When I Read the Bible, I Sometimes Understand Parts of It

When I read the Bible, I sometimes understand parts of it.

Since this is the case, what shall I do?  I shall obey those parts.  As I do, I will come to better understand those parts.  I will also come to understand other parts. 

Will I ever come to understand all of the Bible?  I don’t know.  If I do come to understand all of the Bible, what will happen then?  I don’t know.

Obeying the parts of the Bible that we understand – even if it is only one sentence – is the very best we can do for God and for ourselves.

If you were to summarize everything you know from all the parts of the Bible that you understand, what would it say?  Jesus Christ is our Lord.

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Bethel

As you probably know, “Bethel” means “house of God.”  Jacob had a dream in a city named Luz.  Through that dream he realized God’s presence in that place and so renamed it Bethel. 

Through the blood of His cross, Jesus Christ has marked all humanity as His own.  The heavens and the earth are now His house.  We live, therefore, in the house of God.

Do you know God is present?  We say He is omnipresent, but do you really believe that?  If you do, it changes your life like no other single thought can.

He is with you when you stand up and when you sit down.  He is with you when you go out and come in.  Once we have awakened like Jacob from our dreamlike state, we must rename the place in which we dwell as Bethel, for surely the Lord is in this place. 

Regarding the renaming of the place in which we dwell, I am speaking figuratively, of course.  It is the interior of our minds that must be re-mapped to acknowledge the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at all times and in all places.  Jacob lived under the old covenant and made an outward declaration to remind himself.  We live under the new covenant and pursue a constant inward awareness of the One Jacob longed to know.  That for which he wrestled has been given to us freely.  And much more.

If you are not living in Bethel, you are not yet awake.

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Immanuel

As you probably know, Immanuel (sometimes rendered Emmanuel) means “God with us.”  Matthew’s gospel quotes this prophecy from Isaiah 7:14, noting it as being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ.  Of course, Matthew did not mean that Mary literally named her baby “Immanuel,” but rather that the meaning of his birth was that God was with us.

We know that God has always been “with us” in the sense that He supports us.  His desire for intimacy “with us,” however, goes much deeper.  Jesus walking the earth as one of humanity was a profound expression of that desire.  God in our flesh, dealing with our limitations, experiencing our life…and our death.  This, however, was just the first installment of His intense intimacy with us.  “Immanuel” meant much more.

Through the new covenant He has made with mankind, God now dwells in us and walks among us.  He is our God and we are His people.  Under the old covenant, it was Satan who freely walked the earth as we saw in the book of Job.  Now, however, the evil one is under our feet (Rom 16:20).

God’s is the voice we hear whispering in our hearts (1 Kings 19:12).  From there He judges the secrets of our heart (Romans 2:16) so that we may live for His approval and not the approval of others (1 Corinthians 4:5; Galatians 1:10; Romans 2:28-29).

We come to realize, therefore, that God’s desire to be with us is so great that He will pursue this end until the two become one (Mark 10:8).

Let us therefore repent of this hardness of heart and stop resisting Him who desires to be with us all the days and moments of our lives.  Let us answer the knocking He makes at our door (Revelation 3:20).

All the Families of the Earth

God promised Abraham, “In your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”  Paul makes it clear in Galatians that because the promise speaks of “seed” and not “seeds” that it assuredly applies to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  We know that after being raised from the dead, all authority in heaven and on earth was given to Him.

If in Jesus Christ, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” how do some say that only some go to heaven?

(For more on this subject, see the post Everyone Is Going to Heaven  or the book The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.)

John 3:6 (Flesh Births Flesh, Spirit Births Spirit)

Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of flesh is flesh; that which is born of spirit is spirit.”  Jesus seemed surprised that He had to clarify something so simple and basic for a learned rabbi like Nicodemus. 

It is clear that the spiritual world gives life to the physical world.  Take away the spirit from a person and the body begins decaying immediately.  Spirit is like the wind: we don’t know where it comes from and we don’t know where it’s going.  You can see the effect of the wind (such as leaves moving) but you can’t see the wind itself.  Neither can you put the wind in a bottle, for it would then cease to be wind.  So it is with the spirit.

Jesus is reminding Nicodemus of what he knows: flesh is impermanent.  The kingdom of God therefore cannot be based on flesh, it must be based on spirit.  That which is seen is impermanent; that which is unseen (not seen, invisible) is eternal.  The kingdom of God must therefore be of an unseen nature – like the wind.

God Himself is spirit – that is, unseen.  All the instructions of the Old Testament were written initially for the flesh.  This perspective would last only until Messiah would come and reveal its permanent and more important meaning.  Thus the Zion that the Lord would inhabit was not a hill in Jerusalem but the “hill”of heaven.  The unleavened bread that would nourish the Israelites for their journey would not be wafers but rather sincerity and truth.  The manna that would feed them daily would not come from the desert floor but be picked up from the surface of their barren hearts.  Thus is the transition of the entire Old Testament, even though we may still be  blind to parts of it.

Nicodemus, like most Israelites of his day, was looking for the coming of the kingdom of God.  Jesus was trying to wake him up to the fact that this kingdom could not possibly be of the flesh, for if it had, it would subject to the same sort of eventual corruption that had been seen throughout Old Testament history.  The kingdom of God, as contrasted from the kingdom of flesh, would come from above and be invisible. 

