to them when God provided manna in the desert and was an important requirement being included in the ten commandments (Ex. 16:22-30; 20:8-11). The Sabbath was given to the Jewish nation only and no Gentile was ever commanded to keep it (Ex. 31:13). It provided an opportunity to rest and focus on God (Mk. 2:27). In the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), the Sabbath is associated with the annual Jewish festivals (Ex. 23; Lev. 27; Num. 28-29). The penalty for breaking the Sabbath was death (Ex.31:14-15; 35:2; Num. 15:32-36).

The Sabbath day was given to the Israelites as a sign to remind them of their special relationship with God (Ex. 31:13, 17). God called them “my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5). The Sabbath day is a symbol of the covenant given to the nation of Israel at Mt Sinai. It distinguished them from other nations. The original form of the Mosaic covenant is Exodus 20-23, which was written on a scroll (Ex. 24:7-8). Then more laws were progressively added to the covenant. In Exodus 25-30, regulations are added about the building and ceremonies of the tabernacle. After this, God repeats the fourth commandment before He hands Moses the tablets of the covenant law (Ex. 31:12-18). The reason given is that the Sabbath day was a sign for the Israelites who left Egypt and their descendants. It symbolised God’s covenant with them. This covenant, described in Exodus to Deuteronomy (along with the circumcision law of Genesis), was for the Israelites and their descendants (Dt. 29:12-15).

As Jesus lived under this Jewish covenant, He kept the Sabbath day. But He implied that things would change in future; the kingdom of God would be taken away from the Jews and “given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Mt. 21:43). These people would worship in spirit and truth instead of at the temple (Jn. 4:21-24). They are Christians who live under a different covenant. This new covenant included Gentiles (Acts 10:9-15) and excluded the law of Moses (Acts 15:1-35). It didn’t even include a single old covenant law such as circumcision or the Sabbath day, because then one is “obligated to obey the whole law” (Gal. 5:3).

As the old covenant of the Israelite law is now obsolete, its practices are also now obsolete (2 Cor. 3:14; Heb. 8:13). Instead Christians follow the instructions given to the church in the New Testament. The sign of the spiritual blessings that Christians have under the new covenant is the Lord’s Supper (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). However, the Sabbath day will be re-established as a symbol of the Jews special relationship with the Lord when they are revived as God’s people in the millennium (Is. 56:4-6; 66:23; Ezek. 46:1, 3).

On the Sabbath the Jews were commemorating the end of God’s work of creation (Ex. 20:11) and the end of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Dt. 5:15) and they offered animal sacrifices (Num. 28:9-10). There is no instruction addressed to the church in Scripture for believers to continue this practice today. However, in the Lord’s Supper they commemorate their deliverance from being slaves to sin.

The distinctive day of the week for Christians was Sunday (the first day of the week):

  • On Sunday, Christ rose from the dead, which proved that His work of redemption was completed (Jn. 20:1)
  • On Sunday, Christ met with the disciples between the resurrection and ascension (Jn. 20:19, 26)
  • On Sunday, the church commenced when the Holy Spirit was given on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1; Lev. 23:15,16).
  • On Sunday, the early Christians met to celebrate the Lord’s Supper – Paul seems to have waited in Troas for seven days so he could be there for the Lord’s Supper (breaking of bread) on the first day of the week (Acts 20:6-7). Although there were missionary visits to Jewish synagogues (Acts 13:14-48; 16:13-15; 17:1-4; 18:4), there is no example in Scripture of a church meeting on the Sabbath.
  • The early Christians were told to set aside money for the Lord’s work on Sunday; presumably via a collection at a church meeting (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

Christians are not under the Old Testament law, which includes the ten commandments, but under God’s grace (Rom. 6:14-15) – see separate post on this topic. We have been “released from the law” (Rom. 7:6). The law of Moses has been replaced by the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21; 2 Cor. 3:7-11). Therefore, the Bible places no limits on when Christians can meet together. They can praise and celebrate the Lord’s Supper any day of week (1 Cor. 11:26). Although some early Jewish believers wanted to keep the Sabbath, this was not considered to be a matter of importance, but one of the individual conscience (Rom. 14:5-6).