People who serve the church today and hope for its glorification are no different from the contemporaries of Nicodemus who served the temple and hoped for its glorification.  That which is born of flesh is flesh.

Since we have all been born of the spirit, let us live by the spirit (Gal 5:25).  We were all born of the spirit, not of our own will (John 1:13) but even before we were conceived in our mothers’ wombs (Ps 139).  If Jesus warned Nicodemus, who lived on the eve of the kingdom’s coming, not to build on flesh, how much more does He warn us who live in the eternal aftermath of its coming.

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In the Twinkling of an Eye Everyone Was Born Again

Paul was letting us know that it would happen in an instant and few would even notice.  He was speaking, of course, of the last trumpet, the coming of the Lord with His host of holy ones, the coming of the kingdom of God, establishment of the kingdom of heaven, the dawn of the day of the Lord, the fulfillment of the new covenant – that day of all days when the time of Israel will have been fulfilled and God’s Messiah would rule over all the nations.

Precisely when is the moment that night turns into day?  Only God can know because it happens in the twinkling of an eye.  Yet in that instant of which Paul wrote, the night of Adam became the day of Christ.  The night of Satan’s dominion became the day of Christ’s kingdom.  The night of stars in a dark sky became the day of the sun of righteousness – Jesus Christ our Lord.  From that instant, He became not just the King of the Jews, and not just the head of the church, but the King and Head of every single human being.  Every single one.

In that twinking of an eye, everyone was born again.  God gave a new heart to every person in the human race, for all generations to come (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:8-12).  From that instant forward, God would be judging the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Rom 2:16).  That moment was rapidly approaching in the waning days of the apostles.  The book of Hebrews says that what was obsolete and able to be shaken was about to be discarded (Heb 8:13; Heb 12:27) and with this the words of the prophet(Hag 2:6), the psalmist (Ps 102:26), and even the Lord Himself (Mark 13:25) agree.  So much happened in that instant!

It happened sometime in the late 1st Century A.D., invisible to human eyes but perceptible to pure human hearts.  This was according to the timetable that the Lord, His prophets, and His apostles had laid down.  That was the dawn and we have been living in the day of Christ ever since.

Oh, yes – and the eye that twinkled was God’s.

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Do You Struggle with the Invisibility of His Kingdom?

Since apostolic times, we are to seek Jesus Christ in His kingdom, not in the church.  Does it cause you to struggle that the kingdom is invisible and that there’s no physical place to go to find it?

It is entirely to your benefit that the kingdom is this way.  If the kingdom were accessed in a physical location then its power would be limited.  It invisibility means it is universally accessible.  You can reach it from wherever you are.

Your keys to the kingdom are the name of Jesus and your faithful obedience to His commands.  You both know His name and know His commands, and His commands are not burdensome. 

This should help you: when you sought God in church, you were a watcher of God.  But true faith is constant acknowledgement that you are being watched by God.  Therefore, transition yourself from being the watcher to being the watched.  As the watcher, you could never see God anyway because He can’t be perceived through sight or any of the other four physical senses.  As you stay aware that you are being watched by a righteous and loving God, you are “seeing” Him in a different sense.  You are “seeing Him who is unseen” – which is how Moses saw Him (Heb 11).

In the church you are watched by people (which is really no different from the world at large).  In the kingdom, however, you are watched by God.  In other words, the best way to come to know God is to start by being known by God (Gal 4:9).  Are you willing to stay conscious of the fact that every thought you have is passing before His eyes?  If so, you are not far from the kingdom.

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Samson’s Riddle

Samson’s riddle spoke of Jesus Christ in a number of ways.

You recall the riddle:  “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.”  Certainly what came out of the great and awesome Creator of the universe was the Bread of Life Himself.  And what came out the Almighty King of the universe was Someone sweet: gentle and humble in heart.  You could even say that it was from the carcass of the Lion of the tribe of Judah that the nations will feed themselves for eternity for He is their salvation.

The story in Judges says that Samson’s companions could not tell the riddle in three days.  Neither did anyone know of Jesus’ resurrection until it happened after three days.  Neither the riddle of Samson nor the riddle of Christ was solved by anyone who heard it – they had to be told the answer by the only one who knew it.

Consider also that Samson’s riddle itself was a type of the mystery of the gospel.  Both gave clues, both had only one solution, both were eventually revealed.  Of course, the gospel was a far more extensive and intricate riddle, woven throughout the Old Testament scriptures, but Samson’s riddle paved the way.  And Samson’s story itself was part of the Old Testament’s foreshadowing for he likewise killed more of God’s enemies in his death than he had in his life.

In our relationship with God, we sometimes face a paradox, a riddle, a mystery in life.  It is okay for us to be perplexed at such times, but we should never despair.  In due time we shall reap an understanding and God will reveal Himself strong…and sweet.

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The Gospel Was Hidden in Plain View

The good news of Jesus Christ was chronicled well in advance.  What we now call the Old Testament testifies abundantly about Him.  In fact, through John 5 and Luke 24 we know that Jesus taught that He Himself was the primary subject of these Scriptures.

So thoroughly did the Old Testament proclaim the gospel that the apostles had no need of a New Testament.  Yes, we have one, and need it, for it contains the apostles’ testimony.  But the apostles themselves did not have it because it was only assembled after they had all died, and they did not need it because the Old Testament Scriptures were sufficient for them.

Thus the story of Jesus was written in advance but in such a way that no one could fully understand it until He had been crucified and resurrected.  Similarly, the story of His Second Coming was written in advance – through the Old and New Testaments – but only understood once someone recognizes that the Messiah…was God!

The contrast between what the Scriptures say before Jesus and what they say after – and through the prism of – Jesus is staggering.  The more we repent in humility before Him the more light we can see emanating from its pages.  If you don’t see Jesus all over the Old Testament, you are not seeing it rightly.  Turn to the Lord that the veil  described in 2 Cor 3 may be taken away.

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He Will Feed Them Himself

In Ezekiel 34, God says that the day will come when He set one shepherd over His people, and that this shepherd will “feed them himself.” 

We live in that day.  Jesus is the one shepherd set over all humanity.  How does He feed us Himself? 

Jesus gave us His life.  We consumed Him, and He was no more…on the earth.  However, and more importantly, we continue to feed on His life for inspiration and direction for our own lives.  This is just what He spoke of when He said at the Last Supper that we should eat His flesh and drink His blood.

Something even greater was at work here, however.  It was that God was in Christ giving Himself.  That is, when God sent Jesus He was sending Himself.  God donned flesh and became to us Jesus of Nazareth.  We did not know who He was.  We knew this prophet from Galilee was anointed by God.  We had no idea that He was God Himself.  But looking back we can feed on that life, even feast on it, because of the unlimited glory it held, and holds, for us. 

God Himself became the bread of our life.  In the strength that this bread brings, we shall live forever.

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The Kingdom of God Means Victory Over Our Enemies

Through the kingdom of God, we have victory over all our enemies.  Our enemies are not anyone we can see.  Our enemies are entirely unseen.  Every person we can see is on our side – even if they don’t realize it.  Jesus bought the entire human race; we all now belong to Him.  For this reason He died, that He might be Lord of both the living and the dead.  That doesn’t leave out a single human being.

When God delivered the Jews through Esther and Mordecai, He provided a decree from the king and weapons with which they could fight and defeat those who hated them.  Some people thought the Second Coming would be a time when God would vanquish all our enemies.  He has vanquished them in heaven.  Satan has fallen to earth like lightning.  It is we, however, who are to vanquish Satan and his host on earth.  The decrees of a king cannot be changed and so Satan and his kingdom operate with the authority they were originally given.  We, however, have been given even greater authority.  Satan is under our feet.  We have a salvation into which angels long to look.  If the rulers of this world had known what they were unleashing upon themselves by crucifying Jesus, they would not have done it. 

Thanks be to God who always gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  There is no victory without a fight.  Be at peace with all men, but be at war with the host of darkness.  In heaven we will rest from such battles for the war in heaven is over.  Satan was thrown down. 

Keep your relationship with God close, for from that He will supply all you need for victory on earth.

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The Kingdom of Satan Has Become the Kingdom of our Lord

As Revelation 11 heralded, the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.  As Jesus had prophesied, the ruler of the world has been judged and cast out.  We are no longer to walk according to the kingdom of ignorance.  Instead, we are to walk according to the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).  Our Lord sees us!

Satan ruled the world from the beginning in cunning and darkness.  Whereas the Lord has always been willing to reveal Himself, and has done so repeatedly and in many various ways – most of all in His Son Jesus Christ – Satan continues to veil himself Acts 26:18).  The only power he wields in the world today is through that which our sins give him (Proverbs 5:22).  But that can be a lot.

Nevertheless, the Lord’s kingdom prevailed in the great war of the heavens at the Second Coming which occurred on schedule at the close of the apostolic (i.e. the New Testament) age.  (See Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again.)  Therefore, we are no longer to make distinctions among humanity as if this one belongs to the Lord and that one doesn’t.  Before Jesus, we all belonged to Satan.  That’s why death had a sting.  That’s why everyone who died went below to Sheol (Hades).  Since Jesus, we all belong to God.  Death no longer has a sting.  Everyone who dies goes up to heaven.  (See Everyone Is Going to Heaven .)

Satan is weak.  Each human being is a son of God, and creation had long waited for the revealing of the sons of God.  Yes, many of us are blind and many are weak – but these are conditions which can be changed through the grace of the Lord.  Call to Him.  Let Him equip us with every spiritual weapon by which we might resist all temptations and do what is right in our daily lives.  This crushes Satan under our feet like powder for the Lord has already made him subject to us. 

Stop seeing the world (i.e., the kingdom of Satan) as dominant.  Indeed, it once was.  But it is now subject to the kingdom of God which is in our midst.  Let us repent of our sluggishness and take the world like the promised land, with Joshua of Nazareth at our head.

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The Apostles’ Teaching

You’ve read in Acts 2 how new disciples of Jesus were devoted to the apostles’ teaching.  And so it was throughout the New Testament: true believers were devoted to the apostles’ teaching.  The apostles were not unopposed in the church, but they were never opposed by true believers – only by the rebellious.

We today are beneficiaries of the New Testament which the apostles left.  Therefore, we, too, can be devoted to the apostles’ teaching.  I trust that you are.

When the apostles look forward in their writing, it is always to the Lord’s kingdom (The Second Coming, the day of the Lord, the new heavens and new earth, and so on).  They never look forward to the formalization of the church in order to wait on an ever-delaying Lord.  When they do look forward to the Lord’s coming, they often warn against false teachers who will seek to draw away disciples after themselves.