As Christians have been released from the Old Testament law, they are not bound by regulations such as those saying that a person must keep the Sabbath in order to please God. When the Galatians were trying to earn God’s favor by observing certain days like the Sabbath and by promoting circumcision, Paul said that they had been freed from being subject to such laws (Gal. 4:4-11; 5:1-2). Paul also prohibits Christians being condemned for not following particular food or drink regulations and for not observing particular religious activities that are held on an annual, monthly or weekly basis: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col 2:16-17NIV). In this passage, the religious festivals were the annual Jewish festivals and the Sabbath day was the weekly Jewish Sabbath.

It should be noted that the “Sabbath-rest” in Hebrews 4:1-11, is different to the Sabbath day. This rest is entered by faith in Christ (Heb. 11:2-3). The old covenant laws are now symbols and metaphors for us. As God rested after His work of creation, Christians rest in the completed work of Christ (Mt. 11:28-30). In this sense, the physical Sabbath-rest is likened to our spiritual rest of salvation. The weekly Sabbath pictured our final salvation. Just as Moses was appointed by God to lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, Christ was appointed by God to lead people from bondage to sin to the eternal Sabbath-rest of heaven. As most of the Jews died before reaching the “rest” of the promised land because of unbelief, so unbelief excludes people from God’s gift of salvation.

So the teaching that Christians should worship God collectively on Saturday is contrary to Scripture.

Written, October 2011; Revised February 2014

Also see: What about keeping the Sabbath day?
What does the New Testament say about the Sabbath?
I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses.  Is this true?
The Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul
Why the new covenant is better
Is insistence on Sabbath-keeping legalism?


The church is like the temple

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


Heaven and hell: What is heaven like?

In Scripture, the word translated “heaven” has three meanings: the atmosphere/sky, the universe, and the dwelling place of God and the angels.  The meaning is determined from the context in which the Hebrew or Greek word is used. In this article we are looking at the heaven where God is.

Revelation 21:1 – 22:5 is the main Biblical passage about the eternal state, which we call heaven. This passage describes the change from time to eternity.

Everything is new

Chapter 21 begins: Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (21:1NIV). Here we see that God will create a new heaven and a new earth. The creation of the first heaven and earth is described as the beginning of the Bible (Gen. 1:1-2:4). The change described in Genesis was from eternity to time, while that in Revelation is from our temporal world where there is past, present and future to eternity where time is meaningless. Of course, the heaven that will be renewed is not the place where God lives, but the universe that has been affected by the sin of mankind.

When we become a Christian, our soul is redeemed. It’s like a new life has begun – it has been called being born again (2 Cor. 5:17). It’s a new spiritual creation that is not completed until our bodies are also redeemed at the rapture. In fact all of God’s creation is looking forward to when Christ returns to the Earth when it will be changed and redeemed. In this part of Revelation we read about the final change into the eternal state. The old universe is transformed and replaced with the new. It will be free from death and decay, which are the results of sin (Rom. 8:20-21). It will be paradise, like in the Garden of Eden before sin entered. Also, believers will have new bodies, like that of the risen Lord (Phil. 3: 21).

God says I am making everything new! (21:5). Then He says It is done. When He has created the new universe, redemption is complete. God has finished His great plan of salvation. So, what is heaven like? It’s different to anything that we have experienced. One of the reasons it’s so hard to describe is that it is not just another place but another dimension, another creation.

No more …

The Bible says that in heaven, He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (21:4) and No longer will there be any curse (22:3)

In heaven there will be no more: pain, crying, sorrow or death (21:4). No more sin or its consequences – the curse of God (22:3). Everything that caused pain and sadness on earth will not be present in heaven. The old sinful world has passed away, and Satan, his demons and those who chose to follow him will have been cast away from God’s presence (Rev. 20:10-15).