Where is there anything in the apostles’ teaching that would constitute the church administration we see in our day?  You cannot find it.  In fact, verses that could be applied to the administration of churches and denominations is so scant and conflicting that churches cannot even agree on a single form of church government.

A very important issue to the apostles was that the church be kept as one body of Christ.  Why then did they not leave in their teaching a means by which we could avoid having thousands upon thousands of denominations?

If there is no manual of church administration in the apostles’ teaching, why should anyone be administering churches?  If, in the apostles’ teaching, there are warnings of teachers who will seek to draw away the disciples after themselves, why should anyone follow any teacher who seeks the Lord’s disciples?  If the apostles’ teaching is filled with hope in the Lord’s soon coming, why should anyone – almost two thousand years later – say that He didn’t come?

The apostles’ teaching is worthy of our devotion.  They knew our God and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh and in the spirit.  Let those of us who know their teaching cease paying it lip service, and dedicate our lives to acting on all it teaches.

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From Christian Leaders to Christlike Followers

God does not need Christian leaders in this day.  Instead, He wishes to have followers who seek to imitate Him. 

He does not need you to watch over His people because He Himself is watching over His people.

He does not need you to be a shepherd for He Himself is Shepherd of His people.

It is an act of pride to say you are a Christian leader.  It is an act of humility to seek to be a Christlike follower.

Why would we call ourselves, or even allow ourselves to be called, leaders when He said in Matthew 23 that we should not be called leaders because He was the Leader?  How much more explicit could He possibly be on this issue?

Let us throw down our shepherd’s staff and bow in order that we might be His sheep.  If we do, others may follow us to Him and then we will have led in a productive way.

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The Stone Which the Builders Rejected

You must be familiar with the words of this post’s title which come from Psalm 118.  The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.  Alas, in this fallen world, this is the way it seems to happen.

God had chosen Joseph to prepare a salvation for all of his father’s family – yet his brothers rejected him.  God had chosen David because the king that all the people thought perfect for the role, wasn’t.  David’s older brothers mocked him for approaching the battle lines and expressing curiosity about a big thug who was taunting the armies of God.  And, of course, you are well familiar with how the leaders of Israel rejected Jesus who was the ultimate example of this verse.  They did not think Jesus a worthy stone, yet He turned out to be the chief corner stone of the final and eternal dwelling that God was building.

Builders are always rejecting God’s choice because they prefer building to obeying God.  As it was in the days of the Tower of Babel, so it was in the days of Jesus.  In that sense, it is not at all strange that we see today those who are building churches rejecting Jesus in the process.  Oh, they will pay Jesus lip service.  It’s all done in His name.  Yet the building is not for Him to inhabit.  Church builders today are attempting to build for God buildings He has not requested.  As Stephen would say, they are resisting the Holy Spirit just as their fathers had done.  I myself was one of those builders but in His mercy, God showed me where I erred. 

The corner stone of life is the invisible God.  In our age, that means the Lord Jesus Christ who needs no earthly temple, for He Himself fills the heavens and the earth.  Those who reject Him and build on any other foundation are building on a foundation of sand that will not withstand the floods that inevitably come.   

Repent and return to the Lord from whom you have deeply defected.  He will be merciful.  He waits with loving arms.  Stop building things for your purposes while saying that they are for His.  He has no need of a house, but He does knock on your door that He might come in and sup with you.

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Earthly Things and Heavenly Things

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “If you don’t believe Me when I tell you about things that occur on earth, how will you believe Me when I tell you about things that occur in heaven?”  Nicodemus had lived a while on the earth; he was a mature man.  He was also a wise man.  He knew how things worked, and was wise to the ways of the world.  Therefore, when Jesus would tell him about earthly things, he had some basis for testing (at least in his mind) what Jesus said before accepting it.  When it came to heavenly things, however, Nicodemus had never been there and had no understanding of how the place operated.  Therefore, he would have to take entirely on faith anything Jesus said to him about it.  Summarizing Jesus’ point to Nicodemus, believe the earthly things and it will give you a basis for believing the heavenly things; disbelieve the earthly things and you will never trust (and therefore never “see”)  the heavenly things.

The apostles demonstrate a positive response to what Jesus described.  They believed Jesus about the earthly things.  Therefore, they had the faith to accept Him on the heavenly things.  For example, the fact that Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God is a heavenly thing that the apostles had no way of corroborating from their own experience.  How would they know whether He sat on the left, right, behind, or somewhere else altogether?  Because Jesus had proven Himself faithful, however, on so many earthly things, they had no problem accepting that final piece of testimony about His destination.  Specifically, because they had seen for themselves that He had been born from the dead according to Psalm 2, it was quite natural for them to accept the testimony from Psalm 110 about where Jesus went once back in heaven.

We ourselves encounter the same dynamic when it comes to understanding the heavenly aspects of  the coming of the kingdom of God (which can also be called the coming of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus’ Second Coming, the day of the Lord, Judgment Day, and so on).  These heavenly things are described throughout the Scriptures, including the Old Testament prophets, the prophecies of our Lord, the references by the apostles, and the descriptions in the book of Revelation.  If we don’t accept the earthly aspects of Jesus’ salvation by faith, we will have no basis to accept all these testimonies of heavenly things. 

If someone does not truly walk by faith with Christ in the earth, they have a hard time believing that the kingdom has already come.  They are fleshly minded and are looking for fulfillment of these scriptures in physical form.  There are many such fleshly people in the earth today.  They do not walk by faith; they walk by sight.  Their trust is not in an invisible Lord but rather in a visible church of people.  They are on the wrong side of the classic dichotomy of fearing man versus fearing God.

We have ample reason to believe all the earthly aspects of our salvation.  Therefore, we should find it easy to take on faith the heavenly realities, such as the new heavens and new earth described in Isaiah and Revelation.  Yes, we in fact live in what the book of Hebrews called “the age to come” that was at that time “drawing near.”  Because we believe the prophets, the Lord, and the apostles about the when (which is an earthly thing we can understand), we can believe them about the what (which are heavenly things we have to take entirely on faith).

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“The Last Days” of the New Testament

It’s strange how people can lift scriptural phrases out of context and imbue them with an entirely different meaning.  Take, for example, the phrase “last days” (including synonymous terms like “the end”).  Most people today, including churchgoers, hear this phrase from the Bible out of context.  As a result, they assume it means something future to us.  It’s doesn’t.  It did indeed mean “something future” to those in the New Testament.  But future to them could very well be past to us.  In this case, that’s exactly what it is.

The “last days” were the last days of ancient Israel, the last days of the world as they knew it.  It was the last days of polytheism.  The monotheism that ancient Israel had stood for since the days when Abraham shunned idols and Moses had given the Israelites the Shema – and stood against the entire ancient world in doing so – would come to be practically universal.  It was the last days of the temple, as it was completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.  It was the last days of the distinction between Jews and Gentiles from God’s point of view.  The New Testament church was spiritual Israel, and it still had largely the face of Israel as the Lord and His apostles were all Jewish to the core – even as it was bringing Gentiles in.  This was the transitional structure God was using to bridge to the new world of the kingdom of God when there would be no distinction at all between peoples.  Thus it would be the last days of the church as well – at least the last days of the church God was tending.  The kingdom of God would soon be coming and that was what the New Testament church was waiting for.

If you will, go back and read the New Testament, noting carefully every reference it makes to the end, the last days, the last hour, the coming kingdom, the coming day of the Lord, or any such phrase.  You will find that these references are consistent in expecting something that is imminent – at most, only decades away, and, more likely, only years away.  The book of Revelation almost screams at its beginning and end that the time is “soon.” 

Therefore, “the last days” in the New Testament is ancient history to us, not looming future.  Once you understand this, your faith in the New Testament will grow. 

On the other hand, if you insist on believing the prophecies of end times are yet to be fulfilled, you have created a credibility problem for the New Testament authors.  For how can you believe them on other points, if you think they were mistaken on this point about which they were so clear, so consistent, and so emphatic?

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Jezebel

Jezebel – she who used her identity as the king’s wife to wield power over God’s people, steal from the defenseless, and live in disobedience and defiance of God’s commandments.  She trusted in worldly cosmetics instead of inner moral beauty.  The name Jezebel is universally considered despicable today, but in her time people were intimidated by her power and yielded to her persuasion.

Likewise, the post-apostolic church (that is, the church as it has existed after New Testament times and still exists today) presents herself as the bride of Christ.  Yet, she is not faithful.  She serves her own needs.  She dominates the people of God, putting them into service for her own purposes.  Most church leaders don’t realize that they are caught up in this antichrist spirit.  Nonetheless, they are.  Their naive intentions are used by the church to enhance its reputation and authority.

The Lord asks, “Who is on my side?’  His next words are a command: “Throw her down!”

Live for the Lord Jesus Christ and throw down the harlot who devours God’s people (Revelation 2:20).

Satan’s World Turned Upside Down

One of the most stunning aspects of our salvation through Jesus Christ is that He literally turned creation upside down to save us.

In the original order, angels were over mankind.  Through the resurrection, God was going to raise the human dead to angelic status (Matt 22).  There was a precursor to this when Jesus’ disciples were treading over all the power of the enemy and Jesus saw Satan falling from heaven like lightning (Luke 10).  This was quite a change from the days when Satan walked wherever He wished on the earth and foisted havoc on God’s favored ones such as Job (Job 1:7; 2:2).

Even those who had expected God to raise the dead had not had the nerve to hope that resurrection would be all the way to heaven and over angels!  Thus angels went from lords to being ministering spirits for all those who would inherit salvation (Heb 1).  Angels themselves had no advance warnings of this plan and longed to learn of it as they heard the gospel being preached by humanity (1 Peter 1).  Thus this eternal purpose was made known to rulers in heavenly places through the New Testament church (Eph 3).   

As the day of Christ was drawing near (Heb 10), the saints contemplated their coming elevation into the angelic realm (Heb 2).  Paul even wrote that Satan would soon be crushed under their feet ( Rom 16).  Had he understood the ultimate outcome of Jesus’s crucifixion, Satan might not have inspired it (1 Cor 2).   On the basis of this astounding turn of events, people were turning from Satan’s dominion to trust the Son of God (Acts 26). 

At the last trumpet, at the coming of the Lord, when the new heavens and new earth were brought in, Satan was thrown down to earth and the dead were raised from Sheol to heaven – never to return again.  All this took place away from fleshly eyes, but we may know that it did by testimony of the word of God.

Satan’s world is upside down and ours is now right-side up.  The Jewish Thessalonians who protested that the gospel of Jesus was turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6) had little idea how profoundly accurate they were! 