Besides no more crying, sighing, or dying; there will be: No hospitals or graves! No aging or wrinkles. Nothing will ruin, rot, or rust. There will be no thirsting, or hungering. No itching, no blindness, no deafness, no diabetes, no cancer, or heart attacks, or scars, no witchcraft, no drugs, no alcohol, or tobacco! No divorce, child abductions, accidents…and no more bills! What a place to look forward to!

So pain is replaced by peace and joy. Heaven is a place of relief. There will be no need to worry. As we found out earlier, it’s different to anything that we have experienced.

God’s Home

John wrote The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city (22:3) This is the city in heaven, which we will look at shortly.

“The throne” is mentioned four times in this passage and 39 times in Revelation. When John was taken to heaven, the first thing he saw was the awesome throne of God the Father (Rev. 4). The throne is central in heaven and in the book of Revelation. From it God reigns over the whole universe; both physical and spiritual. He is the Lord God Almighty (21:22).

“The Lamb” is mentioned four times in this passage and 26 times in Revelation. In heaven John “saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre before the throne” (Rev. 5:6).  It symbolises that the Lord Jesus Christ was a sacrifice for our sin. He receives honor and praise because he died so that many people can be in heaven. He paid the price for their entry.

So heaven is God’s home.

The home of the redeemed

An angel told John, Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:9)

“The bride” is mentioned twice in this passage and 4 times in this context in Revelation. It refers to “God’s people” or those whose names are written in the “book of life” (Rev. 19:7; 22:17). This metaphor illustrates the close intimacy we will have with the Lord in heaven, who is the bridegroom. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads (22:4) – just as a bride bears her husband’s name and sees his face, the redeemed have a close relationship with the Lord.

This intimacy is also shown by Him calling us His children (21:7). God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God (21:3). Like in the Garden of Eden, they will be able to walk with God in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). It will be Immanuel, “God with us” and us with God; forever.

Paul wrote about the rapture: “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). Heaven is being with the Lord forever.

So heaven is also the home of the redeemed, our common home with the Lord.

The new Jerusalem – city of light

Jesus told the disciples “I am going there to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2). This place is described in our passage as a spectacular city. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (21:2) and One of the … angels … came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (21:9-10).

As the city comes down towards the earth from heaven where God lives, we see that in the eternal state the distinction between heaven and earth loses its significance. God now lives with the redeemed and the redeemed live with Him.

It (the city) shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal (21:11). Is this literal or symbolic? I think it is both at the same time. God loves to use literal things as symbols. For example, the prophecy of Joel in the Old Testament opens with a vivid description of a plague of locusts that ate up every green thing. Joel describes them in dramatic and accurate terms but his description soon becomes a description of the invasion of a great army from Babylon that would come into the land. So the plague was also symbolic of the invasion.

God also pictures something invisible by means of a literal event. For instance, the sun is literal, but it can be a symbol of light, knowledge and truth. Likewise, fire is literal, but it can be  symbolic of torment, torture and judgment.

Revelation is an unusual blending of the literal and the symbolic– many events and things in it are both literal and symbolic. Fortunately, most all of these symbols are given to us elsewhere in the Bible.

The New Jerusalem seems to be a great visible magnificent city which will also illustrate activities and relationships of the redeemed (21:12 – 22:3). What can it symbolise?