For a longer post on this subject, see Everyone Is Going to Heaven 

For those who would like a fuller explanation from the Bible that everyone is going to heaven, I am posting online a book:  The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.

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Where Are the Dead?

The Old Testament made clear that the dead – good and bad – slept below in Sheol.  (The Septuagint rendered it “Hades.”)  Jesus confirmed in John 3 that no one had ascended into heaven (meaning not even Enoch or Elijah landed there). 

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul declares that, notwithstanding doubters in Corinth, the dead would indeed be raised.  He states the point in the future tense: “the dead will be raised,” indicating that the dead were still asleep.  That the dead still slept was a point he confirmed elsewhere in chapter fifteen and also in chapter eleven.  In 1 Thessalonians 4 he again makes reference to the raising of the dead as a future event.  Moreover, 2 Timothy 2 he calls as false doctrine the teaching that the resurrection had already occurred.  In Hebrews it says that all things were not yet subjected to Christ (Hebrews 2) and that “the day” was still “drawing near” (Hebrews 10).  Since we have this overwhelming evidence that the dead had not been raised by the time of the writing of these letters, what makes you think they’re raised now?  And if you do say they’re raised now, aren’t you as much a heretic as those Paul criticized in 2 Timothy 2?

Relax.  The good news is that the trumpet of God did sound, that the Lord did come in His kingdom, and the dead were raised imperishable to heaven.  It all happened right on schedule, not too many years after Paul and Peter died.  Ever since then, we who die are caught up in the air to meet those who have preceded us.  Sheol was done away in the new heavens and new earth (there no longer being any sea, or lower compartment to creation,  according to Revelation’s account). 

On the other hand, if you say that Jesus has not come again, then how can you believe anyone besides Jesus is in heaven?  (If you’re not sure, see Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again )

The dead are now in heaven.  And you and I will be there one day, too.

For a longer post on this subject, see Everyone Is Going to Heaven 

For those who would like a fuller explanation from the Bible that everyone is going to heaven, I am posting online a book:  The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.

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“You Must Be Churched” = “You Must Be Circumcised”

Those who insist that believers should be involved in church are like those in New Testament times who insisted that believers should be circumcised. 

For a fuller comparison, read the book of Galatians substituting the words “church involvement” for the words “circumcision” or “circumcised.”

The rationale for each is identical.  In New Testament times, some people pointed to the Old Testament scriptures and, seeing circumcision practiced, said, “The Lord and His Scriptures call for circumcision.”  Today, some people point to the New Testament scriptures and, seeing church practiced, say, “The Lord and His Scriptures call for church involvement.”

In both cases, the readers are assuming that a practice God required in the previous age will also be required in the current age.  Moreover, they overlook that we live today in the kingdom of God in which no ritual practices are required.  The practice God wants is righteousness.  In fact, righteousness is what He has always wanted but He had to get humanity there by stages – particularly through the establishment of Israel and its Messiah.  This required the use of some rituals to help convey truth and have it passed from generation to generation.  Once Messiah had come, however, and His kingdom established, such practices could be discarded…and so they have been.

Church was a practice instituted to help people wait for and prepare for the kingdom of God.  Since the kingdom has already come , we no longer wait for it.  We must cleanse ourselves to enter it, but it is always here for us.  And even when we are not in it, we are still subject to it for it is the rule of the universe.

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Vashti and Esther

King Ahasuerus was holding a feast with his entire court, as well as dignitaries from his vast empire and officers from his formidable army, in attendance.  As the banquet was reaching its apex, the king sent for his wife to appear before the assembly.  He was proud of her and wanted to show her off.  Queen Vashti refused to come.  This created quite a stir and it was ultimately decided that the king was going to have to get a new queen who would be more collaborative.  A search was launched to find the very best candidate.  Eventually, that turned out to be Esther who proved herself to be a blessing to the king and the country.

Similarly, King Jesus called His subjects to come into His presence that He might have His court and angelic dignitaries see their glory.  Yet they refused.  So King Jesus decided to choose a new queen.  It is supposed that this happened when Israel rejected Him and He chose the church.  Rather, it happened when the church (which was spiritual Israel) rejected Him.  They preferred to walk in each other’s presence rather than His.  Thus He chose for entrance into the kingdom of God only those believers who were worthy.  This is what the final warnings were about in the messages to the churches in the book of Revelation.  Those who were found worthy entered the kingdom of God, the rest had to stay outside.  This is also what Jesus had predicted in His parable of the wheat and the tares.   All this happened at the expiration of the generation in which Jesus had lived…just as He had promised.

Our lesson today is to always walk in the presence of the Lord and His court.  We human beings are on display.  God Himself sees every secret of our hearts.  We must walk before Him constantly as an open book if we are to please Him.  Walking in the presence of other believers is meaningless; it is His presence and piercing eyes that cleanses our hearts from sin.  May we have the spirit of Esther and not of Vashti.

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Deuteronomy 18:15 – The Prophet Like Moses That God Would Literally Raise Up

We are accustomed to having Old Testament verses take on a spiritual meaning in the new covenant versus their physical or literal meaning under the old covenant.  For example, under the old covenant the Passover was a literal meal to be eaten and celebrated.  Under the new covenant, it symbolizes Christ and the deliverance He gives us from sin.  Similarly, under the old covenant animal sacrifices were to be made with actual animals being slaughtered before the temple altar.  Under the new covenant, Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

It is not always, however, a matter of going from literal to figurative interpretation.  For example, in Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses prophesied that God would raise up a prophet after him to whom the people must give the utmost obedience.  He was speaking of Christ and you even see this expectation in the New Testament gospels as some Jews were seeking to understand who “the Prophet” might be.  The promise had some fulfillment every time God raised up a prophet after Moses such as Elijah or Isaiah.  Nevertheless, it was widely understood that this prophecy would have its ultimate fulfillment in Messianic times.

When Jesus was raised from the dead, the meaning of the word “raised up” in the prophecy went not from literal to figurative, but from figurative to literal.  People had read that God would raise up a leader; most hadn’t consider that the possibility that He would literally RAISE HIM UP – and UP meaning all the way to heaven!   Truly the gospel was hidden in a mystery until Jesus came to reveal it.

We cannot, therefore, apply a wooden interpretive scheme to the Bible such as always look for the figurative and non-literal meaning.  Rather, we should look for the spiritual meaning as revealed by the Holy Spirit – especially since we live in the kingdom of God.

The Lord Wants the Pleasure of Teaching His People

We who know that the face of our Creator is found in Jesus of Nazareth do well to proclaim His name and tell of His glory. 

We must be careful, however, that we never assume His teaching role.  He is the Teacher of all humanity.  He is the One who holds class from the heavenly Zion into the heats of all mankind.  He is the one who makes known the paths of righteousness to every one of the lambs in His flock. 

We cannot teach anyone how to live.  We proclaim Him who teaches everyone how to live.

We do not know enough about righteousness to be teachers.  We are children who know the name of the Teacher.  Our goal is to let Him have the pleasure of teaching us, and anyone else who will listen.

If our brother sins, we can point Him back to Jesus the Teacher.  Nevertheless, we should do so in a spirit of gentleness, looking to ourselves lest we, too, be tempted.  All men know the Lord; He has seen to that. 

All over the world today, people are teaching in the name of the Lord, taking attention from the saints that is due the Lord only.  Let everyone be a disciple of His; let none of us be disciples of each other.

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We Were in the Cleft of the Rock

In Exodus 33 God gave Moses a picture of how He would reveal Himself through Jesus Christ over a thousand years later.

God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock while He made all His glory pass before him.  He also hid Moses with His hand during this time.  Afterward, God took away His hand and said Moses could see His back, but that no man could see His face and live.

In this way, God ultimately took upon Himself flesh and became Jesus of Nazareth.  Though Jesus’ followers knew that He was “of God” while He was among them, they did not know the full extent of His identity until afterward.  Jesus instructed His apostles not to proclaim His identity as Messiah until after He was raised from the dead.  Similarly, the Messiah was not fully revealed to be God until the church age ended in the coming of the kingdom of God with the passing of the apostles.

It was difficult enough for us to cope with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ when we thought God was with Him.  Had we known that He was God Himself in the flesh…well, we could hardly have coped with that thought.

Only after God has passed by, can we fully open our eyes and digest the event.

GICNAT

Distinguish the Word of Grace from the Commandments of Men

Even in the days of the apostolic church, just before the coming of the kingdom of God, the apostle Paul had the foresight to make an important distinction between the word of grace and the commandments of men. 

In the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians he took his stand on the word of salvation he had declared and  thanked God he hadn’t gotten to involved in baptism.  He thus made clear that the word of the gospel was the means of salvation, not the act of water baptism (and he certainly didn’t call it a “sacrament”). 

After the departure of the apostles, church hierarchy formed and sacraments were instituted as an expression of man-made religion that has come to be called Christianity.  The true spirit of Christianity, however, has nothing to do with church or sacraments – anymore than it has to do with temple priests and sacrificial lambs.  The spirit of Christianity has to do with faith in an invisible God whose face is the Jesus Christ who walked the earth among us, showing us how to live in this fallen world.

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Don’t Tell Others They Must Read the Bible

It is good that you benefit  from reading the Bible.  Let us not, however, turn it into a commandment for others.  God may not be calling them to read it.  All of us have the same Master and the same commandments, but we do not all have the same callings.

We live in the kingdom of heaven and God has written His law on every human heart (Rom 2).  He is therefore able to direct the life of every human being who will listen to Him – without reference to the written word of God.  There are wonderful people in the world who have never read the Bible.  Some of these wonderful people have never even heard of it. 

Let your Bible reading  bless others by the way it makes you behave with them.  That is, be a doer of the word, not just a reader only (James 1).  As you grow in grace, you will be an even greater blessing to those around you.   

If others show interest in the Scriptures, by all means help them as Philip did the Ethiopian on the road to Gaza.  Be happy to share with others that which has been a blessing and treasure to you.  But never lay it on them as a requirement.

God’s commandments are sufficient.  Let us never add to them.

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The Spirit of Paul

Re-read the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians and refresh your apprehension of the spirit of Paul.  You probably know that spirit well since over half the New Testament came through him.

Where is the spirit of Paul today?  It is certainly not guiding the churches.  Or should we say, the churches are certainly not following it.  Paul was shocked to learn that factions were developing in the church at Corinth and he showed no tolerance for it.  He chastised them, calling them “fleshly men” and “babies in Christ.”  If the beginnings of fissure in the church of one city provoked him so, what would he do upon encountering the fractured world of denominational and nondenominational Christianity we see today? 