Aspect Symbolises
City A community; filled with people who interact with each other
High wall Protection; separation from others; intimacy
Brilliant appearance (eternal light, no darkness) God is light
12 Gates (entry and egress; always open) None of God’s people will ever be shut out from His presence; Widespread service
Names of tribes of Israel on the gates A reminder that salvation came from the Jews (Jn. 4:22)
12 layers of foundations Stability; permanence
Names of the apostles on the foundations Taught the gospel; enabled it to spread across the world.
Measurement God’s ownership
Number 12 The number of government (12 tribes; 12 apostles)
Shape (maybe a pyramid; symmetry) Perfect proportions; harmony
Building materials (precious gemstones) Valuable
Pearl gates (beauty out of pain) Christ sacrificed His life for the redeemed (a pearl of great value; Mt. 13:45)
River Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:38-39)
Tree of life Jesus; spiritual nourishment

What a wonderful place! A place of great beauty.

What will we be doing?

You may wonder if we don’t have to work to pay the bills, what will we do in heaven? Here are three things that are mentioned in Revelation.

First, offering thanks and praise. Worship and praise to God characterise all the descriptions of heaven in Revelation (Chs: 4, 5, 7, 11, 15, 19). For example, after God has dealt with sin and the fall, He will be honored universally (Phil. 2:10-11; Rev 5:13). Second, serving the Lord (22:3). The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him (22:3). We will be active. Third, reigning with the Lord (22:5). As God reigns over the whole universe, I’m sure there is a lot to look after.

So in heaven we will be worshipping, serving and reigning.

How soon?

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. Later in Revelation 22, Jesus says three times “I am coming soon”.

But you may think, John wrote Revelation about 1,900 years ago and the Lord hasn’t come yet. Remember, we have just looked at our destiny and the transition from time into eternity. For us, this transition happens the minute we die, which could be very soon. Although there may be some time before the events described in Revelation occur, it will not be long before each of us leaves time and enters eternity. In this sense, heaven and hell could be a breath away.

Lessons for us

John has given us a glimpse into what Heaven 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?

Firstly, will you be there? The Bible clearly states that heaven is only for God’s people; those who have trusted in Christ’s sacrifice for their sin. The rest are said to be outside suffering in the lake of fire. They are unbelievers and their names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 20:12; 21:27). If this is your case, please consider God’s gift of salvation and eternal life in heaven. 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).

Christians have a wonderful destination. Knowing our destination is important because it provides direction for the journey of life, makes it meaningful, and fortifies us when the journey is difficult. It doesn’t matter what we face, if we have the hope of heaven, we don’t have to give in to fear.

All the above is a promised inheritance for the redeemed; it’s also called “the heavenly prize” (21:7; Phil. 3:14). Peter calls it a living hope for an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Pt.1:4).

Heaven means being forever with the Lord; Paul says it’s being “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6). Peter wrote: “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pt. 3:13). Are we all looking forward to heaven?

Written, May 2010

See the other article in this series:
What is hell like?


Worship Like The Thankful Samaritan

Jesus healed many people while on earth. Once ten men with a skin disease like leprosy sought His help (Lk. 17:11-19). They stood at a distance and called out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” Jesus rewarded their faith by telling them to show themselves to the priests. In Jewish society, the priests confirmed when someone was healed of an infectious skin disease (Lev. 14:1-32). As they went towards the priests they were miraculously healed.

Then one of them returned to Jesus. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet, thanked Him and praised God in a loud voice. He was humble, grateful and thankful. This is surprising as he was a Samaritan, and despised by the Jews (Jn. 4:9). Jesus called him a foreigner (Lk. 17:18), a term also used to describe rebels (Jn. 8:48). Before He responded to the Samaritan, Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine men who were healed?” They didn’t return to thank the Lord.

Likewise, Jesus pitied humanity and came to rescue us from our sins (Mt. 1:21). He said that sin was like sickness (Mk. 2:17). Using this illustration, believers have been healed of the consequences of this disease. What is our response? If we have trusted in Christ’s miraculous work, are we like the thankful Samaritan or like the nine who forgot the Healer?

Christians should be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). This means being thankful in all circumstances and “overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7; 3:15; 4:2; 1 Th. 5:18). We should also praise God for the transformation in our life (1 Pet. 2:9). This is to be offered to God as a continual “sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15).

Published: January 2005