The churches of today profess allegiance to Paul but are rebellious to his direction.  He told the Corinthians he wanted to “know nothing but Christ” whereas today’s churches major on everything under the sun except Christ.

What would Paul say to the churches today?  “Flee idolatry and pursue the righteousness, peace, and joy that is the kingdom of God.”

Paul preached faith.  The wolves he said would come in after him preached a doctrine of man-made church.  Choose which of these you will embrace for they have nothing to do with each other.  The churches claim Paul’s legacy but do not have his spirit.

If Paul were here today he would tell us to forget about church altogether and pursue the kingdom of God instead.

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Read the Old Testament the Way the Apostles Did

In the time of the apostles, the Old Testament was their Bible.  It wasn’t until after they died that their own writings were collected, assembled into what is called the New Testament, and added to the Bible.  Therefore, whenever you see the apostles referring to, or quoting the Scriptures, they are talking about what we call the Old Testament.

The apostles had a particular way of reading the Old Testament.  It was the way Jesus had taught them.  In the last chapter of Luke, Jesus makes clear to His apostles (and Luke makes clear to his readers) that the Old Testament was full of information about Jesus.  The apostles, like all good Jews of that day, had previously seen the Old Testament as a collection of law, history, and some prophecies about Israel including some references to a Messiah.  In the light of Jesus’ resurrection, however, they came to see almost the entirety of the Old Testament as describing the work of Messiah.   

Through the gospels and letters of the New Testament, we see examples of how the apostles came to see Jesus in the Old Testament by the way they quoted it.  They didn’t merely see Him in the obvious prophecies that had been made about Messiah being born in the line of David.  They saw Him as the Passover that Israel celebrated, the manna in the desert, the rock that followed them, the serpent that Moses lifted, the ladder that Jacob had dreamed, the Shepherd that David extolled, the temple that Solomon built, the wisdom that the Queen of Sheba came to hear, and much more.  In fact, even the entire New Testament itself is incapable of explicitly reporting every reference to Jesus in the Old Testament.  The left us the path, however, to finding the rest. 

Learning about Jesus nourishes our faith.  Why should we study anything else in the Old Testament except to look for Jesus?

The apostles had a particular way of reading the Old Testament.  They abandoned the historic method of reading it according to the flesh.  Instead, they read it in the light of what they called the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We would do well to read it the same way.

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“After My Departure”

The apostles did not expect good things to happen to the church after they departed.  On the contrary, they frequently warned of the apostasy that would come in the absence of their direction.  The comfort was that the Lord was coming soon in His kingdom and therefore each believer should hold firm to what he’d been taught, looking for the day of the Lord (also called “the day of Christ”).  Thus Paul had warned the elders at Ephesus about what would happen after his departure.  Sure enough, by the time John wrote Revelation, the church at Ephesus was receiving a rebuke from Jesus.  Yet He told them to return to their first love, reminding all who had heard the Olivet discourse of His prophecy that the ones who did not let their hearts grow cold could endure to the end and be saved in the coming of the kingdom.

Jesus and His apostles were unified in their view that the demise of the church would coincide with the coming of the kingdom.  Paul and Peter became convinced that they would not survive to see it.  There was always the question about whether John would live to see it, given what Jesus had said to Peter about him.  Since the apostolic witness on this point is consistent and abundant, why do people act today as if the Lord or the apostles had established some sort of transfer of power that would allow the church to be administered generation after generation waiting on a kingdom whose coming was still supposed to be considered imminent almost two thousand years later?

It’s much easier to believe the New Testament on this point:  The kingdom of God came in the midst of an apostate church at the end of the apostolic age.  All church traditions handed down from that point, which would have been around the late 1st Century A.D., would therefore be questionable.  The kingdom has been in the earth since then.  If we’re seeking Jesus, we’ll find Him in the kingdom, not church. 

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Reading the New Testament in the Spirit of Grace

When you read the New Testament, you can see the conflict between the historic perspective of God’s law and the spirit of grace that the apostles brought from Jesus.  As the apostle John had written, the law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  Both schools of thought appealed to the same set of written words, but interpreted them in totally different ways.

The Judaizers believed the message of Jesus but clung to the law of Moses according to the flesh.  That is, they wanted Gentile converts to be circumcised just as the Jews had always been circumcised.  Paul spent much of his ministry arguing with them, pointing out that salvation was by the spirit of grace and that clinging to the historic practices was antithetical to truth faith.  This took great conviction on the part of the apostles because they were disregarding millennia of practice that had begun with Abraham.

Let me ask: Do you read the New Testament today in a spirit of grace or in the spirit of law and flesh?  By that I mean, do you – like the Judaizers – think that proper Scriptural interpretation means that people must be baptized, must take communion, must attend church, must tithe, and so on?  If you read the New Testament in a spirit of grace, you don’t see it that way.  Rather, you see that the New Testament saints engaged practices appropriate for the unique period of time in which they lived.  Our inheritance from them is to imitate their faith, not their actions. 

Without reading in a spirit of grace, we would be fighting with slingshots and the jawbones of donkeys.  Without grace, we would be calling down fire from heaven on supposed enemies.  Do you think it is only the Old Testament that we should read in a spirit of grace? 

Notice that the more legalistically someone reads the New Testament, the less grace you see in their lives.  Don’t be like them.

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